In Progress

By: Dash

1/17/04

 

Despite the title, this story IS finished and is posted in it's entirety. LOL

 My thanks and gratitude go out to AJ and Kel for their wonderful beta work. All remaining mistakes are mine. And as always, my endless and timeless love and gratitude to M.

 

Egypt:  964 B.C.

 

The faint whiffs of blue smoke slowly filled the room, causing Alaa's eyes to burn slightly and tickling his nose.  He resisted the urge to sneeze or cough, afraid that it would shatter the priest's concentration as he peered into the smoke to read the future. 

 

"I see that the Gods are happy with you," the priest said slowly.  "They know you serve your Pharaoh well and that are you His devoted servant."

 

"Yes," he said softly.  "I serve Him and only Him for the glory of Egypt."

 

The High Priest peered into the smoke a moment longer before reaching into his box of supplies and extracting an elaborately woven papyrus symbol for eternity. He tossed it onto the smoldering fire, causing it to flash up and the smoke to turn from blue to yellow.  "I see, despite all that the Gods have given you, loneliness and longing.  You are unfulfilled."

 

Alaa nodded. "I was hoping you might be able to read the signs and tell me if I will find someone with whom I may share my life and what comes afterwards.

 

Staring into the smoke, the priest began to chant softly.  "Yes," he said a moment later, "the signs are hazy and distant but I see that you will find that which you seek.  The journey that you must take will be long and hard and often lonely."

 

"So my soul mate is not Egyptian?  I am scheduled to travel up the Nile in three months with the tax collectors to survey new grounds," Alaa said eagerly.

 

The Priest shook his head saying, "The Gods have chosen not to show me the answers to those questions.  The one you seek has eyes the color of freshly washed stones but they are soft and kind, not hard and cold; your soul mate will question and find only puzzlement where you find peace and certainty.  You will finally be with the one you seek as a wooden bird escapes from its house and sings to Ra's glory."

 

"What? That doesn't make sense," the other man said with a frown.

 

As if not hearing Alaa, the Priest continued, staring intently into the smoke, "The path you will choose with your mate will not be an easy one; it will be long and hard, filled with many stones and obstacles but you must bear it for it is the one the Gods have chosen for you both.  As it is written, so will it be done."  With those final words, the fire seemed to extinguish on its own, leaving behind the faint whiffs of smoke.  Bowing his head, the Priest gave a short prayer of thanks for the Gods' graces that allowed him to see and command their followers.

 

Bowing his head also, Alaa sent his own prayers of thanks and pleas for wisdom to the Gods.  As he stood, he was shocked at how weak and tired he felt.  "May the Gods continue to bless and keep you, Priest," he said formally.  He turned and felt his head spin with the movement.

 

"And you," came the answer from behind.

 

 

Stumbling slightly as he made his way out of the chamber, Alaa's head continued to spin from the combination of smoke and lack of food in preparation of this speaking to the Gods. He saw his personal slave waiting for him by his litter outside the temple and his heart leapt slightly at the sight of the younger man's welcoming smile.

 

The slave held out a filled goblet but did not speak.

 

Alaa glanced at the drink and saw that it was a simple mixture of warm fresh milk and honey, the perfect drink to break his fast with.  Nodding his thanks, he sat down in the litter and slowly drank the mixture.  A contented sigh escaped him a moment later and he smiled up at the slave. "Thank you Berk, that was excellent and just the refreshment that I needed before the long journey home."

 

Bowing his head low, the slave said simply, "I live to serve you my master."  Then straightening for a moment, he bowed again briefly and continued, "While you were inside the temple, a runner from Pharaoh came with a summons for your presences at the palace."

 

Cursing silently, Alaa showed no outward displeasure.  "Please send a runner telling his majesty that I am on my way." 

 

Berk turned and nodded to a slave standing several feet behind him, sending the young man off with the already anticipated message.  "Master," he said, turning back to Alaa, "I took the liberty of sending for your court robes in anticipation of your decision."

 

At those words, the other man was instantly reminded that he was dressed in the simple, homespun robes of a penitent.  Spying the basket on the floor of the litter, he bent down and opened it, finding as promised, his robes, jewelry and shoes needed for a court appearance. "As always, Berk, you have proven your worth and made me very proud."

 

The slave bowed murmuring, "I live to serve you, my master. Should I arrange a room in the temple for you to change?"

 

The other man considered for a moment and then shook his head, "No, let us be off.  I will manage to change on the way."  Sitting back in the chair, the basket on his lap, Alaa gave another nod to his servant and a brief smile.

 

Pulling the curtains closed on the litter, the slave issued a sharp command and the litter was gently and gracefully lifted up by four bearers and began the journey toward the palace.  Berk took up his customary position walking on the right side and toward the middle of the litter in case his master needed anything during the trip.

 

Alaa smiled as he unpacked the basket, seeing the thought and careful instructions the slave had passed along to his assistant via a runner.  He had everything he needed for a royal audience and Pharaoh would be impressed at his speed.  As he carefully stripped off the homespun robes an old regret flashed through his mind.  Berk was the perfect slave and would have been a beautiful and willing bed companion if only he had not been so willful and stubborn in his youth.  He had purchased the slave almost 10 years ago on a whim and in a flash of sympathy for the young man, then a teen.  The slave had been weak, burning with fever and not expected to live due to the infection that ravaged his body after he had been castrated in an effort to curb his willful pride.  Alaa had purchased him for mere cents and his own physician carefully tended the teen for weeks before his body was fully healed.  It had taken longer for his mind to heal from the trauma but today the slave was an integral member of the household. 

 

The litter slowed some time later and Alaa was jarred from his thoughts as he felt himself stop and then carefully lowered to the ground.  Pushing the curtains open, he stepped out into the bright sun.  Adjusting his clothes and jewelry slightly, he made his way up the stone steps toward the palace.

 

The two guards standing watch bowed slightly before opening the giant double doors that led into the Pharaoh's private chamber. 

 

Alaa nodded absently to them as he made his way inside.  His Pharaoh was sitting at a small desk covered with scrolls and advisers were on either side.  Sinking to one knee before the desk, he bowed his head, "I am here to serve only you, Pharaoh."

 

The younger man looked up for a moment, "Good of you to finally come Advisor Alaa."

 

Without rising, he replied, "I beg your forgiveness Pharaoh, I was in prayer and meditation at the Temple of Hathor and only learned of your wishes when I came out."

 

"You should have trained your slaves better, they should have known to interrupt you when I call."

 

"Yes Pharaoh," he said simply, knowing that even if he had some how magically appeared seconds after the command was given, the petulant younger man would still not be happy at his swiftness.

 

The Pharaoh waved his hand, "No matter, get up and come look at these figures.  We've lost enough time today because of you, let's not waste any more."

 

Rising smoothly, Alaa bowed his head again and then walked to the other side of the desk and studied the scrolls in front of him.

 

The younger man pointed at a column of descriptions and then numbers next to each one.  "We are receiving a batch of slaves from a merchant trader in Memphis.  He is attempting to say that these mongrels are enough to satisfy his yearly taxes.  Do you agree with his figures?"

 

Inwardly cursing, Alaa studied the list, knowing full well that there was no answer he could give that would satisfy the other man.  If he said Yes, and the final sale was less then anticipated, then he would be accused of conspiracy with the merchant he had never known.  If he said No and the final sale was higher then thought, he would be accused of incompetence.  Hedging his bets and hopefully buying enough time for the Pharaoh to move on to other matters, he said simply, "I'm sorry your majesty but in order to advise you to the best of my ability, I would need to personally see the slaves and not base the assessment solely on the merchant's opinion."

 

Coming to his friend's aid, another advisor stepped forward, "That is very wise Alaa, as Pharaoh has said many times, one should not trust a jackal when he tells you how fresh the meat is."

 

The younger man looked around at his agreeing advisors, studying them before nodding in Alaa's direction, "So be it.  They will be delivered this afternoon.  Go and inspect them and then report to me tomorrow so that I might settle accounts with this particular jackal."

 

Bowing, Alaa said, "Yes Pharaoh."  Without looking at the other men, he backed away slowly until he was almost at the door and then turned, hurrying through it.

 

"Alaa!" a voice called out.

 

He turned and saw Fathi, his supporter in the throne room, hurrying toward him, scroll in hand. 

 

"He would like you to take this with you and have a scribe make notes on which descriptions are accurate and which are not," the other man explained. 

 

"And I live to serve Pharaoh," he said solemnly and then flashing a warm smile at his old friend.  "You are welcome to come with me to the slave area and see the new arrivals.  I was just heading toward the Head Scribe's office to request an assistant before I continued there.  I don't want to risk missing their arrival."

 

Fathi shook his head, “No, it’s better to sit there all day among the smells and sights of them then risk missing the arrival of that batch and having to report that to Pharaoh.”  Walking down the long stone hall with his friend of over 20 years, he glanced at him, saying, “Were the Gods kind this morning and gave you the answers for which you searched?”

 

Sighing, Alaa shook his head, “It is still unclear to me, my friend.  I believe I am simply not attuned with the Gods enough to understand their message despite prayers and study.  The Priest at the Temple seemed satisfied so I will continue to pray and seek guidance and maybe Hathor will be kind enough to reveal her plans to me further.”  

 

“What was the message?”

 

“That my journey toward my beloved would be long and tiresome, full of hardship and dangers, but that we would find each other when a wooden bird sings to the glory of Ra.”

 

Fathi smiled and laughed, “Well, if I were you, I would see that as a good sign.”

 

“A good sign? Why?”

 

“Well my friend, your journey to Pharaoh’s court has been long and tiresome from Rhakotis.  It’s certainly filled with danger and while I wouldn’t say that your surroundings lend themselves to be called a hardship…,” he paused, glancing around the corridor to make sure they were alone before continuing.  “Working so closely with our young, petulant, hard to please yet easy to anger Pharaoh might qualify as that.”

 

Laughing, Alaa nodded, “That it does my friend, that it does.  But now, let us hurry, fetch a scribe and be off.”

 

 

 

An hour later, sitting on a stone bench in the shade, Alaa nodded toward an approaching boat, “That might be the shipment there.”

 

“Let the Gods be kind and let it be,” Fathi said.  “I’m hungry but there’s no way I could eat in this stench.”

 

Shaking his head, Alaa made a face, “No, the stench and sights are enough to drive the thought of food from me.”  He looked around the area, lined with holding pens and cells, some empty but some crowded with slaves of all different nationalities, shapes and sizes.  “Do you ever wonder who these creatures were before they came here?”

 

“Sometimes,” his friend said without much thought.  Then, looking back at the pens, he said more softly, “Especially when I see a particularly proud man or woman, I wonder who they were before, to have such pride.  Were they a general or a daughter or wife of some great leader or were they simply born with such pride and a promising future ahead of them that is now gone.  I’m sure your young Berk was like that once.”

 

Alaa nodded, “Yes, I’m sure he was.  He’s never spoken of his life before he was sold into slavery.  All I know is he’s Persian and that’s more of a guess then anything he’s actually said.”

 

“Well, the Gods’ plans for us are not always clear or inline with our own,” the other man said with a small sigh.  Then, his eyes catching movement, he turned and saw the administrator of the area walking toward them. 

 

“This shipment is the slaves you were asking about,” he said, nodding toward the barge docking. 

 

Nodding, Alaa stood up, “Very good.  Thank you Administrator.  How would be the best way to go about inspecting and cataloging them for my report?”

 

“The owner or representative who is bringing the slaves typically marches them past me, stating their age, nationality, any special skills they have and displaying them for inspection,” the Administrator said.  “We weed out any undesirable ones and then sort them accordingly.  You should be able to observe enough this way to make your report.”

 

Alaa nodded, “Yes, that sounds good.”

 

“You should consider putting these into a separate area until the deal is complete,” Fathi suggested.

 

“Yes,” his friend agreed, “very good.  Please arrange for that.”

 

The Administrator turned to one of his assistants, “We will separate them into the last three pens in the row; workers, fighters and pleasurers categories.”  He turned back to the two courtiers as his assistant hurried away. “You are welcome to stay here in the shade and they can be displayed there,” he said, pointing to a low wooden platform about 10 feet away.

 

Nodding, Alaa turned to the scribe, “Place a mark next to each name on the original list as the slave is brought forth and read out the original description after the merchant has given his description.  I’ll tell you of any additional notes I wish for you to make.”

 

The scribe bowed slightly, “Yes my lord.”

 

“You will not find any discrepancies, I’m certain my lord,” the Administrator said as the line of slaves, flanked by guards, began to make their way into the yard.  “I have had many dealings with this merchant and have always found him to be an honest man.”

 

“Let us hope for all of our sakes that his reputation remains intact today,” Alaa said simply.

 

An older, well-dressed gentleman emerged from the barge and walked quickly past the slower column of slaves.  Bowing low, he held out a scroll to the Administrator.  "The proper documentation, Administrator, for my slaves.  I'm sure you will find it in order.  This shipment is for Pharaoh directly as payment for my yearly taxes."

 

"Yes," the other man said, "I've already been notified of the importance and reason for this shipment."  Nodding toward Alaa and Fathi, he continued, "They will be serving as Pharaoh's representatives and will, along with myself, determine the value of your slaves."

 

Turning slightly so that he faced the two courtiers, he bowed slightly, saying, "I'm sure that their value will exceed my owed taxes.  If so, I would be honored if Pharaoh would consider my overage as gratitude for his wisdom and godly rule."

 

Alaa fought hard not to laugh at the merchant's words, knowing that there was little truth behind it.  Instead, he gave a slight bow in acknowledgement, then said, "Let us start, the sun is hot and I'm sure you, Merchant, have had a long journey today.  Please display your slaves and we shall get this business concluded."  Sitting back down on the bench, he motioned for the scribe, "Are you ready?"

 

"Yes my lord," the scribe said, setting up his small table and unrolling the papyrus, his stylus ready.

 

The merchant motioned to his guards and they began to jostle the slaves into a single file line.  Watching for a moment to insure it was done correctly, he turned back, saying, "To make things more organized, I will be presenting them in their separate categories, first the fighters, then workers and then the pleasure slaves."  He glanced at the Administrator, adding, "With your approval of course."

 

"Yes, yes," the Administrator said, as a small group of slaves were separated from the larger bunch and moved slightly forward.

 

 

 

"At least the next group should be easier on the eyes," Fathi whispered as the last of the workers were documented and moved into the waiting pens.

 

Alaa smiled, saying, "Yes and that will at least make this boring task more interesting."  He glanced at the scribe who looked almost as bored as his friend.  The merchant's descriptions had been very accurate and fair, noting both the attributes and flaws and accurately gauged the value of each slave.

 

"Now that's more like it," Fathi said softly, as an attractive female slave stepped up onto the platform.  Sighing, he watched her as her description was read out and the Administrator and merchant haggled briefly over her value.  "Too bad that Meta would not allow her to live if I brought her home."

 

Laughing, Alaa nodded and smiled, "It is a good thing that you love your wife my friend, and know her so well."  He turned to the scribe and nodded at the price and description

 

"Now that I could take home without her objections," his friend said suddenly.

 

Alaa turned back, seeing the new slave step up onto the platform, his joke catching in his throat. 

 

The new slave was a young man with pale skin, turning pink in the harsh sun.  His hair was blond with red highlights that seemed to glow slightly with the light.  Turning around slowly as instructed, he displayed perfect skin, marred only by a smattering of red lash marks across his back, keeping his head bent as if ashamed.

 

"Those are simple marks," the merchant said, walking over and touching one.  "The skin is not broken and these will fade within the week."

 

"Insolent?" the Administrator asked with a raised eyebrow.

 

Shaking his head, the other man answered, "No, no, merely a bit stubborn and willful.  The proper master or mistress can teach him his place easily."

 

"How old is he?" Fathi said, speaking the merchant for the first time since they began.

 

The merchant smiled, turning toward the man, sensing his interest, "I'm not sure my lord, but as you can see, he's young but old enough to participate and be taught all adult pleasures."

 

"Yes, I can."

 

Staring hard at the slave, Alaa struggled to understand the intense desire and connection he felt looking at him.  The young man was certainly attractive, well formed with unusual coloring that stood out among the darker slaves, none of which explained the feelings.

 

Fathi turned to the Administrator; "These will be sold next week, correct?"

 

He nodded, "Yes, Pharaoh has not requested that any be held back so all will be sold."

 

Finding his voice, Alaa looked at his friend, "Are you going to buy him yourself?"

 

His friend laughed and smiled, "If this good fellow and I can agree on a price."

 

The Administrator bowed slightly, "For you my lord, I will be happy to part with him at cost."

 

"Then yes," Fathi said, looking at Alaa with a smile, "I'm going to buy him.  Meta has never objected to male slaves.  She knows that they won't be able to replace her socially and there won't be any additional children to rival hers."

 

Alaa nodded, "You have bought well my friend, he's outstanding.  There's something about him…" His voice trailed off as he stared at the slave.

 

Looking up for the first time, the slave locked eyes with Alaa.  Beautiful gray eyes stared out from the pale face.

 

Gasping slightly, Alaa stared back, the priest's words racing through his mind.   Dismissing the thought almost as quickly as it formed, he turned to the merchant, saying, "How many more are left? The day is growing late."

 

 

 

Three slaves later, the transaction was completed and the merchant and his guards rowed away on an empty barge.  The Administrator turned to Fathi, "Will you be taking your new slave with you tonight or would you like us to clean him up first and deliver him tomorrow?"

 

"Take him with you," Alaa said wearily, the events of the day catching up with him. 

 

"Yes," the other man agreed, "I'll take him with me.  My own slaves can clean him up at my home."

 

The Administrator bowed slightly, "Very good my lord."

 

Now dressed in a simple loincloth, the slave walked slowly behind the two men as they made their way out of the palace and toward their waiting litters. 

 

"I'll remove the chain as soon as we're on my estate," Fathi explained, glancing back at him.  "I don't typically keep my slaves chained and you'll be happy there.  Everyone has plenty to eat and you'll find me a fair master."

 

The gray eyes glanced up at him briefly, nodding once, and then dropping back to the ground.

 

Stopping in front of his litter, Alaa looked at the young man, again feeling the pull of connection and struggling with the desire to touch the pale skin.  "What is your name?" he asked softly, unable to resist.

 

"My name is Jamaali," he said softly, looking up.  The simple act of speaking his name seemed to fill him with a spark of life that was missing earlier.  He stood up straighter and he looked around for the first time, meeting Alaa's eyes.  "My name is Jamaali and I am the son of Daruin, leader of the Mamuirn people."

 

As if in a daze, Alaa bowed his head slightly, "It's a pleasure to met you, Jamaali."

 

Looking between the two, Fathi said, "And to see him again, Alaa, all you need to do is come by the house."  He tugged on the chain slightly, "Come Jamaali."

 

The sound and feel of the chain visibly startled the younger man as if he had forgotten it was there but he obediently followed his new master without another word.

 

Alaa watched them walk away and noticed that the slave's step seemed surer and he was no longer staring at the ground but instead looking around at his surroundings.

 

"My lord?" Berk asked, indicating the litter.  "Are we heading toward home?"

 

Without answering, the other man nodded and sat back in the chair, deep in thought.  Just before the litter was picked up, he suddenly pulled back the curtains.  "Berk!"

 

The slave stepped into view, "Yes my lord?"

 

"Do you believe in fate and that we are destined to live out the Gods' plans for us even if they don't make sense at the time?"

 

Berk thought for a moment before nodding slowly, "Yes my lord I do.  I have to believe that the Gods planned for me to be the way I am, to go through what I have gone through and that it is all part of their plan."

 

"This morning the Priest told me something that seems to be coming true with the introduction of Fathi's new slave.  I was told that my soulmate would have gray eyes and the slave has gray eyes."

 

"My lord, gray eyes are unusual but that slave is certainly not the only person with them."

 

"But I felt a connection with him, I was drawn to him and he seemed drawn to me."

 

Picking his words carefully, the slave said, "Do you think it's possible that this connection that you feel might be less after enjoying the services of one of your own pleasure slaves tonight?"

 

Alaa sat back, "I don't know.  There were other things the Priest said, besides the eyes, that haven't happened."

 

"My lord, why don't you reflect on it tonight after a good night sleep.  You know where the slave is and I'm sure Lord Fathi would be happy to sell him to you, if you wanted."

 

"Yes, you're right.  It's been a long day and he's a slave."

 

Pulling the curtains closed, the slave nodded, "Yes my lord."

 

The litter began moving and Alaa sat back and closed his eyes, remembering the Priest's words and the connection he felt as he stared into those warm gray eyes.  Several block later, he called out, "Berk!"

 

"Yes my lord?" the slave asked, pulling the curtains apart slightly.

 

"I've changed my mind, let's go to Lord Fathi's estate."

 

The other man nodded, unsurprised by his master's decision.  "Yes, my lord," he said simply.

 

Taking a deep breath, feeling suddenly at peace with the decision, Alaa smiled at him and then laid his head against the chair back and closed his eyes.  A slight rustling made him open his eyes and glance down at the floor of the litter. He spied, seconds before it bit, a small asp that had taken refuge from the hot sun. 

 

 

 

 

 

Alexandria/Rhakotis 331BC

 

 

Shielding his eyes against the harsh sun, Jamaal scanned the crowd for troublemakers.  He signaled to his assistant half way down the block, who in turn signaled further down to another assistant who then signaled to his commander. 

 

"Commander?"

 

The voice behind him caused Jamaal to turn, "Yes sir?"

 

The General nodded, "I've received word that your group is being sent to help quash a small upraising up river a bit.  You should be prepared to leave in two days.  My group is here to take over for yours while you rest up and settle things here."

 

"I was under the impression that we were stationed here," the other man said, struggling to keep the annoyance out of his voice.

 

The other man shrugged, "Well, things change and ours is not to ask why. Plus, you'll be coming back here as soon as you're done."

 

Jamaal smiled and clasped the other man on the shoulder, "That is true my friend, that is true."  He signaled his assistant to come and then turned back to the General.  "May the Gods bless and keep you and may our paths cross again," he said, parroting the standard phrase with little meaning for their prayers were sent to two different Gods.

 

"And you, my friend."  He watched as the younger Egyptian conferred with his assistant and then set off down the street in the direction of his apartment.  'It is a shame to lose, even temporarily, such a valuable local asset,' he thought to himself, 'even if he is a heathen.'

 

Hurrying down the street Jamaal mentally made plans for his departure.  His apartment was only a short walk away and he both dreaded and yearned to be there.  "Alla," he called, stepping into the darkened rooms, "I'm home early."

 

"In here!"

 

Slipping off his sandals as he made his way into the sleeping area, he smiled at the sight of his lover.

 

"What are you doing home so early?" the other man asked.  "Are you sick?"  He finished putting away the recently washed blankets and turned toward Jamaal.

 

Leaning in and kissing him hard, Jamaal stroked his lover's check, "No, I’m not sick.  I'm off duty for several days and then …."  He paused, wondering how to break the news.

 

"And then you're being sent somewhere else?" Alla said, finishing the thought with a questioning tone.

 

"Yes, my group is to put down a small upraising about 20 miles from here.  We won't be gone long though.  I can't imagine more than a month or so."

 

The other man nodded accepting the news without comment, "Then you must go and do your best and …"

 

"And return home to you," Jamaal said, cutting his lover off with a smile.  "You have my word, I will return to you.  You so much a part of me that I scarcely feel whole when you're not with me." 

 

Alla kissed him, "You shouldn't make such commitments.  We've only known each other for a few weeks and I am little more than a passing diversion, quickly out of your mind and thoughts."

 

Shaking his head he said, "A few weeks, a few months, a few years, I don't know the difference any more with you.  I've known you forever and I swear to you, I will return to you and our home together."

 

"And I'll be waiting." 

 

Jamaal leaned closer and kissed him again, one hand cupping the dark head close to his while his other hand trailed down his lover's back until it rested on his butt.  Kneading the flesh as his tongue claimed the other man's eager mouth, he was rewarded a second later by a low sigh and the feel of his lover's hands around his own body pulling and holding him close.

 

"Be with me," Alla ordered softly, breaking off the deep kiss and beginning a slow and soft exploration of his own around the other man's face and neck.

 

"I want you inside me," the other man said, as he leaned his head back slightly, exposing his neck to his lover's touch.  "I need to feel you."

 

Alla stopped, looking at him, "Are you sure?  I've never mounted you before, I'm not sure that it's right in our positions.  You should be the one to use me, to gain your pleasure from me."

 

"An Egyptian solider, and soon to be civilian cartographer is no more or less than a Roman artisan, Alla," he said firmly.  "And,"  he stopped, suddenly embarrassed by his own feelings and desires, the words freezing in his throat.

 

Kissing him gently, the other man cupped his lover's head on either side, holding it close to his as he whispered, "And what, tell me."

 

"And I want to feel you deep inside me, taking and making my body yours and yours alone.  To be the first to touch me deep inside and leave your mark on me," he said in a barely audible voice, his face flushing with the words.

 

Alla kissed him again, stroking the hot cheeks, "And so I will, love.  I will make you a part of me as I am already a part of you and mark you as my own."  Undoing Jamaal's simple belt and shoulder clasp that allowed his uniform to fall to the floor, he whispered in a strong but quiet voice, "Come."

 

Obeying the command without a second thought, he allowed himself to be pulled down onto the bed. Spreading his legs slightly; he smiled as Alla settled on top of him.  He squirmed slightly under the other man's weight and blushed as the smooth silk of the blanket rubbed against his bare skin.

 

He kissed the reddening cheeks, "Don't be embarrassed."

 

"I'm not," Jamaal said, squirming again.

 

Alla laughed, kissing him again, "You're such a bad liar.  Everything you're thinking is written on your face."

 

The other man laughed, "That's probably not a good thing for a soldier."

 

"Don't worry, I think it's just because I know you so well." Lifting his weight up slightly, he slowly moved his hardening cock against his lover's bare skin and smiled as he felt the growing excitement.  "See love, I can tell how much you like that."

 

Laughing again, the other man leaned up and kissed him, grabbing and holding Alla's hip still, pressed tight against him, "So my face is the only thing that's letting you know how much I like this?  It's a good thing you're not the soldier, those powers of observation …"

 

"Quiet," Alla ordered, silencing his lover with another hard kiss.  Spreading the unresisting lips apart, he plunged his tongue in and began to claim the welcoming mouth as his own.  At the same time, his right hand slipped between them and began to tease the bare cock between them. 

 

"Yes," the other man breathed, inching up his lover's simple tunic and squeezing the now bare hip and butt.

 

"I thought I said to be quiet," he said in a mock scolding tone, pulling back and glaring down at his lover.  "I would think a soldier would be better at taking orders."

 

Jamaal laughed, "Well, usually there's some sort of punishment involved in disobeying orders."  Cupping his lover's butt, he shrugged, "I don't see anything but pleasure and rewards here."

 

Swatting the soldier's hip, he quickly rubbed the slight sting away before smiling at him.  Undoing the plain pin that held his tunic on, he quickly stripped it off.  He ignored Jamaal's appreciative whistle and picked up the small bottle of oil and poured a few drops into the palm of his hand.  Quickly coating several fingers and his hardening cock, he repositioned himself so that he was again lying on top of his lover.  "Spread these for me," he ordered softly, nudging his knee between the other man's legs.

 

"Yes," he breathed out, closing his eyes tight and clenching the blanket beneath them with his fists.  Letting out a slightly strangled moan as Alla gently pushed one finger inside, he whispered again, "Yes."

 

Leaning down, Alla withdrew his finger and began to stroke the other man's cock. "Do you like that?" he asked between kisses.  "Does that feel good?"

 

"Yes."

 

Alla laughed and stilled his hand, pulling back so he was looking down at the other man, "Is that all I'm going to get out of you right now?"

 

The solider laughed too, the tenseness draining out of him and his hands relaxed, eyes opening, "Yes."

 

"That's right, don't tense up, just relax, I'm not going to hurt you," he said, leaning down for another kiss, his hand again stroking Jamaal's cock.

 

"Yes," he hissed out, his hands tensing with the growing sensation and his hips rising slightly to meet his lover's hand.  Coming a moment later with a deep sigh, he relaxed against the bed. "You're wonderful, Alla."

 

Kissing him again, the other man smiled, "And the best still lies ahead."  Kneeling up so that he was straddling him, he patted Jamaal's hip, he ordered,  "Roll over for me love."  A few moments later, he pressed the tip of his own hard slick cock against the other man's opening. 

 

"Yes," Jamaal said, arching his back, exposing and opening himself up more to the invasion.  "I want you, Alla."  His hands clenched and unclenched the linens, spasming slightly with the overwhelming new sensations as he was slowly filled with his lover's hard cock.

 

"Patience," the artist said, stopping his advance and leaning over and nibbling his lover's neck.  Pushing in a bit more, he again stopped as the man under him cried out.  "Relax, don't tense up," he ordered softly.  Blowing gently on the sweaty neck below him, he felt Jamaal relax slightly around his cock.  "That's it love," he said, leaning down and kissing his neck the same time he pushed completely inside the other man, resting a moment and then pulling out slightly before reseating himself completely.

 

Jamaal gave a low cry and bent his head down lower, back arching higher in response to Alla's movements, "Yes.  Do that again," he said, panting slightly.

 

"Giving me orders, boy?" Alla asked naturally, unsure where the words came from or what his lover's reaction would be.

 

"No but I don’t want you to stop, please," the other man responded, his breath still coming out in short gasps.  "God, it hurts, I feel like I'm being impaled …"

 

Alla laughed, interrupting him as he pulled almost completely out and then pushed back in hard, "Well love, you are in a sense.  You're being impaled on me. Filling you, owning you, touching you and there's nothing you can do about it."  His own breath was becoming ragged and he could feel himself coming close to the edge as his thrusts sped up and the sound of flesh hitting flesh filled the room.

 

"But it feels so good and like ..yes! Like that…"

 

Grinning, Alla saw Jamaal bow his head against his crossed forearms, rational thought gone from the usually active mind and lose himself in the sensations.  "Just be with me love," he whispered, leaning in close for another kiss on the sweaty neck.  Then, feeling himself reach the edge, he pulled out almost completely before shoving in as deep as possible and coming hard inside his lover with a low moan and slight shudder.  Carefully not collapsing fully on the other man, he began to withdraw his softening cock, stopping when Jamaal moaned slightly.

 

"Don't, yet, please," he moaned.  "Stay inside me for a bit longer."

 

"I don't want to hurt you," Alla said softly, while at the same time, rolling them together slightly onto their sides, his cock still buried inside the other man. 

 

"No, feels too good to hurt," he said in a quiet and sleepy voice. 

 

Kissing the back of his lover's head, Alla grinned, "Good.  Close your eyes and let me just be with you for a bit."  He settled himself deeper into his lover so that his cock was once again deeply buried into the other man, closing his eyes with a contented sigh.

 

Twenty minutes later, Jamaal awoke with a start, taking a deep breath and stretching stiff muscles.  Immediately aware of Alla's arms and legs around him and cock still inside, he smiled, pushing in closer to his lover, feeling the arms tighten around him.

 

"How do you feel, love?"

 

"You're awake," the solider said, kissing one of the hands that held him tight.

 

"Yes, I am.  How do you feel?" he repeated.

 

Pulling free of the arms, Jamaal rolled over onto his stomach with a small moan as Alla's cock slipped free.  Bracing himself on his arms, he stared at his lover and then smiled.  "I feel good, different … free. I feel like things are …", he paused, blushing again and dropping his gaze so that he was studying his hands.

 

Alla reached out and gently stroked his lover's back, "Talk to me, love.  You feel like things are … what?"

 

The soldier took a deep breath and then looked up with a small smile, "Your word that you won't think I'm mad?"

 

"My word."

 

"It feels like things are right with us."

 

The other man thought for a minute, "Right with us how?"

 

Jamaal blushed again, "With you and I and how we made love this time, it just felt right and natural and normal.  With you mounting me, taking and using me.  I loved being the one to be inside of you but …"  He stopped again, struggling with new emotions and feelings, unsure of the effect of these revelations would have on his lover.

 

"But this felt more right? More natural?" the other man asked, completing his lover's thoughts.  Resting his hand on the other man's bare butt, he squeezed it gently, fingers dipping in between, toward the other man's opening. 

 

Instinctively spreading his legs a bit to allow Alla's hand great access, Jamaal nodded, "I wasn't trying to be someone I wasn't.  I was just being me, the one who doesn't want to be always in control and in charge and worrying about doing everything right.  I was able to just be me and focus on pleasing you.  That's all I want to be and do.  I don't want to be in charge or worry and know that I'm failing."  Swallowing hard, he bent his head, ashamed of what he had just admitted and sure that in a moment he'd feel the bed move slightly as the other man got up and left, disgusted by his words.

 

"You don't have to be perfect with me," Alla said softly.  "This afternoon felt right to me too.  I love feeling you inside of me, but I am happier being in charge.  I want to please you, to focus on you and us and making it the best it can be."  Giving Jamaal's butt a gentle swat, he again rested his hand on it with a smile, "I think we can be wonderful together."

 

"You're not disgusted?" he asked in surprise.

 

"No, not at all.  But, I don't want to be in charge just in bed.  If I'm in charge of this relationship, I'm in charge."  He gave the butt another pat before stilling it again.  "There are a few things I'd like to change about our relationship and also break you of some bad habits."

 

Jamaal laughed, grinning at his lover, "I don't have any bad habits."

 

The other man laughed and rolled over so that he was completely on top of Jamaal.  Biting down slightly on his neck, Alla nudged the unresisting legs further apart, "I'll add lying to the list of things I want to break you of."

 

"Break me?" Jamaal asked, smiling and arching his back slightly in response to his lover's encouragement.

 

Pulling back slightly and aligning his hard cock with his lover's opening, Alla said as he pulled slowly inside, "Yes, break you.  I'll use a combination of pleasure and pain.  We'll talk about it and agree and then you'll be mine."

 

Jamaal moaned and shuddered slightly as Alla's cock settled completely inside him, "And that's all I want, to be yours."

 

 

 

Two days later, Alla pulled him into a hard embrace, his hand sliding down his lover's body and resting on his butt.  "Be careful."

 

Laying his head on the other man's chest, Jamaal squeezed back, "I will.  I haven't put up with all your conditions and comments…"

 

"And love," Alla interrupted, kissing him.

 

"And love," he said, agreeing.  "Just to lose it now.  I'll be careful and I will be back.  It shouldn't be more then a month and then my term of service is up and I'll be a regular, civilian mapmaker for hire."

 

"And you'll belong to me and won't be going anywhere without me again."

 

"I won't want to, love," Jamaal said, smiling.  Kissing him again, he reluctantly pulled away and picked up his cloak and walked out the door.

 

Unable to resist, Alla followed him a second later, standing in the door opening, watching him walk down the street. 

 

Jamaal stopped at the corner, and glanced back, his heart leaping at the sight of his lover.  Waving, he turned the corner and headed toward his group's barracks.

 

Two weeks later the search party found the remains of their barge on the river's bank, destroyed.

 

 

 

 

Aquae Sulis (modern day Bath, England) 317AD

 

 

Peering closely at the small body on the bed, the physician sighed, "I'm afraid, Marcos, the signs don't seem favorable."  He picked up one of the small hands, "See here, the finger nails.  Do you notice their color?"

 

The older gentleman nodded, seeing and understanding what the bluish tint meant, "Yes, that's what first alerted our nurse that there was something wrong with him."

 

"There is one thing we can try, but I feel that you must prepare your household for the treatment not to work."  Seeing the nod from the father, the physician gave a smile, "But I will still try my best and we have had some luck."  He reached into his bag and pulled out his rolled listening tube and placed it firmly on the young boy's chest, moving it slightly as he listened to the sounds of the labored breathing.  "Please have a bowl of hot water and rags brought to me and we will try to loosen his lungs."

 

"At once," the other man said, turning and hurrying out of the nursery.

 

Preparing his herbs, the physician said a silent prayer to the Gods that his hands and skills would be enough to save this child.  He was familiar with Marcos and his family and while this child had been a late gift from the Gods to a wife who had thought she was past childbearing age, he had been loved and doted on, as the baby of families tended to be.   Downstairs, the man knew, the child's two older brothers and three older sisters gave strength to their mother and prayed for the child's recovery.

 

"Hello," a small voice said.

 

Shaken out of his thoughts, the healer looked down at the bed with a smile.  "Hello yourself, little one.  How are you feeling?"

 

The boy smiled shyly back, closing his large gray eyes for a moment and then yawned, "Tired and my throat hurts."

 

"Well, we're going to see what we can do about that in just a minute."

 

The door to the bedroom opened and the boy's father walked back in, followed closely by a serving man carrying a large pot of steaming water.  Seeing his son awake, he smiled and sat at the end of the bed, taking the small hand into his, "You'll be feeling better in no time, Jaime, and then we'll go to the country for the summer, how does that sound?  You and Marca had so much fun last summer and I'm sure that she'll let you go riding with her again this time."

 

The young boy smiled, "She rides really fast."  A spasm of coughing cut off his words, leaving him gasping slightly and sweating.

 

Glancing at the physician, Marcos squeezed his son's hand again, "Just lay still and let the doctor work.  Don't try to talk, just concentrate on breathing right now."

 

Gently wringing out the cloths he had soaked in the water, the physician nodded his approval. "That's right, Jaime," he said, using the family's nickname for the boy, "just lay back and let me help you.  I'm going to put a warm cloth on your chest and then sprinkle some herbs that will help you feel better and then top it with another cloth.  It'll be warm but not too hot, I promise."

 

The boy nodded and, giving his father another smile, closed his eyes, his hand still resting in his father's.

 

Pulling the covers down to the boy's waist, the physician went to work.  He was finished a moment later and laid an oiled cloth on top of the boy's chest to keep the moisture from the blankets.  "We'll change the clothes every 20 minutes or so and we should know if they're working within a few hours."

 

"And if they don't?" the father asked hesitantly.

 

"Then we pray and hope that his body is strong enough to do what we are unable to do," the physician said honestly.

 

Stroking the small hand still nestled inside his, the other man nodded, "I understand. The family is already at their prayers."

 

The physician stood up, patting the other man's shoulder, "Sit with him a while.  I'm going to get some air but I'll be back in a few minutes."

 

Five hours later, tears streamed down the father's face as he placed the now cold and still hand of his son back on the bed.

 

 

 

 

983 AD Canterbury, England

 

 

"My Lord, please help me to understand these thoughts and temptations you place before me. I am but your humble servant, only wishing to live the life that you have chosen for me and to live in Your glory.  I don't understand how I am to love and honor my father when his demands on me go against all that I feel You have planned for me.  You have given me the greatest gift of all, yet to live in the way that You have shown me, I must go against my Father who Your laws say I must obey." Allan prayed silently, his head bowed over his clasped hands, knees aching from kneeling on hard stone for the last hour.  Stiffly standing up a moment later, the young man looked around the almost empty church, his face breaking into a smile as he spied the figure in the last pew.  His smile widened as the figure looked up and their eyes met.

 

The other figure indicated the side door with a small gesture of his head and then with a final smile, got up and walked quietly through the front door, disappearing in the light outside.

 

Allan crossed himself and then quickly exited the chapel through the side door.  Hurrying toward the stone wall that separated the church's property from the nearby woods, he looked around but saw no one.

 

"So, all cleared up now?" a voice asked with a small laugh as the other man went through the gate, heading towards the woods.

 

Spinning around, he saw him, sitting on the ground and leaning against the stone wall.  "Hello James," he with a smile.

 

"Hello Allan," the younger man said, bowing his head formally.  "How are you this fine spring day?"

 

Rolling his eyes, the other man kicked his friend's boots, "Come on, get up.  I don't want to hang around here and risk being seen by someone who will tell my father."

 

"You know," he said as he stood up, "I think sometimes we spend more time hiding from your father than we actually spend together."

 

Allan glared at him and then held out a hand, "Come here, you have leaves on your back."  Turning his friend around, he swatted his butt hard several times before James jerked out of the way with a yelp. 

 

"Hey, that wasn't my back and leaves don't take that much pressure to brush off."

 

Grabbing his arm and pulling him close, Allan kissed him hard before reaching down and swatting his butt again, "No, that wasn't your back and the leaves were off the first time.  The rest of the swats were to see if I could shake loose that smart attitude of yours."

 

"I'll have you know that many people feel my good-natured attitude and quick wit are among my best attributes," James said, kissing him again before he darted away out of his lover's reach.  "Come on, let's get out of here, before someone sees you and reports you to daddy."  His smile and laugh taking away any sting the words might have had.

 

"You behave like a child, James," Allan said, following him up the deer path deeper into the woods and the ancient rock formation that had been their meeting place since childhood.  "You're a lord now, you hold several titles, more land than you can name and are responsible for the welfare of a good portion of this area.  We can't keep going around like this; we both need to start acting our positions."

 

Plopping down on one of the lower rocks of the formation, the other man leaned his head back and closed his eyes, "The sun feels so good.  I didn't think spring would ever get here."

 

"Yes, it does and stop ignoring what I'm saying," Allan said sitting down next to him.  "It won't solve the problem."

 

"Relax Allan, worrying about it won't either and neither will asking your God for answers.  He's the one that put you into the situation, why do you think that he'll help you now."

 

Allan glared at him, "What you are saying is blasphemous."

 

Sitting up, the other man met his gaze without blinking, "No, what's blasphemous is the shit they are filling your head with in the seminary.  How can they pretend to know what God says or feels when they are nothing more then men themselves?  They dare pass judgment and call it a sin and unholy when it is simply God's plan for us?  If God created us in his image, then surely this love that is between us must also come from him.  We did not dance around a fire calling upon the devil; we did not anger God in any way so that this is a punishment.  In fact, we, you and I, have something between us that most people will never experience!"  His voice rose in anger and he jumped up, pacing around the rocks in agitation.  "My parents never had this sort of love or passion and I'm sure neither did yours yet, their relationships are considered somehow holy and good? When both of our fathers ignored their marriage vows and that sacrament weekly with their mistresses and random serving girls, your priests still called the relationship holy and good and with God's blessing."  Turning, he glared at his lover, "Tell me now, who is being blasphemous?

 

The other man bowed his head, saying softly, "I know what you are saying and my heart agrees with you."

 

"But you can't say it."

 

"I am struggling, my love," he said, holding out his hand. "Please do not see my silence as a denouncement of you or our love."

 

Taking it and sitting back down beside his lover, James kissed him gently, "I know and I'm sorry for pushing.  Your faith and dogged studying to learn what is right and what is wrong and the great patience that fuels that is one of the many things I love about you.  It's not something I have and I count on you to remind me to stop and think before I act."

 

Allan smiled at him, "And I count on your passion for life and willingness to jump into any situation with both feet and all of your energy.  Without that in my life, I fear that I would be content to sit on the sidelines and simply watch.  You make me become involved and tear myself way from my studies to actually see the world and experience it."

 

The other man kissed him again then lay down, tugging his lover down as he went so they were both flat against the rock.  "It's not the most comfortable surface," he said, apologizing between kisses.

 

"It'll do," Allan said, rolling so that he was partially on top.

 

 

 

"I can't imagine a better day," James said as they retraced their steps of several hours earlier. 

 

Stopping in the path, Allan suddenly kissed him, hands running down his back and clutching his lover's butt, pulling the other man closer to him. "It would better if we could do it again," he said softly.

 

James closed his eyes with a sigh, leaning his head to one side so that his neck was exposed to Allan's hungry lips.  Whispering so not to break the mood, he said, "Mark me.  Leave a sign for all of those who look that says I am claimed by someone who loves me.  The other marks on my body are hidden deep inside and I want the world to know that I belong to someone."

 

"Gladly," he said, bending his head and nibbling and sucking on his lover's neck.  "I wish you could leave the same mark on me," he said a few moments later as his thumb caressed the reddened skin.

 

The other man grinning impishly, "Stand still."  Sinking to his knees in front of his lover, James glanced up and winked, "It might not be as public as mine, but anyone who should see it, needs to know that you are claimed."  Undoing the front laces of the simple pants, he pushed them apart and allowed them to fall to the ground.  "I mark you as belong to me, here in the sight of God because I know he approves," he said as he bowed his head.

 

Shifting on his spread legs, Allan let his head fall back, mixtures of emotions coursing through him as the warmth from his lover's mouth sucked greedily on the inside of his thigh, inches from his hardening cock.  "Yes," he breathed, reaching down and stroking his lover's hair, "this can not be wrong or a sin."

 

"I would take care of this too," James said, regret clear in his voice as he laid a light kiss on the semi-hard cock, "but we don't have time. It's growing dark and while I don't have anyone to answer to at home, you do.  The fate of third sons everywhere, always someone to answer to." He stood up and smiled, "There are some advantages of being a lord you know."

 

"Imp," Allan said with a smile, retying his pants, "that's what you are.  You're not a man, you're some sort of forest imp who had decided to bewitch me and take me away to your lands hidden deep in the hills."

 

James laughed as they hurried along the path, "Maybe and if I asked you to come with me, would you?"

 

"I would follow you anywhere, my imp."

 

"But not tonight," he said as they reached the church's stone wall.  "Tonight you go back to your studies and I go back to my cold keep alone."  Leaning up slightly, he kissed him, "But in bed, you will be with me again. And will you think of me tonight, while you're in bed?"

 

Kissing him back and then reluctantly breaking away, Allan smiled, "Always."  He turned and hurried toward the dark shape of the church.

 

James watched until he disappeared into the darkness and then turned in the direction of his own home.  Allowing his mind to roam freely during the short walk, he couldn't help but think how things might have been different if the fates had dealt him a different hand.  If his two older brothers had not died of fever when he was five, he too would be studying to be a priest and he and Allan would be in the same building, in the same classes the whole day.  If his father had lived, he would not be a lord and ruler of his own lands, free to come and go as he pleased, answering to no one except the Church.  And, for all of their threats and power, they were truly powerless against him as long as he held favor with his overlord.  A long summer spent in the bed and service of his overlord and a sworn pledge to come again, if called, had insured his favorable standing for years to come.  Kicking a loose stone in the road, he laughed out loud because if the fates had allowed him to die at five with his brothers then he never would have known the joy of being in a relationship and the thrill of Allan's touch on his body.  His face flushed hot as he thought of their afternoon activities.

 

"You look happy my lord," one of the guards said as he walked over the large drawbridge into the keep.

 

"Who wouldn't be after such a wonderful spring day and the promise of many more to come?" he answered back, grinning.

 

 

 

James looked up at the sound of footsteps and smiled, "There you are, I was worried.  You didn't come yesterday as normal."  Standing up, he reached for his lover and smiled, "I missed you."

 

Kissing him back, Allan smiled, "I missed you too."  Grasping the other man's hand, he led them to a large shelf half way up the rock formation in the forest where he spread his cloak and sat down.

 

Settling down next to him, James reached into his pack and pulled out a loaf of bread stuffed with crisp bacon and cheese.  "So what happened yesterday?  Couldn't get away?"

 

Allan took a bite of the offered bread, "No, I was given the task of helping Brother Joseph clean the windows in the chapel."  Glancing out into the distance, he swallowed hard, closing his eyes and bowing his head..

 

"What's wrong Allan," James asked, putting down his wine flask and reaching for his lover.  "What's going on? Did something happen?"

 

The other man nodded but did not answer, looking up and out into the distance across the tops of the trees and toward the distant plains.

 

"Tell me and let me help, please.  I can't help you unless you tell me what's going on."

 

"My father was there when I got back two nights ago.  I guess someone saw us go off together and told him…" his voice trailed off.

 

"And…" James urged softly, rubbing his lover's back to encourage him.  "Did he beat you?"

 

Allan nodded, "But it's OK.  It wasn't that hard."

 

The other man snorted, "Any amount is too hard coming from that man."

 

Shrugging, he said, "There are consequences to breaking the rules.  I know that and they are worth being paid to be with you."  He turned toward James, "I mean that, sometimes punishments work if they highlight a problem with someone's behavior and if the person honestly wants to change, it will work.  But now, with my father, he can't beat me enough to make me want to stay away from you."

 

James's gray eyes filled with tears and he pulled the other man's head closer to his so that they rested against each other, "But I hate it. I hate that you were in pain and there's nothing I could do about it."

 

"There is something you can do."

 

"What? Tell me and I swear I'll do it."

 

"He and Father Peter announced that there is a seminary up north who is in need of me.  I'm to leave in four days."

 

James stared at him, "What?  Four days?  No, you can't leave."

 

"No, I can't," the other man said simply, staring at his lover.  "I can't and I won't."  He took a deep breath and then said, "I was hoping imp, that your lands hidden deep in the forest would be open and you'd be willing to lead me to them."

 

James sobbed in relief, smiling and kissing him, "Of course Allan, of course they are.  They are open and welcome and ready for you.  You only had to say the word."

 

He smiled back, "I think I would like very much to be made a member of your household.  Estate manager or overseer or personal secretary is a fine profession for someone in my situation.  I can read and write and help keep your books."

 

"Don't be silly, you'll be my equal," James said, smiling.  "There's no need for you to work there."

 

Taking his lover's hands and stilling them, Allan gave him a small smile, "James, I will not be a kept man.  I'm almost 20, much too old to spend my days doing nothing but riding the woods and swimming in streams.  I want to work, help manage your estate."  Kissing the captured hands, he smiled again, "There is much that has gone fallow since your father died and you took over, but hopefully I can correct that.  It will help your coffers and maybe, if we do it together, it will help you."

 

Jerking his hands away, James glared at him, "Help me how?  I am doing a fine job of running my estates.  I don't need you to come in and rescue me."

 

"No, of course you don't need to be rescued and yes, you are doing a very good job."  Allan paused, measuring his words carefully, "But I want to help make it better.  You are giving me a wonderful thing, freedom from my father and freedom from the life he has chosen for me; let me give you something in return.  My sweat and knowledge and determination."

 

"But you have already given me your love!  That's enough, I swear!" James said, frustrated.  "I don't need any more from you."

 

"I know you don't, imp, but I need to give more.  Please, allow me to give you more."

 

Nodding slowly, the other man said softly, "If it will make you happy, it will make me happy."

 

"It will make me very happy."

 

James smiled and let out a happy chuckle, "Now that that's settled, why are we still sitting here?  Let's go."

 

"No, I can't leave until tomorrow.  I need to formally withdraw and then announce my decision to join your household to my father. I owe him and the Church that courtesy."

 

Snorting his disagreement, James made a face, "The Church and its minions would not grant you the same courtesy.  They would throw you out in a heartbeat if they could.  They've already condemned our relationship, why do you owe them anything?"

 

"Because James," Allan said patiently, reaching and turning his lover's pouting face toward his, "unlike you, I am hoping to avoid being excommunicated and maybe some day have normal relations with my father and the Church I love."

 

"They excommunicated me!" the other man spat back, "I did nothing to them."

 

"You filed an official complaint against the Parish with his Holiness in Rome.  You humiliated them and questioned their power.  They are small petty men, of course they are going to strike back with whatever power they have."

 

"They refused to bury her in hallowed ground!  They said that she killed herself."

 

Reaching out and pulling James toward him so that he was almost cradled in his arms, Allan said softly, "She did kill herself.  She threw herself off the wall, there were countless witnesses."

 

"But he drove her to it!  He flaunted his mistresses in her face, made her take them in as maids, showed nothing but contempt for her.  He made her do it!  Yet when he died two months later, he was buried with full rights!  I'm supposed to respect men who tell me that she deserves to be in hell for eternity while he is given his eternal reward?"

 

"I know, it's not right. She is not in hell, love."

 

Sobbing, James clung to his lover, face buried in the other man's chest, "No and I can't bear to think that it might be true.  My only hope is that it's not.  I have to live with that belief, that they are wrong; that they are mortal men who are corrupt and fallible.  And that if God made us in his image, He understands the feelings we have, of love, of fear and of despair and forgives us all those unconditionally and that none of our feelings are sinful since they are part of being men."

 

"Because how can something made in His image be considered sinful or evil," Allan said softly, finishing the other man's thoughts.  Holding him close and occasionally making soft comforting noises, they sat together while James cried out his frustration and fears.

 

"You need to go and do the honorable thing," James said some time later, stiffly sitting up and wiping at his wet face.

 

"And you imp, need to blow your nose," the other man said, producing a handkerchief with a smile.

 

James laughed, taking the offered cloth and blowing into it.  "How about if I make this the first thing in your new cupboard at home?  I'll have it washed and laundered for you and it will be waiting for you tomorrow."

 

Allan smiled, "I think that is a perfect idea."

 

"Can the cupboard be located in my room?" he asked softly, not looking up.

 

The other man thought for a moment, "How about next door?  Give the household a bit of adjustment period."

 

"If you insist."

 

"I insist," he said, smiling again and then standing up.  "I need to go. But I will be showing up at your front door tomorrow, before the afternoon."

 

Standing up too, James smiled, "I'll be waiting."

 

"This will be the last time we part here," Allan said as they came to the stone wall. 

 

"I won't miss it a bit."

 

"Me either."

 

 

 

"Allan Envelton, youngest son of Lord Envelton, will be joining the household tomorrow as the estate's overseer," James told his upper staff at dinner that evening.  "I've been lax in my duties and as Al.." he stumbled over his lover's name, quickly correcting himself, "and as Envelton has recently decided that he is ill-suited for life as a priest, it seemed like the best solution."

 

"What's that noise?" Thomas, Master of the Horses asked, looking toward the hall's door.  In the distance church bells could be heard ringing. 

 

"Attack!" a guard cried, running into the hall.  "Vikings!  They're launching a raid on the town!"

 

 

 

"Close the main gate," James ordered his Master of the House as he strapped on his leather armor, "people can come in through the side openings.  Once everyone is in, close them up and pull up the drawbridge."

 

"Yes my lord," the older man said solemnly.

 

"If you see raiders approaching, pull up the bridge and bar the doors, even if that means some of the workers are left outside to fend for themselves."  James frowned as he swung up on his large war horse, "The keep and its defenses are more important then a few farmers."  Than, looking around at the people streaming inside, "But I don't think it will come to that.  Most will have sought refuge inside long before the raiders are through with the town."

 

"I will not fail you, my lord," he said with a slight bow.

 

Looking down, James smiled, "I know you won't, Harold."  Gently nudging his horse into movement, he paused again just inside the walls where his men gathered, "For the glory of our home gentleman, may we all see it again tonight!"

 

"For home!" the small group roared, swords and spears banging into shields.

 

Spurring his horse forward, he charged over the bridge and down the path leading toward the town.  The sounds of the horse' hooves pounding into the dirt and stone road almost drowning out the warning sounds of the bells.

 

 

 

Two hundred yards from town, James pulled his horse up, stopping on a small rise overlooking part of the town.  "What do you think?" he asked as the commander of his keep guards and two lieutenants reined in along side him.

 

"They've brought down the main gate," one of the lieutenants observed.  "We can go through there and come up behind them via the Butchery Road.  Judging by the fires, it seems they're sacking the main warehouse area."

 

The commander nodded,  "That route should bring us up behind them and Butchery Road isn't a main thoroughfare so their wagons and guards will be elsewhere."

 

"Do you think the town's watch will be there also?" James asked, straining to see through the dark at the glowing town in front of him.

 

"There or heading toward the main road south of the city to cut them off," the Commander explained.  "Either way, my lord, our help will be greatly appreciated."

 

"All right," the young lord said, turning his horse so that he faced the group of men.  "Men, from here until our battle is won, the Commander will lead you.  Follow him and obey him as you do me."  Raising his sword again, he yelled, "For the glory of our home!"

 

"For the glory of our home!" the men echoed, many adding their own personal prayers with "And to the glory of God!"

 

Charging down the small rise, the Commander led the group across the meadow and toward the main gate.  He clattered through it and then quickly veered his animal around, looking for the enemy as his men charged in.  When they were all in, he turned the horse and galloped down one of the smaller side streets, ignoring the main road of the town.

 

James, flanked by one of the lieutenants, brought up the rear of the group.  Racing along, he saw people peering out of barricaded windows watching the group gallop past.  The lack of bodies in the streets spurred his hope that these raiders were only after material wealth and would confine the raid to the commercial area, leaving the inhabitants alone.  His mind flashed to a raid last year where slaves had been the main goal of the raid.  When his group accompanied by the town's own Watch had cornered them, the raiders had slaughtered the captives before they could be killed.  Stomach clenching slightly with the thought and the rush of adrenaline, he was only dimly aware of pulling his sword as they reached the warehouse district.  The screams and shouts of his men and the raiders barely reached him as he focused on the task at hand, slashing and stabbing at each new enemy in his path.

 

"The Church!" his lieutenant yelled.

 

Turning at the sound of the cry, he looked to where the man was pointing and saw the steeple on fire, flames licking up the wood and smoke pouring out of the top. Kicking out, he smashed a raider in the face as the man grabbed him, trying to pull him off his horse.  "Allan," his whispered.  Wheeling his horse around, he charged toward the burning structure.

 

The Commander, also hearing the new alarm, nodded toward a small group of men, "To the Church."  Looking around at the bodies and fleeing raiders, he added grimly, "There is little left to do here except wash away the blood and parts."

 

 

 

Racing his horse down the streets, James was aware of the sound of riders behind him.  Glancing back, he smiled at the sight of his own men following him.  He slowed slightly, allowing them to catch up and then saying, "Hopefully it's only sparks that set it ablaze, not another group after gold or trophies."

 

"It's a long way for sparks, my lord," the lieutenant said honestly.  Then added quickly, "But let us pray that's all it is."

 

Leaping over the small stone fence that surrounded the property, James slowed his horse, looking around.  The horse shielded as the flaming steeple feel to the lawn with a crash.

 

"I don't see any raiders, my lord," one of the men said cautiously.  "Maybe it was sparks or simply some sort of accident."

 

"There!" another man shouted, pointing to several figures struggling to carry a large chest out of a smaller building connected to the main church.

 

James spurred his horse on, pulling up as he and his party came upon an elderly priest and student, not the expected raiders.  He slid off, grasping the chest to help hold it and asked, "What is going on here?  Have you been attacked?"

 

The priest shook his head, "No, my lord, in the rush to close the shutters on the nave, a lantern was knocked over.  The oil caught fire and ignited several other lanterns before we could stop it.  It climbed straight up several of the tapestries, setting the roof on fire."

 

"Are there more people in the building," the lieutenant said, interrupting the older man.

 

He nodded, "Yes, many went into the town to care for the wounded and dead, but several of our students, brothers and priests were here to defend the Church itself.  We are now packing and trying to save as many of our relics and works as possible."  Glancing up at the building, he shook his head, "We'll never be able to save everything."

 

Handing the chest off to one of his men, James motioned for the rest to follow him, "Grab what you can, help any of the others that are inside.  I don't think we have much time."  He winced and glanced at the church as a loud crash of falling timbers sounded through the air.  "Hurry."  Turning back to the priest, he swallowed hard, and then asked softly, "Allan Envelton?"

 

The priest nodded, "Inside.  He should be with Father Peter helping gathering scrolls and books from the library."

 

James nodded and gave a brief smile before dashing into the building.  The smoke stung his eyes almost immediately and he blinked back tears, stepping aside in the hall as two younger boys struggled out the door, each bowed under the weight of a large tapestry they were carrying.  Hurrying down the passageway to where he knew the library was he called out, "Allan!"

 

"Here!" a voice called out.  "In the library!"

 

Ducking into a room to his left, James, coughed and blinking hard as the smoke filled the room.

 

Father Peter glared at him for a moment and then shoved a large book at him, "Instead of worrying about saving your lover, you should worry about saving the Lord's words."

 

Biting back a reply and resisting the urge to simply grab Allan and go, he nodded, "I believe I can do both Father."  Behind the priest, he saw Allan frown and shake his head and he smiled.  "We need to go."  Taking the book, he held out his arms, "Pile them on Father.  We don't have much time."

 

The priest piled several large books into his waiting arms and then gathered a group of scrolls into his own arms.  Looking around, he shook his head, "Such a waste."

 

"Go," Allan said, struggling with his own scrolls and large leather bound case.  Coughing, he moved into the hall, "Come on."

 

Father Peter took one last look around the room and then, seemingly undisturbed by the growing smoke and creaking noises around him, made his way down the hall.

 

Allan followed closely behind him, coughing and struggling to carry the scrolls and large case.  Stumbling, the scrolls fell, scattering across the floor.

 

"No!" James cried from behind him. "Don't stop, I'll get them.  Just go."

 

The other man stopped, "No, I'll get them."

 

James gave him a hard shove toward the door, passing the books to him, "No, I've got them.  Take these and get out of the building, you're in worse shape than I am."  A loud crash shook the house and the books fell from his grasp to the ground between them.  "Get them Allan, I'll get the scrolls."  Without waiting for an answer, he turned and darted back into the burning building. 

 

Hurriedly picking up the books and passing them off to the other men in the lawn, Allan turned back to the building as James staggered out, coughing and carrying the scrolls.  Grabbing his lover, he dragged him away from the building.  As he laid him out on the lawn, he noticed the blood on his hands, "You're hurt!" he cried.

 

"It's OK, just a bit of wood," James gasped out as blood started its slow trickle down his mouth.

 

Confused, Allan looked down and noticed a large splinter of wood protruding from the other man's shoulder, straight down into his chest.  His breath caught in his throat and he grasped his lover's hand. 

 

"I love you," James whispered. "I'm sorry about this."

 

"I love you too, and there's nothing to be sorry about. You were braver than me and that lust for life is what makes you my imp." the other man answered back.  Then looking up, yelled, "Father!"

 

Father Peter hurried over, "What seems to be the matter?"  Then, spying the wood and the dying man, frowned, "God's will be done."

 

"You must give him the final rites, Father," Allan said.  "He's dying."

 

The priest frowned and the shook his head, "No, he's a filthy catamite who chose to reject God's grace and laws while he was alive.  I certainly will not give him forgiveness now.  He will have to answer for his sins and pay for them."

 

Glancing down at his lover, his heart sank at the man's blank and empty stare, noticing for the first time the lack of movement and growing coldness in his hand.  "I love you," he whispered again and then gently laid the hand back onto the man's chest.  Standing up, he turned his full rage on the priest, shouting, "You refuse to grant a dying man salvation! You know he was a good man!  He died saving your precious works and the precious treasures of this Church and yet you condemn him without a second thought!"

 

Another priest hurried up, stole and vials in hand, "Come Allan, there is still time. Come pray while I administer the rites."

 

Holding up his hand and blocking the other priest, Father Peter said, without looking at him, eyes firmly locked on Allan, "No.  That man was excommunicated because of his own actions, his own denouncement and flaunting of God's laws.  He must answer for his crimes against God.  I suggest dear boy that you pray for your own sinning soul and that of your friend. Maybe God will hear your prayers and on Judgment Day, release him from hell because that is your only chance of seeing him again."

 

Striding over to the priest, Allan opened and closed his mouth several times, struggling with his emotions and words.  Then, smiling slightly, he reached out and grabbed the sword of one James's men.  Holding it with the point toward his chest, he said simply, "I'll wait with him then."

 

 

 

 

1533 AD  Canterbury, England

 

 

"Don't be idiotic, Charles," Lord Henry Jameson said with a roll of his eyes at the older man.  "The world is not coming to an end, the King is not leading us to Hell and only fools cling blindly to the old ways."

 

"That is enough," Duke Edward Allenson ordered, glaring at the younger man.  "There is no call for that, Jameson.  Sir Heywood has a very valid point and one that those who lack both years and experience might do well to listen and contemplate it before speaking."

 

Charles Heywood bowed his head slightly at his liege lord, murmuring, "Thank you, my lord."

 

"These are confusing and dangerous times for us all," the duke continued as he looked around at the card table of men and those standing around.  "The speed of Wolsey's fall, the King's obsession with the Church, France's new alignment with both the Holy Roman Empire and Portugal, this not the time for any of us to be acting hastily."

 

"Or to strictly align with the Church," Jameson said, interrupting.  "The King has already made himself head of this new Church of England.  He has laughed at the threats by Clement of Excommunication, he has become obsessed with having the absolute power in England."

 

"He is his father's son," Lord John de Montaigne said with a matter-of-fact shrug.  "Blind ambition, what else does one expect from the seed of bastards and usurper."

 

The other man around the table and in the room chuckled and nodded in agreement.

 

"Regardless of his lineage," Allenson said, "he is our King and I have sworn to follow him.  My struggle, though, comes from when my allegiance to God supercede my allegiance to my King."

 

"Never, my lord," Heywood said.  "The King rules by the grace of God.  Without that Grace, the man has no authority."

 

Jameson snorted, "The man has power because he was his father's heir to a throne he won on the field of battle.  He does not need Rome to give him anything."

 

"Enough," Allenson said, holding up his hands.  "This is to be a pleasant weekend of hunting and sport."

 

"And wine and women," de Montaigne said, holding up his goblet.  "And I thank you, my lord, for the very good start."  He toasted his old friend with a smile.

 

Bowing his head slightly at the compliment, the duke continued, "The coming years will require much soul searching, I believe, from all of us.  The King seems poised to lead England down a new and twisted path and each one of us individually must decide if we will follow or accept the consequences of not going with him."  He picked up his own goblet and raised it, "But this week, let the only path we need worry run through the fields and the forests."

 

"And to a pretty maid's bed," de Montaigne said with a laugh.

 

 

 

An hour later, Allenson tossed his cards onto the table, "I am done.  My secretary will groan at the amount that you swindlers have taken me for tonight."  He stood up with a smile, "Good game gentleman."  He glanced around the room and saw that all of the other men had also made their ways to their beds except for Jameson and another young lord he couldn't place deep in conversation by the low burning fireplace.

 

Jameson glanced up at the sound of a scraping chair and saw the other man making his good nights.  He sipped at his wine and turned his attention back to the conversation.

 

"Good night, gentlemen," Allenson said as he walked closer to the fireplace.  He turned his attention to the unknown gentleman, "I trust you will be able to find your bed tonight without any problem."

 

The other man stood and bowed slightly, "Yes my lord, thank you. If not, then I'm sure Lord Jameson can help direct me."

 

"Very good then," he said with a smile.  Then turning his attention the gray-eyed young man, "Jameson, may I have a brief word with you?  It concerns the morning hunt and I'm concerned that the Master of the Horses may have underestimated a few things."  Without waiting for an answer, he turned and walked out of the room into the darkened corridor.

 

Jameson turned to Sir Francis Rabelais, "Excuse me for a moment, Francis, I'll be right back."  Putting down his wine, he hurried quickly into the hall.  Looking around, he did not see the other man but heard a noise further down the hall and walked toward it.  As he passed a curtained alcove, he gasped slightly as a hand reached out and pulled him inside.

 

"What do you think you were doing, young man?" the voice asked as the figure reached up tugged the curtain free from its clasp, allowing it to fall free and complete enclose the spot.

 

"Doing when?" he asked into the darkness.  He sighed and turned his head into the caress as the figure ran the back of its fingers gently down his check and across his lips.  Opening his mouth slightly, he kissed the fingers and then sucked on them gently for a moment before they were withdrawn.  "I can still taste the honey from the bread you were eating," he said softly.  "Can I taste it anywhere else?"

 

"I'm surprised you noticed what I was doing Jamie, in between the fighting with Heywood and the flirting with the young man by the fire."

 

Jameson snorted, "I'm rolling my eyes at you too, I'd like to add."

 

"I'm sure you are, I've grown to know your noises and actions well over the years."

 

"And I was not flirting with Francis, he's just nice and easy to talk to."  He reached up and pulled the figure down closer to him and kissed him gently, "Plus, why would I flirt with him, when I have you?"

 

Allenson kissed him back, pulling him closer and running his hands down the younger man's back until they rested on his bottom.  Patting them gently he said softly, "Good, because don't forget, these and you belong to me and for my use only.  I've claimed them as my own and I have no intention of sharing."

 

"There is nothing for you to claim, Edward," Jameson said softly in between kisses.  "I gave them and myself to you freely three years ago.  It was my choice and my decision."

 

The other man patted his butt again, harder this time, "Just like it was your decision to be rude and argue with Heywood this evening."

 

"The man is an arrogant ass and you know it!  He was asking for it!"

 

Withdrawing his hands, Allenson kissed his lover again before pulling back, "Regardless of that, I expect you in my chamber shortly.  Go and make your farewells.  We've discussed your temper and tongue before and we will discuss it again tonight."

 

"But…"

 

"Would you like to add arguing and disobey me to the items to be discussed tonight?" the older man asked.

 

"No sir," Jameson said softly, looking down.  "I'm sorry."

 

 "Go make your goodnights and come join me and we'll get this discussion over with," the duke ordered softly.  Leaning down and kissing his lover quickly, he reached up and reattached the curtain of the alcove and then quickly walked down the hall.

 

Waiting a moment, Jameson left, heading back to the parlor. 

 

"Ah," Francis said, looking up from his study of the fire, "I was wondering if you were coming back. I was just heading off to my room."  He downed the rest of his wine and then stood up, saying quietly and with slight hesitation, "Would you care to show me the way?  I'm not sure if I remember it or not."

 

Jameson shook his head, "I'm sorry but Duke Allenson needs me to check on some things for tomorrow's hunt but I'll be happy to point you in the right direction."  He glanced at the men still playing cards and decided that they would not notice or care about his departure.   Turning back to the other man, he smiled, "Come, I'm heading that way now.  I can walk you to the correct staircase but that's the best I can do."

 

Francis nodded, the disappointment clear on his face, "Thank you. That would be very kind"

 

As the two younger men left the room, Sir Heywood glanced up from his cards, commenting dryly, "I see young Lord Jameson and young Sir Rabelais are leaving together.

 

De Montaigne chuckled, "They might be leaving together but that's all they'll be doing.  That young man Jameson firmly belongs to Allenson and he knows it and loves it."

 

Sir William Marot looked up from his cards, "Really?  I thought I detected something between them at dinner but I wasn't sure if it was mutual or simply an old man's lust."

 

"Oh no," de Montaigne said as he laid down a card, "from what I've seen and been told the young man is very happy and content with the relationship.  His lordship wouldn't have it any other way, he doesn't believe in using his power that way."

 

Raising an eyebrow, Heywood said, "I was under the impression that the duke was the young man's guardian."

 

"Yes but he's been released from that obligation and has been for several years now.  His father, the late Lord Edward Jameson died …" de Montaigne passed, searching his memory, "fifteen or so years ago.  His mother shipped the boy here when she remarried.  If I remember correctly, there was some concern over some unfortunate accident happening to him if he stayed around his stepfather too long.  The Duke and the father had business together, plus with their lands no where near each other, it was considered a good place."

 

"So he's just living here now?  He hasn't gone back home?" Marot asked.

 

De Montaigne shook his head, "No, he's got to be 20 by now and I remember the large party Allenson threw on his 17th birthday when he officially gained control of his title and land.  He still lives here and travels with the Duke and serves as a cross between an heir-apparent and his personal secretary."

 

Heywood nodded, thinking, "That's right.  I remember when his two own children died many years ago.  My first wife died during the same small pox outbreak."  Laying down his cards to show his winning hand, he smiled, "I think this gentlemen will be a good point to say good night."

 

The other men laughed, tossing in their own cards and making their good nights.

 

"Allenson did not look too pleased with his young lover tonight," Marot said as he and de Montaigne walked through the darkened corridors toward their individual rooms.

 

"No, I don't think he was.  I know the boy's outspokenness has been a concern of his for years now."

 

Marot made a small noise of agreement; "It is often not wise to be too passionate about anything, whether that be religion, rulers or lovers."  He glanced at the other man and chuckled, "Judging by the boy's outburst tonight, I wonder how well he'll be sitting tomorrow at the hunt."

 

The other man laughed, "My guess would be not well.  But, I'm sure young Jameson has had plenty of days of not sitting well."

 

"From his temper or from being plowed?" the other man said, still laughing.

 

"Oh, I'm sure from both.  If the rumors are true about Allenson and I think they are from what I've seen, the boy is as well and deeply plowed as an early summer field."

 

Marot nodded and chuckled, "Good night my friend, all this talk of … farming has made me anxious to get back in the field again. Maybe young Rabelais will be interested now that he was rebuffed by Jameson."

 

"Tomorrow, my friend.  Tonight, I think, you have had too much to drink and will only embarrass yourself," de Montaigne said.  "Good night."

 

 

 

Knocking quietly on the hidden door that connected their room via a short passageway, Jameson anxiously shifted from one foot to the other for several seconds before opening it and slipping inside.  The room was brightly lit with candles and a warm fire to take away the damp chill that settled into the stones at night.  "Hi," he said slowly.

 

Allenson smiled and held out his hand, "Come here, imp.  I'm not mad."

 

Moving quickly, the younger man hugged his lover tight, "I'm sorry about tonight.  It just happened and Heywood is such an know-it-all and pompous and he's just wrong."

 

"But that is not your place," the duke said slowly, pulling back and looking at his lover.  "You are not his lord.  You may, rank-wise, be his equal, but you are a good fifteen years young then him and, instead of remaining calm, you allowed yourself to get emotional.  Being emotional and telling people what they must think and, if not, they are idiots, never works.  Does it?"

 

Jameson sighed, "I know, I know, I just couldn't help myself. It just happened."

 

"No, you can help yourself, I've seen you do it.  I've seen you bite your tongue and keep your own council.  No magic spell was placed on you tonight that made you unable to stop speaking.  Words don't just come out, Jamie."

 

The other man closed his eyes briefly, knowing full well the script for this discussion and knowing that it was a truthful script, "You're right.  I didn't help myself.  I didn't care what he thought of me.  I cared more about showing him up and having my say."

 

"All of which are dangerous and can be deadly habits to get into," the older man said with a quick kiss to the top of his lover's head.  "Now then, slip off your shoes and trousers.  I think you could do with some contemplative time before we finish our discussion."

 

Sitting down on a wooden chest at the foot of the bed, Jameson toed off his shoes and then untied his trousers.  Letting them fall to the floor before picking them up, he stood up before folding them neatly on top of the chest next to him. His long white shirt brushed the backs of his legs half way to his knees.  He looked at the duke who was standing nearby.

 

"Come here please," he said, motioning toward the table.  When the younger man was next to him, he held out a thin piece of bark roughly the size of two fingers, "Open your mouth. Like the bitter taste of the willow bark, the bitter taste of your words is hard to ignore and harder to forget."

 

Slowly opening his mouth, the younger man placed the bark on his tongue, making an almost instant face.

 

"Close your mouth, Jamie and go face the corner," his lover ordered gently, nudging him toward an empty corner near the warmth of the fire.  Watching as the young man did as he was told, the Duke sat down in a nearby chair to watch his minute glass tick away the time.  Three minutes later, he said, "You can take the bark out of your mouth and toss it into the fire, but then back into the corner."

 

Gladly pulling the hated material from his mouth, Jameson made a face as he tossed it in, "That's horrible tasting."

 

"It's suppose to be.  Now turn back around and hush."  Sitting there, he couldn't help but study his lover standing before him.  It was a sight that was becoming less frequent as the younger man got older, but one that would never be completely out of his life as long as he had a lover who was willing to apply needed rules, the duke mused to himself.  The nagging question in the back of his mind was who would that lover be.  He was almost thirty years Jamie's senior and if the predictions and talk around court were true with the King's break from the Church, it would not be one he could follow.  The younger man would need to be protected from that decision.  Shaking his head slightly to rid himself of the questions that did not need to be answered or even thought about tonight, he stood up and fetched a small wooden paddle from the chest.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jamie tense at the sound of the hinges.  Sitting back down in an armless chair, he said, "All right, come here please."

 

"Your hand does the job well enough," he said spying the paddle as he slowly walking forward, stopping just short of his lover.

 

"Yes, but then my hand is sore and this is your punishment young man, not mine," the duke said evenly as he reached out, pulling him closer so that he was standing just to the right of him.  "Why are we having this discussion tonight?"

 

"Because I was rude tonight and I let my emotions and temper get the best of me and out of control."

 

The older man nodded, "Hopefully this will serve as a reminder next time the urge strikes you."  Firmly pulling the younger man forward and settled across his knees.

 

Shifting slightly, Jameson tensed as his shirt was raised, exposing his bare butt.  "I'm sorry," he said softly as his lover patted his butt with his hand.

 

"I know and I know that this serves as a very good reminder for you," he said as he picked up the paddle and gently tapped the other man's butt once before raising it higher and bringing it down sharply.

 

Holding back the cries for five swats, Jameson finally cried out on the sixth as the paddle came down sharply.  After that, the individual cries at each swat soon dissolved into continuous low crying punctuated by the sound of wood hitting flesh and a sharp cry.

 

The Duke did not bother to lecture, knowing that his lover understood the lesson being taught and feeling that any further words would allow the younger man to focus, even slightly, on something other then his exposed position and the punishment being administered.  Listening to the younger man's cries and feeling him struggle slightly; he concentrated on placing the swats evenly across his butt and extreme upper thighs.  When the skin was a brilliant shade of red, he felt a subtle shift in his lover as the boy almost relaxed into the punishment and his struggles lessened and the cries became a hard continuous sobbing.  Delivering one final swat, he put down the paddle and rested one hand against the burning flesh while the other slowly stroked his lover's back, "All done, Jamie.  I think you've learned this lesson well."

 

A few minutes later, Jameson slid shakily off his lover's lap and onto his knees on the floor.  Struggling to regain control, his cries came out in gasps and between ragged breaths.

 

Kneeling down beside him, the other man kissed the top of his head and then wiped away the fallen tears from his face, "Come on Jamie, let's get you to bed.  Things will feel better in the morning."  Taking hold of the younger man's elbows, the duke stood him up slowly, holding him tight to him.

 

The younger man wrapped his arms around him, burrowing his face into the other man's chest, "I would hope so.  I can't imagine it feeling any worse."

 

Allenson chuckled and kissed him again, "I'm glad to hear your humor and spunk coming back so soon."  Leading him over to the washbasin, he stripped of the damp shirt, leaving his lover standing completely naked.  A sponge was already resting in the warmed water and he picked it up, squeezing most of the water out of it before gently rubbing it over the other man's face and down his neck.  "Just relax, you'll feel much better when you're clean and not sweaty.  Then we'll put a fresh nightshirt on you and tuck you into bed.  Then I'll curl up next to you and hold you until you fall asleep.  Tomorrow will be another day and a fresh start," he said quietly as he gently bathed his lover, feeling the younger man relax under his touch.

 

Closing his eyes, Jameson relaxed slowly, his arms feeling heavy and lifeless as the other man lifted each one, wiping away the dirt and sweat from the day.  The pain in his butt, receded slightly as the sponge cooled the area with gentle strokes and his cock twitched under his lover's gentle touch before being withdrawn.  Swaying slightly, he sighed as a warm cloth draped over his shoulders and, eyes barely open, led to the bed.

 

"Lift your arms slightly for me imp," Allenson ordered gently moments before he lifted a warm, soft nightshirt over his lover's head and slipped it on.  Keeping one hand tight on the swaying younger man, he smiled as he pulled back the covers on the bed.  "All right now, slide in."

 

Moving awkwardly and trying hard not to put any weight on his butt, Jameson slid into the soft bed, immediately turning over onto his stomach, pillow cradled underneath his head.  He closed his eyes and took a deep, shaky breath.  "I love you," he said as he felt his lover kiss him gently.

 

"I love you too, imp.  Now close your eyes, I'll join you shortly."  Blowing out the candles that were mounted on that side of the bed, he withdrew to straighten up the rest of the room before morning.  Putting the paddle back in the chest, he ideally wondered what, if anything, his servants would think if they found it.  Probably nothing, he decided, they all knew that Jameson was his lover and with their age difference, temperaments and previous relationship, the continuation of discipline long after the boy reached his maturity and no longer his ward had seemed natural.  Blowing out the remaining candles, he stripped off his clothes and quickly washed himself.  Washing before bed was a habit he had picked up from his brief marriage.  His young bride had seemed so delicate and pure, that he had loathed bringing himself to her without being clean.  Slipping in bed, he quickly rolled over so that he was next to Jamie.

 

"My butt hurts," the younger man said in the darkness.

 

Patting the offending part gently, the other man nodded, "I'm sure it does.  But you're going to get cold without any covers on."  He reached down and settled the blankets down on top of them both.  "Go to sleep, imp."  Holding his lover close, he began to softly rub his back, nape to waist.   "Do you want me to stop?" he asked when he heard the tell-tell sniffles of crying coming from the younger man.

 

"No, not at all.  I'm just sore and tired and your hands make me feel not so alone and unloved."

 

"Jamie," he said, kissing him gently, "you are as far away from alone and unloved as possible."  When he didn't answer, Allenson fell silent again, concentrating on the feel of his lover beneath his hand and the gradual relaxing of his muscles and the sound of his breath growing deeper and slower.

 

 

 

Yawning and blinking in the bright sunlight of morning, Jameson rolled over, surprised not to feel his lover pressed up behind him.  He sat up, looking around the room, struggling to wake up.  "What are you doing?" he asked, finally spying the older man sitting at the window seat, looking out the window, his Bible open in his lap.  He slid out of bed and padded over to his lover with a smile, "Last night was the first time I've felt like sex in three days and I was hoping for a repeat of last night.  Instead, I wake up alone and you're sitting here, also alone, reading."  Picking up the Bible, he put it on a nearby table and settled himself on his lover's lap, facing him.

 

Leaning in, the older man kissed him, "You're getting heavy, I remember a time when I could lift you up."

 

"I was a lot younger then, Edward.  You were just a scary old man who had taken me from my mother and home and I didn't want anything to do with you."  He kissed him back, "I didn't know what I was missing."

 

Allenson laughed, "It's a very good thing imp that you stayed mainly in the nursery and I was gone much of the year.  If I had seen you constantly, I would never have been able to shake the little boy vision from my mind to have it replaced by the vision of such a handsome young man."

 

Laughing, Jameson shook his head, "Oh god, I remember when I was 16 and you had been gone for almost two years and you came into the stable …"

 

"And you and that stable boy, what was his name?"

 

"Will," Jameson said with a blush.  "Will something, I don't remember now."

 

"That's right, Will," the other man said with a nod.  "You and Will were … shall we say enjoying each other's attentions?"

 

Blushing deeper, Jameson laughed, "That was so humiliating.  I felt sure I was going to be kicked out of your house."

 

"Instead, I remember lecturing you about discretion."

 

Jameson laughed again, "I remember the lecture being me bent over your desk while you applied a leather strap to my backside."

 

"I knew even then that you needed firm rules and tangible consequences when you broke them."  Caressing his lover's back, he kissed him again, "And it's worked hasn't it?"

 

"Yes, it's worked.  I knew it worked and that I needed you even before my 17th birthday.  I just couldn't understand what I was feeling.  I just knew I didn't want to leave your side."

 

Taking a deep breath, Allenson tightened his hold on the younger man, "I know imp and I've felt the same way.  Seeing you all grown up after so many years, I felt this spark, this connection with you and I wanted you.  But, I couldn't force you either.  The choice had to be yours for your own good, you had to decide to go or stay, without my guidance."

 

"And I chose to stay," Jameson said with a smile.  "And I've never regretted it for a minute, even when we're having a discussion about my behavior."

 

"Back then, I had to let you make the decision alone but now, I have to make a decision for you, again for your own good," he said firmly.  Looking his lover in the eye, he said gently, "It's time for you to go."

 

Jameson stared at him for a minute, "Go, go where?"

 

"Back to your own lands and your own home.  It's time that you became Lord Jameson, in action and responsibility, not just a name and title when we have guests."

 

"But my home is here, with you!" the younger man said, struggling to understand.  "Did I do something?  Tell me what I've done and I'll make amends or fix it.  I swear to you, I …"

 

"No imp," he said softly, "It's nothing like that.  It's nothing that you've done or haven't done or failed at."

 

"Then if it's not me, why?"

 

Allenson sighed, hating the pain he was causing, "Because Jamie, I need to protect you."

 

"From what?"

 

"My own actions and the anger of the king," he said simply.  "The King will have his way against the Church and he will demand that all his nobles follow him.  But I cannot do that.  I will not follow him into Hell and I will not make a false oath, swearing my allegiance to him and his false church but secretly keeping my allegiance the God."

 

Struggling to understand, Jameson wiggled free from his lover's grasp and stood up, "But what does that have to do with us?  I don't care what church you follow and what oaths you take."

 

"But Jamie, the King will.  The King will see any man who does not follow him, does not support his actions, as treason.  He's already done it; he condemned one of his oldest and closest confidants, he's imprisoned and executed men of God who did not submit to him.  He will not hesitate to take the same actions with his nobles."

 

Blinking back tears, "But if you are labeled a traitor, you will be executed."

 

Standing up, Allenson pulled the unresisting man into his arms, kissing him gently, "That is just my body, my soul will be safe, though."  Kissing him again, he pulled back slightly so he could look at him, "I will not allow you though, to be tainted with that charge.  If you remain with me, you will.  This week is the perfect time to send you away. Nothing has happened yet, sides have not been drawn.  Our guests will serve witness to you leaving over my beliefs.  They will serve witness to your disagreements with me over the King's policies.  They will serve as the witnesses that will keep you safe from my fate."

 

"I don't want to be safe though without you," he said.  "I want to stay here and be with you, regardless."

 

"I know you do imp, but it's not your decision to make.  You are leaving with our guests tomorrow morning and you will not see me again.  It's too dangerous and I haven't kept you safe these years to allow you into danger now."

 

Knowing that any further argument was useless and knowing deep in his heart, his lover was correct, Jameson nodded slowly.  "We will see each other again though, I know it."

 

"Yes imp, I'm sure we will too."

 

 

 

Shifting slightly in the cold, Lord Jameson peered around at the small crowd gathered around the platform.  His heart broke and he felt tears well up in his eyes as the drums started their slow beat and the small group of men made their way from the tower door toward the block.  Three men were being executed that morning under the charge of treason and he was determined that one of them would know that someone who loved him was there when he took his last breath.  Throwing back his hood, he peered at the group.  His breath caught in his throat and he bit his lips hard to keep from crying out as the 2nd man in the row looked at him and smiled slightly at the young man he had not seen for two years. 

 

 

 

 

2002 AD, Atlanta, Georgia

 

 

Opening the door to the antique store, Alan stepped inside, eyes blinking as they adjusted to the slight dimness after the brilliant sun outside.

 

"Hi, can I help you?" a voice called from the back as a young man peered out from around a bookcase.  Standing up and walking toward his customer, he smiled.  "Looking for anything in particular?"

 

Alan shook his head, "No, nothing in particular.  I just moved here from Phoenix and now am looking for some items for the house.  I have several antique family pieces for the living room and thought it might be a nice style to carry over throughout the rest of the main floor."

 

"Well, welcome to Atlanta and to The Hill House.  Any particular style or wood you're looking for?"

 

The other man smiled, "It's dark.  I would guess mahogany but I don't know for sure."

 

"No problem," the younger man said with a laugh, "I can help you.  It can all be a bit confusing."

 

Alan laughed with him, feeling instantly at ease with the man, and just then a small clock began to chime. "I can't believe it's noon already," he commented.

 

"I know, I'm not sure where the morning has gone," the other man commented.  "But you're in luck," he pointed to the chiming clock, "it only does this once a day, at noon.  Watch, it's amazing.  It still keeps perfect time even though it's over 200 years old."  As they watched, two sets of doors opened on the clock and a wooden bird appeared on its perch.  Opening its mechanical mouth wide, it cheerfully chirped 12 times before disappearing again into the clock.  The man laughed and turned, smiling at the other man, his gray eyes sparkling, "I don't think I'd want it in my house, but it makes me smile every day and is usually my clue for lunch."

 

Alan felt his breath catch in his throat and he smiled back, not even sure why.  Then, without thinking of the consequences or possible awkwardness, he said, "Will you take it as a sign and have lunch with me right now?"

 

The other man started to laugh and turn down the offer but looking at his customer, he felt his denial fade away and he simply nodded, "Let me just close up."  Grabbing his keys from behind the counter, he followed the other man out the door, flipping the Closed sign around so it faced out.  His mind raced with the stupidity of going to lunch with a perfect stranger while his heart sang with the possibility.  Turning around, he held out his hand, "Hi, I'm Jameserson Hill."

 

"Alan Eckstein," the other man said with a smile.  "It's nice to meet you."

 

 

The End

 

As always, I would love to hear what you thought of the story: permanentlymatts@yahoo.com