Monday, March 30, 2009

Transgressions excerpt by Erastes

England 1642: Two young men fall in love in a country poised on the brink of Civil War. David Caverly—who longs to escape his father's smallholding to join the King's Army, and of Jonathan Graie, the puritan apprentice David's father brings to help at the forge. They become friends, but it is not until Tobias--a King's Army scout who stops at the farm and seduces David--that David knows his friendship with Jonathan should be so much more.

Running Press (April 13, 2009)
ISBN: 0762435739


Hal had been gone a fortnight and David was worried. Of course he had no idea where the man had gone, it could be anywhere in the country, so two weeks, looked at from that perspective, was not that long a time, but still, David fretted. He had made a couple of drinking acquaintances among the other recruits: Robert Godwin, tall and slim, man, a natural pikeman, according to the reluctant praise of their Sergeant, and Allan Blake, who, despite being drunk nearly every hour God gave, somehow managed to fire a musket without blowing himself to kingdom come or getting himself flogged for his inebriation. These two young men had approached David one evening while he was sitting cleaning his musket and asked if he was going to the town. He had thanked them but refused politely, then found himself physically lifted off his bedroll and lugged like a sack of provisions down the stairs, where they dropped him on the cobbles of the yard.

"You can walk from here, Master Gray," said Blake, removing his hat to give a mock bow. "We are not your packhorses, although my learned friend here may resemble one more than most." At that, Godwin head-butted Blake in the stomach, who fell backwards over the still seated David and the men had been friends ever since. David was glad of it; being an only child for years, and then becoming so close to Jonathan, now he sorely missed a friend and companion.

Sixteen days after Hal's disappearance all three of them were outside an inn, shaded by leaves in a tree-lined courtyard.

"Still no word of your dashing corporal, David?" Blake teased, pulling the wench he had in his lap closer to him so he could look down her ample bosom.

David shook his head and tried to look as if it did not bother him; it was vitally important that his proclivities did not become common knowledge, as he knew men had been executed for such "unnaturalness." He made a mental note to try and bring the subject up with Hal--as to how he and Tobias managed it in secret--if he could, without upsetting his friend over the memory of the dead trooper. The sorrow of Hal's losing Tobias weighed almost as heavy on David's heart as his own loss of Jonathan. At least after the war he could, if he wanted to, swallow his pride and go home, hope his father had forgiven him, and go on his knees to Jonathan and beg for forgiveness. Hal's love was gone forever.

David's unusual moroseness caused Blake to tear his montero from his head and throw it at David. "Cheer up, for God's sake, David. Anne my dear," he waved airily at a buxom blonde watching them. "Please do me the great favor of attempting to make my poor friend smile. You would think by the way he misses our handsome corporal, that he had no other friends, which offends us." David looked up at the approaching strumpet and laughed out loud as she stalked down on him, her hips swinging, calling out to the other women about her challenge.

There were a few ribald comments and one wag from Pennyman's regiment shouted, "Ye won't be allowed as far as his lap me girl, you've not got the right artillery!"

David found himself blushing and in a desperate attempt to take the suddenly riotous attention away from himself, he pulled the girl into his lap and with an elegant wave to Pennyman's men and a dazzling smile, he kissed her hard.

There was an enormous cheer from the entire inn, everyone laughed and to David's enormous thankfulness they continued with their own affairs. He let the girl sit up straight and muttered his thanks.

"S'all right love," she said quietly in his ear, making it look for all the soldier's benefits that she was whispering lewd suggestions, "We all know that you be under young Haldane's protection. Pretend to say something to me, and then follow my lead." He did as she said, putting his mouth to her ear and she roared in laughter for all to hear.

"Why, you young scamp!" she shouted as she got off his lap in mock affront. "I don't do that for less than a Colonel! Come back when you've been promoted!" This caused another general laugh, but afterwards David was left in peace to drink and sing with the rest. As they swayed and sang their way back to the barracks, Godwin linked his arm through David's as they watched Blake skipping on ahead doing a passable impression of a jackass.

"Did you hear the rumors about the regiment?" Godwin said quietly and more soberly than he appeared to be.

David looked glanced at his friend's pale thin face in inquiry. "Rumors? No. I've hardly been off the training ground these last few days." The Sergeant had had him working with his musket for hours after the other men had been dismissed.

"I've heard we will be moving, and pretty soon, too."

David felt the color drain from his face. "Do you know where?"

Godwin shook his head. "Not really. Could be west, could be north. Things are muddled; where we are needed I suppose. Doesn't really matter though, does it? Action! At last! This is the year that Essex gets what he deserves!" And with a laugh, Godwin pulled a thoughtful David into their barrack.

David walked down to the end where his place was and his heart leapt to find Hal sitting on his bedroll. Hal jumped up and grabbed David by the arms.

"David! God, I've missed you." His handsome face was pale but wreathed in a smile. "I surmised you would be out drinking, you rascal. I have been waiting for hours. I was not going to scour Oxford searching the taverns for you." He ruffled David's still ragged hair. "Come out, walk with me for a while." He ignored David's concerns about curfews and Sergeants as he led the way out and down the stairs into the moonlit courtyard. As Hal went to step out into the quadrangle which was almost as bright as day, David caught him by the arm, still worried about being caught.

Hal winced and David was immediately solicitous. "Hal? You're hurt!" He sat him down on the grass and peeled off his jacket. Hal's shirt was badly bloodstained and cut off at the shoulder; his upper arm was bandaged. Hal smiled ruefully at David's concerned face.

"Looks far worse than it is, believe me. The man who fired at me was not trained by a Sergeant Winter, or I would be dead. I didn't even see him--the horse did, shied and between the shooter's stupidity and my horse's brains, together they probably saved my life." He pulled his jacket back around his shoulders. "Don't look so tragic. I'll live. The shot grazed my arm nothing more, and I've had worse. Master Thornell has patched me up." He reached over, took off David's hat and tipped his chin up so he could see his face. David's heart contracted at the story and he felt his eyes fill with unbidden tears.

Hal was smiling, but his brow was furrowed with concern. "Crying? Nay, not over me?"

"Not really," whispered David quietly, "but so much loss. I can't explain, I'm sorry." He stood up, embarrassed by his lack of control partly due to the ale and partly in concern for Hal's welfare.

Hal caught up with him at the quadrangle door and pulled him round. "Are you ever going to tell me what makes your face twist in agony when you think I do not see? Am I not enough of a friend that you can share your sorrow as well as your drink? If not, then tell me and we will be no more to each other than your new drinking companions, but tell me one way or the other for I deserve at least that courtesy. Don't let me hope..." His voice faltered.

David leant against the warm shadowed wall and slid down it into a crouching position. He kept his face turned from Hal and said "Don't, Hal, I can't bear for you to berate me. I left behind...someone. At home. Someone I loved."

"A lass?"

David gave a snarl, startling Hal with his sudden unexpected anger. "Don't play games with me Hal! You know what happened 'twixt me and Tobias. You helped arrange it. I was younger then, but not addled. You met him."

"Your brother?" Hal seemed to struggle to remember that day.

"No, not my sibling, but my blood brother, my friend, my conscience, my soul. Everything that was good about me, I left behind. With him."

Hal's voice was strangely quiet. "But you left him. Why?"

"We quarreled. Don't ask me any more for pity's sake." David's voice broke. "Don't you see, Hal? That's what destroys me. We quarreled. I was stupid, but I had no choice. I left him, the best person I have ever known. But he goes on, he lives. I could go back, he might even forgive me. But you... you. You lost your love, and you can never go back. I blame myself for both of us." His voice came in huge sobs for his own sorrow as much as Hal's; allowing all the loss of the last year, right from Edgehill to this moment, to wash over him. "Perhaps if Tobias and I, had not...he would be...would be..."

Hal moved swiftly to David, knelt in front of the youth and pulled him forward onto his knees and into his arms. "Don't ever say that. Do you hear me? Not ever! It is not your fault. Tobias and I… I do not expect you to understand our friendship, but we had known each other for many, many years. I knew him so well that I knew that I was not enough for him, he needed more than I could give him and I loved him enough to let him go because he always came back to me."

"But not..."

"No. Not after Edgehill." The bitterness and sadness in Hal's words tore through David. "Somehow I knew he wouldn't. After he came back from you that night he was so quiet, somehow I knew, and I think he did too." He kissed David's hair softly. "It's not your fault, David, I promise. It's just war." Hal pulled David into an alcove between the buildings and bent towards David, grazed his face, with the softest of kisses, drew the tears from his eyes, and followed the trail of salt to his mouth.

David returned the kiss, as gently as it was given. Hal's tongue was tender, almost hesitant as he explored David's mouth, their lips barely connecting. Hal brought long fingers up to David's face and outlined the shape of his lips, as if attempting to memorize their shape and feel. As the kiss broke, David whispered, "He said as much to me. He knew he was not coming back. And then he never did..."

"Can we not comfort each other then, you and I?" Hal whispered into David's ear, his arms slipping around his waist. "Is your loss too recent? For mine is not...I have been lonely for too long a time."

David tipped his head back, opened his eyes. His gaze met Hal's, and he saw something he recognized. They were both lonely, but wanting. He gave the smallest of smiles, then leant forward and kissed Hal deeply, his hands fisted in the thick hair, as his hesitation vanished and his teeth clashed with Hal's in his haste. Finally, when David was quite breathless. Hal stopped, and without a sound led David by the hand and out of the courtyard.
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