Love and DarknessbyHelenofTroy©
This is another Michael story (like "What's a Good Pet for a Vampire?"), set this time in England ca. 1500. It's fairly long (about 17K words) and contains only 3 sex scenes, so bear that in mind.))
"My, it sure is storming out, isn't it?" Sherry balanced the tray of mostly empty glasses casually against the sensuous curve of her hip while staring through the bubbled glass window of the tavern.
"And dark like you wouldn't believe, missy." Jack, a regular, winked at her when she turned. She hadn't expected anyone to be listening. "I'll need me a little more fortification afore I go out there again." She couldn't call his nod lascivious because her hips were, after all, where the drink tray was.
So, Sherry smirked and threaded her way through the tables, unable to help adding a seductive little swish and swirl to her walk as she went. Though the coarse wool of her long skirts did her little justice, she felt Jack's eyes drinking her in all the way back to the bar.
Jack was safe, a father of three and older than her father the bartender, she could flirt with him and she knew all she would get was an appreciative eye and the occasional busy hand later in the night. And maybe the tavern got discounts at Jack's blacksmith when Sherry came around looking for new horseshoes for a customer, but she knew he would never try to find her alone in a dark hallway and test just how far his hands could get.
"You know, sometimes I think we would go out of business if it weren't for him." Sherry grinned at her father while emptying the night's dregs into an old barrel kept there for exactly that purpose. In the morning it would make an excellent base for the stew, and besides, her father would kill her if she wasted good alcohol.
"Tonight we certainly might." Using an old rag which Sherry could swear had been around before she was born, her father gestured at a room full of empty tables and a roaring hearth. Most of the night's rush had gone home for the evening, leaving only Jack and Jack's boots. "And he'd better believe that I ain't carryin' his drunk ass home."
"Oh, that's only happened..."
"Four times!" Jack laughed and nearly tipped his chair over.
"Try five this month!" Ron, Sherry's father, laughed too. It was hard to dislike Jack, drunk or not.
"Well, I'm not carrying him home either." Sherry pouted and flexed her arm in mock dismay to prove she couldn't do it. "His gut weighs more than me!"
"Does so!" Once the glasses were emptied and handed to her father for 'cleaning', Sherry went to the cask of fortified wine. The mingled smell of spices, alcohol and cork met her as she filled Jack another tanker. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were ready to have another kid, Jack."
With a swish and a flourish, she finished pouring the wine and balanced it on the edge of her tray. It would have been much easier to simply put it in the middle, but she amused herself with the challenge of trying to keep it steady while she walked.
She nearly spilled it all over Jack, though, when the door burst open. The tavern shook with the force of it as it slammed against the wall, bringing with it a vicious torrent of wind, sleet and a dark figure pouring out of the darkness. The wind whipped through the common room, making the lamps flicker and filling an otherwise quiet evening with the shrieking of the storm. Sherry managed, just barely, to get Jack's drink on the table before she dashed off to help whoever it was get the door closed again.
She needn't have bothered. Despite winds that could knock you off your feet, the newcomer managed to slam the door shut again with one hand.
"Quite a night." The newcomer laughed and flashed Sherry a dazzling smile from under a dark hood. His teeth were neat and white, and his half-seen eyes seemed to sparkle a little in the gloom. "But I'd brave a thousand such storms just for a glimpse of your radiance."
Not knowing what to say, Sherry just blushed and made a half-hearted wave at the multitude of empty tables in the room.
"Ah, sit wherever." She was used to customers ogling her, slapping her ass, sometimes even attempting to grope her if they passed her in the corridor, but flattery was unnerving. "There's a bit of the evening's roast left if you don't mind it cold, and Jack there gave us some very fine squash just this evening."
"Thank-you, that sounds wonderful." Another of those smiles and he headed towards the fireplace, leaving a trail of wet and mud behind him. Sherry wasn't too concerned, most of the floor was covered with the remains of the storm and a good deal of the road outside, a little extra wouldn't hurt anything.
She took a moment to watch him as he walked though, since he quite obviously was not from town. Despite the cloak and hood, she would have recognized him immediately if he had been. He didn't seem to be a merchant, either. His boots barely made any noise on the floor, their leather soles soaking up the noise of his steps, and despite the wet his cloak looked quite fine.
She tried to keep from staring as she bustled about getting his food, heading back into the kitchen area where she and her father took turns preparing and cooking the day's fare. Still, she couldn't help but watch him as he gracefully maneuvered himself near the fireplace and shook out his soaked clothing before sitting. By the time she returned with his food, and a little of the house wine, there was a cloud of steam rising off of him.
"I thought you might be thirsty, too." Sherry bowed a little lower than absolutely necessary when she put the food on the table, giving him and exquisite view of the dainty curves of her breasts.
Maybe she'd undone the top clasp on her blouse, but it was quite warm over near the fire and she didn't want to overheat, now did she?
"Thank-you." From within the hood she could feel his eyes wandering across the view she presented. There was a brief moment when she felt like his gaze was a physical touch, running like a lover's fingers between the satin skin of her breasts, up across the creamy expanse of her chest, to lie intimately within the hollow just below her throat. "I am quite parched." He wasn't looking at the glass when he said it, and Sherry felt a slow heat that had nothing to do with the fire infusing her body.
"Sherry!" And there was Jack. "Another! Get your pretty little self over here, girl."
"Everything looks excellent, Sherry." That grin again, luckily she was turning and leaving by that point or she might have been trapped by it. "I'm sure I'll enjoy my stay here."
"Excellent timing, Jack."
"Aww, m'dear, I aim to please." Jack wave effusively with his nearly empty tankard, which Sherry rescued before the dregs ended up all over the wall. "Your old man sure can pick 'em, you know? That's a...'cellent vintage."
Sherry just smiled and swished away, imagining she could feel the stranger's eyes following her from across the room. Jack must be more drunk that she thought if she was calling their house wine a 'vintage'. They purchased whatever was cheapest from the occasional merchant who wandered through, keeping what was drinkable in the kitchen and spicing the rest until you could barely tell it was wine anymore.
Sherry almost managed to spill Jack's drink again when a flash of copper caught her attention from across the room. The newcomer threw his cape off, letting the wet fabric drape itself across the back of his chair, and shook his hair out. Even wet, it glimmered brilliantly in the firelight, and Sherry actually caught her breath when a pair of brilliant green eyes glimmered her way.
However, with the cape off, Sherry could tell he was definitely a noble. While Jack, who was now leering at her in a way that said he wouldn't be getting any more wine, and her father were dressed in simple, undyed wool tunics and breeches, the stranger's outfit was something else entirely. Dyed a deep sable with intricate trim which might have been real silver coursing through it, even from a distance she could tell his tunic likely cost more than the entire tavern. So far away, she didn't really have a good idea what the material was, but the way it moved and flowed with him made the clothing look almost like a second skin, worn as comfortably and naturally as his own flesh.
When Sherry came back to his table, she tried to keep the distasteful frown off her face. She thought she'd had her fill of nobles for one lifetime.
"Not hungry, m'lord?" She gave him a low, well-practiced curtsy. At fourteen she'd gone to the local baron's manor to work as a servant, and knew how to act.
"Now, there's no need for that." What surprised her was his honest frown, and the care which crinkled the corner of his eyes when he took ahold of her chin and lifted her back to her feet. "I haven't been lord of anything for quite some time, thank-you."
"But m'..." She didn't get very far before a finger, warm and surprisingly dry, pressed lightly against her lips.
"Michael. Only Michael."
For a long moment, Sherry didn't say anything. The memory of his finger, burning a line of fire from her chin to her lips, eclipsed thought. Then her mind slowly cycled back to reality and she nodded at his food again.
"You're not hungry...Michael?"
"This all looks very delicious, but..." He shrugged, and Sherry felt herself drifting closer without even meaning to do so. The desire to feel him closer to her, despite her natural dislike of anyone with a title, whether they refused to admit it or not, was making her tingle all over. "For now I think perhaps I'll just get dry by your fire."
"If you wish." Sherry nodded and started to clear away his plate when a hand, its palm calloused with what she recognized as sword work, laid itself across hers.
"Let your father know that I think he's an excellent cook." She'd been half-expecting something else, but of course they'd only known each other a few moments and she still wasn't sure if she really liked him.
"Sure." A bright smile and she escaped, wine and food on her tray while she tried to work out just exactly what was happening.
His smile lurked just behind her eyes when she blinked, and her hand burned with the need to feel him touching her again, but at the same time...the last noble in her life, the baron, had made it very clear that she would never be anything but a body to him. Oh, he'd claimed to love her, he'd professed it in sonnets and prose, but there was always that edge just behind his words that told her she would never be to him what a true noble lady could. Her father was the local innkeeper, and she would be a plaything, a trophy to keep about his house and impress guests, little more.
What made Michael any different?
"Be careful with him." A hand on her shoulder woke Sherry from her thoughts, and she gave her father a too-quick smile.
"I have a strict rule about letting passerby break my heart." She batted her lashes and tried to escape, but the hand stayed firmly in place.
"I love you my dear, and if he so much as even considered hurting you I would tear his head off with my own hands and let it rot in the street." There was no grin to tell her he was joking, and Ron's eyes were darkly serious. "But that's not what I meant."
"I mean him. There's pain in his past, little one."
As if he could hear what was going on, Michael turned his head from the fire and grinned. Sherry felt herself get a little lighter at the thought of being the sole recipient of that smile once more, and gave Michael a little wave.
"Your concern is touching." She winked, and this time her escape attempt was successful.
"You know I love you like my own daughter." He winked and she laughed. "But I'm serious. I...oh, shit, you'd better go help Jack."
Sherry glanced up from where she was storing Michael's uneaten meal to see Jack stumbling unsuccessfully towards the bar. Michael was in the process of getting up to help, but Sherry was already standing and made it to Jack's side faster.
"Here, Jack, what are you trying to do?"
"Some morathat wine..." Jack might be there nearly every evening, but Sherry had never met anyone who was a cheaper drunk. His cheeks were already flushed a bright red, his eyes wide and unfocused, but his breath barely smelled of alcohol.
"I think that's maybe enough for tonight. Let's get you home to Mary."
"Uh...'sright...I should go home..."
Sherry rolled her eyes at Michael when she caught him watching and grunted as she took as much of Jack's weight as she could manage. She'd only been half kidding earlier about her ability to carry him. The only blacksmith in town, and an avid fan of Ron's establishment, Jack was equal parts muscle and gut. She managed, though, throwing his arm around her shoulders and piloting him towards the door.
Luckily the smithy was close to the tavern, possibly by design, or Sherry would have collapsed under Jack's bulk long before she got there. As it was, the insistent wind seemed to almost help keep her up, and the sleet stung Jack into enough consciousness to help.
"Thank-you, sweety." Mary, her cheerful smiles belying the dark circles under her eyes from waiting up too long for her husband, helped Sherry shift Jack onto her shoulders.
Although the multitude of children they had suggested Jack and Mary spent a good deal of time between the sheets getting acquainted with Jack's most prized tool, Sherry had a good feeling tonight would not be one of those nights.
"Don't mention it." Sherry smiled and struggled to close the door after herself. It was made easier by the fact that the smith faced the opposite direction from the tavern, and the wind didn't fight her the entire way.
A mad dash across the strip of mud with permanent wagon ruts which served as the town's road and it was Sherry's turn to violently slam the door open. She couldn't help it, though. Even as she gripped the rough wood of the door in one hand and turned the handle they'd bought from Jack in the other, the wind tore it out of her grip and nearly threw her bodily into the room.
She managed to maintain a bit of decorum, though, and turned what could have been a painful landing into a stumbling run which was stopped by a convenient table. Shaking her head to clear some of the sleet which still clung to her hair, Sherry grabbed the door and tried to wrestle it shut.
The howling storm fought back every inch of the way, though, and after a moment she was thinking she would lose. Sharp, cold teeth lashed her knuckles and screaming determination pulled the hair back from her face, forcing her to close her eyes against the torrent. Sherry was inches away from giving up when a warm presence came up behind her, one strong hand pressing against the door and forcing it closed against the gale.
"Thanks." Breathless, winded and cold, Sherry looked up expecting to see her father. Instead copper hair and emerald eyes glittered in the half-light of the lamps, and her knees gave out. "Oh my!"
The same strong hands which helped close the door encircled her waist and caught her before she fell. She'd put on a heavy cloak, similar to Michael's but not nearly as fine, but even through multiple layers she felt the tender pressure of his fingers against her waist. Even though she was cold and storm-battered it filled her with a sudden and insistent need to know what else those hands were capable of. This close to him, she could smell the slightly spicy scent of his skin, separated from hers by only a few layers of cloth. Even that filled her with a desire she hadn't thought herself capable of.
"You're freezing." Michael's expressive eyes were filled with concern, his mouth turned down into a little frown that made her wish to kiss it away. "Come on, let's get you warm."
Sherry's eyes went wide and round at the lurid thoughts which swirled through her head, but those were quickly banished when Michael took her over to the chair beside his and set her gently into it. He meant warmed by the fire.
"Are you always so charming?" She couldn't help it, it needed to be asked. At first she'd thought the baron was charming, too, but then she realized it was just the act he put up to keep people from seeing the darkness of the soul underneath.
"Are you always so beautiful?"
The warmth of the fire was making her feel a little more herself, and she leveled an incredulous stare at him.
"I'm not falling for it."
"Falling for what?"
"You just want a willing peasant to fill your bed for a night." There, she said it.
And then she wished she hadn't, because his face fell and those brilliant green eyes clouded to a kind of muted grey. The thought that she'd caused the light to go out of them so thoroughly made Sherry's breath catch a little in her throat.
"You just think I'm some young noble out to...sow his wild oats?"
"Well, you look the part."
Sherry waved at his body, then wished she'd kept her eyes on his face. Despite her deep suspicions about his motives, she couldn't help letting her gaze linger on him. Though his finery was impressive, and even just a single inch of the trim which she could now identify as real silver would probably buy her out of this town and onto a boat to somewhere exotic, her eyes were far more interested in what lay just below the material. She could see the tempting hints of a muscular, lean frame, and unbidden she thought of running her hands across the hard muscles of his stomach.
Still, she was right. Like herself, he was obviously in his early twenties. Among the 'peasants' like herself, that would have meant he was just beginning his time as a journeyman. When he was twenty eight and had served fourteen years learning his craft he would have been a master tradesman and full guild member of whichever trade he'd chosen, a time when men really started to look for a wife and family. Even as a noble, he was still too young to marry. Most nobles replaced the traditional apprentice and journeyman years with learning, either sequestered in monasteries with books or seeing the world. Seeing that he was a stranger here, alone and traveling in the worst weather possible, he probably fit into the second category.
"I'll be honest, Sherry, and I hope that you'll believe me." Smiling, though sadly this time, he looked away from her and into the warming fire. "I don't give my heart, nor my loins, lightly."
"Oh..." There didn't seem to be anything to say to that. She believed him, but wasn't sure why. The lingering heat of his fingers, and the nigh-blinding light of his smile might have something to do with it, but her father's warning echoed in her mind too.
For a long time they sat in silence, before Sherry dared to break it again.
"How long are you planning on staying?"
"I'm honestly not sure." He looked up from the fire and his eyes rested on her face. She got the same sensation she had earlier, her heart fluttering to the feeling of his eyes roaming her face. His gaze was almost like fingers, soft and familiar, running across her cheeks, lingering along her lips, framing her brow.... "We'll see, I suppose."
Unbidden, Sherry felt a familiar heat growing between her legs. While it was an impulse she would normally handle herself after hours, letting it burn within her, fueled by the memory of her brief contact with his fingers, almost felt better.
"We...umm...only have one private room." Like most taverns, they had a common sleeping area which could house up to twenty guests at a time. This close to winter, that too was empty. "Would you like to see it?"
"Very much so."
Before she did anything foolish, Sherry vaulted to her feet and swept past the bar. On the way she grabbed the room key and was grabbed by her father, who she'd almost forgotten about.