This story is copyright Ellen Holiday, 2011. It may not be reproduced or republished without the author’s express permission. Please be advised that this story contains graphic sexual situations.
Dreaming of Castles
by Ellen Holiday
I used to dream about castles. Great towering constructions of stone and metal that rose up, I imagined, as tall as the sky, keeping those within their walls as safe as a treasure locked within a mountain. Castles were my obsession, though I hadn’t ever seen one – I knew only what I saw in the stories and pictures of the travelers who came through our tiny farm town on lofty missions that took them between kingdoms. Every time, I dreamed of asking them to take me with them. Every time, I did no such thing.
I was the eldest of three, after all; and even before my mother died I was being groomed to be man of the house. Since I could stand on two legs I’d been taught to gather eggs and clean animals, to till fields and gather bushels of corn in the autumn. The corn grew over my head in those days, though I eventually grew to easily match some of the stalks in height. I imagined they were the turrets and spires of my own personal palace, keeping me safe from all that lurked outside.
No towers, of corn or stone, could save my parents from the fever that broke upon half the townspeople one bitter winter. We lost them both that summer, and our grief was total. I was still young, but I had learned enough of the trade to carry on . And I still had sisters to feed.
That was ten winters ago. I’ve grown to manhood in the meantime. I’ve seen my childhood friends leave the village to seek their fortunes. Not me. I stayed behind, because only I had the back to till the fields, to gather and clean. The older of my two sisters would sometimes help sell in the marketplace, but I was the custodian of our farm and our livelihoods, and childhood dreams of castles were buried under the weight of the day-to-day.
Until the fever struck again.
It seemed a return of the nightmarish illness that had killed our parents. My sisters had fallen ill, but so too had the able-bodied men of the village. I was one of the few who showed a natural resistance to the epidemic, and as such was asked by the town elders to shed my identity as farmer for a day and venture to the forest in search for herbs that might ease the suffering.
I knew nothing about traveling through forests. The elders assured me I would be all right with a walking stick and a vow not to stray so far in that I could not count my steps to the forest’s edge. They chose the wrong person for the task – the moment I entered, the woods swallowed me up, and I was as lost in my own imagination as I could ever be among endless trees.
The forest seemed to creep around me. I thought every vine might move, every shadow might be a creature lying in wait. My hand closed around my staff, and as I negotiated the uneven floor of the forest, pushing away roots and branches, I fancied I was ready at any point to tip my staff up and become a fighter as well as a farmer. I should have known better.
It came with a crash and a resounding roar – a creature of tusks and fur, one I’d never seen before and couldn’t possibly name. Its teeth curled into fine points beneath a snout that looked as wet and unpleasant as a mud puddle. It smelled, dear Gods how it smelled. I knew at once that a staff, even a stout one could not do any damage to this creature – I froze, praying it would not sense me.
It sniffed. That great snout pressed itself against my body. Despite myself, I shivered.
Great jaws opened. I let out a cry and ran.
I cast myself into a thicket of bramble, the nettles stinging as I rolled my way though. The creature plunged forward after me but recoiled, giving a cry of pain; it gave me enough of a moment to dash across the terrain in search of a safe hiding place. None found, and the creature vaulted over the bramble and kept after me with an outraged roar. My heart beat hot in my throat and I could only think that my sisters would never know what became of their older brother, would be miserable until the fever claimed them, and all this because I had been so foolish as to venture into the forest. I felt like the world’s biggest fool.
And then a sound cut through the air, one I hadn’t heard before. I turned in time to see a blade cut hot through the air and draw a gush of crimson blood from the disgusting snout of the creature.
A moment later he appeared, springing from the bushes like a cat, all lines and sinew and muscle. His hair, golden as the daylight, flashed almost as bright as the copper-toned hilt of his sword. My eyes couldn’t widen enough to take in the sight. A shield hung from his back, the insignia of a castle flashed at me meaningfully as he fought the creature down and finally severed its head with a powerful blow.
“What was that?” I said, dusting myself off and getting back to my feet. I was still shaking.
He turned to me and I caught my first glimpse of a face as beautiful as any I’d seen. He seemed to have leaped from the pages of a storybook into real life. “That was a devilhog,” he said. “They crawl these parts incessantly. You’re much more of a surprise to me than he was. The first of your kind I’ve seen in these woods, I reckon.” His eyes danced with mirth. “What brings you out here?”
“I’m–” I had nearly forgotten my own mission. “My name is Damon, I come from the village just beyond the river–” I made a lame gesture. “I’m searching for a certain herb, my sisters are sick–”
The stranger reached for a pouch at his waist. “Cureweed?” he said. “I have some with me. There’s more growing just beyond that tree. Come on.”
I followed him in a daze, afraid to speak. My eyes roved over the sharp just of his sword, sheathed at his side, the sharp cut of his profile and that castle insignia, the one that spoke to me like a sign. “Do you come from there?” I said as we knelt among the weeds, pointing to the shield he’d laid on the ground a moment ago.
He nodded. “My town lies within the castle walls.”
“Not so much. A day or two’s ride.”
“But you have no horse.”
“He’s waiting for me outside the woods,” the stranger said, grinning. “He’s a coward. More afraid of the devilhogs than you are.”
“I wasn’t afraid,” I blustered. The lie was surely written on my face. He took one look and laughed.
We gathered up a bushelful of weeds and he offered to help carry it back to my village. His name was Eiss, I learned, and he often went into the woods to gather such herbs and other wild plants that he could sell in the castle town. I imagined a marketplace to put ours to shame, cacophonous yelling and all manner of strange folk wandering through, as the great stones of the castle walls rose up on all sides. Lost in my own imaginings, I didn’t notice until I’d stepped a good twenty paces ahead that Eiss had stopped at the mouth of the path that led to our village. It led down a hill and through our cornfield, and from where he stood you could see the golden cobs peaking out from their sheaths, and the humble thatched roofs of the houses waiting just behind.
I walked back to join him. “This is where I live,” I said, my hands digging into the pockets of my tunic. “It’s quiet, but–”
“It’s lovely,” he said, and his face was rapt. He was looking out over our cornfield like I might over a vast kingdom or the towers of a faraway castle. What was there here to admire? I could not find a sight here that made me at all rapt.
Well, that wasn’t true. There was the river at sunrise, after nobody had been there for hours. There was the bustle of market day, when snatches of song could be heard in every corner. But these were simple joys, not amazements. I didn’t feel there was anything worth showing him, but Eiss still stood mesmerized. My eyes roved over his jaw. So noble and … and rough-looking. I wondered if my fingers would prickle if I brushed them over the hairs that lay there in a ruthless series of lines. My own baby-smooth chin felt foolish in comparison.
I turned quickly, embarrassed at the heat rushing to my face. “We should bring these to the elders,” I said.
* * *
By nightfall my sisters’ fevers had lessened. The weed proved to be potent, and when I pressed a hand over the younger one’s forehead, she murmured and fell back into a deep sleep, unclouded by delirious dreams as had kept her tossing and turning for several nights. Eiss stood in the doorway, watching as I tended to her. I turned my head to nod at him, a silent thank-you, and he smiled. For a moment we were both parents in this child’s sick room. I wanted to twine my fingers with his, lean my head on his shoulder in relief, as I remember seeing my mother do with my father at my own bedside. The memory brought a smile to my face.
“You were remembering,” he said, after we left the room. “Something lovely.”
“How did you know?”
“I know the look of a man lost in his own thoughts,” he said with a bright smile. “And there’s a certain smile a man gets when he thinks about his own childhood. “
I reddened. He could read me so very well.
“I’d like to hear it,” he said. His voice was so sweet it was like drinking in honey. “If you would share it with me.”
I gave him the scene, told him how my mother had crossed the room, her brow damp with sweat and worry, and leaned on my father’s shoulder. “For a moment, I was there again, only this time we were– I mean, I was–”
He tucked a hand behind my head and leaned it in to his shoulder.
My lungs were all at once full of the smell of him, and I was shaking hard. Within an afternoon Eiss had dropped into my life as my hero, then my partner and now my– my friend? What was he, why had he not left? I didn’t understand what was going on, only that there had been silent magic brewing between us since the first flash of his sword.
We stretched out in front of the hearthfire, lazy at the end of a long day. “I wish I could see the things you’ve seen.”
“I wish I could show you,” he said. “I think you’d come screaming back to your village, though.”
“I never screamed.” I glared at him. “I ran, but I didn’t scream.”
“Oh, you gave a good shout all right. It’s natural, it’s only human. I know I screamed, the first time I faced down a dragon.”
My mouth went dry. “You faced down a dragon?”
“Oh, yes. I had climbed the peak of a great mountain. All my companions had fled from fear, but I was determined to find the legendary gold that all dragons keep in their lairs.”
“Why would dragons keep gol–” Then I caught the grin on his face. I shoved him, bursting into laughter myself. “You’re mocking me!”
“Forgive me,” he said, wiping a tear of merriment from his eye. “You seemed so rapt, I felt I shouldn’t disappoint.”
“Don’t talk to me about rapt. You stared at my cornfield like it was the end of the rainbow.”
His face sobered. “It was.”
“You’re mocking me again.”
“I’m not.” He touched my cheek, and this time I had no way to hide the flush that went through it, nor the arousal that coursed through me. “I fear I’d disappoint you,” he said, “because I’m no hero. I can fight an animal down, but I don’t slay dragons. I just make my living, same as everyone else.”
My mouth was dry. I could feel myself trembling. My eye kept falling to his sword where he’d propped it up against the wall of my cottage. The hilt of it glowed dully in the firelight. “You live in a castle.”
“I live in a town,” he said. “It’s within walls, but it’s just a dirty place where too many people are crowded together too closely. There’s no air there, there’s no space. Whereas here, even inside this house–” He was coming closer to me. “It feels like freedom.”
A moment later I felt the soft brush of his lips against mine. The sensation sounded in my mind like the clear chime of glass against glass. Something moved up through me I didn’t know the meaning of.
“In the city,” he said in a low voice, “there are places you can go to get every wish fulfilled, every need attended to– it was there I discovered I enjoyed the bodies of men– but I longed for something more than bodies. I want the way you look at me, I want to give you what you hope I am, because just as you are, Damon, you’re everything I could ever want.”
I swallowed hard. “Me? But I’m nothing. I’m normal.”
“You’re beautiful. The way you looked at your sister tonight, the readiness with which you accepted me into your village, your home. There’s no such trust in the town. There’s only fear, and expedience.” His eyes darted away, then found mine again. I could see him gathering his courage and I knew then this was a moment that needed no explanation. It was meant, as magical and ineffable as the names of the gods.
Still, he continued to explain. “You haven’t flinched since I kissed you, you haven’t pushed me away.”
“Why should I?” My hands rose to bunch in the fabric of his sleeves. “You’re everything I want. If I could leave this place I’d go with you in a heartbeat.”
“I’d take you with me in another,” he whispered. The air hung thick with magic between us, and I could barely breathe.
I kissed him hard. “Eiss,” I whispered against his mouth, “I know you must return to your castle town, I know I may never see you again. Please don’t hold back from me tonight.”
His eyes widened. “Do you know what you’re asking?”
I grinned. “I am a farmer,” I said. “I watch cows mating in the pasture. Do you think I know nothing of sex?”
The realization that crept onto his face was so amusing I had to keep myself from laughing aloud. “Oh, dear gods,” he said, finally. “I don’t want to think of cows mating.”
“Then don’t,” I whispered, kissing him soundly again. “Think of me. Think you can have anything you want, because you can.”
He gave up talking and crushed me in an embrace; my arms tightened around him, and I opened my mouth to his, let him lick the inside. Each stroke of his tongue sent hot washes of sensation through me, and I growled, the warrior in me awoken by the dominant push of his body. But he out-muscled me, and I fell to the floor, open and waiting for him. Perhaps it was a fight I’d never meant to win.
His fingers fluttered at the opening to my tunic. I gulped hard. My ears strained to hear from the other room, hoping or fearing that my sisters might call out in fever dreams. But they had truly passed, and not a sound emerged. I met his gaze with nervous eyes.
He kissed my collarbone. Warm liquid heat shot up through my body. “Don’t worry, Damon,” he said. “I’ll make you feel only good things tonight.” And then his fingers were skirting down my sides, lifting the fabric from my skin, and with a rustling rush of cloth, he’d unclothed me. “Magnificent,” he murmured to himself, and it seemed a foreign and wonderful thing that he should be talking about my body. A day ago it would have seemed inconceivable that anyone would have thought of me like this.
He pushed a kiss onto my breastbone, down onto my stomach, then just below my navel where I was straining upward so close. I gasped, and my body arched up without my permission. What was this wonderful torture? My body had taken over my thoughts. I was dizzy with desire, and I didn’t ever want it to end.
A few more jerky movements and I was naked from head to toe lying in the firelight. He licked down and across, from my stomach to one hipbone, drawing his tongue along the underside of it as his fingers inched toward my cock. I couldn’t breathe. Every hair’s breadth those fingers approached set me on fire anew.
And then, with one great gasp and gulp he had taken me into his mouth, had circled the base of my cock with his hand, and he was pumping and tasting and licking in a rhythm that maddened me. I cried out, then stuffed my fist in my mouth, eyes wide and bulging, petrified of rousing my poor sisters. He chuckled, pressed tiny pearl drop kisses at the head of my cock, lapping up the liquid that had beaded there, and then continue his licking madness. I couldn’t keep still, my thighs kept tensing around his head. I shouted helplessly into the muzzle of my own fist, overwhelmed .
When his spit had made my cock slick and gleaming in the firelight, he pulled off, licked his own fingers, and met my gaze. “Turn over,” he said, “on your hands and knees, as I am now.” I obeyed readily. He did not waste a single moment – no sooner was I there then his fingers had found a secret part of me and were probing gently in a way that sent shuddering thrills through my whole body.
“Gods,” I rasped, “a thousand gods, I feel–”
“Yes,” he kept murmuring, and ran a hand over my stomach, catching the tip of my cock with his thumb and whirling it there. “You’re so gorgeous, so utterly unspoiled – I’ll ruin you.”
“Ruin me, then.” I gasped, wanting more of the slick hot probe of his fingers and the firm squeeze of his hand. “Ruin me, spoil me, I don’t care.”
He leaned over me, craned his neck and kissed my ear. “Are you sure? I might hurt you. More–”
“Nothing hurts,” I gasped. “Nothing hurts, it’s good – please, give me more.”
Not a lie. His fingers were inside me, and they were burning, but the burn was all good, all exciting. I wanted more, wanted the delightful sting of the stretch, and if he were going to put his cock in me I swore I could only ever want more of it. My whole body was tingling with a thousand lightning storms. “Please,” I hissed, pushing my hips back into the press of his hands. “Fuck me.”
He laughed. “You are the most delectable tease for a farm boy with no experience.”
“You’re the one who’s– ooh– teasing,” It was hard to get the words out,
He hissed and withdrew his fingers – at once I was empty, wanting– but a moment later he’d bracketed himself to me, closed his body around mine in perfect symmetry. It must have looked like the indiscriminate mounting of animals, but that wasn’t how it felt. It felt like the careful fitting of a shoe to a horse, the torment by fire and the moment of melding. I fit so utterly beneath him that I wondered if I had been born there. It was a shelter waiting for me all my life.
And then… oh, and then he pushed forward, his cock stiff and firm against my ass, and I was clawing the floor, waiting for more.
I saw stars when he entered me. My eyes opened wide, but all I saw were bright flashes of color and white. When focus returned it was only barely. I couldn’t pay any regard to what, whether I looked at him, or the fire, or the blank wall of our hut. Perhaps a dragon had scorched the town to ashes in those moments. I wouldn’t have noticed. I was utterly consumed by the motion – the weight – inside me, making me curl and clench around it, filling my body with shudders.
His hand found my cock, and a good thing, too, because I was digging my nails into the floor, trying desperately to keep balance and counterweight against the slow beat of his cock into me. Not just his cock, but his whole hips – his balls slapping obscenely against the flesh of my ass, the sound filthy and wonderful – and the whole jut of his body. He came closer every time to molding to me completely,
He was whispering as he fucked me, soft little ardent prayers, “thousands of gods,” and “so incredible,” and other turns of language I’d never heard before, language learned in the city. I could feel all of his knowledge bleeding into me through only the torrent of words and the steady thrusts that were breaking me inside.
“Eiss…” I couldn’t let go of the hissing S of his name; it trailed on in a whisper as I bucked under his touch.
I thought I heard my own name overlapping his, and then we were both lost to words, panting and grunting under the weight of our cresting emotions. I came with his lips pressed against the skin of my shoulder, and his teeth sank in as he hit his own climax. Pain and pleasure coursed through me, and I collapsed, sticky and sated, my cock still pulsing in his hand. That night I dreamed of castles again, high spires piercing the sky, rising up into the heavens as thunder and lightning sounded in the clouds. Still the towers kept growing, until they had punched through the atmosphere and left this world behind.
I woke up alone. I shuddered, and my heart slammed painfully against my ribs. His boots had been donned hastily at the door, his satchel and sword and shield missing. Nothing had been left behind. It was as though Eiss had vanished with the dawn, as though he had been part of my dream.
I sighed and admonished myself to leave it behind. He had never been more than one night of desire. Still, I had hoped for a goodbye, or at least a lingering, lazy morning. No such luck. It was for the best. I had to first check on my sisters to see if their health was recovering. If Eiss had been a dream, then the herbs he had brought might never have reached my hands at all.
It was sweet relief to see them sleeping blissfully, their brows no longer damp with sweat, and to hear outside the bells of the churchtower ringing. The boy who rang those bells had been down with the same illness, and to hear them peal again was promising. These were the simple joys I depended upon in my normal days. They were more meaningful than dreams of faraway glory and dragons on mountains, and it was good that I should be reminded of it. For one night I’d believed that dreams and reality could live in the same world, and that would have to be enough.
Dressing, washing myself quickly with well water, I headed out to the stables to take the day’s eggs and tend to the animals as they awoke. It would be a busy day, full of the duties that my sisters performed in health but would need doing while they recovered from their illness. That would keep me too busy to be sad.
I was halfway through the henhouse, clucking at an obstinate hen who refused to abandon her nest, when I heard the noise. It took me a moment to identify it as an animal’s noise, the neigh of a horse. And behind it followed the call of a familiar voice. “Good morning.”
I nearly slammed my head on the door of the coop as I whirled and stood.
Eiss, clean and fresh as morning itself, was riding toward me, mounted on the back of a brilliant honey-colored steed. I took in a breath and moved forward to greet them. But no sooner had I reached out to touch the horse’s back than Eiss had pulled me up and astride the horse’s flank right behind him. My world dipped and churned. I couldn’t tell up from down.
When I had my bearings again, I was clutching him tight around the waist, head buried in his shoulder. For all my vertigo, he was steady as an anchor. “It’s a long way around the perimeter of the woods,” he said brightly. “I had to leave early to bring him back with me in time.”
“In time for what?” I managed.
He leaned back and dotted a kiss to my cheek. “In time to take you with me,” he said.
I gasped again, but he silenced me with another kiss, this time pressed to my mouth. “I want to show you something,” he said. “Something on the other side of the forest. I’ll have you back in plenty of time to return to your family. Say yes, Damon.”
What else could I say but yes? I nodded fiercely and held on tighter to the steady pillar of his body as he kicked the horse into a brisk canter across the fields and away.
The horse jogged steadily around the woods, leaping over fallen trunks with a facile grace that astounded me. I could see how this would be a much more treacherous walk, but on the back of a horse it was a breeze. At last we had rounded the woods, out of view of the river, and were facing a grassy hill, steep and dotted with rocks. “Hang on,” Eiss said to me, and spurred the horse forward.
I had never been up such an incline before. “What– where are we going?” I dared to ask as the horse jostled me and pitched me back and forth. If not for my grip on Eiss, I might have fallen a thousand times.
“You’ll see when we get there,” he said.
And when we reached the top of the hill, I could indeed see it. Far in the distance, its turrets piercing the sky. It looked only like a toy, too far away to touch, but it was real. I caught my breath. “It’s a castle,” I said.
“It’s my town.”
The meaning of those words flooded me all at once, and I could barely move. This castle had been here, just beyond the hill, and across the plains, all this time. I had thought I’d never see one in my lifetime, thought we lived too far away for anyone of consequence to care. Now my mind raced backward to the travelers who passed through our town, of their tales. The world they spoke of, the world I aspired to, hadn’t been so far away after all.
And this was the world where Eiss lived.
“We don’t have to say goodbye at all,” Eiss said eagerly. “I can come back with no trouble and visit you again, if you’d let me. And perhaps someday you can allow someone to care for your sisters, and I will bring you there. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
My breath was coming short. “But– why?”
He pulled me close and kissed me hard. It took me a moment, but I grabbed the scruff of his neck and answered his kiss with my own want.
“You said you might never see me again,” he said. “But I will not give you up for such a measly inconvenience as a two-day ride,” he said. “Tell me you will not, either.”
I shook my head fiercely. “Never.”
We lingered atop that hill for a good part of the morning, and then he took me home, where he joined in the day’s work as though he’d farmed all his life. When he finally mounted his horse and galloped out of the fields toward the woods, I watched him ride out, then remained at the edge of the fields until the sun was threatening to descend below the horizon. I was imagining the view from the top of the hill at that moment, with the faraway spires of the castle singed black in the sun’s brilliance, and Eiss riding across the plains for home. I could wait, holding on to that image, until the morning he came riding out to see me again.
I would dream of castles that night, and this time my dreams would not fade with the dawn.