Farewell from the Bookshelf!

Please note that GLBT Bookshelf -- the community wiki which was the parent to this fiction blog -- went offline on May 31, 2016, after seven years' service to members.

All Gay Romance will remain online till the end of 2016 in order to give contributors every opportunity to recover materials uploaded here.

Many thanks to all who contributed over the years, and good luck to everyone in your future works!


A Man Lay Dead in Winter (historical mystery) Part 1

I wrote this years ago, under the influence of Cadfael. It features a sort of 'test version' Jonty and Orlando from the Cambridge Fellows books, before they got relocated from the time of Stephen to Edward VII. More parts to come.

The fortified manor at Pain’s Wyke had been one of the Countess of Gloucester’s favourite retreats; when her husband had been away fighting, or in happier times attending to business, then she would take the chosen ladies of her household there. Were it high summer they could enjoy the clean air and the good honest country smells. It was an added advantage that the Lord of the Manor was such a handsome and courteous young man, and the unattached ladies (and one or two respectable matrons who should have known better) were content to flirt with him. It never came to anything, much to their regret, but it made for a pleasant pastime.

England had seen many an unhappy hour during the time that the King and his sister had fought for the throne and nearly torn the country apart in the process. Now, with the return of Maud to France, it was hoped that some sweeter times might be ahead, although not for the Countess, who found she had too many memories of happier times to let her be entirely at ease anywhere in England. Other people might come and stay at the manor, nonetheless; connections of the Earl or well bred travellers who couldn’t complete the journey to the city of Gloucester before nightfall. The lesser folk might seek refuge with Roger, who had the church and served his flock with humility and humour, but the finery stayed with Horace Dumanoir.

Just such a fine young man had sought accommodation one summer morning and been welcomed heartily, his recommendation from Gloucester being impeccable. He was making a slow journey home from the crusade, in the steps of his natural father though determined to let him get home first. This man was second son of an Earl, born the wrong side of the blanket and dearly beloved of his sire, if not of the man’s wife. They had felt it politic to let the nobleman return home first, to rapturous delight, before the by-blow made his appearance. The son might then be greeted rather more warmly, his half brother and step mother having had their fill of the Earl’s affection. The arrangement suited the younger man admirably as it gave time for reflection and rest, something which had been sorely lacking these last few years of hell. Johannes Fitzrichard had taken up arms in his saviour’s cause and regretted almost every moment.

The first evening in Pain’s Wyke he had fallen into the easiest of conversations with his host, Stephen’s war having provided subject enough for men to discuss the next forty years. The crusade was a much less simple topic to consider, Horace anxious not to probe into such an obviously unhappy issue with his guest. He’d taken an immediate shine to this man; he found his company was de facto much more pleasant than that of the ladies of the court, and he wished to make his stay as agreeable as possible. They had soon taken to using their baptismal names, eschewing titles and grandeur for friendship and a degree of intimacy. But as the wine flowed and the candles burned down, the talk couldn’t avoid the disagreeable for long.

“I know of men who have come home leprous or emasculated. I sometimes think that was a worse fate than for those whose bodies were trampled into the dust of Acre.” Johannes drained his cup and stared bitterly at the dregs. Horace refilled it smoothly and without comment. They stared at the fire for a long while, before the latter spoke.

“Surely you were doing God’s work, though?”

“The vengeful Old Testament God, perhaps. Not the loving father of the New. I tell you, Horace, Christ was scourged afresh every day between Dover and Acre. I saw very little Christian charity or piety practiced.”

“And yet you carried on?”

“Moral cowardice on my part, I suspect. Or I could be generous to myself and say that I stayed so that the small band of reasonable voices wouldn’t dwindle further. Truth to tell I cannot state why.” Johannes laid down his cup and looked for a long time at his host. “You are a good man, Horace. I have heard your praises sung on many an occasion, in our camps. England is in need of honest men of stout heart, she has been this many a long year. I’m pleased to have met you at last.”

They parted, each to an empty and lonely bed, one that hadn’t seen a companion since childhood, when friendship and not lust had been the overriding principle. Neither of them had sought to take a wife, although only their consciences and confessors knew why.

The next few days were spent riding and hunting, Johannes taking a fine stag which would provide a pair of many-branched antlers for the wall and haunches for the kitchens. The hall had supped on venison, rich and cloying, and Horace and his guest had sated themselves on conversation, exchanging question and answer and reaching deeper into each other’s minds and hearts. Only one small cloud darkened the sky of their budding friendship—the steward had reported that the noble visitor was sleeping badly each night, murmuring so loudly in his sleep that he’d roused one of the servants who tended to the guests and this lad had gone to wake the steward. It had been obvious that Johannes was in deep distress.

Horace felt unaccountably upset himself at this report. He speculated that the horrors of the long march to Jerusalem were still being relived in his new acquaintance’s mind, making the sleeping hours as much of a nightmare as the waking ones must have been under the merciless eastern sky. As the two men drank and conversed, Horace became resolved to keep a sharp ear later that night in case events repeated themselves. Because he is my guest and it is my duty to attend him if necessary he repeated in his mind, as if recapitulating the same words ad nauseum would make them more like the truth.


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