Red Velvet


17 Helygen's Mistake

It was days later though, before he was released by Master Bels for a day. He left Camforth as soon as the gate opened, but there was an unusual amount of traffic on the road to Wyre and he could not find a chance to duck into the forest to find his lover. He was jittery with nerves by the time he drew near Wyre. He would be forced to greet Liam and go into the woods behind his grandfather’s cottage.

Hoof beats came up behind him, a small horse moving quickly. Will drew to the side to allow the horseman to pass him but was surprised to see the church verger with Helygen riding behind him. The verger drew up when he saw Will.

“William, we’ve just been to Camforth looking for you.”

The man settled the pony and then gave a hand to Helygen, who dropped off and ran to him. “Oh, William, you are safe!”

Will was immediately wary of why the verger and Helygen should be searching for him and worried about his safety. There could be no good reason for such concern. But he returned her hug. “Why would I not be?”

“That man, he was hunting you, I could see it. He had sharp teeth. I feared for you.”

Will grew cold at the words. He turned to the verger hoping for a more sensible explanation. “What man?”

“I did not see him, in sooth. But others did. And Helygen said he was dangerous. Tall he was and seeming fair, but he was agitated and passionate, they said. We feared for you, so I borrowed a pony from Master Hank and undertook the journey to Camforth to warn them and you. The watch is out for him, never fear.”

Xander. Will wanted to scream, to shake Helygen for seeing only part of the truth. “Did you look no deeper?” he growled at her.

“William?” Confusion and fear crossed her face, and Will searched her features, desperate to see if she had malice in her bearing, if she had done him such ill for spite. But all he could see was her growing worry. He wished he could have brought Helygen to Yonary, for Master Bels’ wife would not be deceived by fair looks. It was too late for that. He tried to smile at her, thinking that it might break him.

“Never you mind. I’ll be fine.” He hugged her and then set her away. “Go find Daniel now. He’ll be worrying, with you off having adventures.”

Helygen blushed, and lifting her skirts, ran into the village. Will turned to the verger, fighting against the urge to scream at the man.

“You are dedicated to my welfare and I thank you.” He thought the words would sear his mouth with the acid that he felt. “I will go back to town and consult with the watch. Perhaps I can aid them. If you see Liam, give him my greetings and tell him why I was detained.”

Liam would understand, and would know that Will was in trouble. There was nothing his grandfather could do for him though. It was up to Will to deflect the questions and call off the hounds.

He turned to go back down the road, forcing himself to look straight ahead and not search for the eyes that he knew must be watching him. When he judged that he was at the halfway point between Camforth and Wyre, he stopped. The road was open off to the east, with the gentle slopes of furze falling away. He couldn’t shake the feeling that his actions were marked somehow, but he sensed no human in the landscape. He took his chance and headed west, under the eaves of the forest.

As soon as the last sight of the road disappeared through the thickening trees, Will stopped, leaning against an ancient bole. Xander would find him. Will would not go blindly stumbling through the forest.

He could feel the slow life thrumming through the bark. He rested, weary of dealing with the many troubles that beset him. The tree would outlast the petty squabbles of men. Their lives were nothing to the tree, the quick flickering of a mayfly against the long centuries of silvan existence.


Xander was there, the shadows of leaves moving over his face. Will couldn’t decide whether to rail at him for his stupidity for showing himself in the village or to fall into his arms and never leave. Xander too looked uncertain and Will recalled his hateful words on their last meeting. His feet moved without his volition before his mind had chance to frame an apology. But Xander’s strong arms went around him without hesitation and Will sighed gratefully into the embrace.

“I would do anything for you,” Xander murmured against his hair.

“You do not understand the ways of men,” Will scolded softly. “I would never have you endanger yourself or this kingdom for me.”

“You belong to me and it is my duty to succor you when you ache, whether of body or heart.”

Will could not stop the happy moan that he uttered as his body reacted with a thrill to Xander’s possessive words. He pressed against Xander’s hard body, hips grinding. Xander’s fingers moved to his laces, but cold washed through Will at the movement.

“Nay, there is no time.”

He could not afford to return to Camforth with Xander’s seed dripping from his hole. He would smell of it and it would not aid him in deflecting the inevitable query. And if he were taken for questioning in that state . . . he shuddered fearfully.

Xander’s hands wrapped around him instead, drawing him in tightly. “What is it, Will?”

“I must away the town, to stop them searching for you. We can’t let them come into the forest.”

“We have our own protections here. They’ll not harm us.”

But Will could foresee the reaction of the town if they knew what truly lay at the heart of the woods. They would come with axes and fire, and decimate the place one tree at a time. The forest lords could not stand against such destruction.

“You speak with no sense.” Will was frustrated by Xander’s inability to comprehend the danger of men. Hundreds of years of life and yet he misunderstood those who lived hard by his wood.

“I will escort you.”

“No! Stop this nonsense at once!” Will’s fear was fraying into a temper, anger replacing dread. “I will tell them that you are some mendicant who once received my kindness once and now will not go your ways.”

Although no one who had seen Xander would believe that he could be any sort of a beggar. His strength and power was evident to any who looked. And perhaps that was what had gotten the villagers into such a state. The sheep knew the wolf.

“I mislike this,” Xander frowned. “Do not return to those who have such hard hearts. Stay here with me.”


Something in his heart swelled at those words; something inside him healed. But his life was in Camforth where there were many swords yet to be made. He was torn though, because part of him wanted nothing more than to live here with Xander. But Xander had caused his current difficulties and he hardened his heart against his desires.

“I belong in the town.”

“No. You do not. You belong here in the forest with me. Someday you will see it.”

Xander voiced no uncertainty and Will tried to pull out of the arms that held him, angered that Xander refused to see his side of the matter. He wasn’t ready to give up what he was building for himself, the acceptance he had found in Camforth.

“Release me.”

Xander was tense, his gaze troubled, but he released Will, stepping back. “Go your ways, then. But, Will, please have a care. This feels wrong.”

“I love you.”

It was his honest admittance and the first time he’d said the words out loud, either to himself or to Xander. Xander moved to embrace him again, but Will ducked knowing that he would never find the strength to depart if he let Xander touch him again. Will could not leave this matter undone.

“You can have no question about how I feel about you. I’ll have no other mate for all of my life.”

“I know,” Will whispered, his heart swelling again. “But I must needs fix this, what you caused, else I’ll be exiled from my own race.”

Will dared a brief hug and then turned away. A small part of his soul was still angry at the foolish risks that Xander had taken. The wolf man did not yet understand human hearts. He dared not leave the forest at his usual spot in case he was marked. He hurried across the road and into the fields beyond, taking the long way back to town.

They had acted quickly though. When he entered the town gate, the watch stopped him. “You are under arrest for sins committed against God and his lawfully anointed King, Henry Rex.” A sword was pressed to his breast and a knife held at his throat.

He thought about fighting them, about fleeing, but he was surrounded, treed without hope of escape. He wanted to lash out, to maim them, but he would suffer for it in the end and he controlled his temper with effort.

But when they touched him, he couldn’t stop himself, cursing himself as all sorts of a fool, but his fists lashed out. It didn’t take them long though, and he was woozy from a blow to his head and his jaw ached. The irons were heavy on his wrists as they marched him to the bailey.

18 What Robert Really Wants

Will paced the small cell, waiting for them to question him. There was a noise at the door, and he was surprised to see Daniel outside the bars.

“Daniel! What news?”

“Ask to be tried in Shrewsbury.”

“What? No, some stranger will take my case and won’t understand. It’s better if Robert has charge.”

William did not doubt that Daniel knew that he had things to hide, but he was surprised that Daniel would urge him to expose his sins to strangers.

“You’re a naive idiot, Will. You can get a fair hearing there. They say the Benedictine abbot is a righteous man.”

“Fair isn’t the issue. Robert will fix this, we’ve been friends too long. He’ll say some words and cast the demon out of me. He’ll get the praise he wants from the bishop and declare me cured. It’ll be fine.”

“You think that’s all he wants?”

“What else could there be?” Will was perplexed, not understanding why Daniel would turn against their friend. Their powerful friend who was going to get Will out of this prison.

But Daniel looked stricken, leaning his head against the bars. “Be well, Will.”

The next morning, he was brought out of his cell to a room deep under the castle. The guards pushed him to stand before Robert and the other Dominican, Friar Thomas. Their men-at-arms stood nearby, dicing and drinking. William wondered if they ever thought about the hypocrisy they practiced, these friars with their armies, how they violated the words of their savior.

He’d hope to see a smile or some sign of reassurance from Robert, but his old friend would not look at him, instead occupying himself with sheaf of parchment. It was perplexing, but he supposed that Robert couldn’t dismiss the charges out of hand without some show of examining him, if just for appearances.

Robert finally looked up. “You are charged with sodomy and heresy. We will deal with the sodomy charge first. Have you engaged in unnatural congress with another man?”

His pale eyes were hot but his voice was cold, a tone that William had never heard from his friend. He felt the first stirrings of terror roil his gut.

“Robert! Of course not!”

But one of the guards moved behind him, kicking him sharply behind his knee. He staggered falling forward onto his knees.

“That’s Friar Robert to you, damned sodomite.”

The terror was full-blown now and William felt sweat trickle down his back.

Robert asked, “Have you let another man kiss you?”


“Have you let another man touch your prick?”

“No, never.”

“Have you put your prick into another man?”

At least he could be completely honest this time, but Will carefully kept any hint on amusement out of his voice, trying for sincerity. “No.”

“Have you let another man take you like a woman, submitted to having your body entered?”

Will stared at his old friend, as if seeing him for the first time. Robert had always been ambitious, chafing at the circumstances that had kept him in their tiny hamlet. He’d always had a strict moral code . . . every act was either acceptable or a sin. Will had once admired Robert’s certainty, but now he saw a subtle wrongness in it. Perhaps Will himself was god-touched from his encounters with the forest lords, but his eyes told him that there was a core of rot within Robert, that his friend’s yearnings for greatness had allowed evil to flower within him.

He would get no help from Robert, but he might still escape with his life if he could convince them of his innocence.

“Answer the question, you filthy catamite.”

“No, damn you!”

Will tried to put as much outraged earnestness into his reply as he could. They were the ones in the wrong, not he, and perhaps he could get them to see it.

Robert shook his head. “William, poor soul, so defiant. It seems I must test the prisoner myself. Strip.”


But Robert nodded to guard who pulled out a knife and within moments, Will’s clothing was hanging in shreds. Will shivered, cold sinking into his bones from the cruel stones of the oubliette. The guard put the knife away and the other put down his jug, coming over to join him.

“Hold him.” Robert sounded almost bored.

The guards grabbed his shoulders, pressing him forward until his chest was down on the stones. He tried to get away, squirming frantically, but they were relentless. He’d been in this position before, but never like this, always with Xander’s hands gentle on his skin. He refused to cry, trying to ignore the tingling at the back of his eyes.

Robert stood up, pulling on a thin leather glove. He moved around behind William, who strained to see what was happening, but the guards’ grip was too strong. Fingers brushed over his backside and he tensed. Robert was stroking him softly and Daniel’s warning echoed in his head . . . You think that’s all he wants?

He’d been stupid, trusting to friendship. Daniel had known somehow. In that moment, Will understood Robert perfectly and knew with bitter certainty that he would not escape this. Robert could never let him go, not when Will had tasted the joy that Robert so desperately wanted for himself.

“I can always tell,” Robert mused and then without warning plunged two leather clad fingers into Will’s anus.

Will bit back a shriek at the pain but Robert wasn’t finished. He squirmed his fingers around, an obscene parody of Xander’s loving touch. But Will put Xander out of his mind. He would not get his life back, but he’d rather burn in Hell than betray his lover.

“The catamite is always torn by the force of entry. It is an inescapable fact of sodomy. It is obvious to the trained investigator upon physical examination.”

Will knew it was a lie, because Xander had never been aught but careful with him. Robert’s hand was still moving inside of him, but Will knew what he was after now, and he pulled his scorn around him like his velvet cloak.

“Robert, old friend, if you wanted some of this, you could have said. No need for all the theatrics.” He put as much seduction as he could manage into his voice, swallowing against the bile rising in his throat.

Robert froze and pulled out abruptly. Will couldn’t stop the hiss of pain as the leather dragged against his hole.

“Bring the pear,” Robert ordered. One of the guards let go of him and moved away. William tried to struggle but the remaining guard put a boot against his neck, pushing him down. William wanted to turn over, let that boot crush his throat. It would be easier.

Pain. That was his future. He knew what the pear was, had seen pictures in one of Master Bels’ books. It was the favorite torture for those who violated the rules of church sanctioned sexual practice, adulteresses and men who allowed other men to fuck them. It would rape him and mutilate his guts. It would kill him slowly in screaming agony.

The guard returned and then it was too late to end things quickly. The device was huge, steel with flowered inlay chased with brass. A beautiful piece of work if you ignored its purpose, and William shuddered at the human impulse to make a thing of such pain into a thing of beauty.

Robert did not hesitate, nodding to the guard who thrust it into William without warning and William howled with pain as the device speared into him. His guts were already burning.

“One turn,” Robert ordered.

The guard stood behind him and twisted the screw that expanded the leaves of the pear. Anguish poured like fire through him as the metal reft his body. They pulled him to his feet.

William’s head was spinning; he was barely aware when they forced him to kneel in front of the stocks and placed his fingers in the screws.

“Name the man who defiled you.”

William shook off his confusion, forcing his brain to work around the pain. He couldn’t afford to give into the anguish. There was too much that could be lost if he faltered.

He lifted his head. “Robert de Burgh.”

A mail-clad fist crashed into his face. William’s head lashed back and his tongue probed the broken edge of a tooth. Robert stepped forward and tightened the screws holding his thumbs. William knew that it was pointless to regret the loss of his fingers when his life was already well forfeit, but when the bone cracked in his left thumb, he sorrowed for all the swords his broken hands would never be able to forge.

“Name your lover.”

“No one.”

“Another turn,” Robert ordered. The guard stepped behind him and turned the screw of the pear again. Fresh agony blossomed in his vitals and he screamed.

“Who did you let into your body?”

Will screeched, pushing any thoughts of Xander out of his head. He latched instead onto his memories of Cernunnos the night beside the spring. The forest lord had eyes as deep as the far reaches of the night sky. Wise and powerful. He could not be reached by these petty sniveling tyrants. The forest god had touched Will and Uaine also had claimed him. William was nothing to these men; they could not have him because he already belonged to the old ones.

He could not imagine what kind of god would let men play so ill with other men in his name. William turned his face away from the faith of his childhood then, and accepted the older gods. They might be cruel, but it was the cruelty of a predator with its natural prey, never this deliberate degradation of humanity.

Robert picked up a heavy iron maul and swung it, connecting with Will’s shin. The bone cracked and Will shook his head, trying to defeat the scream that wanted exit his throat, but he couldn’t stop it.

So he changed it, letting it take him. “Cernunnos! Uaine! Your servant!”

The other Dominican seemed to come alert at that. He put William’s middle fingers in the screws.

“Who is your lord?”

“Thomas, we need the name of the other man.”

“In good time, Robert. Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils. Who is your lord?”

This one had the same eagerness as Robert did, but in this man it was cold, implacable. Robert ran hot, and his emotions were easy to see, but this friar was like an icy lump of iron that had never known the kiss of the fire. Friar Thomas took everything and gave nothing back, not even light. And Will feared him more than anyone he’d ever met.

Will shut his teeth against another wail as his fingers broke. He rested his face against his shoulder, sobbing, letting his tears mix with his sweat. He kept the image of proud, strong Cernunnos and the powerful lady of the forest in his mind.

Great waves of heat radiated from his broken leg, but his fingers were held fast and he could not find relief from the agony. Blood seeped down the backs of his thighs and he wondered wearily if the device inside him had torn him.

“Come now, William,” Robert said softly, his hand carding through Will’s hair. “Tell us what we want and we’ll take you to the healers.”

Part of William wanted desperately to lean into the kind touch, to take what comfort he could before all ended, but the rest of him would never relax his vigilance, for there was more at stake than just his own life.

“Who is your sodomizer?”

William had nothing, lost and alone, clinging to one name that could see him through the maze of terror created in the name of the dead god.


Robert pulled away with a hiss of frustration. He gestured sharply to the guard standing behind William, who bent to the screw protruding from Will’s backside, twisting it again, expanding the leaves of the deadly blossom inside William’s body.

Robert knelt beside Will, lips to Wills ear. “One more twist and it will open completely. Do you know how you will die then? With your bowels severed and the poisons in your body backing up like sewage in a breached pipe. And then you shall be killed by your own filth, drowning in it even as you have reveled in your depravity.”

Friar Thomas added, “He has no power here and we will drive him from this island. Our civilization is growing and this town is proof against the wild things.”

Will could not argue theology with the evil man. His tongue was loosening, his mouth out of his control, but Will fixed the image in his head, never releasing it. He would paint a picture with his words that would keep those he loved safe and fulfill his promise to Yonary. The weight of their lives pressed upon him and nearly quailed. But he forced himself to forget them, to concentrate instead on Cernunnos, to weave a tale so that he himself could do naught but believe it.

“He wears antlers on his head and goes about naked. He came to me once when I was sleeping and his touch brought me to full hardness, aching for him. His skin is green and no lock may hold him, no warding. At every turn he was there. He took me in the dark alleyways of the town, let in by the wickedness in my heart. The uncontrollable desire.”

He was raving, he knew it, but he never stopped building his fantasy of Cernunnos as his lover, describing in detail the acts the Horned Lord had performed on him, until he himself believed it the truth. It was sufficient.

“Enough!” Robert bellowed. “I will rend your sinful body!”

“No,” the other Dominican said with his dead voice. “This goes beyond heresy. He is apostate and must burn. The law of God is clear on this.”

Robert made an impatient noise and made a move to pull the pear out.

“Carefully, my brother. God wants him for the cleansing fire of virtue, not to die with shit oozing out his wounds. Friday is market day. He will be a good spectacle, I think.”

Robert grunted. “Yes, brother. You are correct to chasten me when my zeal to remove this blight from our world has blinded me.”

He backed the screw off only two turns though and Will felt something ripping when the pear came out with an abrupt jerk. More blood flowed down his legs, but he no longer cared. The stake was an agonizingly slow way to die and his mind was hiding in its terror.

Friar Thomas turned to the guards. “However, he has been insolent to the ordained representatives of the Pope. He must be punished for this as a child is, directly and firmly, so that he may be better schooled to understand his misdeeds. Twenty lashes.”

He and Robert left the room without a backwards glance as the first line of fire wrapped itself around Will’s exposed back. He jerked, instinctively trying to escape the pain, but he was still held fast in the stocks. The agony seemed unending and his mind retreated, running through cool green woods. He sensed that he was screaming but took an odd satisfaction, knowing that his spirit had gone elsewhere and his cries were insensate, the howls of an animal, not a man. He clung to the knowledge that he had not betrayed that which he loved.

It ended finally. His arms were seized and he was not quite conscious when he was dragged back to his cell.

19 A Prayer before Dying

He was grateful that his cell at least had a window. He could study the world he was losing, trying to reconcile himself to his losses. He had somehow known all his life how dangerous the church was to his existence. Perhaps he had some of Drusilla’s prophetic madness because he had always sensed the dangers the priests posed. But he’d never expected that his childhood friend would betray him to baser urges.

A phrase drifted through his mind as he stared at the distant mist-covered mountains. I lift up mine eyes unto the hills, Whence doth my help come? He didn’t know where the words came from, he must have heard it once. No help would come to him though.

Daniel came back the first night after his torture. Will couldn’t stand up to greet his friend but he raised a hand weakly, grateful for the small red-headed man who had never wavered in his friendship. Daniel was silent, his fingers tapping nervously on the bars to Will’s cell. Will had nothing to say either. Small talk would require too much energy, he thought.

“Helygen is breeding,” Daniel said finally.

That brought a small smile to Will’s sore mouth. “Then do not mourn me, my friend. Life will always go on, whether they will it or no.”

Tears tracked down Daniel’s face and his shoulders hunched. Will closed his eyes, not able to bear seeing his friend in distress over him. Daniel turned and left without speaking again.

He did not come back.

Will lay on the ground, curled against the stone wall for comfort. He dreamed that he could escape and flee to the east, to find his mother. Even if she were a whore in some far off place, he could join her, help her. He knew all about satisfying cock now, did he not, enough to make him a fine harlot.

But he shuddered, knowing that what he’d get wouldn’t be like Xander, it would be instead like Robert, men afraid of their own urges and willing to take their anger out on the body that tempted them. Whoring would be nothing but a slow death. No, better to die now and leave off suffering.

The night before he was to die was cold, the townspeople lighting fires against the spirits that haunted the dark. The next day was a high holy day as they celebrated their victory over the demons and gaunts and all the denizens of the middle kingdom. Little did they comprehend that the only demons in the town lurked in their very church, wearing the masks of men, but with hearts full of worms and black with rot.

He shuffled to the window, leaning against the wall and trying to keep his weight off his leg. It was bent awkwardly and he was fairly certain it was broken. The rough linen tunic shifted against his back as he moved, scraping his wounds, breaking them open and sending warm rivulets seeping across his skin. The pain inside was lessened, so he supposed that he was healing. Funny . . . the things a body could stand.

“I wished I’d listened to you, Xander,” he muttered. He should have known that he couldn’t talk himself out of this one. He felt bad for his lover because the wolf would never take another mate and Will’s stubbornness had condemned Xander to loneliness as long as the forest spirit would live.

He wanted to cry. He’d be dead before his body could finish healing. He wrapped his fingers around the thick bars, resting his forehead against the cool metal while he panted, fighting back the pain.

He was due for more, and his insides trembled at the thought. Burning was the worst way to go, and he hadn’t the inner peace of the martyrs of tales and songs. He would go screaming into his afterlife to whichever god cared to claim him. His mind veered away from thoughts of what was to come, for he knew that he would lose what was left of his wits if he were to dwell overlong on his fate.

A small slice of sky was visible and Will named the familiar constellations eagerly, glad that he could see them on his last night. As he calmed, a sound gradually penetrated his wretchedness . . . a wolf’s howl, lonely and full of misery.

Will knew who it was, who was mourning him, and he shivered. The wailing came from just beyond the borders of the forest, past where the town’s folk would go without good reason. The howls continued unceasingly, and his shivering stopped, comforted to know that Xander was out there and hadn’t abandoned him, even in the face of Will’s anger. He was warmed by memories of nights under the stars in the greenwood. He’d been a fool to push Xander away because the wolf hadn’t understood human fears and petty jealousies. Will pushed a hand through the bars, reaching for his lover, but at the same time his mind was shrieking in fear.

Don’t come for me, Xander. It won’t save me and I couldn’t bear it if they took you too.

They would do far worse to Xander if they ever caught him than they had done to Will himself. He’d accepted his own death, but he could never suffer it if Xander fell to them. Perhaps that’s what they hoped for when they put his death off for so many days . . . that his lover would ride to his rescue and they would have two souls to feed their hellish flames.

“Don’t come for me,” he whispered to the cold moon, waxing towards full, round and swollen nearly to term. But a ghost crossed the face of the moon and Will held his hand out without thinking.

The hunting owl landed on his arm with a crash of wings, cruel talons digging in, bringing more of his blood to drip down his arm. Will stared into its wild eyes, trying to find any hint of compassion in his father’s gaze. But there was none. Instead, Will saw something that he hadn’t ever imagined he wanted . . . freedom.

To be free of the children who had taunted him, the holy men who abhorred him, the women who barely tolerated him . . . all the people who couldn’t accept any differences among their folk. But to give up the world of men, to be an exile from the people he’d known all his life. To give up the craft that he knew so well. It was a hard choice.

But this world would lead only to his death.

For months his life had been divided between town and wood. Where did his heart lay?

He could accept the other part of his heritage, the part that he’d tried to hide and evade all his life, not knowing what it was that he feared. The part that had brought him to Xander.

“I love him.”

The bird shifted, claws tightening, but Will refused to complain. But it shook its head, making a small noise and Will saw there was something in its beak. He held out his other hand and a cold piece of metal dropped into it even as his fingers tightened reflexively around it.

“Thank you.”

The white owl spread its wings, a powerful downstroke as it launched itself from Will’s wrist. He pulled his hand inside, ignoring the blood steadily dripping from his arm.

The metal was slim and flat, flexible. Will looked closely at it. The steel had a warm glow to it, nearly a rosy colour. He had seen enough smithies to know that each smith used a slightly different mix of metals to transform brittle iron into hard steel. He would know the colour anywhere. His eyes burned. Either Yonary or Master Bels had given him their sanction. Whatever he had done, they were with him.

He looked around, but there wasn’t much in this bare cell that could help him, so he ripped the remaining shreds of his smock up, and wrapped them tightly around his leg. He bit his lip bloody trying not to scream as the ragged ends of bone dragged.

William gripped the bit metal precariously between his unbroken fingers, slipping it into the keyhole. He concentrated, heart beating frantically in fear of being discovered. The metal slipped between his swollen fingers, his injuries making him clumsy. The metal rasped uselessly inside the lock and he leaned his head against the iron bars, panting and sweating from his efforts. Freedom was so close and he suddenly wasn’t ready for death anymore.

Outside, a harsh shout went up and feet pounded through the corridors of the keep. William looked frantically for someplace to hide the metal, thinking his effort was discovered. But the shouts resolved into screams of ‘fire’ and he hurried to the window. He saw a flaming arrow hit one of the houses nearby and he wanted to howl in frustration. The townspeople would never stand an attack from the forest. Then he realised that the bolts came from the fields to the east. Clever.

The diversion gave him hope and he staggered back to the door, resolved to puzzle out the lock. He ignored his pains until the lock finally clicked open. Every step sent blinding bolts of hot pain through his leg, lighting a fire in his spine as he walked. The jagged ends of the bones scraped with every step and he fought the pain back, struggling for breath. Pain seemed to spear up his leg to someplace in his chest. He was nearly naked, not enough left of his tunic for decency.

He hobbled into the shadows, keeping to the edge of buildings. William refused to think how much more damage he was doing to his leg. He couldn’t afford to stop moving. Life thrummed through him and with it came a low call, tingling at the very edges of his senses. It was the old ones, pulling him towards them. He would give himself into their care, if it was the last breath of his life.

The chill wind plucked at him, and he shivered in his rags. Another shadow crossed the light. The owl was back.

Something large and heavy fell from its talons and William put his hands out instinctively. Heavy velvet fell into his hands, wrapping around his arms from the impact. His cloak. He pulled it around himself hurriedly, the blood-red color very nearly black in the deep of the night. It hid his pale skin and hair from sight.

“Thank you . . . father,” he whispered into the air.

He rested a moment against the huge bole of one of the outlying trees, his fingers seeking a sign of the life that he knew dwelt within it. The feeling of slow and ponderous life beneath the bark reassured him. He moved on, staggering now as he slowly lost the will to keep his battered body moving. But the trees rose up around him, thick and tall.

Will stopped, looking back at the town, the alarm dying down as the fires were extinguished, until it was quiet again under the moonlight.

Then he turned his back on it, and slipped in between the trees, plunging into blackness.

But then there was warm fur and a familiar musk, and he wound his fingers through the thick pelt, tears leaking from his eyes in spite of his resolve.

Arms came around him, strong arms that wouldn’t release him and for the first time in his life, Will knew he was where he belonged. He was lifted up securely in Xander’s arms and borne away.


The moon flirted coyly with the clouds, peeking out from the thick layer of vapor and then disappearing. Branches shifted restlessly in the night breeze, scraping against each other, a rebeck song that played out every night.

Will threw his head back, his silvery hair spilling down his spine across his shoulder blades. He opened his mouth, wailing, as he was shoved upwards. He flexed his thighs gripping the body under him tightly while hands held him impaled on a thick cock.

The moon reappeared briefly, shedding the light of her blessings on him and Will howled again, his body tightening. He arched, back bowing as he ground himself onto his lover. Lightening forked through him, leaving him finally through the tip of his prick while he writhed. Liquid heat flooded his insides and he gasped, knowing that Xander had found release as well.

When it was over, he slumped forward, panting. Xander’s arms were around him, holding him in place while Xander’s cock still held him open. A gentle hand stroked his hair, lifting argent strands to play in the moon’s light.

Will roused finally, meeting Xander’s liquid brown eyes. His lover smiled at him, full of the happy innocence that Xander had never lost.

“It’s a lovely night.”

Will smiled back. “It is.”

“I feel like running . . . until I can’t anymore.”

He tightened his legs, lifting up, an involuntary whimper escaping as Xander pulled out of him. Will sat back on his heels, seeing Xander sprawled on his velvet cloak, the color leached out in the moonlight, but knowing from hundreds of times like this how Xander’s pale skin glowed against the blood red fabric.

Xander stood up, shaking the heavy velvet free of leaves and forest litter. He wrapped the cloak around Will’s shoulders, pushing the hood back so that Will’s long hair swung free. His eyes were full of appreciation and Will straightened, thinking of how he must look, clad in nothing but red velvet and moonlight.

“My mate,” Xander breathed reverently, and Will flushed with happiness. “You are so beautiful. Join me? Take the night with me?”

“Of course,” Will affirmed.

He stretched his arms out, thinking of soft pinions and night-seeing eyes, calling up the owl that dwelled within him. His fingers elongated, hair turning into feathers. The cloak disappeared but he well knew that it would return when he regained his human form. His eyes enlarged and the details of the night came into sharp focus. He could see every strand of hair on the large wolf standing beside him. His nose curved and his feet became strong talons gripping the duff.

Xander stood, shaking his fur out from his own change. He lifted his nose, scenting the night and Will thought how lucky he was to have found such a man . . . handsome and powerful and loyal. Xander turned, his lips curling in a wolfish grin and then he spun away into the darkness of the forest.

Will unfurled his wings, crouching through the powerful down sweep and then he was aloft, riding the currents of the air, his lame leg no hindrance to his aerial dance with the sky and the clouds. Far below him, his keen night eyes picked out the shape of a running wolf ghosting among the trees. Will tilted his wings to follow his mate, floating free in the soaring currents.

He thought that if he flew far enough, he might touch the moon.

The End

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