In celebration of the story making it through the first round of edits, I’ve decided to post a short excerpt of The Assassin of Laurentium, submitted tor the Love’s Landscapes Anthology run by the M/M Romance Group on GoodReads. The stories should be posted on site throughout the summer before being available as a free e-anthology.
Here is the excerpt – hope it intrigues..
Artor was swimming; it was a blazing summer day and he was striking out for the centre of a shady pool that nestled in the overgrown meadow that bordered his village, before the forest began in earnest. The sun shone dappled through the willow branches on his bare wet skin. Sprawled on a sun-baked stone rising from the water’s depth, someone was waiting for him, laughing.
There was someone in his chamber. Instantly, Artor left his watery dreamworld far behind, was aware only of his straining senses, of the jewelled dagger that lay under his pillow, of the precise sequence of movements necessary for him to be upright, dagger in hand in the time it took for an arrow to find its mark.
“Good morning, Sir. I’ve brought your breakfast.”
It was Iason, his servant, standing in the doorway holding a tray, his figure greyly delineated by the dull light of early morning seeping through the shutters.
“Why have you disturbed me so early?” Even to his own ears, Artor’s voice sounded shrill, petulant. He’d been getting up after noon over the past month, generally passing the remainder of the day moping in his opulent quarters.
“You have a summons from His Clarissimus Florianus. He wishes to see you directly after you’ve breakfasted.”
Artor bit his lip at this and took the tray in silence. A bunch of blushing grapes, a silver goblet of sweet wine and a platter of soft, hot cakes, sweetened with melting honey made up his dainty repast. He had known it would only be a matter of time before his period of respite came to an end.
A jealous, crazy nobleman, evidently misunderstanding the nature of a courtesan’s calling, had broken into his apartments in a distant palace, enraged by the rumour that Artor had taken on a new lover in preference to him. Taken utterly by surprise, Hercle, his guard, had been stabbed in the stomach by the killer as he slept before his door. Nonetheless, Hercle had grabbed his weapon and, despite his injury, managed to fight his attacker to the death in defence of his charge. It was hours later that Hercle died, his agonies barely soothed by the powerful draughts Artor had concocted for him.
Over and over, during the past month, Artor had replayed the event in his mind, thinking of how Hercle had lost his life defending him. At least the nobleman had acted from foolish jealousy, nothing more. If his attack had been motivated by the discovery that Artor was not merely a faithless lover, but had been sent to spy on him, was smuggling regular detailed dossiers of his words and actions back to Florianus in Laurentium, Artor’s guilt and self-recriminations would have been that much sharper. As it was, he could comfort himself that he had not failed in performing his duties, had merely been subject to ill-fortune and the hazards of the courtesan’s trade.
Artor sighed, and got to his feet, pulling a silken robe around himself and heading for the bathing chamber that adjoined his bedroom. A conflicted expression crossed the servant’s face; Iason would not venture to remonstrate with the young master, yet he was very conscious that his orders from the Clarissimus were that Artor should be brought before him without the delay occasioned by a courtesan’s leisurely bath.
The bathing chamber was a round, vaulted room, faced with glittering mosaics of gold and green. The bath itself was a sunken hollow at the centre. At a word from Artor, a loinclothed slave, standing by, cranked a wheel that turned with a grating sound. The faucets, ringing the pool from on high and shaped in the forms of gods and nymphs, fish and sea serpents, began to gush forth, steaming hot water gradually filling the sunken bath.
When the water was at waist height, Artor shrugged off his robe and, naked, descended the marble steps into the bath. Throughout his days of withdrawal from the world he had taken comfort in this heated pool, floating for what seemed like hours in reflective silence, until the sunlight dimmed in the green glass panels above his head and the servants came to light the sconces which cast their uneasy swaying lights over the surface of the water. Now, Artor called briskly for Iason to come and cleanse his limbs and body with scented oils and unguents, to rinse his blond tresses in apple vinegar and honey, massage and scrape until his skin felt alive and glowing, his blood pumping through him with new vigour.
From behind his desk, Florianus looked unamused at having been kept waiting. A tall, greybearded, somewhat emaciated man of around fifty years, he was clad in a thick robe of black velvet. Silently, Artor went to his knees before him, his eyes cast down to the dizzying configurations of the floor tiles. He remembered the dread and shame he had felt when he was first required to perform this act of obeisance, when he was brought before Florianus nine years ago as a boy of fifteen. Now, he felt only a distanced acceptance at complying with the ancient protocol of the Laurentine court.
“It is good to see you in the land of the living again, boy. The death of Hercle shook you badly.”
“Yes, Clarissimus. He was a loyal protector and a friend.”
“He did what he had sworn to do; to die in your service if need be. We all have our duties to perform, Artor, from the Emperor down to the lowest slave who empties the chamber pots. It is essential to the survival of our great Empire that we all perform those duties, large or small to the best of our ability.”
“You have grieved long enough. The time has come for you to resume your service to the Empire.”
Artor nodded his bowed head in acquiescence.
“We have need of your talents once again Artor, a new mission. I will outline the details for you presently, but first I must introduce you to your new bodyguard.” Florianus clapped his hands.