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An Apprentice's Adventures

by Mark Friedman

Chapter 6

I spent most of the next couple of days helping get things prepared for a formal reception that we would be having at the embassy for King Osvaldo. It kept me away from anywhere where Denali was, at least during those times in which he was there. I, gratefully, didn't have any more wet dreams, about Denali or anyone else.

On the third day, final preparations were underway, which aside from the food perpetrations really just involved a few minor touchups on the furniture setups and decorations.

At one point I was in the main dining hall, checking over a couple of things at the request of Ambassador Kroaswell when I noticed someone working with the food setup that looked a bit out of place. A moment later I recognized him as the same man I'd seen fixing the wall at the palace. It struck me as a bit odd, because while I knew that we'd brought in a few new people as temp labor, it seemed odd that this guy would have the skills to handle assisting large-scale food preparation. It wasn't impossible, I admitted, but the two areas I'd seen him working in didn't seem to normally go together.

Since I'd just finished up checking on the things I'd been directed to, I decided to keep an eye on the guy. So I tried to make it look like I was inspecting some small item or another, and when he left the room (moving in the opposite direction from the kitchen, where he should have been going if he really was working in that area, I couldn't help but notice) I quietly followed him. Soon we started going into an area that we hadn't opened up, and a moment later I remembered why – this was the quarters where our own troops would live while they were stationed here on guard duty. (The local troops who were providing guard duty were staying in their own barracks.)

I turned a corner, and just about ran into Denali. "Aidan, what…" he got out before I put a hand over his mouth. There was a strange tingling in my hand, but I ignored it. Grabbing Denali, I pulled him back to a point where I felt the guy I was following couldn't see us, and in a whispered voice, I explained to Denali what was going on.

"Are you sure?" Denali whispered back. "I think I know the guy you're talking about. I saw him come in with the temp kitchen workers. Most people around here hold more than one job…"

"Yeah, but what are the odds that a guy who repairs walls moonlights as a caterer? It's not like there's a lack of good-paying work in his normal field around here for any halfway decent craftsman, from what you've told me. I saw him at work in the palace, and he seems quite good. Now, come on before we lose him."

We headed back towards where I'd last seen the guy headed. When we reached an intersection in the corridor, we looked around but didn't see him, and I didn't know which way we should go. Denali put a hand on my arm and raised his other hand to put a finger on his lips before pointing down one direction, where I could make out a faint light coming from under one door.

I looked up at Denali, and he nodded. We crept towards the door, and quickly arrived. We could hear voices, but couldn't clearly make them out. Denali glanced around for a moment, then pulled me towards the next door over. We slipped into the room, and even though the corridor was already dim, it still took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the room's darkness. Denali went over to the wall separating the two rooms, and I followed him over. There were a few small gaps in the walls, probably from the years of neglect from when the embassy stood vacant that nobody had bothered to get fixed yet, that the light from the room in which the stranger had gone into shown through. Denali moved to one, and I moved to another. The holes weren't big enough to get any sort of view into the other room, but they were big enough for us to listen in.

"Yes," someone said in a gruff voice, just like in the adventure stories I used to read, "but are we sure this is the time to strike?"

"There might not be a better time," someone replied. "As long as they're hiring temp workers and new employees, we have as good a chance as we're ever going to have to slip some of our people in here. Their own troops are going to arrive soon, and I hear they're bringing enough of their own support staff that only the locals who can provide good credentials or who can have the original embassy staff members vouch for them will continue to be employed here. There won't be any other time to get anybody else into position, especially not for formal functions."

"Look, Lorik, Ganix is right. This is the best time to strike," said a third. "Once the reception has begun, I'll make sure that the escape route is kept open, you'll make sure the horses are ready, and Ganix will mingle with the servers. When he sees a chance, he will throw his knives at that farce of a king. In the ensuing panic, we flee and collect our pay. I trust you have the tralfax, Ganix?"

"Yes. It wasn't cheap, but I got enough."

"All right, let's go."

We heard them leave at the same time the light was moved out the door, and we waited for a moment. "What do we do?" I said quietly.

"Simple – we have to tell someone."

"You think they'll believe us?"

"They'll have to."

Denali poked his head out the door, and then signaled for me to follow. We headed to Ambassador Kroaswell's office and knocked. "Come in," we heard him call out, and we headed in. We found him meeting with Tinalla and Landyn.

"Sir, Denali and I have something we need to tell you," I said. I told him about the man I'd seen in the palace, how Denali and I had followed him, and the conversation we'd overheard. When I got through, there was silence in the room.

"I know this is a bit hard to believe," I said, "and we don't really have any proof…"

"No," Ambassador Kroaswell said, holding up a hand. "While I admittedly don't know Denali, I know you, Aidan. This isn't something you'd make up. And there was one thing that you did mention that helps validate what you said, and leads me to believe you aren't making it up or misunderstanding anything."

"What's that, Sir?"

"You mentioned tralfax," he replied. "Even though you're an archivist by training, I'm still sure that you've probably never heard of it before."

"I haven't," I admitted.

"Yes, and I'd be surprised if you had. It's a very little-known and extremely rare poison. I've only heard of it by chance myself. It's made from the venom of a poisonous snake long believed to be extinct. It is extremely potent, and even a very small amount, when introduced into the body, through, say, a cut, can be fatal within a day. There is no known cure."

"So, the question is, now that you know we're telling the truth, what do we do?" Denali asked.

"Right now, we wait," Ambassador Kroaswell calmly replied. When Denali and I made startled explanations of protest, he held up a hand. "Hear me out, young ones. Right now, they don't know we are aware of what they're up to, and that is our greatest advantage. We must keep in mind that we are operating with only a limited amount of information, since we only know what one of the three looks like, and we aren't aware if they might have other coconspirators in here to help out in case something goes wrong with their plan. We shall quietly prepare by first notifying the captain of the guard. He is undoubtedly far more familiar with how to address such issues than we are, or at least knows how to contact those who do. We will then follow his advice."

We nodded, seeing that Ambassador Kroaswell was right.

"I can also see about putting up some basic wards around the king," Landyn said. "They might not do too much against a direct attack, at least not without being visible enough for even a non-mage to see, but they couldn't hurt."

"Good idea," Ambassador Kroaswell said. "Fortunately, the captain of the guard is to arrive here in a few minutes for a meeting with me to go over the final security arrangements, so it will not seem suspicious that he is here at this time."

A few minutes later the captain of the guard, Captain Tomicka, arrived, and Ambassador Kroaswell filled him in on what had happened. Captain Tomicka then asked Denali and me a bunch of questions about the men – what the one we saw looked like, what they sounded like, whether we were sure as to what they said.

"All right," Captain Tomicka finally said, "I have a few ideas. I'll tell a few of my most trusted men to keep an eye out for the man you described. We'll also keep an eye out for his two accomplices. We know at least one of the three has the responsibility of keeping their getaway horses ready so they can flee at a moment's notice, so I'll also tell my people to keep an eye open for anyone who's not part of the normal stable staff who seems to be spending an unusual amount of time around at least three horses."

"Is there anything we can do to help?" Ambassador Kroaswell asked.

Captain Tomicka turned to me. "You're Ambassador Kroaswell's aid, right?" he asked me.

"Yes, Sir," I said quickly.

"So you'll be with him, and won't be in a position to move around too much outside of the main dining hall, but in there, we'll need you to keep your eyes open for the man you saw. We don't know if he will be the one to attempt to assassinate His Majesty, but we don't know he isn't. I'll be in there myself, so should you see him, let me know as soon as you can without attracting attention."

He then turned to Denali and asked, "You're with the stable staff, right?"

"Yes, I am," Denali said.

"I'll need you to help keep an eye on things there. Even though you didn't see the man Aidan did, you're in a position to know if any horses seem to be kept prepped for an immediate departure or are apparently being kept in another location outside of the stables. I've assigned Sgt. Mickelsen to that area tonight, and I'll bring him up to speed and make sure he knows to introduce himself to you. Let him know if you notice anything out of the ordinary."

"Yes, Sir," Denali said.

"The most important thing to remember, everyone," Captain Tomicka said, "is to remain calm. If these assassins notice people acting jittery, it will likely tip them off that we're on to them. We'll have to act like this is just another diplomatic reception." We all nodded. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll get to work."

"We had better get to work our normal duties, as well," Ambassador Kroaswell said, "so that we do not unintentionally tip off these would-be assassins."

That evening, I headed into my room and pulled off the regular clothes I'd been wearing and got dressed in my best clothing. As I was making a couple of minor adjustments, I heard a knock at the door, and I opened it to find Denali standing there.

"Here," he said, handing me a rather wicked-looking dagger in a sheath. "Hopefully you won't need this, but just in case…"

"I don't really know how to use this," I protested. "I'm an archivist, not a soldier!"

"Well, you always seemed to know so many other things from what you've read, I just thought…" Denali said, sounding a bit embarrassed.

"Yes, but reading about an action doesn't mean I'm an expert in that action." Then I looked at him and realized that I'd spoken rather harshly; he'd only been looking out for me. "Look, I'm sorry," I said. "I know you meant well, and who knows? It still just might come in handy. Stranger things have happened, right?"

"Yeah," he said, handing it to me and showing me how to keep it concealed under my clothing.

He turned to leave, then turned back to me. "And Aidan? Be careful."

"You too."

I headed over to the door to Ambassador Kroaswell's room and knocked. A few moments later, it opened to reveal him in his own finery.

"Are you ready?" I asked him.

"I am indeed," he told me. "Shall we go see what the night brings?"

We headed into main dining hall and took our positions, and were notified moments later that King Osvaldo had arrived. A short time later, Tinalla came in formally and tapped her ceremonial staff on the floor three times.

"Mr. Ambassador, may I present His Majesty, King Osvaldo, most high anointed sovereign of the kingdom of Andares, and his wife, the most gracious Queen Kalena." She then stepped aside, and as the small group of musicians struck up the Andaresian national anthem, King Osvaldo entered, with Queen Kalena on his arm, and followed a few moments later by Prime Minister Glaina (whom Tinalla also announced, though with slightly less formality than she had the king and queen) and a few other court and governmental officials.

Ambassador Kroaswell and I stepped forward, with his hand resting lightly on my shoulder, and we moved to the center of the room. Since we were on the opposite side of the room from the entryway by which King Osvaldo and his party had entered, we all met in the center of the room. I stopped at roughly what I considered the appropriate distance from the king and queen, based upon what Ambassador Kroaswell and I had discussed earlier when preparing for the formal greetings that would open the reception.

"Your Majesties," Ambassador Kroaswell said with a polite bow after the musicians finished, "Prime Minister Glaina. I bid you welcome to the embassy of the Kingdom of Skronina. May it always serve as a beacon of peace and trust between our two kingdoms."

"Thank you, Mr. Ambassador," King Osvaldo said formally. "We are grateful for your invitation to this reception tonight, and hope and pray that this will serve as the first of many fine meetings to ensure a positive, productive relationship between our kingdoms."

A couple of other pleasantries were exchanged, and then the reception got down to business, with the king and queen and their entourage mingling with Ambassador Kroaswell and his staff members while enjoying the buffet that the kitchen staff had laid out.

I kept glancing around, trying to see the mysterious man I'd seen who was, for some reason, out to assassinate King Osvaldo. The reception continued on. For what must have been more than an hour, I continued to search for the guy I'd seen or anyone who might have been one of his two accomplices. At one point, I met Captain Tomicka's gaze, and he gave me a quizzical look. I gave a small shrug, hoping that I was conveying that I hadn't seen spotted the guy or anything else suspicious while not giving anything away to anyone I shouldn't have.

I had to wonder why no one seemed to have made any move to kill anybody at all, much less King Osvaldo. I though that even I would have had ample opportunity to have made such a bold move and then make my escape, and I was just a young apprentice archivist subbing for a diplomatic aide. How many opportunities would a trained assassin have seen during that time? I started to wonder if there really was a plot against King Osvaldo at all.

As the reception wound down without incident more than two hours after it had started, I was really beginning to doubt that there was any assassination plot afoot. After all, the three had only mentioned that they were out to kill "the king," and had never given any indication that they had meant King Osvaldo. After all, "king" was a term that was applied to many people, objects, and situations besides just the male ruler of a kingdom. There were a variety of games that had something designated as a king, and the three conspirators could have just as easily been discussing going after a game piece. Similarly, I'd read once some criminal underworld gangs referred to the head of their gang as a king in a mockery of more legitimate society (which they looked down on), and the three guys could have been either staging a coup within their own criminal gang or planning a hit on a rival gang's leader.

"Well," King Osvaldo eventually said to Ambassador Kroaswell, "this was a very enjoyable evening. Thank you for it. Let us hope that all our future meetings are as enjoyable."

"We can always hope, can't we?" Ambassador Kroaswell replied. "I hope that I may be able to walk you out to your carriages. I don't get outside nearly as often as I perhaps ought to."

"It would be our pleasure."

I assumed my position at Ambassador Kroaswell's side, and he put his hand on my shoulder. As we walked outside with the monarchs and their group, along with a guard escort led by Captain Tomicka, the others all made small talk here and there, but me remaining quiet. Had I really been so naïve as to actually believe there would be an attempt on King Osvaldo's life?

We passed by the outside door of the kitchen, where a couple of staff members were taking out the garbage. I didn't pay too much attention at first, since I noticed Denali standing outside the stables, looking like he hadn't had too much success in spotting any assassins either, but then I noticed one of the kitchen staff had lingered outside after the other one had gone back inside. He was setting down a large bucket of food scraps and reaching inside with his right hand, shoving it in almost to his elbow. My initial reaction was, as would be expected, to think about how gross that was. Then, for some reason, I turned my attention more fully to what he was doing, because instead of looking down at the bucket as one would expect if he had noticed something in there that shouldn't have been and was removing it, I realized he was glaring at King Osvaldo.

My breath caught in my throat. Nobody else seemed to have noticed the man, or weren't paying him any real attention if they had. A moment later he stood up, holding a couple of long, thin objects in his hand. He transferred one of the two to his left hand, then drew back his arm.

"Look out!" I yelled, shoving Ambassador Kroaswell back before I lunged forward and pushed King Osvaldo and Queen Kalena, who had just moved in front of us a few moments before to talk with Prime Minister Glaina, who was a few steps further ahead. The two monarchs stumbled just as a knife came whizzing by where they had just been standing; the knife barely missed as I involuntarily jerked backwards. A guard quickly turned in the direction of the kitchen and brought his small shield up, blocking the second thrown knife.

While I put my hand on the knife Denali had given me (I didn't know what I would do with it, but it provided me with a bit of comfort nonetheless), the escort guards immediately surrounded the group of, while other guards, who were stationed at various points on the embassy grounds rushed towards the would-be assassin. The man grabbed the bucket by the handle and began swinging it around, and it was a few moments before one of the guards removed his shield from his arm and, upon seeing an opening, threw it at the man, who tried to duck but wasn't completely successful as the edge of the shield caught him on the top of the head. He stumbled, and the guards rushed him, tackling him in a mass that quickly went to the ground.

"Look alert, men!" I heard Captain Tomicka say to the men surrounding us. "There are still at least two others of them out there somewhere. Get everyone into the stables – we can secure that area better!"

We were quickly shepherded into the stables, and I let my breath (which I hadn't realized I'd been holding) out. I started to look around for Denali when the guard right next to me suddenly stumbled backwards as if he'd been shoved, and crashed into the guard behind him. I whipped around to find myself looking at the guy I'd seen earlier. He was wielding a dagger and had a fierce look on his face as he glared at King Osvaldo.

"You will die!" the assassin bellowed.

In a moment of panic, I whipped my knife up and made a gash right along the guy's forearm. He cried out from the pain and jerked back, and it was enough of a delay for another guard to rush in and run his sword through the guy. The guy gasped out, looking at the sword in him in disbelief before it was pulled out of him. He slowly keeled over and collapsed onto the floor, and I stared at his unmoving body in horror.

There was a moment of stunned silence in the stables before a small contingent of guards led another man in. "Sir," one addressed Captain Tomicka, "we found this man guarding three horses just outside the south entrance. When we went to inquire as to what he was doing, he attempted to flee, but we were able to apprehend him. Among other things, he was carrying this." The guard handed Captain Tomicka a small token of some sort.

"This is a pirate marker," Captain Tomicka said, looking up at the prisoner. "You're working for pirates." The prisoner's response was to spit into Captain Tomicka's face. Captain Tomicka calmly wiped the spit off, then said over his shoulder, "Find out what happened to the fellow who threw those knives."

A guard left, retuning a few moments later. "Dead," he reported. "Apparently he impaled himself on Corporal Roeman's sword."

"Pity," Captain Tomicka said. "I was looking forward to being able to know what his interrogation turned up. Well, we at least have one of the three. Your Majesty," he said, turning to King Osvaldo, "you and your party should return to the castle immediately. I will see to things here."

"I quite agree, Captain," King Osvaldo replied, looking a bit pale but maintaining a calm, level voice. He moved towards one of the carriages, but stopped and came over to me. Putting a hand on my shoulder, he said, "Young Aidan, twice tonight I owe you my life. Please accept my sincerest gratitude. When things have calmed down a bit, I shall have to find a suitable way to thank you." With that, he turned and quickly got into the carriage, along with the queen, and the others who had come with him quickly followed suit. They left, along with the guards who had escorted them to the embassy, and who were undoubtedly being very vigilant.

"Well done, Aidan," Ambassador Kroaswell said.

I smiled weakly, then dropped the knife and rushed outside, where I dropped down to my hands and knees next to the nearest bushes and promptly emptied the contents of my stomach into the shrubbery. I soon felt a pair of strong arms come around my shoulders and looked up to see Denali kneeling next to me.

"First time you've seen a guy killed, I take it," he said gently, and I nodded. "Yeah," he continued, "it's not a pleasant experience for most people. Come on, let's get you inside."

"But what about Ambassador Kroaswell?" I asked a bit weakly.

"It's all right, Aidan," Tinalla said, who was at the stable door. "I'll make sure he gets back to his room tonight. Go with Denali."

Denali led me back inside, and we headed into my room. He grabbed a candle and went out into the corridor to light it from a torch. Coming back into my room, he shut the door and lit a couple of other candles before he grabbed a glass off the dresser and poured a bit of water from the pitcher into it. "Here, rinse your mouth out," he instructed me, and I did as he complied, spitting the water into the basin. He then led me over to the bed, and had me sit down on the edge, where I started shaking. Sitting down next to me, Denali put his arms around me and held me, until the shaking stopped.

"Good thing I gave you that knife," Denali said.

"Yeah, good thing," I said, smiling at him. I shifted a bit. All that close contact with Denali had caused me to get an erection, and I didn't want him to know.

"You were brave," he told me, "although perhaps a bit too bold tonight. You may very well have saved King Osvaldo twice, but you almost got yourself killed twice in the process." He sighed. "Oh, Aidan, I don't know what I'd do without you!"

"Really?" I asked, looking up into his face.

He looked into my eyes for a moment, then did something that I had practically never dared hope would happen. He leaned down and firmly planted his mouth on mine. My eyes widened in shock. Breaking off the kiss, he grinned and said, "Really."

I grabbed his head and pulled it back down. Our lips met once again. We kissed hard for several moments before Denali broke off the kiss and practically dragged me onto the bed and got on top of me. He rested his forehead on mine, and we gazed into each other's eyes as he slowly started grinding his crotch against mine. I could feel something long and hard pressing into me there.

Articles of clothing started coming off our bodies, and before I knew it, we were both naked. I stared at his amazing body. I couldn't get enough of the sight! He similarly ran his eyes over my body, and I felt a bit self-conscious and exposed.

"Amazing," he gasped out. "Aidan, you're…wow!"

My eyes settled on his erection, and I almost gasped. It was about 6 ½ inches long, and there was a massive amount of pubic hairs around it. Denali got back onto me, and began grinding his crotch against mine. We both moaned out over the feelings coursing through our bodies.

After a bit of that, I gasped out, "Denali, I want you in me!"

He stopped his grinding action. "You sure?" he asked. "You know what you're asking?"

"Yeah," I said, taking his hand and moving it down by my butthole. I'd read about what gay sex involved (being an apprentice archivist in the palace archives, with all the information contained there, had its advantages), and anal intercourse, even though I'd read it could be a bit painful at first, was one of the few things I'd ever specifically fantasized about doing with another guy. "I want you in me."

"Oh, Aidan," Denali breathed out. He grabbed my ankles and moved my legs up so that my knees were touching my chest. He then spread my legs apart. "Now try to relax," he said. Moving his crotch into position, he aimed his dick at my butthole and moved forward. The end of his dick slid into me, and I gasped out. He stopped, looking into my eyes with concern.

"Keep going!" I all but cried out.

He started pushing himself into me further, never looking out of my eyes the whole time. I clutched the sheets under me as his dick continued its entry into my butthole. At long last he stopped, and I felt his pubic hairs pressing up against my butt. I reached my arms out to Denali, and he released my ankles and laid down into my embrace, our chests pressing together. I clamped my legs around his waist a moment later. His hair falling down around his face and mine and onto the bed, he kissed me again; then he started thrusting.

I never realized so many feelings could course through my body at one time. Our moans filled the room as we made love. I started caressing Denali's back, while I ran my legs up and down his legs as he continued to screw me. My heart hammered away in my chest, and I thought I felt Denali's heart as well. I kissed his shoulder as I clutched him, and I heard him moan out, though he didn't slow down his vigorous thrusting, his balls flopping against my butt with each inward thrust. On and on we went. I moaned out at the feeling of the large throbbing erection sliding in and out of my butthole. I felt my climax coming, and I tried to hold it back, but it was only a few moments before I cried out and came all over us as I flopped around. As my ejaculation ended, Denali's thrusting became more frantic, and moments later he arched his back and cried out. Incredible as it may seem, I felt something blasting out of the end of his dick and into me.

When his ejaculation was finished, he flopped down onto me, his face planted in the pillow next to my right ear as I released him. We laid there, still joined together and breathing hard from our exertion.

"Wow," Denali said. "That was incredible! I've never had sex like that before!"

"Neither have I," I said. It had been so much different than the time Jovana and I'd had sex.

Denali looked at me a bit puzzled before pulling out of me. He went back over to the washbasin and pitcher on the dresser and, using the soap there, got cleaned up a bit before he came over and cleaned me up. After he put everything back, he came back over and we got under the covers together. I rested my head on his chest.

"So, you've had sex before," I said a bit drowsily.

"Yeah," he admitted, running his fingertips lazily along my back. "Been having sex since I was a little younger than you are. He was someone I'd known for a while, even though he was a couple of years older than me – he was one of Halian's best friends. Puberty, suffice to say, hit me pretty hard when it started for me, and one thing led to another, and, well…"

"So what happened to him?"

"He was an apprentice miner. He was killed in the same mine cave-in that killed my father."

"I'm sorry," I said, not knowing what else to say. To lose both your father and your lover at the same time…. I couldn't imagine what that must have felt like.

He was silent for a moment, then said, "Well, I won't lie and say it's been easy. I do miss him very much. But, life doesn't always work out the way we want it to." After a moment, he continued. "So, I guess you weren't exactly a good little virgin, either."

"Yeah," I acknowledged, feeling my face go warm. I told him briefly about what had happened in Klodia with Jovana, quickly adding the fact that I'd had feelings for both guys and girls.

"Strange how things work out, huh?" he said after I'd finished.

"Yeah indeed," I agreed. "Denali, there is one other thing," I admitted. "You remember the day when I went with Ambassador Kroaswell and the others to meet King Osvaldo in the palace?"

"Yeah," he said.

"Well, that night…I had a wet dream. About you."

For several moments, he didn't say anything. Then he started chuckling. "Aidan, I don't want to seem like I'm laughing at you, 'cause I'm not. What I find so funny is that…well, I remember that night well, because you see, the reason I seemed to be so uncomfortable around you the next morning is because I'd had a wet dream about you that night, too."

"Really?" I asked, floored.

"Yeah, really," he said. "Oh, Aidan, you're just so amazing!"

"I know," I said with a grin, then yawned.

"I think we should both get some sleep," Denali said. "We've had a long day."

He put out the candle, but made no move to get out of my bed to return to his own (not that I was complaining). Fortunately the bed was more than big enough for both of us, and soon we were both asleep.

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