The next several days were divided between frantic activity and almost complete boredom. From casual nightly gatherings at inns to three more salons, Master Zackton was much in demand. The half-orc didn't always take Talon with him, which meant Talon didn't have to wear the pet-costume, which was nice ... but that meant he didn't get to hear Master Zackton sing, which was a disappointment. When Talon confessed that to Master Zackton, though, the half-orc laughed, and told Talon that he would -- no doubt -- hear more than enough music in the very near future. At least, when Master Zackton was home, he got to sleep with Master Zackton, and that was ... it had been strange, at first, but as Master Zackton had encouraged him, Talon had found he really, really liked even the limited touching and tasting and kissing that Master Zackton decreed safe. And, day by day, he was looking forward to the more that Master Zackton had said would happen, once ... Talon wasn't entirely sure what had to happen. Some kind of magic on the incredibly expensive slave collar Master Zackton had ordered for him. He wasn't entirely clear on what the magic was, but he knew what would happen once it was ready.
Talon wasn't sure if he was ready for that. Getting fucked -- Talon made himself think it, at least, but ... however it sounded, the truth was he'd liked everything else Master Zackton had done to him. He'd liked doing it back to Master Zackton, too, even when he thought he wouldn't, or couldn't possibly enjoy that -- but he had.
What he didn't enjoy was the leather restraint gear Master Zackton required him to wear when in public. "It's a costume," Master Zackton had said offhandedly. "Nothing more. Nothing less. Trappings for the social stage."
It didn't feel like a costume to Talon, but all he'd said was, "Yes, Master."
"It's not appropriate for me to take you to anything but a salon or my own events, Talon, unless I were willing to share you." Talon considered that while Master Zackton took a deep breath and continued with "And I'm not willing to share you." Master Zackton stared at the bedroom mirror. "No doubt that comes as an unfortunate surprise to ... onlookers, but while I do try to be an accommodating fellow, easy to get along with, endlessly forgiving to my friends and acquaintances ... " but he was interrupted by a harsh chuff.
Talon's eyes zoomed to the mirror. It looked no different to him than it had before, but ... there was ... something ... different about it. Had it just happened? Or had Master Zackton noticed before he had?
Talon rather thought Master Zackton had noticed first.
"No?" was all the half-orc said with a grin.
"Noooooo," and the vowel trailed of into a sort of deep, threatening voice. "You are none of those things. Why do you value this defective half-elf so highly? He's pretty as such things go, but ... your deference to his sensibilities is puzzling."
"Defective because of the bleeding issue, is what he means," Master Zackton said quietly to Talon. "It's not an insult at this time, in this context."
What did that mean? It might have been an insult? In some other way? But all Talon did was nod.
"I am thinking that even when you do fuck him, it won't be what I wanted," the voice said, ignoring Master Zackton's side-comment. "I am dissatisfied with our deal."
"That's ... hmmm. I believe I have held up my side of it," the half-orc said, "Do you think I've avoided or twisted out of something? If ... if this is not what you wanted, and you are not pleased with the bargain, then let us alter it in some mutually agreeable way. But ... as I said, I thought I was delivering what I promised. Have I not done so?"
"You have ... no, you have, but I had thought this Talon would be like Doffin."
The half-orc shoook his head violently. "No," said Master Zackton. "Talon is nothing like Doffin. You mentioned him before ... is something wrong with him? Is that deal unsatisfactory as well?"
"No," the voice grumbled. "You told me exactly what would happen."
"Can I make this right?" Zackton offered.
There was a huff of breath, and then a long, long silence -- a minute, two, maybe five, before there was a long, shuddering growl. "Find me a Doffin."
"I ..." and it was Zackton's turn to consider. "That ... I will keep watch for one. Will that do?"
"I could ask for a higher level of engagement," the voice said.
"That would be a net loss," Zackton said. "You aren't asking me to take a loss, are you?"
Another long, considering silence preceded the "No. It will do."
"Agreed, then," Zackton said, and then, "I regret that you're not pleased."
A low, buzzing growl was followed with, "How long until you and the half-elf fuck?" Talon started at the sudden demand.
Zackton took a breath. "Assuming everything works -- it usually does, but ..."
"Maybe a week..." and then a thought occurred to him. "Tonight."
"No," the voice said disbelievingly.
"Yes," Zackton said confidently, only to hedge with "If he agrees. I have agreed to respect his wishes on such things."
"You ... why?"
Zackton smiled. "It makes the game worth playing."
"That ... yes, I suppose I see that. You are ... I have guessed who you are engaged with, by the way." Nomos' voice had taken on -- or had it always had that buzzing, sibilent undertone? Talon tried to ignore it, and focus on the words.
"Yesssssss," and that was clearly hissed. "Cleverly done, again. And ... deserved. I will admit although I am disappointed with the half-elf, I am ... intrigued by the larger challenge. You will place mirrors in your theater?"
"High-quality mirrors are hard to come by," Zackton said, as if to himself.
"May I supply some?"
"They will have pride of place, should you do so. I would be willing to compensate you, at some reasonable amount, for your mirrors," and then Zackton added, "A reasonable number of mirrors."
"Done," followed an amused chuckle. "Always so careful. And as to the other matter -- done. Tonight."
"Done, and done," said Zackton, and shook his head. He turned his back to the mirror, and flashed Talon a bright smile that -- that the mirror-thing couldn't see, Talon realized. It was a smile just for him. Talon. Nobody else, and with that realization Talon just had to smile back -- the huge figure of Master Zackton was between him and the mirror, so that his answering smile was just as private. Something, some weight, some heaviness lifted from Talon's heart as he realized that he could share a moment of privacy with Master Zackton, regardless of whatever deal the mirror-voice had struck. Somehow Master Zackton must have sensed that, as the half-orc gave a tiny, almost undetectable nod to Talon.
Zackton walked the few steps over to where Talon waited, on the bed, and whispered, "Ignore him," and the half-orc brushed back Talon's hair, and then gave him a kiss on his forehead that moved down to his lips. Talon gasped as the huge tongue carried traces of cherry brandy into his own mouth. "I haven't spent the time with you I've wanted to," the half-orc said, his voice pitched low. "There are just so many little details I have to see to ..." He drew back. "But this morning I have nowhere to be but here ..."
Talon nodded, and just watched as a quickly naked Zackton carefully hung his clothing in the armoire, and then turned to face Talon with nothing but a smile. "Forget the other worries that press us, Talon," Zackton said, walking gracefully towards the half-elf. "For a few hours, at least ..."
"What other worries?" said Talon, half-jokingly. "You don't tell me anything to worry me."
"My worries, then," Zackton said, getting into the bed, and then, with a rueful smile, "I am at least pleased you have no worries."
Talon blushed. "I didn't mean ..."
"I know," said Zackton, letting a hand trail down Talon's face. "The feel of your skin ..." and Zackton pulled the smaller male onto him. "The warmth," he said, letting a hand stroke down Talon's side. The sensation no longer felt odd, but right, somehow, the rougher skin of Zackton's hand caressing him ... but ...
"A moment," whispered Zackton, and then the half-orc set him aside as he rose, and stepped gracefully toward the bathing-chamber. Still in that lowered voice, he said, "Forgive me. I'll be right back."
Talon sat up on the bed, and stared at the just-closed door. After a minute, he realized he'd expected to hear water, or ... or ... movement, or something, but there was nothing, just silence, until the door opened again and Zackton came walking back out, with a slight smile. "I do appreciate your patience, Talon. Thank you."
"Of course, Master, but ..."
"Hush," said Zackton, slipping back onto the bed, and pulling Talon onto him. "Where were we? At a kiss, I think ..." and the half-orc followed that with the action, brushing his tongue against Talon's lips.
The next few minutes were without words, but Talon didn't need words for once, and -- this time -- he was grateful that Master Zackton didn't use them. The half-orc's hands, large and rough on Talon's finer skin, felt surprisingly good, and Talon wasn't surprised when Zackton lifted him up to suckle on him, making his hardness even more taut. Zackton's mouth was so warm, hot, and his tongue rasped pleasantly across the sensitive head, making Talon moan in sheer pleasure.
"Feels good, sweet boy?"
Talon just nodded.
"I know something that will feel better ..." Zackton said softly. "Here. Move down ... lower," and the half-orc slid Talon between his legs.
"This won't hurt you," said Zackton, with a sigh. "Are you still so scared of me?"
"No, but ..."
Zackton gave a short chuckle. "It's true, being fucked can hurt."
"You just said it wouldn't hurt," Talon said.
"I did not," said Zackton. "Here ..." and Zackton pulled his legs back. "I said it wouldn't hurt you," as the half-orc positioned Talon carefully. "Go slowly," he instructed. "It's been a long time since I ..." and he huffed out a long, breath as the tip of Talon's shaft pushed past the half-orc's tight ring of muscle. The sensation was ... different, thought Talon, and then he realized that the half-orc was slippery and wet.
Something of his surprise must have shown on his face, as Zackton said, in a strange, almost disconnected voice. "Oil. Go on. Slowly."
"But I don't want to hurt ..."
A soft snort answered him, and Zackton's voice took on its more normal tone. "Discomfort is not hurt. I will adjust, and it should -- will, it will become pleasurable. Just keep moving in. Slowly, though, give me time to adjust that's all I ask ..."
The heat and warmth and sensation felt so good ... Talon had to consciously force himself not to slam into Zack -- Master Zackton. A deep vibration startled him for a moment, and then he realized it was Master Zackton, sighing as Talon worked his way -- carefully, very carefully, further in. "Is ... am I doing it right?"
Zackton's eyes shifted from ... what had he been looking at, Talon wondered ... back to his. "Oh, I think so ... does it feel good to you?"
"Very," admitted Talon.
"Then yes, you're doing it right," Zackton sighed. "And ..."
"You might go a little faster ..."
"But you said ..."
"I did. And now, I think you might try a little faster," Zackton said. Talon began to move a bit more insistently. "Mmmmm. Yessssss."
And why was Talon thinking that Zackton's breathy "Yesssss" was nothing like Nomos', anyway?
"Angle a little more down ... oh, yes, just like that ..." Zackton said, with a slight catch to his voice. "Did you feel something there?"
Had he? "Maybe," Talon said, pausing, moving more slowly ...
"Oh, don't stop," Zackton said. "You might feel a ... bump, or a ..."
"Don't fret about it. It's there, and when you rub past it ... it feels very, very good," Zackton said. "That's why the angle matters. The important thing about sex is that you make your partner feel as good as you can. And he, in turn, does that for you. The results can be mind-blowing. And you're doing very, very well ..." Zackton said.
"And ... how does this feel? Talon?"
How? Talon didn't stop moving, trying to push himself deeper into the tight warmth of Zackton, but ... how could he say just how good it felt? When his entire body was ... he didn't even know what to call the tight, tingling tension, or the strange sensation of beads of sweat forming on him, running down, or how Zackton's skin had lost the clammy-greasy feel it usually had and was ... was ... slick, rather than greasy, and while it still felt moist it wasn't clammy so much as warm, hot ...
Somehow Talon boiled all that down to "Good ... really, really good ..."
"That's fine," Zackton murmured. "Enjoy it. You don't need to rush to a release, you don't need to do anything, but enjoy the moment ... try to just feel what you're doing, concentrate on that ..."
Talon could do that; that was ... The feeling was ... Amazing. Glorious. Talon felt ... felt ... Talon didn't know how he felt, just ... big, bigger, somehow, as he listened to Zackton make contented sounds underneath him, as he thought that he, Talon, was making Zackton feel good and all the while he, Talon, felt so incredibly ...
good wasn't enough, big wasn't enough, glorious wasn't enough for this humming ecstatic tension thrumming through his body as he thrust into Zackton's, nothing quite fit, it wasn't like touching himself, as good as that felt, this was ... different, Zackton felt different, just because Zackton was there, he was ...
oh merciful heaven he was fucking Master Zackton and that realization made him stumble just for a moment until he remembered somewhere that Master Zackton had coached him through it, asked him to ...
This, and Talon thought he might have shouted something as he found release, and the tight hotness around his shaft clenched as lightning pleasure sizzled through him. Zackton caught him as Talon slumped down onto Master Zackton's hard shaft, pushing it back against the taut muscles of the half-orc's stomach, and Zackton just held him while ...
... Talon wasn't sure while what, but then ...
... the world started up again and he realized that Master Zackton was saying something. Talon just wasn't sure what it was, though, and Master Zackton stopped talking. A minute later, five minutes later, Talon wasn't sure, but Master Zackton said something again, and this time, the words registered with him.
"Marvelous," said Zackton, who was watching him, and then, "Ah. You're back ..." Talon felt a moment of horror that he'd been so distracted, only to see Zackton smile at him. "No, no, that's a good thing, a marvelous thing, I'm most pleased ..." and Talon relaxed. He hadn't been aware that he'd tensed up, but ... "I'm so happy your first time -- I assume that was your first time, yes? -- was good for you," Zackton said.
"It was," Talon said. "Um, both. My first and," Talon blushed. "Thank you, Master."
Zackton smiled. "Oh, I took a great deal of pleasure from it, I assure you. It's been a while since I was on bottom, and ..."
"You didn't come?"
"Ah," said Zackton. "Well. As to that, I would say I haven't come yet. When you get more practiced, more experienced at pleasing a partner -- not that you weren't marvelous, dear boy, you were -- you'll be able to time yourself, come with your partner if you choose. Or bring him -- or her -- first. That was good, yes?"
"Well, it only gets better," Zackton whispered. "But you were right -- I haven't come, yet, and ..."
Talon grinned. "I can fix that."
"Fix? It's hardly broken," said Zackton, contemplating the massive gray-green shaft jutting out from his waist. "It doesn't need fixing ..."
"Are you sure? I could kiss it better," Talon said, teasingly.
"I will admit I would appreciate some -- ah," said Zackton, as Talon sucked the crown past his lips, moving down the thickness and pulling back, and Talon felt his master tense up -- in a good way -- as Talon determinedly tried to make Master Zackton feel as good as Master Zackton ...
Talon didn't pause in his ministrations, but he did slow down. Enjoy. Hadn't Master Zackton told him to enjoy this himself? Couldn't he? All he could taste was salt, sweat, and the heavy musk that clung to Master Zackton. The heavy slickness that came from the tip of Master's shaft. Something else, too ...
But none of that mattered. It was, Talon realized, a pleasure to do this for Master Zackton. To make Master Zackton feel good, to take Master Zackton in his mouth, to worship him with his hands, his tongue, to swallow him down and hope for more, and the deep, deep buzz of Master Zackton's moans meant that he was doing it right. And ... Talon realized he wasn't just happy. He was having fun, this was ... this was ... this was yet another form of pleasure, this was a wonderful thing, to have this kind of power over Master Zackton, to tease and stroke and taste and pleasure him, to take his time, to let the pleasure build and build and build and build and build ...
Talon had time.
Master Zackton had time.
How better to spend it than doing this?
Eventually, of course, Master Zackton reached either the limit of his endurance, or chose his release, or ... or ... whatever it was that he did, and spilled gush after gush of hot, salty seed into Talon's mouth. What would it feel like to take this ... at ... at ... and then Talon dismissed the concern. Master Zackton would make it good for him, Talon thought, and it would be ... it would be ... Talon didn't know what it would be. Just ...
Mindbogglingly awesome. Talon made a move to pull off Master Zackton, to go to the bathing chamber to bring a cloth to clean them off, but Master Zackton just shook his head, and pulled Talon a little closer to him. "Time to rest, little half-elf. I am disinclined to move just now."
Talon could live with that.
"And I trust you are satisfied?" The half-orc's voice was louder, pitched towards ... Talon had forgotten all about the mirror and its invisible watcher.
"Again," the voice said, "far from what I thought I'd agreed to but ... I am entirely pleased."
"Good," said Zackton. "Now, if you please, it truly is time for us to sleep."
"Sleep, then," the voice said. "I'll watch."
Sassy woke Talon -- and Master Zackton -- some hours later to let the Master know General Mordoth had sent up a card. Master Zackton had stared at it blurrily for a moment, sighed, unstuck himself from Talon (remarkably unselfconciously, Talon thought, trying not to blush even as Sassy pretended not to notice), and requested that the General be shown to the music room if he would wait for Zackton to be presentable -- perhaps a quarter hour, at most. And, of course, to ply him with elaborate breakfast pastries, fruit, and tea while he waited.
Master Zackton was far more profligate with his magic than previously; choosing to clean himself -- and Talon, after a moment of consideration -- with a soft murmured chant that, however pleasant it sounded, felt like being wiped down with rough sandpaper. Then again, they were covered with dried seed and the oil that Master Zackton had applied last night had gotten everywhere. A bath, however pleasant, would have taken far longer than the mere fifteen minutes Master Zackton had allotted to their toilet.
"I want you with me," Zackton told Talon. "You don't need to do anything or say anything -- in fact, I want you to be as unnoticeable as possible. Try to be invisible."
"All right," said Talon. "But ..."
"That sounds confusing, doesn't it? Why have you there if you're supposed to be invisible and silent."
Zackton's eyes glinted. "I'm using you as a prop. Everyone I deal with knows I'm partly orc -- mostly orc, by my looks. But since I have money, and influence, and speak well, and dress well, and perhaps more importantly, other persons in their circles treat me as if I'm a person -- then they have to treat me as if I'm a person. They might actually believe it, or they might just be being polite, it doesn't matter. Having you in the background, though, subtly reinforces that behavior, and even goes to make them forget it's just behavior. After a few interactions, the pretense begins to transform to actual respect." Talon must have looked dubious, because Zackton simply shook his head. "I've been doing this for quite a while. Subjective pretend becomes subjective reality."
"If you say so, Master."
"I do," Zackton said gravely. "Here's the surprising thing. The quieter and more unobtrusive you are, the more effectively you reinforce that changed perception of my status."
Talon thought about that while they were dressing, and finally admitted, "I don't understand how that works."
"Neither do I, to be honest," said Zackton. "But it does. Watch how the General reacts to you, and to me, when we go in. Perhaps you'll see what I mean.
"Or perhaps you won't," Zackton added on the way down the stairs. "There may well be nothing to see. It's subtle enough that often enough I can't see it."
Talon was still wondering about that when they walked into the music room, and Talon -- as quietly as he could -- crept over to the alcove by the pianoforte.
"General Mordoth," Zackton said. "Welcome to my home." His eyes flickered to the untouched tray of apricot and pear tarts, and the two empty porcelain cups on pristine white saucers next to the silver teapot. "Apparently the welcome was not to your taste, I do apologize."
"No," said the General. "The welcome was fine. Thank you for seeing me on such short notice." He grimaced, and then said, "I've discovered your schedule is ... demanding."
"Starting in the late afternoons, it is so ..." agreed Zackton. "Please. Sit," and the half-orc did so himself, and poured merely warm tea into one of the cups. "You will join me?"
"No, no, no thank you," the General repeated. "I'm sorry if I woke you ..."
"I'd just gotten up," Zackton lied. "I won't pretend I didn't have to hurry through my morning ablutions, though, or yet broken my fast. Given that, General -- what can I do for you?"
"You have tempted me successully," the General said, and tossed a bag at Zackton. The half-orc eyed it, and let it land on the floor with a thump. "You said dealing with my son was simple."
"I don't recall the exact words," said Zackton. "But I did have a solution, yes." He didn't so much as glance at the velvet bag.
"It's all in there," the General said. "You can ..."
"If you say it's there," Zackton said, "that's good enough for me." The half-orc settled back, draping his dressing gown around his feet. "But ... I am not sure what you think you are getting."
"A solution. You said ... the solution was simple enough that I could do it myself."
"I ... yes, I did. And you want it?"
Zackton nodded. "Find some acceptable and fertile girl to marry the boy."
A look of bitter disappointment flashed over the General's face. "That ..."
"... and then sire the children yourself," Zackton finished, ignoring the General's interruption.
The General just stared at Zackton for a moment. "Cuckold my own son?"
Zackton poured himself some more tea. "Was there anything else?"
"I promised a solution, you now have it," Zackton said. "I am not invested in the problem or solution. I trust you will not be offended when I say that I really don't care what you do. If you require assistance with the details, I can provide them. They're trivial."
"How do I convince my son to go along with this?" asked the General skeptically.
"Provide him with a male lover," Zackton said. "Someone dominant who can keep him busy and out of your way -- discretely."
General Mordoth sat for a moment, and then poured himself a cup of tea. "And the girl?"
"Depends on her motivations," Zackton said. "If she's just after the status, it won't be an issue, although you'll have to worry about her taking a lover."
"Then it won't work," started the General.
"Or, make her fall in love with you," Zackton said.
"You make it sound easy," the General snorted.
"A philtre of love will do that," said Zackton. "I happen to have one, and I'll sell it to you. Or, you can source one yourself, although ... I would advise you to buy from me, simply to avoid anyone's knowing that you used one."
"A love potion," the General said dubiously.
Zackton nodded. "I've found them useful."
"They ... really work."
"Yes. There's a permanent and a temporary one ... what I am offering is the permanent variety."
"You're telling me to drug my daughter-in-law and breed her," the General said.
"Crudely accurate," Zackton said, taking a long sip of tea.
"I ..." and the General's eyes slipped to the pouch on the floor. "I'll need to think about it."
"Wise," said Zackton.
"How much ..."
"Three hundred crowns. Not sails, crowns," Zackton said. "That's the standard price ... you might find an alchemist or hedge witch who'll sell you one for less. I'd advise you to have someone you trust verify it, though. Someone discreet."
"And do you have a suggestion?"
Zackton nodded. "Cleric of Abadar. Pay for silence. Unlikely to be asked, and ..."
"You have an answer for everything?"
"You might have noticed that I am very, very rich," Zackton said. "I got that way by solving problems that are a thousand times more intricate, difficult, and delicate than this. This is ... child's play to me." Zackton paused for a moment. "Much as a military mind such as yours would find a beginner's tactical problem simple."
"Then ... is that why you're in Corytyn?"
"No," said Zackton. "I am in Coryntyn because I've long wanted to be in the opera. I've got enough money to buy a theater, so I decided to buy one and put on a show. A grand spectacle, as it were. I might lose some money, I might make some money, but ... the important thing is that I'll be on stage, and performing, and, I hope, having a great deal of fun."
The General's eyes narrowed. "Fun?"
Zackton smiled. "Yes. Fun. Amusement. Something for ... me, for a change."
"You're here in Coryntyn because you want to have fun," the General said, disbelievingly.
"I do," said Zackton. "This is the homeland of Chelish opera."
"Then why not Egorian?"
"There was a theater for sale in Coryntyn," Zackton said. "It was the right opportunity."
Mordoth nodded. "How does it work?"
"It's fairly complex, but the theater is technically owned by the Church of Abadar," started Zackton.
"No, not your theater deal, the potion. How does it work?"
"She drinks, and she falls deeply in love -- romantic, which is to say sexual, love with the first person she sees. If the possibility of sexual attraction isn't possible, then the love is simply that of deep, abiding friendship," Zackton said. "There are number of modes whereby such a plan can go wrong, of course, and I trust they are obvious."
"Yes," said the General, and then, "Why didn't you ..."
"Because those are details, and you aren't at the details point yet. You must identify the bride-to-be, after which you can determine that she finds older males of interest, identify someone to distract the boy ... it is a small campaign, true, but no less complex for that."
"I see," said General Mordoth, and then, "I will have to think about this. I don't suppose you have any suggestions?"
"No," said Zackton almost cheerfully. "I am not yet familiar enough with your local politics and alliances to make good suggestions. And as I've pointed out, my services are expensive. Although ..."
"You have some local influence," Zackton said. "Support my theatrical endeavors -- and myself -- and I will gift you the philter."
"If I need it," said General Mordoth.
"If you choose to use it in such a way," shrugged Zackton. "There are other possibilities. Many such. I have used this philter several times in my ... escapades, call them, to great effect. So much so that I carry one as a standard tool, should I need it."
"I see," said the General. "But you'd just hand it over to me?"
"Why not?" asked Zackton. "It's not expensive, it's not hard to replace, and the purpose of my carrying it is to advance my goals. If you agree to help me ..."
"I see," said General Mordoth. "Yes, I do see. You're ... surprisingly practical, for a would-be opera divo. Most -- male and female, I should say -- cultivate a certain air of ..." the General paused, considering.
"Of impossible-to-please, you mean?"
"That's way one of putting it, yes."
Zackton laughed. "I am a practical sort of musician, General, and I find my life to be easier when everyone's life around me is easier. Drama is for the stage, not the home."
"Your 'solution' rather reminds me of opera."
"If it will not serve your turn, do not adopt it," said Zackton.
"It just seems ..."
Zackton sighed. "General, if you're seeking a way to, ah, redirect your son's interests to females -- then I must warn you that although such things exist --"
"They do!" asked the General.
"-- they are destructive. Such a thing would drive him violently insane, and it's about even odds as to whether that violence would be directed inward or outward."
"But they do exist?"
"Yes," sighed Zackton. "General, I feel that you're not listening. What I am saying is that those cures are worse than the disease. I would be doing you a disservice by pointing them out to you -- I may have already done so simply by admitting they exist."
"You're sure they're ..."
"Very," said Zackton calmly. "Anyone who recommends them to you is either misinformed or malicious. I do hope you hadn't considered a, how did you put it, tempting offer?"
"I had, but ..."
Zackton sighed. "No good can come of it. Consider the source, and believe me, no good can come of contracting with the Prince of Law or his minions. None."
"I ... I think I already knew that," said the General. "Which is why I hadn't ... but, won't this have ..."
Zackton leaned forward. "Yes, but the trick is to talk to everyone. Let your son know what you're planning, and why. Court the bride-to-be before using the philter. Your son will be delighted to be off the hook, and she ... she will be so enamored of you that she'll overlook the, ah, peculiarities of the situation. Keep the arrangement a secret outside your family, of course, but inside ... then everyone will be playing from the same page, everyone benefits from the arrangement, and you have what you want -- the continuation of your family and bloodline."
"You make a convincing argument."
"No," said Zackton. "I describe a situation wherein everyone has a benefit and -- very importantly -- incentive to keep the situation stable as it is. All of you would take harm should it fail."
"I still need to think about it," the General said.
Zackton nodded. "Take all the time you have," he said.
"I may call again," the General said.
"As you wish," said Zackton. "But I do hope ..."
"That you will enjoy the opera I intend to make," Zackton said, smiling. "No performance is complete without an audience."