Zolen, former Commander of the Autumn guild and current rage-filled beast, was surrounded by at least ten of his men—several of whom Eilus recognised from their journey. They were obviously there to enjoy the show. Zolen’s men had Bamin, Metra and Quil kneeling with their hands bound behind their backs. One had a heavy, lumpy sack full of an unconscious Shakes. Zolen himself had Klynt on his knees before him with his arms bound back painfully—wrist to shoulder—and a thick knife to his throat.
“Is this really the best time to be staging a coupe, Zolen? In our own headquarters? Father always said you were dumb, but I didn’t think you were this dumb,” Vector said nonchalantly, glancing carefully at the assembled men.
“Shut your mouth, brother. I’m sick of listening to you, we all are. It’s time for a new leader.”
“Yes, that is what a coupe means, keep up!” Vector said sharply, his eyebrow twitching as he counted the number of men present who he had beaten and released the night before. “May I ask why you have a knife to my companion’s neck?”
Eilus caught Bamin’s eye. His nose was almost completely healed, aside from a bit of bruising and a unique new bump on the ridge. Aty must have worked some of her magic, or even taught it to Tomlor. But the sight of his repaired nose was not enough to soothe her. Eilus checked Metra too. She seemed decidedly ruffled, but otherwise she maintained a powerful glare at any man who dared catch her eye.
Eilus swallowed heavily, fists clenched a mere inch from the hilts of her new knives.
“You mean this pretty boy?” Zolen asked, a sick grin spreading through his grimy beard. He grabbed Klynt’s chin and shoved his head up to look at Vector. “This whore you repurposed as your little slave boy?”
Klynt attempted to say something—no doubt a line irritating enough to get them all killed—but Zolen’s grip was so tight that he could only mumble.
“Do you love him, brother? Do you love your little whore?” He straightened and Eilus finally saw the aftermath of his accident. His right leg stood at an odd angle—the gnarled map of scarred tissue hidden by pants and thick straps which bound the leg. His posture dragged him to that side slightly, suggesting core damage in his spine or hip. Maybe he was the one who should be in a wheelchair, not Aty.
Vector’s eyes flickered to Klynt’s. He wanted to say yes. He had told him how much he loved him numerous times before. But admitting to his brother that he cared for someone would surely get Klynt killed. So, he kept silent, willing Klynt to understand the feeling behind his gaze.
“I loved something once. I loved many things,” Zolen continued, a manic glint in his eye. “I loved fighting, running, climbing stairs. I loved chasing women. I loved getting on a horse unaided. I loved leading the Autumn guild.” He stared daggers at his younger brother, and Vector fought the urge to roll his eyes. It wasn’t the first time Zolen had made a speech like this, though usually it was after a night of drinking. Vector was always blamed for everything that went wrong in Zolen’s life.
“I made a new friend recently,” Zolen announced smugly. “I believe you know him, Princess. Another brother betrayed by his sibling. He’s put a bounty out on you and I’ve come to collect. Sadly, he’s only got cells for five of you.”
A twisted grin spread across his face, and he raised the blade to Klynt’s throat.
“Keep him outta sight. Ain’t no man wanna think about kids in this place. And if they do, then they can go to the Flaming Mill across the river,” grumbled the owner of the Flooded Lily as he left for the day. Madame Looxa caught the ten-year-old Klynt by the shoulders as he squirmed out from under a silk-draped table. The Madame smiled politely at the owner as he ducked out the door, then instantly changed expressions to glare at Klynt.
“You know better than to run around when the owner’s here! Go on out back, you. You’re working the kitchens tonight.” She gave him a quick pat on the bum and moved to the bar. But Klynt had another job to do before he began cooking. He darted through the cleaning maids and heavy drapes, then upstairs into the women’s living quarters. He found his mother coming out of their room, her make-up still smeared from the night before.
“K, baby! Mummy needs some hair of the dog. Find some of Lily’s finest?” she crooned, massaging her forehead and flattening her hair.
“Madame Looxa says you’re not allowed any more after last night. She says you cost more than you earnt.”
His mother pouted, revealing some of the innocent beauty she had been known for before her chronic drinking began to sallow her skin and clients began to turn away. She squatted down beside him, gently tickling his sides.
“You’re not gonna listen to mean-old-Aunty Lulu, are you?” She fluttered her long eyelashes and Klynt caved.
“A small cup. And some eggs! Otherwise you’ll be too drunk to work tonight.”
She grinned and ruffled his dusty blonde hair. He loved the way her eyes smiled, even when caked with kohl. To him, she was beautiful.
“You’ll make a great Madame one day kiddo. Lulu should pay you for all you do around here! You’re practically her apprentice.”
Klynt smiled, his chubby cheeks tinging pink. “I just wanna help you Mummy, and all the ladies. This is my home.”
As he grew older, Klynt worked in the kitchens, mended dresses and curtains, tended bar and—on a busy night—entertained the wives of important visitors. His mother’s drinking got worse, and Klynt became the only reason Madame Looxa allowed them to stay. His mother and Madame Looxa tried to steer him away from the life of the women at The Flooded Lily, but Klynt was determined to earn his way and compensate for his mother. He developed a small pool of clients, both men and women who craved his body and quick wit. Klynt thought that would be his life: seducing men into the alleyway behind the Lily, sharing city gossip over breakfast with the ladies, and cleaning vomit from his mother’s hair.
Until Vector came along. He and Zolen flanked their father Homran, who Klynt had seen in there several times before. Homran tipped handsomely, but the women he took upstairs were always covered in bruises in the morning. The dangerous glint in Zolen’s eye as he gawked around the room mirrored his father’s. Vector, on the other hand, seemed incredibly bored.
They sat at a table, instantly served by the most beautiful women in the establishment. As Zolen buried his spotty teenage face in one woman’s chest, Vector fingered the fraying hem of the silk table cloth, allowing a woman to simply massage his shoulders.
Klynt watched them drink, gamble and grope from his prime position at the bar, enthralled by the boy with golden blonde hair and beautiful cheek bones, but such a dull expression. Then, thoroughly immersed in the flesh of one of the younger ladies, Homran threw the giggling girl over his shoulder. He clapped Vector on the back, then carried the girl upstairs. Zolen howled with laughter and then downed his drink, the ends of his oily hair soaked with ale. He belched his completion and followed his father, a girl under each arm.
Vector watched his brother leave beneath fine eyebrows. As soon as they were out of sight, he shooed his masseuse away and threw back the dregs of his drink. Then he sauntered out the back door—where Klynt was waiting.
Vector took a deep breath and sighed, staring up at the glimmering stars.
“First time?” Klynt asked from the shadows.
Vector seemed unalarmed to find himself with company. “You saw that, huh?” he grumbled in a bored tone, plunging his hands in his pockets and leaning back on the wall beside Klynt.
“Oh yes. Your father is very… veracious.”
Vector raised an eyebrow at him. A smile twitched at his lips as he discretely looked Klynt up and down. Klynt felt a flush in his neck; he knew he looked great tonight—tight pants, leather boots, a fitted shirt left wide open at the collar to reveal his chiseled collar bone. Vector was more subtly stylish. Where his brother’s pants have been threadbare; his were tailor-made. Where his father’s shirt was stained; his was pristine. These hints of self-worth and self-awareness were a rare sight for Klynt, and no doubt meant that this boy was wealthy.
“That’s one word to describe him,” Vector said flatly, his eyes returning to the sky. “What are you doing out here?”
Klynt shrugged nonchalantly. “On my break. Gets pretty stuffy in there sometimes, and there’s only so much sweat, perfume and ale I can handle.”
Vector looked at him with renewed interest, and Klynt barely concealed his grin.
“You work here?”
“All my life. Though most of it was just cooking and cleaning. You could say that I’ve… graduated to other things.” The words slipped out of Klynt’s mouth as a pur, and he carefully flickered his eyes up to meet Vector’s.
Vector gulped, his cheeks colouring. He glanced up at the sky again. “Feel like going for a walk?”
Klynt’s expression didn’t falter, though inside he was flummoxed. That wasn’t usually the request his clients made of him.
“I’ll do whatever you want,” Klynt replied.
Vector blinked at him, processing the statement for a moment before he let out a snicker, startling Klynt.
“Is that your line? Is that your attempt at seducing me?” Vector asked.
Heat rose on Klynt’s neck. “Hey, it’s better than ‘wanna go for a walk’!” he retorted with a pout, causing Vector to laugh even harder.
“You’re cute when you pout,” said the laughing boy, his expertly-maintained hand pressed to his chest.
Klynt had had enough of being laughed at. He whipped around and placed a hand on the wall beside Vector’s head, drawing his body close and forcing Vector back against the brick. Vector’s laughing stopped with a nervous gulp. Klynt inched closer to him, eyes flickering between Vector’s nervous gaze and dark lips.
“And you’re gorgeous when you laugh,” Klynt said, his voice so low that it was almost a whisper. His breath sent Vector’s skin into goosebumps. Klynt broke the closeness to release a strand of Vector’s silken hair from behind his ear. It was barely long enough to touch his jaw, but Klynt caressed the strand so slowly and tenderly that Vector felt as though it stretched the length of his entire body. He closed his eyes, reveling in the sensation.
“Are my attempts at seduction working yet?” Klynt breathed.
Vector could hear the cocky grin in his voice.
“Maybe,” he said, opening his eyes and closing the distance between their mouths.
Vector returned to the Flooded Lily the next week, and the week after that, and the one after that. Soon he came almost every day. The ladies teased Klynt about it mercilessly, but it was worth it. Every time Vector stepped through the Lily’s front curtain, Klynt’s heart swelled and he couldn’t keep the stupid grin from his face.
They rarely stayed in the Lily when they spent time together. Vector taught Klynt how to climb the gutters and ledges, so they spent a lot of their time flitting over the rooftops of the city, finding secret coves of their own to curl up in.
One sunny day beneath a tree on the outskirts of the city, Vector asked Klynt to join the Autumn guild.
“You’re wasted at the Lily. You deserve to be out here with me on adventures, rescuing damsels and stealing from rich fat-cats.”
“Hey! Some of those rich fat-cats are my clients,” Klynt jokingly protested, jabbing Vector’s exposed ribs with a well-placed finger.
Vector curled up reflexively, threading his fingers through Klynt’s to prevent a second poking. “I’m serious, Klynt. You’re trapped in your mother’s life, supporting her alcohol addiction. You deserve a life of your own. With me.”
Klynt eyed him suspiciously.
“Are you asking me to move in with you?” He caressed Vector’s hand with his thumb.
Vector looked down at their entwined fingers, lost in how content he felt in that moment.
“Yes, I am,” was all he needed to say.
Zolen’s blade sliced Klynt’s throat wide open.
“Nooo!” Vector screamed, shoving away the men who held him and crashing to his knees in front of his partner.
Klynt looked shocked as the blood pulsed from his neck—as if he were astounded that he could actually die. Vector’s hand clasped over the gushing wound, desperately attempting to stop the bleeding. But Klynt’s face was already so pale, the trademark arrogant glint fading from his eyes.
“No,” Vector breathed, pressing his forehead against Klynt’s. “Don’t leave me. Please, don’t leave me. I love you.”
Klynt’s lips shuddered open and closed. Then his body slackened, and he fell into Vector’s blood-soaked arms.
Author’s note: This is one of my favourite scenes in my finished manuscript Frozen in Flame. It sits in the third act across chapters 18 and 19. Klynt was my favourite character, and it was heart-breaking to realise that he needed to die, but as they say, you have to kill your darlings. I needed a reason for Vector to finally turn on his brother Zolen after years of putting up with him.