Authors: Charlotte Rahn-Lee
“The king will want to speak to you,” he said.
Manning simply nodded.
By the time he got back to the castle Albert had long since arrived, so there was no way to see him.
If only I could speak to him
, thought Manning. He didn’t know what he would say or what he hoped to hear, but he knew he didn’t want their last interaction to be that confused time in the clearing. He imagined Albert sending for him. He imagined himself on guard somewhere in the castle, Albert happening to walk by.
In the middle of these fantasies Manning returned to his room. It was small and simple, with one window and a mat on the floor to serve as a bed. He had been at the castle long enough to have earned his own room, which suited him well. There were few servants with whom Manning had more than a nodding acquaintance, and he generally preferred to spend time alone. He sat down on the mat and almost immediately lay down. He hadn’t realized how exhausted he was. As he lay in his bed, with his body truly still for the first time in days, Manning’s thoughts slid into clarity.
Why should I wait for a chance encounter?
I’m sure I can contrive a way to come to Albert in his room.
Manning laughed at the idea. After his betrayal, deceit and abduction, he could hardly worry about Albert finding him impudent.
There was one thing he should think about before he considered imposing himself on Albert. Sometime soon, someone was going to come and tell him to go see the king. He should be more concerned about what he knew would be an interrogation, whether or not overt violence would be used. But at the moment he couldn’t bring himself to worry about his own fate. He had done what he’d needed to do to protect Albert, and that was the most important thing. Thus, when the brusque knock came at his door, Manning was thinking not of lies to tell the king, but of what he might say to Albert and how the prince might answer him.
two days after his interview with his father that Albert saw Manning again. The prince was sitting listlessly at his window in the evening, a volume of Ovid open, unheeded, in front of him. There was a discreet knock at the door. Albert, thinking it was one of the servants come to tend to his fire, called for the visitor to come in. But it was Manning who opened the door and stood somewhat sheepishly on the threshold. Albert’s heart quickened. He’d realized over the past two days just how much his life was lacking in quiet, broad-chested men with large, gentle hands.
“Come in!” he said, his overzealous welcome trying to compensate for the embarrassment he suddenly felt at the ostentation of his room. He had never paid much heed to the lush velvet curtains, the plush rug with its intricate patterns, and the gold designs inlaid into his bedposts, but now he felt that they were far too much. He wished he and Manning were back in the forest. Manning took a step forward and closed the door.
“Your Highness,” he started, “I’ve come to apologize.” His gaze was directed downwards, his voice crisp and formal.
“You’ve been punished by my father for disobeying his commands, and now you’re here to be punished by me for disobeying mine,” said Albert. He had continued to do his best to protect Manning from his father. He hadn’t dared send for him in case the king might hear of it. He’d repeated the tale of his killing of the stag so often, and to anyone who would listen, that Albert himself almost believed he’d shot it by now. But he knew his father accepted no excuses, no matter how legitimate, for failure of duty. Edward’s insistent “I will be told the truth” still haunted him.
“What did my father do to you?” asked Albert gently. It was a moment before Manning, his eyes still downcast, answered.
“Nothing, Your Highness.”
“Come,” said Albert, and he was even so bold as to reach forward and take one of Manning’s hands. He would speak to the man as to an equal. “I know my father. I did my best to make it seem you did all you could to follow his orders, without, of course, seeming to know too much. But I know what he is like when he is disappointed.”
Manning stayed silent, neither withdrawing his hand nor acknowledging the gesture.
“Let’s have no more lies between us,” said Albert. “I am very grateful you brought me home against my orders, but let’s start again, as equals. You won’t lie to me, we won’t keep secrets from each other, and I won’t issue you another order. You can see that I am sorely in need of a peer.”
Manning’s breath quickened. Albert could tell he was struggling to keep a strong emotion hidden, but what emotion?
“Look at me,” said Albert, and then he hastily added, “please,” to uphold his end of the bargain. Manning tipped his face up and looked into Albert’s eyes.
“I am also in need of a friend,” said Albert. “I thought I had one. I hope I still do.” What else he was in need of he didn’t have a word for. But then he recalled that he knew nothing of Manning’s personal life. His previous musings about Manning’s potential wives and mistresses returned to him. Albert wished Manning would give some indication of what he was thinking.
“But perhaps you don’t need any. Perhaps you have too many friends already,” he offered despondently.
“Your Highness,” said Manning finally, his words coming out in a rush, “I have no one. I am very much alone.”
“Please,” said Albert, “call me Albert.”
After that, Manning took off his shirt to show Albert the marks on his back from where the king had had him lashed. The lacerations were raised and red, making them stand out from the older bruises, which were now dull purples and greens. Albert leaned forward and kissed them as gently as he could. Manning sharply drew in breath.
“I have a salve my mother gave me,” he said. “I will attempt to heal the wounds my father has made.”
He retrieved the jar from a drawer and returned, scooping some of the cool ointment out with his fingers and applying it gingerly to Manning’s shoulders. But before he could continue, Manning reached back and took Albert’s hands, drawing them forward around his bare chest and pulling Albert against him.
“I’m not hurting you?” asked Albert anxiously as he felt the warmth from Manning’s skin through his silk shirt.
“No,” said Manning, “I like to feel you there.”
Albert smiled into Manning’s back and kissed it, grasping his hands in front of his bodyguard, enjoying the sensation of encircling Manning’s broad, strong frame.
Manning twisted himself around inside Albert’s embrace, turning to face the prince. When Albert saw that he was wincing slightly, he dropped his arms, afraid of hurting this man who had suffered for him. But as Manning leaned down to kiss him he whispered, “please, don’t let go,” and Albert brought his arms back up to pull the man close.
Manning’s mouth was a wonder to Albert. It pushed and pulled on his own, enveloping his lips and hunting out his tongue. It matched all the passion Albert put into the kiss with more to spare, and from deep inside at the back of Manning’s throat came those little involuntary moans, like the one he had heard in the forest, expressing pleasure and desire, the hunger that comes with getting what you want. With his mouth now connected to Manning’s, Albert could feel those moans vibrating in his own chest. Albert gave himself so entirely to the kiss that he might have fallen over had not Manning held him.
Manning leaned down and swept an arm behind Albert’s knees, taking him into his arms. Albert gasped at being suddenly off the ground. He leaned his head against Manning’s shoulder and nuzzled his face into his neck. Manning’s skin was smooth, and he smelled like soap. He’d clearly washed and shaved before coming to Albert’s room.
“I miss the way you smelled in the forest,” Albert murmured, kissing Manning’s neck.
“Dirty?” asked Manning.
“Real,” said Albert, “full of life.”
“I’m sorry my cleanliness disappoints you.”
“Mmmm,” said Albert, “I don’t think you could disappoint me if you tried.”
Manning began carrying Albert around his large room. “Where to, Your Highness?” he asked.
“The bed,” said Albert.
Manning put Albert down on his large, soft bed. Kissing his mouth, he ran his hand over Albert’s chest, his side, his lower back. Albert could feel the rough skin of his palms catching slightly at his shirt’s fine silk. Manning’s hand played at the edges of the cloth, slipping underneath the garment. The feel of this hand against Albert’s skin made him shiver. He took his shirt off. Manning smiled and caressed Albert’s skin, bringing his hand down the prince’s naked back, resting it on the bed behind him against the base of his spine. Albert heard himself moan. He could see a bulge pushing at the front of Manning’s pants, and his own penis was stiff and calling for attention. Albert reached forward to undo Manning’s garment and together they divested each other of the rest of their clothing. Manning climbed up onto the bed and knelt next to Albert, his cock full and long, his face flushed, his eyes half closed. Seeing Manning’s desire for him enflamed Albert. He reached forward a hand to touch that cock, and the sound that Manning made in response thrilled him. Suddenly there was nothing but touching and kissing, skin against skin: Manning’s hand on Albert’s penis, gently tugging; Albert’s fingers twisting and twining their way through Manning’s hair; Manning’s cock hot against Albert’s thigh. Albert pulled Manning’s mouth to his and kissed him as though he could never have enough.
Manning pulled back a little and looked at Albert, both of them breathing heavily.
“Have you ever…?” he asked.
Albert shook his head. “No,” he said, “but I’ve read all the Greeks.”
“I want you inside me,” said Albert. “Please.”
Manning leaned over and kissed him, placing a hand between Albert’s legs. He made his fingers slick with the salve, which had somehow come to the bed with them, and eased a finger gently inside him. They worked at it slowly, Albert calling out with the alternate pain and pleasure of it, until Manning could enter him, filling him up. Albert gave himself over to the sensation, crying out, gripping any part of Manning he could reach, responding to Manning’s motion. He felt whole, alive, present. And when Manning came, his handsome face open with the pleasure of it, Albert did, too, his fluids falling back down upon them like a celebration.
Afterwards they lay in Albert’s bed, which for the first time did not seem too big. Albert returned to applying salve to Manning’s back. He found himself apologizing for everything that had hurt Manning in the past few days.
“Some injuries are inevitable when you’re a bodyguard,” said Manning.
“That’s why you should retire to a farm and raise rabbits.”
“Then who will keep you safe?” asked Manning.
“I’ll come with you,” said Albert. Having finished with the salve he curled up against Manning, pulling one of the man’s strong arms around him.
“Is that so?” asked Manning. Albert could feel Manning’s smile against the back of his neck. “You’d give up your kingdom for a farm?”
“Yes,” said Albert, and he was only half joking.
“We’d have to have a rabbit farm at the end of the earth for the search party your father would put together.”
“I know,” said Albert.
They lay in silence for a few minutes and then Manning said, “Your Highness….”
“Albert,” corrected Albert.
Manning smiled. “Albert,” he said, turning the name over in his mouth as if testing the weight of it. “I should go. If I leave soon, I can slip out before the night guard comes.”
Albert turned over to face him. He hadn’t expected this.
“Do you have to?” he asked.
“It will be more difficult after they are on duty.”
“No, I mean, do you have to leave?”
“You know how dangerous it would be if I were discovered here—and I don’t mean for me.” Manning’s forehead was wrinkled with worry. Albert reached up and smoothed it gently with his thumb.
“Is that all?” Albert asked.
“It would be safer for me to go—I will come again to you whenever I can, but to spend the night is dangerous.”
Albert smiled. “Would you be missed?” he asked.
“I’m known to throw fits if disturbed unannounced,” said Albert. “No one should come in without fair warning. We are quite safe until tomorrow morning.”
The worry began to fade from Manning’s face.
“Please stay,” said Albert.
“It’s dangerous,” said Manning, but already he was letting his weight fall back into the bed, his body betraying his cautious intentions.
“Don’t worry,” said Albert, “I’ll protect you.”
“You don’t get to be prince without learning how to distract servants,” he answered. “You can take care of any rampaging deer, but leave the curious footmen to me.”
A smile finally broke across Manning’s face. “I will,” he said.
“Good,” said Albert. He twisted back around to lie cradled again in Manning’s embrace and added, “I’m sorry I can’t give you a new uniform. It seems like the least I could do.”
“Don’t worry, Your Highness,” said Manning, kissing the back of Albert’s neck, “I think of my uniform as yours, and have done so for several days.”
Albert turned slightly, leaning back against Manning’s chest, and together they fell asleep.
About the Author
grew up in the Fingerlakes region of New York and now lives in New York City. She has always loved educating herself and inventing and acting out stories, so naturally, when she graduated college, she went on to get a Master of Fine Arts in playwriting. She has written a number of plays and has been produced in small theaters in Philadelphia and New York.
Charlotte thanks her family for their enthusiastic and at times monetary support of her writing career, her twin sister for being her first and best co-writer/acting partner, and her beautiful girlfriend (another Dreamspinner author—can you guess which one?) for encouraging her to branch out into M/M romance.