by Jay Lewis Taylor
Late twelfth-century England: a country of divided loyalties while the Lionheart is on crusade. Hugh de Barham, master mason at Wells, walks a dangerous path between Glastonbury and Wells as the two vie for supremacy, a path made more dangerous still by the fact that Hugh, if he could, would share his bed not with women but with men.
The only way to stay safe is to keep his head down, but building the church of his dreams is no way to do that: and then there is Arnaut l’Occitan. What does this stranger from Provence want with Hugh? And can he, or anyone, be trusted?
98000 words/352 pages
Publication 1 May 2014
Also available in paperback from the CreateSpace eStore and your regional Amazon marketplace.
” … beautifully written, full of historical details … “
Review by Mark at Sinfully 4 November 2016
“This is fiction at its finest … “
Review by Lirtle at Prism Book Alliance 4 April 2015
RAINBOW AWARDS 2014
4th in BEST GAY HISTORICAL ROMANCE
” … the writing is elegant and the knowledge impressive … “
Review by Ilhem on Boys In Our Books 10 May 2014
Spring grew warmer and lighter, by day and by night. Hugh, normally one to sleep with his face well clear of the covers, took to pulling them over his face during the first waking moments of the day, between the ringing of the bell for Prime and the moment when getting out of bed could no longer be deferred. In the old days in Bristow he and Richard might have taken advantage of the time for a little pleasure, but now … ah, enough of that.
He forced from his mind, when it returned, the memory of the north porch and Arnaut’s body against him. Surely it had been no more than a moment of possession, of lunacy? And then he would remember the night in the open, between Glastonbury and Wells, when Arnaut had warmed his hands under Hugh’s surcote, had slept on Hugh’s shoulder and – whether waking or sleeping who could tell? – had caressed Hugh’s neck with one cool hand. Sometimes nights passed, or days, in which Hugh forgot that any of it had ever happened; but not many. He and Arnaut barely spoke to each other now, except in the way of work, or courtesy about the house.
This was a morning on which he remembered; indeed, he had dreamed of it the night before, except that in the dream it had all happened in the room where he lay now. Hugh rolled on his back and listened hard. Someone was already up and about in the yard. Usually this would be Rochilda; clearing the ashes from the bake-oven before putting the bread to bake was not something that could be kept quiet. Today, however, there was a sudden squall below the window from Benet, hastily suppressed, and a chuckle from a deeper voice. Godric? Too deep for him, surely, so it must be Arnaut.
Hugh decided to get up. It was a holiday, after all – ah, May Day. That would account for it. He threw some clothes on and went down hastily. Arnaut, Johanna and Godric were out in the yard while Rochilda stood in the kitchen doorway with a smile on her face, but shaking her head. “Not for me,” she said.
“Are you going a-Maying?” Hugh asked. “I hope you weren’t planning to leave me behind.”
“See, Mother?” Godric said. “Do come.”
“Oh … very well. Just let me smoor the fire again. Where did I put the cover?” Rochilda pushed a loose wisp of hair back under her veil, pinned it more firmly, and took the cover up from the floor, where it was propping the kitchen door open.
A little while later they were all on the slopes of Tor hill, looking for a May tree in bloom. There had been a cold snap after Easter, which must have stopped the blossom in the bud: there were green leaves, but no hint of white to be seen.
“Try the other side of the hill,” Arnaut said presently. “South or south-east, where the sun will have been on the trees.”
The woods were thicker on that side, the leaves greener. Flashes of smoky blue, pink, brown, darted through the branches as birds went about the business of spring: the air was ecstatic with their song. Something of May madness seemed to have got into the people, too, and maybe a little enchantment, for although there were surely other groups a-Maying on that hillside, they never saw anyone.
The sky was blue overhead, but here beneath the trees shadow lay deep; and maybe time lay deeper. Hugh could have sworn that the stone half-revealed by a fall of dark earth had letters carved on it, but there was no time to stop and look. Godric was ahead somewhere, the undergrowth crackling under his feet. Rochilda was holding her kirtle carefully from anything that might tangle in it, but her face when she turned towards the glint of sunlight through branches was alight with joy. Johanna had abandoned all pretence of modesty and belted up her kirtle so that her bare legs flashed pale in the shadow. She had shoes on, however, and her arms were close round Benet who, free of swaddling in her arms, was crowing and laughing.
Hugh looked for the last of the group. Somewhere, always out of the corner of his eye, was a gleam of Arnaut’s fair hair, and a light footstep, but the man himself nowhere to be seen.
The wood lightened a little, opening into green spaces starred with flowers and barred with sunlight through a light mist. Godric waited until they caught up with him, only for Johanna to catch his hand and run, almost dancing, through the trees. Hugh, stopping, was overtaken by Arnaut, who for a moment turned back, sunlight glinting in his eyes, and held out his own hand.
Hugh shook his head. Arnaut’s lips parted, but whatever he was about to say or do he was interrupted by a cry from Godric. “Come on! Over here!”
Arnaut smiled. “One day you’ll say yes,” he said, turned, took a flying leap over a fallen branch, and ran on towards the others. Hugh, after a moment, followed him at a walking pace, until the wood gave way to hillside grass and, a stone’s throw from the wood shore, a May tree stood with blossom burning among the green like candles.