“‘Let’s go camping, Krish!’ they said. ‘We’ll spend the night in the freezing-ass woods, and then spend the next day at the local tourist trap festival!’ they said. ‘It’ll be a fun way to end our backpacking tour of Wales!’” I muttered to myself as I stopped my headlong rush through the trees and leaned against one that didn’t look too mossy or damp. “‘It’s impossible to get lost, Krish! There are markers everywhere, Krish!’ Yeah, right. Hansel and Gretl had the right idea.”
I had been walking in the woods for twenty minutes and had dutifully followed the green trail-markers, but soon they’d disappeared altogether. So, I’d stumbled along through the foggy forest, worried for another half-hour, before finally admitting I was completely lost.
I looked up at the overcast sky. It was already getting dark, the leaden light fading quickly. I hoped it wouldn’t rain, but the way my luck had been going since we’d left Cardiff for the countryside, I had no doubt it’d be flood conditions before I found my way back to the campground and my waiting friends.
I sighed, burying my face in my grubby hands. John and Dierdre had probably already gotten the campsite set up and were roasting S’mores while I was still trying to find the rental car to grab the forgotten boom box so we could listen to some music. But I was utterly adrift beyond the range of the ubiquitous, but not very helpful green markers.
I’d been so sure that I was walking in the right direction. Even without the green markers, I’d recognized landmarks: a boulder, broken and splattered with bird shit; a fallen tree blocking the path John and Dierdre clambered over on the way to the campsite, while I’d simply gone around; and a small pond that we’d all walked around.
Having gone way past those landmarks and way past the point where the car and the road leading out of this outdoors hell-hole should have been, I was starting to doubt the way I’d come. After all, I was no wilderness expert. This, in the boonies of Wales, was my very first camping trip, though not John and Dierdre’s.
Sighing again, I came to one conclusion. I had to swallow my pride and retrace my steps back to the campsite. Let John or Dierdre go after the boom box if they were so keen to have music. I straightened up and looked around, noticing the fog was now so thick I could barely see around me for more than a few yards. And it was nothing but trees and damp, loamy earth that hadn’t held my footprints.
“Fuck,” I breathed. “This isn’t good.”
Starting to panic, I began walking back the way I thought I’d come, trying not to think things like death by bear or death by exposure. Of course, the way I was going seemed to take me deeper into the heavy fog, until I couldn’t even see five feet in front of me.
Panic mounted, causing me to pick up my pace until I was running. And I knew it was dangerous bolting pell-mell through a thick forest in such an impenetrable fog, but the sensible part of me was drowned out by the frantic need to get back to a place and the people I knew.
I ran and ran until I tripped over the root of a tree and went sprawling on my front, face in the dirt. The fall knocked the wind out of me and I groaned, spitting out soil, while my right ankle screamed like a wounded mountain cat. I was near tears when, out of nowhere, I heard it…faint, but there.
Hoof-falls. Unhurried and relatively nearby, if they could be heard in the fog and damp, squishy earth.
“Help!” I yelled, scrambling to my knees, and then to my feet. My right ankle was useless agony that couldn’t bear my weight, but I hobbled toward the hoof-falls nonetheless. I even began waving my arms, though the rider probably wouldn’t see me till he or she was almost on top of me because of the fog. “Help! Please! I’m lost!”
The hoof-falls stopped. Then they began to canter toward me through the fog, which moved and thinned with the advent of a stiff breeze.
“I’m over here! Help!”
In another few seconds of heart-pounding panic and hope, a shape emerged from the grey murk. It was a large brown horse, almost as big as a Clydesdale, wearing fancy blue tack, like something out of a Ren-Faire. And on its back, in keeping with its theme of medieval splendor, was…
I blinked. Then blinked again as the knight, in full mail armor and surcoat, stared down at me from his lofty height. Dark, wary, grim eyes took me in, and the knight unsheathed a huge sword that may have been a Claymore.
He pointed the maybe-Claymore at me and spoke commandingly in Welsh, his words clipped, incomprehensible, and angry.
“I…I don’t understand you,” I said, shrugging and shaking my head. The knight frowned even more ferociously and gestured tersely with his sword. He repeated whatever it was he’d said the first time, and when I continued to stare at him blankly, he made a sound of distaste.
“English?” he said gruffly, looking me over once more. I didn’t know if he was asking if that was what language I spoke or if I was from England.
“Uh, I speak English. But I’m from America.” I held up my hands slowly to show I meant no harm, just in case the sword was real and this guy took Ren-Faire a bit too seriously. “I was camping with my friends, and I got lost. I was hoping you could…”
And there I fell silent. I couldn’t give him directions to the campsite since I was already lost, but he probably knew where the road was. And if I could get to the road, I could find my way to the rental and wait there till morning, or whenever John and Dierdre took it into their heads to come looking for me.
“Could you just tell me where the road is?” I finished with a squeak as the knight quickly dismounted with a jingle of metal. He took a few steps toward me, sword still held up, and I began to limp back, wincing and hissing. For every step back I took, he took one forward until I hit a tree.
The knight, still looking grim but less wary, came close enough that I could smell sweat, metal, and horse. He was an inch or two shorter than me, and what little of his face was visible in his mail helmet was pale and slightly dirty. His nose was long and crooked, as if it’d been broken and badly set. Perhaps more than once. His dark eyes were round and wide-set. His beard and mustache were neatly trimmed and barely hid a thin, down-turned mouth.
“You are strangely dressed, lad,” he said in the musically lilting accent I’d come to associate with Welsh English. He reached out and rubbed the material of my dark blue parka and looked me over once more before meeting my eyes, looking a bit puzzled. “From whence do you hail?”
Oh, boy, was this guy really into his role as brave Sir Knight. I was just glad he knew English, after all. “Like I said, I’m from America. San Francisco, to be specific.” I fought not to roll my eyes as he stared at me blankly. Obviously those place names meant nothing to him. How deep into the Welsh countryside had I wandered, anyway?
“I’m from really far away,” I settled for saying as the knight stepped even closer and sniffed me. “Uh, personal space is not just a concept, pal.”
“Your speech is even stranger than your attire,” the knight noted, and I huffed.
“Well, that’s the pot calling the kettle—hey, could you please stop sniffing me? It’s weirding me out.”
The knight took a step back and shook his head. “Methinks you are from farther afield than I have e’er been,” he said. Then he said something else, this time in what was clearly Spanish, and I could only shrug again. The knight sighed. “I had taken you for Spanish because of your dark looks, yet you do not understand me when I speak that tongue. Odd.”
“Not really, when you consider that I’m not Hispanic.” I rolled my eyes. In my life, I’d been mistaken for Hispanic more times than I cared to count. Not a bad thing in itself, but I was Indian, not Puerto Rican, not Mexican, not Cuban, and not from Spain. I just didn’t expect to get it in Wales. In the middle of a forest. From a guy pretending to be from Ye Olde Wales in his spare time. “Look, can you just tell me how to get to the road? I need to get back to my car before it gets too dark to see.”
The knight bit his bottom lip for a moment. “I can stand you better than mere directions, lad. I can offer you a ride to the Great Road.” He sheathed his sword and looked me over yet again, his gaze lingering at my right foot. “You are injured, are you not?”
“Uh, I guess. I think I sprained it.” Blushing, I tried to put weight on the ankle and hissed again when agony shot up my leg, hot and sharp. I began to rethink sprained in favor of broken. Just my luck. “Damnit!”
“Hmm.” The knight looked around us, then up at the sky. Within the hour, it’d be full dark, and there was no moon to light the way. “It grows late. Night approaches.”
“Yeah, I—hey!” I squawked as the knight darted forward and scooped me up in his arms like I was some damned damsel in distress. Like I weighed next to nothing, which okay, maybe I did. A buck fifty-nine soaking wet is pretty skinny for my height. I flailed and swore while the knight carried me in his arms toward his patient horse. “Put me down!”
And he did. On his horse. With no help from me. I barely thought to swing my right leg out of the way of the horse’s barrel body as the knight placed me on the animal. Then I was sitting astride, gazing down at him with a mixture of awe and fear.
“Boy, you really take this Ren-Faire shit seriously, don’t you?” I asked, and he frowned.
“I know not of what you speak, lad,” he replied, shaking his head just as I had a few minutes ago. Then he was swinging up behind me, pressing his body to mine as he slid his arms past me to grasp the reins. I, for my part, grasped two handfuls of the horse’s mane and tried not to clench too hard. “But tell me how you are called, that I may address you properly.”
“Krish. Uh, Krishnan Nayar.” I leaned forward a little as the horse began to walk, trying to put a little space between my body and that of good Sir Knight. “What’s your name?”
A few moments passed before he answered. “I am Bleddyn ap Rhys, of Sir Gaernarfon,” he said quietly, his breath warm on my neck. I shivered and blushed, glancing around to distract myself. I spotted a semi-familiar boulder that looked like the one John, Dierdre, and I had passed to get to the campsite, only it wasn’t broken, nor was it covered in bird shit. It looked brand-spanking-new, if a boulder can be said to look that way.
There’s a simple explanation, dumbass. It’s a different boulder, I told myself, but I couldn’t quite believe that. Except for looking newer and cleaner, it was exactly the same size and shape as the boulder I remembered.
“Where the hell am I?” I muttered to myself.
Bleddyn ap Rhys heard me, anyway, and said, “You are in Gwydir Forest, on the baronet’s lands, between Trefriw and Llanrwst.”
Which sort of made sense. I remembered Dierdre pointing out those weird-ass names on her ever-present map. But I said nothing, merely looked around while we still had light so that, if necessary, I could find my way back to—well, the spot where I’d turned up lost in the first place.
A sudden howl went up from the woods far behind us and I tensed. Bleddyn ap Rhys leaned closer to me.
“Worry not, Krishnan of Nayar,” he murmured softly. “For the wolves herein are neither bold nor famished. Merely curious and watchful.”
“Famous last words.” I shuddered and grasped the horse’s mane a bit tighter, not wanting to fall off when freaking wolves were about, though that was unlikely with Bleddyn ap Rhys’s arm bracketing me.
With a click of his teeth, Bleddyn urged the horse on a bit faster. And sooner rather than later, the trees began to thin, until I could see the road ahead. Only it wasn’t paved anymore. The asphalt was gone, and in its place was a well worn, wide, but nonetheless dirt path.
I couldn’t even find the words to express my dismay till we were actually on the so-called road, and a glance down it in either direction showed nothing but more unpaved glory, filled with ruts and holes.
“Where’d the road go?” I demanded.
“We are on it,” Bleddyn said stolidly, reining his horse in.
“No, I mean where’d the asphalt go? Where’s the road itself?”
“I know not what az-vault is, but you sit in the Great Road of Baronet John Wynn’s lands. The only road that runs from Trefriw to Llanrwst.”
“But where’d the paving go?” I asked again, almost close to panic once more. I craned my neck to see farther down the dirt road, but what I could see was all dirt, too.
“Pave the Great Road?” Bleddyn sounded amused. “With stones? Know you how far this Road runs, Krishnan of Nayar?”
“No, but I know it was paved the last time I was on it. And our car was here, too!”
“Excuse me, our auto. It was right here. I know it was,” I said, my voice gone shrill and anxious.
Bleddyn put his gloved right hand on my arm comfortingly. “Calm yourself, lad. You’re confused and perhaps bestartled on top of being lost, but there’s naught to be gained by panic.”
I glanced over my shoulder at him. “Easy for you to say. You haven’t lost your friends, your car, and an entire road!”
“No, I have not.” Bleddyn sighed. “Perhaps, in light of the pass you find yourself in, you should accompany me to my lord’s castle, and there we may be able to help you.”
“Castle? There’s a castle around here?” I demanded, for a moment wondering why, when we could’ve gone on a tour of a castle and probably slept in a cozy B&B, John and Dierdre had dragged us all camping.
“There is. Gwydir Castle is but a brief ride from here and where I was bound, till I heard your cries for aid.”
All right, I thought with relief. Gwydir Castle must be where this whole Ren-Faire thing is based. Maybe I can crash there until I can get a forest ranger or whoever to help me find John and Dierdre.
“Okay, sure. Take me to your castle,” I said, too tired to keep freaking out about the road. Maybe I’d wandered farther in the forest than I’d thought, and made my way parallel to the road to some part of it that was under construction.
Yeah. That had to be it.
Gwydir “Castle” wasn’t really much of one.
It was more like a fortified manor house, two stories of stone and sprawling. As we rode into a muddy courtyard that smelled, I gazed around wide-eyed at this ultra-realistic rendition of a medieval castle and environs.
There were actors around, “working,” though who-all they were working for was beyond me, since I didn’t spot a single person who looked like a tourist. No one dressed like me. Everyone was dressed in their period outfits and occupied with period duties. But that didn’t stop them from double-taking when they saw me, reflecting my own gape.
“Your friends are all staring at me,” I whispered to Bleddyn, whose hand had migrated from my arm to my waist and stayed there during our ride.
“You are strangely dressed and obviously a foreigner to these lands,” he said, and I laughed a tad nervously.
“Sir, your sweet words of flattery will completely turn my head if you’re not careful.”
For a moment, Bleddyn stiffened behind me. Then he was stopping his horse near what could only be the stables and was swinging down with the ease of long practice, when someone called his name from behind us. We both looked around to see a tall-ish man approaching us on foot. He was even more solidly built than Bleddyn and dressed much the same, with thatchy blond hair and a conventionally handsome face.
“Bleddyn, lle wert ti? Mae’n hwyr,” he said easily, his open smile revealing long, slightly discolored teeth. He looked from Bleddyn to me, dismissing me before looking back to Bleddyn. Then he looked at me astride Bleddyn’s horse, and his friendly, open expression closed as he pursed his lips. “Pwy yw hwn? Mae rhai bachgen sipsiwn potsio ar diroedd yr Arglwydd John?”
Oddly enough, I could sort of understand a little of what he’d said. Something about how late it was and was I a gypsy? But his voice was frosty and disapproving underneath its seeming good humor. I looked down at Bleddyn and he looked up at me, his brow furrowed in concern.
“Fear not for your safety, Krishnan of Nayar, for you will find naught but friends here,” Bleddyn finally murmured, holding out his hand. I searched his serious eyes and nodded, taking the offered hand and Bleddyn helped me down, all under the hostile, watchful gaze of the blond.
“This,” Bleddyn announced in English, no doubt for my benefit, “is Krishnan of Nayar. He became injured and lost in the forest. I heard his cries for help and have brought him here to be seen by Lord John.”
“Oh, aye?” the blond said in the same frosty, but superficially jovial tone, his eyes ticking between us, and then back down at our hands, which were still clasped. We both quickly let go. The blond’s smile didn’t change, but his eyes grew colder and hooded. “Welladay.”
We three stood for almost a minute in the most uncomfortable silence I’d ever been privy to. The blond finally snorted and turned away, striding off toward a long outbuilding near the castle. “Mae eich tad yn edrych ar eich cyfer gynharach. Roedd yn dymuno siarad â chi,” he tossed over his shoulder as he went, his bearing stiff and angry. I could pick out the word for father, earlier, and speak, from what he’d said.
Bleddyn sighed, shaking his head and watching the blond go with confusion and no small amount of frustration. “Diolch, Dafydd,” he called, an obvious thank you.
Huh, I thought, looking back and forth between my rescuer and his friend. When Bleddyn caught me staring at him, he cleared his throat and turned back to the stable, calling out a word I couldn’t quite make out. A few moments later, a boy of about twelve came to take his horse, and we made our way in the squelching mud to the “castle.”
It all looks and smells so real, I thought as I limped, with Bleddyn’s assistance, into Castle Gwydir, garnering more stares as I went. It was really starting to grate on me.
“Look, Bleddyn, you’ve been great, helping me and all, but can you just take me straight to a phone? I’m really starting to worry about my friends,” I said as we made slow progress down the front hall of Gwydir Castle. It was all damp, but clean stone, tapestries, and ancient, yet new-looking furniture I couldn’t put a name to. Whoever had set all this up had really outdone themselves.
Bleddyn hitched my arm more firmly across his shoulders and tightened his arm around my waist. “I know not what a phone is, Krish-lad, but if your companions are a-lost in the Forest, my lord may be willing to send out a party of men to search for them.”
I rolled my eyes. “Okay, you get an A for effort and acting ability, but isn’t it time to stop this Ren-Faire baloney and just talk like a normal person?”
Bleddyn frowned and opened his mouth to answer, but at that moment, a voice hailed Bleddyn from down the long hall. It belonged to a man of my height, wearing mail armor similar to Bleddyn’s but for the lack of helm. His dark hair, beard, and mustache were shot through with grey. He approached swiftly, the jingle of his mail loud in the cavernous hall. As he drew closer, his eyes darted to me, then back to me, widening as he took me in.
He demanded something of Bleddyn in Welsh and Bleddyn tightened his arm around me again.
“This is Krishnan of Nayar. He was lost in the Forest and injured himself,” Bleddyn said in English, for my benefit, I imagined. The man who’d greeted him so harshly sneered at me as Bleddyn went on. “He was separated from his traveling companions while in search of the Great Road.”
“And what, pray tell, were ye doing on Lord Wynn’s land?” the man asked me suspiciously. His version of English was thicker and even more antiquated than Bleddyn’s. “Poaching?”
“What? No, I wasn’t. Look, I appreciate your dedication to realism and everything, but this is getting out of hand!” I said, standing straighter and leaning less on Bleddyn. “Can you guys all just cut the crap and let me use a phone, for God’s sake? I need to get back to my friends so we can get the Hell out of here and back to Cardiff before anything else crazy happens to us!”
Now the man was frowning. “Caerdyf, mean ye? And what be ye’re business there?”
I found myself getting defensive. I didn’t like his tone, the way he’d spoken to Bleddyn, or the way he kept glancing at Bleddyn’s arm around my waist with that look of suspicion increasing, as well as burgeoning disgust.
“My business there,” I began with poisoned patience, “is leaving this awful country as soon as humanly possible. It’s been one thing after another since the day we got here. I just want to get back to Heathrow, catch my flight back to the U.S., and pretend I never came here if that’s all right with you!”
“Ye’re impertinent, lad,” the man noted grimly, ignoring almost everything I’d just said. “Has nane thought to teach ye proper respect for yer betters?”
“Father,” Bleddyn started before I could show this jerk what real disrespect was. Then I was glancing between the two men in shock. Father? “He is exhausted and injured, and among strangers after being lost in the forest. Surely he may be excused his impertinence and extended the hospitality of the castle?” Bleddyn cleared his throat. “I have promised him at least that.”
“That was not yer promise t’make, Bleddyn.” The man glared down his long nose at me and sighed with great irritation. Of course they were father and son. They had the same ski-slope schnozz, though this man’s nose was crooked in the other direction. But they also had that same grim look in their dark eyes, not to mention the way their brows furrowed.
Bleddyn’s father turned on his heel and walked away. “I’ll let the baronet know we’re to have a guest.”
“My thanks, father!” Bleddyn called after the man’s rapidly disappearing back. Then he was helping me walk again, taking the same route down the hall his father had taken.
“He seems like a swell guy,” I muttered.
“Please excuse his bluntness. Such is the manner of soldiers,” Bleddyn said, sounding rather nonplussed. I shrugged, and didn’t say that I thought his father was simply a boor of the first water. We limped along in silence for a minute before I could think of anything to say.
“Um. Where’re you taking me, now?” I asked wearily, my hopes of finding a phone and help dwindling with each labored, aching step I took.
“To a bathing room, where you may make yourself more presentable for his lordship.” Bleddyn replied as we turned off into a stairwell. A long and winding one, which made me sigh. We began to climb. “You look to be approaching my cousin in stature, and I am certain his clothing will fit you.”
“But if I’m wearing his clothes, then what will your cousin wear?” I said with pointed snark, and Bleddyn was silent a moment before speaking.
“William is dead,” was all he said, without inflection, and I gaped. Either Bleddyn ap Rhys was the best actor in the world, or I’d just stuck my foot in it without even trying.
The latter being a common enough occurrence, I hung my head. “I’m…so sorry, Bleddyn. I didn’t mean—”
“It…was a long time ago. He rests, now, in the arms of the Savior. The time of grieving for William is done,” Bleddyn said, also without inflection. I wisely refrained from asking why, if that was the case, Bleddyn still kept William’s clothes.
This was, I’d decided, not a Ren-Faire or tourist trap, after all, but some sort of cult or sect, like the Amish, that lived like it was the 1600s. These people weren’t actors, they were really living this squalid, no electricity, no running water, let’s-ride-horseys kind of life. The only explanation that fit was that this was a bunch of people hearkening back to their medieval roots. I may not have seen them, but I was sure weirder sects had to be out there.
Bleddyn lead me to a bathing room that contained several wooden tubs and asked me to wait there, while he went to retrieve William’s old clothes.
So, I leaned against a wall near the door and waited. Eventually, the door opened and in came several women, each bearing two buckets of steaming water that I wouldn’t have been able to lift. I blushed when the last one came in and put her buckets down, looking me over.
Like everyone else I’d seen in this place, she was dressed in period clothes, her homespun calico dress topped by a pristine white apron. She had a matronly air, and blonde hair escaped from her bonnet in wisps and strands.
“Ye must be the Spanish lad Bleddyn found wandering the Forest,” she asserted, arms akimbo on ample hips.
“I must be,” I sighed, not bothering to correct her. She smiled, showing three missing teeth.
“Ye’re a handsome one! But don’t you go stealin’ the hearts of my girls!” she admonished, only half-joking.
My eyebrows shot up, and I snorted. “Yeah, you don’t actually have to worry about that,” I said dryly.
“Hmph!” The woman turned and began directing the others to empty their buckets into one of the wooden tubs, shooing me away when I offered to help.
So, I found myself leaning against the wall again when Bleddyn came back sans his armor. He seemed less bulky and more wiry, and he was carrying folded clothes not so different from what he was wearing: a pullover grey tunic, breeches, and hose, all somewhat faded, probably from washing.
He actually smiled when he saw me, and it transformed the harsh planes of his features. Surrounded by a corona of dark, slightly flattened curls, his face looked younger than I’d initially thought. Almost boyish, especially with those smudges of dirt on it.
“Uh,” I said with my customary quick intelligence, taking the clothes he was offering and blushing. “Thank you.”
“You are most welcome, Krishnan.”
I grinned my most charming grin. “Please, call me Krish.”
“Krish.” Bleddyn’s smile widened, showing off teeth that were a little crooked, but clean and all there. “I’ll, erm…I suppose I shall leave you to your ablutions.”
Or you could join me, I thought, but again refrained from saying it. I didn’t know how it’d go over, and I couldn’t pull off a line like that to save my life. Not even as a joke. “O-okay, Bleddyn. But, um, when I’m done, do I just wait here for you?”
Sketching a shallow bow, Bleddyn nodded once. “I will return at the chiming of the great clock in the hall, for that is when supper will be served.”
“So that gives me almost an hour?” The clock had chimed once already, as we were climbing the stairs. Prima donna that I am, I figured even I could repair the damage wandering around the ass-end of the U.K. had done in an hour.
“Supper with his lordship is at half-six. It is now ten past.”
“You mean I have twenty minutes?!” I groaned and ran my hands through my hair. Just then, the women who’d brought in the hot water hustled out of the room, including the matronly woman, who winked at me as she was going. As she passed, she grabbed Bleddyn’s arm and tugged him after her, saying something about someone named Gareth being inconsolable without him all afternoon.
“It’s because he missed you,” she said gently as they left. Bleddyn sighed.
“He’ll understand in time why I’m so often gone. Just as I did when—”
Then the door shut behind them, and I was alone in the bathing room, wondering who in the Hell this Gareth person was, why he was so inconsolable over Bleddyn’s absence, why Bleddyn sounded so genuinely guilty and aggrieved—heartsore—and why I was suddenly feeling what most certainly could not be jealousy.
Hey, even Welsh guys who live like it’s medieval times can have boyfriends, I told myself sternly. And why do I even care? It’s not like I’m even going to be here at this time tomorrow. No sense crushing on a guy I’ll never see again. And for all I know he’s straight. Happily married to a woman, with six kids…
But something in me rebelled at that. My gaydar was as accurate as it came, and Bleddyn may have been many things, but happily married to a woman was not one of them. Which left only one thing I could figure, and, yep, that was definitely jealousy I was feeling in response to it.
I can’t believe he has a boyfriend! Why are the good ones always taken?
Then the clock chimed, a muffled bell-tone that rang throughout the castle. While I’d been woolgathering about this Gareth person and what his relationship might be to Bleddyn, five minutes had passed.
“Fuck my life,” I said to absolutely no one. Then I was hurrying out of my dirty clothes.
Once I was as clean as I could get myself in fifteen minutes with hot water, the washrag, and a huge chunk of brown soap, I opened the door to the bathing room and limped into the cool air of the hall. Bleddyn was waiting for me, leaning against the wall opposite the door. He looked up when I came out, and he smiled again. Cue my heart beating faster in a way I was not exactly thrilled about, considering.
“You look well,” Bleddyn said, still giving me the eye. I blushed and tugged on the waist of the buckle-up breeches. The clothes were the right length, though a bit loose on me. The woolen hose itched.
“Thank you. I mean, for the bath and the clothes,” I fumbled out, running a hand over my damp hair and grinning anxiously. “I feel much better. Even my ankle. It’s like my mother always says, there’re few bad things in life that a good, hot bath can’t cure.”
“She sounds like a wise woman,” Bleddyn said approvingly, and I laughed.
“She thinks so, at any rate.”
We stared at each other for a few moments, me blushing, him doing the same. At least until I cleared my throat. Then I remembered all this blushing and banter was pointless, since Bleddyn already had a…Gareth.
“Is, uh, Gareth doing better since your, um, return?” I asked tentatively, putting on what I hoped was a concerned and altruistic tone. Bleddyn’s smile widened and relaxed at the same time.
“He is as ever he is—a little hellion. Much as I was, at his age.” Bleddyn chuckled, confusing me. Was he dating some barely legal twink? “But a cup of warm milk and the beginning of a bedtime story, and he was asleep in mere minutes.”
This last was said fondly, tenderly, and I was starting to doubt my gaydar all over again. But then, I had a sudden realization. “How old is he, if you don’t mind me asking? How old is your son?”
“He is three years old,” Bleddyn said proudly, but he also sounded baffled, as if wondering where and how the time had gone. Then he sighed and met my eyes again. “In another few years, he’ll be too old for stories from his Tad and cups of warm milk.”
“But you’ll never be too old to want to give them to him. To soothe him, and send him off to dreamland sweetly,” I said, nodding, even as Bleddyn nodded. “Your son is lucky to have such a dedicated father.”
Bleddyn’s smile faded a little. “I am often too busy and too far away to be called that. Gareth is lucky, yes, but that’s because since his mother’s death, the women of the castle have had the raising of him, and they have lavished him with love that his dead mother and absent father could not,” he finished softly, with muted regret, and I was keenly aware of having stuck my foot in it, yet again. Only this time, it was worse than a dead cousin. It was a dead wife.
“I’m sorry, Bleddyn. So sorry for your loss.”
Bleddyn’s waved his hand. “There is nothing to be sorry for. Rhiannon, like William, rests in the arms of the Savior. In a place where sickness and pain cannot touch her. And she smiles down on her son and, I hope, me. And one day, if I live a virtuous and good life, I will join them both in our Eternal Home.”
Tears sprang to my eyes at the wistful note in his voice. It made me sad that the only thing this man felt he had to look forward to, aside from telling his son bedtime stories, was dying to join his family in the afterlife.
But I could totally understand the feeling. For I missed my father, now eight years dead. And I missed my mother. I missed Dierdre and John. I missed home, and that pang of homesickness was so great it nearly swallowed me whole.
Bleddyn frowned. “You are upset?”
“No, no, I just—I’m worried, I guess. About my friends.”
“I have already spoken briefly with his lordship about your companions, and he is willing to begin a search of the Gwydir Forest for them on the morrow, after sunrise.”
Ecstatic, I whooped and threw my arms around Bleddyn, hugging him tight. “Oh, thank you, thank you!” I said into his hard shoulder, so relieved I didn’t even care I was embracing a near-stranger. Bleddyn, for his part, hugged me back after a moment, for a moment, then cleared his throat and let me go almost reluctantly. When he stepped back, he was blushing so deeply, he looked like a beet. My gaydar began pinging again, bringing with it an unnamed hope and joy I immediately dismissed as silly.
“It is not my generosity, but his lordship, the baronet’s,” Bleddyn said quietly, not meeting my eyes.
“Maybe. But you’re the one who talked him into it, admit it,” I said, chuckling and linking my arm through his. Together, we began to hobble down the hall, but it was definitely a faster hobble than I’d been capable of half an hour ago. I cautiously upgraded the status of my ankle from possibly broken to badly-sprained.
Things were, at last, finally starting to look up.
The baronet’s personal dining room was windowless but relatively cozy, with dark, baroque furniture and a fully set table with food already awaiting us.
At the edges of the room stood serving women, and when we entered, his lordship was already seated at the head of the table and awaiting us. Also seated at the midsized table, was the man I recognized as Bleddyn’s father and several other men of varying ages.
Everyone stood when Bleddyn and I entered, and I let go of his arm. He glanced at me and bowed to the baronet and I copied him, despite my ankle’s unhappiness with the motion.
“Good evening, Bleddyn and young Master Krishnan,” his lordship said, smiling. He had a keen, clever face, white hair, and bright blue eyes. He reminded me of my PoliSci professor back in college, who’d always purposely fostered more questions than he’d answered.
“Good evening, my lord,” Bleddyn said. Again I copied him and bowed once more for good measure. The baronet smiled again, as did a younger man to his right, with the same bright blue eyes, and dark blond hair.
Another father and son, I thought, along with a brother to their right. He bore the same blue eyes, but his hair was dark brown and he was frowning quizzically.
“Sup with us, will you, lads?” the baronet asked, waving at the two unclaimed seats to his left.
With a hand placed lightly on the small of my back, Bleddyn guided me to the chair immediately next to his lordship. After bowing again, just in case, I sat.
“So, Master Krishnan, Rhys tells me you are from Spain,” Baronet Wynn said to me when the table had resumed its talking and the women had begun to serve food. Dinner appeared to be mutton, vegetables in gravy, and fresh-baked bread along with giant steins of some sort of alcohol I could smell before my server poured it.
“Uh,” I said, looking at my stein with trepidation. Would I be expected to finish it? Or would a few sips for politeness’s sake do? “I’m actually from the United States of America.” I hoped against hope his lordship, at least, would recognize the name. But from the curious look he gave me, he didn’t. “Um. From very far away. I’m not, Spanish, though. I’m actually Indian—”
“Ah, from the East Indies! Of course!” The baronet leaned in, his interest genuinely piqued, as far as I could tell.
“Well, my parents were. They left when they were my age.” I blushed, feeling Bleddyn’s gaze on me, just as curious as Baronet Wynn’s. “But they used to tell me stories about growing up in Kannur, and the places they used to travel to in Kerala State. It’s a beautiful place, filled with history and monuments and, uh, stuff.”
I fell silent, thinking of my father, dead of a heart attack at forty-three, and my mother, still alive, but so far from me now. For the first time, I began to wonder if I’d ever see her again.
Of course I will! This is just a bump in the road! It certainly won’t last forever! I thought, glancing at Bleddyn, who smiled reassuringly, as if he knew what I was thinking. On the table, his hand brushed mine briefly before he picked up his stein and drank a few long swallows.
“And are your missing companions from the East Indies, as well?” his lordship asked, and I turned my attention away from the intriguing sight of Bleddyn swallowing.
“Um, no. John and Dierdre are both from the United States, like me. But John’s family is originally from Italy, and Dierdre—I think her family’s mostly Irish,” I said uncertainly, wondering what they were doing right now. They were probably worried about me. I’d been gone for at least two hours.
Or perhaps they hadn’t even noticed how long I was gone and were using this unexpected alone time to get reacquainted. It’d been weeks since they’d been together without me along as a third wheel. They were probably fogging up their tent, having forgotten all about their tag-along. The thought should have irritated me, but instead I fought not to smile.
The baronet was watching me, one still-dark eyebrow quirked halfway to his white hairline. “Something amuses you, Master Krishnan?”
“Just thinking about my friends, my lord,” I murmured, looking down at my mutton. I tried to muster up an appetite but couldn’t quite, even though everything smelled delicious. “I miss them. And I’m worried for them.”
The baronet patted my hand. “Do not worry overmuch, Master Krish. If indeed your companions are out there, we will find them and reunite you all.”
And for some reason, with the baronet to my right and Bleddyn to my left, I felt…reassured.
After supper, everyone except Bleddyn and I retired to the baronet’s office.
We limped down the drafty hall in an expectant silence. His arm was around my waist again, and it felt nice enough that I didn’t mention my ankle felt better and his assistance wasn’t needed.
“Where am I to stay for the night?” I asked, sliding a hesitant, nervous arm around his shoulders.
Bleddyn smiled a little. “His lordship has given you a guest bedroom on this floor. That is where I am I taking you now.”
“I see. And, uh, where do you and Gareth sleep?”
Bleddyn blinked over at me, seeming surprised. I looked away just as he started to turn that deep, beet-red again.
“Gareth sleeps with the other motherless or orphaned children of the household in the east wing of the castle. I take my rest with the unmarried men and widowers in the barracks,” Bleddyn said slowly, thoughtfully. “I had thought Lord Wynn would quarter you with us, but he has been most gracious to you.” Bleddyn and I turned right at an intersection and he helped me to the first door on the left of this shorter arm of the corridor. “This is the guest room he has allotted you.”
And Bleddyn opened the door.
The room was small by non-Welsh cult standards and didn’t have a window, but it had a high, narrow four-poster bed complete with drapes, a giant piece of furniture that might have been a garderobe, a small table with a basin of fresh water and an ewer on it, and a small chest at the foot of the bed. A multi-colored tapestry adorned the wall across from the door, though I couldn’t quite make out what it was depicting.
On the small night table on the right side of the bed a lamp burned low, and the bed itself was turned down rather invitingly. I opened my mouth to speak, and a yawn came out. Bleddyn laughed.
“I see that the chamber meets with your approval,” he noted wryly, and I laughed, too.
“It’s been a very long day,” I agreed as we walked into the room, Bleddyn leading the way through the narrow doorway. “It’s not every day I get lost in the back woods of Wales, and stumble across, uh…what do you guys call yourselves?”
Bleddyn helped me to the bed, and I sat gratefully. The look on his face was puzzled, however. “What do we call ourselves? Welshmen.”
I smiled. “No, I mean the name of your sect.”
“Yeah, I mean the people who live the way you do, like you’re in the 1600s, instead of 2000s? Surely you must have a name for yourselves.” I tugged on Bleddyn’s arm, and he obligingly sat next to me on the bed.
“We are Lord Wynn’s men, and that is the only other name we go by. As to the year, it is not sixteen hundred,” Bleddyn said, chuckling. I scooted a bit closer to him and chuckled, too.
“Of course, it’s not.”
“It is the year of our Lord, sixteen hundred and twenty-six,” Bleddyn said calmly, and in the act of nodding along with him, I froze.
“Um,” I finally said, laughing. But Bleddyn wasn’t laughing with me, merely watching me as if I was something both interesting and mystifying.
“Sixteen twenty-six?” I asked, and he nodded.
“Spring is upon us early,” he added with great satisfaction and with such a straight face, I began to chuckle again. And again, Bleddyn didn’t join me, only watched me quizzically.
And I realized, in that moment, it was entirely possible he hadn’t been joking.
“Uh,” I began, my chuckles turning a tad anxious. “Springtime of sixteen hundred and twenty-six? Haha, very funny.”
Frowning, Bleddyn searched my eyes. “I made no jest, Krishnan of Nayar.”
That’s what I was afraid of. “Yeah, right. You’re telling me it’s sixteen twenty-six?” I snorted. “Maybe on you guys’s calendar.”
Bleddyn blinked. “I swear that the year is as I have said. Do you use a different calendar in this United States of America from whence you hail?”
“We must,” I muttered, thinking I was pretty sure America and most of the world went by the Gregorian calendar. Or was it the Julian? Either way, however, I was certain if a different calendar was used in Wales or even by just Bleddyn’s sect, it wouldn’t be off by four hundred years.
And if it was, what date were they counting from? I’d assumed Bleddyn’s sect were religious in nature, at least partly. And the presence of Christian art and icons gracing the castle bore that assumption out. If not counting from the birth of Christ, what date would a Christian sect be counting from?
Because it was most definitely not 1626.
But suddenly I was thinking of the boulder in the forest, strangely unbroken and not white with centuries’ worth of bird shit. I was thinking of the unpaved road I was suddenly certain was the road where we’d left the rental before making our way into the forest.
I was thinking of that creepy, thick fog I’d walked through, and how eerily fast it’d come on, then disappeared. I was thinking—
No. That’s impossible, I told myself, unwilling to even entertain what my brain was trying to posit.
“You seem troubled, Krishnan,” Bleddyn said, his concern cutting into my thoughts. I tried to smile, but I don’t think I fooled him.
“Bleddyn, I know you guys don’t use any technology here, but tell me, you do know what it is, right? That beyond this place there are telephones and airplanes and cities and indoor plumbing, all manner of things the rest of the world enjoys? You know what these things are, right?”
Bleddyn shook his head no, and I was about to ask him how he didn’t know, for surely he’d looked up and seen an airplane or had other lost people turn up on the baronet’s doorstep, bearing their cell phones and iPods and other tech.
How could they not have? At least once in a while?
Because most people don’t get lost and wind up in 1626, my brain whispered, and I shook my head to free it of such a crazy thought. It was not 1626. I had not traveled back in time. That only happened in books, television shows, and movies.
But in real life, people didn’t get lost in one year, straggle through some fog, and wind up nearly four hundred years before they were born.
“Bleddyn, I—” I started to say shakily, suddenly very cold, to the point of shivering. “Do you…do you think—I mean, do you believe that time travel is possible?”
“I do not know what you mean by ‘time travel,’” he said simply, and then he put his arm around me, pulling me close against him. He felt warm and solid. “But I do know that you have gone quite pale and are shivering despite the warmth of the room. Speak, and tell me what troubles you, Krish.”
This near to Bleddyn, I felt both safe and surprisingly comfortable. Safe enough and comfortable enough to say whatever came to my mind. “Do you think it’s possible to start out your day in one year, and by day’s end, be back nearly four hundred years before you were born?”
Bleddyn’s dark eyes widened. “You mean as if by spell or curse, to have been thrust back into a time that is not one’s own?”
“I guess. Because where I come from, by our calendar, it’s almost four hundred years later than sixteen twenty-six. That is, I was born in nineteen ninety-three.” I watched Bleddyn’s face change as I said this, from concerned and puzzled to concerned and awed.
“Speak you truly?” he asked almost breathlessly, and I nodded once. He searched my eyes again then smiled. “’Tis a most wondrous thing, this time travel of which you speak, to bring you so far from your own time, and to mine!”
I could only gape. “You don’t think I’m crazy?”
Bleddyn’s raised his dark brows. “Of course not. You are no madman.”
I laughed, burying my face in my hands. “You don’t know me. For all you know, I could’ve escaped from a psych ward.”
“A mad house, Bleddyn.” Then I laughed once more at the thought of a man who’d surely lost his mind explaining the concept of a psych ward to another man who was probably even crazier. “I must’ve gone mad or hit my head or something. All I know is, this can’t be real. It just can’t be. I’m lying in a ditch in the woods, bleeding from a gash in my head and imagining all this. Or maybe I had a psychotic break in Heathrow. Who knows? But this can’t be happening.”
Bleddyn closed his calloused hands on my wrists, and he gently pried my hands away from my face. It wasn’t until air hit my skin that I realized tears were on my face. Bleddyn wiped them away with his thumb and smiled solemnly.
“If, by the Grace of God, you have been brought to this time from your own, then it is by that same Grace that you will find your way back. And as long as I have breath in me, I pledge myself to aiding you in that pursuit,” he said softly. “Ever will I protect and guide you as best I may.”
More tears ran down my face, and I looked away. “You don’t have to say that, Bleddyn. Don’t have to act like you believe me. How could you possibly believe what I say?”
Bleddyn turned my face back toward his. “I have seen with my own eyes, Krishnan of Nayar, how differently you speak and act. The strangeness of your attire. You are as familiar with the ways of my time as I expect I would be with yours, which is to say not at all. You are a true stranger, having little in common with the ways of this age. Ignorance is not the same as madness. And if you are merely ignorant of this time and not mad, then what you say must be true.”
“Oh, jeez, Bleddyn.” I laughed through my tears, which he again wiped away. “How can you believe me when I don’t believe me? Time travel is impossible!”
“Anything is possible, through our Lord, Krishnan.”
I snorted. “And what if it wasn’t your God who sent me back in time?”
Bleddyn’s eyes widened once more. “You speak of the Adversary?”
“I dunno who I speak of, only that I’m scared and confused, and I just can’t believe that I’m in sixteen twenty-six!”
“Believe it,” Bleddyn said grimly. “For you are. And every minute spent here must convince you of that.”
He was right about that. Yet even as I was convinced, my doubts intensified. Which was more likely, after all? That I was crazy, or that I was a time traveler? But then, what would be better? Continuing to live like I was trapped in a nightmare or delusion and continuing on in what could be dangerous denial, or behaving as if I genuinely was in a different time, and maybe find a way of getting back? Hadn’t I lived most of my life since my father died as if I was waiting to wake up? And look where it’d gotten me.
I sighed and hung my head. “I don’t know what to think Bleddyn. Or what to do.”
His arm around me tightened. “As I’ve said, Krish, I will look after you while you are here. You are my charge. As such, will you follow my guidance until you are prepared to navigate this time more adroitly?”
I nodded. “Yes, Bleddyn.”
“Will you trust me?”
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I will.”
“Then,” Bleddyn said quietly. “Do not speak of this time travel with anyone else, for I fear that you may be taken for a witch or a madman if you speak of such things to anyone.”
My own eyes were the ones to widen, this time. “A witch? But didn’t witches used to get burned at the stake back in the sixteen hundreds?”
Bleddyn nodded. “It is not so bad as once it was. And certainly not here. His lordship does not hold with superstition, nor with burning the unpopular and accused as if they were heathen sacrifices,” he said proudly. Then he sighed. “However I fear he might think you mad, and if he were to think that, I do not know that he would not send you to a mad house.”
I shuddered. The idea of being placed in a seventeenth century madhouse was horrifying. “Don’t let them do that to me, Bleddyn,” I begged, and Bleddyn shook his head.
“Never, Krish. But you must follow my instruction and tell no one else of your time of origin.”
“Believe me, I can barely tell myself any of this stuff, so telling other people? Not even on my radar.” In response to Bleddyn’s blank look, I found myself smiling just a little. “You have my word I’ll keep my mouth shut about when I come from.”
Bleddyn returned the smile, clearly relieved. “That is well, then.” He let go of me and stood up hesitantly, turning beet red again. “I shall leave you to your rest, for on the morrow, we begin the search for your companions. Though in truth, we shall be searching for a way back to your time.”
I sighed again, daunted by even the prospect of what lay ahead. “Yes.”
“Do not look so downcast, Krish, for I believe that we will find the way home for you,” Bleddyn said, reaching out and tilting my face up. He was smiling again, and I couldn’t help but smile back, for in that moment I believed him, even though I didn’t believe I had traveled back in time. But I would.
I didn’t think I’d be capable of falling asleep after everything. But I was wrong, as was proven when I was startled out of sleep by a gentle knock on the door.
For a few moments, I thought I was back in the hostel in Cardiff, and that John or Dierdre was knocking. “Come in!” I called, rolling over on a firm but unexpectedly pokey mattress. I squinted open my eyes to total darkness suddenly pierced by lamplight as the door opened, then shut.
And that’s when everything came rushing back to me.
“Oh, oh, my God,” I groaned, sitting up and burying my face in my hands as the light grew closer and someone sat on the edge of my narrow bed. They placed the lamp placed on the night table, and wound their strong arms around me and held me as I wept, all the fear and feelings of being trapped returning even though I’d had a full night’s sleep that’d featured no dreams.
“Hush, Krish,” Bleddyn said. “I will look after you.”
He cradled the back of my head with one of his hands and swept the other soothingly up and down my bare back. At first I was comforted, and then…not so much. My fear and anxiety gave way to other feelings entirely with each pass of Belddyn’s rough hand, and I began to shiver.
Then a moan slipped out, one that Bleddyn could not possibly take for anything other than what it was. And indeed, he didn’t. He paused his hand at the small of my back, and he sat back, looking into my eyes.
“Krishnan,” he said lowly, and the way he said my name sent such a thrill through me that I moaned again. Bleddyn looked away, blushing. “You gaze at me as if…”
“As if I want you to kiss me?” I asked without thinking, and then I blushed too. Feeling daring, I reached up and turned his face back toward mine. He still wouldn’t meet my eyes. “There’s something between us, Bleddyn. Maybe I’m the only one who feels it, but every time you touch me, I—”
“This is wrong,” Bleddyn said firmly, or perhaps it would have sounded firm if not for the quaver in his deep voice. “You are but a lad. You know not what you court by your actions and speech.”
“Actually, I do,” I said, smiling and brushing my thumb across his sharp cheekbone. His eyes fluttered shut for a few moments before he turned his face away once more.
“I’m not a lad. I’m a grown man. I know what I want, and I know what I need.”
Bleddyn’s eyes darted to mine for a moment before darting away just as quickly. “It is an abomination for a man to lie with another man as he lay with a woman.”
“Not where I come from.”
Another glance, this one startled. “Truly, you say?”
“Truly. Two men or two women can even marry where I’m from.”
Now, Bleddyn looked doubtful and disbelieving. “Even if that is so, you are not where you come from. You are here.”
“So you keep reminding me.” I let my hand fall away from his face, but before I could turn away, Bleddyn caught my hand and pulled it up to his lips, kissing it lingeringly.
“I swore to protect and guide you, Krish of Nayar,” he murmured on my palm. “I would not break such a promise at all, let alone mere hours after swearing it. I would not ravish you as if you were some catamite whore when your innocence shines forth from you like a beacon of loveliness and light. I would not sully what I find most beautiful about you with base carnalities.”
Turning so red I had no doubt it showed up even on my complexion, I cupped Bleddyn’s face in both hands, this time. “Bleddyn, what if I want you to be basely carnal with me?” I asked him and he sighed. “No, I’m being serious. It’s not as if I’ve never had a lover before.”
Bleddyn frowned, and if I didn’t know better, I’d swear he looked jealous.
“You have lain with another?”
“Of course I have! I’m twenty-two!” I exclaimed, laughing, letting go of his face to push back the heavy coverlet and sheet. I was naked and not especially ashamed of that fact. And it did my heart a world of good to see Bleddyn’s eyes widen as they traveled up and down my body, lingering at my groin every time.
Then he closed his eyes tight and stood up, pacing to the door where he paused, his hand on the knob. “You tempt me,” he said, his voice soft but tight. “I came only to waken you, and you tempt me most unmercifully, Krish.”
I swung my legs off of the pokey, straw mattress bed and stood up, crossing the small room to place my hands on Bleddyn’s grey-shirted back. He was the one to shiver, this time. Feeling greatly daring once more, I leaned in and lightly kissed the nape of his neck, brushing his dark curls aside to do so.
Bleddyn shivered again, but didn’t pull away. Not even when I slid my hands around to his chest, then down it, till I was grasping the hem of his shirt and pulling it up to get to the waist of his breeches.
“We should not be doing this,” Bleddyn breathed shakily as I unbuttoned his fly. He wasn’t wearing the seventeenth century’s equivalent of underwear, so the first thing I felt after a solid six-pack, was a hot, damp, hard handful of cock. Bleddyn let out a low moan as I began to stroke him, nibbling my way to his ear. “Krishnan, we should not.”
“God says!” Bleddyn hissed, then hissed again when I ran my thumb across the head of his cock. “He did not send you here for this.”
“How do you know he didn’t?”
Bleddyn had no answer for that. At least not for most of the next minute, during which his breeches and hose became a puddle at his feet, and I’d stopped stroking him off in favor of trying to remove his shirt.
“Is not here.”
“If he were to catch us like this—” Bleddyn shuddered and it wasn’t from pleasure. “He has already caught me so once, and I have found that once was quite enough for my lifetime.”
“Your dad caught you fucking another guy?” I asked, horrified. My father had died when I was fourteen, and I was still a virgin as far as my mother knew. A gay virgin. And until I got married, that was the way it was going to stay. “Holy shit, that’s—that’s awful!”
Bleddyn turned to face me, and I stopped tugging on his shirt to wrap my arms around his neck and lean our foreheads together.
“We were barely old enough to grow hair where it counted, William and I,” Bleddyn whispered with a sad smile I could just make out. “My father beat us both most soundly and sent William to be fostered in another county. And that was the last I saw or heard of him until shortly before his death.”
“Oh, Bleddyn, I’m so sorry,” I whispered back, hugging him tight, then leaning back to kiss him. He gasped in surprise, and then he kissed me back hungrily, intently, settling his hands on my waist. Then he them slid around to my ass and pulled me flush against him till his cock was nestled against mine and we both moaned.
I don’t know which of us began backing toward the bed, only that suddenly we were laying on it, Bleddyn on top of me, driving his hips down into mine hard and fast. I spread my legs till I could wrap them around his thighs, like my arms were around his neck. He kept groaning my name between panting kisses, squeezing my ass. He brushed his fingers between my cheeks, at first tentatively fingering me, then less tentatively, till I arched up against him and came, biting down on his sinewy shoulder to keep from waking the whole castle with my shouts.
Then I was a limp, sated pile of time traveler, letting my body be used for another’s pleasure. Bleddyn grunted and groaned his way to a climax that seemed almost to pain him, from the look on his face before he buried it in the hollow place between my neck and shoulder.
He slipped and slid against me in come and sweat, till with a low groan he finally came, too, hot and a lot, all over my stomach. Then he, too, was collapsing into a heavy pile on top of me. But his weight felt good and right anchoring me, so I didn’t mind. When we’d caught our breath, Bleddyn made to lever his body off my own, but I held on to him and waited for him to meet my eyes. When he did, I smiled.
Bleddyn smiled back and leaned down to kiss me good morning.
Of course, the kiss turned into necking, then into Bleddyn grinding down against me, half-hard and pinning my wrists to the mattress.
“This is wrong,” he murmured against my collarbone before kissing it so tenderly, I shivered and tried to wrap my arms around him. But he was stronger than me, and my wrists stayed pressed into the mattress. So I settled for wrapping my legs around his and arching up to meet his thrusts against my abdomen. “We should not—”
“We most definitely should,” I breathed, angling my head to give him more access to my neck, access he immediately took advantage of, nipping my throat with gentle teeth then laving the spots he’d nipped with his tongue. “Oh, Bleddyn…”
“I have wanted you thus from almost the moment I first laid eyes upon you, Krish,” Bleddyn whispered feverishly, his lips roaming up to my mouth again. He kissed me sweetly, and freed my wrists. Then he sighed as I wrapped my arms around his neck and pulled him down firmly on top of me. He would not meet my eyes. “And having had you, I thought such illicit desires would be slaked. That I would commit such a delightful sin, repent, and crave you no more, yet…”
Now Bleddyn met my eyes, his dark ones as somber as a Sunday morning. Which it might very well have been in 1626, for all I knew. “Yet having you has only made my yearning for you keener, sharper. My desires have grown teeth.” He shook his head. “My desire for William I had excused as nothing more than childish exploration, for I had not yet a man’s appetites. But even as a man grown, even as I lay with my sweet wife, never have I felt anything like this. Anything like you. You overwhelm me so, Krishnan of Nayar.” Bleddyn kissed me again, hard, hungrily, briefly. “I know this is sin, pure and inexcusable, and yet I would gladly buy my passage to Hell with even just one morning spent between your thighs.”
I shivered again. Even medieval dirty talk was enough to turn my crank. Bleddyn turned my crank. Everything he did, everything he said, everything he was.
I caressed Bleddyn’s face before cupping it in my hand. “I wish I could convince you what we’re doing isn’t wrong, Bleddyn. But I guess I can’t compete with a lifetime spent living in this time, with everyone, including your father, telling you that desiring another man is wrong. Hell, even in my time, some people still insist what we’re doing is wrong. That somewhere, up in the sky, there’s a God sitting on a cloud, judging who we love despite having given us the will to love freely. But I don’t believe that. If there is a God out there, somewhere, it loves us and wants us to love each other and be happy. It doesn’t want to see us suffer and be miserable and make everyone else that way because of narrow-mindedness and fear.” I wrapped my arm back around Bleddyn’s neck again and leaned our foreheads together. “I don’t want to hurt you, or scare you, or make you regret what we’ve done.”
“But that is where my sin is compounded, Krishnan. For I regret nothing.” Then Bleddyn was kissing me once more, pulling me up with him as he sat, so I was straddling his thighs and half-sitting in his lap. I could feel his cock nudging past my balls, and he grasped my ass with both hands, squeezing and kneading before he teased his fingers between my cheeks again.
“Don’t stop,” I moaned, clutching at him tighter as he pressed the tip of his finger against me, then into me with a fierce and addictive burn I hadn’t felt in over a year. Only it’d never felt this good or this right. “Oh, God, don’t stop!”
“I could not. Even if I wished,” Bleddyn said, nuzzling my throat as I kissed his curly hair. His finger made its way inside me and was quickly followed by another. Then he began scissoring them gently, till I was writhing on him like an agitated cobra. “Krish, the heat of you sears me like the heart of a sacred flame. I can maintain only one thought, one desire—to feel you around me, to lose myself in your fire until I am ash.”
“Fuck, Bleddyn, please tell me you have something? Like lube or lotion.”
He looked up at me, puzzled. “I know not—”
“Something slippery? I can take you. All day, if it were up to me, baby. But I can’t take you dry.” I clenched around his fingers and sudden understanding dawned in his eyes. Understanding and regret.
“I have not oil to ease my way,” he said, frowning. “I did not expect—”
“Neither did I,” I said, cupping his face in my hands again. I did my best to hide my frustration, seriously considering taking him with nothing but spit. It’d be like the night I lost my virginity all over again.
Yeah, let’s not revisit that pleasant little interlude just now. Or ever again, if possible. I sighed and kissed Bleddyn. “It’s okay. I suppose we could just—”
“Salve!” Bleddyn burst out, and I blinked at him.
“What?” But Bleddyn was laying me back down and practically springing out of bed. He padded over to the garderobe and yanked it open, scanning the contents of the mostly empty piece of furniture. Then he bent low and picked up something I couldn’t make out, mostly because I was staring at his ass again.
“Gwynedd mentioned last night that she had left a soothing salve for your ankle in yon garderobe, and I was to relay that information to you before you took your rest,” Bleddyn said in a rush, standing up with a small pot of what I assumed was the aforementioned salve. He grinned, and it made him look barely old enough for his mustache and beard. Then his grin turned rather sheepish. “Of course, I forgot her admonishment entirely, but t’will now serve us in a similar capacity.”
“Uh, do you know what’s in the salve?” I asked as he approached the bed and climbed on. “I mean, it’s nothing gross, is it? Or burn-y?”
Bleddyn’s grin gentled into a reassuring smile. “This salve is gentle and mild enough to be used on teething babes. Gwynedd used it on Gareth when he was teething and mayhap even on me when I was teething. It relieves pain and eases aches, nothing more.”
I thought it over for a few moments, then shrugged, tossing over my misgivings. If it was good enough for Gareth’s and Bleddyn’s gums, I supposed it was good enough for my asshole. “All right, bring on the salve. And I don’t mean sparingly,” I added, looking at his cock. It was my first good look at it, what with all the frantic rubbing off on each other. I remembered just how hard and fast he’d seemed to like thrusting it. And it was not little.
“Be gentle,” I told him as he removed the lid of the small pot and tossed it over his shoulder. “It’s been a while.”
Bleddyn nodded, that hint of jealousy flaring in his eyes again, but only for a moment. Then he was running a hand up my thigh to grasp my cock and stroke it.
“My desire for you almost incapacitates me with its fierceness. I wish to have all of you at once,” he murmured, running a finger over the tip of my cock before leaning down to kiss it. I made a garbled sound low in my throat like a squabbling crow.
“Bleddyn—” for God’s sake, fuck me! I was about to say, but Bleddyn slid his hand between my hip and the bed, urging me to roll over onto my stomach.
He didn’t have to tell me twice. Though there’s a lot to be said for missionary, there’s just such a dirty thrill to be had from getting it doggy-style.
I grabbed the bed’s lone pillow and crammed it under my hips, wriggling around a little to get into a comfortable position. For a few seconds, Bleddyn did nothing, merely stared down at me. I could feel his gaze, as weighty and hot as July sunlight. I gave a low, breathy, porn-star moan and spread my legs, looking over my shoulder at Bleddyn. Never let it be said that Krish Nayar can’t put on a decent show. He was staring at me, mouth agape, with a dollop of translucent salve on his fingers. It looked like petroleum jelly.
“I’m waiting, Bleddyn. Take me.”
Bleddyn let out a breath and began stroking himself with the salve, never once taking his eyes off me. I hiked my right leg up higher to give him a better view.
After another few seconds of gazing, Bleddyn moved closer, till I could feel the heat of him all along my back, ass, and legs. Two slippery, salve-y fingers trailed down from the small of my back to my asshole before pushing back into me with that same burn, though lessened. I didn’t know if it was the salve, if I was just getting used to being fingered after going so long without, or if it was a combination of both.
Whatever it was, it definitely felt more good than bad. Bleddyn began scissoring his fingers again and while doing so, brushed my prostate. I lit up like a JACKPOT sign in Vegas, moaning his name.
Bleddyn leaned down to kiss my ear and whisper, “Are you ready for me, Krishnan?”
Bleddyn kissed my ear again and sat up, removing his fingers. I instantly missed the feeling of fullness and pressure, but not for long. Something a lot larger than Bleddyn’s fingers brushed me, then pressed against me, then pushed into me without hesitation or delay.
“Blehhhhhttthhhyyyyyyn!” I yowled his name as he filled me, slowly, surely, and implacably. For his part, Bleddyn was whispering my name like a prayer, pushing my thighs wider with his big hands before settling them on my ass again.
I was torn between pleasure and pain—between that really amazing feeling of being filled and that feeling one is about to be split like a cord of wood.
But even as I was wondering just how big his cock was, the closet size-queen who lived in my head was cheering and gleefully taking it. Would have taken it all till the end of the world, if necessary.
Bleddyn was leaning over me, drops of sweat dripping onto my back. When he at last could go no farther, when I could swear I felt cock nudging my epiglottis, he stilled, panting and groaning.
“Oh, Krish.” His breath was hot and moist on my shoulder. “Never have I…”
He trailed off and fell silent for so long, I began to worry. “Never have you what, Bleddyn?”
“I have never taken a man thus,” Bleddyn said, and I glanced over my shoulder, surprised.
“Not even William?”
“I let William take me. Once. And there were a few others. After him and before Rhiannon.” Bleddyn nuzzled my cheek. “But never have I taken another man.”
“Wow,” I exhaled softly, then grinned. “Feels good, doesn’t it?”
“Never have I felt its like. Nor yours.” He placed a damp, gentle kiss on my temple.
“I promise it only gets better,” I purred. “But first, you have to pull out, then—ah! God!”
It may have been his first time pitching, but Bleddyn had great instincts, because before I could even finish the sentence, he’d pulled out and driven his way back in, hard and fast, leaving me speechless and breathless, and scrambling in the sheets for purchase.
“Have I harmed you, Krishnan?” Bleddyn was as still as a statue, on me and in me. My insides, however, were all aflutter trying to accommodate him. Soon, I began to clench and release around him like a fist. I arched up against him, bearing myself up on shaky arms.
“Harm me some more, baby,” I gasped out, then clarified just in case Bleddyn took it the wrong way. “Take me, Bleddyn. Until neither of us can walk right.”
Bleddyn leaned down and kissed my shoulder. Then he was pulling out fast and thrusting back in the same way. I yowled again, loud enough that if the castle wasn’t already awake, they surely were after that.
Bleddyn grasped my hips and began pulling them back for every thrust and pushing them away every time he pulled out, grunting and swearing in, I assume, fluid Welsh, interspersed with my name. I risked bearing up on one arm and began stroking myself off—even I wouldn’t expect a reach-around from a virgin—not that I had to stroke hard or long. By luck or innate skill, Bleddyn struck prostate more often than he didn’t and soon, I was coming hard, Bleddyn’s name ripped raggedly from my throat.
Through the haze of completion I floated in for an eternity afterwards, eventually I felt Bleddyn’s body still on and in mine before he pumped out his release with a loud groan that sounded like it was trying to be my name.
Then for a little while, I knew nothing but gentle darkness, and Bleddyn’s body anchoring me to Earth, his heartbeat thudding in time with my own.