Chapter 15: Adorin’s Chance


Vicco swallowed the half mouthful of creamed potatoes and eyed the lord from the far end of the table.

Dinner parties were hardly rare for Yanth, though he often threw them in the coliseum’s ballroom instead of his home. But this one was a more intimate affair for reasons he wanted kept quiet. The city’s richest merchants and high priests sat comfortably spaced around a long cherry wood table which decorated the lavish open-air dining hall.

There were no walls along the outer perimeter, and nine white and gray marbled columns lined with purple ivy supported the high ceiling. The floors were the usual black granite tiles, polished to a mirror-like shine. A white stone fountain in the shape of the goddess Nissi took up generous space in the center end where the room jutted out toward the edge. It would have overlooked the merchant’s quarter of Nau had there not been a twenty-arm high wall blocking the view.

Lord Yanth cleared his throat, but didn’t return Vicco’s glance. Instead, he resumed the façade of a sane, cheerful man as he pressed his hands together and smiled.

“Training the G’yel was easy for my new beast master, but unfortunately, it must go back to its child-eating ways.”

“Dreadful,” the Lord’s wife, Lady Sylre muttered as she placed a burgundy napkin to her mouth. “Tandris, father was not pleased with that performance.” She glanced at a man in colorful robes. He nodded, giving a disapproving look.

“I have taken care of the concerns, have I not? The boy’s body was consecrated and laid to rest in Yera’s crypt.” Vicco’s stomach turned, and he rested his fork on the side of his dinner plate. The rest of the guests continued their meals unfazed. “The old goat can blow steam up someone else’s ass for a change.”

The guests chuckled, but the lady’s face turned a light shade of rose.

“What if the G’yel had lost?” she asked, folding her napkin neatly to the side. “You couldn’t have gone through with that promise, and the people—”

“You worry too much, love.” Yanth took her white gloved hand and pressed it to his face before kissing her delicate fingers. He turned toward Vicco.

“Captain,” Yanth said, snapping the man’s attention from the whispering priests sitting across from him.

“Yes your lordship.”

“Are you enjoying the meal?”

“I am, but I’m confused,” Vicco replied. “You normally invite the general to these events. I am far down the rank, sir.”

“The general answers to Thanadil, but you remain loyal to me. You have done a phenomenal job, and I wanted to commend you for it.” Yanth lifted a thin golden tumbler to his lips, taking a sip. 

“Thank you, sir,” Vicco said hesitantly, lifting his own glass before taking a drink only to realize he’d already polished off his third glass. No matter how much he drank, it did little to calm his nerves. “Am I going to have to come to more of these?” Vicco thought as he pretended to sip from the glass before setting it on the table.

“How is my G’yel and beast master?”

“He’s healing, and Adorin is very skilled at what he does.” Vicco swallowed hard as he considered what he would say next. There weren’t many opportunities to speak candidly over a relaxed meal with the lord. “He is one of the most skilled healers I’ve ever met. Why did you remove him from the clinic?”

Adorin may be skilled at many lower jobs, but when dealing with human lives, Tauh thought it would be best to put him to work doing what his kind is more apt at.”

“Sir, I apologize for being so blunt, but Tauh is a moron.” Did that come from his mouth? Perhaps the alcohol’s effects were latent. 

Aside from the water trickling in the fountain, Vicco could only hear the sound of his pulse racing in his ears as everyone leaned in and waited for the lord’s response.

“I know you both have a history,” Yanth said, setting his elbows on the table and folding his hands. “I expected better of you than to speak ill behind someone’s back.”

“Oh, I’ve said it to his face countless times, your lordship,” Vicco’s tone began to lower the more frustrated he got. He had to dial the anger back. “Adorin saved countless lives, lives that went on to fight another day. These were men Tauh wasn’t skilled enough to heal. The reason Adorin is a slave is because he took medicine to heal your men without his mentor’s permission. He put his loyalty to you above his own well-being.”

The captain’s face remained stoic, but inside he was crumbling. Lying to Yanth was a risk, but if there was a chance he could save Adorin, he had to take it.

The lord’s eyes softened as he leaned forward. “Interesting,” he said. “Tauh never mentioned this.”

“Of course he wouldn’t. A savage Alacian better than him at medicine? How could he live that down if it got out? Adorin had no say, only diligently accepting the man’s abuse to pay his debt.” Vicco poised himself, keeping his voice steady. “There was no reason for him to be a slave, but that’s Tauh’s petty jealousy for you. Would you, being as honorable as you are, keep someone with amazing potential to the ground to boost your own ego, or would you use that person’s skill to your advantage?”

The lord nodded, his eyes widening as he mulled it over. Vicco’s heart pounded as he waited for any words to leave the man’s lips.

“Your words have weight, Captain Sa’an. Perhaps I was too hasty in my decision,” he said, his tone warmer than earlier. Vicco let out a silent exhale of relief. “I will give the man his title of healer back.”

“Thank you, sir.”

The lord held his hand up as if to add more. “Only if he passes a test,” Lord Yanth continued. “If he is more skilled than Tauh, then he can do what his mentor has been unable to.” He lifted his cane and threw it across the room. It hit the floor with a clank before sliding to a stop. “I want to walk without that cane. If the Alacian can heal my feet, I will not only make him a healer again, I will pay his debts and annul his slaver’s writ. How does that sound?”

Vicco nodded. “I will relay that news to him. I am sure he will be grateful to serve you in a better capacity.”

A rush of excitement caused him to stand and bow before walking toward the doors.

“Captain,” Yanth called back. Vicco turned to see the guests staring wide-eyed as though he’d done something obscene.

“Yes, my lord.”

“Usually my guests don’t leave until the meal is over.”

The table erupted in laughter and Vicco’s face turned a rose color before a grimace crossed his lips.

“Oh,” he said, bowing before walking back to his chair. “I apologize.”

“I don’t belong here.”


“Why am I doing this?” Adorin said, out of breath as he lifted the weights above his head. “You should be resting.”

“I am resting.” Ralk leaned against the pit wall with his arms crossed. “You are almost done. Stop complaining.”

The man’s arms trembled as he lifted the weights once more before letting them fall to the sand. “Gods,” Adorin said with a gasp. “These were heavier.”

“You did well.” Ralk padded toward Adorin, resting a muscled right arm over the man’s shoulder. “It will not always be so bad. You will even come to enjoy it, especially when you see the results and can hold that shield in your hand. We will not stop until you are able to do so.”

Both of them walked to the wall before sitting on the ground in the shade, a slight relief from the burning Tule suns. Adorin took a few deep breaths, laying the back of his head against the wall, exhausted. Ralk’s arm slipped around the crook of his back.

“This plan of yours,” he said with an amorous growl. “What happens if it does not work?”

The man looked over at Ralk and shrugged. “Then we try again. Perhaps we can try with just the two of us.”

The G’yel removed his arm from around Adorin and set it at his side. “It is too risky in this place. The groundskeeper now keeps that shed locked after finding that broken pot.”

“But I promised.”

“It is not as though you intended not to keep it. That is all that matters to me.”

The two were quiet as they listened to the distant bustling from downtown echoing over the tall, rounded walls.

Adorin grit his teeth and grabbed Ralk’s hand. “I want to.” He looked over at the G’yel who of course wasn’t surprised by his words. “Maybe I am sick for wanting this, but I cannot stop thinking about it.”

“You are not sick.” Ralk gave Adorin’s hand a light squeeze. “You are lonely and scared and…” A bit of unexpected laughter left him.

“Do you laugh at everything?” Adorin asked, annoyance in his tone.

The G’yel looked down at his thicker chest mane. He took a handful of the fur and gave it a tug. “It is almost the fertile season. Males and females of my kind give off scents and respond to them as well. Perhaps you have fallen under the same effect.”

“That is silly. I am not a G’yel, and I do not feel anything more than I felt before.” Adorin sniffed the air and wrinkled his nose. “You do smell stronger than you normally do.” 

“It is normal… for us at least,” the G’yel said, a half-cocked smile showing off some of his sharper canines. “Smells aren’t the only thing. I will get bulkier, and my fur will get thicker for a time. For G’yel, mating with a female is dangerous. They are bigger and deadly. A male must be strong enough to deal with her aggression.”

Adorin grimaced. “You are already huge… how much bigger is a female?”

“Perhaps an arm taller. More muscles, too. But they are problems for breeding males to figure out. The rest of us lesser ones are content using the fertile season to fight or be with one another. It is preferable, anyway. While being with males can get messy, it is much more fun and less dangerous.”

The man cocked his head. “Messy?”

Ralk laughed again. “I have never taken part, but I have watched many times. Sometimes smaller males get taken in the heat of the moment by a larger one, often on full stomachs, not giving them time to…”

The G’yel nodded as though he assumed Adorin understood, but the man’s eyes glazed over.

“Time to what?”

“Hm,” Ralk mumbled as he twisted the fur of his mane around his finger. “You have never seen it done?”

Adorin’s face heated as he stared at the sand. “I have dreamed about it,” Adorin said quickly.

“Reality is often messier.” Ralk gave the man a strong pat on the back and chuckled. “And unpleasant sometimes.” He let out a slight whine and held his back. “Do we have more medicine?”

Adorin pushed the door of the menagerie open with Ralk limping behind him. The wound on his lower back was hurting more that the healing salve had worn off. If only he could get spring nettle, but he’d have to keep using his magic in tiny spurts to stave off his own fatigue while giving the G’yel at least an hour or so of relief.

Magic needed to be used sparingly so that he could give much more tonight. Once that happened, sleep would come quickly and involuntarily.

As they entered Ralk’s pen, the G’yel sat on his bedding, his back facing Adorin. He helped untie the bandages. 

“I wish so much that we could return home.” Adorin frowned as he looked at the angry wound on Ralk’s back. It was red with tinges of odorous yellow seeping between the stitches. He scooped a fingerful of ointment and closed his eyes, mouthing something incomprehensible before counting to three. There was a slight numbness in his hand and a prickle of discomfort from his nerves. He opened his eyes and began spreading ointment—now glowing a pale green. Ralk let out a pleasant moan of relief. “Both of us could live in Lydia’s old cabin away from everything.”

“Perhaps one day.” There was a tinge of melancholy to the G’yel’s tone. “But even our old island isn’t safe. I could be captured again, or we could both be slaughtered by my own kind.”

“Then maybe we can find another island.”

“Adorin,” Ralk whispered, looking back. “I do not see me there in your future. We are family as long as I am alive, but I do not know how long that will be.” The G’yel turned and rested his right hand on Adorin’s shoulder.

The man shook his head. “You do not get to come into my life, make me care for you, and then leave it.”

“That is beyond our control.”

The man’s eyes glimmered for a moment before a scowl crossed his face. “Do not underestimate what I am capable of. I will find a way. If I have to do terrible things to see you safe, I will live with that guilt.” Adorin took the G’yel’s hand in his. 

The menagerie doors opened, and Ralk turned around while Adorin wrapped the G’yel’s waist, covering the wound again. One set of footsteps approached the pen, and Vicco appeared from around the wall. 

“You are back,” Adorin said, tying off the bandage. “How did the feast go?”

“It went well.” Vicco opened the door and walked inside. Ralk jumped to his feet and stepped up to the captain. 

“Did you miss me?” Ralk asked, a mischievous grin pulling at his maw. 

Vicco sniffed the air and walked back out of the pen. “I certainly do not miss the stench,” the older man said, pointing to the pond. “You should make use of the water. I didn’t think it was possible for you to smell worse than you normally do, but damn…”

“It is rather hot out here,” Ralk said before standing. He gave both pits a sniff and coughed. “I am very fragrant today.” He limped over to the pond and carefully sat along its edge before sliding into the water with a moan. “Ah, this feels better.”

Adorin stood and wiped the sweat from his brow before walking to the stone bench in front of the pool. Vicco followed close as they sat and watched the G’yel floating on his back along the water’s surface. 

“I had a fruitful conversation with Yanth,” Vicco said, barely able to contain his grin. “He’s going to allow you to be a healer again.”

Adorin jumped from the seat. “This is wonderful news,” he shouted. 

“It’s not all,” Vicco continued, holding his hand up. Ralk stood in the pool and walked toward the two. “He also said he’d pay your debt and annul the slaver’s writ.” 

“What?” Ralk said, his eyes glistening as they went wide. “Is this a jest?”

“Of course not.” Vicco beamed as he shook his head. “But this comes with a test. Are you up for healing the lord’s gout?”

Adorin’s smile quickly faded to worry. “I—I do not know. I have not had time to study that affliction.”

“Well, I talked you up as being a better healer than Tauh, so you had better figure it out.” Vicco stood, wiping away sweat from his face before removing his jacket. “I believe in you, and I know you’ll figure it out.”

Adorin nodded. “Yes, provided I am allowed into the library for research.” He eyed Ralk for a moment and sighed. “Did you mention Ralk? Perhaps the lord would free him too.”

“One problem at a time.” Vicco sat down on the bench again and fanned himself. He glared at the G’yel. “Though I highly doubt he would free a dumb animal. But, if said animal could talk…”

“No,” Ralk muttered. 

“Hey, it’s not my problem. If you want to die a lord’s pet, then that’s your prerogative. I’ll do what I can, but I’m not going to risk anything if you’re not willing to as well.”

Ralk mumbled something under his breath and sighed. “A little while longer. If my life is in danger, I will reveal myself to Yanth. Until then, I do not want anyone knowing that I can understand. It is the only card I have to play.”

“Understandable,” Vicco said, giving the G’yel a nod. “I’ll leave it to your judgement.” He groaned and stood, grabbing his jacket and folding it over his arm. “I am getting out of the suns. It is too damn hot.”

“Both of you should join me in here,” Ralk said, gently splashing the cool water beneath his hands. “It is quite refreshing.”

“Thank you, no,” Vicco mumbled. His face reddened as Adorin slipped out of his clothing without giving it a second thought, leaving nothing on except the black underwear that Vicco had given him a couple days ago. “Really, Adorin? What if guests come to see the animals? You do know that Yanth opens this place to the public from time to time, right?”

“Oh,” Adorin said with disappointment as he reached for his shirt.

“But the water is so cool, and I am in here. We had fun last time, did we not?” Ralk asked, leaning against the edge, casting a wicked smile at the Alacian.

Adorin’s face burned as he remembered what happened last time. It couldn’t happen again, but it was unbearably hot. “Perhaps a quick swim.” The younger man let go of his shirt and walked toward the pond, but not before looking back at Vicco. “Join us.”

“No,” Vicco said with a huff, shaking his head. “You both don’t seem to understand my position. Being caught like this could get me reprimanded or removed.”

“There is no one here.” Ralk gave the water a light splash. “And I do believe Yanth mentioned no one would disturb the pens while I am healing. The groundskeeper only comes out during Naucta and Tulta afternoons now that Adorin is responsible for feeding the beasts.” He splashed the water again. “It is Tule. No one is going to fault you for cooling off when it is so dangerous out.”

Adorin smiled as Vicco gave a look of consideration. He glanced around the menagerie, paying special attention to the clinic window overhead. 

“Come on,” Adorin said, grabbing the captain’s hand. “It will be more fun with three.”

“Gods, you are sounding more and more like him,” Vicco muttered as he shot the G’yel a glare before setting his coat back on the bench before unbuttoning his white dress tunic. “If it weren’t so blasted hot I wouldn’t even consider this.”

Adorin jumped into the pond, the splash nearly catching Vicco. He shook the water from his head and looked up at the now shirtless, well-toned man as he continued to undress, slipping his boots off before unbuttoning his trousers. The Alacian watched in anticipation, but Vicco caught him staring and smiled. Adorin blushed, turning away as the man let his pants fall to the ground.

Ralk, of course, remained fixated on the captain, leaning in while giving the man an intense, spine-chilling stare.

“Put your eyes back in your head, G’yel,” Vicco muttered, folding his pants. He had the same underwear on as Adorin, but it wasn’t quite as loose on him. The modesty drape in front hid any detail away behind it. “Don’t stare at me like that.”

“Like what?” Ralk asked, leaning back, a toothy smile still plastered on his face.

“Like that.” Vicco sat on the edge of the pond before slipping in, the shock of the cool water making him gasp for a moment as he sunk to his neck. “Like I am your next meal.”

Ralk chuckled. “I do apologize, captain,” he said, feigning a respectful accent. “We G’yel are always hungry though, and I have not tasted a man yet.”

The captain groaned in disgust. “Well, keep your… appetite under control,” Vicco sneered, crossing his arms.

The three of them lay back against the sides of the pool, Vicco closing his eyes for a moment. 

Ralk shifted in the water, catching Adorin’s eye. 

“What are you doing?”

“I do not want to sit in a wet loincloth when we are done,” he said, as a large tattered cloth bobbed to the surface. He took them in one hand, and tried his best to squeeze the excess water from them. 

The captain opened one eye. “Put those back on,” he muttered, yawning as he closed his eyes again. “Have some damned modesty.”

The G’yel lowered his snout into the water and blew bubbles as he looked up at Vicco, ignoring the captain’s frustration. He let out a snort before speaking. “Humans and their ‘modesty.’” Vicco couldn’t see the intensity of Ralk’s stare, but Adorin knew he was planning something. “You are very uptight.”

The captain opened his eyes again as he watched the G’yel move toward him through the water. “What are you doing?”

Ralk said nothing as he grinned, his head bobbing on the surface of the water. 

Vicco blinked before leaving the floating position to stand. “Don’t you dare.”

Ralk disappeared underwater and a fast-moving ripple rushed toward the man.

The captain shrieked and grabbed the edge of the pond to escape, but Ralk clasped his ankle and pulled him back into the water.

“Don’t—” Vicco shouted before being dragged under. The two wrestled, Ralk gaining the upper hand as he pulled the flailing man toward him. Even with one good hand, Ralk easily overpowered the human male. After a few moments, the G’yel shot up out of the water, holding a black pair of undergarments while proudly holding them over his head.

“Victorious,” he shouted, coughing some of the water he accidentally inhaled during the struggle.

“You will open your wounds again,” Adorin said while examining Ralk’s bandages.  

“Give those back.” Vicco lunged at Ralk, but not before the G’yel sent soggy underwear soaring through the air to the other side of the courtyard in front of O’lua’s pen.

“Looks like you will have to go get them,” Ralk said with a whooping laugh, but went silent as the three watched the yowlerback reach through the bars, grabbing what had fallen in her claws. All they could hear was the tearing of fabric as she chewed.

“Oh,” Ralk said with a grimace as he turned back toward Vicco. “That was unexpected.”

Vicco ground his teeth. “Do you ever think anything through?” The volume of the captain’s voice rose the angrier he got. “You just do whatever you want, and to hell with the consequences.”

“It was an accident,” Ralk said. “I only did it because you are so too serious. You would be less boring if you would allow yourself to have fun.”

Vicco grabbed a handful of chest fur and pulled the G’yel close to him. “This is not fun, you idiot.” Vicco paused before cringing. He turned away, pushing the G’yel back. “Oh gods,” she shouted.

“I cannot help it.” Ralk’s grin widened. “Not with you being so close.”

“This is all a joke to you.”

“Hardly,” Ralk said, leaning back against the side of the pond. “I am trying to add a bit of humor to all of this.” His tone got serious, but his blue eyes shimmered as he placed a hand on Vicco’s shoulder. “We are scared. I do not want to die and leave my family, but I also want to live while I am alive. We should enjoy each while we can. We should laugh when the opportunity presents itself.”

Adorin watched as Vicco sighed, resigning himself to smile. Ralk could be rough around the edges at times and careless with his joking, but moments like these showed what a wonderful person he was.

“I can’t help but worry about all of us. I wish I could ‘have fun’ but now is not the time for that. Do you want to live?”

“I am living.”

“No, do you want to stay alive?” Vicco asked, crossing his arms. 

“Of course I do.”

“Then let me do things my own way. I have been around this system for years, and I know how to work it.” Vicco pushed himself out of the pool, his rear was lighter than the rest of his lightly tanned skin as it glistened in the suns’ light. He grabbed his pants and slipped into them, still dripping wet. 

“Then I will trust you,” Ralk said with a nod. “But trust me too. Tomorrow, let us go for a walk and have fun.” He glanced at Adorin for a moment before looking back up at Vicco. 

“Hm,” the captain said, eying the G’yel suspiciously. “Fine. There’s not much to do tomorrow anyway.”

Adorin stared at the menagerie doors before looking back down into the food cart. This would be the first time he’d ever pushed the limits this far. The more he had time to think about it, the more he wondered if this was really safe.

“No,” he thought to himself. “His hand needs to heal before the next fight.”

He glanced both ways and took in a deep breath before closing his eyes. After a quick chant, they snapped back open, glowing so green that not even his pupils were visible. He lowered both hands onto a larger hunk of meat as he let the energy flow from his arms to the meal.

He counted the seconds…





He continued past that for the first time and felt a shock through his nerves.




His breath became ragged, and pulled back, his eyes returning to normal. It may have been too much as the rush of nausea hit him like the wall of water from an incoming storm.

“I am fine,” he whispered. “This feeling will go away.”

Shaking, he pushed the door open with his back and dragged the cart into the courtyard. Walking the short distance from the entrance to Ralk’s pen felt like a marathon as one foot trembled in front of the other. Panic set in as the world seemed to zoom out and darken a bit as he finally made it to an eager G’yel. This had never happened before.

He faked a confident smile and stepped back.

“Ah, dinner has arrived,” Ralk said excitedly as he grabbed the enchanted hunk of meat and gnawed. “You should eat too.”

Adorin choked down a bit of vomit at the suggestion. His guts twisted more as Ralk polished off the meat. 

The G’yel froze after swallowing and narrowed his focus on Adorin. “This… I have felt this before.” Adorin’s knees buckled, but Ralk caught him before he hit the ground. “Tell me you did not do this, Adorin.”

“I do not know what you are talking about. I am just tired.”

Ralk carried the man to the extra bedding in his pen before carefully laying him on it. Anger flashed in his eyes as he reached over and tore the bandage from his arm. The wound was healed. He held up his broken left hand which glowed green.

“Not you too,” he whispered.

“I am fine.” Adorin’s words slurred as he spoke.

“I did not know you could do this,” Ralk squeezed his eyes shut. “Did you not learn from her mistakes? How much have you used this ability?”

“You do not understand. As long as I enchant non-living things, I will be fine. I just need rest.”

“No more, Adorin,” Ralk said, squeezing the man’s arm. “Promise me now.”

“I cannot promise that. This is what healers do. What is the point of having this power if I cannot use it for the good of those I love? Lydia said—”

“I do not care what she said. Magic that takes from one to give to another is not power, it is a curse. I know she suffered because of this. I will not see you suffer as well.”

“What if…” Adorin could barely form words as he faded in and out. 

The man went still, and Ralk held his head to Adorin’s chest. His breath was steady and heartbeat slow, but normal.

“You are such a fool,” Ralk whispered as he lifted Adorin from the bed, his lips meeting the man’s briefly. “You will never do this again.”

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