“Are you mad? Yes, damn you, you are indeed mad! Selling our son like he was some slab of meat! You must be mad! Mad, you wretched man!”
“What would you have, then? To be living in the gutter amidst the pig shit, or stay here, in this precious house I’ve worked like the Devil to keep for you! Well, tell me which it is; ah, you see, blood really isn’t thicker than mortar.”
“It’s despicable what you’ve done, even so.”
“You think? Then if it doesn’t suit, woman, prepare to be eating gruel the rest of your days, crapping in corners, and sharing the meanest sleeping quarters you can imagine with cockroaches the size of platters…besides, he’s your son, not mine.”
There was the crux. Henry Fassingham was one hard son of a whore. And Elizabeth, his wife, had never been allowed to forget two things; firstly, that Henry had done her an immense favour by marrying her in the first place, and second, William – Will – would not inherit a groat from Henry, not when he already had two sons himself, reprehensible, absent and feckless though they were.
William Perslane. Will to those who loved him. He was a gentle natured boy, timid when a child, growing into the solemn young man he was now. Almost 20 years old, and preparing to leave behind the bountiful charity of stepfather Henry – to enter orders as a lay-brother at Carlake Abbey, some thirty miles from his home, as the crow languidly flew.
Will was tall, a little on the too slender side for his height, and a lengthy spell in the sunshine would have remedied the pallor of his skin. Dark blonde hair, that was ruffled in curls, no matter how he tried to tame it; eyes of a green hue that reflected their light like sunshine upon crisp autumn leaves; a clear, glowing complexion. Indeed, he was more than passable fair. Exquisite, if you can imagine; long limbed, lithe of movement, intelligent and thoughtful of nature.
Will took the breath away. So he needed to be hidden away. Hidden from a world that saw such beauty, curiosity wholly aroused, and was left to wonder. To wonder how that pale, smooth skin would feel to the touch. To wonder if the pale, cool façade might be awakened by the heat of nascent desire, rising, flowing, into the fullest expression of earthly ecstasy.
Elizabeth Fassingham had watched her child grow from a playful, sweet natured boy into a beautiful, dangerous young man. His beauty held danger That, and his inclinations. He was pure – he wished to remain so. The idea of bodily pleasures, and his need to serve God, created such a conflict within him, that Elizabeth feared for the health of her son’s immortal soul.
Will would become withdrawn, silent, taken to wandering off into the fields and the woods near their home, to converse with God, to seek solace from the one thing he couldn’t escape in this lifetime; the urgings of his body. Elizabeth imagined the Church, even so, was not a place of natural sanctuary for one of Will’s nature. He was too free within his spirit, despite his shyness; but she could provide no alternatives that might save him, neither from his beauty nor his desires. She could think of nothing that might save Will from himself.
Henry Fassingham had been relieved when Will made clear his intention of living within the quiet, secluded confines of Carlake. To begin with, he would not be required to provide the keep of the unsettling young man any longer; and the idea of Will being immured behind monastic walls served the miser in Henry splendidly. If the lad eventually took holy orders, then that would be the last of him. For Will’s part, he found his stepfather a boorish, venal man. No matter that Henry was a wealthy merchant, and their riverside home was the worldly mirror of Henry’s wealth. And Elizabeth had become used to living in a particular way; luxuriously, to be sure. The finest foods, the softest linen, clothes that set her apart from the other good wives of the Guild, though even the proud Elizabeth wore her velvet within the privacy of her home, lest the sumptuary officials levied a fine.
Will had witnessed the changes in his mother over the years. A schism had formed between them, Will considering his mother too enraptured by worldly pleasures, whilst she was uneasy in his solemn presence, so like his late, lamented father. Not only his beauty disturbed Elizabeth. So too his restlessness within the household, his intelligence not satisfied within the confines of Henry’s lesser expectations; all served to create an atmosphere that threatened a disharmonious outcome.
It was Will who had learned that, indeed, there was a deeper disharmony beneath the glittering surface of ostentation. It was Will who discovered that the hitherto flowing coffers of Henry Fassingham were experiencing an arid spell. Those coffers were not as replete and as abundant as Henry had led the world to believe.
Four poster beds cost much gold. So did tapestries, that hugged the walls of solar, bedchamber and hall, aping the more at ease grandeur of the nobility. The hitherto burgeoning wool trade had paid for every plate of silver and pewter. On Holy Feast days, out came the solid silver plate and goblets. Banquets glutted the belly and beguiled the jealous eye. Henry Fassingham boasted his wealth with an opulence that offended his myriad enemies. Like beauty, envy could be a dangerous thing.
A chance meeting at the town’s busy market with a sinister individual had alerted Will to his stepfather’s dire financial straits. Will had been recognised easily amidst the squalor of market day, shining like some glittering beacon in a dark sea of humanity. The dubious gentleman had succinctly revealed to Will the state of Henry Fassingham’s financial affairs. Will might have led a sheltered life, but he was no fool. Rodrigo de Sousa had reeked of mercenary, stank of war veteran, foetid with the corruption of sword for hire…and all the immorality that entailed.
Rodrigo hadn’t needed Will to lead him to whom he was seeking; Rodrigo had already found his quarry. Henry’s riverside manor-house was undeniably the most opulent within the merchants’ quarter. But Rodrigo had not anticipated how calling in the debt might prove so enjoyable. For his Captain, that is. Rodrigo didn’t mind assuming the mantle of messenger – he was accustomed to it. Folk required preparing for an encounter with his Captain. Requisite was a deep breath and not a little reflection, to wonder how such a handsome aspect could contain one of the meanest sons of a whore in Christendom.
“You have to be the youngest cub,” Rodrigo had intoned, blocking Will’s path, the mercenary’s dark eyes moving over the lean figure before him, “I didn’t know Henry had bred beauty, amidst all the sheep shit and wool sacks.”
Will had cast his green eyes over the stocky figure obscuring his way, feeling insulted that anyone might think he’d sprung from Henry Fassingham’s meagre loins.
“I’m not his son, sir; he is my stepfather, but you seem to have the advantage on me.”
“Rodrigo de Sousa, at your service, young fellow.”
But it was clear that Rodrigo was assuredly not at Will’s service.
Will had been jostled by folk attempting to get past him, so Rodrigo had roughly pulled him against the wall, muttering in his ear.
“Tell Lord Shagger of sheep that the Captain requires his gold, and is coming to visit very soon to collect…tell him, Will, that my Captain has an ill mood these days, so his patience is not as it might be.”
Rodrigo’s eyes had narrowed, appraising the tall young man with increasing interest. But perhaps, he thought to himself, the son of a whore might perk up a little once he sees this rare treasure. Indeed, the Captain’s most prized possession might perk up, and considerably so.
“Who is this Captain you speak of, sir?” Will’s tone had been cold, imperious. He had looked at Rodrigo with an ill concealed distaste. The scars on the man’s face had given him a harsh, lived-in appearance, whilst the creak of leather every time Rodrigo moved, had jarred on Will’s layman sensibilities. Soldiers were trouble, but mercenaries were trouble with all the hounds of hell in attendance for good measure.
“You’ll find out soon enough, Will; now run along, sweetness, and tell your whore-son step-sire to start counting out his coin and pay up. Unless he is content enough to have his innards for a muffler.”
With such ringing in his ears, Will had called out to the retreating Rodrigo. “My name is William Perslane, sir, you address me by a name only my familiars use!”
The mercenary hadn’t bothered to turn round, merely waving his hand in a dismissive, but transient, farewell. For Will had known he would be seeing the creature again.
And this Captain, whoever in the name of Hades he was. Doubtless a gambling debt to be settled, Will had thought; a bag or two of gold would see such devils off, he had imagined in his beguiling innocence.
“Wasn’t I right, Amadis? See, how even the night loves him?”
Captain Amadis Sanchez Diaz – Amadis to friends and enemies alike – watched William Perslane from the shadows that hugged the courtyard of Henry Fassingham’s fine house. The gloaming did capture Will’s loveliness, for sure. Amadis hadn’t believed Rodrigo. For Rodrigo was given to hyperbole, especially where money, women…and lovely men, were concerned. He knew how to tap into his Captain’s predilections.
The money still held sway with Amadis, oh, indeed it did. The women? They had faded away over the years, once he had accepted only men caused his cock to rival the steel in his sword. Doubly armed, Amadis had always sought experience upon experience, to whet his increasingly jaded appetites.
Rodrigo knew his Captain well. He knew Amadis enough to understand that the sight of William Perslane would bring to Amadis the possibility of such an experience that even the king of jades might find some keen spark within; the spark, perhaps, ignited again by the beauty of William Perslane, in all his dark blond, green eyed gentility.
“Come, my dearest rat…time to collect my debt,” Amadis murmured, slowly pulling off his gloves, twisting them in his palm. Like so, he slapped them against Rodrigo’s arm.
Emerging from the shadows, the two men made William Perslane start. He had returned from visiting the house of his tutor, Elias Markeza. Will’s thoughts were of a pleasing turn, his awareness of the encroaching shadows dulled by concentration on the debate he had enjoyed with Dr Elias.
Will found himself confronted by the stocky, all too familiar figure of Rodrigo, and his eyes narrowed in haughty distaste at the sight of the mercenary. All gentler feelings fled. Bitter words were about to emit forth from Will’s mouth at the intruder loitering by his stepfather’s house, until those words died upon his lips.
Extinguished by the presence of Rodrigo’s companion, who emerged from the darkness, subtle, deliberate in movement, a snake rising from a sepulchre.
In those moments, beauty observed its mirror image. Will had always been told he was lovely to behold. His mother had reminded him constantly, as if somehow this might be a bargaining tool for some unknown, future transaction. How could she have known? Elizabeth Fassingham was no Sybille. Yet Will’s future unfolded then, in the deserted, shadow shrouded courtyard, as he gazed upon the man who had sought him out. Who would own him. Possess him.
“We are here, by right, William Perslane.”
The voice was heavily accented, a Spaniard, Will surmised correctly. The English was perfect, the diction clear, the timbre of that voice rich like smooth honey poured over skin.
“My name is Amadis Diaz, and I have an appointment with your father; he is expecting me. Now…do not bar my way, William. That would not go well for you, I promise.”
The threat was wreathed in the smoky voice. Amadis held Will’s nervous gaze, and silently gave Rodrigo his godforsaken due. By the Rood, he was right, Amadis thought, the resemblance was unnervingly haunting. A bolt of tension shot through Amadis as he indulged in moving his eyes over Will’s features. Beautiful, Amadis thought – but never again will I give voice or credence to such false allure. An admirer of Petrach, Amadis knew better than anyone how beauty could conceal the ugliness of a dark soul.
Amadis stepped closer, until Will could see him clearly in the gloom. Rodrigo stood behind his Captain, enjoying the expression on the arrogant young prig’s face; an expression that held so much of Will’s vying emotions. Fear, true enough, but there, as plain as to be seen by even the dullest of fools, was the evidence of a young man impressed by what he saw. Fear was at odds with another, less comfortable, emotion. Will swallowed hard, imagining himself somehow hypnotised by that tall presence before him, as darkly potent and vibrant as forbidden conjuring.
His encounter with Rodrigo still unnerving him after several days, Will had believed the mysterious Captain would be an even more malefic presence. In that, the lad’s surmise proved true. If dark, clear eyes were malefic, Will had been superlative in his imaginings. Amadis was nothing like he’d thought, except in one thing. His worst nightmare.
For men such as he were to be shunned. Will had mastered many tactics in suppressing the urges of his young body, avoidance of temptations one of the most effective. Another rule he adhered to; only make eye contact with men if there was no escape, nowhere else to look. His world had been safe, it had been easy to apply such rules amidst a sea of unattractive men. Rarely, there were fleeting glimpses of good looking men, visitors to the town, brief and admiring glances shared across the busy throng of passers by.
Now, all Will wished to do was gaze.
He knew he was staring. The tentative edifice of propriety crumbled like sand through fingers. Before him, the Spanish Captain stood, knowing the effect he was having upon the young man. Instantly, Amadis had known that this soil was most fertile indeed for ploughing. Rodrigo had suggested it, that the lad might be a lover of men, and if not…well, let him be persuaded.
Now, there remained no doubt. Amadis had seen the mark of Scorpio in Will’s green eyes, lurking behind irises of such a pure emerald, they might have been hewn from the very earth herself. It took desire to recognise desire. Matched they were, Amadis and Will, though Will slowly began to recover from the shock of how handsome Amadis was.
Even so, Will’s rushing senses had bombarded his body with tingling heat, accompanied by a surging, rolling feeling in the pit of his stomach. Before him stood a tall, lean, athletic man, with jet black hair, softened by subtle waves; a clipped beard, sleek, as black as his hair. Eyes a deep grey, redolent of the sky before the storm broke.
Amadis. Handsome, occasionally charming.
“Boy, out of my way,” Amadis said, his voice malevolently smooth. His expressive grey eyes seemed suddenly sharded with flint, as Will matched his gaze.
Swallowing hard, hating how Amadis’ eyes moved over his throat, Will stepped away, his legs moving as if he were wading amidst deep water. Even so, he had courage, or perhaps no small degree of stubbornness.
“The servants will be summoned, and the town watch will have you arrested!” Will heard the slight quaver in his voice under that increasingly fierce grey stormed scrutiny.
There was laughter. Muted, forced, devoid of a whit of humour. Amadis and Rodrigo glanced at each other, before Amadis turned his gaze to Will once more, the smile draining away from his mouth in an instant. His eyes moved over Will’s body, in such a possessive, searing manner, that Will felt heat stain his skin as if he were in the face of the sun, rather than a cool, waxing moon above them.
“Ah, how young you are, boy…” Amadis delivered the insult in a low voice, gently tapping his forefinger and middle finger against Will’s rosy cheek.
The two men stalked past Will, left to stand in their wake, as they stepped through the high arched doorway that led to the hall.
“I am near 20 years!” Will shouted after them, in humiliated anger.
He made to follow, but paused for a few moments to stem the flow of heat rising in his face. His heart pounded, rhythmic as a warning tocsin, a pulse sounding its blood rush in his ears. Will walked slowly towards the doorway, pace quickening, knowing it was excitement that was making his body shimmer. His body betrayed him, and the effect made him dull in his reasoning.
There had been no more than a brief insult to parry with, yet Will’s body glowed as if such had, in truth, been the most tender caress and utterance of passionate love.
Captain Amadis, in his twelve years as a sword for hire, had a favoured tactic for getting what he wanted in matters of business. A direct approach.
This was what Will discovered, when he entered the Hall. The candles had just been lit, so the gloom still penetrated, vying with the shadows in the rectangular shaped chamber. A fire burned cheerfully in the hearth, but there was little else to merit an upturn of Will’s emotions. For he was confronted by his stepfather being forcefully pressed against the long, beechwood table by a mean faced Amadis.
Henry Fassingham was making nasty little grunting sounds, reminding Will of a cornered prey creature, yet lacking the dignity of a deer – perhaps something akin to a rat, captured in a basket, sprang to his mind.
A frisson of satisfaction ran the length of Will’s spine at the sight of Henry’s terror, less so, seeing his mother, white faced and wide of eye, standing next to a watchful Rodrigo. Seeing her son enter the hall, she made to run to Will, but Rodrigo plucked at her arm, shaking his head in warning. Elizabeth Fassingham froze, as if touched by death’s clammy grasp. Instead, Will came to her, putting an arm about her shoulder, as Rodrigo gave him a long, measured look.
“Shall we discuss our business here, then? Before your kin, to your eternal shame, Master Sheep?” Amadis hissed at him, through gritted teeth.
Henry wailed for quarter, his bones stretching and threatening to snap from being bent backwards. Amadis yanked him upright, thrusting him against Rodrigo, who captured him against his arms in an unwanted embrace.
Amadis slowly stalked towards the entrapped Henry, the Captain’s boots ringing off the stone flags. The sound seemed deafening in the early evening silence, dissonant, sharply brisk of timbre. It was Henry’s breathing, high pitched with terror, that spoilt the silence, and Will watched on. Rather, watched Amadis, as if some curious sickness, as lethal as the nip of a cobra, was poisoning Will’s veins, distracting him.
“We…we can talk in the solar, my lord, please, only not here!” Henry managed to wheeze, as Rodrigo tightened his grip on Henry’s arms. “My lord, I beseech you, not before my wife…”
Amadis narrowed his eyes, became preternaturally still. Will was reminded of a cat before the uncoil of its fatal pounce.
“You deserve your humiliation, you son of a whore!” Amadis murmured, then moved his eyes to Elizabeth who, like her son, was staring hard at the Captain.
He made a brief, tight bow, heels clicking together slightly. “Pardon, Madame,” he intoned gracefully, and Will shifted his eyes instinctively to his mother, almost feeling her reaction against his body, as his arm lay about her waist.
“My lord,” she said, her voice low with fear, but the dilation of her pupils betraying her, “I ask of your mercy as a noble Captain, sir, to settle your quarrel in private.”
Amadis moved his eyes from her, to Will. He saw the resemblance between mother and son about their eyes, in the shape of their long, patrician noses. Will returned his look, the lad’s face, Amadis observed, flushed as a maid’s. He knew he wanted the boy. But then he had known that the moment they had set eyes upon each other.
What Amadis didn’t want was the coterie of confusing feelings rising through him, as Will’s earnest face studied him unerringly. The boy was…what had he shouted, with his injured pride goading him? Ah, indeed, near on 20 years, that was it. Amadis wondered what an embittered dog of war like him, with his thirty years upon this earth, could possibly teach a shy aesthete like William Perslane…apart from the obvious.
Amadis didn’t care for the deflowering of virgins. He liked his lovers experienced, and assuredly willing. Yet still, the lad kept drawing his gaze, the resemblance haunting, most unnerving. In all my years, Amadis thought, I had never imagined to encounter such beauty again, as I had in Miguel. Now, this new revelation was more complication than salvation for the godless Captain.
Henry stood shaking, his face dripping with sweat, disbelief gripping his balls in a clammy grasp. For Amadis Sanchez Diaz should not be here, standing within a sword thrust of him. The merchant had been reliably informed that the mercenary Captain had been killed in France but three months ago. Inwardly, Henry cursed his sources, which he had paid good gold for. Still, the knowledge he was a dupe didn’t match the terror he was feeling, and had felt, as Amadis had swept into the hall, a murderous look over those darkly foreign features. Alive. Very much alive.
“I can see you rejoice that I live, Master Sheep!” had been the greeting of Captain Amadis, encountering a whey faced Henry Fassingham, merchant, dissembler and dupe.
Amadis wasn’t by inclination a usurer. But he had begun to venture into occasional money lending, able to charge ridiculous interest to those merchants who particularly repelled him. They might be repellent, and as sneaky as a sack of rats, but they paid up, and paid up well.
Not so Sir Sheep.
Despite endeavours by his confederates to exact payment from Henry, Amadis remained a creditor unpaid. As he had languished briefly with a fever, true enough in France, he had sent one of his men to Henry to test the waters. It was plotted that Henry be informed that he, Amadis, had succumbed to the fever whilst fighting in France and that the debt be settled to his estate instead via the Captain’s banker, one Ralph Humbledon of Kinch Street, Winchester. However, Amadis’ messenger was sent away with a flea nestling in his ear, and thrown out of Henry’s house – but not before he was duly informed that the merchant was as happy as one of his sheep with tics that the Spanish Captain was now fit for nothing but worm food.
“I wish I could spare you this, Madame,” Amadis said, glancing again at Elizabeth, “but seeing as your husband has no idea how to conduct his own business with honour, he incurs not only my displeasure, and by the Rood that is bad enough, but invites humiliation to be merely one of the punishments I have in store for him.”
Henry wriggled defensively against Rodrigo. “There’s no money left, my lord,” he opined pathetically, “not enough anyway to pay you back…it is all gone, sir, or at least, its currency is made of creatures with four legs and wool for coats. I…I could give you some sheep!”
Rodrigo barely stifled a raucous guffaw.
Amadis folded his arms, tightened his mouth until it was no more than a white line. His eyes darkened, assuming flinty lights in their depths; his breathing grew louder, his chest heaving up and down in quick rhythm. Will saw the transformation, and knew they were seeing what those feckless souls saw, who perished upon his biddable sword. The stillness of him, the cat like grace, proved false. The silence sharpened, only breathing audible. Until the Captain’s roar made them leap in their skins, even Rodrigo, so used to his Captain’s rages.
“Then prepare to watch that which means most to you burn to the ground, damn you to hell!”
Amadis’ eyes turned black with fury, his arms unfolded, as he stepped forward and gripped Henry’s neck, shaking the merchant is if he were no more than some poppet to be played with. As he did so, he turned to Elizabeth.
“Madame, press your hands to your ears,” he commanded. Will stared at him, the fury of the Captain filling the hall like lightening striking his senses. Elizabeth, horrified, shook her head at Amadis in dumbfounded confusion. “Cover your ears, woman!” Amadis roared at her again, and her hands flew to her ears, pressing them hard against the soft shells. Seeming momentarily satisfied, Amadis returned his glare to a quivering, near sobbing Henry.
“Son of a whore, I am going to make you wish you’d never drawn breath upon this earth; by the time I’ve finished with you, bastard, I’ll have you begging me to cut your throat, for such a fate will be preferable to the hell I am going to inflict upon your sorry carcass…”
“I’m sorry, my lord, I truly am! I swear I’ll pay you back, upon my honour!” the weasly reply, monumental in its inadequacy, pathetic in its contradiction.
“Honour!” Amadis spat, squeezing his fingers tighter about Henry’s greasy neck, “a turd bound whore-son like you dares to speak of honour, to me! What the hell would you understand about honour? A purveyor of tallow, a man who cheats even his own kind, speaks to me about honour!”
“My lord! Please, my lord!” Will intervened, or made an attempt to do so. With his hand still gripped about Henry’s neck, Amadis turned to the sound of the low, resonant voice, as if seeing Will for the first time. The Captain gave him a look that made Will shiver with dread, though he stood his ground.
“You’re asking me to show mercy?” Amadis shouted at him, accusingly, “you want to defend this bag of wind, who I am sure bears no love for you?”
“I only speak up, sir, out of decency,” retorted Will, his voice dry, his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, “I speak up only out of your sense of honour…certainly, not his.”
Amadis and Will stared at each other, even as Amadis maintained his grip on Henry’s unyielding throat. William Perslane, you are too beautiful for your own good, Amadis thought, in the midst of his anger; he beheld green eyed, long limbed beauty, and perhaps, goodness, too. Jesu, I hadn’t realised Rodrigo knew me so well, for it is Miguel reborn.
Henry’s frantic eyes darted like a trapped rat between Amadis and Will. He wasn’t a rich merchant for nothing. He’d cheated, double crossed and stole his way to riches – and knew the measure of men like Captain Amadis. His acumen was such, that he always knew what folk wanted; to placate them, he sought to give to them their deepest desires. His wealth was built upon the satisfying of desire. And he knew what the Captain wanted. By the patron saint of sheep, St Baarnabus, the creature knew exactly what the Captain desired.
For the merchant saw how Amadis was looking at the boy, near salivating, despite the Captain’s distracting rage. There was a greater distraction, in the lean figure of Will, his dark blond hair curling untidily, his golden skin illumined by a light splendour of freckles, the set of his rich mouth, unblessed by even a single kiss of possession.
“There’s another way to settle this, my lord!” Henry cried out, and Elizabeth dropped her hands from her ears.
“Never!” she blurted, “never, never! Henry, that you could even think that!”
Instantly, Amadis was alert and released Henry, who fell back roughly against Rodrigo. Rodrigo pushed at him, and Henry tottered helplessly between them. Will found himself suddenly needing to suppress a shriek of nervous laughter at the sight of his sweating stepfather, wobbling tentatively like a bloated, blood filled tic flicked from flesh.
“Speak to me,” Amadis commandedHenry, his head inclined, fingers snapping, “quickly now, lest I have this placed razed to the ground by dawn!”
“You wouldn’t dare!” Will shouted, and Amadis loured over him, growling, teeth bared.
“Try me, William…already, there are ten reasons why I intend to carry out my threat!”
“The servants can raise the alarm, you rogue, and the watch will be alerted,” as all thought that there might be a sliver of honour to the man, quickly deserted Will.
Amadis made that hollow sound again, a masquerade of laughter. His mouth seemed raw, stiff, from the effort of creating a semblance of a smile, and Will saw the lines that gathered at Amadis’ eyes, around his mouth; a man who was weary, perhaps of life itself, thought Will. Amadis jerked his head, and Rodrigo took his cue.
“Come, sweetness,” beckoning Will to follow him.
Will did as he was bade, following Rodrigo from the hall, down the stone passage that led to the arched doorway. They passed through it, and Will stood on the steps that led down to the inner courtyard. His mouth agape, a cold sweat broke out on Will’s brow and upper lip, as he was confronted by those ten reasons.
Hard, sturdy looking men, surly from war, devoted to their Captain, and willing to fulfil his bidding without ado. Each of them brandished torches, great sweeping arcs of fire, filaments of sparks rising in the night air. Luminescent fireflies, snapdragons of fiery breath wreathed amidst smoke, and the acrid odour of destruction filling flaring nostrils.
Rodrigo watched Will carefully, saw the despair on his face. “All is not lost, Will”, he soothed, his mouth but a wisp from Will’s ear. Instantly, Will recoiled, Rodrigo’s breath rough on the softness of his skin.
“Jesu, how much does my stepfather owe your Captain?” Will’s voice barely above a whisper, his courage diminishing in the realisation of their predicament.
The dry bark of a laugh confirmed it was a tidy sum. “A prince’s ransom, sweetness.”
“Do not call me that,” came the haughty retort, “don’t dare address me like I were some whore!”
Will’s face wrinkled with distaste, as Rodrigo threw his head back and was near reduced to tears of laughter. Will glanced at the stony faced men, but they merely stared back at him, impassive. The hardness of their faces, hollowed and sculpted by the shadows cast by the torches they held, added to the determination about them.
Rodrigo’s gales of laughter gradually trailed away, as he wiped tears from his face. “Ah, Will, you never said a truer word, lad.”
Will slowly backed away, then turned on his heels back to the hall, Rodrigo’s footfalls echoing behind him.
“Give him something, anything, sir, for I believe he will carry out his threat, and raze the house,” Will affirmed to a shivering Henry, on his return.
But something had changed. Something was different. Will looked at Amadis, who had made himself remarkably comfortable during his brief absence. The Captain was sitting at the head of the long table, his booted feet crossed and resting atop it. He was sipping from a wine goblet, and his grey eyes locked with Will’s, as the young man re-entered the hall.
Henry was sitting at the table, like a lowly servant, serving the new master of the house. Elizabeth remained standing by the fire, trembling, but unable to look at her son. Will went to her, to offer comfort, but to his surprise and suspicion she recoiled from him, as if he were leprous.
“Mama,” he whispered, touching her arm. Then, she looked at him. An uncomfortable look, imbued with wariness, love, and guilt. Yes, Will saw it, most clearly, guilt evident there in her lovely, treacherous eyes.
Slowly, he turned from her and went to the table. Amadis was staring at him, unsmiling, cold, but Will sensed a pulsing of tension emanating from the Captain; Will could feel that tension rolling in waves from the Captain’s taut body, absorbing into Will’s own flesh and bone. He saw in Amadis’ eyes what he had seen in other men’s eyes. Only this time, Will served as the mirror to the desire of Amadis.
It had been his undoing, to possess a stepfather such as Henry Fassingham It was his fate to possess a stepfather who was willing to sell that which was not his to sell.