It’s a Thursday night, and they’re in Camelot because life is Hell and for some reason Cecil lets it be Hell. It’s raining outside and Cecil can hear the water pounding down against the arena roof, but that’s nothing compared to the movement of people’s feet, the stamp of their feet in rhythm.
Cecil is in a box, which is— Weird.
He’s never been in a box at an event like this, has never so much as been near to the front row, but this place is fucking luxury upon luxury. The seat he’s on is lined in a fancy red cloth and there’s gilt all around the fucking room and fucking fancy curtains, and when Valorous brought him into the box it was not just to all that but to an array of complimentary hors d’oeurves on a bunch of shiny plates and waiting drinks in fancy bottles.
There’d even been two attendants in lovely uniforms ready to pour drinks and fetch more food, although Valorous had told them both to fuck off, and they’d immediately scarpered.
Cecil rests his forearms on the box’s banister edge, staring down at the movement in the arena as Valorous moves quickly on his feet, flourishing with his sword, and then he lunges: it’s three quick movements, and it reminds Cecil of someone breaking apart the shell of a fucking lobster, because suddenly shards of armour split apart from the rest, thrown across the sand, and his opponent is half-stripped of his plate.
Valorous’ sword crackles with a sudden burst of blue lightning and the other knight yields, throwing down his weapon and putting up his hands.
Valorous lifts his visor and shows his face, bows his head neatly before sheathing his sword and dropping his shield back onto his back. The opposing knight goes to the arena’s edge, disappearing through the gates, and Cecil looks down at Valorous’ face for a moment before he lowers the visor again.
Cecil’s seen him fight before, obviously, but never like this. Whenever he’s seen arena fights it’s been underground shit without any proper rules, let alone full plate armour like these competitors are wearing.
Attendants in their fancy little gilt uniforms are out on the field, but when two of them reach for him Valorous lashes out with a hand and sends out a burst of crackling light that makes them stumble back. There’s laughter around the arena at the way the attendants’ hair fluffs up and how they flinch away from him - Valorous King is known for not always accepting the attendants fussing over him.
He doesn’t need it, after all.
The plate armour he’s wearing comes apart as he steps backward and away from the attendants, rises and floats on the air before it whistles over the heads of the attendants and settles itself down on the waiting mannequin.
Valorous stands there in just his cloth shirt and a pair of deerskin trousers before stepping out of his heavy boots and getting into leather ones instead, the laces doing themselves up without his even looking down at them.
It makes Cecil shiver, watching how casually he uses his magic like this – it’s a plain and obvious show of power and confidence, but unfortunately for him his opponent isn’t a nervous little prick like the last one.
The young man who walks out of the arena’s gates is wearing battle robes and holding a staff in his hand. He’s a pretty little cunt with lovely dark hair and a carefully coiffed moustache, and the light glistens handsomely on his skin, which he’s obviously oiled for the occasion.
The announcement is in Welsh, like all the announcements have been, and Cecil isn’t listening properly so he doesn’t catch his name except that there’s a Fox somewhere in there.
He lasts the longest in the fight against Valorous than anybody today so far – he’s a battle mage and he wields fire and ice like they’re his best fucking friends, keeps pitting them against one another, throws shards of ice, smashes them with a fireball, makes Valorous hiss in pain at the sudden steaming burn he gets. He’s not used to going up against someone wielding a sword and shield, Cecil is fairly certain – he’s no expert on battle magic tactics, but the Fox’s fancy footwork is made to keep him at a distance, and as soon as he gets close to Valorous he gets a good many cuts for his troubles.
They go two bouts together before Valorous puts him down on the third, slits him open from shoulder to pec and then sets his own shield of ice aflame so that the Fox is burnt by his own steam, tumbling back on the sand.
Valorous kicks his staff away before he can grab it again, and the Fox yields. He’s smiling as he does it, too, falls back on the sand with his hands up and his moustache tilting with his sheepish little grin.
The lad signals the arena conductor that he’s done, and he ignores the sounds of dismay around the arena’s stands as he sets aside his weapons and removes the stabilising braces from his forearms, continues to ignore them even as the announcer coaxes them into cheering for the great Sir Valorous nonetheless. He doesn’t so much as nod in acknowledgement at the cheers.
He always used to be like that, in retrospect. Even seeing clips of his performances when he was a kid and then a teenager, Cecil remembers he pretty much always ignored a lot of the applause or shouting and screaming that came in response to his performances. He realises with a distant lurch that when he was young, when he was starting out, he probably didn’t even hear half of it, or at least, only heard it on one side.
Cecil goes down the backstairs that lead down to the baths and the armourers’; Valorous has his felled opponent laid back on a chaise, and he’s standing back as some big hairy fella heals his wounds.
“We can go in a minute,” says Valorous to Cecil. “Just wanted to make sure I didn’t kill Penllwynog.”
“As if you could kill me, King,” says Penllwynog, but there’s a sort of flutter to his voice, and it’s obvious to Cecil that if he’s not a life-long fan, he at least wants Valorous to fuck him. There can’t be that many years between them – Penllwynog is the sort Cecil himself would go for in appearance, looks to be about twenty, twenty-one, and while he is handsome more than merely being pretty, there’s something untested, undeveloped, about his appearance. He’s new and fresh and full of mischief, hasn’t tasted the way of the world just yet, but judging by the way he leans into his healer’s hands, looks up at him flirtatiously, there’s something wrong enough in him that he goes for older men.
“I could,” agrees Valorous. He doesn’t say it with a smile, his voice low and incredibly intense, and Penllwynog blinks a few times as the big fella healing his wounds laughs.
“Nasty little cunt, you are,” he says lightly. His accent is thicker than Cecil’s, and it’s not a city accent, either, but from somewhere out on the fucking moors of Yorkshire. “What brought you out to the arena?”
“Wanted the change,” says Valorous. “Are you his teacher?”
“Nay,” says the healer.
“You’re older than he is,” says Valorous.
“I’d heard rumours you were a genius,” says the healer sarcastically, and Cecil laughs, meets his gaze as he looks over at him. “Are you his teacher?” he asks. He’s got a good voice, apart from the accent – rich and rumbling.
“Used to teach him PE,” says Cecil. “Now I fuck him.”
“Ha,” says the healer.
“You look like a PE teacher,” says Penllwynog. He’s not from anywhere near here at all – he’s a Welsh boy and a posh one at that, his voice musical but perfectly clipped and polished.
“You look like a cunt,” says Cecil pleasantly.
Penllwynog’s lips part, and his laugh is quiet and surprised, not like the healer’s, which is louder, more amused.
“Why don’t you two come get lunch with us?” asks Cecil, and he ignores the way Valorous’ mouth immediately drops open, the indignation that cuts across his face because in many ways the little prick is still thirteen and always will be no matter how many years pass, because that’s just what happens when you’re powerful enough that your own magic turns you into a fucking circuit breaker and fries your brain to shit.
“Really?” asks the posh boy as though it’s his decision, as though Cecil’s talking to him – the healer finishes up his work, rubbing his palms together and then shaking out his wrists.
Cecil’s seen Valorous do that – get the lingering stickiness of the magic off his palms, he says, get rid of the tingle under his skin.
“Fine,” says the healer, stepping around the bed, and he puts out his hand to Cecil. He’s got big, meaty palms – in general, he’s a big, meaty man, not a skinny little cunt like Cecil is, like he always has been and always will be. “Coshel. This young prick is Cicero.”
“Cecil. Guess it’s you and the three Cs, eh, lad?” This is addressed to Valorous, and it’s not met with approval.
Valorous scowls at him, but he doesn’t say anything more – Cecil walks alongside Coshel as they follow after the lads. Both of them are as shameless as each other: Cicero wears a battle robe that when unclipped at the shoulder just slides down around his waist, and Valorous tosses his shirt back to Cecil, who catches it, then catches his belt, too.
Coshel’s lips are quirked into a slight smirk as they come into the locker room and the both of them lean back against the door as both of the lads keep stripping off their clothes and go under the spray of the showers.
Cicero’s blood washes off him and collects at his feet, shows a body remarkably free of scars or marks – he’s a posh little cunt and for all his skill and fancy footwork, for all he’s a battle mage who comes from battle mages, he’s also grown up around adept and fancy healers, Cecil would wager. Valorous, on the other hand, has been out fighting in real, “authentic” conditions, out on battlefields, in one fight or another.
Cicero is making no attempt to hide his interest in Valorous’ body, and Cecil keeps a close eye on Valorous’ own expression as he picks up a bottle of shampoo and washes other people’s blood out of his hair – there’s not much on him, what with his having been wearing armour for most of the day. The little blood that collects at his feet is not his own, but Cicero’s.
“Heard he was half-retired now,” says Coshel quietly. “Turned copper?”
“That’s it,” says Cecil. “Back in Lashton – he grew up there, the Kings are there, so he’s come home.”
“I’m a Lashton boy myself,” says Coshel, and Cecil raises his eyebrows, giving a neat nod of his head. “You still teach PE?”
“Nah,” says Cecil. “I work in a gym now – part-time.” The answer implies retirement, and Coshel has no reason to doubt it, so he simply nods his head. “You?”
“I’m the stablemaster at Camelot University,” says Coshel as he scratches his belly idly. He’s got a good beard and long, thick hair, and he’s dressed simply – a flannel shirt, dark coloured jeans, heavy leather boots. He looks fucking strong, and Cecil could believe he lifted horses, let alone looked after them. “Is he alright?”
Valorous was scrubbing himself clean in that aggressive way he had, dragging a brush over every inch of his skin, and Cecil didn’t know exactly what to say, if the right answer was “Yes” or “No”.
He just shrugged his shoulders, and he focused on Valorous’ stony features as he turned around and rinsed himself off, steam rising from his skin as he stepped out of the shower and pulled open a locker.
Valorous was fully dressed by the time Cicero was just stepping out of the shower – he, too, showed off getting the water to steam off his skin, but a comb ran through his hair and as he pulled out another set of robes from his locker, a tub of cream floated about him, his skin taking on a sheen as invisible fingers rubbed it into his skin.
“Can we go?” asked Valorous.
“We’ll wait for him to get dressed,” said Cecil. “And the four of us’ll go together.”
Valorous’ lip curled slightly but didn’t quite pull into a snarl, and Cecil wondered if he would, like Cecil was hoping, warm up a bit once they were all sat together somewhere, eating – maybe, maybe not.
The little cunt needed friends, actual friends, and he seemed pretty fucking unwilling to go out and hang with his cousins even though Cecil knew for a fact that quite a lot of them were regularly texting him – Courageous and Dandy were both regular pop-ups on the lad’s phone when Cecil glanced over, and Cecil knew they weren’t the only ones.
“You’re a fleshturner, aren’t you?” Valorous asked, tipping back against the wall and paralleling Cecil’s own pose. For a second, Cecil was pleased that the little cunt was actually making conversation, but it was wrong of him to expect him to be halfway normal. Just as Coshel was opening his mouth to respond, he went on, “You’re the spitting image of your father.”
Coshel stared at Valorous, his face frozen for a second, and then he slowly smiled, staring down at him before his gaze flitted to Cecil.
“Always trying to provoke you too, is he?” he asked in dry, amused tones.
“All the time,” says Cecil. “Makes him feel like he’s got control over a situation – doesn’t get that often, see. Has a knighthood, international celebrity, the regent’s ear, but none of that’s enough for him. Has to have people on the backfoot and all.”
“Posh cunt’s the same,” said Coshel, nodding to Cicero as he daubed some kind of gloss onto his lips.
“I can hear you,” said Cicero.
“Does it sound like I’m fucking whispering?”
“His father was that nonce that killed himself, the fleshturner,” said Valorous to Cecil. “The Indian one.”
“Mendis?” asked Cecil before he could stop himself, and he saw the look on Coshel’s face, the press together of his lips, the distance in his eyes. There was pain showing in his expression, and Cecil did stop himself from going on and asking more questions or correcting Valorous further – Sampath Mendis hadn’t been a fucking nonce, but he had worked with vulnerable kids, autistics and the like, did some sort of fucking bollocks that pretended it was therapy, torturous shit.
Felt bad enough about it that he killed himself, anyway.
“The lad does know the difference between India and Sri Lanka,” he said evenly. “Pretending he doesn’t isn’t just a provocation – he does it all the time, pretends he’s stupid, like.”
“That’s a nice change,” said Coshel after a short pause, looking at Valorous with more interest, now – disgust and irritation, yes, but curiosity, too. Valorous was stiff at Cecil’s shoulder. “When Penllwynog’s stupid, he’s just stupid. No pretending about it.”
“And the thing about your dad, he’s just being a cunt.”
“This one’s a cunt as well.”
“Mr Fenwick enjoys his theatrics,” said Cicero airily, tossing back his thick hair as he shut the locker and put his satchel over his shoulder. He was wearing battle robes again, sleeveless on one side, and he slung his staff on his back easy as anything with a magic strip to keep it in place.
Cecil had never cared to spend time around anyone who wore robes just because, when they didn’t need to – Myrddin did it, but the man was thousands of years old, and it was a bit different to a young prick like this, barely into his twenties, who was very much making a statement by doing so.
Valorous, in a pair of worn jeans and one of Cecil’s hoodies, the hood pulled up to shadow his face, looked distinctly unimpressive in comparison, but then, all three of them did – Cecil was only in a worn t-shirt and trackies, and Coshel was dressed regular enough.
Cicero Penllwynog, on the other hand, looked like he’d stepped right off of a sporting magazine.
“Is there anywhere you’ve been hoping to try?” he asked as he came forward, glancing to Valorous before looking to Cecil, the unofficial leader of this little group outing. “I can get us in virtually anywhere.”
“Unlike me,” said Valorous cattily, and Cicero looked slightly embarrassed, raising his chin and glancing away.
Valorous started striding off ahead, and Cicero loped to keep pace with him: it was natural that Cecil fell into step with Coshel, and the two of them ambled together out of the back of the arena and down the two alleyways that brought them out into the Camelot streets.
Even from some distance behind, it was obvious to Cecil that Cicero was trying desperately to impress Valorous, or show himself off – he kept prettily tossing his hair while he spoke, gesticulating with long, graceful fingers decorated with magically-charged rings. Valorous was mostly staring forward, and if he was talking at all, he was talking quietly.
“I’d heard he was fucked in the head,” said Coshel. “King. Not from Penllwynog, although the two of them have met before, according to him – at parties, at soirées, that sort of shit. But people do talk about him at the university, here and there.”
“Don’t know that he’s any more fucked up than any other soldier,” replied Cecil. “I was a bit fucked up, after my time in the army – he’s worse than I am, but he was in there for longer.”
Coshel’s beard shifted as he frowned at that, his head tilting slightly to the side, a slight furrow appearing between powerful eyebrows. “Mm,” he rumbled. “The lad’s quite set on joining the army. He’s studying Rite and Ritual, so he’s intending to be a big powerhouse as a battlemage.”
“Men like that can control a field,” said Cecil quietly. “I never fought any of them, but I saw some of the Queen’s big mages fight – you’d see this slim little girl through the scope, not even a speck on the horizon without it, and you’d think… The fuck can she do, you know? Some of these girls, they’d be barely sixteen, and even the young women, they’d still be young and like, waifish, or delicate-looking. And then they’d hold their stave up, or work just with fucking hands, you know, tiny little fingers like a doll’s, and they’d channel power through them like you wouldn’t believe. Bring the whole sky down, hundreds of lightning strikes scorching the dirt around them, set huge vines across patches of miles at a time…” Cecil shuddered, remembering the way the air would feel, thick like air before a storm and with a tingle that jumped off your teeth and made the hairs in your nostrils tickle, the air feeling heavy. The air in the arena today had had occasional flashes where it was like that, but it wasn’t so complete, wasn’t so overwhelming.
“What, and you’d be expected to fight them?” asked Coshel, disbelieving, and Cecil huffed out a laugh, shaking his head.
“Nah, no,” he murmured. “We were just foot soldiers – them mages, for us, they’d send just to fuck our morale, you know, for when we were going head-to-head against the defending army, or just to prevent anyone from advancing over that land, cutting off routes. The mages would fight head-to-head. They say there’s been magical cities lost that way, one mage going ahead with another – Myrddin Wyllt had razed cities on his tod.”
Coshel put his hands in his pockets, shifting his shoulders back, and the two of them walked in silence for a little bit, letting the lads lead them further into the city.
“You don’t want him to be a soldier, huh,” said Cecil.
“In’t my business one way or the other,” said Coshel. “I only know the lad because he came out my way to train – couldn’t find anywhere on the campus without the other students looking at him, see, so he ended up coming all the way out my way and he uses the sand.”
“You fuck him?” asked Cecil, although it wasn’t really a question – he’d seen the way that Coshel’s hands had moved on Cicero’s body, familiar and easy, and more than that, he’d seen the way Cicero looked at him, the way he glanced at Cecil, too.
Coshel didn’t answer right away, seeming to take in the question, his nose wrinkling before he finally said, “He decided to get into bed with me, and I decided to let him.”
“Sounds familiar,” said Cecil, although he privately thought it was unlikely that Cicero Penllwynog had stalked this man for any length of time.
“It’s just sex,” said Coshel. “Until he finishes university, and then he’ll be gone.”
There was something tight in his voice, irritable, quiet.
“You haven’t done this before, have you?” asked Cecil. “Fucked some young lad and had him stick around?”
Coshel said nothing.
“Ha,” said Cecil, and they followed the lads down an arcade, where Cicero was pointing excitedly at a tapas place, and Valorous was slowly nodding his agreement at the choice.