V A S S A L A G E
Written on September 18, 2020 (♍)
Content Warning:The consent is exceedingly dubious here (owing somewhat to alcohol and owing very much to feudal power dynamics); both characters are also a little younger than eighteen at the time the event described happens (for reference, their briefly mentioned younger siblings are roughly eight or nine). The sex is very non-explicit, and the acts performed are ambiguous, but you will leave the fic having read a line describing Bestrald Larg's tongue and what it is doing. Also, there are a lot of allusions to humoural medicine and how gross it is.
Author's Notes: Yew berries are technically not poisonous. Their seeds, however, are very poisonous if you chew them in the midst of eating the berries. Given that they got in trouble for it, it's fairly likely that Ruvelia made Zalbag eat sufficient berries for him to end up suffering some ill effect.
It would have been stranger, Dycedarg often thought, were they to speak of it. This, of course, didn’t make the strangeness of them never speaking of it less oppressive, especially not after so many years in which the weight of silence could accrue. It had been one of the few blemishes in his life that made him wish he could empty his head with the ease Bestrald did—to be relieved of unpleasant memory with the same regularity as an invalid drained of his bile.
In all honesty, he wouldn’t put it past Bestrald to leech and clyster his skull until his brain sat there in unsullied cleanliness. The man certainly worked at every other point to smooth over the irregularities in his life to fit his ambitions for it. It was nearly two decades prior now in any event: one of them not yet a Duke and the other not yet sick of wartime gallantry. Who knew if he remembered? There had been wine enough to soften or efface the recollection.
Dycedarg had not changed his fondness for drink or his closeness to Bestrald in the aftermath, for all he had taken to avoiding the two in tandem. Certain formalities were unavoidable of course. In those moments when both of them held a cup and spoke as confidants, he sometimes recalled it unbidden: the clumsy attempts at humor and ease, the clumsier pawing about, the slurred demand or request or whatever it had been that terminated in “before you head east.” At such instants, Dycedarg smiled almost automatically, eager to show an easy demeanor lest Bestrald suspect he was thinking through all the myriad ways he had contemplated snapping his neck that night.
He hadn’t, though. He had deftly performed a unpleasant new variant to a duty long accepted—doing his utmost to prevent the Dukeal heir from meeting with any disgrace ill-suited to his station. When that evening’s attempts to direct Bestrald towards a more chaste course failed, he steered him as best he could to one that was at least more discreet.
As Dycedarg viewed it now—a man nearing forty rather than a boy shy of eighteen—the burden of his friend’s caresses was far from the most onerous he’d been asked to bear. At the very least, it was one that he could undertake lying down. Most of his management of the situation had been in cutting Bestrald off when he grew too loud—pulling him down against him to mute his cries with kisses, doing his best to convince him that it was a very fine thing to be pinned beneath him and subject to a beer-slick tongue probing about his teeth.
The rest was just a matter of enduring.
Whenever he met Bestrald now in the midst of unpleasant recollections, he just had to keep up that endurance, and with twenty years of unfaltering practice, he felt confident in his ability to persist. The incident had been a shockingly good lesson—in all its grotesquerie—as to how easy it is to break with morality and how hard to break with vassalage. He was out of fear for their sins within the hour; he remained wary of Bestrald’s whims a long while after. Dycedarg had considered it then as just another mechanism of that order to which the world was set. It seemed to him the same logic by which his brother must be beaten for the yew berries Ruvelia made him swallow or by which the old Duke might bid his father dash so many good men’s skulls against Viura’s gates. House Beoulve was a great and noble thing, but in the end, things were all its members amounted to in some ways: objects to be set in whatever hands held Gallione in power.
The subsequent morning had been largely uneventful, and he resented that it remained impressed so precisely in his memory. He’d disentangled himself from his companion’s embrace. He’d crept back to his chambers. He’d washed, shaved, washed again, and paced the room waiting for the sunrise when he could ask for his bird and head out for Gariland. It had been early spring; the sky had been a very pale sort of blue, and the snowdrops were still gilt with frost when he rode over them. Dycedarg recalled to himself that he had felt very giddy out on those great stretches of Mandalian flatland, as though he’d been plucked out of Igros and set down in a great nowhere beyond the borders of human concerns.
He was well distant from Bestrald and the night prior by the time the rest of the Northern Sky caught up. When his father rebuked him for his early start, he met it without the slightest apprehension he might be further called to account for despoiling his liege lord’s son. Dycedarg felt quite beyond such worries then. Dycedarg felt quite beyond anything. He remembered taking the entire lecture with a grinning insolence, save for a little point when it had been cast before him how Zalbag had reacted poorly to hearing he should have no farewell. He apologized for none of it.
The war went badly, but he managed. Bestrald wrote a few weeks later to make no mention of anything. He relayed some court gossip and explained that he was having a new doublet made. He wished Dycedarg luck on the field and hoped they would have occasion to meet again come the autumn high holidays.
Dycedarg's return letter was full of fond regards and advice against getting anything with Lesalian dagged sleeves.
The events of the evening never repeated themselves. Neither man ever acknowledged them. Were Dycedarg better schooled in whatever alchemy allowed Bestrald to sever thought from action, there might have been no memory of them occurring. Still—in glances, in silences, in all those meetings and partings with their accompanying "well mets" and friendly embraces—it sometimes rose within him: a singular nausea never over-tipping into the relief of action.