The foxling soldati, p.8
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       The Foxling Soldati, p.8

         Part #2 of Soldati Hearts series by Charlie Cochet
 
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  "I'm done here."

  "Toka," Rayner cried out after him, pulling against the chains binding him.

  Toka struggled against Pavoni's iron grip to no avail. He didn't want to go. He wasn't ready to lose Rayner. "Rayner!"

  "Get these off me!" Rayner spat out, his eyes wide and panicked. "Toka, you must be strong!"

  Toka nodded. He was shoved inside the castle so hard he tripped and fell. The door slammed shut, blocking out the sun and the view of his love. In the distance, Rayner's agonized wail tore at Toka's soul. He was dragged to his feet, and his struggling was met with a blow to the back of his head. As the darkness came for him, Toka refused to accept his fate.

  Rayner....

  "I NEVER thought myself a coward until now."

  Rayner welcomed the scorching heat as Ezra applied the special balm to his wounds. Pavoni and his court were gone. Rayner had stumbled out to the front gates in time to see Toka unconscious, thrown over the bastard's shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Then they were gone. Rayner collapsed afterward, his adrenaline leaving him at the mercy of his broken body and broken heart.

  "You are not now, nor have you ever been, a coward, Rayner," Ezra replied softly.

  "I've lost him forever."

  "You must have faith."

  "Faith? What is there to have faith in? If I had made my feelings known sooner, perhaps Toka would be in my arms instead of...." Rayner closed his eyes, unable to continue. He would not allow that son of a jackal to stain the memory of his beautiful foxling. Rayner would remember Toka as he'd last seen him, full of life, love, and joy. In his mind and heart, Toka would forever be smiling, amber eyes glowing with mischief and adoration.

  A gentle hand on his head soothed his growing ire.

  "I'm sorry I can't do more," Ezra murmured.

  "You have done all you are permitted to, my dear friend. Thank you." As per Soldati law, Rayner was to heal of his own accord and not by anyone's hand, certainly not a healer such as Ezra. He was not permitted to shift into his tiger form to accelerate the process either. His body was already on the mend, but it would take hours still for the wounds to completely heal, and at least a couple of days for the scabs to fall away, leaving behind a roadmap of scars, an eternal reminder of what he'd lost.

  "Rayner...."

  Khalon's voice brought him out of his thoughts, and he pushed himself to sit up despite Ezra's gentle pleading he not move. His wounds burned as his muscles shifted beneath his torn flesh, but he would not look weak in front of his king. He sat and rolled his shoulders back, hissing at the pull of torn skin. Ezra quickly dabbed at the newly bleeding lesions.

  "Rayner, please. You are my brother."

  Rayner shook his head. He would shed no more tears for the man he'd called brother. He didn't want to hear those words from Khalon. It was too little too late.

  "All I ask is that you understand--"

  "Understand?" Rayner's voice was quiet, his strength of body and heart abandoning him. "I understand that had it been Riley, I would find myself at the frontlines of a war, not merely because he's a prince or a Soldati, but because he's yours. How can my love for a foxling servant compare? To you, Toka's life is worth less than the whim of an arrogant, spiteful king. Now, if you will excuse me, Your Majesty, I would like to grieve my loss alone and in peace."

  Khalon flinched at Rayner's harsh words but said nothing. He nodded and left.

  "Rayner--"

  Rayner put a hand up to stop Ezra. "Thank you for your help, my friend. I would like to rest now."

  Ezra looked as if he wanted to say more. Instead he nodded and headed for the door. "Please notify me if you should need anything." He closed the door quietly behind him, and Rayner lay down. Within minutes, a gentle knock sounded, and Rayner bid them enter.

  Sansone peeked inside the room. "Sir, I have what you requested."

  "Thank you. Enter, please."

  Sansone entered the room with a large rectangular basket in his arms. He placed the basket at Rayner's feet beside the bed, his eyes filled with sadness. "The items you asked for. As you requested, Toka's bedchamber will remain untouched until you or His Majesty request otherwise."

  "Thank you, Sansone." Rayner managed a small smile and once again thanked the foxling. He waited until Sansone had gone before crouching down in front of the basket. Inhaling deeply through his nose, he let his breath out slowly through his mouth, then unfastened the lid. He swallowed hard as he caressed the cream-colored fabric. He removed it from the basket and stood. How could this have happened?

  Rayner sat on the edge of the bed and held the soft tunic to his cheek. Toka's rich foxling scent invaded his senses and gripped firmly at his heart. He lay down on his stomach, so as to not stretch his wounds, the tunic held close. His exhaustion was all-consuming, and though his heart lay in shards, his Soldati soul refused to give in to despair. He would find a way to free Toka and make that bastard Pavoni pay. The man would soon regret ever having laid eyes on Toka or crossing Rayner's path. Rayner was far from done.

  THIS WAS his life now.

  Toka stared up at the giant stone bear statue beside Pavoni's extravagant throne, an exact match to the one on its right. The Dell'Orso throne room was much like the rest of the castle and its king. An imposing beastly thing, cold, harsh, and uninviting with jagged edges and sharp corners capable of slicing through his skin if he wasn't careful. The Dell'Orso castle had been carved into the side of the colossal Orso mountain centuries ago. Toka had woken up just as the king's portal spit them out into the wretched kingdom outside the castle gates, and Toka stood long enough to gaze up at the mountain. He supposed he should be grateful Pavoni possessed the power to summon portals, or they would have been traveling for days across the Soldati Realm to reach the border of its neighboring kingdom. Why prolong the inevitable?

  The castle stretched into the sky, its peaks vanishing into the gray clouds. Perhaps once it had been a kingdom as resplendent as that of the Soldati, but now it was everything the Soldati Realm was not. Created to intimidate outsiders rather than welcome them, a boast of nobility and power with brown-and-black flags trimmed in white snapping in the wind from every soldier-occupied parapet. The whole place and everyone in it appeared ready for war, much like its king.

  "His Royal Majesty, King of Dell'Orso, King Pavoni."

  Toka did his best not to growl and spit at the man as he entered the room. He strutted down the ridiculously long red carpet to sit on the ostentatious throne forged of steel and stone. Pavoni's lip curled up on one end, and he motioned for Toka to approach. When Toka didn't move, the guard beside him pushed him forward. Teeth clenched, Toka placed one chained foot in front of the other, then stopped when he reached the bottom step leading to the throne's platform. Pavoni shook his head. He spread his knees and pointed to the floor between them.

  "Kneel. Here."

  Summoning calm and courage, Toka ascended the steps and came to a halt in front of Pavoni, his shackled hands clenched into fists at his sides.

  Pavoni leaned in, his voice a low growl. "I said, on your knees, foxling."

  Toka hesitated, and Pavoni threw a hand out and snatched him by the throat.

  "You're mine now. When I say kneel...." He squeezed Toka's throat, making him gasp for breath, and forced him down onto his knees. "That's a good little dog. Dog. That's what humans call male foxlings, isn't it? How fitting, for I have every intention of training you like one."

  Toka clenched his jaw, his gaze never wavering.

  "Such insolence." Pavoni moved his hand from Toka's neck to his hair, running his fingers through it. "Rayner's influence, no doubt. Did you give yourself to him?"

  Toka couldn't help his smirk. "Yes, with joy and love."

  "Of course you did. Little whore." Pavoni snorted in disgust.

  "Call me what you will, but I gave myself to him freely. Rayner took only what I gave, and that is something you will never have."

  "We'll see about that."

  "No.
I know. Rayner has more power than you'll ever have. The Soldati respect him, admire him, and love him. The comparison is laughable. You--" The backhanded slap across his face made his body spin, and he fell onto the stairs and rolled to the bottom with a painful groan. His lip was split, and he tasted blood. Pavoni marched down the steps and kicked Toka in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him. He gasped and held on to his middle, curling up on himself when Pavoni crouched beside him to grab a fistful of his hair. He tugged Toka's head up, forcing him onto his knees.

  "You seem to underestimate the extent of my hatred for your lover. I'm going to enjoy tearing into that hole of yours. I'm going to fuck you until there is nothing left of the light inside your soul, until you're nothing but a used, empty husk, and then--" He removed a knife from his belt and slid the side up Toka's face. "--I'll cut into your flesh, and when I've had my fun, when there is nothing left of the beautiful foxling he cherishes so much, I will send you back to him, and he can hold your ghost until you depart this world."

  Toka would not allow Pavoni to see the terror his words brought. He glared at Pavoni, the loathing he had for the man coming through in his voice when he spoke. "No matter what you do, he will always be the greater man, and you will be but a pitiful charlatan forever dwelling in his shadow."

  The ire flowed out of Pavoni in waves, and Toka readied himself for a blow that didn't come. Instead, Pavoni stood, bellowing out to his Orso guards.

  "Get this filthy little whore washed and prepared. I want him ready in my bedchamber in an hour."

  Toka was lifted to his feet, his arms seized, and he was all but carried out of the throne room. They led him down a dark stone corridor into a room with nothing in it but a huge round dark pool of water in the center of a bare stone floor. He was shoved into the pool, and Toka hit the water hard on his side. The floor came up beneath his feet, and he found purchase. He stood, emerging from the water's surface with a sputter. He shivered from the cold. It was nothing like the baths of his home. The water was icy and void of any scent. He supposed he should be grateful it was clean. He brushed his hair away from his brow and glared at the guards. They paid him no mind. He was nothing to them. A large man, an Orso, dressed in a long brown jerkin with black trousers and black boots, entered the room. One of the guards addressed him.

  "His Majesty wants him scrubbed thoroughly and dressed in the garment provided. We will be outside the door should you need us." He turned his black eyes on Toka. "Behave yourself, or you will leave this room with far more bruises than you entered."

  Toka spat at him, and the man sneered before leaving. The boom of the heavy wooden door closing made Toka jump with a start. At least he was alone. For the most part. The Orso rang a bell, and immediately a host of servants entered. Toka sniffed the air, recognizing the scent. They were bobcat shifters, and they looked miserable. The Orso gave them instructions, and Toka remained still as the servants entered the pool. One of them produced a set of keys, and he began to remove the shackles.

  "Do not think of escaping, foxling," the Orso grunted.

  Toka wasn't stupid. Even if the guards weren't posted outside the door, there were hundreds around the castle, all of them Orso warriors who could ensnare him before he got very far. He was unfamiliar with the castle, which made finding a hiding spot risky, not to mention his foxling scent would give him away.

  The shackles were removed, followed by his clothes. It was strange being on the receiving end of a servant's bathing. They were meticulous, and Toka gritted his teeth when they parted his cheeks to scrub at his intimate places. The reason behind it made him feel sick to his stomach. He caught one of the servants' gaze. The young man quickly looked away, but Toka had seen the sympathy in his big gold eyes. Toka was clearly not the first to be taken against his will. He remembered Rayner's words, and he wondered how many of these servants Pavoni had forced himself upon. The man was vile.

  Toka was sad for Pavoni's servants. Looking at them now, they were all young, about Toka's age, and pretty, but there was a deadness in their eyes. These young men had lost their hope some time ago, resigned to their fates at the hands of an egotistical madman.

  Once Toka was clean, dried, and dressed, he was escorted into a bedchamber that could only be Pavoni's, judging by its extravagant decor. Toka had never seen so much gold in all his life. One would think Pavoni was a dragon instead of a bear, with the way he hoarded the precious metal. The room was also a testament to the man's ego. There was nothing that was not gilded, embroidered, or engraved with Pavoni's initials. The gold-and-iron four-poster bed was a monstrosity of velvet curtains and gold silk sheets, and more throw pillows than Toka had ever seen in his life, all embroidered with Pavoni's initials, naturally.

  Toka stood before a floor-to-ceiling mirror, frowning at his attire. The glittering gold sleeveless tunic was almost sheer, falling just low enough to cover Toka's privates and backside. A gold rope served as a belt, tied loosely around his waist. His wrists were bound in gold fur-lined cuffs, the gold chain between them long enough for him to rest his arms at his sides.

  Similar fur-lined gold cuffs were secured around his ankles, the chain's length allowing him to walk, but not run. They'd placed gold sandals on his feet. He was almost naked and felt vulnerable and exposed, the heavy chains a constant reminder of the freedom he'd lost. Undoubtedly it was what Pavoni wanted. Toka looked every bit the part Pavoni wished him to play--prized pet to an Orso king.

  Perhaps "prized" was too strong a word. Pavoni had plans for him, and all to hurt Rayner.

  Rayner....

  Toka's heart splintered, knowing he would never again see Rayner's smile, never feel his touch or experience his kisses. He would never feel the warmth of Rayner's embrace, the strength of his arms, or hear his whispered promises. Toka dropped to his knees and then his backside. He hung his head and covered his face with his hands, letting the tears fall. He was desperate to shift and crawl under the bed to curl up and hide beneath his brush. There was no one to see him or to hear his cries of agony. Or so he thought.

  "Toka?"

  His head shot up, and he met the princess's gaze through the mirror. He was surprised by the hurt he saw in her delicate features. How could someone so beautiful and kind share the blood of someone so vile? She approached him and kneeled by his side, tears welling in her bright amber eyes.

  "I'm so sorry," she whispered, cupping his face. She removed a handkerchief from her skirt's pocket and wiped his cheeks dry. "Don't let him see your tears. It would only bring him satisfaction. Be strong, for Rayner. You must be strong."

  Toka nodded. She was right. He would not allow Pavoni power over his heart. Gently she took his hands and helped him to his feet.

  "I must leave you now. He's on his way. I am so sorry." She kissed his brow and fled to a panel below a painting of a large brown bear in battle. The panel pushed inward, and she disappeared into the darkness. A heartbeat later, the door to the bedchamber opened. Toka swallowed hard. He straightened and rounded his shoulders.

  Pavoni's lecherous grin made Toka's skin crawl, but he remained silent and stoic as the large man approached. He stopped before Toka and opened the velvet box in his hand. Toka's stomach turned at the sight of the gold collar. Its matching tag was engraved with Pavoni's name, and a gold bell was fastened to it. Pavoni removed the collar from the box, tossed the box to one side, and then placed the collar around Toka's neck.

  "So that everyone will know you're mine." He fastened the clasp, then ran a finger up Toka's neck. "I'll have you begging at my feet soon enough. You'll see." He struck the bell with his finger, the shrill little ring grating on Toka. Lust filled Pavoni's gaze, and he ran a hand down Toka's arm. "You are truly beautiful." He moved his hand beneath the tunic and squeezed Toka's asscheek painfully hard. "Ask me to take you."

  "Never," Toka replied through his teeth.

  Pavoni slipped a finger between his cheeks and pushed at his entrance. Toka bared his teeth and snarled. He wanted nothing
more than to tear Pavoni's throat out, and he would, given the chance.

  "Say it," Pavoni roared.

  "Never!"

  Pavoni snatched hold of the chain securing his wrists and jerked Toka after him, leading him to the bed. He propelled Toka against it, bent him over, and forced his head down against the mattress. Toka closed his eyes and gritted his teeth against the cold hitting his ass when the back of his tunic was shoved up to his waist. His feet were kicked apart, and he heard the clinking of Pavoni's belt, when a knock on the door resounded. Toka almost cried with relief.

  "What the blasted hell is it? I'm busy!"

  The door creaked open, and a voice spoke up. "Your Majesty, the lords are here as you requested before your trip to the Soldati Realm, remember?"

  Pavoni cursed under his breath. "It slipped my mind. Have them wait outside the royal throne room. I'm on my way."

  "Yes, Your Majesty."

  Toka was jerked back by his hair, Pavoni growling in his ear. "Consider yourself fortunate. I will have you before this day is out. Now come. I want everyone to see my pretty new toy." He took hold of Toka's chain and all but dragged him out of the room and down the corridor. Toka did his best to keep up with Pavoni's long strides. If he fell, Pavoni would undoubtedly drag him along the ground. They reached the throne room, and Pavoni marched down the red carpet to his throne. He sat, then jerked Toka to him, turned him so he faced away from Pavoni, and pulled Toka onto his leg, forcing Toka to straddle his thigh. He slipped his fingers into Toka's hair, his free hand tweaking Toka's nipple before moving under Toka's tunic to cup him.

  "You feel so good," Pavoni hummed. "Tell me what you feel when I touch you."

  Toka considered his answer carefully. If he said disgust, Pavoni would only be amused. He thought of what would irk Pavoni the most. Toka held his head high. "I feel nothing."

  "Lies. Tell me I disgust you. Tell me how much you loathe my touch."

  "Your touch means nothing. Therefore, I feel nothing."

  Pavoni slammed a hand against Toka's back, sending him soaring forward. He hit the ground hard. On instinct, he covered his head when Pavoni descended upon him.

  "Let's see if you feel nothing now, dog!"

 
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