It was Sunday, the third day of Justin’s stay at Fireholt. On the bright side, each day was no longer bleak and colorless. Justin hardly knew how he felt from one moment to the next, but “colorless” definitely was not it. At times he grasped the easy companionship he craved, as at home at Fireholt as anywhere, bantering with Nikola and his wife on walks about the grounds, playing cards and other games in the evening, as comfortable as he gave the appearance of being. Other times, he was so consumed by desire that a lifetime of practice at concealing his passion did not seem equal to the task. He had already masturbated three times since his arrival and had contemplated locating the local whore – there must be one – and would have if he thought it would make any difference. It was like satisfying hunger by drinking water: it might temporarily sate the appetite, but it could not touch the underlying need.
Like his great-grandmother before him, Nikola had always given his staff a holiday on Sundays, a quirk his marriage had not altered. Rather than have his people be the only ones in Fireholt working, Justin had followed local custom and allowed them the day off as well. Thus he rose and dressed alone. Mrs. Striker had told him the night before what the breakfast arrangements were, but he couldn’t remember the specifics when he got to the kitchen. He scavenged a few hard-boiled eggs and a pastry that might or might not have been set aside for this purpose. When he finished, Striker and his wife were not awake yet, or at least still in their chambers (thinking about what they might be doing if they were awake prompted a fourth effort at manual satisfaction of his unrelenting lust). So Justin ventured outside for his morning exercise.
He spent half an hour running trails through the wooded hills near the manor, and another half-hour on strength-training exercises. Now he closed with fencing drills in a meadow by the waterfall, where the brook pooled deep and still before meandering its final path to the ocean. Not even the greatcats were in evidence this morning; Justin felt like the only man in the world as he practiced his footwork.
Nikola and Wisteria had separate suites – Fireholt might be small for a lord’s holding, but not so small that the lord and his lady had to share sleeping quarters. The two suites did share an adjoining door for convenience, however. Nik usually came into Wisteria’s bedchamber after her maid had finished dressing her for bed and left. “I don’t know why I keep changing into nightclothes when I am just going to take them off again a quarter of an hour later,” Wisteria remarked once.
Often they fell asleep intertwined. Nik always drew his nightshirt back on but sometimes Wisteria snuggled up to him nude and didn’t bother with her nightgown until the lady’s maid came back in the morning. Nik found this habit intensely erotic and did nothing to discourage her from it.
Last night had been such an occasion. Nik felt as if he’d been in a constant state of arousal since Comfrey’s arrival, and had been subjecting Wisteria to even more of his attentions than usual in an effort to give this lust an appropriate outlet. Thankfully, Wisteria was as eager as ever herself. This morning he had awakened to find her wrapped intimately about him, one hand stroking his cock and her own body aroused and ready for him. After they made love, she fell back into a doze. He held her for a while as she slept, then rose to check on their guest.
The door to Comfrey’s suite was open but he wasn’t in it, or any of the common rooms. Probably taking some exercise. I should wait for him here. The vivid memory of Comfrey shirtless and gleaming in the garden of his own home flashed through Nik’s mind. Or I could look for him. It’s a beautiful day, and I know his favorite trails and spots. He left a note on the dining table for Wisteria, and took fishing gear with him as an excuse to be out.
The early morning had been pleasantly cool, but as the sun rose higher the day turned warm, and Nik perspired while he hiked up the trail to the meadow by the waterfall. As he drew nearer, he could hear the pad of Comfrey’s feet and the occasional grunt of effort. The polite thing to do would be to call out, but Nik pretended he couldn’t hear. This had been a favored locale of theirs in years past; Nik felt himself warm further at the memory of some of the things they had done together in this pool. The trees thinned as he cleared a rise, and he could see Comfrey. The Newlanture man was turned away from him, moving with a practice foil in hand, feet shifting backwards and forwards along an invisible line. The foil’s blunted end dipped and wove with thrusts and parries against an imagined opponent.
Nikola drew to a halt, mesmerized. When he was a boy, before he’d even met Comfrey, he’d seen the lord compete in sporting events. That was how he’d first contrived this lifelong infatuation. He realized anew how much he missed watching Justin in such activities: grace, strength and skill combined in movement as elegant as any dance, the interplay of rippling muscles on Comfrey’s back as hypnotic as any cut-crystal adornments on an Ascension jacket. Nik stared, not wanting to say anything that might draw attention to himself, that might bring this private performance to an end.
But after several minutes, Comfrey lifted his sword in salute to his invisible opponent, and started to turn. Nikola hastily cleared his throat, resuming his approach. “Good morning, Comfrey.”
The dark-haired lord turned about to look at him. “Hello, Striker. I didn’t hear you coming.”
“It’s the waterfall.” As Nik entered the meadow, Comfrey splashed water over his torso to rinse off, then dried himself with a towel from a bag he’d brought.
“Indeed. So what brings you out here?”
“Looking for you.” Nikola motioned with the fishing poles resting against his shoulder. “One of my new brothers bought me this array of angling gear. I thought you might care to try it.”
“You know I am game for every sort of sport, Striker.” Comfrey tossed the damp towel over a tree limb and, to Nik’s regret, produced a shirt from the bag and buttoned it on.
“It is the least sporting sport I have tried,” Nik warned him. “It requires a great deal of patience and sitting. Well, one might stand if one preferred, but I don’t believe it helps any. It is, however, an excellent excuse for lazing next to a river for several hours, accomplishing nothing whatsoever in a socially-acceptable form.” He offered Comfrey one of the poles.
It was too warm for a jacket in such an informal environment; Nik took his off and draped it over a mossy spot along one of the higher sections of the bank for them to sit on. They sat side by side, legs dangling over the bank above the pool, while Nik showed him the assortment of baits and lures. “What works best for this area?” Comfrey asked
“Try one of these.” Nik pointed to a selection of lures supplemented by bright feathers. “They’ve not failed me yet. By which I mean ‘I’ve not tried them yet’. I have never caught anything except the occasional small branch. Byron has a theory that the greatcats have already caught all the stupid fish and the ones that remain are too clever to fall for some merely human ruse.”
“A likely scenario. Have you not yet learnt to stock your streams and hunting grounds if you expect to catch anything in them, Striker?”
“Having someone else catch or cultivate animals for me and then release them into my grounds so that I can try to catch them again has always seemed a bit…roundabout? For my tastes. Though I admit that hunting is more fun at the Markavian or on your grounds than here.”
“Exactly. The point is to be entertained, my boy, not to be productive. Having a Blessing has given you entirely the wrong idea about what a lord ought to do.”
“Indeed! You have the misbegotten notion that a lord ought to be the benefactor of his people, healing their illnesses of body and mind and requiring no special reward for the service. Why, I suppose you even believe it is a lord’s purpose to be a good steward over his lands and to exercise wisely what powers Assembly has not yet legislated away from us.”
“It is possible I have been so informed. Yet this is not the true function?”
“Of course not. A lord’s proper role is to amuse himself and his peers with no regard to the ridiculousness of his pastimes. Indeed, the more ridiculous the better, for his goal is to prove himself the most useless of all. His purpose is to be fat, indolent and live off the fruits of other’s labors. Sitting about recapturing someone else’s captured fish is perfectly in keeping with the lordly way.”
“I observe, my lord—” Nik poked at Comfrey’s steely abdomen “—that you yourself have been less than exemplary in regards to gluttony and languor.”
“I have never claimed to be an exemplar of my class, Striker. We all have our vices,” Comfrey said, sanguine. He finished baiting his hook – “Aren’t we supposed to have servants for this sort of thing?” – and had Nikola show him how to cast off.
Fishing was a man’s pastime. Wisteria thought gendering activities as male or female was absurd and she was willing to defy convention and learn unwomanly things if they piqued her interest, as bowracing did.
But fishing did not sound exhilarating; it sounded rather dull, and she thought Nikola used it as an excuse to connect with his male friends instead of for its own sake. So when she found his note, she did not intend to intrude on his time with Lord Comfrey.
Usually she had no trouble entertaining herself alone; she loved the stillness and the freedom to concentrate on one thing uninterrupted. But today she was restless; her thoughts kept going to her husband and Lord Comfrey. She longed to be with them, to hear their laughter and banter. As the morning grew later and Wisteria foraged in the kitchen for a snack, she noticed the food set aside for dinner was still packed in its basket in the cupboard. I’ll carry it out to them, she decided. It’s a nice day and we can all enjoy a meal outside, and then I can leave them alone to their fishing or whatever afterwards.
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