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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.

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A Man Lay Dead in Winter part 4

The other parts can be found linked from this page.

As the fire drew and the edge was taken off the air they were able to assess what comforts they could find. There was a narrow pallet for a bed, with a thin mattress, but there was a good quality woollen cover which could give protection to them both and they were warmly dressed anyway, fur cloaks and furlined boots being the order of the day. By the time the meat had cooked, flakes the size of horse chestnuts were falling and Horace has moved the horses into a little stand of trees where he hoped they might not succumb to the cold. Two old rugs that had been on the cottage floor now graced the beasts’ backs as a guard against the weather. He returned to find a supper laid for him on rough wooden trenchers, the wine poured into a single horn cup.

“We’ll have to share, Horace. Perhaps the cottager has taken his finest golden tableware with him to grace his kin’s table while they welcome the Christ child afresh.” Johannes smiled kindly. He knew that the finery he enjoyed at Horace’s manor was far beyond the reach of most of the people he walked this life with.

“If it snows like this all night we’ll have been so grateful for the shelter that I’ll send him a pair of the finest goblets I can rustle up. Truly, dead man or no, I do not think we would have necessarily made our way safely back home before the weather set in. It’s coming from the south and I hope that Kenwyn can ride before it.”

“Then please God he makes it to Hywel safely and is given bed for the night. Perhaps we might see a thaw in the morning and they can reach us then. If not, we will have to make do. And our friend out there won’t be any the worse off for the cold.”

“Who was he, Johannes? We have his scrip safe here, is there any sign in it of his identity?”

Johannes laid the contents on the floor. There was a little money, the man’s seal and some personal items. “He must have had a horse, and it’s either been taken or fled. He would have his other things in his saddle bags, assuming he was en route somewhere. He might be local, but I can’t place him. I assume his face was not familiar to you?”

Horace shook his head. He picked up the seal and considered it. “This I have seen, though. It belonged to James, a friend of my father’s. He died not long after my own sire, both of them victim to the fever that ravaged us some ten years back. This man must be James’ son to have inherited the insignia.”

“What do you recall of him?”

“Very little. We must have met as boys but I have no lasting impression. All I know is that my father always spoke of Arthur with disapproval in his voice.”

“You were fond of your father, weren’t you? I suspect he never spoke of you with such dissatisfaction.” Johannes reached over and took his friend’s hand.

“He was very proud of me; it broke my heart when he died. He had acted as both father and mother to me since not long after I was born.” Horace was touched with emotion as he remembered with great affection the happy days of his youth. “And above all he valued fealty and steadfast love. James’ son had been flighty, had got a girl into trouble and while the family looked after her well enough, my father could not find it in his heart to trust the man again. He was not welcome in our house like his father was. I believe that he has been living in Wales, as his mother had property there. Wherever he has been he has only recently returned as far as I know; I wonder if he has changed his ways.”

“Perhaps his sins caught up with him, Horace.”

“You believe that he was struck down by God?”

“More likely human vengeance, rather than divine. Some brother or father of a girl he ruined.” Johannes snuggled closer to his friend and they shared another cup of wine. “I shall never understand you, Horace, not if we live to be seventy and spend every moment of the day together. You do not believe in God and yet you think he might have killed this man for his transgressions.”

Horace had to admit the truth of the accusation; he turned the discussion back on his friend. “And you, who say you believe, see only a God of mercy and love. How can you after those years you spent in the East?”

“Because I have met him once or twice on that battlefield. He was there every time a dying man was given succour, especially when it was his enemy who provided the comfort. Men are capable of great evil and great good and I am sure the latter comes from some part within them that connects with a higher power. Oh, I am no orator, Horace, I can’t explain. I just know.”

Horace gently kissed his lover’s brow. “You accept as true that there was a child born in a stable who changed the world?”

“I do, my heart. It’s the fact of the stable that makes me believe even more. If it were all a tale he’d have had a more notable birth. And the fact that he fought with swords of love and shields of charity and in the end he gave up his own life for other people. I think it’s that part you find so hard to understand, isn’t it?”

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