Red Velvet


9 Daniel's Decision

Master Bels gave him leave to go back to Wyre not long after and William thought that he would find Daniel. Some part of him wanted the reassurance of his friend now that his virginity was gone, though he could not tell his friend how it had happened.

“I intend to make Helygen my wife,” Daniel told him immediately on greeting. There was an odd look in his eye, determination or defiance, William didn’t know which.


“She can’t go on like she is. At least as my wife, she’ll be . . . safe.”

Will nodded. They both knew what Helygen needed to be safe from . . . some day a village woman would lose patience with Helygen and her free ways with their men. And then the accusations would come easily enough and a whore would have no protection. Daniel might cage Helygen with children and chores, but his wife would be safe from the ire of the other women.

“Thank you,” William told him gratefully.

He was glad that Helygen would have someone who could protect her. He thought that of all of them, Daniel had the best upbringing . . . living with both his parents, born well after their nuptials. His father made an honest living and kept his family in a snug cottage. Daniel was well on his way to the same. Such largesse could turn a man smug and hateful of those less fortunate, but Daniel had a warmth and generosity of spirit that took notice of those that the rest of the world despised.

Daniel smiled, then, seemingly reassured that William harboured no jealousy for his marriage. Will wished that he could confide in his friend about the extraordinary love which he had found in the depths of the haunted forest. But he would not do Daniel such disservice as to burden him with that secret.

“When are the banns?”

“They read the first ones Sunday last.”

Later he found Helygen by the pond, abstractedly swishing her laundry through the water. She had never been overly fond of practical matters, and rarely washed her clothes, so Will supposed that she must have gotten her flow.

She barely looked up when he crouched beside her. “You heard, I suppose?”

“Yes. It’s good news, and I’m happy for you.”

“Happy? No more roaming, no more pretty cocks, no more living free.”

“It’s a good life, and Daniel is a good man.”

“But it’s still a pen and I shall be stuck in it like a goose for Yule slaughter.”

“You’ll be safe. Do you care so little for your own life?” He was beginning to lose patience with her dreaming.

“You of all people should not talk to me so. I see it in your eyes. I see wings and stars and long nights under the trees.”

Will had no answer for her, nor had he ever. Helygen had always veered from childish enthusiasms to practical wisdom to fearful pronouncements. He profoundly hoped that she had no gift for sight, for he dreaded what could be read upon his soul. Village legend said that she had been born wrong, that her mind was denied some essential humour during her difficult birth, and left her with but half her wits. But she had been his friend as long as he could remember, and he didn’t like being wary of her. He dismissed any idea that she might damage him with her wild words. No one listened to her maundering.

He stood up. “Be well, Helygen.”

She hunched over her skirts, ignoring him, and feeling useless, he turned and left her there.

10 Cernunnos

Xander led them along a winding way, where the rocks and trees fought for dominance. There seemed to be no path, but Xander’s steps were sure and as he walked, the way seemed to smooth out under his feet. He reached back time and again to brush their fingers together. A reassurance that yet had excitement fizzing through William’s body.

The trees drew back finally, leaving a small glade in the side of the hill. Water poured from a crack in the rock, pooling at the base of the rock, before trickling away with a merry burble. The lowering sun struck shafts of gold through the trees, spangling the water and bathing the small clearing in light.

“The heart of the forest,” Xander said softly.

And indeed, it seemed a holy place, full of peace and light. Xander clasped his hand and led him forward until they knelt by the edge of the pool. William dipped his hand in and let some of the water run out of it. It was clear and cool, and it seemed to be full of light, sparkling as the drops fell back into the tarn. He raised his hand to his mouth, letting the liquid trickle to the back of his throat. The taste was alive, sweet and pure, like it had captured the sunshine.

Xander stood up, pulling William’s cloak away from his shoulders and spreading it on a lush patch of moss beside the water.

“Take your clothes off,” he commanded, his voice soft and compelling.

William shuddered at Xander’s tone, shaking fingers working the clasp of his cloak. They had lain together many times since that first night and the world was moving on, the weather growing warm, but he had yet to be entirely bare to his lover. His fingers fumbled, partly from excitement, partly from nerves, but Xander made no move to help him, his dark eyes instead hungry on each part of William’s pale skin as it was revealed.

His clothes made a small pile in the duff and William’s fingers hesitated at the ties to his trews.

“Go on.”

A command that he could not ignore and he kicked the garments off, resisting the urge to hold his hands in front of his assurgent sex. But Xander’s eyes held him and he dropped his hands.

“On the cloak, spread your legs.” Xander’s voice had degenerated into a raspy growl and William shuddered, this time knowing that his shaking was caused by nearly ungovernably desire. Xander stood back and disrobed, giving William the first full view of his lover.

Xander had broad shoulders and long, heavy legs. His chest was thick with dark hair, almost making William ashamed of his nearly bare state. The hair tapered down at his waist, arrowing towards the thick organ that rose from darker hair at his groin. Excitement flooded William, knowing that the doughty cock would soon be inside his own body.

The forest man stalked towards him, each step deliberate, giving William the sense that here was a predator intent on having his helpless mate. But he had no fear, for there was some deep unquestioning trust that Xander would never hurt him more than he wanted to be.

That thought should have disconcerted him . . . that he could find pleasure in pain, but he was eager for it, for the burning agony of Xander entering him. He shifted impatiently, his body nearly itching for that possession.

“Please don’t make me wait,” he muttered, but Xander heard him.

White teeth flashed in the starlight and Xander’s heavy body covered him. William’s legs came around without thought even as Xander’s fingers went to his opening, extending once inside him, working his muscles loose.

Then there was heat and they rocked together, breathing harshly and calling out to each other as they fell together.

They lay together beside the spring, William’s cloak spread out under them. The night was warm and they did without covering. Xander slumbered beside him, long arm wrapped around William’s waist, their bodies sticky in the aftermath of their pleasure.

William dreamed that the moon fell from the sky and landed in the spring. He opened his eyes with a start, but Xander was warm beside him and the moon was in its proper place in the heavens. He turned over, thrusting his backside against his lover and curling into Xander’s heat. The moonlight reflected silvery and wavering in the moving waters of the small pool.

A man stepped out of the deeper shadows of the trees. William took a quick, fearful breath for the man was crowned with antlers, like a stag in full rut. He was naked. He stepped toward the spring with careful steps, his feet tapping like hooves against the rocks.

William was frozen in place, hoping that they would escape the notice of the man, or beast perhaps he was. But the man knelt beside the water, his hands reaching longingly for the moon’s reflection.

After a time that William could not measure, the man stood up. And then he saw them laying beside the spring. He approached them and William wanted to shout for Xander, to wake him for aid. But his voice seemed to be stolen.

He watched in fear as his doom drew near. But the man smiled instead and said, “Peace, little one.”

The forest lord reached out and touched the tip of William’s naked cock. Then he turned and melted back into the trees.

But William no longer cared who or what their visitor was, for the touch of that finger had brought him to full and rampant erection, heat flaring through him. He moaned, needing satisfaction, needing Xander to fill him. He slid a leg along Xander’s flank, pressing his hardness against Xander’s hip.

His squirming soon awakened his mate and Xander drew him close. “What is it?”

William felt himself so full of want and desire that he was beyond speech, but he forced himself to answer Xander’s concern.

“He had antlers. Touched me.”

Xander smiled knowingly. “Cernunnos.” His grin grew wider. “Is there something you need, love?”

William rolled to his back, hands under his knees, drawing his legs up until he was open, exposed to Xander. William was beyond caring how he looked, knowing only that he must have Xander inside him.

“You. Please. I need you inside.”

Xander’s eyes darkened, his pupils wide with his lust. He reached for the pot of oil, sliding his fingers into William. But William was loosened from earlier in the night and he couldn’t bear it, wanting the fullness of Xander’s cock.

“I’m ready. Please. Now.”

His lover growled low in his throat and the hand with the oil covered Xander’s prick instead. William thrashed anxiously, his body on fire. The blunt tip of Xander’s shaft pressed against him and William moaned, pushing back against the force. Xander slid fully inside him and William let go of his knees, wrapping legs and arms around the bigger man.

William clung to him as Xander rode him hard, slamming him into the ground. His fingers clenched the sleek skin of Xander’s back, but it seemed as though in the haze of his lust that he twisted his fingers in thick fur. William met Xander’s brown eyes and as his climax approached, those eyes seemed to turn to gold. He thought that he was in the grasp of a beast, that the wolf was fucking him.

He howled as it hit him, violently spreading ripples of pleasure that took him and shook him like a dead coney in a fox’s mouth. Xander’s howl soon joined his as they drove themselves through their pleasure.

11 The Wolf

Afterwards, Xander nuzzled his neck, making low humming sounds of satisfaction. William ran his hands down Xander’s back, feeling the smoothness of his skin, but convinced that he had not imagined the fur earlier.

“That first night. The wolf. That was you, wasn’t it?”

Xander drew back, his eyes fearful, but William did not dread the wolf and let his eyes show only curiosity.


“What are you?”

Xander moved to pull away, but William refused to let him go, holding him with arms and legs. He gave in finally, resting against William.

“A part of the forest. We’ve always been here, the old ones, since long before your time.”

William threaded his fingers through Xander’s sable hair. “Show me,” he murmured.

Xander grunted and then sat up. His body shimmered and then in his place sat a large male wolf with dark fur and golden eyes. William looked at him in awe, for he could clearly see Xander despite his being in the shape of a wolf.

The wolf looked worried, so William lay back, spreading his arms and legs in a gesture of acceptance. The wolf’s eyes narrowed at that and hunger transformed his face. Fear skittered up William’s spine, but he forced himself to lie still, trusting that Xander wouldn’t hurt him even in this form.

The beast stood and William tilted his head back, offering his throat, knowing that his movement was a sign of submission in dogs and hoping that the wolf would understand. Long legs, roped with muscle, stepped over William, putting him under the wolf. The sharp snout probed his neck and William forced himself to be utterly still, to accept the caress without flinching.

It appeared that his offering was correct because the wolf licked his neck, warm tongue moving over his skin. William released a shakily relieved breath but Xander did not move from his position over William.

The tongue continued to work at his skin, licking him, absorbing his taste. William was not an expert on wolves, but he suspected that Xander was somehow imprinting his scent, marking him, claiming him. The idea made him shudder pleasurably. The sensation was not unpleasant despite the roughness of Xander’s tongue.

But the wolf moved lower, his tongue now finding William’s nipples, flicking first one then the other with skillful strokes. William gasped in alarm when he felt his member start to fill and rise under the treatment. He made a move to escape, but the wolf stared at him, commands in his golden eyes. William obeyed, not moving.

The wolf worked his tongue down William’s torso, scraping over sensitive spots that Xander was well aware of. William moaned, partially outraged that his body was responding with such pleasure to the assault of this animal. But his heart knew that it was Xander under the fur and he could not stop his body’s reaction to his mate.

William cried out when the long tongue encircled his prick and then again when Xander lapped at the come still leaking out of William’s hole. He was ashamed of his reactions, but powerless to prevent them. The wolf took his fill from William’s body and then moved back to his cock.

Long strokes moved up and down William’s shaft. The rough tongue created sensations unlike any he’d ever experienced while the blade-sharp teeth so close to his vital organ made him quiver with fear. But the pleasure out-weighed the fear and William fought against the rising tide of another orgasm. Xander seemed to sense how close he was and the wolf wrapped his tongue around William’s engorged prick . . . wet, warm, and utterly alien.

William shouted as he came, his body bowing up off the cloak as his muscles clenched. The wolf kept licking, light pressure that was not quite enough but yet drove him beyond the reasonable bounds of pleasure. When he relaxed back onto the ground, the wolf cleaned William’s spend off his body and then sat back, licking his chops in satisfaction.

“Xander,” William whispered, not knowing if he was protesting or proclaiming something. He wondered if he was perverse enough to allow the wolf to fuck him, but then he didn’t care. The wolf was Xander and he loved Xander with every beat of his heart. Perhaps Cernunnos had enchanted him with a touch, but William knew that he belonged wholly to Xander and there was nothing that he would deny his lover.

He spread his legs again, in invitation this time and the wolf moved between his thighs. William buried his hands in the thick fur at Xander’s neck and moaned, ready to be entered. He felt the brush of fur against his sensitized hole and then pressure. He relaxed, allowing the intrusion, while his gaze was locked with Xander’s golden eyes. Fur brushed against tender parts of his body and then the wolf was fully inside him.

The beast made no move to rut though, holding still until William began to squirm, desiring movement and pressure against his inner walls.


The animal quivered at that soft affirmation and curled into William, short strokes. The knob at the end of the wolf’s prick scraped over William’s inner gland and he yelped at the sharp flood of pleasure.

The wolf shimmered and then Xander was there, human again. His hands grasped William’s hips, tilting them up for a better angle. He pounded into William, grunting with every thrust, fucking him hard enough that William knew he would be feeling this encounter for days. But he held on, teeth buried in Xander’s shoulder with the taste of his mate on his tongue. When Xander shuddered and jerked, filling him with seed again, William smiled contentedly against Xander’s warm sweaty neck.

“Sweet Will,” Xander sighed.

12 Caught Between Two Worlds

William was sore for days after that encounter, his movements stiff. Master Bels and Mistress Yonary both inquired as to his injury, but he mumbled something evasive about helping Liam take down a tree and pulling it wrong. They left him alone about it, although he thought he saw some protest in Yonary’s eyes. He avoided her . . . whether she could truly see him or her female senses told her that there was more to his tale, he did not want to face her probing questions.

He had known that he loved Xander before that night, but after it, something seemed to shift inside him. It was no longer some light-hearted affair that he could escape when sneaking into the woods lost its allure. He was bound to Xander, bound to a man who was also a wolf. The idea should frighten him, but strangely enough, it excited him, to know that he belonged utterly to someone else, that Xander had such power over him, power that William gave away freely in exchange for his love. A worthy bargain by any measure that William knew.

Xander’s presence seemed to live inside him, a barely heard call that turned his head to the wilderness when his mind should be on other things, ordinary things. But he could not bring himself back down from the heights which he flew when he was with his lover.

His work began to suffer, steel spoiling by a fire that was too hot too soon, designs botched from a careless turn with the carving awl. Master Bels hid neither his displeasure nor his disappointment. Unfortunately, William paid no heed to that good man’s admonitions. It wasn’t until William mishandled a crucible of molten bronze, which spilled, splashing his arm, that William listened to his master.

Master Bels placed him on a stool while he fetched the burn ointment and bandages. Master Bels cleared his throat nervously several times and William wondered where the ire was and why he was being so quiet.

“The first time one finds the joy of the body with a willing girl is a special time in one’s life. An excitement that is never quite as intoxicating later in life.”

William had been expecting a lecture about his clumsiness, but he was in no way prepared for those words. Icy fear gripped his heart, but Master Bels gave no indication that he knew that William’s lover was anyone other than the usual light girl.

“Be that as it may, William, one cannot neglect one’s responsibilities or one’s very safety in the name of such lusts.”

William nodded, the point was fair.

“The church does not condone such relations outside the scope of lawful marriage but I do not pretend that men have the nature of angels. I will not task you for it, only beg you to concentrate on your tasks at hand.”

“I thank you for your care and concern for me, despite the difficulties I’ve caused you.”

Master Bels smiled wryly. “Shocking as it may seem, I do remember what it is to be young and full of life. William . . . you are extraordinarily talented and will not be a prentice long. If she is worthy, make an offer for her and settle the matter. If she is not, then this storm will pass soon enough. Do you see that you weather it whole.”

Will was grateful for the words, kindly meant as they were, but they served only to show him that his life could never be the one he had hoped. That he could never introduce his love to his friends and family. Never mind that he did not know exactly what kind of creature Xander was; if word ever reached the priests that he had lain with another male, he would not survive it.

He stayed away from the woods then, applying himself to his tasks and to his life in the town. The steel spoke to him again, poetry in fire and liquid silver. Master Bels received a commission from a lord in far away York, a bride gift for a son who was to be sent away to France to make his bed. His master was excited about it and charged William with the design for the sheath. Will used and scraped many sheets of vellum before he settled on a design that seemed fair to him.

He traced leaves and branches, interlacing, turning back on themselves, weaving back and forth and around until the design was thick with lines that captured the eye, turning it about. He added small forest creatures, ones he’d seen and ones he’d imagined when Xander’s kin walked the dark forest. One branch thickened and twisted, turning itself into horns crowning a face barely seen in the outline of the tree limbs. He imagined the lines chased with gold and lapis. A worthy gift for the lord’s son.

But Master Bels paled slightly when he looked on William’s work. His voice was gentle. “Lovely work, my boy, but surely you see that I cannot possibly use this? Change it.”

William shook with fear, knowing that he had betrayed his secret life with the strokes of his charcoal. But Master Bels was not denouncing him to the church, merely asking him to alter it to be acceptable.

Here was the essential problem that he faced . . . his heart belonged in the forest but his life was in the town. He put the vellum away after he carefully took Cernunnos’s image out of it and all the other creatures. It was still a work of beauty, but it lacked some essential thing and his eye would always see it.

He thought that he was doomed for the same thing . . . that his life would always be less than he desired. Was that not the way of it though, no matter whether a man lived in a castle or a hovel? He tried to stop his dreams of lovemaking under the open sky. He tried to find a girl with enough sweetness to warm his heart, but he did not succeed for no passion could compare to what Xander had given him.

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