The first novel from Xavier Axelson is set against a backdrop of decadence, privilege and intrigue. Virago, the royal tailor, makes a discovery that will test the bonds of brotherhood, unravel the forbidden secrets of his heart and threaten the very fabric of his existence.
In a land where cruelty is disguised as allegiance, loyalty is masked by obligation and the laws of sumptuary govern the people, nothing is more dangerous than Velvet
Type: Historical Erotica, M/M
Publisher: Seventh Window Publications, ebook, 200 pages
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I’d been staring at the vast body of water surrounding the ship when I was startled to find a woman, heavy with child standing by my side. She wore a red gown that gathered beneath her ample breasts. The gown fell freely, billowing against her in the brisk sea air. Her red hair hung in two braids threaded with crimson leather. Upon turning her head, small red jewels, woven throughout her hair, caught the light.
“The sea is dark as the grave, and as good at keeping secrets.”
“Who are you?” I asked. Since I’d boarded the ship the day before, I’d conversed only with Seton and my brother, Sylvain. I’d yet to earn my sea legs and everything seemed strange.
“I am Adis, wife of Doremme, the man whose ship you stand upon.” She came closer. “Secrets are only as powerful as those who carry them and the sea is a perfect place to bury what haunts you.”
“You talk as though you know me, and as I am a stranger on this ship, I know this cannot be.” I was about to bow and take my leave when she laughed.
“Fear is not your way, tailor. You were the royal tailor of the king whose land we left, were you not?”
Were the royal tailor… Her words struck at my heart. I felt this truth so keenly that I gripped the ship railings to steady myself.
“I fear only those who know more of me than I wish, and while I am indebted to your husband for granting us passage, I am in no mood for games.”
Though her laughter died, a smile lingered on her lips. “I mean you no harm, but you seem to have caught the interest of my child.”
I looked at her swollen belly. “Your child?”
“This is my third and final.” Her hands caressed her stomach. “She will be a visionary, and in her birth, I will
know death. Not unlike your mother. She bore your brother, who I am told is also a visionary. And blind. How fortunate. Those who are physically afflicted see further than those who aren’t. Nature seldom curses without blessing at the same time.”
This time I laughed. “Perhaps you should ask my brother if he thinks himself fortunate. Or better, summon my father from the grave. Ask if he wished his wife lived and his son had sight!”
After this outburst, we grew silent, but the woman did not leave my side.
I closed my eyes and swallowing hard, felt the pull of the stiff fabric scrap tied around my throat. The raucous shrieks of hungry gulls overhead made me look up into the sky. I watched as the birds swooped and mercilessly chased each other. I envied their flight, but cringed beneath their cries. Behind my eyes, I saw white peacocks, heard their shrieks, and felt the crawl of disease. I shuddered, shook my head of further memory, and let my eyes fall upon the distant horizon. Would I never know peace? Or would memories chase me like the gulls chase one another, endlessly hungry and insistent?
When Adis eventually spoke, these questions and memories faded away.
“True, your father suffered, but his gifts as a tailor delivered him from the grief of losing his wife and gave him the strength to care for a blind son.”
The truth in her words, stirred long buried pain. While Sylvain’s blind, tumultuous, and bloody welcoming into the world killed our mother, it also strengthened my father’s resolve to care for us at any cost.
I know not what would have become of us without King Killian’s demand for my meager abilities as a tailor. We would have been lost, we owe our king a great debt and service.
My father told this to me one day when I found him bleary eyed and exhausted at his work. I could remember the way his hands trembled, the nerves in his fingers twitching involuntarily as he struggled with buttonholes on a vest meant for Killian’s nephew.
When his voice vanished, a bitter sadness rose in me as the sea’s waves crashed against the ship.
“Say no more to me. If you were not mistress of this vessel I would think unkindly of you!”
Before she could reply, music, soft and familiar reached us. I knew the player of the tune, knew it because my heart leapt at its playing as it did the first time I’d heard it.
“Someone has leant Seton a lyre. How beautifully he plays, and how lucky his hands are healing. He is a man of passion and strength. It is no wonder you found love with him, as he with you.” Adis placed a hand on my wrist. “I am no witch or visionary. My daughter beckons from my womb. I am but a vessel as is this ship.
She is my most precious cargo, and anxious to know life. You must forgive me if I have angered you. Her voice comes from my lips, so I am often unaware of what I say.”
The music rose, fell away only to start again, and as it did, I examined the woman, and seeing her kind face, put a tired hand over hers. “There is nothing to forgive. I am the one speaking from another place.”
“Your voice comes from the shores we have left behind. It would be wise to find a new sound to carry with you.”
Beyond her I saw my brother sitting cross-legged, his fox playing in his lap. He seemed peaceful. “I keep staring into the sea hoping it will take the past from me, but it seems I may never know peace.”
“In time, you shall. Nothing is forever, except the sea.” Adis cast her eyes from my face to the expanse of water surrounding us. “She is our eternal mother and will listen to you forever.”
Behind Adis’s rather mystical analogy, I had a sobering thought. “There is so much uncertainty in the world. I wonder if I have done right. Perhaps I could have done better.”
“You left a land soon to be riddled with illness. This alone made it the wisest decision for you all.”
Her knowing so much of my life discomforted me. “Must everything be told in portents and omens? What of reality? What of truth?”
“Ahh truth. It is a funny thing and varied as the sunlight on the waves. I am a merchant’s wife and have seen much in this world. Men who love men, women who love women, even a man who loved a woman he believed to have been transformed into a goat by the tree witches in the north! The world is wide and there are many lands with many kinds of people. You will see soon enough.”
“I have not heard talk of the tree witches since I played at my mother’s feet. Surely they no longer exist!” I replied, incredulously.
“I cannot say. Who can say if they exist or ever really did?” Adis said.
I sighed resignedly. “I have lived a small life in the court of a small king, and I carry the wounds of that life as sure as I carry the clothes on my back.”
“It is not for me to say what you carry with you, but I can give you a piece of advice not from my daughter, but from my own lips: Stop trying to escape what haunts you, instead think long and hard about it. Every detail, every nightmare, dream and transgression. Leave nothing out. Do this until you have expelled the poison, and when there is no more, you will find yourself exactly where you are supposed to be.”
With these words, Adis left me. I stood alone, listening to the sea, the sound of Seton’s music, the distant cries of the squabbling gulls, and my eyes focused on the unknown horizon.
What led me to find myself on the water, destination unknown? The life I knew was gone, broken, and mercurial as the swirling foam frothing in the ships crushing wake.
I would tell myself the story, if only to steal a glimpse at the unknown ending.
How would my tale end? Beginnings are for children; fairy stories begin with “Once upon a time.”
Once upon a time there was a tailor. He knew string, scissor, and pin. He did not know his heart.
My breath caught.
Oh, my heart. Once upon a time, there was a heart and it was not free…
I was a tailor.
No, it cannot begin this way.
My heart knew dangerous things, but now it was free and in it’s new freedom I allowed it to teach me the way my story should begin and knew by wild instinct, if I followed it, I would know the ending, a true, and dare I hope, happy ending.
With no one to listen but the dark sea and the wheeling, crying gulls, I closed my eyes and let my thoughts move with the undulating water, its gentle rocking seeming to urge the release of my torment.
The castle, dark and glorious, loomed up in my memory…