THE kingdom of Lysnowydh was perched upon a high cliff overlooking the wild Cornish coast, far enough away from London to dodge the intrigues of King Henry III’s court. The Earl of Leicester raged against King Henry that he but peopled his court with unsavory Frenchmen, relations of the Queen Consort Eleanor. In the main it did not trouble Lysnowydh’s King Christopher, nor did he feel compelled to enmesh himself in their struggles. Christopher’s own kingdom had endured enough strife and hardship, and once these hardships were settled he was content to remain in his own corner of the world.
Lysnowydh was thrust upon Christopher after the untimely death of his father. It rankled, as he felt as though he was not through sowing his wild oats, yet he settled down and assumed the yoke of kingship. Early on, his council pressed for him to find a suitable mate and provide an heir for the kingdom, lest it be overrun by the nefarious king of Strasnedh, Warin. Christopher refused to settle for anything less than love, and when he found love within the cottage of Dafydd, formerly the kingdom’s woodsman, there was much dissension from his council, since such a union would not provide the needed heir. In defiance, and with love in his heart, Christopher took Dafydd as his handfasted mate, with permission granted by King Henry. Soon after, he took Lady Marged into his household, and although he and Dafydd were newly joined, he began to split his time between them as he strove to get Marged with child.
Treacherous and full of dark yearning, King Warin designed a plan to bring Christopher’s idyll crashing down. He abducted Marged from beneath Christopher’s nose and arranged a trade between her and Dafydd. Torn to the very core, Christopher was forced to comply, returning to Lysnowydh with his unborn heir while leaving his handfasted mate in the evil king’s clutches. By virtue of siege and trickery, Christopher rescued Dafydd, and Strasnedh was very nearly destroyed in the process. Although Dafydd recovered, a shadow of the torture visited upon him still cloaked his every move. Angry at the injustices visited upon Lysnowydh by Warin, King Henry banished him under threat of excommunication. Strasnedh was ceded to King Christopher.
Once the heir, Anwyll, was born, Christopher gave leave for marriage between Marged and one of his most trusted knights, Sir Patrick. Strasnedh was held in stead by Sir Patrick, as it was Christopher’s wish that one day it be given to Anwyll.
Now, as the warmth of summer gave way to the chill of fall, all gathered within the hall at Lysnowydh for the main meal at day’s end. As was the custom, Dafydd sat at Christopher’s left hand to share his plate. Marged and Patrick were given seats of honor on the dais, and the lesser nobles occupied the trestle tables below. Once Father Geoffrey gave the blessing and pages came forward with bowls for hand washing, the meal was served. Christopher watched as ruby-red wine was poured into his goblet, and then he took it up and sprawled back in his chair.
“’Tis well,” he said after he had drunk deeply. “The cattle are fat, the wheat sleepy in the warm sun. Our future looks bright indeed.”
“Aye,” said Dafydd as he deftly speared the choicest slices of rare beef from the serving platter and laid them on Christopher’s trencher. “Ere long ’twill be winter.”
Christopher took up a slice of beef on his knife and winked as he popped it in his mouth. “Winter brings long nights under warm furs.”
“You are wicked, my king,” Dafydd murmured.
“’Tis truth,” Christopher said, “and well you know it. In any case, ’tis my experience that reward comes to those who are wicked.”
“Betimes aye,” Dafydd said absently.
Below the table Christopher rested his hand on Dafydd’s thigh for the briefest moment, thus communicating his support and understanding. He leaned forward and whispered into Dafydd’s ear, “Wicked for sexual gain is not the same as wicked for wicked’s sake.” He squeezed and then released Dafydd’s leg. “I trust this night you would reward me for the former.”
“Aye,” came Dafydd’s soft reply. “Mayhap.”
“Now who is wicked?” Christopher said with a chuckle as he leaned back in his chair.
“Ah, your majesty,” Dafydd said pointedly, “I have learned from one who is the master of the game.”
Color flamed across Christopher’s cheeks, and he turned and presented Dafydd his back. A shiver of anticipation coursed through Dafydd’s body at the prospect of the night to come. As he continued his meal, he listened with half an ear as Christopher took up conversation with Patrick and Marged.
“It has been six months and more since last we checked on Strasnedh. Enough time has passed. We must needs take a contingent forth, see the lay of the land and whether the keep can be refurbished, or if it must needs be razed and begun afresh.”
“Aye, your majesty,” Patrick said, and he bowed his head. “’Tis not my intent to make free with your generous offer to house us here forever.”
“Nonsense,” Christopher said, his voice louder than he had intended. He swallowed and continued in a more modulated tone. “’Tis my desire to give you shelter, you and Marged and my son Anwyll, for as long as is needed. Strasnedh must be made habitable before I will toss any of you out into the cold of coming winter.”
“Peace, your majesty,” Patrick said. “’Twas not my intent to anger you, ’tis just that….”
“’Tis just what?” Christopher paused in his eating to hear what Patrick had to say.
By his side, Dafydd also paused and laid his knife upon the table.
Patrick bit his lip and reached for Marged’s hand. He spared one glance at Dafydd and then said softly, “We must needs call for Sir Richard ere we venture forth to Strasnedh. ’Tis my belief—” and here he faltered.
Understanding began to dawn, and Christopher urged Patrick to continue. “Go on, young Patrick.”
“I do not believe Sir Dafydd wishes to join us when we go.”
“Ah,” Christopher said. “I had not meant that he join us.” He turned, cast a quick look in Dafydd’s direction, and then turned back to face Patrick. “Yet you have the right of it. We must needs send for Sir Richard.” He took up his knife again. “Monday next, we shall set up. Speak with Sir Walter; have the message sent first thing on the morrow.”
“Aye, your majesty. ’Twill be as you wish.”
Talk then turned to lighter subjects, and when the meal was through, Christopher rose from the table and beckoned Dafydd to follow him above stairs. On the landing Christopher continued into his room to have his body servant Alain help him undress, Dafydd went into his own room alone.
Most nights found Christopher and Dafydd sharing the bed in Dafydd’s chamber. While it was smaller than Christopher’s, it was not lacking in richness of appointment. Although it was late summer outside, the interior of the castle was cool, and furs covered the bed. Dafydd deigned to have his manservant help him disrobe, and on this night he waited naked in the bed. Soon enough Christopher appeared through the connecting door from his own room, clad in a bed robe that he dropped before he climbed up to join Dafydd.
“Shhh,” Christopher crooned as he placed his finger over Dafydd’s lips. “No talk of Strasnedh this night.” His finger was a gentle caress on Dafydd’s lips, and he tipped his head to the side. “I would have you reward me for my wickedness.”
Dafydd opened his mouth, took Christopher’s finger inside, sucked down to the knuckle, and then drew back to the tip. “I had no wish to speak of aught which would damp our love this night, my king.”
“Ahh,” Christopher said, and he moved closer, cupped a hand around the small of Dafydd’s back. “And yet I saw questions in your eyes.”
“Hush,” Dafydd murmured. “I would taste you this night, free from Strasnedh’s shadow.”
“Are you hungry, cariad?” Christopher asked.
“Aye, my hunger for you is always great.”
Christopher moved back and peeled away the furs from their bodies. “Then you must needs sup, lest you wither away to nothing.” He turned and settled back on the bed against the smooth sheet.
Candles bathed them in golden light. Dafydd loomed up above, drank in the sight of Christopher’s glowing body, and cast his gaze upward from the stirring erection, over softly rounded belly, up over rosy cheeks. It was not often that Christopher was this quiescent; it was his wont to be the devouring lion.
“You enflame me with your eyes,” Christopher murmured, “but ’tis your mouth I would have.”
“Are you impatient?” Dafydd asked. He passed his tongue over his lips, still lingering on his knees above the king.
“Scoundrel!” Christopher reached up and wound his fingers through Dafydd’s short hair, pulled him down closer. He arched his back as Dafydd’s mouth closed over his length, and released his hair as he braced his heels against the covers.
Dafydd reached up to tuck his hands under Christopher’s hips. He opened his eyes once to see the pleasure etched upon the king’s face and then gave way to the gratification he always derived from pleasuring Christopher this way, the scent deep in his nostrils, the velvety taste of hardened flesh. Something tickled at the back of his mind, warning that it wouldn’t last as long as he wanted it to; it never did. Vaguely he wondered if Christopher would ever allow him to tie his hands that he might tease him to the brink more than one time before sending him over the edge.
Upon the heels of that thought, Christopher surged from the bed and neatly reversed their positions. With a strong hand, he held Dafydd against the covers and reached with the other for a fingerful of cream from the ready pot at the bedside.
“’Tis always the same, cariad,” Christopher growled while his fingers found their mark. “I wonder, will the day ever come that I tire of this?”
“You will not—” and the last word was torn from Dafydd’s lips as Christopher slammed inside him. Dafydd’s hands curled in the cast-aside furs as he was swept away in Christopher’s fierce taking.
What was left unsaid between them fueled their coupling. Enough time had gone by that this roughness did not hurt Dafydd, yet it still weighed heavily on both of their souls. In the magic times when daily drudgery was left aside, their shared, cloudy past was outshone by the sunshine of their love. And when they found release together, as they did this night, it was all but forgotten.
The candlelight wavered, sending long shadows over the interior of the bed hangings. Christopher lazed against Dafydd’s side.
“You must needs douse the candle and stoke the fire, cariad. You have sapped my strength.”
Dafydd grunted, “Not yet awhile.” He turned to nuzzle along the top of Christopher’s head. “I would be greedy, soak this in.”
“As always, you are a poet, and yet I am feeling indulgent.”