Short-listed for the 2010 Lambda Literary Prize for Gay Romance
1642, England David Caverly’s strict father has brought home the quiet, puritanical Jonathan Graie to help his dreamer of a son work the family forge. With war brewing in Parliament, the demand for metal work increases as armies are raised.
The indolent and deceitful David Caverly is bored by his father’s farm and longs to escape, maybe to join the King’s Army, mustering at Nottingham. David finds himself drawn to Jonathan, and after a passing cavalry trooper seduces the beautiful David and reveals his true nature, he determines to teach Jonathan what he’s learned. When David is forced to leave the farm, and the boys are separated by mistrust and war, they learn the meaning of love and truth as they fight their way across a war-torn country, never thinking they’ll ever see each other again.
Kineton, Warwickshire 1642
David Caverly was not where he should be.
He rarely was. He was supposed to be in the shed, milking the four cows and then cleaning the barn, but he had not even started. The beasts were at the gate lowing insistently, but David was sprawled in the tall grass on the side of the river, ignoring them and the work to be done.
He was comfortable. He had all day, and the warmth of the sun on his body gave him no inclination to move. The day was perfect; the grass gently grazed his sides and his skin tingled deliciously as the water dried upon it.
Jacob, his father, had left early that morning and had given David enough tasks to keep him busy for the remainder of the day. Dutifully, David had completed the morning milking, but after he let the gentle beasts back out into the water meadow, he had sauntered down to the river and had done nothing more since. It was too hot for chopping wood, and he felt his father was being somewhat overzealous by demanding such a stockpile made ready in this heat when September had not yet arrived. He planned to do it later, before his father returned.
His father had informed him that he was going to be away from the forge all day, although he not told his son where he was going, and David had not particularly cared. He liked being alone.
David longed to be free of the forge and the smallholding. He hated the work, the mindless toil of it all, the inevitable sameness of every single day. He felt that life must offer so much more, and so he would find any way of avoiding work he could, unabashed by his father’s speeches on the merits of toil. He tried not to spend more time than he could avoid worrying about the inevitable-such as father’s censure, which would ensue upon his returning to find that David had not done the work allotted to him-and preferred to remain cheerful and as lazy as he could be, whilst doing the very minimum he could get away with.
The sun was scorching his flesh and getting too hot at last, David rose, stretched and yawned. His body was sun-dried after his bathe, and he could feel his hair clinging damply to his skin. He grinned as he imagined his father’s reaction to his son walking naked through the field, and could well imagine his admonition if he saw how long David had let his white-blond hair grow. It was a bone of contention between David and his father and David was careful to keep it tied back and appearing to be shorter than it was when his father was about, for if his father knew that David was prideful over his hair, he would surely insist on having it cut as short as his own chin length bob.
Resentfully, David dressed and let the cows in from the fields for milking. He slapped their silken rumps a little too hard in unjust punishment for the work they were making him do, tugging at their teats and growling in annoyance when he paid the price for it, losing a whole bucket of milk to an angry kick. He knew his father would react more strongly to the loss of the milk than the chores he had not accomplished, for the milk was money. It was not that they were poor, but it was waste, and waste was sin.
David frowned; everything was sin with his father, who reproved David daily for failing to defeat the demons of the seven sins and being unable to master any of the cardinal virtues.
A joy of food was sinful, getting angry with the cows for stepping on him was sinful, wasting money was sinful, even taking a pride in his own handsomeness was somehow wrong in the eyes of the Lord. David knew he was beautiful; he did not own a looking glass, (another sin) but he had a river in which, secretly, he would gaze at his reflection. He knew that his face was changing as he matured, becoming more lean, accentuating his cheekbones and his straight dark brows. He knew too, that his eyes were unusual, for his friends had remarked on them. Not quite brown and yet not hazel; in some lights like amber honey, and in others lit with a greenish fire. He never let his father see him looking at his reflection because that, of course, was a sin.
Singing – frowned upon, dancing – forbidden. This did not prevent David doing any of these things, but it did mean that most of everything that he enjoyed he was forced to do in secret in his attempt to keep his father from being disappointed.
Such subterfuge meant that when his father did find out, he was even more disappointed by the deception more than the act. Trammeled in this way, David felt caged and trapped, and everything he took pleasure in seemed tinged with guilt.
He’d become used to the guilt; his constant rebelliousness inured him to it, and the more he broke his father’s rules the less he worried about it. He could not help but resent it, however, even though his father never beat him for his transgressions, never got angry with him. He simply sermonized or prayed to God to ask Him to intercede, and David had long ago learned to look penitent, beg forgiveness, and promise to pray for strength to change his ways; his father accepted it, every time.
He was chopping his fifth log when he heard the return of Jacob’s wagon, and he pretended to ignore it, applying himself to the task before him, not looking forward to the speech he was likely to receive for the endeavors left undone. As the horse rounded the barn he straightened up as he noticed that his father was not alone. Sitting beside him was a young man clad in somber clothes, overshadowed by a large black hat. David’s eyes narrowed; he glared openly at the stranger as he jumped down from the wagon and took the reins of the horse whilst Jacob descended.
David didn’t much like what he saw. The newcomer was a tall youth about his own age or possibly a little older. Brown straight hair, pale suspicious and unhappy eyes, plain of face with flat cheekbones and a defiant scowl under his wide-brimmed hat. A plain black coat, black breeches and a high collar confirmed David’s worst suspicions: Puritan.
Jacob gestured and called out to David. “Come, make your new brother welcome. I would like you to meet Jonathan Graie. Jonathan, this is my son David of whom I have spoken.”
“Master Caverly,” the newcomer said, his face unhappy and mistrustful, despite his words. “I am pleased to make thy acquaintance.” He bowed stiffly, removing his hat awkwardly then ramming it back onto his head. David looked enquiringly at his father, confused. He wanted some indication as to who this young man could be, and why Jacob was calling him his “brother.”
Jacob looked at his son for a long moment, and then his gaze moved around the unswept yard, taking in the pile of uncut timber, with the few logs beside it. With a sound like a suppressed sigh and with a flash of annoyance in his eyes, he spoke in a voice that barely concealed his irritation. “Jonathan is come as my apprentice, David.”
David’s eyes flew open with shock, but he managed to curb his tongue. He knew his father well enough not to begin a discussion in front of a stranger.
His father turned towards their cottage. “Come, lad, I will show you your new lodgings; David, you may join us for supper when you have finished.”
In a fit of temper, and only when his father was out of sight, David swung the axe high and broke a log with violent ease. His father’s words had left no doubt in his mind of their meaning. He expected David to finish all of the tasks he had been allotted before he was permitted into the house to eat. Apprentice? What need have we for an apprentice? David felt resentful at the intrusion into their lives, and annoyed that his father had not let him into the plan. Granted, with the talk of war the forge was busier than ever recently and they were slipping behind on their orders, but did they really need another pair of inexperienced hands?
Without his being aware of it, David was chopping the logs more violently with each cut, the pieces flying across the yard, making a mess that he would no doubt have to go and pick them all up afterwards, but his anger surged through him at his father’s secrecy and he was too furious to care. He finished with the pile of timber and strode into the barn, leaving the logs scattered around the yard.
Brother. His new brother. Well whatever his father might say, Master Graie was not his brother. His real brother had died. Stephen Caverly, his twin, had perished together with his mother when David himself had been born. He swept the floor of the barn, working out his temper. That was his brother; Stephen. The midwife had said they had been as alike as two peas. Stephen would have been like him, another blond Caverly, not a sullen ugly Puritan with clumsy hands and antiquated speech.
It would be a long hot and sunny day in December before he welcomed that awkward Puritan boy into the family.
Hanging up the broom at last, he walked back out to the yard, stripping off his sweaty shirt as he walked. As the shirt cleared his head he stopped in his tracks. The yard was clear, clean as a whistle, every log, every twig gone, swept up.
He rounded the barn and found the newcomer at the wood pile. He had just finished stacking it and was now filling the log box from the house. He turned as he heard David approach and smiled a hesitant smile, but it faded before the sight of David’s unfriendly frown.
“What do you think you are you doing?”
An ugly flush rose in Graie’s cheeks. “Thy father was preparing the meal and needed logs and I thought that two people would finish thy tasks more speedily…” Graie trailed off and turned back to the wood pile, angrily throwing logs into the box.
David noted that he was biting his bottom lip as if keeping himself in check. Interesting, he thought. Looks like I’m not the only one with a temper. The thought restored a little of his hospitality. Perhaps the other boy was no happier with this new situation than David was himself. He took a deep breath and forced himself to speak with a little more civility. “It was…thoughtful.” He wanted to say thank you, but he was still smarting from his father’s manner of springing this young man on him, so he said nothing further and strode toward the trough where he plunged his head into the cool water, refreshing himself and cleaning the sweat from his body before supper.
Jonathan Graie stood by the woodpile, ostensibly filling the log box, but in reality he was watching David, one hand frozen on the next log, staring as the young man washed himself. Jonathan had never seen anyone like David before; he watched, fascinated, as David loosed the tie from his hair and poured water from a bucket over his head.
He stared at the silvery fountain of David’s hair with fascination, marveling at its rare color. The last rays of the summer sun hit David’s body, and transmuted his hair from silver into a golden fire and the water droplets on his bare torso made spots and rivulets of gold which ran down the honeyed skin and soaked into his breeches.
David was about as alien to Jonathan’s experience as anything possibly could be. His own family, of which he was the youngest, were uniformly dark in countenance and dark in comportment. They rarely bared any skin to each other no matter how hot or sweaty they became, so the sight of David washing himself with such abandonment took Jonathan completely by surprise. He had rarely seen so much of his brothers’ skins before, let alone a stranger’s.
There came a shout from the cottage and Jonathan came to his senses with a start, guiltily snatching up the log box, casting a swift glance at David who had his back to him, seemingly indifferent to his father’s call, and Jonathan’s interest, before hurrying into the house.