Characters/Pairing: Matt/Mohinder, Adam/Mohinder
Word Count: 5,177
Warnings: AU, Sword-fights, sacred prostitution
Disclaimer: Heroes is owned by Tim Kring, NBC, et al.
Notes: This is a sequel to The Gauntlet, written for kethni’s birthday. It’s in a medieval setting. Just roll with it.
Summary: When the noble Lord Suresh and his servant Matt are traveling towards their destiny, they meet a priest who had much to teach them.
“Truly, this will be a marvelous adventure!”
Matt finished tying the last straps on their packhorses and turned back to look at his lord with a furrowed brow.
“An adventure, m’lord?” he asked.
“Of course! Journeying across the breadth of the land to the capital for the tourney, just myself against whatever brigands and bandits think to prey upon the unwary… bracing, it will be!” Lord Suresh grinned broadly as he leaned back against the flank of his horse. The mare’s dark coat made a wonderful background for the bright silks and dyed leathers that the noble favored, and Matt had to swallow and drop his eyes, lest he be spied looking too hard.
“Am I not to come, so that you would be alone?” Matt asked, knowing it wasn’t true. Even if Lord Suresh had despised his company, the noble’s first weapons’ teacher, Swordmaster Thompson, had paid him a small ransom to be at Suresh’s side, no matter what came.
“Bah! You are my faithful servant and sparring companion; I would not dream of leaving you behind. But tales are not sung about servants. Should my noble father send with me a hundred men-at-arms and a thousand servants, it would still be as if I were alone.” Mohinder’s smile faded somewhat as he considered the two pack horses and Matt.
“I am given to understand that he cannot?” Matt prompted, not wanting any frown to mar Mohinder’s features.
“It is the custom. Entrants to the tourney to become the King’s Champion must travel with only a single servant, so that they can be tested as the gods’ decree,” Mohinder said, shaking his head slightly. In the next moment, his frown cleared, and Matt’s magic reached out almost instinctively to hear the boyish exuberance that was clamoring through his lord’s mind. As skilled as he was with a blade, and Matt knew of none greater, in many ways his lord was surprisingly naïve.
But it would be useless to warn Lord Suresh against the danger. Matt had been a caravan guard for many years, and bands of brigands did not hesitate to go after a tempting target, even when there were a half-dozen men to protect it. Two men alone, and one in the ostentatious garb of a noble? Attack by at least one band was certain.
Even then, Matt did not quite understand the custom, so dangerous to the pampered but skilled nobles that would be traveling to claim the laurels as King’s Champion, until they were almost ready to leave.
Lord Suresh’s father came to see them off, offering his blessing and admonition to return home with naught but victory.
“Of course, noble father. I should not dare show my face otherwise!” Mohinder said, a broad and arrogant smile on his face that Matt had grown to adore. For while Lord Suresh had an arrogant way about him, that arrogance was earned twice over by his dedication to swordcraft.
The nobles of the court, including Lord Suresh’s most recent conquest, Elle, the blonde daughter of the court alchemist, tendered their good wishes and fond farewells. Indeed, Elle’s thoughts were of a far warmer farewell that had taken place in the dark of the night. Matt shifted uneasily on his feet at their lingering good-bye kiss, and jumped when someone tapped him on the shoulder.
“You’re the only restraint he has, now. The only one with trail experience. Make certain Lord Suresh makes it to the trials,” the elder master admonished. And for the first time in Matt’s brief experience, the steel-hard shield upon the Swordmaster’s mind lifted. Words flowed clearly as if the man was speaking to him plainly, far more organized than any stray thoughts Matt had ever listened to before today.
The King’s Champion is a position that is far from ceremonial. Wars have been averted because our Champion has bested one from an opposing kingdom, and saved hundreds of young warriors in the army from an early grave. It carries great responsibilities, great personal power, and can influence many across the breadth of the land. Therefore the King will make certain all potential champions are tested with hardship before they come to the tourney. Not all brigands on the road are true bandits. Some may be from rival nobles. Others are in the employ of bandit lords. The Suresh family has enemies on both sides of the law. Do not fail your lord!
Matt felt himself reel back slightly with the force of the Swordmaster’s thoughts, and bowed deeply as the elder’s mind became closed again.
“I will not fail him.”
When Matt looked up again, the Swordmaster was gone, and Lord Suresh had mounted his horse.
“Come! The road won’t wait forever!”
In many ways, Lord Suresh had advantages over Matthew Parkman. The noble was extensively educated and could read and write in two languages other than his own. He knew the intricate rules and customs of court and chivalry; they were bred into his bones, and he did not have to think to impress someone with his manner. His swordsmanship was second to none, as Matt knew very well, having taught Lord Suresh to marry his beautiful and intricate sword dances with Matt's own more practical and effective methods of survival fighting.
However, Lord Suresh was hopelessly ignorant when it came to trail living. He had hunted before, of course, all nobles had, but that was with a dozen servants to tend to all the camp chores, and with wagons full of tents, carpets, and furniture to make the camp more like a room in a castle than simple shelter against the weather.
“This?” Lord Suresh asked warily, when Matt pointed to a campsite a little off the main road. Matt looked over it and nodded. It already had a permanent fire pit, a latrine trench a ways off, a few log benches, and even a lean-to to help keep the wood dry and offer more protection from the rain. It was an excellent place to stay, by Matt’s experience with camping.
“It is well-maintained. There is a sign pointing to water nearby, and all we should have to do is replace the firewood we use,” Matt said, dismounting and feeling the ache in his thighs from the long riding. It had been too long since he’d been a-horse.
Lord Suresh set his jaw and flung back his curls in a way that made Matt blush and turn away. His lord was too beautiful for mortal eyes, at times.
“I did not think becoming a great hero would require such… menial labor,” Suresh said with distaste.
“It is not proper for you, my lord. I will tend to the chores,” Matt said quickly, and went to take their supplies off the pack horses. He jumped when he found Mohinder next to him, taking the burden from him.
“I dislike such chores, but I am not so much of an ass to make you labor like serf in the fields when I can assist you. Besides which, I desire to spar with you, and if I leave you to do all the work, dark will have fallen before you are done. Surely there are things I can do which will not damage my tender dignity.” Mohinder gave him a small smile, letting Matt join in the jest, and in Mohinder’s mind, Matt could see nothing but desire to cross blades with him again.
Matt smiled a bit tremulously and bobbed his head, more grateful than he could say. The idea of his lord being miserable for the entire journey would have been nigh-unbearable. Particularly because the conditions of solitary travel required them to be near each other nearly the whole day. Two tents would have been a waste of space, and it was proper for Matt to sleep across the threshold so as to be able to defend his lord from a nighttime attack. Being so close to Mohinder made it impossible for Matt to reign in his magic for long. He cared for his lord, as ardent a devotion as he’d ever felt, but there was little in Mohinder’s mind to show he found Matt more than a “faithful servant.” But nor was there any contempt of him either.
In that, Matt could be content.
As the days passed, Lord Suresh kept what complaints he had about the primitive conditions to a surprising minimum. Surprising, at least to Matt. Though he tried not to, his magic frequently brushed up against Lord Suresh’s mind, and in his thoughts, Matt could see him often desiring the soft, goose-down mattresses and pillows, the fine feasts, the enormous bathing rooms, and servants to cater to every whim that were part and parcel of being born into nobility. And though Lord Suresh thought of his privileges with great longing, his voice of complaint he subsumed into the measures of sword-dancing.
Indeed, Matt had never seen him work so hard. It was as if every thing that he was missing was being concentrated into his body and sword. The combination of it left Matt breathless, wanting, eager as he ever had been to teach and to learn. Not for the pure joy of crossing blades with Mohinder, but also because it could not be long before their skills would be put to earnest use.
Mohinder reined in his mare, his head cocked and eyes closed as he concentrated on listening.
“There is something… I almost hear it,” he whispered. “Do you? I thought I heard a cry.”
Matt did not bother to trust his ears on this road, where the trees echoed things strangely, and sent his magic out like a hunter might set a bloodhound on a fox. Almost immediately he opened his eyes and reeled back in his saddle, his mental ears ringing with the savage cries of joyous slaughter.
“Bandits, my lord, many of them, tormenting some poor soul!” he exclaimed, spurring his horse onward.
“How dare they?!” Mohinder roared, and his own mount, unburdened by the packhorses, surged ahead of Matt’s.
Around a large bend, and they were there, the thick trees by the side of the road providing a perfect ambush point for a lone traveler. A half-dozen bandits, filthy but well-armed, were pricking their blades at a man robed and hooded in deep rose-colored wool. It was the mark of a priest of Sebine, the goddess of love. Attacking one was not merely against the laws of both the land and common decency, it was sacrilege. From the deeper streaks of scarlet against the rose, the bandits cared not for offending the gods, only the alleged rich jewels and presents bestowed upon Sebine’s servants.
Mohinder was a noble, but not a wandering knight, and his horse was no battle mare. He slowed her and dismounted in a smooth leap, skewering the first of the bandits through without a second’s hesitation. Before six moons ago, Matt knew Mohinder might have paused to demand the bandits’ surrender, and given them far too much time to organize against him in an attempt to preserve the ideals of chivalry. Now he attacked without mercy. “Chivalry is only as good as the person to whom it’s given,” Matt had finally managed to explain.
Before the first varlet had even hit the ground, Lord Suresh turned and lashed out at a second, slicing him across the thigh and making him cry out in pain. A third attempted to tackle him from behind, and Suresh eeled out of his grasp with surprising dexterity, throwing him to the ground for his trouble.
Matt slid off his horse in the next moment, drawing his broadsword and wielding it two-handed against two more men that thought to charge him. The strong stroke cut deeply into the arm of one and slashed open the chest armor of the other, dashing them both sideways. The last man lunged desperately and stabbed at Matt’s back, only to be met by Matt’s blade as he twisted around and bore down, freeing a hand to strike the man across the face.
Ahead of him, Mohinder danced through his three opponents with the grace of an open flame, the sunlight flashing off his blade and jewels as he adorned his opponents with blood. Matt kicked a man into Mohinder’s range, and grinned to see his lord take the advantage and spin the bandit into another so that they cracked heads. Within minutes, four bandits were dead or nearly so, and two others had taken to their heels, bloody and wearied unto death. Matt did not give a second thought as to their chances; wolves would get them before they went too far.
“Brother!” Lord Suresh cried, still holding his rapier as he bent over the fallen form of the priest. “Do you yet live?” Mohinder looked up at Matt, “Bring water!” His lord’s thoughts were only a little chaotic, still hot from the fight and victory, but a real stab of concern for the priest dominated everything.
Matt rapidly wiped his sword clean and sheathed it before grabbing a waterskin and walking over to the bloodied body in rose. He was saddened as he knelt down and began to turn the body over. The amount of blood on the robe could only mean death, whether quick or slow was up to the mercy of the Lord of Mysteries. Matt only meant to hold the priest as his spirit departed, but instead found a very alert and alive pair of blue eyes staring up at him.
“Good man, both of you. I owe you a debt of gratitude for saving me from torment. And Sebine’s own thanks for the water.” The man’s short hair was the color of gold, his skin fair, and his accent was educated and exquisite, like Lord Suresh’s. He clutched the waterskin and drank deeply.
“Brother, you live?” Suresh asked, as sorely puzzled as Matt.
“More than that, I thrive, thanks to you!” the priest said, and sat up in Matt’s arms. “I am Brother Adam Monroe, Chosen of Sebine.”
Matt’s eyes grew wide, and he abruptly attempted to pull his wandering magic back under wraps. The Chosen of any god were thought to be imbued with their power and presence; reading the thoughts of the gods might damn him.
“You are confused. I assure you, it is normal.” A brilliant smile on the Chosen’s face turned a statement of arrogance into simple explanation. “I should not have been so careless as to travel alone, but I thought this road would be of less interest to bandits, and my magic would protect me. A pox upon my own arrogance for a band of vermin clever enough to think to use me for ill.” Adam drew aside his robe, where blood and a rent showed he should have been spitted through, to reveal blood-stained but whole flesh, smooth and pale.
“Your magic?” Matt said dumbly, frozen for a moment in fear that his own spell would be revealed.
“I’m a magician’s bastard. The spell in my blood heals me, even unto mortal wounding.” Adam stretched his body carefully, with not even a wince from what should have been a most painful crop of skewers and slices. The grace of his motion, the subtle movement of his body, immediately drew the eye of both Matt and Lord Suresh. A flash of jealousy burned across Matt’s mind, and he immediately cast his eyes to the ground. The unwanted luxury of having Lord Suresh to himself for several days had given Matt a feeling of possession he could not afford to have.
“Then we are twice blessed to have met you, Chosen,” Lord Suresh said, rising and extending a hand. Adam accepted the gesture, his pale hand fitting well in Mohinder’s strong palm, delivering a subtle caress before releasing him. Matt felt his heart sink, and sighed very quietly.
As Lord Suresh spoke with the Chosen, Matt pulled the bodies of the bandits off the road and into the fringes of the woods, digging shallow graves for them and marking trees nearby that it was only the bodies of bandits buried here. By the time he could pay closer attention to his lord again, Suresh and Brother Adam were speaking with the ease of old friends. Matt devoutly wished he could see what Mohinder truly thought of the priest, but his magic, usually unwontedly accommodating in finding things out for him, was as cowardly as he in asking questions.
“The Chosen is traveling to the capital too. He desires to travel with us, so I can protect him from any other blasphemous varlets,” Lord Suresh said, nodding at Matt with a proud and pleased smile. In the time it had taken Matt to bury the dead, the priest had managed to clean himself and find a fresh robe from his packs. Properly dressed, he exuded a potent aura of attraction and complete confidence in himself. He was Matt’s complete opposite.
“Yes, m’lord,” Matt said, with a heavy heart.
Fortunately, the Chosen’s possessions had escaped damage at the hands of the bandits, and he did not need to share Lord Suresh’s tent. Such an occasion might have required Matt to sleep outside, leaving the two of them alone, something that Matt thought he might prefer plunging naked into a snowdrift than do.
It was bad enough that the Chosen was witty, intelligent, and as extensively educated as Lord Suresh. He was also angelically beautiful, a certain sign of Sebine’s favor, and carried an aura of sensuality stronger than any of her priests Matt had ever met. He’d so easily dominated the conversation that Matt realized he’d never even been introduced to the Chosen. Lord Suresh hadn’t spoken more than a dozen words to Matt the entire evening.
At least until they were finally alone.
“I will admit, Brother Adam intrigues me unmercifully. I’ve never had the occasion to visit a Chosen before,” Mohinder said thoughtfully, leaning back on his bedroll and staring at the ceiling of the tent, illuminated by the light of a single lamp.
A spear of elation claimed Matt at Mohinder’s inadvertent confession, but he dared not show anything. Nobles conducted their lives very differently, and what was moral and necessary for nobility was not always so for a commoner. Matt could never forget their social distance, even if Mohinder at times would dismiss it. The events of today had been a forceful reminder of that. It was all well and good to talk with one’s servant, but only if there was no other of higher station around to converse with.
“Nor I. I’ve only visited the most junior of priests and acolytes…” Matt offered.
“You? Visit a temple of Sebine?” Mohinder pushed himself up on one elbow and looked curiously at Matt in the dim light. “Forgive me my rudeness, but the sacrifices to Sebine are expensive!”
“Not for acolytes,” Matt said softly.
“But…” Mohinder trailed off, confused.
Indeed, for Matt, paying a common prostitute for his or her favors when an urge for sex came upon him would have been cheap. Seducing a bar wench who found his travel stories interesting would have been cheaper still. But the spell in Matt’s blood would not let him take advantage of a bar wench who was dazzled the glamour of the road, only to know they would regret it as soon as the act was over. Or to hear the bitter thoughts of a whore who had been pressed into that life by circumstances drained all the pleasure from the experience.
A priest or acolyte of Sebine, however, always came to the temple of their own free will, because they burned to express love in the way of the goddess. It was only with someone who truly desired to express love and affection, even if it would not be ever-lasting, that Matt felt free to abandon himself to the hunger in his flesh.
“I can only feel desire for someone who desires me. Not one lured into it, or paid for it,” Matt said in brief explanation.
“Hmm,” Mohinder considered that for a long moment. “There is much honor in that.”
“Thank you, my lord.”
“A question then, man to man. Your acolytes, do you have a preference?” Mohinder’s voice was warm and relaxed, but Matt could not be the same.
“Do you mean, for red hair, or green eyes or somesuch?” he asked, stalling.
“Well, that is of interest too. I myself find interest in many types. Blondes, as you well know, brunettes, dusky black… But no, something more fundamental.”
Matt stopped beating around the bush; his magic made clear what Mohinder desired to know. “I tried to pick the acolyte who seemed to like me the most, whether man or woman. I’ve taken pleasure in both.” He swallowed dryly, afraid for a moment, but heard no recriminations in Mohinder’s mind.
“Ah. I was curious. Sleep now; we have a long road ahead of us tomorrow.”
With that surprisingly abrupt question and answer, Mohinder doused the lamp, and spoke no more that night. And though he longed to know more, Matt tried to pull his magic away, and closed his eyes.
The next night, Matt considered one of the worst of his life. It was far worse than the times he’d been fired for knowing things he shouldn’t, and worse than times he’d been rejected from one job or another because he did not look to be a good a fighter as he really was. He’d woken to find Mohinder slipping back into the tent. That in and of itself was not cause for distress, for the Chosen and Lord Suresh had stayed up late to converse. Matt could not add to the conversation, and so had retired. In all honesty, he could say he was sulking, but could not force himself to stay and watch his lord within a world he could not enter.
No, his distress came not from Mohinder’s late return, but from the scent of roses he carried with him. The priests of Sebine uses rose oil in their ceremonies of worship. Matt himself had come from worshiping at the temple simply reeking of roses, and had garnered many appreciative and envious glances from passersby on the street.
Turning his head to the side, Matt bit into the fabric of his sleeve as his magic reacted to his distress, flowing over Mohinder’s mind. His sleepiness interfered, but there was deep sexual satisfaction radiating from him. Groaning silently, Matt buried his head under his arm and willed himself into the oblivion of sleep.
“Up!” Mohinder’s voice is unwontedly cheerful for Matt’s black mood. “Lie-a-bout, lazy bones, up with you!”
The thin dawn light was still too cheerful, but Matt could not deny his lord.
“Come, I wish to show Brother Adam a taste of what he will see at the tourney. He shall remember it better when he’s not been stabbed!” Lord Suresh chuckled at his own wit and let down the tent flap. Matt would prefer to crawl into a hole in the ground than spar in front of the Chosen, but to deny her Chosen was to deny Sebine. And to deny Sebine was to deny love. Matt was not entirely without hope. Only mostly. He got up.
He girded himself for battle, letting his despair subsume itself into purpose. He could not be a clever friend to Lord Suresh, nor could overstep his bounds and ask for something that was as high above his station as the clouds in the sky, but he could show the Chosen the skill for which Mohinder had chosen him.
Matt drew his broadsword and settled himself into his stance, as Lord Suresh flipped his jeweled rapier into his hand with a flourish. The Chosen was silent, standing out of the way of combat, but his expression was avidly eager. And Matt was more than ready to answer that avidity.
His charge took Mohinder by surprise, and it was only his swift reflexes that spared him a painful bruise.
“An unfair start!” the Chosen cried.
“My Matthew subscribes to the tenets of Sebine, ‘All is fair in love and war!’” Mohinder said with a grin, dancing and circling to stay out of Matt’s range.
Matt blinked and stumbled at Mohinder’s words, and had to defend himself from a furious leap with a clumsy swat of his blade. It was the first time, the very first, that Matt could remember Lord Suresh using his name. My Matthew, he’d said. Joy returned, doubled and redoubled, as Matt began to dance the measures of battle.
Thrust and parry, grapple and wrestle and wrench, charge and leap, tumble and fall, Matt and his lord wove their blades and bodies with as much intricacy as lace, albeit lace made of steel. Matt kept Lord Suresh on his toes by using the wrestling moves he favored, taking Mohinder’s too-quick blade out of the question, while Mohinder retaliated with bird-swift reflexes and a dazzling display of swordsmanship that was inevitably distracting.
“Enough!” Brother Adam called, when it seemed neither was willing to yield and both would go on fighting for an hour. “You have shown me all that you promised and more. Magnificent, truly. And as you promised, it will be far easier to recount the battle now that I’m not being stabbed.” He smiled at both of them and reached out to put a hand on each of their arms.
“Such a pretty pair you make, pale skin and dark, bright hues and dull, large blade and small. I should have some of my artistic brethren paint the two of you on a temple wall; there is much to be learned from your teamwork.”
“You honor me,” Matt said, bowing, much of his resentment of the priest washed away.
“And me as well,” Lord Suresh said, his smile matching the Chosen’s.
For the next three days, Mohinder smelled of roses, but sparred with Matt as never before, with the Chosen as their audience. As each day brought them closer to the capital, Matt became more and more confused. He could not truly hate the Chosen, as he served only out of love, and could not refuse a plea for worship. Too, the Chosen’s praise was eloquent and subtle in a way that Matt could comprehend. He praised Matt and Lord Suresh’s teamwork, their togetherness, their blending of style, reinforcing what Matt wanted most in the world.
Yet Lord Suresh returned late to his tent each night, satisfaction rolling off of him in waves that were hard to bear. If Matt had anything that would have let him worship, he would have offered it. But the idea of spending the gold he’d earned in teaching Lord Suresh on the Chosen… intolerable. The two ways of feeling, praise during the day, and abject rejection at night, fueled by his magic and own fevered imagination, were not making for easy sleep.
If Lord Suresh did not notice, the Chosen, on the other hand, missed nothing. The day they were to reach the capital, the Chosen pulled Matt aside when Lord Suresh was tending to his bathing.
“You’re a bastard too,” the Chosen began, in a tone that booked no argument. “I can always tell, so don’t deny it.”
Matt did not bother, only hung his head to hear how the Chosen would dispense his fate. A word to Lord Suresh, and only Swordmaster Thompson’s threats to make certain Matt delivered him to the tourney would keep them together until they reached the gates. Once in the capital, Matt could count on being abandoned and shunned for delving into a noble’s mind.
“I’ve met many bastards, each with a unique gift. And few, so few, with one like yours. Reading a man’s thoughts… that’s a perilous gift. Those who use it to gain wealth and influence are often successful beyond their wildest dreams. Until, of course, someone realizes what they’re doing and has them executed. But you? You use it to hear the cry of a wounded man, to anticipate the needs of your lord, and to satisfy your curiosity without trying to pry too deeply.”
Matt felt himself blanching; somehow the Chosen had felt him using his magic during sparring with Lord Suresh. And almost every other time…
“Do you know why Lord Suresh came to worship Sebine with me?” the Chosen asked.
Matt felt his mouth open and close once with shock, and he had to swallow before he could answer. “He has needs, and you are beautiful….”
“I am, but Sebine has made me so. Your own beauty is not a thing to arrest the breath, at least until one is in your arms! Your beauty is in your loyalty, your dedication. Your beauty is here.” The Chosen reached down and placed his hand over the hilt of Matt’s broadsword.
“I am not what he would choose. I have seen the flowers of the court he dallies with,” Matt said sadly. In his mind’s eye, the blonde-haired Elle was forever laughing at him.
“You are not what he would expect,” the Chosen corrected. “He came to me not simply for needs, but for instruction. I am a great teacher of Sebine’s arts.”
“Use your magic, and see for yourself,” the Chosen urged.
“I cannot! You are Chosen!”
“I would not have asked, if I thought it would harm you. But if you are wary, then remember this; men and women have paid the temple a king’s ransom to spend a night in my arms. Every night, Lord Suresh returned to you.”
Matt blinked again, and the entirety of the last week suddenly took on an entirely new light. An unexpected smile crossed his face, and Matt felt himself beaming like the sun god himself.
“He is a noble,” the Chosen warned. “I will not be the last.” Matt nodded in understanding. There would be other Elles, other priests of Sebine, other people who desired Lord Suresh. But what they wanted most, they would never have.
“He is my lord,” Matt said emphatically, in both understanding and declaration.
“It may take him time, so be patient. I am a gardener as well as a teacher, so believe me when I say that the finest fruits are worth the time it takes them to grow.” The Chosen reached up and gently pulled Matt’s head down so he could kiss him on the forehead, in a blessing of Sebine. The faint scent of roses lingered when they pulled apart.
“Brother Adam, do you seek to seduce my Matthew away from me?” Lord Suresh called cheerfully, returning to the camp with damp hair, rubbing his curls dry.
“No, Lord Suresh. I could never do that,” the Chosen said sincerely.
“Indeed, my lord, I am forever yours,” Matt said, bowing with his eyes fixed on Mohinder.
A blushed colored his cheeks, but Lord Suresh did not look away, and smiled only at Matt.