Peter and the Pups by Merry Farmer

1

Home was always a place that belonged to other people. For as long as I could remember, I would feel a pang of envy whenever my fellow students—I couldn’t really call them friends—would speak of their homes and their families. I was a member of the ruling family of the city of Novoberg, but that meant nothing. I had a father and mother, brothers and sisters, but they all despised me. That is no exaggeration. They disliked me from the time they saw that I would be a feminine boy—delicate, soft-spoken, and gentle. They hated me as soon as they realized I loved other men instead of women, as normal men were supposed to. So the palace in Novoberg, in spite of being filled with every luxury a person could have asked for—from the highest-quality food to beautiful furnishings to sumptuous clothing to servants—was never a home. It was a magnificent, gilded cage for me.

A cage I had been unceremoniously cast out of nearly five months ago, the night my life changed forever.

A mere five months had passed, and “home” was where I found myself. At last. The peaceful rays of the dawn sun poured through the open windows and doorway that led out to a small balcony in my bedroom. The soft curtains billowed in a light breeze that tickled over my exposed skin as I lay sprawled in a bed that was a thousand times more decadent than anything I’d ever known in my father’s palace. It wasn’t the fine sheets or the thick mattress or the comfortable pillows that made my bed decadent either. What made my bed and my entire life a dream of sensual perfection were the two men slumbering away in the bed with me.

I stirred slightly, rolling from one side to the other so that I could drape an arm and a leg around Magnus, my lover and, one might argue, my mentor. Magnus Gravlock—or, as I’d discovered his name used to be when he was my age and still a member of the royal family of the kingdom whose frontier we lived in, Magnus Gerzia—leader of a vast settlement that was more commonly referred to as a “wolf pack”, in the forest that occupied the vast, supposedly empty area between the frontier cities. I knew Magnus’s body in every intimate detail, now that I had been with him for nearly five weeks. He was nearly twice my age at just over forty—I’d turned twenty-one a few months before—but he was in as fine a shape as any man could be—lean and fit, with strong but not bulky muscles—and deliciously virile. He would have to be, considering the situation he now found himself in.

I was half of that situation. The other half was just stretching awake on Magnus’s other side. Neil’s back was pressed along Magnus’s side and well within my reach. With a mischievous grin that I pressed into Magnus’s shoulder, I pressed my fingertips against the top of Neil’s back, then ran them down his spine. Neil sucked in a breath, then let it out on an indulgent sigh before twisting to face me. He grinned at me in sleepy beauty, snuggling against Magnus’s other side in a mirror of me. Our legs brushed against each other, and I reached for Neil’s hand, twining my fingers with his on Magnus’s chest, grinning.

I’d known Neil Beiste for nearly my entire life. He, too, had been born and raised in Novoberg, and if I’d been allowed to have friends in that former, miserable life, it was likely Neil would have become one of those friends. We were the same age, had been schooled together, and like me, Neil loved men. More specifically, he loved me and I loved him, and we both loved Magnus. The arrangement was wicked and beautiful and shocking, even for the often wild and sensual ways of the forest, but nothing in my entire life had ever made me happier. Nothing had ever made me feel so deeply—in my heart, in my cock, or in my soul—like home, like family.

Mornings like this one had become the norm for me in the past few weeks, since Magnus had hosted a group of other large wolf pack leaders in Gravlock. The visit had had a purpose—to prepare an alliance that would press for a tighter organization of the scattered wolf packs of the forest at a grand summit. Everyone knew we stood on the precipice of dangerous times after the decades’-long balance between city-dwellers and forest-dwellers had been destroyed. There had been an attack on the forest-dwellers who were in attendance at a faire outside of the city of Neander weeks before. The reasons for the attack were complex and delicate, but no matter who was to blame, everyone in the frontier knew that the entire kingdom was on the verge of collapse and a new world would have to form from the rubble. Whether that would mean war between the cities and the forest-dwellers, war between the cities themselves, war between factions in the forest, or simply a protracted period of desperation and uneasy truce, had yet to be determined. The grand summit would be the beginning of so many things, and both Magnus and his friends, and Neil and I and our friends, had a great many plans for that summit.

But at the moment, with my fingers playing lazily with Neil’s and my cock growing harder by the moment against Magnus’s thigh, the summit and the troubles of the world seemed far, far away. Even though we would be leaving for the summit in a matter of hours. The joy that filled my heart when Neil smiled at me and when Magnus touched me—which he did, generously, knowing how much I loved to be touched after a lifetime of virtually no kind touch at all—left no room inside of me for fear or anxiety.

Which was a far, far cry from the way my life had been just weeks before, when I had been the “pup” for a pack of six men in a remote corner of the forest. My heart was still sore over Sascha, the leader of that pack and my first love. But I’d known within just a short time of coming to be with him that my ambitions were too expansive to be contained within a tiny, out-of-the-way, unimportant pack like Sascha’s, and that my sexual appetites could never be fulfilled by just Sascha alone, even though he loved me fiercely. I’d made the decision to throw my lot in with Magnus at that same faire in Neander, just before the attack took place, and while I didn’t regret it for a single second, it tore me apart that I had broken Sascha’s heart.

I hadn’t seen Sascha since we’d parted ways on the road home to Gravlock, but part of me wondered if he would be at the grand summit. Sascha wasn’t important enough to attend, but thanks to the events surrounding the way we’d parted, he knew I would be there.

“No,” Magnus said in a sleepy voice, shifting so that he could stroke my head, even though the gesture was awkward, considering how we lay together. “No, Peter, I refuse to accept whatever made your entire body go tense just now.”

“It was nothing,” I said, lifting myself on one arm so that I could kiss him lightly—I wasn’t going to thrust my tongue into his mouth, seeing as it was first thing in the morning—then staring down at him with a smile.

Magnus raised one eyebrow at me and opened just one eye. He didn’t need words to tell me he didn’t believe me one bit. He didn’t press the matter, though. Magnus knew me well enough to know where my thoughts might have wandered, and with our departure for the grand summit set for later that morning, he must have felt I had every right to worry.

I didn’t want to worry, though. I lifted myself and shifted until I was straddling Magnus’s hips, nudging Neil aside—Neil wouldn’t mind. In fact, Neil got off on watching me and Magnus fuck—and bending down to rain soft kisses over Magnus’s chest. Magnus sucked in a breath, relaxing into a smile as his hands roved my freshly-shaven body. He liked the feel of my hairless skin and I adored being touched and stroked, which was intensified without hair on my body, so the grooming arrangement worked out brilliantly for both of us.

“Would that we could stay here like this forever instead of attending this nasty summit,” Magnus sighed, his mouth twitching into a hedonistic grin.

He traced his fingertips down my back to my ass, sliding a few into my cleft and pressing against my asshole. I replied with a sound of urgent pleasure, moving against his hand—though it wasn’t going anywhere interesting until he reached for the jar of ointment that was a permanent fixture on the table beside our bed, which he would likely do within minutes—as I licked my way to one of his nipples, then sucked hard on it.

Magnus flinched and groaned. “God, Peter, you’re going to be the death of me one of these days.”

“Then you’ll die happy,” I said before kissing my way to his other nipple and giving it a similar treatment.

His cock was hard between us, and I reached for it while still sucking his nipple and balancing on one arm. Neil was breathing heavily beside us, and when I peeked at him, he was fisting himself slowly and smiling as he did. I winked at him, then returned my attention to Magnus.

“If I die, I’m taking you with me,” he growled, caressing my ass for a moment before pinching me hard. I gasped as a rush of arousal pulsed through me. Magnus knew I liked a bit of pain with my pleasure sometimes, and though we’d never explored the full extent of my inclinations—not like I once had with Dmitri, one of my fellow packmates when I was with Sascha—I had the innate feeling that we would someday. Someday soon, hopefully. Magnus reached for the jar of ointment, just as I expected him to, and finished his thought with, “It wouldn’t be Paradise without you there for me to fuck.” He glanced at Neil with a grin as he helped himself to a generous amount of ointment, then handed Neil the jar. “Both of you,” he told Neil with a wink, then nudged me back slightly so he had the space to slather his cock.

My heart beat double-time at the idea of me, Neil, and Magnus all being together in Paradise. Though it might get a bit crowded if Magnus was reunited with his deceased lover, Rurik. From everything Magnus had told me about Rurik, theirs had been an epic sort of love, cut short eight years ago by Rurik’s untimely illness and death. Then again, I felt as though the four of us could live a wonderful afterlife together. If three in a bed was glorious, four would be even better.

I nearly expressed those thoughts aloud, but even after eight years, the place Rurik had occupied in Magnus’s heart was still raw. I had no wish to invade or diminish it, only a desire to create another place beside it that was just as good. And while it could be argued that we were still in the earliest days of our perfect, three-way union, I was confident that Magnus was as in love with me and Neil as he’d been with Rurik, and the feelings were mutual on all sides.

That much I could easily express, and did when Magnus grinned wickedly at me and nodded for me to move forward. I lifted myself and scooted forward enough for him to spread the remaining ointment on his fingers over my asshole, then made a truly depraved sound of pleasure as he stretched me with one finger, then two. I adored being fucked so shamelessly and had him or Neil inside of me so frequently that his careful preparations were hardly necessary anymore, but we both knew I enjoyed any touch and any invasion I could get.

Impatience finally got the better of me, and I pushed Magnus’s hand away and searched out his cock with restless movements. Never one to pass up the opportunity to be inside of me, Magnus held himself so that I could impale myself on him—which I did with a debauched sigh, my mouth forming an “O” of pleasure as my body’s moment of resistance gave way to hot, throbbing fullness. I bore down on Magnus repeatedly and slowly, making a fool of myself by letting Magnus know how good he felt deep within me. Still. After weeks of daily fucking with him. I still went to pieces at the feeling of Magnus jerking into me with deliberate, teasing thrusts.

“You’re so beautiful when you’re like this,” Neil gasped, lying on his back by Magnus’s side, stroking himself furiously, and watching me with adoring eyes.

“Beauty comes from love,” Magnus said breathlessly, groaning himself as he stroked his hands up my sides, then down to grip my hips so he could thrust harder. “We love Peter,” he panted to Neil, “and Peter loves having his ass fucked into oblivion.”

I laughed. I couldn’t help myself. It was absolutely true. I arched my back, giving Magnus and Neil everything to look at as I pushed myself to my limits on Magnus’s cock. He groaned as though observing a piece of fine art, then reached for Neil. He plucked Neil’s hand away from where Neil was stroking himself and moved it to fist my cock instead. Neil followed the wordless order enthusiastically, stroking me with one hand and fisting himself with the other. The pure, physical pleasure of the way we all indulged each other was magnified by the three of us being a part of the same, sinful experience. I felt it in my cock and as my balls drew up eagerly. I felt it in my heart as it throbbed for them. I felt it in every part of me, everything that made me who I was, and I vocalized that pleasure shamelessly, nearly weeping with the beauty of it.

It was a blissful surprise when Neil and I managed to come at nearly the same time, completely unplanned, both noisy with fulfillment. My cum jetted across Magnus’s belly and chest, which elicited a cry of delight from Magnus and had him pumping harder inside of me. The sudden, almost painful intensity of sensation caused by Magnus’s cock in me post-orgasm was something else I loved beyond reason, though it would have been too much for many men. Magnus knew that and thrust mercilessly. Neil had come in his hand, but twisted to splay that hand and its stickiness across Magnus’s damp belly, which had Magnus gasping a string of loving expletives before jerking powerfully inside of me a few times, filling me with himself and joy, before losing every ounce of energy he’d had.

“Glorious,” he gasped a few seconds later, as I pulled away from him, then spilled into the pile he and Neil made. His hands continued moving over both of our bodies as we burrowed together. “Simply glorious. I am the luckiest man alive.”

I lay face down across his chest, and when he stroked his hand down my back and between the cleft of my ass, he wickedly brushed a finger against my hole as his cum seeped out of me.

I jerked, lifting myself above him enough to gape at him, face going pink. “Magnus, that’s sinful,” I scolded him.

Magnus laughed, pressing his finger deeper and making me shudder. “My darling Peter,” he purred, surging up to kiss my mouth. “You are absolutely devilish when you are in the throes of passion, and so delightfully bashful the moment you come.”

“And you are a lascivious old man who flaunts his two boyish lovers to everyone from the Old Realm to Good Port,” I teased him in return, though Magnus’s shamelessness actually thrilled me as few things ever had.

“That’s not true,” he protested. With a powerful sweep that proved he might have been past forty, but he was still strong and agile, he flipped me to my back, wedging me against Neil as he muscled himself above both of us—one of his favorite positions. “We haven’t been as far as either Good Port or parts of the Old Realm, so I haven’t had a chance to flaunt you to them yet.” He leaned down to kiss me, then Neil, then said, “But you’d better believe I will be flaunting you both and our sinful life to every single wolf and pack leader we come across at the grand summit.”

He wasn’t merely teasing either. Part of Magnus’s plan to convince the other pack leaders—some of whom commanded more men than him, and who were, arguably, more powerful—to follow his lead was by proving himself to be superior, because he was the master of not just one nobly-born pup, but two. Many pack leaders in the forest had pups—as young, fey, attractive men who were kept primarily as bed slaves were called—but only the most powerful had pups of noble birth. The young men who became pups were either taken from cities or had run away on their own so that they could indulge their taste for other men, and, as I had come to discover, pups actually held a treasured, though servile, place in wolf society. We were considered beautiful, sensual pets.

I wasn’t technically a pup, and neither was Neil. Gravlock had abolished pupdom years ago. Neil and I were merely Magnus’s younger lovers. But the rest of the forest didn’t know that, and it was important that we keep up the appearance of submission.

Not that I minded submission at all. Not where Magnus was concerned. Which was yet another peculiarity the two of us had yet to completely work out.

Magnus was the only man in the entire forest who had two nobly-born pups, but as I had learned at the faire at Neander, there were other nobly-born pups out there. There were eight in particular that had sparked my interest and made me want to know more—eight young noblemen who had been captured and sold by a slave trader named Karpov. Neil and his brother, Oscar, were two of them. Two others, Anton and Conrad, belonged to friends and allies of Magnus’s, and had been part of the group of guests we’d hosted three weeks ago. Another young nobleman, Jace, had been at Magnus’s pre-summit visit as well. The five of us had formed something of an alliance amongst ourselves—an alliance we’d all solidified in the most outrageous orgy that had involved our men and masters the final night of the gathering—and we had agreed to spend our time at the grand summit searching for the other four nobly-born pups Karpov had stolen away and sold to pack leaders in the last few months. That is, we were planning on searching for them when we—Jace and I—weren’t being tossed into the beds of other pack leaders who needed a bit of extra incentive to join the alliance Magnus and his friends had begun to create.

“Enough lounging in bed,” Magnus said bending down to kiss me and Neil once more. “Get up, wash yourselves—you especially, Peter, since you are filthy—” I made a coy face at him, knowing he liked me as filthy as possible, “—and for God’s sake, brush your teeth. I demand a proper kiss from each of you before we take ourselves and our baggage downstairs to join the caravan.”

“Yes, Magnus,” Neil said, rolling quickly out of bed and making a dash for the washroom adjacent to the bedroom, as if getting there were a race.

I knew Neil. His speed wasn’t out of a need to obey as fast as possible—though he was obedient to a fault—it was so that he could use the garderobe first and be clean and dressed before the rest of us. I didn’t mind one bit, though. It gave Magnus and I a moment to ourselves.

“Are you ready for everything that awaits you at the grand summit, my Peter?” Magnus asked, kissing his way over my shoulder to my chest, then tonguing my nipple.

I purred with pleasure and spread my arms submissively over my head. “I am ready to do whatever you want me to do,” I said, half meaning it in terms of services he would need me for at the summit and half in our intimate, personal interactions.

“You know I want you to do quite a lot,” he said with a flicker of one eyebrow as he glanced down at me. “And I want to do quite a few things to you. Things our sweet Neil wouldn’t approve of.”

He clamped his teeth over my nipple biting hard enough that I had to stifle a yelp of delicious pain to keep Neil from hearing. It felt good to hurt that way and to have Magnus be the one to make it hurt. I couldn’t explain the need within me to be hurt any more than I could reconcile a need within me to have Magnus completely and utterly master me. They were like scabs that I couldn’t stop picking at—or perhaps a sort of sweetness that I couldn’t stop licking from my lips. But Neil didn’t have the same tastes as me and Magnus, and the few times we’d experimented with deeper intensity between us, Neil had blanched. He’d held his tongue and didn’t try to stop either of us, but both Magnus and I cared far, far too deeply for Neil to upset him simply to satisfy our own itch.

At last, Magnus eased up from biting me, and I let out a sharp breath as the pain of being released hit me. Magnus muffled my cry by closing his mouth over mine and kissing me deeply—in spite of his claims about morning breath—soothing me by running his hands up and down my sides. It was bliss, and if I hadn’t just come, I would have been throbbing for release all over again.

“One last thing,” Magnus said, as though we’d been discussing the conditions we thought we’d encounter on the road instead of skating around the edges of something powerful and sexual. He brought his mouth to my neck and nipped and sucked hard enough to leave his mark. When he was done, he muscled himself above me and glanced down to study his handiwork—both what I presumed was a red mark on my neck and my pink and punished nipple. He nodded. “And you’ll get a fresh one every morning, before walking around the summit, so that every mischief-minded wolf who looks at you will know you are claimed.”

Magnus grinned arrogantly, but a shiver that was purely sexual swept through me. I should be ashamed of myself. I should feel utter humiliation at the idea of a man claiming me. I had chafed and strained against the bonds of affection that Sascha had shackled me with and been unendingly proud of myself when Sascha had dissolved my status as pup and made me a full member of his pack. I had strutted around the faire at Neander, declaring to anyone who would listen to me that I was my own man, not someone else’s property. But with Magnus, all I wanted to do was surrender. Possibly because surrendering to Magnus was so sweet, and, unlike Sascha, the bonds he held me with were loose enough that I felt like myself even as I submitted. I felt more like myself with Magnus than with anyone.

“What did you do to him?” Neil asked with a possessive snap as he marched out of the washroom, drying his hair with a towel. “What’s that on his neck?”

Magnus bounded off of me and the bed and strode toward Neil. “The same thing that’s on your neck,” he said, pulling Neil into his arms and bringing his mouth to his neck.

I laughed at the expression of shock, then ecstasy that came to Neil’s face. He dropped his towel and clung to Magnus, his eyes rolling back with pleasure as Magnus left a mark big enough to be seen from yards away in the same spot where he’d left mine.

I took advantage of the distraction to slip out of bed and race toward the washroom, claiming it next. Neil hummed a quick, “That was lovely,” for Magnus as I passed them.

“If you thought that was lovely, I wonder what you’ll think of this?” Magnus asked.

I continued on, giggling, and hurried into the washroom to clean up, as Magnus had ordered. I kept the door open as I went about my ablutions, and judging by the increasingly intense moans and gasps from Neil, he was being treated to a soaring level of “lovely”. The whole thing made me laugh and shake my head at Magnus. For a man who consistently insisted he was too old to have more than one orgasm in him per encounter, he was surprisingly virile. Other wolves joked that he was a brave man to attempt to keep up with two lovers half his age, but the truth was that there were times in the last few weeks when Magnus had worn Neil and I out—although part of that could be explained by his extreme enjoyment of watching me and Neil fuck each other—which we also enjoyed in the extreme. Everything about our triumvirate was extreme.

When I came out of the washroom, cleaned up inside and out, Neil was sprawled on his back on the bed, his arms and legs spread wide, and Magnus was just standing up from sucking him off. Neil let out a long sigh of contentment as Magnus wiped a stray drop of cum from the corner of his mouth and wandered happily to the washroom.

“My turn,” he said with a sly grin.

“It looks to me as though you just had your turn,” I laughed, heading to the wardrobe.

“No, that was Neil’s turn,” Magnus said over his shoulder as he entered the washroom. “And our darling boy most definitely earned it.”

“I don’t know how he does it,” Neil panted as he lay, still spread-eagle, half on and half off the bed. “You either,” he went on, craning his neck to look at me as I took out my traveling clothes—including the green silk cloak I’d made for myself while still with Sascha. “Both of you are exquisite when it comes to blowing me. You make me feel as though my soul leaves my body, along with an entire river of cum.” He muscled himself to sit on the edge of the bed at last, then stood to walk over and join me at the wardrobe. “Whereas I feel like a third-rate knob-slobberer.”

I laughed loudly at Neil’s description, abandoned the wardrobe for the moment, and pulled him into my arms for a kiss. Kissing Neil was entirely different from kissing Magnus, but just as enjoyable in its own way. Neil kissed me back, laughing at himself and closing his arms around me. It was heaven in a way I had never known existed.

“You’re perfectly wonderful at swallowing my cock,” I told him once I let him go, making him blush. I handed him the clothes he’d picked out the day before for traveling, then took my own back to the bed to dress. “And you score top marks in every other area of fucking too these days, as far as I’m concerned.”

“If I do, it’s only because you taught me how,” Neil said as we dressed, side by side.

It was true. I loved him tenderly, but Neil had been rubbish in bed when I’d first come to be with him and Magnus. But only because he’d been anxious and overwhelmed by the newness of fucking. Neither of us had had any experience before ending up in the forest—which had happened within a fortnight of each other, though under drastically different circumstances. But whereas I had been taken in by a pack of five men—to which two new ones were added later—and had been fucked by all of them in several ways at one point or another, Neil had only been with Magnus before I had come along. Since then, I’d been with two other men—Jace, at the orgy we’d staged, and one of the pack leaders, Tobin, through what had actually been a clever joke at my expense—but Neil had only been with Conrad, during the orgy. I’d insisted to him several times since then that he needed to expand his horizons—and Magnus agreed—but Neil wasn’t in any hurry. He said Magnus and I were more than enough for him. Which was deliciously sweet of him…and only made me preemptively green with jealousy over whomever Neil did end up fucking in the future.

“Will the two of you stop dawdling?” Magnus asked as he came out of the washroom, as if we were the ones holding him up instead of the other way around. “We have a long journey ahead of us today, and we need to get started as early as possible.”

Most of our preparations had been made the night before, and the traveling bags of clothes and sundries we were taking with us to the grand summit had been handed over to the men packing up the caravan. Neil and I were dressed before Magnus even started, and we rambled downstairs to grab whatever portable breakfast Reinhold—Magnus’s one and only servant, who didn’t live at the house, but worked there during the day—had prepared for us. By the time we were finished with that, Magnus swept through the house like a whirlwind, gathering Neil and I up and whisking us along to Gravlock’s central street, where the wagons were already lined up and waiting.

“We should be ready to depart within the hour, sir,” Alexei, one of Magnus’s top aides—I didn’t know what else to call the handful of Magnus’s most trusted men, since Gravlock wasn’t organized under any sort of military system—said as he greeted us. “Will you and the boys be riding?”

“If Peter can manage not to fall off his horse this time.”

The comment came from the lithe and wiry figure of Ox as she strode up to join us. Ox—whose full name was Oksana, but she would slit anyone’s throat who called her that—was, perhaps, the one person I trusted as much as Magnus and Neil. She had come with me when I made the painful decision to leave Sascha and throw my lot in with Magnus. She’d followed me for the adventure, but had taken to Gravlock as enthusiastically as I had from the moment we arrived. Similarly to me, she was a woman who loved other women, and had fit right in with the small community of such women in Gravlock. As it turned out, and as they confirmed after we’d invited Ox over for supper recently, Magnus and Ox were actually distant cousins, as Ox’s mother was a member of the royal family as well.

“I didn’t fall off my horse,” I argued, pretending to be put out when, in truth, I was always happy to see Ox.

“You didn’t,” Ox agreed, coming to a stop in front of me and crossing her arms. She was dressed as a man and had recently had her hair cut short again. Ox looked far more masculine than I did. “But only because you were riding with me and I caught you.”

I returned her sly comment with a mock peevish smirk. “I wouldn’t have swooned at all if not for the remnants of those drugs in my system.”

The comment was intended to be humorous, but both Ox and I lost our smiles, as did Neil and Magnus, who were listening to us incidentally. The drugs that had taken months to fully work themselves out of my system had been poured down my throat by my former packmate, Dmitri. They’d been given to me so that two rough and horrible men, Axel and Gunter—one of whom Magnus had ordered killed on the spot when we’d encountered him after Neander—could rape me when Sascha and the others were out of the house. Only, Dmitri had accidentally given me thirty times the dose that would have simply rendered me pliable and immobile, nearly killing me in the process. I’d spent a week unconscious afterwards, perhaps blessedly, considering how brutal the rape had been, and for months, I had been prone to seizures whenever my stress level became too high. Part of me was still concerned about the possibility of seizures if I found myself in a truly bad situation, and I thought the reason I hadn’t had so much as a hint of one in more than a month was because I was so happy now.

The awkward moment passed as Ox glanced past me to Magnus and asked, “So, dear cuz, would you care to explain to me why the wagons are all pointed in the wrong direction?”

I hadn’t noticed until Ox had pointed it out, but she was right. The wagons all faced the river, not the gate in the palisade that surrounded the town.

Magnus smiled his craftiest smile. “They’re pointed precisely the way they’re supposed to be pointed.”

Ox crossed her arms and sent him a flat look. I studied the wagons and then Magnus, wondering what sort of surprise he had in store for us.

“We’re not driving them into the river, are we?” Neil asked, scratching his head.

“In fact, we are.” Magnus winked, then gestured to Alexei. “Are we ready to begin boarding?” he asked.

Alexei shrugged. “As ready as we’ll ever be.”

“Then let’s show my beautiful boys and their horrifically ugly friend how one travels in secret to a meeting of wolves without divulging where their home is located, shall we?” Magnus clapped his hands together and stepped toward the line of wagons.

“Right you are, sir,” Alexei laughed, then called out. “Forward, men! Let’s load these wagons.”

I exchanged a look with Neil, then with Ox, then the three of us followed Magnus as he strode boldly down the line of wagons toward the series of docks that jutted out into the river. I saw at once what he intended, and my mouth dropped open in surprise and anxious anticipation.

The towns that were located along the secret Wolf River—a river that had been wiped off of every map of the frontier, and whose origin point and mouth were zealously guarded—did a rigorous trade with each other along the river. I had assumed that’s what the series of barges that had been brought over from the far side of the river the day before were all about. While the majority of the workshops and industry of Gravlock were located on the north side of the river—the side with Magnus’s house and the older part of Gravlock—the rest of the town, including miles and miles of fields and orchards, was located on the opposite, south bank of the wide river. The distance was too far to be spanned by bridges—though Magnus swore to us that bridges capable of spanning the distance were commonplace in the Old Realm on the other side of the mountains—so everything that needed to be transported was taken over by barges.

The wagons at the front of the line were rolled carefully down to those barges and loaded aboard, two or three to a barge, depending on how much weight each barge could manage. From what I could see, it looked like one entire barge had already been loaded with horses, which explained why we didn’t mount our own—which were generally kept in a stable just across the street from Magnus’s house—before joining the caravan.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Neil said, wide-eyed with wonder, as we reached the edge of the dock.

“Neither have I,” I said with a broad smile for the activity. “Although that would make sense, considering we grew up in a landlocked city.”

Neil laughed, even though what I said wasn’t really a joke. We were both so stunned by everything we saw that laughter seemed like the only response.

But that laughter died on my lips and I grabbed Neil’s wrist a moment later when I recognized one of the men helping to keep the barges steady as the wagons were loaded. Neil frowned at my hand, then glanced to see what had startled me, then gaped himself.

I hadn’t seen Neil’s older brother, Oscar Beiste, since arriving in Gravlock, although I’d known he was there. Whereas Neil had been taken in immediately by Magnus as his lover—a position Neil had enjoyed from the start—Oscar had been difficult, peevish, and ornery at every turn. His sour attitude and arrogance had been so horrible that it had been necessary to “break” him. Neil and Magnus had described the specifics for me, but I hadn’t realized what it truly meant until I saw him.

Oscar had completely transformed. He was no longer the brash bully who had terrorized me, along with my brothers. His body had changed from that of a spoiled young lord to a sinewy manual laborer. He had far more muscle, but seemed to be diminished at the same time. His face was leaner, but the hard work he’d been put to didn’t make him handsomer, at least, not in my eyes. He had the blank sort of look of a man who had learned not to ask questions and to do exactly as he was told at all times. Perhaps worst of all was the burn scar on his left cheek, near his ear.

“When you said they branded him, you didn’t tell me it was on his face,” I said in a hollow, raspy voice.

“It’s not just on his face,” Magnus said, moving subtly to my side and taking my hand in both of his, like he did when he knew I was particularly upset. A shiver passed through me, and Magnus went on with, “I’ve told you the truth was too harsh for you to stomach.”

I scowled up at him, irritated, but not certain whether at Magnus or myself. Magnus had told me several times that I was built for love, not for war or the harsher side of life. I balked against that classification, gnashed my teeth over it, and tried to reject it with everything I had. But underneath all of that, I was afraid he was right. I couldn’t stomach violence, and knowing that I had played a part in what had happened to Oscar made me sick.

“Neil?” Oscar glanced up from his work with the barges as Magnus nudged us closer so that we could board one. “It’s been so long, brother.”

The comment struck me as strange. Neil went to visit his brother at least once a week. Was Oscar so broken that he didn’t realize that, or how much time had passed?

Neil’s face transformed into a mask of compassion as he stepped forward to embrace his brother. “Hello, Oscar. You’re looking well.”

I snapped my eyes to Neil. Oscar most certainly was not looking well, which made me wonder what he had looked like before.

“Oscar, you remember Peter, don’t you?” Neil asked as though speaking to a child.

I wanted to shake my head and back away, but Neil had already steered Oscar to face me, and Magnus held my hand tightly, preventing escape.

Oscar’s face lit up in the most pathetic way. “Peter. It’s been so long.”

My throat closed up and my eyes stung with tears that I knew I couldn’t shed. “Hello, Oscar.”

There was a vacantness in Oscar’s eyes that worried me. I could see he knew who I was, but every trace of the obnoxious young lord I’d once known was gone. “Neil told me that you’d come to live with him and Magnus,” Oscar said.

I blinked at Neil. “Yes,” I said, uncertain what sort of conversation I was supposed to have with a man who I had once sat across a stately supper table from, who had dunked me in a privy as my brothers watched and laughed, and who was now little more than a slave, his mind bent out of recognition.

“We’ve work to do, Oscar,” a deep, warning voice growled from behind Oscar.

Oscar flinched and scurried back to the position along the line holding one of the barges to the dock, where he’d been before. I blinked at the man who had spoken to him—a gruff, middle-aged man with thickly corded muscles in his arms. He didn’t exactly look unkind to me, but I wouldn’t have wanted to cross the man either. He must have been Oscar’s keeper.

“Thank you for the hard work, Damascus,” Magnus said, nodding to the man. He still held my hand with one of his and took Neil’s hand with the other, nudging both of us to move on. “It’s our turn to board, boys,” he said in a falsely cheerful voice.

Neil watched Oscar over his shoulder, a pitying look in his eyes, as we made our way to one of the barges. I couldn’t help but stare either, though my expression was one of horror instead of sadness, like Neil’s. Even though Neil was gentler and simpler than I was, he was far better with people, which included a level of compassionate sympathy that I couldn’t feel.

“It will be all right, Peter,” Magnus said, drawing me into his arms once we were standing on one of the barges, between wagons and out of sight of Oscar, which I knew was deliberate on Magnus’s part. “Oscar has learned to accept his new position in life, just as you and Neil have accepted yours. We’ve all accepted the way things are, even if they aren’t the way we want them to be, and we must continue to do so as things change.”

I nodded, but leaned into Magnus’s embrace, leaning my head on his shoulder for a moment as the horror of the situation drained away from me. I would be embarrassed by the way I clung to Magnus later. Sometimes I felt like a fully-grown and powerful man, capable of taking on the world. Sometimes I felt like a lost and frightened child who just wanted to be enfolded in the comfort of his older lover’s arms. I hated those immature moods, hated the way they made me see myself, but I adored being enfolded in Magnus’s affection, and, of course, I loved to be touched. I closed my eyes and let out a breath of surrender for a moment, reminding myself of how lucky I was to have a man like Magnus cherish me.

“Good now?” Magnus asked when I finally straightened and stood fully on my own power.

I nodded.

“Perfect.” Magnus smiled, then leaned in to kiss me gently. When he rocked back, he said, “And now, let our grand adventure begin.”