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In Turn for Silence

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Duphaston makes it a point to learn what he can about each of Besek's -- his -- guests; one never knows when a stray detail about someone's habits or allegiances will become unexpectedly profitable. And sometimes, of course, learning that little bit extra about someone makes him suddenly more interesting, like a jewel turned to the light just so, revealing the striking flaw at its heart.

The fact that the false commander's party contains a young priest of the Church is common knowledge; the fact that the boy is a candidate for papal succession is the subject of rumor and speculation; the fact that he is spying for the Pope right now is no doubt meant to be a well-guarded secret. Still, promising or no, he is but a child, and not yet as well versed in subtlety as he would need to be for a successful career in Valdian politics.

Duphaston bides his time, waits for the perfect evening to offer some instruction: when the false commander and the true are distracted with each other, when the Reev witch has allowed herself to become captivated by one of Iryth's games, and their sweet young emissary from the Church is left to his own devices. The boy has the sense not to wander Isapolis on his own, and Duphaston finds him in his own room at Twilight's Rest, curled up in an overstuffed chair with a book, looking charmingly lost in the voluminous folds of his robes.

"Goodness," Duphaston says, closing the door behind himself and smiling, "whatever could you be reading that has you so captivated?"

The boy startles, eyes wide, and flinches away as though he could hide his indulgence in the billow of his sleeves. "N-nothing," he says. "Nothing important."

He's too late, too slow, and it's a wonderful place to begin this conversation. "The Arkanoia, is it?" Duphaston smiles broadly. "Has the Church lifted its ban on Stag religious texts, then?"

"Of course not," the boy says. "Heresy should never be encouraged."

"Perhaps you have a special dispensation, then," Duphaston says. He takes a step closer. "Or are you keeping secrets from His Holiness as well as from your companions?"

The poor child's rosy cheeks go pale, betraying him completely. "I don't know what you mean," he says.

Duphaston shakes his head. "I'm sure the commander would be most interested to know how closely the Church is watching him -- to think his rescue mission merits such frequent reports to the Pope! Why, one could almost fear animosity between the Church and the Crown."

"No!" the boy insists, his book of pagan scriptures forgotten in the face of more immediate philosophical differences. "It's not like that! You're -- you're lying!"

"My dear boy," Duphaston says, "I've no need to lie. Strategic application of the truth gives me far more leverage."

He can practically see the thoughts racing through his dear charge's head, the fumbling toward strategy; if the boy lives through his encounter with Besek, he'll have learned a valuable lesson from tonight's encounter. "You want something from me," he says. "I-I don't have anything to bribe you with. I don't have any family."

"I have no need for money," Duphaston reassures him. "In that regard I am most well provided for." He reaches out and cups the boy's chin in one gloved hand, watching the stifled flinch that earns him. "What I would ask of you cannot be bought with coin." His thumb traces the plump line of the boy's lip.

The boy stiffens. "Y-your meaning is clear," he says. "But it -- it's not true. That you can't buy it. There are always people offering at the Libertine." His cheeks are crimson, and what's meant to be a defiant look is instead pleading. "Why not go to them?"

"Because none of them are priests of Holy Atona," Duphaston says. "And none of them have a pressing need for my silence."

He watches trepidation and distrust play across his young priest's face, imagines the dilemma: to indulge in these acts is sinful, and Duphaston has framed the exchange in rather insulting terms -- but this mission must be important, if it has the Pope himself personally invested. Pride and fear war with each other, and perhaps one fear with another; at last he says, "What do you want me to do?"

Duphaston steps back, enough to allow him to escape the chair. "Kneel, if you please."

The boy looks nearly ready to protest -- to point out, perhaps, how little it matters if he pleases -- but he has too much sense or too little courage. He slides out of the chair, his robes pooling around him, a spill of soothing, virginal blue. He keeps his eyes downcast, does not watch Duphaston's hands unfasten his crimson breeches and bare his ready flesh.

"If you like, of course, you're welcome to pray," Duphaston suggests, "though I'm afraid you'll have to do so silently." From the way the boy's shoulders tense, he suspects he's pushing the limits of what his young friend will tolerate; he leaves off, then, with teasing and instead adds a thread of compulsion to his voice when he says, "Open your mouth."

Whatever the Church teaches her followers about magic, it does not extend to protecting themselves from its effects; the poor child is nearly too docile, obeying the order before he's thought to resist. Duphaston helps himself to the soft warmth of the boy's mouth, thrusting delicately, relishing the way his little priest trembles -- relishing the certainty that nobody has taken this liberty before him. The physical pleasure is mundane by comparison, unremarkable; there is no appreciable skill in the awkward mouth of an untried boy. But the meaning attached to the act is exquisite, both for the sacrifice of personal integrity and for the degradation of Atona's Church; those delights are pleasure enough to bring him to completion, holding his sweet boy carefully but resolutely in place as he finds his release.

The look on the boy's face when Duphaston releases him will be another memory to treasure -- the pink cheeks, the swollen lips, the hurt look in soft brown eyes. "You made a wise choice," he says.

The boy swallows hard. "You won't tell anyone," he says. It's far more a plea than he likely intends.

"For now," Duphaston agrees, "your secret is safe with me." He has no doubt that eventually the boy will reveal himself to the others, whether intentionally or no -- but oh, how he looks forward to winning a few more concessions in the meantime.