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by Willa Okati
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: Gypsy wanderer Lightning has a problem. Actually, he has tons of them, from his responsibility as the leader of his Caravan to the fact that he has to find his soul mate before his fast approaching twenty-first birthday. When he meets Traveler, a man he thinks is a Deserter of the Road, or a gypsy who has turned his back on the nomadic lifestyle he so loves, Lightning refuses to believe that he's found what he's been searching for. There's no way that Traveler can be the \answer to the curse that will fall on his people. No way. So when the ancients insist that Traveler is the one, Lightning is less than thrilled. Even if Lightning is willing to give it a try, Traveler has problems of his own. His past is full of intrigue and danger, forcing him to hide his true identity from Lightning. When his former life catches up with him, Traveler has to leave Lightning behind, and they might never find each other again. Can Lightning get past his natural suspicion and the wounds of his childhood to make a life with Traveler? Will Traveler's past mistakes cost them both their chance at happiness and bring more than one curse down upon their heads? Magic, mayhem and true love reign in this gypsy tale!
eBook Publisher: Torquere Press/Top Shelf, 2007 http://www.torquerepress.com
eBookwise Release Date: August 2007
48 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [282 KB]
Reading time: 176-247 min.
"The lot of you, get the campsite in order," Horsetail barked. He planted thick fists, no less powerful for the weight of his years, on his hips and glared at the rollicking, tumbling mass of boys wrestling by his caravan.
"Can't you do it?" one lad asked, freeing himself from the tussle. He was young enough to have his front teeth missing, and whistled when he spoke. He'd never grow into the sort of face man or woman alike would swoon over, especially if those jug-ears of his weren't trained to lie flat against his skull.
Horsetail vaguely recognized him as belonging to the Wildwind clan, a particularly poor bunch. The ragged and oversized clothes hanging off the boy's shoulders were a dead giveaway. Flea, was that his name? Wildwinds never did have any sense when it came to what they called their family members, young or old.
No doubt the boy had his own share of work to do with his kinfolk; hard work, but nothing worth having comes for free. Gypsies and other folk of the road knew hard effort was what reaped a man's rewards.
"I've my own affairs to tend to, and I want to see whether or not you Gypsy younglings are worth your bread and salt. Put this place in order, I said, and I mean every man Jack of you. Clear the brush and rocks, start a fire going--and you had best know how--and mind you tend to the horses, too."
"Will we cook something to eat over the fire?" Flea asked hopefully.
Horsetail, his mate Slipstream, and their foster son Lightning had already had their dinner earlier, on the road. They'd eaten a hunk of travel-bread and an apple each, but mercy upon them, boys were all stomach--a snack would do them no harm. "We'll see," he said, knowing full well he'd be digging in his provisions for treats. Lads needed a firm hand, they did, and Road Lords knew he kept them in line, but he'd not see someone go hungry.
He cast a glance toward Lightning, the boy he and Slipstream had taken into their personal care. His long black hair whipped in ropes around his face as he tussled with one of the scamps, not listening to Horsetail's commands for them to settle down.
"Lightning..." Horsetail growled.
The boy reluctantly let go of his rival. Whereas the other boys had all been playing in fun, Lightning flashed with genuine anger. Welladay, perhaps he'd had cause. Might be the lad he fought had slipped in an insult. One about how this caravan belonged to no tribe, or a nasty word about being raised by two men. Wouldn't be the first time. Horsetail let such comments ride off him like rainwater from an oilskin, but Lightning tended to take those things personal-like.
"Lightning, behave," he chided. "Peace among all of you. I'm for the caravan, but I'll be back soon and I'd better see everything neat as a row of pins when I come back."
The group of boys nodded and gave their word, more or less in chorus. Lightning still crackled with anger, but he gave a jerk of his head to indicate he'd obey.
A good lad, for all his temper. A good lad. And he'd better be, hadn't he?
Horsetail and Slipstream had chosen Lightning to carry on their legacy, after all.
Grunting with the effort--curse old bones, not strong as once they were--Horsetail climbed into the caravan. Bigger than the usual traveling wagon, they had room for the pallet he and Slipstream shared, as well as a cot up front for Lightning, and all their trade goods neatly stowed besides.
"All well, love?" Horsetail asked gently.
His mate felt the weight of his years more harshly than Horsetail himself, his once-copper hair now gone nearly white, and his limbs thin. Ah, for the days when they were both young and strong, the future stretched out in front of them and the road wide open for their travels.
Slipstream, sitting cross-legged in the middle of their pallet, back straight and proud as any Gypsy in his prime, nodded. "The pain's not so bad now. Good job we ran into that herbalist who knew his foxglove cures, eh?"
Horsetail sighed as he knelt in front of Slipstream. His mate's heart grew weaker by the day, medicaments or no, and he knew they only had a little time left together. Lords of the Road, how it would hurt when the two of them were parted.
But ah, he'd cross that bridge when he had to. In the meantime, he'd enjoy every drop of company Slipstream had to give. He reached out to rub Slipstream's shoulder, the one that ached and gave him trouble. Though Horsetail's hands were big and clumsy, he knew how to offer a decent massage.
Slipstream sighed with pleasure. "Feels good, dearest. There's magic in your touch, there is, how it eases all aches and pains." He stroked Horsetail's long braid, liberally streaked with silver, where he'd tossed the heavy weight over his shoulder to trail on his chest. With a glimmer of his old humor, he gave the locks a tug. "Horsetail," he teased, reminding his lover of how he'd gotten his common name. "You'll be a good father even when I'm gone."
"We'll not speak of such things now." If he had his way, they'd never be discussed at all. "We've gathered a goodly number of boys from the caravans in this Gathering."
"Like flies to honey. Always did happen so with you."
"They'll want some entertainment." Horsetail gentled his touch. "Will you come and join us?"
Slipstream hesitated, then began to cough. A deep, wet sound, the paroxysms rattled his chest and left him sucking for air. All the same, when he could straighten up he did, proud as ever. "I'll be along in a moment."
"Best you rest. No, no, none of your cheek. Stay in the caravan where it's warm. Get near the back--wrap up snug, if you please--and you'll be able to see and hear as well as if you were outside."
Slipstream narrowed his eyes, but thank the Lords, he gave way. "Mind you speak loud," he warned. "I'll scold you if you don't, and then where will you be?"
"I'll pitch my voice to carry." Horsetail sealed his promise by leaning forward to drop a light kiss on Slipstream's lips, still soft despite his age. Kisses were about all they could share anymore, but they made those touches count. "Now, I'd best get back outside before those rag-tag lads ruin our campsite."
Slipstream scoffed. "They're Gypsies. They'll have done a proper job."
"Well, we'll see soon enough, won't we?" Horsetail gave Slipstream one more sweet kiss, then backed away to exit the caravan.
The smile on Slipstream's face all but broke his own heart.
Made him gruff when he put his feet on the ground and faced those waiting lads. He snorted as he looked around, pretending to be barely satisfied with the work they'd done. In truth, they'd proved capable as Slipstream predicted. The horses, a light roan gelding and a sturdy black mare with a star between her eyes, were groomed perfectly and secured to a tree with good grazing.
Someone had taken care to remove the Darkflowers, bright pink-and-purple blossoms which Grounders planted as traps for those who lived on the road. Beasts of burden found them irresistible, but they were a deadly poison for true. Horsetail could see their stalks burning in the crackling fire neatly contained within a ring of stones, Lightning watching over the blaze with an eagle's eye.
"You've done well enough," he allowed in pretended grudging approval. "I suppose you've earned your pay."
He felt a hand nudge him from behind, and turned to see Slipstream twinkling at him with some of his old mischief. "The treats you promised," he reminded Horsetail, holding out a bag of brown sugar candies. "A Gypsy's word..."
For Slipstream, his beloved, Horsetail had a grin. He wiped the expression clean as he joined the ring of boys, shoving the packet toward the nearest to him. "Pass it around. One each, mind, and I'll be counting afterwards. Now, you wretches. I'm supposing you want a story, eh?"
To a body, the youths brightened, and not just at the prospect of a sweet. They nodded eagerly, settling themselves into poses of eager listening.
Lightning alone remained crouched in front of the fire, poking the dancing flames with a stick. Horsetail resisted the urge to shake his head in dismay. When Lightning wasn't in a rage, he was far too serious for a boy of his age. Intense, almost frighteningly so.
Horsetail levered himself onto the ground, refusing to make any noise as his joints protested with flares of pain. "A story you'll have, then. I suppose you're wondering why it is Slipstream and Lightning and I travel alone, without kith or kin. Is this the story you want?"
Eyes brightened eagerly. Horsetail and his small family were no small source of wonder to them, they who were firmly part and parcel of thickly clustered clans. "Well enough, then." Horsetail cleared his throat. "I can't tell most of this, as I'm bound by promises I've made, as was my guardian and his guardian and all those who came before. But I'll give you what I can. First off, see our wagon?" He jerked his head back at the caravan. "Aren't many traveling what look like this anymore, are there?"
Curious eyes examined Horsetail's home, no doubt noticing the marks and carvings which dated it to be at least a couple of centuries old. If gossip still flew, as it generally did among the Gypsy clans, they'd have heard how this caravan was enchanted so that it had the weight of a feather and could all but fly over the road, never needing the smallest repair.
One boy, perhaps Flea, whistled. Admiration or dismay, Horsetail couldn't tell. He'd grown accustomed to both reactions.
Not providing any more fuel for those stories, Horsetail didn't confirm or deny their suspicions. No one made the sign against evil; a good omen. "You see what you see. Now, the story of how this came to be."
The boys leaned forward, keenly interested. Lightning didn't take his eyes away from the fire.
But then, he'd heard all this before time and time again, from when Horsetail and Slipstream first chose him until now.
"Once and once upon a time, and 'twas a time long ago now, there were two brothers. I'll not give you their names, but we'll call them Elder and Younger. Both were born and raised farmers, and, well, Elder was content enough to stay put.
"But Younger, ah, he felt the wanderlust and yearned to travel the road. All the same, he stayed put until a handsome Peddler--call him Peddler only--came through one day and knocked on Elder and Younger's door, looking to trade some of his wares--they were prosperous farmers, after all, you know."
Horsetail warmed to his story. "Younger it was who answered the peddler's knock, and from the moment his eyes and the peddler's met, they knew they were, and would forever be, bound together."
"Magic," one of the lads whispered.
Horsetail inclined his head. "Magic, right enough, which flowed free as water in those days. There's clans out there who still know their way about spells and such--I've even heard tell of them turning out wizards--but who's to say if the rumors tell us true?"
He left out the next bit of his yarn, as the boys were too young to hear about how Younger and Peddler had spent every moment they could savoring one another's bodies, lust as well as the true-love magic binding them ever tighter together.
"Peddler should have moved on, as folk from the road are wont to do. But he stayed, didn't he? Couldn't bear to be parted from Younger."
"Would he have left the road for Younger?" a boy wanted to know. The others grew keen with sharpened interest. A Road-man never settled if he could possibly avoid such a thing. He'd be called a deserter, and many would shun him if he didn't have the charm to woo his friends along.
"He might have been tempted," Horsetail allowed, "but no. Younger's itchy feet wanted to roam with Peddler, and so he told Elder of his plans. And ah!" Horsetail threw up his hands. "If I were to tell you how Elder raged, 'twould chill the blood in your veins. But the end's all the same. Younger took his share of their birthright, magic and all, and set off with Peddler to live the life he'd burned for."
"And did they live happily ever after?" one still young enough to believe in such things wanted to know.
"Happily enough. They used Younger's money to buy this caravan, and warded it with the sort of spells one could buy in those days, the best and longest-lasting they could find. When they grew older, they chose an heir from one of the Gypsy clans, and raised him to take their place when they'd grown too old. And so and so on it went, until the line passed to me, as it will pass to Lightning. There! That's the end of my story, and you've had your sweets. Be off with you, now, and mind where and when you tell this tale again."
The boys got up, well-satisfied. A little entertainment, a little candy, and they were happy as horses in green pastures. In small groups or one by one, the bunch wandered off toward their clan's traveling homes, murmuring to themselves about what they'd heard.
Horsetail stayed put, watching Lightning. He didn't speak, but then, he didn't need to. Lightning knew the rest of the story, the ending Horsetail told no one who wasn't adopted into his family.
Elder had placed a curse on Younger as Younger left him behind, using what magic he had left to make the words come true. "A pox on your 'love'!" he'd shouted. "Perversions like the pair of you--you'll die lonely and without family, and your spirits will be forgotten. Bad luck in this love to you, and may all your travels lead to ruin!"
Younger had been quick of wit, though, and struck back nigh before Elder finished ranting. "When love is true love, it endures, and we will find a line to carry our heritage," he said, shattering that part of the curse.
But he had to temper the rest, for he lacked the power to break Elder's magic entirely. "If those of our line find true love by the time of their twenty-and-first name day, they will be safe from all your damning wishes. With love to carry them along, they will succeed in all they do. True love, the sort Peddler and I share."
He'd slumped in exhaustion after casting the counter-curse, and Peddler had taken his hand to squeeze the fingers. Younger had done what he could, and it would have to be good enough.
They'd make the magic work for them.
But ah, the enchantment Younger used to weaken Elder's curse grew thin these days. Horsetail had been lucky to find his Slipstream, and that in the nick of time. Elder's curse crowded in upon them, and their Gypsy pride would not bear such a thing.
How would Lightning fare, when it came to be his turn?
"Are you well?" Horsetail asked quietly after some time had passed. He knew Lightning would also have been going over the rest of the true story. He also knew Lightning would understand the burden placed on his shoulders.
The boy's eyes flashed with determination and he stuck his chin out. "I can do it," he said stubbornly. "More, I'll find a way to make the magic stronger, make Younger's spells stick hard and fast."
"Don't take too much on yourself, ward. If you can find your one true love, be content."
"I'll do what I've said I will." Lightning returned his gaze to the fire, despite the mutiny in his voice. "You watch and see, Guardian."
Horsetail considered his ward. If anyone could do such a thing, it would be Lightning. Near pretty as a girl with his wide, bright eyes and delicate bones and the slim strength he had started growing into, he'd be a fine catch and no mistake.
Lightning would have to be careful he chose the right one, though, of all the suitors who'd be certain to swarm him. If his luck--the luck Younger had cast on their line--held, that was.
"Bank the coals," Horsetail said at last. "We're done here for the night. I'm for bed with my Slipstream, and I expect to see you tucking in your bed in three shakes." He stood, hiding his wince at the protest of his muscles. "Good night to you, ward."
"Good night," Lightning responded absently, already moving to obey. A good boy, obedient and dutiful.
Horsetail felt a chill of uncertainty, though, one which didn't fade even when he'd tossed a quilt over his lover and himself, holding Slipstream close. Lightning would have a hard road to travel, fighting to uphold magic near the end of its strength.
A heavy burden to place on shoulders still so young and slim.
But the choice had been made--as it had been for Younger and Peddler, Horsetail and Slipstream had known Lightning would be their charge from first glance, just as they'd known they were meant for one another--and what could they do now but prepare their fiery boy as best they could?
Lords of the Road help him, though. Lords of the Road, Horsetail prayed, have a care for my wild storm-boy...