On Managing Demons

“I do not understand how your land can be completely demon free,” Rulf complained, loudly, because heaven and hell forbid the man do anything quietly.

Oswyn repressed an urge to roll his eyes, and only said in smooth, polite tones, “It is our resident Priest, whom you are about to meet. He is possessed of unusually strong powers—I should say blessed with them.” He led the way across the grounds to the far end, where the church was erected, forming a crucial cornerstone in the inner defenses, featuring the highest of the guard towers.

Their spurs jangled as they entered the church, breaking the absolute silence. Oswyn had been awarded a handsome sum after his victory at Peleth’s Point. Much of that reward had been spent on renovating the old church; his greatest indulgence had been the stained glass windows depicting all of Barnaby’s favorite passages.

As they reached the front of the church, where the altar was arranged for worship to the Frost Queen, Goddess of Winter, the door behind it opened and a man stepped out. He was, as ever, far too handsome to be a priest—yet a better priest, Oswyn had never met. Pale green eyes landed on Oswyn, warming from whatever pensive mood had put a shadow in them, a frown on the equally pale pink lips. “Good evening, Lord Oswyn. Blessing of the Goddess to you.” He turned to Rulf and added, “My lord, a blessing to you as well. Be welcome in our humble church. How may I serve you?”

Oswyn smothered a smile, and only said blandly, “Lord Rulf of Wethe. My lord, this is Father Barnaby, the priest the Gods were kind enough to bestow upon Castle Peleth’s Fall.”

Barnaby bowed his head in humility, mop of red-gold curls warm in the glow of candlelight. “It is an honor to be trusted by the Gods, and to serve them, and my Lord Oswyn.”

“You call him Oswyn, and not Peleth.”

“The title is still new to me, and Barnaby has been with me through much; he does not call me Lord Peleth,” Oswyn said firmly, ending the matter.

Rulf said nothing, but it was obvious he disapproved—but, the man was so stiff and unbending that he demanded his wives address him by title. “I came here for assistance in resolving my own demon problems. I do not think you have a priest to spare, and your own can hardly tend two territories.”

Biting back a retort that he would not share even if Barnaby could cover that much territory, and it was rude to expect such a thing, Oswyn replied, “There is much he can teach to your priests when they arrive tomorrow, I promise.”

Ignoring him, Rulf settled his hands on his corpulent stomach and looked around the church, greed in his eyes as he counted every gold bit that must have been poured into his making—greed and envy. Like too many of his peers, he would never understand that a poor knight like Oswyn had risen through the ranks due to hard work and faithful service. That his wealth came because his King believed in rewarding those qualities.

Of course, even the King did not know how much Oswyn in turn relied upon Barnaby.

“Dinner should be prepared,” Oswyn replied, breaking into Rulf’s thoughts, wishing he could just toss the bastard out—but he was faithful to his King, and his King had said appease Rulf and the others. So Oswyn would appease, and spend his gold bits on pampering the useless lot. He gestured to one of his knights, waiting patiently in the background. “Escort Lord Rulf back to the keep, I want to have a word with my priest as to tomorrow night’s ceremony.”

“Yes, my lord,” the knight said, and obediently led Rulf away.

Left alone, Oswyn turned back to the altar and strode up the three short steps. “Why did I ever become a lord, Barnaby?”

“Because you never could leave well enough alone,” Barnaby said, smirking, green eyes glowing faintly now they were alone. “First you tame a unicorn, then a dragon, then you rescued a princess—need I go on? I do not think you could be more of a knight if you tried, and good knights most often become good lords.”

Oswyn chuckled, and placed a finger beneath Barnaby’s chin, tilting his head further back. “I would lose it all in a moment, if they knew that somewhere between taming a dragon and rescuing a princess, I accidentally freed a demon and consorted with him.”

“You should consort with him more often,” Barnaby growled, baring his fangs, eyes glowing brighter. He grabbed Oswyn’s wrist, lifted it to his mouth, and bit firmly. Oswyn grunted at the sudden, sharp pain, but he was long used to it.

After a moment, Barnaby finished and released Oswyn’s wrist after closing the wound with a touch of magic. He licked blood from his lips, and unable to resist temptation—not that he had ever really tried, where Barnaby was concerned—he bent to taste those lips himself.

Barnaby always tasted of smoke, no matter what. It was there beneath everything else—the sweets in which he had been indulging before he had come out to greet them, the blood he had just taken from Oswyn, the wine they had been sharing before Rulf had arrived a full day early.

He broke the kiss reluctantly, wanting nothing more than to drag Barnaby to his room and keep him there forever. “You’ll get your consorting later, demon. Try to behave until then.”

“Fine,” Barnaby said petulantly. “I really wish you would let me do things the old-fashioned way.”

Oswyn smiled faintly, fondly, going easily as Barnaby drew him into a last long, lingering kiss. “If we did things the old-fashioned way, we would have no neighbors, I would be in trouble, and you would be hunted. Instead we have this cozy castle and the moment our guests are gone, I will have the time and leisure to fuck you senseless. Stop complaining.”

“Fine, but I will hold you to that senseless,” Barnaby said, and nipped him sharply before finally letting Oswyn go.

Smiling at him, blowing a playful kiss in parting, Oswyn turned to go—laughing as Barnaby, a Demon Lord of immense power, bowed low in humility and made the signs of warding against great evil.