The following story was my first ever attempt to write a M/M historical romance. At the time, (March 2011) I knew absolutely nothing about the genre, nor even if one existed at all. I did not even think it was worth Googling to see if there actually was any information out there, for what I then assumed was something either non existent, or so rare as to be like the proverbial hens teeth. Gay and historical, no not possible. Or so I thought. So I wrote the story and the only ones to read it were my niece, Heather Jones, and a gay (male) friend at the time. Both of them liked it so that spurred me on.
The Ned And Will of the story which follows were then put aside while I toyed with the idea of using the characters in a novel or novella. The names were kept, and so was the master/servant relationship, but the characters became a different Ned And Will. I had to change Edward’s last name because the original Edward was based on a real historical character who was in the Tower. And as there are still members of that family in existence, one of whom is an MP, I thought it was for the best. So I’ve changed the name here too.
At the end of May I finally found the site I’d been searching for. One dedicated exclusively to M/M Historical Romance and Fiction, Speak it’s Name.com/ And I was astounded to learn that there was indeed a huge following of the genre and one which is growing daily. And many, if not most of the authors are women who, like me love to write and read stories of men battling the odds for love.
So, on with the story then. I hope you enjoy it.
I had wanted to watch the setting of the sun this late summer eve, desperately wanted to see the passing of the day, one of the last that I would ever see.
I have been standing by the window for some time, I do not know for how long, but I watched as the turrets of the White Tower had glowed with the blood red of the setting sun. And the sky, streaked with molten gold and crimson was God’s own herald to the fading of the day, and soon it will be the end of mine.
The coming of evening had not brought cooler air, and the very stones of this chamber in which I have eaten, slept, lived these last weeks are yet suffused with the heat of the day. An uncomfortable, cloying heat, and my shirt, which I have unfastened from neck to chest, clings to the sweat on my back and shoulders.
I have not lighted the candles yet as I have not sought my books for solace nor can I settle to read. I need more tangible comfort than mere words on a page, so now I wait for Will to come, bringing with him the food and the wine I have asked to be brought at this hour.
Will, who is my dearest friend, and who, always solicitous for my well being, will try to encourage me to eat what he brings; and to please him I will try to force down a morsel or two of the bread and meat
But I do not want to eat really, of what use now to think of the nourishment of my body, when it is the health of my soul for which I should now care. But the wine may help to ease the gut wrenching fear of what I must soon face, and which I am trying to keep at bay. But my fear ebbs and flows like an ever shifting tide and try as I might I cannot hold it back, cannot keep it from rushing back in and catching me unawares.
Since I learned that I was to die on Monday morning on Tower Hill, I have been sick with fear. Oh, not of death, because death itself holds no fear for me as I know that, soon I will be past my pain and safe in God’s keeping. But, oh Jesu it is the manner of my death which makes me so fearful. To die by the axe and in public, that I cannot reconcile with. It is well known that, if the headsman is unskilled or unsure of his aim, death will only come for the victim after a brutal, bloody hacking. I pray God to send me an executioner who is skilled and will finish me with one stroke.
The evening is so hot still, and there is no air from the open window to relieve me. It is strange that I can think thus, when after Monday I shall be beyond all Earthly comforts, past all pleasures, and joys and the pains of mortal flesh.
But my body is still mortal, still my own, and the heat is all but stifling me. But maybe it is fear which now threatens, once again to overwhelm me.
Swiftly crossing the chamber, I snatch my Rosary from the table and sink to my knees by the bed. Crossing my self, I try to pray but the words are incoherent, and I cannot speak for the knot of grief in my throat by which no words can pass. And I cover my face with my hands and falling forward on to the bed, I weep brokenly for the life I had and am soon to lose.
I do not hear the chamber door open, nor am I aware that anyone has entered until I feel hands on my shoulders, which, gripping me gently but firmly, help me upright so that I am looking into Will’s pale concerned face as he crouches next to me.
Getting up, he goes to pour wine into a cup and wordlessly he hands it to me. I am still kneeling by the bed as I drink the wine in grateful gulps, my eyes still full of tears as I hand him my empty cup and we are both silent for a time while I try, for his sake, to compose myself.
Finally, I am recovered enough to speak, and to thank him, and getting up off my knees I sit on the edge of the bed.
‘Will you eat something, Ned’, he asks.
‘Thank you, Will, but later perhaps’. I attempt to wipe the traces of grief from my face, ‘I would to God you had not seen me like this, Will. I am so sorry’.
He looks at me askance, ‘Oh, Ned, why, why in God’s name should you be sorry?’ he reaches out, lays a hand on my shoulder, and I want more. I want him to hold me to him, to feel his arms around me, comforting me. But he holds back, and so do I, and the moment is gone.
‘I wish with all my heart’, he says now, ‘that there was something, anything I could say to comfort you which would not seem inadequate’.
I look at him and smile, ‘Ah, Will, that you are here with me is the greatest comfort I have now’.
For a moment, we are silent again as he refills my cup and his own, his hand shakes as he does so, and some of the wine slops onto the floor, soaking into the rushes. From outside, there comes the sound of sharply given orders and the thud of pikes as the watch changes; and from behind the keep the bell of St Peter’s sounds for the evening service. Familiar sounds, and since I arrived here they have marked and divided the passing of my days as effectively as any clock or hour glass.
Handing me the wine, Will sits down beside me, his face rigid with tension and grief. I drink from the cup which I hold in both hands, then drink again, and the wine, which tastes sharp and clean, soothes and comforts a little, reminding me of happier times and I begin to relax a little as it begins to take effect. And as it does, I begin to talk about what I know awaits me on Monday morning.
The walk through the hostile, jostling crowd, the final moments of my life on the scaffold, the kneeling down before the block; and then the downward swing of a finely sharpened axe. Please God it will be sharpe. And then the moment I will not see but he will, Christ pity him, the moment when the headsman holds up my severed, bloodied head for the people to look upon.
As I am speaking, Will’s face has blanched bone white and he shakes his head in an effort to dispel the image which I have conjured for him.
‘Ned, for God’s sake don’t ‘ he begs, and rises rapidly from the bed and walks over to the window where he stands, head bent and I can tell he is weeping. It is a night for tears.
Getting up, I join him by the window, and though dusk has not yet yielded fully to the night, black clouds are gathering in the west and, even as I notice, a flicker of blue flame lights them from within followed by a distant roll of thunder.
Reaching out, I lay my hand on his shoulder, but he tenses almost as though my touch burns him.
‘Will’, I remove my hand from his shoulder, ‘I’m sorry if what I said has distressed you so badly. But please understand, I need you to know how it will be for me and…..’
He cuts me off, whirling round from the window, his face is set with anger, and I have never seen him look as he does now.
‘How it will be for you, Ned?’, his voice is choked with emotion, ‘yes, I know how it will be for you. But when it is over, God help me, but when you are no longer here, I must go on somehow and I can’t bear it, Ned, I can’t’.
And I can only stand mute, as covering his face with his hands, he slides down the wall to the floor in a paroxysm of grief.
‘Will’, now I must try to comfort him and I crouch down next to him, ‘Will, please, this does no-good for either of us now’.
But he remains there bent and racked with misery. His dry, choking sobs echo around the chamber and my heart aches for him, but there is nothing I can do, nothing I can say to ease his sorrow, but place my arm around his heaving shoulders. And this time, he does not flinch from my touch.
‘Will’, he looks up as I speak his name, his face etched with misery, and in his eyes there is something else which I cannot yet define. ‘Will, tell me please, what is it that troubles you apart from…..’, but I shrink from saying it aloud. The words, My Death have such a note of finality about them, and even though we both know my death is inevitable, I cannot say them. Even though I have spoken of that terrible final moment to him, I realise now that I never once used those words. My. Death. My. End. Finished. Done. Death! Oh, so final, so infinite and so irreversible.
‘Your death, Ned’, he wipes his eyes with the back of his sleeve, ‘is that what you were about to say. Isn’t that enough to break me, must there be something else?’
‘Ah, Will, I know you too well, and I can see it in your face which, as you know I have always found so easy to read’. I smile at him, and he attempts to return it, but fails as his features crumple, but he does not weep again.
We fall silent again. But there is so much left unsaid between us. So many things I want to say to him, and I know he wants the same. I can see it in his face, his much loved face which is as familiar to me as my own.
Outside, the storm is gathering strength and lightning illuminates the chamber with an ethereal glow, and I flinch at each clap of thunder which follows. My nerves are so frayed, but I dare not show how much for his sake.
Everywhere there is a dream like quality as lightning dances and flickers around the stone walls of my prison. In the eerie half light I can barely make out nor define anything familiar. And even Will seems alien to me. His face, half in shadow as he stares at the opposite wall,appears like that of a stranger and it disturbs me. Disturbs me so much that I want to reach out, touch him, reassure myself that he is real and tangible. But I cannot move, I’m as frozen as he by that which stands between us.
Then, I remember another time in another place when I also felt incapable of movement. Ten years ago and suffering not only the indignities of being placed under house arrest, but also a raging fever, and Will was with me; the only companion I was allowed to have as the guards watched every move both inside and out side my house.
I could not always tell what was real or a dream, whether I was awake or sleeping through the delirium of fever. But I remember Will constantly by my side through the night. A cool, gentle soothing hand on my brow. Then morning came and with it a slight lucidity, but I was so tired, so sapped of energy I could not open my eyes, nor speak or move.
And then the tender gesture of a friend. Yes, I do remember.
Images- interior & exterior shots of Tower of London, Google images.
On collage- Top, from ‘The Psychic & The Sleuth by Bonnie Dee & Summer Devon
Below, from Artistic Appeal by Andrew Grey.