The other parts can be found via this page.
“Extraordinary. What can it mean?”
“That the man who lives here, Kenwyn’s kin, had some reason to need to know what that seal looked like. I can’t believe he kept it for decoration. Could he have some connection to the dead man’s family?”
“I do not know. Was there anything else that you sniffed out?”
Johannes shook his head. “Nothing out of the everyday. But I have thought on that picture long and hard. I wondered why I would need a copy of someone’s seal and decided it could only be to recognise the man, if I had not met him before. Or to see that his mark was genuine when witnessing the sealing of a document or the certifying of someone’s identity. I can’t imagine that Kenwyn’s cousin’s grandfather would have much occasion for being a witness, so I guess he was given this so that he would know Arthur if he met him. In which case, why?”
“There may be some simpler explanation. Perhaps he took a fancy to the pattern and wished to have a copy?”
“Perhaps. Let us be charitable and assume that is just the working out of coincidence, but I have a feeling in my bones that there is a connection to what happened today, and it unsettles me.” Johannes moved closer to his lover; the fire had been kept well banked up but he sought for comfort, not just warmth. “How well do you know Kenwyn? He had not been with you long before we met, I believe.”
“Aye. His family are simple decent folk. His father served mine and it was long agreed that the son might follow suit once he had returned from Gloucester. He spent some time with Hywel’s men and could have had a place there in the guardhouse but he prefers the country to the city. Cleaner and more honest, he says. Perhaps this violent death will make him realise that there can be evil anywhere.”
“Has he ever spoken of Arthur or his father? Were you ever aware of a special connection between the two families?”
“Not that I know of, except that all families locally seem to know each other in the common run of things. Kenwyn has been a good groom. He is reliable and fiercely loyal and cares very much for his people. He did mention how fond he was of his cousin —I suppose it is the same one that the man who lives here has been visiting, as I believe Kenwyn said she was the only girl among a half dozen boys in the family.”
“How fond is fond, Horace? The fondness for someone he might regard almost as a sister or more than that? The fondness we share?”
“Perhaps the latter. I recall he was asking about what would happen should he take a wife, whether he could stay in my service. I was more than happy to agree to the proposition as he has been a very good servant to me and I would be loathe to lose him.”
“That seems fair. I know that many a man with a household to serve him might elect to have bachelors only, but it seems unfair to expect one’s men to be celibate when the master…” Johannes’s words petered out into a smile, a kiss, and then a great yawn. “I must sleep Horace. A great tiredness has come upon me and it can’t be fought off as easily as you can when you feel amorous and I am too weary. Exercise your mind on this mystery as I sleep and we might have something to give Hywel in the morning, or whenever this snow lets him come here, apart from just a dead body.”
Johannes laid his head on the makeshift pillow, declining the opportunity to use his lover’s legs for the same purpose. It would be unfair to deprive the man of part of the cover, which is what would be entailed if they moved into such a position, and anyway those particular limbs were not a little bony and needed a good feeding up before they would make an ample cushion. Horace’s chest would have been another matter, but it would not answer in these circumstances.
When Johannes woke his face was warm, indicative of the fire still burning steadily in the hearth, but his back was cold, which meant that Horace had gone off about his business or whatever he thought his business might be this morning. As if Johannes’s thinking of him had brought forth the man, the door opened and Horace entered, carrying a load of wood.
“Good morning. Is the world smothered in its winter blanket?”
“It’s not so bad. The snow lies as thick as the breadth of my hand in places but it should be passable assuming they have not suffered worse in the valley. We should see Hywel before noon unless even more urgent business calls on him.”
“And the horses?”
“Cold and hungry but surprisingly happy considering that they did not pass the night as comfortably as we did. I found some apples and even some bran in the store. This man is well looked after, Johannes, and we must replenish all his supplies twice over. And add a flask of wine or two.” Horace smiled, something that he’d become accustomed to doing more often since his lover had entered his life the previous year. It had been the most fortuitous of circumstances and at times Horace was inappropriately grateful for the harsh times his friend had spent abroad as they’d brought him to Pain’s Wyke and to his manor.
“Shall we make a warm mash for the beasts? Your Hugon is always fond of one or so Kenwyn says.”
“Ah, Kenwyn.” Horace said no more, turning to the store and filling a bucket with bran.
Johannes considered for a moment. He knew this man extremely well and could recognise when something was exercising his mind. He also knew better than to enquire of it until he knew that Horace was ready to share all his thoughts. “I’ll get some water warming, then. Old crusaders know that it’s best to look after your horse before yourself; our bacon can wait.” He watched the pot carefully onto the hearth—no-one with any sense handled such an operation without care, risking as it did the pot tipping and the flames being put out. As it was settled safely, he felt strong arms around him and Horace’s face nuzzling into his neck. “What ails thee?” He reached his arms up to encircle his lover’s head in a halo of affection.
“I’ve been thinking all this last watch and I do not like that thoughts I have forming in my mind.”
“Will you tell me them while we wait for the pot to boil?” Johannes turned, took his friend by the hand and sat them down with the fur cloaks over their shoulders. The morning hadn’t yet shaken off night’s cold embrace and it seemed unlikely that the day should ever have any warmth in it.
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!