|Primary Characters:||Guy, Robin|
|Warning:||m/m sex, sex with minor, non-con
|Description:||Thirteen-year-old Guy meets an older squire who seems to be friendly, unlike all the others. He soon learns why. At the same time, he discovers girls, but not even that is as uncomplicated as he hopes. A few years later, the same older squire visits Robert. He always wished he had a friend, but is friendship all he hoped it would be?
When the day’s work was done, the squires were allowed some time to play. The younger ones would play games and chase each other in the yard, or – in winter – in the barracks. Most of the older ones, who would soon be knighted, gambled, drank and chased women. This early spring evening, one of the boys broke free of the group of struggling bodies and retreated to a safe distance. Unlike the others, he had no friends to watch his back and though he was a full head taller than the others, he was thin of frame and, while as brave as any of them, their sheer numbers overwhelmed him. It was no use appealing to the older squires and only a few of the men would break up the fights among the boys. Learning to stand up for themselves, was a part of their training.
The boy’s hair shone like a halo in the light of the setting sun. He sank down, his back against the wall, and pulled up his legs, resting his chin on his knees. In a moment, he would go into the stable and offer to help Cedric groom the horses. It was his favorite pastime and while the other lads made forays into the kitchens to steal pieces of bread, he had too much pride to do the same. Though hunger tore through his growing body, he would not deign to draw attention to himself. The other boys already spoke of him, in whispers or out loud. Their taunts followed him everywhere – at the table, on the way to their beds in the dormitories – anywhere. Bastard. It’s the bastard. There he is – the bastard.
The boy’s eyes never left the group of lads jostling each other over by the wall. When he deemed their attention had wandered, he silently got up and began to inch his way towards the stable. Not watching where he was going, he bumped into a tall, muscular body and fell back.
“I’m sorry, sir.”
When he looked closer, he realized that the one he’d run into wasn’t as he’d first believed, a man, but another squire, although much older than his own thirteen years. This youth was perhaps eighteen or so, broad of shoulder and as tall as a man.
The youth in his turn studied the boy closely. His hair caught the last rays of the sun, giving it the appearance of spun gold. The older youth smiled.
“Say no more. What is your name, lad?”
“Guy. Guy – of Gisburne.”
“Pleased to meet you, Guy. My name is d’Aubry. Mark d’Aubry.”
Guy inclined his head. In the time since his arrival at the castle, where he would continue his training as a squire, no one had spoken this kindly to him. He wasn’t used to being treated well and this stranger made him tongue-tied and shier than usual.
“I’m new here.”
Guy didn’t know what to say. He glanced towards the stables, wishing to make his escape, but the stranger continued talking and he couldn’t be disrespectful of a youth so much older than himself. At last, d’Aubry appeared to give up. A group of knights were crossing the yard and Guy was itching to use their appearance to make his escape.
“I’ll see you at supper, Guy.”
Guy’s blue eyes widened and he glanced up at the newcomer. Why would d’Aubry single him out like this? In reply, the youth smiled at him, then turned to go. Guy hastily made his way into the stables, hiding his surprise with a scowl.
At supper, as always, Guy held back, waiting until most of the younger boys had entered the great hall, then looked for a free seat somewhere at the end of the table, far from the centre of the room. His height and his hair inevitably called attention to him and even here, under the eyes of the lord of the castle, some of the most audacious boys would whisper.
“The bastard’s here.”
“Look, there’s the bastard.”
“He’s as pretty as a girl.”
Guy cowered back and felt himself shrivel up inside. He had hoped that here, among so many other boys his own age as well as younger and older, he would vanish in the crowd. Instead, it seemed more and more of the others were joining the ranks of those who tormented him. His cheeks heated up and he considered sneaking out again, to spend another night, awake, as hunger tore at his insides, rather than facing the other squires.
“Hey, Guy, over here.”
One of the older youths waved at him, gesturing for him to join him. Guy recalled the newcomer who had spoken to him in the yard earlier that evening. He hesitated. The last thing he wanted was to be seen crossing the floor all the way to where the older squires sat, closer to the knights and the lord of the castle, but d’Aubry didn’t seem to be about to change his mind. In the end, Guy could not think of any excuse not to obey and reluctantly, he joined d’Aubry. The older boy made room on the bench by his side and bade Guy sit down. Not only did he offer him a seat, he also handed him some of his own food. Again, Guy felt his face take on colour. In all his life, he could not remember anyone being this kind to him. It made him uneasy, but he didn’t dare refuse.
Most of the meal, he kept his eyes fixed on the plate in front of him, but once he chanced to look up and saw some of the other older squires grinning and staring at him. That didn’t surprise him. Everyone must have heard of his background. It was the glances they cast at d’Aubry that puzzled him. He would try to listen more closely to what the other boys were saying. Perhaps someone knew something about this newcomer and perhaps even why he had been sent here, this late in his training.
While the squires were primarily meant to attend the knights, it was not uncommon for the older squires to call the younger squires to their side. As long as they did their assigned tasks, they could assist anyone of higher rank or at least anyone older. It did not take d’Aubry long to make a habit of asking for Guy’s assistance, with his horse and his armour, as well as for any personal errands.
Once in the stable, Guy caught an odd look on Cedric’s face. He wasn’t sure what it implied, but it seemed Cedric had been about to speak to him, then had appeared to change his mind. Guy wasn’t sure why, but d’Aubry’s attention made him feel slightly uneasy. So far, the older boy had never given him any reason to distrust him, but Guy wasn’t used to trusting anyone and he remained wary of everyone around him, except for the servants.
d’Aubry had his own horse. Clearly his father lavished gifts on him, and his attire was more splendid than that of most of the other squires. Only a few of the knights were that well equipped. Guy couldn’t help admiring the horse and he could tell that d’Aubry was pleased.
“Would you like to ride him?”
“Of course, but -”
“You can. Go on. Up you go.”
Guy stared in consternation at d’Aubry. Was he serious? Could it be a cruel, elaborate joke? But no. d’Aubry appeared to be perfectly serious. He grabbed Guy and gave him a boost. Despite himself, Guy began to relax. He loved horses and this one was one of the finest he’d ever seen. Only the lord of the castle and some of the knights had mounts this wellbred.
“Very good. Can you trot him? That’s right.”
For the better part of half an hour, Guy was allowed to take the horse around the training grounds and even jump across a fence. At the end of the session, d’Aubry praised him lavishly and let him groom the horse before stabling him again.
After supper, d’Aubry gave Guy a few pieces of bread, as well as a dried apple.
“If you like, we could go out to the stable and see to Destrier.”
Guy’s heart took a leap in his chest. For once, his mouth relaxed into a smile. d’Aubry put his arm around his shoulder and led him out to the stable, where he gave Destrier the apple, but forgot about the bread. He patted the horse’s neck and the animal gave a low whinny. It was already getting to know him.
“Well? Had enough? Let’s go.”
To Guy’s surprise, d’Aubry didn’t escort him back to the younger boys’ dormitory right away. Instead, he took him on a walk through the castle’s orchard. The first blossoms were already visible on the branches and the leaves were a vivid, deep shade of green. Their footsteps were muffled by the thick grass that grew beneath the fruit trees. At the furthest end of the orchard, there was a bench and here d’Aubry sat down. Guy hesitated, then joined his benefactor.
For a while, they sat there in silence. It was getting late and Guy knew that the drillmaster, sir Geoffrey, would punish him if he arrived so late he woke the other boys. If he didn’t have a very good excuse, he’d soon be in trouble, but he didn’t dare to run off, leaving d’Aubry out here, not after all the kindness he’d shown him. To his surprise, d’Aubry put his arm around him and pulled him closer. Guy tensed up and his body prepared to take flight, yet he waited, not sure what to do. He felt d’Aubry’s hand move up to fondle his hair. It felt odd. No one had touched him like this since his nurse had cared for him, before he’d been sent away to serve as a page. Guy swallowed nervously, but didn’t break free. So far, d’Aubry hadn’t hurt him and there was something soothing in the slow, gentle touch.
“Has anyone ever told you you’re a very pretty boy?”
Again, Guy felt his cheeks take on colour. The other boys said so, but he knew they were only trying to insult him. Were boys pretty? No, girls were. Was d’Aubry making fun of him, after all?
“Well, you are. Very pretty. Lovely.”
As he spoke, d’Aubry pulled Guy closer still and even made him sit on his lap. This had gone on for long enough. Guy wasn’t sure where this was leading, but instinctively he feared the unaccustomed behaviour.
“Don’t be frightened, my golden boy. I won’t hurt you. I swear I won’t hurt you.”
d’Aubry proceeded to stroke him, rather like he himself would stroke a nervous horse, calming him, soothing him.
When he’d succeeded in making the boy relax, d’Aubry let his hands trail further down Guy’s body. Guy tensed up and tried to move away.
“No, no. It’s fine. Do not fear me, my golden boy. You will like it, I know you will.”
The hand seemed to know exactly what it was doing and in the end, Guy didn’t dare to break free. When d’Aubry took his hand and guided it to his own groin, again, he didn’t dare refuse, but he knew what he was doing was wrong. Tears filled his eyes and clung to his lashes. At last d’Aubry shuddered and went limp and Guy tore himself free of his grip.
“Wait. Guy, look at me. Do you trust me?”
Guy swallowed and coughed to clear his throat. He felt d’Aubry’s fingers wipe away the tears that had left damp spots on his cheeks. What could he say? He didn’t trust anyone, yet d’Aubry had been good to him. But this – what he had done, what he had made him do – it was wrong. Guy knew this as surely as he knew anything. Still, he didn’t know what to do, other than to turn down d’Aubry’s protection and once again risk the torments at the hands of the other boys. In the few weeks since d’Aubry had arrived and taken an interest in him, he had been spared the worst of the beatings and the other minor cruelties the other boys put him through each day. In the end, he nodded, then began to walk away.
“That’s my boy. Come back tomorrow night and I’ll have some sugared almonds for you. My father has sent me some from home.”
At the moment, the promised sweets didn’t mean anything to Guy. He was used to hunger and all he wanted was to flee back to his dormitory. To his relief, d’Aubry didn’t try to hold him back.
The following evening, Guy’s instincts told him to stay away from the supper table. He could always say he was ill and retire to bed early. The other boys wouldn’t leave him alone, but facing d’Aubry after last night’s incident frightened him more. However, despite everything, he found himself walking into the great hall, just like on any other night. By now, he had grown used to the sideways glances from the other squires. It occurred to him that they must have known all along, what d’Aubry planned to do to him. Filled with shame, he clenched his fists, but continued walking all the way to d’Aubry’s table. He had grown used to his protection. Though he’d believed himself immune to the taunts and the beatings, he realized that he didn’t want to face it all again. It made him sad, because he thought he was making the wrong choice, but once he’d made up his mind, he felt obliged to stick to his decision.
d’Aubry had kept his word. He had brought sugared almonds as well as sugared cherries. The sweets seemed to grow in Guy’s mouth, but he couldn’t very well refuse.
Almost a year passed and Guy found he had acquired a new name among the squires. This new epithet wasn’t whispered quite as loudly, and once he had even challenged the boy he heard using it to a fight and won that fight, but the name stuck. He knew what it meant. He’d seen the garishly dressed women gather everywhere the men-at-arms were expected. Deep down, he cursed the day he’d been cowardly enough to accept d’Aubry’s protection, but by now it was too late. He was d’Aubry’s boy, d’Aubry’s whore, and still a bastard. Nothing had changed, at least not for the better.
In the past year or so, Guy had grown even taller, and his body had changed. For some time now, he had found himself paying more attention to the serving girls. None were as young as he was. The kitchen maids were rarely allowed out among the squires and knights, but the grown girls, of sixteen and seventeen and older waited at the lord’s table and thus the squires could not be kept away from them.
Sometimes when he looked at the girls, his body betrayed him. His breathing picked up, his cheeks took on colour and his heart would beat as fast as after a long day of practising swordplay under the stern eye of the swordmaster. Worse, he felt himself harden and it was only the folds of his tunic that hid his shame from view. He had seen some of the older squires dally with the girls, but none of them would spare a word or a glance for the younger boys.
Even so, he could not help watching, out of the corner of his eye. He noted that d’Aubry never seemed to pay attention to the girls. Why? He could not think of a single reason. It seemed to him that the girls would cluster around him, yet he never even smiled at them.
There was one in particular, who had caught Guy’s eye. She was one of the youngest and very pretty. When she smiled, her cheeks dimpled and she seemed to be more gentle than most of the others. Most of them seemed very aware of the effect they had on the older squires and would go to almost any length to attract their attention. He had seen them puff out their chests, pinch their cheeks to turn them red, and pull down their bodices to reveal more of their bosoms. Though their antics weren’t meant for his eyes, they made Guy feel hot all over.
One afternoon he happened to pass by the girl he had taken notice of. Her hair fell in thick honey-coloured tresses over her shoulders. She was carrying a heavy sack and seemed to be having trouble with it. On an impulse he offered to help her. Her eyes wandered across his face, studying him closely, making him blush vividly. In the end, she smiled.
“Very well. If you have time.”
Guy took the sack from her and followed her towards the kitchen. He set the sack down, but everyone was too busy to pay much attention to him.
“Thank you, squire.”
Guy smiled and nodded, not quite sure what to say.
She indicated a door at the other end of the kitchen. Guy had never spent much time here, but he guessed it might lead to the herb garden outside. Puzzled, he passed through the door and waited. After only half a minute or so, the girl stuck her head through the door searching for him. When she caught sight of him, she joined him. The garden was empty, save for the two of them. She held out her hand to him and pressed a piece of pie into it. Guy stared down at it, as if he couldn’t quite believe his eyes. These days, he was growing so fast, he was almost always hungry. Most of the other boys received an allowance sent by their families which ensured that they never went hungry. In theory, all pages and squires were given room and board by the lord of the castle, but in practice, some, especially a tall boy like Guy, would go hungry. No one had time to fuss over one of the lads.
Shamefacedly he ate most of his gift, before he thought to wonder if this might be the girl’s own dinner.
“Was this your dinner?”
She smiled and shook her head, making her hair fall in cascades around her shoulders.
“No, there’s plenty left over from the lord’s table. That was yesterday’s supper.”
“Oh. Are you sure you don’t want any yourself?”
“Go on. It’s yours.”
As he finished the last of his unexpected meal, he felt the girl’s gaze on him, making him blush.
“I have to go now. What’s your name?”
“Guy. What’s yours?”
He was about to ask Alyse if he would see her again, when someone called her name and she was gone in a flurry of skirts and honey-coloured hair. His cheeks were still burning up.
That night, as he lay in bed, he couldn’t get her out of his mind. In the end, his hand stole down his body and though he knew he wasn’t supposed to, he put an end to the torment. Only then, would his mind leave him any peace and he fell into a fitful sleep, dreaming of honey-coloured hair and small, rounded breasts.
Now that he’d made Alyse’s acquaintance, he seemed to see her everywhere. One evening, when d’Aubry was away on a training mission, Guy decided to do as many of the older squires did, sneak out after the boys’ curfew. He knew where the serving girls were quartered and he was hoping he’d find Alyse sitting with the others outside, chatting. It seemed the girls were allowed to stay up longer. When he caught sight of her sitting under a cherry tree, chatting with a girl slightly older than her, his heart took a leap in his chest. Alyse’s gaze fell on him and she smiled.
“Clara, I – will take a walk.”
The other girl smiled knowingly.
“Make sure you’re back in time for curfew.”
Guy followed Alyse further away from the girls’ quarters. She led him towards a shed some distance away from the kitchens. The door wasn’t locked and she opened it and ushered him inside. On the floor there were several boxes and crates and they sat down on two of those. For a few minutes, they chatted about nothing much. All the while, Guy was intensely aware of her scent. She smelled of cooking, but most of all of fruit and fresh hay. After a moment, he plucked up the courage to take her hand. To his relief, she didn’t snatch it back. He swallowed nervously. Most of all, he wanted to hold her, touch her, press his lips to hers, but he felt shy and nervous. The serving girls must have heard about him and – But Alyse’s smile didn’t seem hold any malice and encouraged by this, Guy inched closer.
To his surprise, she put her arms around him and held him. He closed his eyes and enhaled her scent. Up close like this, her skin smelt even more strongly of something fresh and pleasant. After a few seconds, he let his fingers twirl a few locks of her hair. When he felt Alyse’s mouth cover his, the breath caught in his throat,. They kissed for a while. The pounding in Guy’s ears became a deafening roar, rather like a hammer on an anvil. When he came to his senses again, his hands had moved up to cup her breasts. Shocked at his own audacity, he prepared to pull back, but Alyse made no move to evade his grasp. Suddenly, he became aware that the hardness in his groin was pressed against her and that she must know – that she must feel him – This time he did pull back, filled with shame, remembering d’Aubry and what he’d taught him.
Alyse studied him pensively.
“How old are you?”
Guy had turned fourteen that winter, but he knew that Alyse must be at least a year older than that, most likely two, and he was ashamed to tell her. After a moment’s hesitation, he decided on a minor lie.
He felt her gazing at him appraisingly. In the end, she just smiled.
“Is it your first time?”
This time, he knew lying would be no use. He nodded, not quite meeting her gaze.
“Never mind. I’ll show you how. Come on.”
At the back of the shed, there was an open space. The floor was covered with straw and here Alyse stretched out on her back. She pulled Guy down with her. Her hands moved down to his hose and pulled them down.
“When it’s time, I want you to try and pull back. Can you do that, Guy?”
He thought he knew what she meant and he nodded. She was going to let him, the bastard, d’Aubry’s boy – Exultantly, he prepared to follow her instructions. When the moment came, it was over before he knew it and it was too late to withdraw. Filled with shame, he awaited her scolding. Anxiously, he watched her face for any change, but none came.
“Why the long face? Wasn’t it good for you too?”
“Yes, but – I promised I’d -”
“Oh, that. It’s alright. I should have known you were too young. Think nothing of it. You did well.”
She kissed him again and Guy instantly felt better.
“You’re ever so pretty. Do you know that?”
Pretty? So it wasn’t just a taunt from the other boys or something d’Aubry used to snare him. Was he pretty? Guy found it hard to assess his own appearance. When Alyse said it, it didn’t make him uncomfortable, but he still didn’t know quite how to deal with the compliment.
“You are pretty.”
“So are you. Oh, it’s late. I have to go.”
In the doorway of the shed, they kissed again. Alyse closed the door carefully, then vanished in the direction of the girls’ quarters. Slowly, Guy made his way back to the boys’ dormitory, his mind filled with the events of the nights. It had been – he lacked words to describe the experience, yet he knew that this was something he wanted to do again and again. It was nothing like his shameful dealings with d’Aubry, more like when he touched himself in bed, at night, yet far more pleasant.
d’Aubry returned and Guy found no more opportunity to meet Alyse at night. Once or twice he was able to steal a moment alone with her, but their meetings took place in public and all he got was a kiss or two. Even those brief meetings turned out to have been too much.
One night, when d’Aubry, as had become his habit, came to pick Guy up after supper, for their visit to the stable and their ‘walk’ that invariable ended somewhere secluded, Guy knew instantly that something was different. d’Aubry’s face was bruised and scratched, as if he’d fought a wildcat and only barely managed to hold his own. Guy assumed that d’Aubry had been in a scuffle but he had heard nothing of any serious fight among the older squires. It was plain that d’Aubry was in a bad mood and could hardly keep himself in check. Guy glanced nervously over his shoulder, seeking a way out. He should have known it was useless.
d’Aubry grabbed him and bodily dragged him away. A few of the other younger squires witnessed the incident and Guy could hear them giggling and whispering. He didn’t even try to discern the words. After all, he knew perfectly well what they all thought of him. Besides, he’d always known it was no use begging for help or mercy, so he kept quiet, hoping that whatever d’Aubry wanted with him would be quick and as painless as possible.
Once they were far enough away from the central keep, among the orchards and outbuildings, d’Aubry began to stare at Guy in a way that began to unnerve him.
“So, you thought to betray me with a common serving wench. I should have known what to expect from you. How many had had you before? Well? You’re awfully quiet tonight, my golden boy. I wonder why. No, I know why. You – you – you thought a boy like you could please a woman? You make me laugh. It might interest you to know that I went in search of your wench and I found her. Tonight she has known a man’s touch.”
A cold hand seemed to clutch at Guy’s heart. What had d’Aubry done to Alyse? Surely even he would not stoop so low as to slay an innocent girl? It was a while until Guy’s mind began to move in another direction. No. Tears stung his eyes, as he imagined the sweet girl at d’Aubry’s mercy.
d’Aubry’s hand shot out and grabbed his chin, tilting his face up, forcing him to meet his gaze. The other hand followed and blow after stunning blow landed on Guy’s face. He felt something warm splash his lips and his ears begin to ring. The abuse never seemed to end. Strangely enough, it didn’t bother him at all. His mother’s husband had cured him of any fear of physical pain. Something in his demeanour must have struck d’Aubry and the look in the older boy’s eyes hardened. Guy met his gaze squarely. If d’Aubry wanted to end his life tonight, nothing could stop him, but Guy would not cry. His impassive reaction had infuriated others before, and he would not give d’Aubry the satisfaction of showing any fear.
d’Aubry paused and appeared to consider. When he spoke again, he appeared to have come to a decision.
“You will learn the price of betrayal, my pretty little whore.”
Again, his hand shot out, but this time he grabbed Guy’s hair. He fumbled with his tunic and hose, then pushed the boy’s face down to his groin. When Guy failed to follow the hissed instructions, more blows followed, and when that produced no further reaction, d’Aubry drew his dagger from its sheath.
“I will geld you if you don’t obey me.”
He brought the blade to rest against Guy’s groin, then pressed just a little. At long last, Guy began to sob loudly. After watching him a moment longer, d’Aubry put his dagger away. Again, he dragged the boy’s face down to his groin and this time, all the fight had gone out of his captive.
When it was over and Guy was on his knees, bent over, coughing and retching, a considering look came into d’Aubry’s eyes. By the time Guy had withdrawn a little from the pool of vomit, d’Aubry put his hand on the boy’s back, more gently now.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to treat you so roughly. It’s just that you provoked me so. Can’t you see that you’re mine? Guy? Oh, do stop crying. I didn’t hurt you too badly, did I?”
Guy twisted away from his hand, poised on the verge of flight. d’Aubry knew he might end up in trouble, if anyone found out what had just occurred. He had been sent home more than once, after similar incidents and if he disgraced himself again, there was a chance that not even his father’s influence would gain him a knighthood. His hand stole into the pouch hanging from his belt. It came away with an object that caught the last of the sunlight.
“Here. Gold, for my golden boy. Take this, Guy. Look, it’s solid gold. My father gave it to me.”
Guy’s eyes never left d’Aubry, while he considered the offer. He wanted to get as far away from his tormentor, but he was afraid to make any sudden move, so he waited. In d’Aubry’s hand, a coin rested. Guy had never held a thing of such value in his own hand. When d’Aubry noticed that he had his attention, he moved closer again and pressed the gold piece into the boy’s hand.
“There. Now stop weeping. I won’t hurt you again.”
Guy could hardly believe his eyes. It was a coin, and it looked as if d’Aubry was serious. He meant for him to have it. Guy swallowed and brushed at his eyes with the back of his other hand, while he reasoned with himself. If he refused to take the coin, d’Aubry could still do whatever he wanted to him. It would make no difference. He might as well keep it. His hand closed around the cool piece of metal and like an unbroken horse, he turned and took flight. To his relief, d’Aubry didn’t try to follow.
Someone must have guessed what had happened between them. The following day the talk was all over the castle, that d’Aubry had been sent away. No one spoke to Guy about it, but the whispered taunts continued, behind his back and even to his face.
After the sleepless night he’d spent, recalling every single moment of his ordeal at d’Aubry’s hands, he’d begun to regret his acceptance of the bribe. Guy wasn’t particularly knowledgeable about religion, but he did know that the devil had tempted Christ in the desert and offered him gold. In the darkness in his bed, he had begun to see d’Aubry’s offering as something akin to that temptation. Was he risking his soul? If so, he knew he ought to go to confession and try to purge himself of his sins.
The thought wouldn’t leave him alone and as the following day was Sunday, he brought the coin to mass and when some of the knights offered alms to the poor, he felt the metal burning his hand. He hesitated. Accepting d’Aubry’s pay would truly make him a whore. On the other hand, he argued, it was too late now. Besides, he didn’t have anyone to protect him. He needed the money. In the end, he could not bring himself to give the coin away and he left without going to confession. Most of the boys only went on the appointed days, and just like the other boys, he would only recite the accustomed words, accept the usual penance and leave again, to games and a short period of free time, before Sunday dinner in the great hall.
As he was walking back from mass, he heard someone calling out to him.
“Hey. You. Boy.”
He thought he recognized the girl. It was the older girl he’d seen with Alyse. Again, his heart took a leap in his chest. Had she come to tell him about what d’Aubry had done to Alyse?
The girl grabbed his arm and dragged him along to a sheltered spot behind one of the outbuildings. It reminded him strongly of the wonderful day Alyse had taken him into the shed and – He took a deep breath to keep himself from sobbing.
“You’re the boy Alyse was going with. Aren’t you? Alyse’s little friend.”
“Yes. I’m Guy.”
“Guy. I see. Well, Guy, I have to tell you that Alyse isn’t here anymore. She asked me to let you know that she has returned home, to her family.”
“Was she -”
“One of the squires tried something and Alyse wouldn’t have any of it.”
“You mean, he didn’t -”
The girl eyed him more closely.
“What had you heard?”
“He said – I thought -”
“I see. Well, set your mind at ease. Alyse didn’t come to any harm. Cook heard her and came to see what was going on. Needless to say, the squire was sent packing. Alyse just thought it would be best to take herself away from here, lest he return to finish what he’d started.”
A wave of relief washed over Guy. Alyse was fine. d’Aubry hadn’t hurt her. Perhaps it was for the best. If Alyse’s family could take better care of her, she would be safe. All the same, the thought of never seeing the girl again caused a sting of disappointment.
“I thank you -”
“Clara. I’m Clara.”
The older girl smiled at him, making him feel warm, despite everything.
“You are a lovely lad. I can see why Alyse liked you.”
Her fingers brushed his cheek lightly and Guy felt himself blush.
“I have to go.”
Clara nodded and remained standing by the wall of the outbuilding, watching him leave.
It didn’t take the other lads long to realize that the bastard was well liked among the serving girls. Despite his reputation, girls fell for the tall, blond boy, and the other squires didn’t like it. No longer content to whisper and shove him, they took to tripping him in the great hall, playing tricks on him in the dormitory or even in the training yard. More than once, he woke up to find someone had overturned a bucket of refuse in his bed. He tried to avoid them as much as he could but when one of them was audacious enough to confront him by himself, without his group of friends nearby, Guy would use his fists to avenge himself on his tormentor.
The first time he realized he was strong enough to pound the bully with his fists, he was merely surprised, but soon, he found that each time he could hold his own against one of the others, he experienced a sense of deep satisfaction. It wasn’t long before he began to gain a reputation as a fighter. The other squires learned not to pick a fight with him unless they came in groups of at least three.
d’Aubry was gone, but others began to take notice of the fair-haired boy and it wasn’t long before one of the older squires tried to take d’Aubry’s place. Guy avoided them, but knew it was only a matter of time before another decided to use force. Though it made him feel dead inside, he forced himself to consider the matter. In the end, he chose a big, thickset young man of about d’Aubry’s age. Once he’d deadened his own senses, it was easy. Philip was smitten and to begin with all it took was a smile or a gaze and the older boy would follow him anywhere, yet never try to use the situation to his advantage. Guy knew it was too good to be true and when another young man, about twenty or so, very close to the end of his training, began to pursue him, he knew he had to offer Philip something. After d’Aubry, this too, was relatively easy and afterwards Guy firmly kept his thought away from the incident. It had been worth it, though, Philip’s protection kept the other one at bay.
Before Guy knew it, another year had passed. It was spring once more and he was having more success with the girls. Most of them would accept him, when in the past they would brush him off as too young. Still, he was wary of going too far and he made sure Philip did not suspect what he was up to when they were out of each other’s sights.
Then one evening, as he was on his way back from supper, Clara called his name. She was standing under an elm, a sombre look on her face.
“Do you have a moment, Guy?”
He nodded, puzzled at her solemn tone. Once again, she took him to a private spot, making sure they weren’t overheard.
“I thought you’d want to know that Alyse – Alyse is dead.”
“She died in childbirth only a week or so ago. I just heard. Her cousin came with a message.”
“As I said, she died in childbirth. Her family arranged a marriage for her on her return, and she died, while giving birth to their firstborn.”
Suddenly, the evening he had spent with Alyse in the shed returned to him in startling clarity. She had asked him to restrain himself and he had failed. Had he been the cause of her death?
“There. Don’t take on so. I’m right sad myself, but it can happen like that at times.”
Clara took his hand and pulled him closer. She placed her hand against his cheek, fondling him. Guy’s eyes stung with unshed tears and he allowed himself to be held. The girl’s hands moved gently and soothingly over his hair and neck, as she murmured comforting words. After a while, her gentle touch began to have an effect on him and he regained control over himself. He became aware of her scent and her soft, rounded form pressed against him. Clara noticed the change in him and pulled him closer. His mouth sought out hers, and for a while, he tried to lose himself in the girl’s warm body. As he was about to pull up her skirts he came to his senses. No. Not again. He would not put another girl at risk. Not like this. Wasn’t the harm he’d caused Alyse enough? Clara became aware that the boy in her arms had lost interest and she let go of him, studying him closely.
“I can’t – I have to go.”
She straightened out her hair and clothing, considering the vanishing form of the boy. Perhaps he was too young, or – the talk about him held some truth. In any case, she had done what she set out to do. If he didn’t want what she had to offer, it was his loss.
It was a long time before Guy overcame his fear of letting himself go when he was with a girl. He didn’t let it keep him from enjoying the comfort of a girl’s embrace, but there was a part of him that held back. Even so, girls became his only release, unless you counted his work among the horses. The stable was the one place where he was fully at peace, but chasing and wooing a girl was his joy. It was as if in some small way, his success with the girls made up for his background.
There were times when his backside hurt from the punishment for the fighting, but pain didn’t deter him. Besting another boy in a scuffle, filled him with an exultant joy and more and more often he allowed himself to vent his anger on his attackers. He thought he could detect a certain amount of respect in the way the older squires regarded him. In any case, they could blame themselves. He never attacked anyone who hadn’t bullied him in the past. They would learn the price of offending him.
When Mark d’Aubry was sent away from the castle in disgrace, his father was at his wits’ end. It was all very well to keep the boy at home for a time, but if he didn’t find a way of finishing his son’s training, he would never see him knighted. Again, d’Aubry was forced to write letter after letter, to anyone who might accept his son. It was always the same. Mark went off to a new castle, a new lord, new squires to train with, then after a few months, or with any luck, a year or two, he was back. This had already occurred three times, and to his father’s dismay, it happened again, no less than twice in the following years. Once again, Mark returned. This time the reason given was that the lord of castle would be leaving the country, but d’Aubry knew that couldn’t be all there was to it.
In his desperation, he began to search his mind for anyone he knew who might be of help. At last he came up with the name Huntingdon. He and Huntingdon had trained as squires together, many years ago. If he wasn’t mistaken, the Earl had a son, a boy several years younger than his own, but still, a son, who was receiving arms training at home, at Huntingdon. Perhaps a smaller setting would suit Mark better. And so with considerable effort, d’Aubry sat down to write a letter. When he had finished, he sealed it and sent it off to Huntingdon, hoping as he did so, that Huntingdon would be at home and that he would extend his invitation to Mark. To his relief, he received a favourable reply and in due course, he sent Mark off to visit Huntingdon.
Robert first heard of the visitor when he was setting out to go riding in the countryside around his home. An older boy would come to receive instruction in swordplay from his father’s guards. It seemed they would be training together. The news pleased him. Robert, an only child, whose mother had died young, often felt lonely, despite having a loving, concerned father, who watched over him and, truth be told, indulged his every whim. Another boy – Robert hoped he would like this Mark d’Aubry, with whose father his own father had once trained.
On the day of his arrival, Mark made a favourable impression on Robert. The older boy seemed to have a pleasant disposition and he went out of his way to be friendly. However Robert did not think Mark was quite as good at swordplay as he would have expected from a youth old enough to be knighted within a year or two. To his surprise, Mark accepted being bested in a fight with a boy at least four years his junior with good grace. He laughed and made jokes at his own expense and in a very short time, the two boys were fast friends.
Mark had been given a room not far from Robert’s own and from the first evening, the two boys had run in and out of each other’s rooms, talking and laughing together. As often as not, Mark would sit on Robert’s bed amusing him with tales from other castles and from his journeys with his father. It was quite some time, before Robert realized that the stories from Mark’s travels for the greater part were made up and that led him to suspect that perhaps some of the tales from the other castles might have been made up as well. But in the early days of that summer, Robert found no reason to distrust Mark.
In the mornings, Robert would spend some time in front of a polished piece of metal, combing his hair, making sure his appearance was neat and tidy. His nurse, who had died two summers earlier, had been strict about all that. She had taken pride in the boy’s fair hair and sweet face. The Earl was in the habit of spending much on the boy’s clothing, and naturally Robert dressed splendidly, even on an ordinary day. Mark d’Aubry’s clothes were no less splendid. His father too, would indulge his son’s every whim.
Their talk focused on weaponry and battle, though neither boy had seen any action. Another natural topic of conversation was the finery with which they were wont to adorn themselves.
In the evenings, after supper, the two boys would wander around the gardens or bother the grooms in the stable. Even at the age of sixteen, Robert had a fondness for climbing trees and other childish games. One evening, when he was climbing down from his favorite tree, an old oak tree his grandfather had seen as an acorn, or so the story went, Mark sat on a conveniently placed bench and watched the boy reach the safety of the ground.
“Very good. Come. Sit with me.”
Robert obediently joined his friend.
“When will you be knighted?”
“At Christmas. If your father will let you, will you be there?”
“You know I would love to. Tell me again about the ritual.”
“Why do you want to hear it all again? Let’s speak of other matters. You are such a dear friend to me, Robert. Swear to me, you will always love me and be true to me.”
“Of course. You know that.”
Robert glanced at his friend, puzzled at his vehemence.
“Very well. I will always be your friend.”
To Robert’s surprise, Mark touched his hair, smoothing it, removing a few twigs that had ended up tangled in it.
“You have such lovely hair. It reminds me of someone.”
Robert blinked in confusion. Mark was staring at him so intently, he was wondering if there was a smudge of dirt on his nose or why else would his friend study him so closely?
Self-consciously, he brushed at his own face, wondering what was holding Mark’s attention. Suddenly, Mark leaned closer and kissed him on the cheek. Robert felt himself begin to blush. He liked Mark and they had fun together, but he had never guessed he meant so much to his new friend.
“My beautiful golden boy.”
On occasion, Robert’s nurse had referred to him that way, but he had never expected Mark to be so poetic about it. On the other hand, his fair hair was a source of pride to him and there was no denying that it was pleasant to be singled out and made a fuss about, as he had been ever since he was a child.
“Come on. Let’s go to the pond. Can you throw a flat stone so it bounces off the water? Once Stephen showed me how and he says I’m quite good at it.”
Mark smiled, then took Robert’s hand and though Robert wanted to run ahead, he matched his pace to his friend’s. He had mentioned another friend, one who looked a bit like him, someone with fair hair. Most people Robert saw had darker hair. Once from a distance, he’d seen a girl whose hair was red. He never saw her face, but when her hair caught the sunlight, it shone like burnished copper. It had been the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
At the pond, Robert showed off his stone throwing skills, and had the satisfaction of learning that Mark didn’t know how to bounce the stone off the surface of the pond. He did his best to show him how, and Mark patiently let him instruct him in the art.
That night, after the last servants had left and the fires were burning low, there was a faint knock on Robert’s door.
“Robert? Are you awake?”
“Yes. Is anything amiss?”
“No. Can I come in?”
“Of course. It’s not locked.”
Mark sat down on the side of the bed gazing steadily into Robert’s face.
Robert resisted an urge to bounce up and down on the bed. He was wondering what Mark would want to talk about, but he was sure it would be something exciting. Mark seemed to know so much about strange places that Robert barely knew existed.
When Mark spoke at last, what he said wasn’t anything Robert had expected.
“I was thinking I could sleep here, with you. That way we can talk for as long as we want.”
Robert considered. His bed was certainly big enough. Though he didn’t have any dogs at the moment, when he was younger, he had annoyed his nurse by letting them sleep on the bed. It had been pleasantly warm.
“Yes. Why not?”
He moved over to make room for Mark. Mark stretched out on his side and lay watching Robert. After a long pause, Mark began to speak. He told a story about two great warriors, who were like brothers and at the end of the story, they died in battle together. Robert thought he knew the names from somewhere, but he wasn’t sure. His tutors and the monks always told him so many stories and though he knew his letters well, he didn’t always apply himself to his studies as much as he knew he should have.
When Mark had finished, he lay quiet for a while, cheeks burning, eyes alight with an inner glow.
“That is how I wish to die. In battle, with my friend at my side. When you are knighted -”
“I don’t even know if my father intends to have me knighted. He’s never said anything about it. He’s away travelling so much of the time. I will ask him when he returns.”
“Yes. Are you tired, my golden boy?”
For some time now, Robert had been trying to hide his yawns with his hand. When Mark had knocked on his door, he had been almost half asleep.
“Go on. Lie down. I will blow out the candle.”
Robert stretched out on his back, eyelids drooping. Huntingdon was a fine place, but at night, even in the summer, it had a tendency to get cold. Mark’s body spread a pleasant warmth, making Robert doze off almost immediately. He became aware that Mark had moved closer and was now pressed against Robert in a way that the younger boy suspected might soon become uncomfortable, but at the moment, it just made him feel pleasantly warm. Suddenly, he felt Mark’s hand on his thigh. He came awake with a start.
“What are you doing?”
“Sh. Don’t fret. I will not hurt you.”
The hand began to rub him in a way that Robert was fairly sure was wrong, but it felt good and he responded to the soothing note in Mark’s voice.
“It feels good, doesn’t it?”
Robert couldn’t deny that, even if he had been capable of coherent speech. Of course he knew what Mark was doing. Though his nurse had caught him at it once or twice and slapped his fingers for it, there were times when he would do it anyway. Just as Mark had said, it felt good. He closed his eyes and let his friend go on touching him. Suddenly, he felt his own hand grabbed by Mark’s other hand then placed on Mark’s groin. After a moment’s hesitation, Robert began to fondle his friend in his turn. When it was over, Mark pulled him closer, and Robert fell asleep, his head resting on Mark’s shoulder. In the morning, when the servant girl brought new firewood and water, Mark was gone. Robert was still sleepy and the memories from last night were just a vague dream.
Each night, Mark returned to spend part of the night with Robert and each night, he stroked and fondled the boy, and Robert in his turn returned the favour. He knew it was wrong, but somehow, he didn’t know how to refuse. Mark was good to him. On one such night, he even removed a heavy gold chain from his own neck and placed it around Robert’s.
“Gold for my golden boy.”
Robert blushed prettily and once again, Mark pressed his lips to his cheek, then after a moment’s hesitation, to his lips. His fingers lingered on Robert’s face, fondling the boy’s smooth cheeks.
“You are very lovely.”
Robert giggled, not sure what to say. In any case, Mark didn’t seem to expect a reply. He took Robert’s hand and pressed the palm to his lips. All this was making Robert shy, but there was a part of him that thrived on the attention. When his father was at home, he would let him sit by his side at the main table in the great hall. He lavished praise on him, but he very rarely touched him. When Robert was very young, his father had sometimes let him ride in front of him on his horse and sometimes held his hand, but that was ten years ago or more. Lying like this in Mark’s arms, made Robert feel secure and loved, though he suspected his confessor would not approve of what they were doing.
Every day, Robert would wear Mark’s chain around his neck and every night, they slept together. Then one day, his father was back and suddenly, Mark was leaving again. Robert guessed that the servants must have talked and his father had suspected what had occurred. To his relief, his father did not refer to his findings in so many words, but on the morning after Mark’s departure, he noticed the gold chain.
“What is that?”
“It – was a gift from Mark.”
“You can’t accept it. I will send it to him. Give it to me.”
The Earl held out his hand for the chain and Robert handed it over, mortified with shame. His father had guessed. He knew. With Mark gone, it was easier to tell right from wrong, and a sense of horror settled over Robert. He began to recall snatches of what the priests and monks had taught him and tales of hell and eternal damnation filled the boy’s mind. That very evening, he went to confession in the chapel and in the little booth, behind the curtain, he told everything. His confessor, a rotund, comfortable man did not make much of the boy’s story.
“Very well. Say five Pater Nosters and as many Ave Marias. Of course, you must not do it again.”
“But – are you sure I won’t go to hell?”
“You must pray for forgiveness, but I’m sure the Lord will be merciful. Robert, it is not a grave matter. Do not fear.”
For weeks after Mark’s departure, Robert walked around Huntingdon, downcast and miserable. In the end, his father took pity on him.
“Robert, please. Cheer up. I will buy you a new sword or anything you wish. Come. Let me see you smile.”
But Robert found it hard to smile. He knew that he must have gravely disappointed his father and deep down, he knew he had been a fool to be so taken with Mark. In his absence, Robert had come to the conclusion than much of what Mark had told him had merely been a ruse to snare him.
The Earl couldn’t bear to see his son so desolate. He had been a fool not to make inquiries regarding d’Aubry’s son. His lapse of judgment had caused his boy, his son, whose face reminded him strongly of his late wife, to be deceived by a debauched older boy. He had sworn to look after the boy and now – Moved by a sudden impulse, the Earl reached out and patted the boy’s hair. To his surprise, his son’s face did not brighten. Puzzled, he awkwardly fondled the boy’s cheek. At last, a hesitant smile spread across Robert’s face.
“I will send for a new horse. You are growing a little too big for your old one, are you not?”
“Yes, Stephen said so only the other day.”
“Then it’s settled. I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you come with me? We will both go and choose the new horse for you.”
This time the smile that spread across Robert’s face came more naturally. That night, he had supper with his father, at the main table. They talked of the journey they would undertake. Once Robert had retired to his room, his father remained deep in thought. Clearly he hadn’t been vigilant enough. Dangers lurked everywhere. He would make sure that his boy was safe, if it was the last thing he did. No one would harm his boy, not while he was still alive.
It was months before Robert appeared his old self again, but the time he spent in his father’s company did him a world of good. The Earl vowed to himself that from now on he would try to include the boy in more of his activities. When most of his friends sent their sons away to finish their weapons training, the Earl kept his son at home. His own men would handle any training necessary. Robert was destined for greater glory than most younger sons. He was the heir to an Earldom. Others might fight for any lord, mercenaries with no honour. A Huntingdon did not need to resort to such measures to earn his keep.
Robert did not find it easy to trust other boys again, and after Mark’s departure, he made no more friends. He was content to stay at home or accompany his father on his travels or visits to other lords. For years, the thought of the pleasures of the flesh filled him with discomfort and though there were girls who smiled at him, girls who made him toss and turn at night, dreaming of their charms, he did not dare to approach any female, until the day he met the young woman with the long red hair. She, at long last, broke down the last barriers around his heart and he acted on impulse, an impulse that would change his life forever.