Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.
I could not banish the words of Coleridge from my mind as I made my way out of London and headed back to the country. My journey had started off well enough. I had left my friends in London drinking a toast to my safe return to my estate. I had anticipated the journey would be a tedious one, but I had traveled the road before and thought to be back at Garrett Hall by midafternoon on the following day.
I intended to break my journey at an inn just outside the city outskirts that one of my particular friends had recommended to men of our persuasions.
I was not far from the promised inn, passing through a tract of woodland. The road was good and could take a carriage, but my horse and I were the only ones on it as evening started to turn the sky to gold with the rays of the dying sun. It had been a cloudy day, overhung with the threat of rain, but now the sun made a last effort to illuminate the world as it sank to glory behind torn clouds in a scene that would have had my friend Munroe reaching for his paint brush.
I had expected to reach my destination before the sun set on my path, but my directions must have been unsound, for the inn was not yet in sight, and my friend had told me it was a quarter of a mile farther from the wood in which I now found myself.
The trees were thickening around me, as were the clouds in the sky, drawing a curtain over the sun’s last performance. Darkness was drawing on apace. I would have quickened my horse’s gait, but I did not want him to arrive at the inn in a sweat and perhaps give me trouble in the morning, so we continued through the deepening dark.
Since entering the little stretch of wood, I had had an uncomfortable feeling that seemed to germinate from a point somewhere between my shoulder blades and proceed up my spine, sending the hairs on the back of my neck to stand on end. I had looked over my shoulder once already to establish the road behind me was clear, and I did not care to look again. Damn Coleridge and his evocative poetry. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
had been a schoolroom favorite of mine, and I had carried a copy of it to Oxford and back home again when my years at university were over.
In the parlor at home with my sister in her own chair across the fire from me and servants an easy call away, Coleridge had charmed me with his sublime descriptions, the romance appealing to me. Now, alone on the road, I wished I could get the damned lines out of my head.
I determined I would not look back again. I patted my horse’s neck as much to reassure myself as because he was showing signs of picking up my nervousness. He twitched his ears and danced a little beneath me. I could give the command to trot, and we would be out of these woods and at the inn, but that would not be wise, “giving in to foolish fantasies
.” How my departed father would have scorned me.
There was movement.
Not on the path behind me, but in the trees to the right.
I caught a dark shape that moved parallel to the road, sharing my direction--chasing me. I twitched down my riding crop onto my horse’s flank, and with a startled snort, he tossed his head, and then we were cantering down the remainder of the path and into the light at the end of the wooded tunnel.
* * *
The moon was fully up, bright and clear and round when it slipped from behind the clouds by the time I stopped at the inn to which I had been directed. The groom hissed through his teeth at my lathered horse but led him away.
I enjoyed a hearty meal of veal pie, thick with vegetables and washed down with only slightly watered ale. There were few travelers on the road this late, and I had the taproom mostly to myself but for a few coarse locals and another single gentleman upon his travels.
After I had eaten, I stretched my boots out to the fire and watched the dance of the flames upon the logs and listened to the crackle they produced.
“Your room’s ready, sir, if you’ve a mind for it. Anytime you are.” My hostess appeared by my elbow and gusted my face with her rancid breath. A little too much at the profits, I thought.
I stood, if only to get away from her. Strong liquor had little appeal to me, even when imbibed firsthand. The pleasures of the drink never seemed to outweigh the morning after for me. Yet another of my failures.
The friend who had directed me to the inn--quaintly called the Bantam Cock and advertised by a proud-wattled rooster on the street sign--had told me the code word I needed to use, but for the life of me, I could not now recall it. It seemed my landlady had read me reasonably well, though.
“A cold night, sir. Would you be having me send up Sally with a bed warmer for you? I’ll have the extras added to your account.” There was enough lasciviousness in her tone to make her meaning abundantly plain. Well, maybe she had not understood me quite so well.
“I have no need of the girl
.” I put a little extra emphasis on the feminine term in the hope she would read me better. The procuress nodded and bobbed to me.
I only grunted and followed her upstairs to a surprisingly well-maintained room. There was little more in it than a double bed, a chair already set before the warmly burning fire, and a low table with a bottle and a glass by it. All I would need for the night.
I thanked her and she left.
I set my bag upon the bed and tested the mattress. It was a little soft for my tastes but would do for the duration of my stay. I had quite shaken my fancy of the woodland and was inclined to put it down to my overactive imagination. I pulled off my boots and massaged my feet one after the other. I wish I had thought to call for a bath, but the effort it would take now was not worth it. I would be at home tomorrow with my own things around me set up as I liked.
A washbasin and jug stood on the bedside table, and I was making my ablutions when a scuffle out in the corridor was all the notice I got before the door opened.
I had in my time seen some beautiful young men, mostly in artists’ studios or houses like this one, though of better repute, in London itself. But I had never seen a youth like this.
A thick mane of hair so dark as to be almost black fell to his shoulders. At this distance I could not tell the color of the eyes beneath thick, dark brows, but they were remarkable and piercing. His nose was well made and straight above a mouth so full it was deserving of the title sensuous. He had a certain insolent look to his face and something half wild to his countenance.
He wore a long, dark riding coat, and with no more ado than shutting the door behind him and dropping the latch, this he let fall to the floor to reveal that he wore not a stitch of clothing beneath. He was slender with the look of a youth who had recently outgrown his coltishness. Well-toned, he looked fine and fit. There was little hair on his body, but I took him to be not far out of his teens if out of them at all.
His limbs and body were a golden brown that spoke of being outdoors much, but he was too smooth and lithe for farm labor and the tan too uniform. He had been under the sun and naked there too. He could have been a stable lad who sun bathed naked on his days off, but he looked more like a wild thing that had strayed in from the forest.
His member was already semierect, reaching from its nest of dark curls, slender and long. I swallowed at the sight of this pagan vision. Even the god Pan had not been cut from nature’s own cloth the way this youth was. He was beautiful in his raw, untamed state.
“Do you like what you see, sir?” he asked with a twist to his lip as if already certain of the answer.
“You’ll do,” I replied, but he was too sure of himself for his smile to fail.
To show I was not daunted by his confidence, I approached him. He was a little below my own height, but if I hoped to intimidate him with my added stature, I was to be disappointed there. In fact, he raised a hand to my chin.
“You’re a fair one yourself,” he responded, and I could not help but feel a little pleased. I had been told I was good-looking, but it should not matter to me what this hired boy thought. His fingers were long and clever, uncalloused. More and more intriguing.
Up close I could still not quite tell the color of his eyes, as they seemed to change in the reflected firelight. I would say they were hazel, but a color so light it bordered on gold. His face was smooth and youthful. I could see he was a little older than I had first thought but still some years below my own age.
“What’s it to be then?” he asked as he ran his hand down the front of my shirt under my cravat and started to loosen the buttons he found there. I could not place his soft accent. His speech was working class but not coarse or unpleasant. Mayhap he had been educated to be more pleasing to his clients, thought it was unlikely many of them bought him for his speech.
What indeed? This fascinating creature was mine to do with as I pleased this night.
I trailed my fingers down the valley of his arse.
“I already prepared myself,” he said.
Now that was a sight I wish I had seen: this wild youth kneeling on a chair, perhaps, as he reached between his own legs, those clever, long fingers oiled as he stretched and prepared his entrance for me. I was rapidly nearing full hardness behind the placket of my trousers.
Not wanting to appear too eager for him, I turned away and moved to the side of the bed, loosening my cravat and sliding it from my neck. I finished the work he had started on my shirt buttons and pulled the garment from my shoulders. I heard no movement, but suddenly he was at my back, reaching round to the fastening of my trousers. He paused to palm the thickness beneath the material, outlining and shaping my member.
I could not help but sigh a little at the warmth of his palm seeping through the cloth. I hardened fully at just that touch. He moved to undo my trousers, then slid his hands down my hips to slide the material of breeches and undergarments together from me. I lifted my feet to aid removal, and he went to his knees in front of me and reached up to my erection.
I looked down, and through that wild tangle of hair, with those feral green-gold eyes, he grinned up at me before swiping his tongue along the length of my member.
I tried to lock my knees, but I confess I trembled slightly. It was not as though I indulged this sin very often and never with a wild-looking beauty such as knelt to my service now.
He grinned again and then licked more, swirling his tongue around me before planting a brief but hard suck to the tip.
“Let’s get you to the bed,” he said, standing up, much to my disappointment, though I could see the logic. I didn’t really want to be falling on my backside in the middle of the room and doubted my legs could hold me up.