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Deafening cries carried through the garrison, causing the tableware to vibrate. Scared for the fate of the tall pitcher in front of me, I grabbed it and drained its golden contents in four glugs, thus preventing any spillage. A waste of fresh-pressed pashija cider would have been an insult to the gods and common sense.


Another long bellow filled the air. I jolted.


The hell is that?


My hair stood on end. At the same time, however, the obvious longing present in the tone of that growl prompted my heart to give a funny thump.


A heavy hand clapped my back. The Quartermaster Dakoi, his cheeks flushed from exertion, bent forwards and wheezed out, “Lie-lieutenant Ĉortez. You must come to the fe-fencing hall at once!”


“Must I?” I squinted at him over my untouched supper, miffed at the suggestion, to say the least. “Says who?”


I’d only just come off a long-arsed shift. Knackered, thank you very much. As the evenings turned darker and cooler with the approach of winter, sentinel duty became more taxing. Starved and chilled to my bones, I didn’t fancy leaving the warmth of the canteen—and even less before shovelling any food down my gob.


“Says Ca-captain Zheger,” Dakoi barked. “So make haste!” He unfolded himself to his full height—a technique tall men tended to try and intimidate me with.

It never worked. From a young age, I’d heeded my mother’s advice: Small as you may be, son, do not allow anyone to spit in your porridge. Whatever I lacked in height and physical strength, I made up for in practice, discipline and technique. As a result, not many had sought the chance to mess with my shit when my sword—named Lil’Sting by my opponents—swung by my side. Not one to brag, but save for the Lord of Radvadur, I ranked as the top fencer in the Empire.


Dakoi switched his approach. “Come on, Lieutenant,” he reasoned with me. “It’s u-urgent!”

“It’d damn well better be,” I grumbled.

Fuck Captain Zheger and his fleas. I rose from my seat, already mourning the venison and wild mushroom stew I’d only managed to sniff.


Taking cues from Dakoi, I sprinted out of the canteen and across the courtyard.


A vast crowd of soldiers had gathered around the fencing hall’s entrance. The door, usually wide open, remained latched with an iron bar in an attempt to keep something in. Something mighty strong that had been the source of the anguished roars. It rammed the gate from the other side, clearly wanting out.

Judging by the way the entire construction rattled, I realised the creaking hinges wouldn’t take much more of such treatment before snapping off.


“Shit! He’s getting frantic!” someone warned.


The men appeared anxious as hell. A few had backed up a step.


Intrigued to see what had elicited such a reaction from the seasoned servicemen, I elbowed my passage through to the front.


“Has anyone found Ĉortez?” I recognised the booming voice of Captain Zheger. “Where the fuck is he?”


“Here, sir,” I said, more and more perplexed. “What’s this, then?”


“Thank the gods!” Zheger grabbed me by the lapels and pulled me towards him, exerting enough force for our chests to bump. “Lieutenant, you need to go in there. Now.”


I glanced around with suspicion. There must’ve been three dozen men standing about idly, and Zheger expected me to deal with the issue—whatever it involved—solo? I didn’t rush to criticise, but it seemed a tad unreasonable.

“Whatever’s in there, sir?” I asked with caution.


“Sergeant Eerik. You know him?”


“Sergeant Eerik?” I gaped and shook my head, fighting off a ridiculous feeling of being caught red-handed upon hearing that name.


Well, I didn’t know the Sergeant, as such. He’d enlisted recently and served in another regiment. Which didn’t mean I hadn’t noticed the gorgeous green-eyed man on the compound or spent a fair amount of time gawking at his lean, clean-cut muscles. It would have been hard to miss someone built like a martial god, who moved in the smooth manner of a predator, emanating a brooding air. But the very fact that I’d been fantasising about the Sergeant at all—and pretty much constantly, too—was unlike me. The more vivid and explicit my thoughts had turned, the more out of the ordinary it’d become.


Matters of attraction and intimacy weren’t as simple for me as for other men. I didn’t go round shagging people on a whim. Neither did I have a habit of leering at strangers or lusting over them. Appearance alone, no matter how striking, had never been enough to stir my interest or my cock. Sure, I had eyes and appreciated a looker when I saw one. But to consider physical contact of any kind, I needed a connection first. A sense of trust. Familiarity. Friendship. Romance. Anything. And I’d been this way ever since I could remember.


Only not anymore, it appeared. Because there I went, dreaming up a headful of filth and hosting a village fair in my trousers every time I’d caught a glimpse of Sergeant Eerik bending down or flexing his arms. 


In any event, admitting to the Capitan that I’d enjoyed a good few wanks imagining the lower-ranked soldier fucking me up against the wall until I screamed myself hoarse didn’t strike me as a wise idea.

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