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Fic: Comes a Horseman 3/5

Title: Comes a horseman 3/5
Author: astri13
Genre: RPS AU
Characters/Pairings: Jared/Jensen, Chris/Steve, Chad
Rating: NC-17
Word Count: 7.622
Warnings: Graphic slash in later chapters
Summary: In the Bronze Age young healer-apprentice Jen is living a life of quietness. Though this may change once Jaret, leader of a barbarian horde, comes riding into his village.
Notes/Credits: Much thanks for beta duties go to xkatjafx and anutty1
Pure, unblemished CRACK, people.
For practical reasons the characters will speak/think in English, maybe even a bit advanced and not Ancient Sumerian. I used real names when they sounded fitting for the time period, perhaps with a different pronunciation - any eye witnesses are welcome to prove me wrong - and tried to "age" those that didn't. Though they should be easy to figure out, still.
The title is an hommage to a Highlander-episode which served as inspiration for this.
Disclaimer: Not real, don't own anything or anybody. Fair use only. Not created for profit.

Chapter 1 - Chapter 2





Chapter 3


Jen was resting on his stomach to take the strain of his still healing back. He was facing away from Jaret but felt the other man's eyes boring into him just the same. Chadan's attack on Jen had been two days ago, and Jaret had taken to watching Jen like a hawk or at least have him watched as such. It made Jen want to crawl out of his skin. He appreciated the gesture - and the surprising gentleness Jaret had treated him with since the whipping - but Jen didn't have anything resembling a moment to himself now which made him feel more of a prisoner than ever. Didn't exactly help to lighten his mood.

Not that Jaret was better off. Jen could tell because Jaret was sharpening his sword, a sure sign Jaret was in a dark mood. They had retreated to the tent for the night, and Jen expected Jaret to join him on the furs soon. He shifted slightly, trying not to draw Jaret's attention. No such luck.

"Are you in pain?"

Jen suppressed a sigh. This was getting ridiculous. If Jaret felt so guilty over Jen being flogged, Jen would have preferred to see something useful come out of it, like releasing more prisoners. He didn't understand Jaret. How could the man want to sell them all into slavery yet seem so angry with Jen being hurt? Surely Jaret would know what kind of destiny awaited a slave, what would await Jen? A whipping was by far not the worst a slave could look forward to. And Jen had seen with his own eyes the signs of mistreatment marking the bodies of others of his tribe. Was it just because he, Jen, was Jaret's ´property' and the man felt offended in his honour?

"No, I'm fine. The back is getting much better," Jen answered.

"Hm." Jaret just gave a non-committal sound. It wasn't like he didn't know that already since he made a point in frequently rubbing the healing herbs Jen had asked for on Jen's injured back himself.

Then Jaret came over and laid down. Due to his careful attempts not to aggravate Jen's back further, they had changed their sleeping arrangements. No longer was Jaret laying half on top of Jen but they slept chest to chest, with Jaret keeping an arm lightly thrown over Jen's waist. Somehow it made Jen more uncomfortable because at times their faces were so close, he could feel Jaret's warm breath on his own skin. And Jaret's features looked so young and deceptively innocent when they were relaxed in sleep.

It made Jen overly aware of the fact that Jaret's lips had touched his own several times already. He tried to resist the memory of how soft they had been, how sweet tasting. Jaret was and forever would be his enemy, and Jen would not let himself forget that. He scurried down a bit so his face was aligned with Jaret's muscular chest. Not that this position was any better, especially when Jaret decided to cuddle Jen to him like a favoured toy.

It wasn't surprising as Jen had already learned that in many regards Jaret was like an overgrown child, only with the muscle and skill to actually take what he wanted. Hashid had taught Jen to read in people's souls, learn to predict their actions and reactions. The old healer had told Jen how sometimes it was necessary to appear a bit omniscient to others, to make them believe in the healer and his magic because belief, Hashid had pointed out, was a mighty weapon. Jen tried to hold onto these lessons, use them, but children…well, they were tricky. They could be sweet as much as they could be a terror and it wasn't always easy or even possible to make them see reason.

The next morning Jen awoke alone. Yawning, he stretched himself, then winced at the pain. He crawled out of the tent's opening and rose up. Tomin's eyes were already on him. Jen gave him a weak nod. Since the incident with Chadan, Tomin didn't leave his posting when he was assigned to watch over Jen. Ever.

Now Tomin came closer, probably to accompany Jen to go about his daily business. But Jen's gaze was drawn to a group of three men clustered together, Chadan among them. It looked as if Chadan was whispering urgently, and the other two men would nod ever so often at something he said.

Jen frowned. Since he'd overheard the argument between Jaret, Stavus and Chadan, Jen had noticed the mounting tension among the riders. It didn't take a magician to see that Chadan had his sights set on the position of leader yet he was obviously too much of a coward - or probably not enough of an idiot - to challenge Jaret in open combat. Jen couldn't exactly blame him, the man didn't even reach up to Jen's size, and while the same could be said for Krisian, at least Krisian's muscular figure spoke of his warrior nature.

Chadan was of a lighter frame, scrawnier, well suited for the kind of quick, agile styles that lended itself to fighting with knives. But Jaret could probably break him in half with one blow. No, the man's strong point wasn't his muscle but the venom of his tongue and his scheming tactics, engaging in secret whispers like he did now. Jen had met men like him, they were good at using any opportunity to their benefit. And apparently Jaret's role as leader of the horde wasn't completely secured if the dark looks and murmurs Jen had witnessed were any indication. From what he gathered loot seemed to have been lacking lately.

Right now the dissatisfied appeared to be in the minority though as most of the riders stayed away from Chadan's little posse. But Jen knew that that could change quickly. He pegged Stavus and Tomin for being loyal to Jaret but didn't know enough about the others to predict any possible shifting of their loyalties. Great, not only was he a prisoner and probably soon to be slave but he had been lucky enough to be captured by a group who struggled with the chain of command. And Jen didn't harbour any false hope on Chadan's feelings about the treatment of prisoners.

Tomin was right next to him now, frowning at the little would-be band of conspirators as well but he knew his task and motioned for Jen to follow him. "Come."

Jen reluctantly began to walk, throwing glances over his shoulder. In that moment Jaret appeared behind a tent and walked right at Chadan and the two men. Jen stopped walking and turned around again.

Beside him Tomin coughed him impatiently. "Come."

But Jen dug his heels in. Surely the man wouldn't bodily drag him off, and Jen wanted to see how Jaret would handle the situation. Ever since Jen's whipping the situation between the two men had been tense with Chadan making at least an effort to avoid drawing more of Jaret's ire.

The men with Chadan looked uncomfortable now while Chadan himself wore a defiant expression.

Jaret came to a halt right in front of them. "Chadan, my friend. Camp life bores you as I see." He spoke with deceptive softness though his voice was loud enough to carry over to Jen. One of the men looked ready to protest but Jaret silenced him by holding up a hand. "No, I understand. I feel it myself, the need for battle, the cry of blood. We should train a bit later, you and I." Here Jaret smiled wolfishly. "But first, the horses need tending to, as well as the saddles and bridles."

Chadan looked outraged. "That is work for slaves."

"Then you will do slave's work today," Jaret answered coldly.

"You…you have no right," Chadan spluttered and the rider at his left side nodded in sympathy.

Jaret's answer was a vicious backhand to Chadan's face. "That wasn't a request. And if you only understand the discipline of a slave, then I won't hesitate to use it to make myself clear."

Jen stood transfixed at the scene, and a quick glance at his 'guard' showed him that Tomin shared his fascination.

Now Jaret stepped closer to Chadan till they were almost chest-to-chest. With lightning speed he'd drawn his knife and had it pressed against Chadan's throat. "Because if you won't carry out my orders, I will have no use for you anymore. Understood?"

Chadan's face had completely lost its spiteful expression. The man finally looked fearful, unsure if he had overstepped his boundaries at last.

"Now, do as you were told," Jaret's gaze swept over all three men. "Then you need some weapon's training. Up there," Jaret pointed to the dune overlooking the camp.

Jen couldn't help his grin. By then the sun would have reached its highest point and without anything to provide shade on the dune, doing anything physically exhausting up there would be quite unpleasant. However Jaret's next words wiped the grin right off his face.

"Everybody else has work to do as well, I trust. We need to get ready. In short time we'll make a fortune at the markets." Jaret didn't address anyone in particular but all around him Jen saw the riders break out into grins of their own now. They eyed their captives with newfound glee.

Jen's shoulders slumped. But really what did he expect? Jaret was still the leader of a murdering barbarian horde that had killed a lot of his tribe

"Come," Tomin had taken his arm again, his voice soft, and this time Jen allowed himself to be led away.

* * *



When the sun had risen passed its highest point, Jen made his daily visit to Stavus' tent to look after the man's wound. Stavus was making a good recovery, soon he would be strong enough to take the strain of the journey to the settlements, and Jen feared the small reprieve for the prisoners was coming to an end. Jaret had assured Jen that at least he meant to keep his word of releasing the twins and their mother, they were to be set free in reach of another tribe as soon as could be done. Jen could only pray that that would indeed be so.

At least Jaret had already reunited the little family and singled them out from the other prisoners, resulting in better treatment altogether. This act seemed to have struck the men as mysterious at best, downright angering at worst.

When Jen was about the leave Stavus again, an unusual - and unwelcome - sight greeted him. Krisian appeared in the tent's opening and seemed determined to block Jen from exiting quietly. After Jen's last outburst Krisian had taken no further steps to reconciliation, and Jen was glad for it. He didn't want to hear the man's lies or excuses.

This time, however, Krisian obviously decided to force the matter. When Jen moved to evade him, Krisian grabbed onto his arm. "We need to talk."

Jen unsuccessfully tried to shake the offending limb off. "There is nothing to talk about," he said sharply.

Krisian glanced back at Stavus who was resting peacefully again and pulled Jen from the tent. Nodding at Tomin, he dragged Jen a few dozen steps till they were out of earshot from the camp.

"For once let me explain," Krisian started.

Jen just squirmed to free himself from Krisian's grip. He glared. "Let go of me."

"You don't even want to know about the other hunters?" Krisian asked, tilting his head.

Folding his arms in front of his chest, Jen struck a defiant pose. "I asked Jaret, he told me they are all dead. Except you of course." Jen spat out the last part with all the disdain he could muster.

Krisian sighed. "I'm sorry, Jen. I really am. But please hear my side of it. Haven't I earned that much from you?" Tiredly he freed Jen's arm.

Jen balled his hand into fists, his nails digging into the skin of his palms. He would not cry. "Earned? They were your friends. Kasuf, he spoke up for you at the council. And Amin he offered you his daughter in marriage. Now they're dead. And you willingly share bread with those who killed them? What do you expect?" His lower lip trembled.

"Jen, I didn't…after they were done with the village, they hid in the tents, laying in wait for us to return. We saw the carnage from up the dune and came to the rescue. We didn't know. I was knocked unconscious. I didn't…I wouldn't have just stood by and watch them get slaughtered…" he gestured helplessly.

"But why did they spare you? Why did they take you in?"

Krisian sighed. "Stavus," he answered. "I know him from before. We…were close. I thought he was dead and he believed the same thing about me." He chuckled. "It was a shock on both our parts."

"I still don't understand." .

"When I saw Stavus…I was distracted for a moment…then everything went black, blow to the head," Krisian explained sheepishly, obviously a bit ashamed of his easy 'capture'. "I know some of the men but still the unfamiliar ones are in the majority, they probably would have killed me right there if Stavus hadn't been with them. He spoke up for me."

Jen snorted. "How convenient for you."

"Jen--"

"No. You lived with us for the last summers. We were your family. Yet you did nothing to help us."

Krisian rolled his eyes. "Don't be naïve, Jen. I'm in no position of power here. The men - barely - accept me because of Stavus. The few that remember me, leave me alone. But the others? I was challenged three times already to show my ability in combat. Now they know not to mess with me. But I won't have any say until I've proven my real worth to them."

"You mean ride with them? Attack innocent people the way they attacked ours? You would do that?" Jen looked at Krisian, horrified.

A look of shame crossed over Krisian's face but it was extinguished soon. "I don't know. I do know that I will not part from Stavus. And it's…" Krisian hesitated slightly, "nothing I haven't done before."

Jen's stomach recoiled at the thought of his friend having committed such terrible acts. "You never told me," he whispered.

Krisian sighed. "You've a gentle soul and a good heart, Jen. But you know nothing of the harsh world outside, I knew you wouldn't understand. Nor anybody else in the village. You all lived such simple lives. How could you understand?"

"Why did you even stay with us if you think us so weak and naïve?" Jen countered.

A grim chuckle answered him. "I thought I could find peace with you. After I believed Stavus' dead, I wanted nothing more than to forget. Live a quiet, peaceful life as well." Krisian shook his head resolutely. "But I should have known better. This is not the world we live in. And now you've learned this too."

"Does this help you sleep easier at night when you hear the screams of our women? Or the cries of the children?" Jen asked cruelly.

Krisian held his gaze. "It gives me no pleasure. But there is nothing I can do." He helped up a hand to silence Jen's attempted protest. "And nothing even Stavus can do. He doesn't lead the horde. And even if he did, he couldn't decide to let you all go. These are hardened men, Jen. They expect a reward for their troubles."

"Troubles?" Jen spat. "Oh, I'm sorry that murdering and stealing is such a strain for them."

"That was not what I meant. But you have to accept reality, Jen. The village is destroyed, the tribe doesn't exist anymore. You have to think of yourself now."

A cold smile appeared on Jen's face. "Like you, you mean?"

Krisian gritted his teeth but spoke in calm tones, still. "Yes, like me. Wasn't that what you always wanted? To be like me?"

Jen paled at the remark. "That was before I knew you for the coward you truly are."

Eyes blazing, Krisian grabbed both Jen's shoulders, shaking him lightly. Even though Krisian wasn't as tall as Jen himself, enraged, he presented an impressive sight. "Anybody else, I would kill for speaking to me like you did just now." He released Jen, calming himself with obvious effort. He instantly looked contrite when he observed Jen's flinch of pain. "Your back… I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you."

Breathing against the pain, Jen refused to acknowledge the apology. What did such little thing matter compared to the wrongs Krisian had done against them all? Jen still couldn't understand it. In Krisian's place, he'd never turned his back on his friends that easily.

Krisian must have read Jen's answer in his face because now the man looked more tired than anything else. "I value you as a friend, Jen. More, you've grown to be like a little brother to me. And I will understand if you'll never forgive me. But please use that head of yours to help yourself. It was foolish to trade yourself for the small ones. But fine, you've done the noble thing, now you should do the smart thing. Jaret has taken a liking to you. You wouldn't be the first captive who can use that to their advantage."

"You…you mean?" Jen stuttered, feeling the blush creep into his cheeks.

"Stavus has assured me Jaret isn't like Chadan. And from what I've seen he is right. Jaret doesn't enjoy hurting those weaker than him." Now Krisian looked at Jen intently. "Or does he?"

The blush on Jen's face intensified. "He…he may not have used a whip on me but he…he wanted to…" Jen's voice trailed off.

"It doesn't have to be unpleasant, Jen. And I have…noticed you looking at me before so I thought you…wouldn't mind coupling with a man on general principle."

Jen kicked at the sand of his feet, face growing heated. "I thought I would be worth more if I didn't…I heard them talking, Jaret and Stavus."

It was Krisian whose face took on a slightly redder shade now. "I…convinced Stavus of that. At first I thought that would help you. I even send Stavus over to Jaret's tent on that first day of your captivity to…well, to get Jaret away from you, figured you needed some time."

"Oh," Jen whispered. He didn't know what to make of that. The knowledge that Krisian in a way had tried to help was comforting. At least that meant he hadn't lied all this time when he'd proclaimed himself Jen's friend.

Krisian spoke again. "But now… I think it's better for you to--"

"I won't sell myself," Jen interrupted him. "They might sell me but I won't do it for them."

Krisian heaved a deep sigh. "Don't be so obstinate. Jen--"

"I…I need to go," Jen said, effectively ending the conversation and hurrying back to camp.

This time Krisian didn't stop him. But his words continued to ring in Jen's head. The prospect of willingly… giving himself to Jaret to escape slavery was…disturbing. And there was no guarantee that it would work. Jaret could just take his pleasure with Jen and then sell him anyway. No, it was a stupid idea, and Krisian was crazy. He ignored the tiny voice in his mind that reminded him that Krisian wasn't the one who'd first steered the idea in Jen's mind.

* * *



Later in the day as the shadows were lengthening already, Jen observed a sweating Chadan and his two co-conspirators make their way from atop the dune where they'd just spent some time with sword training and strenuous exercising. Chadan's shoulders were hunched and, when he by-passed the spot where Jen was currently kneeling on the ground, Jen could see that Chadan looked for all the world like sour milk. Jen lowered his head to hide his smile at the sight.

"So, ready for a real fight then?"

The words made Jen's head shoot back up, in time to catch Chadan's incredulous face, along with twin groans from his compatriots.

"You…you can't be serious. We just about died up there in the sun." Chadan looked at Jaret with just the barest hint of desperation.

Jaret shrugged. "I think it was you who advised me about not being strict enough with those under my command, wasn't it?"

"But…I…" Chadan's face grew redder than it already was. "I meant the slaves."

He didn't look at Jen when he spoke, didn't dare, but Jen could feel Chadan's hateful glance upon him nonetheless. He shivered, feeling a slight unease that Jaret was aggravating the man too much. Of course Jaret in his usual fashion seemed to be enjoying himself immensely right now.

"Well, I can hardly spar with the slaves, can I?" Jaret asked mockingly. "You two…" he addressed the two men hovering behind Chadan who tensed immediately, "…can go now. I think Chadan here will prove a nice enough opponent for today. Unless you wish to join him still?"

The underlying meaning, the challenge, was evident in both Jaret's words and his posture.

Apparently Chadan's choice in friends had not been so wise after all as both men shook their heads vigorously and hurried off to the side.

Jaret lazily drew his sword and took a fighting stance. "Attack," he ordered.

Chadan continued to stare dumbfounded for a moment, letting his gaze travel in an obvious search for help - and coming up empty. Finally he raised his sword and the two opponents traded a few light blows.

Soon a crowd of spectators began to gather, much to Chadan's evident chagrin. Jen saw that Stavus had left his resting place and was leaning heavily on Krisian, both engrossed in watching. He even noticed the captives stealing a few glances towards the display.

Jen himself watched with no small amounts of glee - and a tiny bit of awe - as Jaret swung his sword, slapping Chadan's weapon away with seeming ease. One time he followed it up with a slap of the sword's blunt side to Chadan's lower back. Of course that only served to agitate the smaller man more who was getting red-faced at the humiliation and the barely suppressed giggles it drew from the watching crowd. Glancing over to his left side Jen saw Stavus laughing outright and Krisian smirking.

The blows fell faster and faster and Jen found it difficult to follow the exchange. Finally Jaret ended the lesson by unceremoniously knocking Chadan down with the sword hilt. The defeated man remained on the ground while Jaret looked around calmly.

Jen surreptitiously mirrored him. The crowd started to scatter, some of the men murmuring and nodding in what seemed to Jen like approval. Obviously Jaret had been successful in making his point and reinforcing his position as leader.

As if reading his thoughts Jaret winked at Jen when he passed him by to wander over to Stavus, and Jen blushingly looked away. Wasn't like he had anything to do with what had just happened. Well, at least Jaret was guaranteed to be in an agreeable mood today so that could only be a good thing for Jen.

When they shared their evening meal, Jen revisited that thought as Jaret's high spirits showed in his drinking lots of wine and poking fun at Jen wherever he could. The needling itself might have been bearable as it was done good-naturedly but Jaret had practically pulled Jen onto his lap and insisted on feeding him ever so often. Jen's attempts to politely discourage Jaret's hands away from his mouth and other body parts were as successful as Chadan's attempts at fighting had been.

"So," Jaret took another sip of the sweet wine, "I noticed you watching me today."

The question seemed innocent enough but Jen wasn't fooled. He shrugged, tearing off another piece of sour-bread and for once feeding himself. "I think everybody was watching."

"Hm," Jaret scratched his chin absently, "But not everybody was watching my body as intently as you, I would think." He winked.

Choking on the bite he had just taken, Jen sputtered and coughed. "I did not…I mean…I was just interested in the fight."

Jaret raised an eyebrow. "Ah, so what did you think of my sword technique then? Too slow on the left parry maybe? And the upward strikes?"

"It was fine," Jen mumbled, still recovering his breath.

Jaret helpfully slapped him on the back. "No, no, tell me what you think. I give you permission to speak freely."

He nodded for emphasis. And Jen praised himself for resisting the impulse to stick out his tongue at Jaret. Bastard knew well enough that Jen had no idea of the finer points of sword fighting. Which didn't mean that Jen had concentrated on watching Jaret's muscular body instead. Because he hadn't. "You defeated him. What more is there to say?"

Popping a berry into his mouth, Jaret spoke casually yet his tone was anything but. "Chadan will think better now of making a move against me - or what's mine."

"So I guess I should be thanking you then?" Jen raised an eyebrow.

Either missing or ignoring Jen's tone, Jaret grinned. "I wouldn't say no to a little kiss as a token of your gratitude."

Jen huffed angrily. "I'm not a fool. You didn't fight him just on my behalf," he pointed out. Captive or not, Jaret shouldn't assume he was dealing with a little idiot.

"Then enlighten me, little Jen, why did I fight him?"

"He was conspiring against you. You wanted to teach him a lesson."

Jaret looked thoughtful now. "Sharp little mind you have. Not the most desirable trait for a slave though, does more harm than good." His fingers curled into Jen's hair.

"Well, it's not exactly my choice to be a slave, is it?" Jen asked scathingly.

Leaning closer so that Jen could feel Jaret's lips touching his ear, he more felt than heard the whispered words. "What if it was?"

Jen stiffened. "You…offer me freedom?"

"I didn't say that…exactly." Jaret's tone was still almost a caress.

"So my choice is whether I want to pretend that I'm a slave or not?" Jen challenged.

Jaret halted his petting motions in Jen's hair. "I'd say it's being a fool or not. Would you rather belong to someone like Chadan then? I thought your latest experiences had cured you from that."

Picking at the hem of his tunic Jen tried to appear aloof. "You make it sound like there is a real difference," he said lightly. Yet the moment the words left Jen's mouth, he already wanted to take them back as Jaret looked deeply offended or was it hurt? His gentleness vanished and Jen found himself pushed from the other man's lap with such force that he lost his balance and ended up flat on his back.

He winced but for once Jaret ingored him, glowering. "Then perhaps I gave you too much credit. It seems your pretty head isn't good for thinking after all." Then he stormed from the tent.

Sighing, Jen rolled over onto his stomach. Maybe it was less the sharpness of his mind that was the problem than the sharpness of his tongue.

* * *



The next day brought little improvement as Jaret was moody and short-tempered but at least ignored Jen for the most part. Just before dusk he went out for a ride on his own but returned soon after, grabbing a confused Jen along the way to his tent.

Jen frowned, unsure on how to proceed. His offer to bring in food - meant as an olive branch - was met with a quick headshake.

Raising his eyebrows a bit, Jen tentatively repeated the offer.

"I said I'm not hungry," Jaret barked at him.

Jen was taken aback. As long as Jen had been with him - which granted wasn't that long but still - he'd never seen Jaret refuse food. In fact that was about the only constant about Jaret, Jen had been able to figure out so far. No matter how moody Jaret could be, it didn't influence his appetite.

"I…um…" Jen didn't know what to do now. His stomach definitely demanded to be filled yet he wasn't sure if he'd be allowed to do so now. When Jaret was in a foul mood, Jen didn't like to aggravate him further for Jaret tended to turn deliberately mean then. He would touch Jen more than Jen was comfortable with and whisper of dark, forbidden acts of pleasure he could imagine doing to Jen that made the young healer's eyes widen.

But Jaret only waved in the direction of the tent's opening. "Go on, feed yourself."

Jen hesitated for a moment longer but when Jaret raised his eyebrow in question, obviously short of patience, Jen quickly fled the tent.

When he returned with a small plate of the sweet berries Jaret seemed so enamoured with - just in case - he found Jaret already laid out, wrapped in the furs. Jen frowned. The full chill of the night had not yet fallen and the tent had conserved the heat of the day well enough. He put down the plate and went over to Jaret, watching him uncertainly.

Usually Jen was the first to lay down with Jaret then wrapping himself around him. Was Jen supposed to sleep at Jaret's side now? Or lay down somewhere else? Jaret had grabbed a hold of all the furs though, and Jen knew that while it might still be comfortably warm now that would change once night descended fully. Jen didn't even contemplate trying to escape for he knew if he set so much as foot outside again, his personal guards would be all over him. Sighing, he lowered himself next to Jaret, turning his back on the other man this time.

It was still quiet outside when Jen awoke due to the heavy weight lying half on top of him, pressing him down on his back. The position wasn't exactly comfortable but he found the pain was manageable. His sleep-addled brain figured that Jaret must have rolled over in his sleep. While that was familiar, the heat Jaret radiated was something new.

Wincing, Jen squirmed his way from under Jaret, sitting up. He was surprised the act didn't wake Jaret. The man usually was an alert sleeper. Jen reached out and touched a hand to Jaret's skin. His fingers encountered sticky wetness. Jaret was sweating heavily, it seemed. As a healer Jen knew the telltale signs of a fever. He rose up on his knees beside Jaret and peered at him. It was too dark in the tent to make out more than a shadowy shape. Jen blinked, trying to get his eyes to focus.

He laid his hand on Jaret's skin again, and then lowered his ear to the other man's chest to listen to the heartbeat there. Both gave cause to alarm as apparently Jaret was running a very high fever, and the thump of his heart was faster than it should be. Experimentally he shook Jaret to awaken him but Jaret just groaned and swatted at him weakly.

"Leav`m'alone" Jaret's speech was a bit slurred.

Jen scratched his head in disbelief. Surely the Gods were having a good laugh at his expense now. A healer captured by barbarians that fell sick one after another? Who had ever heard of such a ridiculous tale?

For a moment the thought that this might be his best chance to escape entered Jen's mind. It might even be his chance to rid the world of a man like Jaret who made his living by killing and pillaging. In his weakened state Jaret might not be able to put up much of a struggle if Jen simply pressed the furs over his mouth and nose till he stopped breathing. The idea horrified him. He was a healer, sworn to preserve life, not to end it.

And even if he did manage to flee, what would become of his tribe then? With Jaret gone, there was a real chance Chadan turned the men around to his way of thinking again and that would spell sure doom for the prisoners. Even Jen himself would probably be recaptured quickly enough, making his way through the desert alone and on foot. No, it was in his best interest to help Jaret now, might even benefit from it as well. It had nothing to do with the way sometimes, only sometimes Jaret had the power to make his heart beat faster in anything other than fear.

He shook Jaret again, knowing he had to find the cause of the problem.

Finally Jaret's eyes opened to slits. "Go back to sleep," he murmured, trying to pull Jen down on top of him.

But Jen was not to be detoured so easily. "You're running a fever. I need to look you over."

Jaret sighed, coming more awake now. "It's nothing."

Jen's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean nothing?"

"I dealt with it myself. Just need some sleep. Tomorrow I'll be fine again. Now lie back down, slave."

Jaret sounded aggravated but Jen couldn't tell if it was from being in pain or simple frustration. His curiosity was piqued, and he ignored the way Jaret had addressed him. "I'm going to get light in here."

"What? No. I told you to lie down." Jaret rose up on his elbows, making a move to grab for Jen but Jen nimbly evaded him and went outside.

A tall, dark-skinned man who was not Tomin looked at him questioningly. Jen just gestured to the fireplace and the little metal bowl next to it. It was used not unlike a torch and meant to illuminate a tent at night without polluting the little space with the heavy fumes a real torch would generate. The guard shrugged and motioned for him to go ahead. Quickly Jen lightened a little fire in the bowl and hurried back in. On his way he also grabbed a jug of water.

Once inside the tent, now filled with a soft glow of light then, he knelt beside Jaret again. Now he could clearly see that Jaret's body was trembling slightly even though the eyes currently fixed on Jen were stormy and held promises of grave retribution.

"I gave you an order. Now do as I say or I'll tie you up again," Jaret announced darkly.

Jen folded his arms in front of his chest. Dealing with obstinate sick people? That he had ample experience with. "You are obviously not well. I am a healer. If you know something was wrong, why didn't you tell me?"

"Your services are pretty costly," Jaret pointed out sharply.

Jen shook his head. "You'd rather die than agree to free more captives?"

Scoffing Jaret laid back down. "It's but a mere scratch. I hardly am going to die from it."

"Oh, forgive me, I didn't know you had training to be a healer then?" Jen asked with mock seriousness.

Jaret's gaze darkened even more. "You're pushing your luck, little one. Don't go too far."

Jen acknowledged him with a slight nod. Maybe he had forgotten himself in the unexpected shift of power between them. "Will you allow me to take a look at your wound then?"

"No haggling for the price first?" Jaret countered. Before Jen could answer his features twisted into a sneer. "Or maybe you do prefer me to someone like Chadan after all, hm?"

Lips pressed into a thin line, Jen refused to take the bait. "Let me see your wound," he forced out.

Jaret's eyes still mocked him but the man obligingly lifted his tunic, exposing his muscular thighs, and Jen couldn't help blushing. Inwardly he scolded himself. In his function as healer he had been able to view nakedness with a detached calm but somehow with Jaret it felt more intimate. The way he had felt a certain part of Jaret's pressing into him, knowing what Jaret intended to do, made Jen both curious to actually see it as well as uncomfortable at the idea.

Luckily the wound was not as far up on the leg as to make it necessary to expose the whole waist area. Jen leaned down to inspect the injury. It didn't look very big and appeared to be a rather shallow cut.

"You cleaned it?" He inquired of Jaret and was answered with a nod. "Then it wasn't done well. There are early signs of infection."

Jaret seemed offended. "I have dealt with my wounds before and they always healed just fine."

Jen scoffed. It wasn't the first time he had to deal with the repercussions of such behaviour. More than one hunter of his tribe had thought to prove his masculinity by silently enduring an injury. Fools.
"Not all wounds are the same. If Chadan's sword carried much dirt on it…" He shrugged. "I can use some special herbs to clean it out properly and it will vanish soon. My medicine bag is in Stavus' tent. I will go and fetch it."

Shaking his head, Jaret held him back. "Wait till morning. Can't be long now. It will look suspicious for you to go now if I'm not with you," he said gruffly.

This, Jen had to agree with. He filled a cup with the water he had brought in and offered it to Jaret. "You need to drink something to keep your body from drying out."

Jaret took it and gulped the water down greedily.

"Not so fast," Jen admonished. "Drink slowly."

Chuckling a bit, Jaret gave him back the now empty cup. "Is that an order?"

"You don't take orders from a lowly slave?" Jen asked challengingly.

Another chuckle answered him. "It would take a lot to make a proper slave of you, Jen. And I'm not sure I would enjoy seeing that."

Not knowing how to answer that but seeing how Jaret's eyelids were drooping again, Jen put a hand on Jaret's chest and pushed him down. "Go back to sleep."

He flinched when Jaret suddenly grabbed a hold of his hand but the other man only swiped his thumb over Jen's palm. "I'm in your hands then," Jaret said. And Jen either couldn't or wouldn't examine his tone too closely, he ignored the words and lowered himself down next to Jaret but with enough distance between them so he wouldn't disturb Jaret but could keep an eye on him just the same.

Despite himself Jen must have fallen asleep as well because when he awoke and lifted an edge of the tent a bit to peek outside, he found the first rays of sunshine already making their way from the sky. Jaret still remained fast asleep. And a quick check on him tol Jen that he wasn't worse off than before.

Jen stretched himself and went outside to get his bag from Stavus tent. Now Tomin was back at his post and looked back and forth between Jen and the tent with a confused frown. Jen knew what the rider wondered about as usually Jaret either left before Jen or with him. He gave Tomin what he hoped was a reassuring smile and hurried on.

When he entered Stavus' tent, Jen stopped in his tracks, embarrassed. Stavus and Krisian were wrapped around each other, mouths fused together and, if Jen wasn't wholly mistaken, looked to be naked under the furs. He cleared his throat uncomfortably and the pair drew apart. Krisian's eyebrows shot up at the sight of Jen and he cleared his throat while Stavus looked rather unperturbed.

"Jen?" Krisian spoke, breaking the uncomfortable silence. "What are you doing here?"

Jen fiddled with the hem of his tunic. "I…um… I need your help."

Krisian gaped at that unexpected turn of events and even Stavus looked worried now. "What happened," he asked.

"It's Jaret, he is…" Jen looked around and lowered his voice into a whisper, "…he is sick."

Stavus sat up, the furs covering him dropping down to his lap and Jen's head swivelled to the side. He did not need to see that.

"Sick? How? What happened?" Stavus asked again.

"I…I think he got injured in the fight with Chadan, nothing serious, just a scratch really. But now the wound got infected," Jen explained.

Stavus' brows drew together in an angry frown. "Why didn't you treat that sooner?"

Now Jen felt heat rise within him at being wrongly accused here. "I didn't know, he didn't tell me," he defended himself, voice rising again.

Stavus snorted something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like fool . He looked at Jen. "How bad is it?"

"I just need some herbs to clean and dress the wound properly and he'll recover soon. He'll just feel weakened for a day or two."

Krisian sighed. "That is not a good time. Chadan is out for blood now. If he learns of this, it will be him spoiling for a fight this time."

"I'll deal with Chadan," Stavus waved him off.

Jen coughed. "You're not up to fighting yet."

Stavus scowled, especially when Krisian took Jen's side of the argument. "He is right, you know? You're still not fully healed."

"Traitor," Stevus grumbled though it sounded affectionate.

"Well, he is good at that," Jen couldn't help the little barb but after their talk earlier, he felt at least somewhat badly to see Krisian's flinch at the words. He cleared his throat. "Anyway, I can take care of Jaret but it would be better if no one sees him like this."

Stavus nodded. "I'll keep the man away from the tent." He sounded certain of his ability to do so.

"What will you tell them?" Jen asked, unconvinced.

"I'll tell them that these are Jaret's orders. And they are not to question them. Simple as that." Stavus nodded for emphasis.

"But won't Chadan--"

"Let me worry about Chadan, you only have to worry about Jaret. Understood?" Stavus sounded final.

Jen sighed. These men were so obstinate in their pride. He had an idea. "When someone asks, tell them Jaret is sleeping off a drunken haze."

"Drunk?"

Stavus looked at him as if he was crazy. But Jen nodded eagerly. "It won't hold forever but at least like this if someone looks in on him, they can easily mistake him for a drunk."

Krisian seemed to catch on to Jen's idea. "Yes, that's not a bad plan. Jen is quite cunning. You can trust him."

"Hm," Stavus didn't look fully convinced but nodded at Jen nonetheless. "I will try it your way."

"You have many gifts, little healer," Stavus winked at him. Then his features grew serious. "I'm in your debt."

Jen looked at him intently. "Jaret promised me to release three prisoners in exchange for you. If you feel in my debt, you will make sure that he does."

"Don't worry, healer, Jaret is a man who keeps his word." Stavus looked thoughtful for a moment. "And by healing him he - and I - will be in your debt again."

Not knowing what to say, Jen just shrugged. Sure, Stavus and even Jaret could promise him many rewards but they didn't have to keep them. Though he secretly had to admit that both men struck him as honourable enough when it came to their word. Only time would tell. As of now he just needed to make sure the power wouldn't shift to Chadan. He turned to leave when Krisian's voice stopped him. "Wait. I'll walk you back."

Keeping his back turned, Jen listened to the rustling of clothes that told him Krisian was dressing himself. Then the other man stood beside him and both made their way out of Stavus' tent.

"That is very kind of you," Krisian's voice was soft. "Helping Jaret, I mean."

"I'm helping myself, Krisian. Not Jaret. And not your Stavus either." Jen glared sideways at Krisian.

Krisian laughed softly. "I know that. But Jaret is like a brother to Stavus. Losing Jaret would bring great anguish."

"It's just a scratch. Hardly in need of a healer," Jen pointed out.

"Yes, but if infection had really settled in…" Krisian trailed off.

Jen looked at him. "Sure, one can die from a small cut but it hasn't come to that by far so why even muse about what hasn't been."

Rolling his eyes, Krisian put a hand on Jen's chest to halt his movements. "I hope that is not what you told Jaret. You need to make clear how valuable you've been to him - again. You didn't want to use your body, fine. Now make use of your head." With that Krisian turned on his heel and marched back to his own tent.

Shoulders slumping, Jen stalked off to his own tent. And when had he started thinking of it in such terms?

Inside the tent Jen stopped dead in his tracks. Jaret was currently in the process of trying to remove his clothing, probably because it was sweat-drenched by now. But it wasn't the sight of pure. gleaming muscles that made Jen gasp; no it was Jaret's back - or rather what was left of it, as scars seemed to cover nearly every inch of skin. Now on a warrior the existence of scars was to be expected - Krisian carried a few of his own - but Jaret's didn't come from battle, Jen was sure of it.

No, the criss-crossing lines came from a whip. Jen would probably keep a few scars of his own now. Yet they would be nowhere near as bad as Jaret's. Old scar tissue was hidden under newer one, with some of it looking to have been years back - Jaret must have been a child back then - Jen could only guess that this was the result of years of the most brutal abuse. And Jen knew just one brand of people who were treated like that.

Slaves.

* * *

Chapter 4

Comments

( 63 have dazzled me — Dazzle me )
Page 1 of 3
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legoline
Dec. 7th, 2007 06:53 pm (UTC)
Oh, me likey the revelation at the end :-)
astri13
Dec. 7th, 2007 06:55 pm (UTC)
Du meine Güte, hast du das überflogen oder zuerst das Ende gelesen? Ich hab doch grad erst gepostet. :)
(no subject) - legoline - Dec. 7th, 2007 07:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
runedgirl
Dec. 7th, 2007 07:19 pm (UTC)
Great chapter, can't wait for more! I love the way you're spinning this out slowly, giving the reader little glimpses of how things really are for all the characters. More soon?
Lynsey
astri13
Dec. 7th, 2007 10:12 pm (UTC)
I love the way you're spinning this out slowly, giving the reader little glimpses of how things really are for all the characters.

This makes me so happy to read because I was fearing things were too slow-paced and as the middle part too transitional so people would get bored. Phew. Thank you muchly.
lilieblues
Dec. 7th, 2007 07:20 pm (UTC)
come onnnn, you can't stop here!! I'm loving this story more and more at each update! I'm really looking forward the next part. I hope it will be soon, very soon :)
astri13
Dec. 7th, 2007 10:14 pm (UTC)
come onnnn, you can't stop here!!

I have to, it says so in the evil author manifesto. *g* But I`m glad you`re still hanging in there. As I said in another comment I was fretting over things maybe moving along too slow. So thank you so much.
causeways
Dec. 7th, 2007 07:40 pm (UTC)
I was kind of expecting the reveal at the end because of how strangely Jared had acted about the idea of slavery in previous chapters, but still: yay! Such good stuff. :D
astri13
Dec. 7th, 2007 10:16 pm (UTC)
I was kind of expecting the reveal at the end because of how strangely Jared had acted about the idea of slavery in previous chapters,

Heh, my little anvils didn`t miss their target, I see. *g* Glad you`re still enjoying it. This chapter was a bit transitional so I just hoped it wouldn`t be a bore. Thank you muchly.
nyoka
Dec. 7th, 2007 07:59 pm (UTC)
This story is so utterly engrossing. Your writing draws me into this world, and Jen's POV and thoughts work so well in the narrative. I am fascinated by the backstory of your characters as well.

I love that your chapters are long and meaty, and still make me sad when they end! Thanks for sharing and fantastic job so far:)

astri13
Dec. 7th, 2007 10:20 pm (UTC)
This story is so utterly engrossing. Your writing draws me into this world, and Jen's POV and thoughts work so well in the narrative. I am fascinated by the backstory of your characters as well.

*blushes* That makes me so happy to read. I really to view everything through Jen`s eyes but of course it is a bit restricting as to how much can be revealed.

I`m just thrilled people are sticking with the story even though I still haven`t progressed to the poooorn. And it`s the third date already. :)

goldenseal
Dec. 7th, 2007 08:02 pm (UTC)
HAH! I KNEW IT!!
Okay, I can't wait for the next chapter!!
astri13
Dec. 7th, 2007 10:21 pm (UTC)
HAH! I KNEW IT!!

Hehe. Well done on following the breadcrumps. :) Thank you so much.
(Anonymous)
Dec. 7th, 2007 08:18 pm (UTC)
Oh-a connection for our boys?
Love the story and the pace.
I am sad to see you have only 5 chapters planned--I am so greedy!
astri13
Dec. 7th, 2007 10:23 pm (UTC)
Oh-a connection for our boys?

A little bit. Maybe. ;-)

Love the story and the pace.

Yay. I was so worried about the pace being too slow.

I am sad to see you have only 5 chapters planned--I am so greedy!

Yeah but wait for Chapter 5 to suddenly end up being 5a, b, c and d once my overly optimistic estimation crumbles into dust. *g*

Thank you so much.
(Deleted comment)
astri13
Dec. 7th, 2007 10:24 pm (UTC)
And I love that you`re loving it so it is a good day for me too. :) Thank you muchly.
listentorabbits
Dec. 7th, 2007 11:09 pm (UTC)
oooh. the plot thickens.
*sniffle*
I can't belive there's only two more chapters.
No fair.
:(
astri13
Dec. 8th, 2007 03:22 pm (UTC)
I can't belive there's only two more chapters.
No fair.


Awww. Sorry. But I`m thrilled you stayed with the story this far. Thank you muchly. :)
jacey26
Dec. 7th, 2007 11:22 pm (UTC)
Wow, this amazing. Just keeps getting more and more interesting!
astri13
Dec. 8th, 2007 03:24 pm (UTC)
It makes me so happy to read that since when I re-read my own stuff, I always think it`s way too slow and boring. :) So thank you so much.
mafuhu
Dec. 7th, 2007 11:44 pm (UTC)
I just read the first 3 chapters! oooh me likey!:D

This is the most different AU i have read so far...im almost suprised at how much im enjoying it :D

Really good, i love your writing :D
astri13
Dec. 8th, 2007 03:26 pm (UTC)
This is the most different AU i have read so far...im almost suprised at how much im enjoying it :D

Heh, I wasn`t sure about it at first because it`s really out there as a concept but the plot bunny would not let me go. :) So I`m glad it turned out enjoyable. Thank you greatly.
(Deleted comment)
astri13
Dec. 8th, 2007 03:26 pm (UTC)
Ha! I knew it! Jaret was a slave previously.

Hehe, I see you followed the breadcrumbs well. :) Thrilled you`re liking it. Thanks muchly.
shelgrainger2
Dec. 8th, 2007 02:07 am (UTC)
This is just so good, I adore it. I love the stubborness in Jen but really Kristian is right get on Jaret's good side and he could be saved. I wondered if Jaret had suffered before in his life because although he is a warrior etc he does seem more compassionate than Chadan. Oh I so wanna slap that boy lol!! Looking forward tommore but getting sad we are coming to an end.
astri13
Dec. 8th, 2007 03:29 pm (UTC)
I love the stubborness in Jen but really Kristian is right get on Jaret's good side and he could be saved.

Heh. True, Kris is kinda the voice of reason or at least pragmatism and common sense. :)

Chadan. Oh I so wanna slap that boy lol!!

That`s Chad for you. *g*

Thank you so much. Glad you`re still liking it.
(Anonymous)
Dec. 8th, 2007 02:29 am (UTC)
great stuff
i was so excited when the next part was up i read it first and its 2:30 gonn have me dreaming of handsome wild men. Jen's sure coming into his own and nice to see him talking to chris. Loved Chadan getting the crap kicked out but poor Jared! I was impressed by jen having evil murderous though though glad he did not go through it. I can see jen becoming a warrior too, better than chad!!
Hmm so are all the slaves to be freed? Curious can not wait, love to conquer all i presume...
astri13
Dec. 8th, 2007 03:32 pm (UTC)
Re: great stuff
i was so excited when the next part was up i read it first and its 2:30 gonn have me dreaming of handsome wild men.

O-ho. Hope it was a nice dream. :)

Loved Chadan getting the crap kicked out

Seems quite a popular notion. *g*

I was impressed by jen having evil murderous though though glad he did not go through it.

I felt it would be a normal thought in that kind of situation. But of course if he`d gone through with it, he would have killed my story. :D

Hmm so are all the slaves to be freed?

*whistles innocently*

Thank you so much.
vesuvianite
Dec. 8th, 2007 03:57 am (UTC)
Aha, Jaret was a slave too. I knew it! *bg*

I'm glad that Krisian finally got to give his explanation to Jen, and wasn't the traitor Jen had thought him to be. And I'm glad that Jen was not able to bring himself to actually contemplate the idea of killing Jaret, despite the life he leads.

A few typos:

"There is nothing to talk," he said sharply.

Needs an "about".

"Jared ingored him"

"not to be detained so easily"

Should be "detoured"

"peak outside"

Should be "peek"
astri13
Dec. 8th, 2007 03:37 pm (UTC)
Aha, Jaret was a slave too. I knew it! *bg*

Heh. Followed my breadcrumbs well. :)

I'm glad that Krisian finally got to give his explanation to Jen, and wasn't the traitor Jen had thought him to be.

Poor Krisian, I kinda feel for him. He is pretty much caught between different loyalties.

Thank you muchly. And also thanks for the mini-beta again. *resolves to look more diligently for typos in next chapters*
(no subject) - vesuvianite - Dec. 8th, 2007 04:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
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