The Summer Palace (Captive Prince #3.5)

The Summer Palace (Captive Prince #3.5)

C.S. Pacat

The Summer Palace is a Captive Prince short story set after the events of Kings Rising. It is an epilogue to the Captive Prince series.


Damen swung off his horse with ease. Newly won ease. The moment his sandals touched the dirt he felt it thrumming in him. The last time that he had been here—nineteen, a sapling—it had been a time of exuberant hunts, enthusiastic sports in the daytime, enthusiastic bedding at night, tumbling a slave or a young fighter, thrusting about with the eagerness of youth.

He found it just as he had remembered it, dismounting in the flower-bordered quadrangle. The scent of blossom, of high clear air, of sweet oils, and the delicate earth, all combined, here where shallow steps lead up to the first of the entrances, and the first of the arcs of branches that led to the gardens.

Now Damen felt the bright, heady set of new desires that had had him breaking from his royal entourage in the last miles spurring his horse to gallop ahead alone as he wished—as he so giddily wished.

He tossed his reins to a servant, was told, ‘By the east fountain,’ and pushed his way past the branches of myrtle hanging low over the paths to the marble flags, to a balconied garden where a figure stood, looking out. On the horizon, the sea was a sudden open view, huge and blue.

Damen looked too—at one thing only: the breeze playing with a strand of blond hair, at the cool, pale limbs in white cotton. He felt his own rising happiness, the speeding of his pulse. Some part of him, absurdly, wondered how he would be received: the fluttering, enjoyable anxiety of a new lover. It was nice also to just look, to see him when he thought he wasn’t being observed, even as the familiar voice spoke in a precise, assured fashion.

‘Tell me as soon as the King approaches, I want to be informed right away.’

Damen felt a burgeoning delight. ‘It’s not a servant.’

Laurent turned.

He was standing before the view. The breeze that was playing with his hair was also playing with the hem of his chiton. Laurent wore it at mid thigh, which was the fashion for young men. In Ios, he had worn only Veretian clothing, perhaps a testament to his fussy skin that would not darken, only pink, then burn. This blowy version of him was new, and wonderful. He hadn’t worn Akielon clothing since—

—the Kingsmeet, and the trial that followed, two days and two nights in the same tattered garment, sleeping in it, even after kneeling in it at Damen’s side, until it was wet with Damen’s blood.

‘I was watching the road.’

‘Hello,’ said Damen.

Behind Laurent the glimpse of coastline, where the arrival of Damen’s large retinue would have been seen, but his not own approach, a single rider, a speck on a quicker route. Laurent’s cheeks were slightly flushed, though it was not clear whether it was from summer heat or his admission.

It was wildly impractical to be here. Laurent had not yet achieved his ascension, and Akielos had an unstable government, its kyroi and palace officials newly appointed after a purge of those who had involvement in Kastor’s treachery. In the palace at Ios, they had snatched moments together like illicit lovers, at sunset, at dusk, in the gardens, in the bedroom, mornings with Laurent sweetly above him. It had felt at times surreal: the wonder of what was newly between them set against the seriousness of their days, the difficulty of those early decisions.

It felt that way now. ‘Hello,’ said Laurent, and Damen couldn’t help the spill of feeling at how close they had come to not having this at all. ‘It’s been too long, I’ve forgotten how. Remind me.’

‘We’re here. We can take our time,’ said Damen.

‘Can you?’ said Laurent.

‘It suits you,’ said Damen. He was running his finger helplessly along the hem of Laurent’s chiton where it ran from the pin at his shoulder down across his collarbone diagonally to his chest.

‘The mechanism’s simple.’

Damen thought of it: unpinning the gold clasp at Laurent’s shoulder. The white cotton would not slip off completely, but catch at his waist, where Damen would only have to untie one further string.

They weren’t alone, of course. A skeleton household had been sent ahead to open the palace for their arrival—to throw open doors, to place bedding, to put oil in lamps, to bring up wine from the cellars, to cut fresh flowers, to haul new-caught fish into the kitchens—and presumably Laurent had his own retinue. But here on the edge of the gardens, it was as if the birdsong and the hum of cicadas were their only adjunct.

‘I know how it works,’ Damen said softly, into Laurent’s ear. ‘I want to do things slowly. Oh, you do remember.’

‘They showed me to my rooms, they’re open like this, to the sea. I had them lay out these clothes for me, and I thought about you coming. I thought about what it would be like here, with you.’

‘Like this,’ said Damen. He kissed the top of Laurent’s bare shoulder, then his jaw.

‘No, I—thinking about you and being with you are different, you’re always more powerful, more—’

‘Go on.’ Damen felt a wellspring of pure pleasure, laughing against his neck.

‘Stop my mouth,’ said Laurent. ‘I don’t know what I’m saying.’

Damen lifted his head and kissed Laurent tenderly, found him flushed, warm like summer. He could feel Laurent’s hands sliding up over his body, an unconscious mapping that was new, or rather, recent; like the new look in Laurent’s eyes.

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