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by Heidi Cullinan
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: Pride and desire send prosperous merchant Eryn on a personal quest to find the perfect man to share his life. Eryn has heard of a mythical land beyond the mountains, where it is rumored that a benevolent, magical prince rules a kingdom of equality and harmony, and so he sets out, alone and determined... but even the most focused of determination will only take Eryn so far. A destined true love does wait for Eryn, but the path to his future is rife with risk, and he will face not only his deepest fears, but also pain, torture, and bone-deep desolation as he struggles to reach Wyn, a sweet, beautiful, and fragile man trapped in an enchantment. If Eryn is to have any chance at a happily ever after, he will have to conquer the illusions that have always consumed him, even if it means sacrificing life and limb for love.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2010 2010
eBookwise Release Date: August 2010
14 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [138 KB]
Reading time: 96-134 min.
The Witch in the Woods
Once upon a time in a land far, far away, there was a merchant's son named Eryn who was unhappy because he could not find his true love.
First he tried to find his true love in the young ladies of his village, but his love was not there. He tried then in the older ladies of the village, but his love was not there either. When his father's moneylender caught him unawares in the counting office and pressed him close and kissed him, making his heart flutter and his sex swell, Eryn began to understand why he had no luck in finding his love with ladies of any age. Even so, the moneylender still was not his love, and in the country in which Eryn lived, a man could not love a man publicly and keep his social standing. Frequently men who admitted to loving other men lost not just their money and their position but their lives.
Eryn had always lived a privileged life, and he was not interested in losing his comfortable situation as his father's heir, not even for true love. And so for a time, Eryn tried to take his pleasures in the darkness, and he made his family's business his love instead. But affairs in the dark wore on Eryn's heart, and no matter how his coffers filled or his stature rose, his soul remained empty. He also began to have erotic, vivid dreams, and sometimes he thought he even saw his true love inside of them.
The man in Eryn's dreams was slim and slight and pale in a manner which even in Eryn's northern country was unusual but which Eryn found to be very beautiful. The man in his dreams had hair like night and skin so fair it glowed like new fallen snow. And there was a great deal of skin to glow, for in Eryn's dreams, his lover was always naked. He rode down a flower-strewn path in a golden carriage laden with silks and cushions, sitting naked in the back window as he laughed and beckoned Eryn closer. In his dreams, Eryn always rode a white horse as he chased after his love. Whenever he caught the carriage, it turned into a great glass bed, and Eryn made love to the beautiful man as white flowers as fair as his lover's skin rained down around him. But as they kissed, the glass bed would turn to ice, and the man would slide through it and become trapped inside. Eryn always ended the dream with his face pressed to the glass, calling in vain as the beauty below him fell into a deep, deep sleep.
The dream became so vivid and engaging that even though the end was tragic, soon Eryn found himself doing whatever he could to lure himself to sleep so that he could see his lover again. But the ache to know his true love in the flesh persisted inside Eryn still, growing with every passing day. And so one spring, as the flowers bloomed and the merchant ships sailed once more out to sea, Eryn arranged for the sale of his business, kept the receipts from the profits with his mother, and prepared to leave the home he had always known.
The road, Eryn knew, could be dangerous for a man traveling alone, and he knew that to be safe he should hire men to travel with him and protect him, or he should take less money and wear more common clothing so that he would not be a target for bandits. But Eryn could not bear to think of hunting down his true love with anyone along to discover his secret, so he did not hire a guard. And though Eryn was a good, kind man, he was also proud and vain, and he disliked the idea of leaving his fine clothes behind. After all, how would he woo his love looking like a pauper? As a compromise, he traveled alone but in clothes which, while flattering, were not quite so fine as he would like, and he sewed his stash of coins inside.
With hope in his heart, he set off down the road, seeking both his true love and a land where he could love him freely. Eryn walked for many, many miles and many, many weeks, passing first through one country and then the next, until at last he came to a fork in the road at the foot of a mountain, and there he sat on a stump and measured carefully his next decision.
Eryn's country was north and east of the mountains, and most of its commerce was carried out by sea because the mountains were difficult to pass. A single traveler, however, or a small caravan could edge between the steppe and the foothills to the warm and wealthy countries of the south, but bandits roamed the plains, and this road could be dangerous. Heading north would lead Eryn to a great forest, but many magical creatures were rumored to live there, some of them malevolent. Eryn wished there were a road cutting through the mountain itself, for the land he most wished to see was to the west, where legend said a godlike prince ruled from a castle in the clouds, benevolently shepherding his people with a sense of equality and fair-minded justice.
Eryn thought this mythical land would be the one most likely to allow him to fall in love with a man and live in peace. He had spent the many nights of travel imagining what his yet-unmet husband might be like. A merchant like him, perhaps? A courtier to the prince? A lawyer or a scholar would do nicely too. Would he be better off, Eryn wondered, with a younger man, who would be pretty like the man inside his dreams, or would it be better to fall for an older man who would go gray first? There were so many different ways for his quest to end well, and Eryn often made himself dizzy with possibility.
But for now his quest had ended, for he could not decide which direction would be the quickest, safest route to his true love. The thought of choosing the wrong path paralyzed him, so he sat there for some time pondering, which was why he did not see the old woman until she practically stood before him.
"What is a fine young man like you doing so far from home?" she asked Eryn, waving at him with the end of her walking stick. "One such as you should be with his wife, not wasting away his life sitting on a stump, waiting for a bandit to come along and steal the coins he thinks no one will know he's sewn into his tunic."
The old woman, Eryn now knew, must be a witch, for only such could discern so much simply by looking at him. He thought carefully before giving his reply.
"I do not have a wife," he said at last, "and I am sitting here because I am seeking my true love, but I have come to a crossroads and do not know now which way to go."
He had thought himself clever to phrase his reply just so, not revealing that he knew his true love to be a man without denying his yet-unmet true love as well, but Eryn quickly learned that however clever he might be, he was not half as much so as the witch.
"What way you take depends upon what lies within your heart." The old woman poked Eryn in his leg with her cane. "Come. I can see you have seen your true love's shadow, but you keep it too close to your heart. I know the secrets of these lands, and if you confide your longings to me, I will help you realize them."
Now Eryn was very afraid. The country where these crossroads lay had a cruel custom that men who confessed to enjoying sex with other men could be named deviant, and as such they could be stripped of title and wealth and sold for profit at the slave market. Eryn had never met a witch before, and he feared this one might be dangerous. And so once more he tried to find his way out with cleverness.
"My longings, old woman, I will keep to myself, but if you will tell me which road will lead me quickest to a soft bed and hot supper, I will give you one of the gold coins you have so cleverly surmised I carry."
The witch tapped his leg again, sharply now. "Only once more I will ask you: what secret do you hide about your true love? Share it with me, and you shall be rewarded."
But Eryn's fear was too deep, and he could not confess what he knew, and so he rose and made as if to leave. "I have no secret, old woman. Move aside, please, and I will be on my way."
This time she did not poke him with her cane but aimed it instead directly at his heart.
"Foolish man!" she cried, still waving her cane. "Foolish, selfish man! You say you seek your true love, a love so bright and strong it carries you halfway across the world, and yet you are so ashamed of this love that you will not claim it, not even as a shadow to a stranger. You do not deserve the love which has called you. He who waits cannot be saved by such a coward."
Eryn's heart ached to hear the witch's words. Her damning him as a coward was difficult enough, but to hear that she had known his true love was a man all along--and to hear that his love had need of saving--caught at the edges of Eryn's heart. Too late, he realized the witch had been meant to be his helper, not his enemy, and he fell to his knees before her in his despair.
"Then strike me down, good sister," he said to her, "for after such failures I surely do not deserve to live."
But the witch only regarded him with impatience. "And what good will that do? You are more foolish than I thought. No, I will not destroy you, for then he will have no hope at all. But for your lack of trust, instead of helping you, I shall impede you. The way to your true love was practically upon you, but now it is a long, lonely road full of danger and confusion. You denied your love to me three times because you loved your safety more than his discovery; now you must declare your love of men three times before you will find him, and each declaration will be more dangerous than the one before. The cleverness with which you attempted to distract me will be no help to you anymore--it might help others, but your wit and charm will never directly aid you again. You must shed your pride and your fear before you find your true love. And you will not so much as catch a glimpse of him until you lose every last one of the gold coins with which you tried to bribe me away."
"But how am I to find him," Eryn asked, filled with despair, "if I have no money, no cleverness, and no safety?"
"You will find him as you have always done," she replied. "With your heart. All else is distraction."
Eryn's fear was a leaden weight upon his chest. He could not see even a shard of the way to his true love before him now, and he did not know how he would ever find the strength to take another step. He mustered up enough courage, however, to ask the witch one question more.
"Will you give me no counsel at all, good sister?" he pleaded. "Will you not give me even one ray of light by which to see my love?"
At last it seemed he had said the right thing, for the witch smiled at him, looking suddenly much, much younger than Eryn had assumed her to be. "You seek the Sweet Son," she said.
And as her words echoed in Eryn's ears, she faded away before Eryn's eyes, leaving him standing in the middle of the path, alone.
* * * *
Heartsick, Eryn wandered to the south, because he was cold and it felt good to walk toward the warmth of the sun. He was starving and very weary, having only napped beside the stump while he tried to decide which way to go. Full of hunger and mired in misery, he wandered aimlessly, hoping to find an inn with a bed for his weary body and food for his empty belly.
But he did not find an inn. Instead, he found a band of roving bandits who in the space of a morning fulfilled much of the witch's prophecy.
After cutting the ties to the purse at his belt, they called for him to strip out of his tunic, and after discovering the coins he had sewn into the hem, they ordered him to strip naked there in the middle of the road to see if he had any other coin hidden upon his person. Eryn did: he had four silver pieces in his breeches and two bronze, one in each shoe. When the bandits were done with him, he had nothing at all, and he stood there, naked and shivering in the morning dew, watching helplessly as the bandits tore apart his clothes to see what other treasures he held inside. But they were not yet finished with him. Once the bandits had shredded the last of his attire, the leader turned to Eryn with a wicked glint in his eye.
"Poor man," he said, with no sympathy at all. "You seem to have lost all your clothes. As it happens, I have a garment or two I might sell to you."
"But you have stolen all my coin," Eryn said, trying not to let either his anger or his humiliation show. Then the bandit grinned in a manner Eryn knew well, and he realized he had only touched the barest edge of the shame this man would teach him.
"There are other methods of payment," the bandit said, reaching down to cup himself roughly through the fabric of his trousers.
It had been some time now since Eryn had taken a man to his bed, and though he was cruel, the bandit was handsome in a roguish way that called to Eryn's blood; it rushed now to his cock, making it twitch for all to see. It faded when the bandits burst into cries of disgust and peals of laughter, but it had been enough to damn him, and the head bandit came forward, leering.
"Well, well. I only meant to put a rich fool in his place, but it appears this is a payment you're quite eager to offer." He nodded at Eryn's now-withering cock. "Or did I misread you? Are you a deviant, a man who loves men, or are you one of those odd buggers who gets hard when he's afraid?"
Eryn wanted to lie. Eryn would have surrendered twice as much gold and silver and bronze and seven embroidered tunics to escape what he knew would come if he told the truth to this man. But he remembered what the witch had told him, of how she had accused him of putting his safety ahead of his desire for his true love. He thought, perhaps, that this would be the secret, that if he swallowed his pride and answered honestly this would appease her, and he would be rewarded with more help in finding his true love. So he swallowed his fear and said to the bandit, "It is true. I am a man who loves men."
The bandits erupted into shouts and cries again, and the head bandit, too, curled his lip in contempt. But he also undid the ties to his breeches and planted his feet wide apart on the gravel as he freed his cock from its confines. "Then get on your knees, my slut, and show me how much you love my cock."
It hurt Eryn's pride far more than it pained his knees to kneel in the gravel and take the bandit's musky penis into his mouth. Eryn was accustomed to gentle, perfumed lovers, but the bandit was coarse and dirty, and Eryn had to work to keep from gagging as he drew his face up to his captor's sex. The bandit was also not aroused, and so Eryn had to suckle him with an exuberance he did not feel to make him hard. He tried to think of his yet-unseen true love, to hold that light in his heart as he made love to a cruel man's cock while other men jeered, but it was hard to keep his imagined lover in his mind. It was even more difficult when, after the first bandit erupted inside him, another appeared to take his place, and Eryn had to coax another stinking, flaccid cock into erection so he could drink him down as well. Soon he was not hungry at all, because his belly was full of the cream of six bandits.
"No clothes for you, my fine slut," the head bandit said, slapping Eryn's bare ass as he drew him to his feet. "Now we know your measure. Truss him over the back of the donkey, boys. When we camp tonight, we'll give this one all the man-loving his back door can handle."
And they all laughed, all but Eryn, who knew cold fear in the center of his belly as he thought of the horrors that lay in store for him now. They hauled him up over the backside of the donkey, tying his hands and feet together with rope suspended beneath the animal's belly, making sure his legs were spread wide enough to expose him for his humiliation and their enjoyment. When the pressure on his belly made him vomit up their semen, they only laughed and promised they'd refill him at both ends when they stopped for lunch. As they made their caravan down the highway, they took turns mocking him, promising to ride him hard when they stopped to rest the other animals.
When one thought to stick a finger in Eryn's backside, and they discovered how it made him moan, they made a game of that too. Eryn tried to resist, but as the bandits kept after his inner fire with some skill, Eryn found he could not. They fucked him with their fingers until he begged them incoherently to continue--at which point they would stop, come around to the other side of the donkey and make him suck their fingers clean. Eventually one of them succeeded in making him come against the animal's side, after which point Eryn hung his head in shame and tried not to react to anything they did to him. He was sorry now that he had told the truth, and he felt a fool for thinking it would save him. Hanging limp as the noonday sun baked him, he waited miserably for the next round of humiliation from the bandits.
But the next round did not come, because at noon the bandits encountered a caravan bigger than their own, a procession of a wealthy pasha passing from the steppes down to the sea, where he would board his ship for home. The bandits saw the armed guards and knew fear, and they merely waited, hoping the pasha would pass them by.
Eryn, however, saw only the beautiful white horse tethered behind the opulent golden carriage. It was white and pure and beautiful, so perfect that even in his humiliation and fear he felt his heart lift up at the sight of it. It bore no saddle and no rider, and it was tethered to the carriage by the thinnest golden ribbon. The beast did not pull away, only pranced impatiently back and forth, obeying the length of its bonds. It was, Eryn realized with a pounding heart, the horse from his dreams. When the pasha did in fact call a halt to his party and came over to interview the bandits, he found he was glad, for he could look upon the enchanting beast a little longer.
But when the pasha came up to Eryn's donkey, Eryn saw the dark gleam in his eye, and he feared he would soon be wishing the pasha had not lingered at all.