3th September 1193:
September had come to Castle Trifels, and Erik enjoyed the last warm and sunny late summer days with his beloved Lionheart, taking long walks with him through the beautiful rose garden or the small forest that lay within the castle walls.
Erik had always liked the September because it was the month when the days were still long and warm enough to be spent outside; and Erik also loved the beauty of the changing seasons from summer to autumn this month was known for. The green leaves of the trees would put on their beautiful red, orange, gold and finally brown robes more and more day by day while September slowly passed by, and they would rustle softly in the gentle and cooling early autumn breeze that brought so much relief for both humans and animals after the hot days and nights of the midsummer months July and August.
In September, the farmers gathered the last harvest and prepared the fields for the next one in the forthcoming year, a strong symbol of the cycle of life and nature that fascinated Erik time and again anew.
A lot of people didn't like the month of September, they didn't want to see its breathtaking beauty but preferred to whine about the long and hard, dark and cold winter that would follow autumn soon enough; and which they claimed to already feel in their bones when the morning mists started to cover the still green grass with millions of glistening pearls and diamonds, and when leaving home at an early hour without wearing a heavy coat wasn't possible any longer.
Erik didn't pay attention to their whines and complaints, and he even had another wonderful reason to love September as much as he'd already always done now - as it was the month of his beloved King Lionheart's birthday.
The eighth September was the day when Richard Plantagenet had seen the light of the day for the very first time, a small bundle crying in the loving arms of his mother Eleonore over the injustice of being torn apart from its warm and cozy shelter so cruelly and abruptly.
There couldn't have been a better month for Richard to come into this world Erik thought when he watched his king singing together with his dearest friend and confidant Blondel. Richard was seated on the bench before the tallest and most beautiful rosebush, the sweet scent of the deep red flowers filling the warm midday air of the sunny day. The English sovereign looked untroubled and almost carefree for the first time since his return to Castle Trifels and Lord Robert's severe injury, and Erik would have been happy to spend the rest of his life with listening to Richard's warm and beautiful voice.
Blondel was sitting on the grass before his king with crossed legs, coaxing the most beautiful and wistful tunes out of his harp, and his silvery tenor matched perfectly with Richard's deeper baritone.
They were singing the songs they had composed together before Richard had had to leave his faithful minstrel to fight in the Holy Land, and Erik felt tears prickle behind his eyelids at the sheer beauty of the melodies and the poetic words of the serenades that praised Richard's homeland in such a wonderful way.
The young squire had decided to give his beloved king and his friend some privacy, and he was leaning against the wall that enclosed the garden a few meters away from them to grant them some time alone without neglecting his duties. He was close enough to listen to their singing, but far away enough not to overhear any private conversation if they spoke quietly enough, and the minstrel's grateful glance had assured him that his sensitivity and understanding were much appreciated and valued highly. Sir Walter was fine with his royal hostage moving freely within some parts of the castle walls as long as appearances were kept up for strangers and visitors that came to Castle Trifels on a regular basis, which was a good thing as the Earl of Lindelborn was still not back to full health and couldn't guard the king as much as he'd done before his injury.
Sven and Lars as Richard's temporary personal guards were valued highly and more friends than real guards, but it still wasn't the same when they were around as it was when Lord Robert protected Richard and it almost felt then as if they were truly alone and without any warden at all. The Lionheart and the eagle how Richard called Robert shared something special, two great warriors and fighters bound to each other unbreakably because of that one fateful day when Robert had almost lost his own life to save the life of a foreign king he'd sworn to protect.
Blondel had become a close and cherished friend to Erik over the past weeks, especially during those fateful days when they had waited for news about the man both of them loved with all their hearts together so anxiously, and sometimes he wondered if his feelings for the fascinating minstrel went deeper perhaps than mere friendship would normally do.
Blondel was for sure an attractive man with a passionate nature, and Erik had already stopped pretending that he didn't see the older one's attractiveness a rather long time ago, but he still wasn't sure whether his desire for Blondel was actually real - or if he just responded to the unfulfilled desire between the handsome bard and his beloved king because of his own strong wish to be a part of their bond and perhaps even the link between them.
Neither Richard, nor Blondel had ever asked him to grant them some quality time alone now and then, but Erik was attentive and sensible enough not to miss their lingering glances towards each other and the vibes both men had sent out, vibes that told Erik that they craved for some privacy pretty much.
Only a couple of months ago, before Richard's departure to Worms, he would have felt jealous and hurt that his Lionheart longed for the closeness and the touch of another being next to him, fearing that he wasn't man enough to satisfy Richard, or that the English king didn't love him enough. But this would have been too simple to judge Richard and his strong and unique love for both of them. Love didn't work like that. Love wasn't just black or white, it was rich and colorful and passionate, light and joyful, and sometimes it was even sad, painful and dark.
Love and hate were two sides of the same coin, the one couldn't be without the other - but love was born out of trust and faith, while hate was the child of fear and anger. Erik didn't fear Richard's most faithful friend any longer, and he didn't feel angry or threatened because of Richard's love for Blondel, and the hate he had felt at the beginning of their complicated acquaintance had changed to respect at first and then deep friendship and care. Maybe it was even love Erik felt for the blond minstrel, and he wanted to see Blondel happy as much as he wanted to see his Lionheart happy at this point.
Richard and Blondel had loved each other for longer than Erik could imagine, the love of brothers in minds and friends at first, but it had turned into something deeper and much more passionate when Blondel had grown to the fascinating man he now was. Richard hadn't wanted to see the change, fighting against it and refusing to acknowledge that the boy he'd sworn to protect and cherish had become a beautiful young man he secretly desired.
Richard's desire for Blondel had always been mixed with guilt and regret - with fear even – the fear to cross a certain line Richard could never cross. He had clung to the image of the small and far too thin scared boy Blondel had once been instead of really seeing the tall and handsome young man who was more than capable of defending himself and fighting his own battles now.
It was about time for his Lionheart to realize that there was no shame in loving Blondel as the man he was and not only as the platonic friend and soulmate he'd always been right from the beginning of their special first acquaintance – at least no more shame than what Church made people want to believe about two men loving each other anyway.
Erik had always refused to think that true love could ever be a sin, and it was for sure true love that tied Richard and him together with its silken ropes – or Blondel and Richard in this case. Erik believed in a kind God who would never condemn real love, even not when it expressed itself in physical pleasures and not only in wistful and poetic courtly pining, and his talks with Brother Hilarious when they had sat at the Earl of Lindelborn's sickbed together had confirmed his faith and trust that his deep and unquestioning love for his king was nothing he needed to be ashamed and afraid of.
The young squire blinked to clear his mind from the memories of the past and focused on the forthcoming days and events again, a small smile curling around his soft pink lips.
The eighth September was a Wednesday this year, and Erik was actually happy and grateful that Emperor Heinrich wouldn't be here in Castle Trifels on that special day. The young emperor had announced his visit through a messenger last week, but it wouldn't be before the weekend after Richard's birthday that he would actually arrive in the Castle, due to his tight schedule of imperial duties.
The English monarch had received the message with a stoic face, but Erik was pretty sure that his Lionheart was as happy about the emperor's belated birthday visit as he himself was. This way they would be able to celebrate Richard's anniversary among friends and those who really mattered alone, and it was also crucial for the special birthday present Erik had in mind for his king that the emperor wouldn't be around and learn about it.
Light footsteps announced the arrival of a newcomer in the rose garden, and Erik turned his head to stop them before they would disturb Richard's quiet afternoon with his beloved friend. He was here to serve his king as much as to guard him and make sure that his precious hour with Blondel would not be interrupted. Erik relaxed when he recognized the unexpected visitor, smiling at his best friend Marian when the other squire approached him as quietly as possible.
“Marian! I thought you to be with our lord,” he greeted his friend, and Marian stepped beside him to lean against the warm wall next to him as well.
“I was with our lord, Erik. He practiced in the courtyard with Sven and Lars, and he's really making good progress. His arm is still weaker than it was, but it's getting better every day. Lars and Sven didn't go easy on him, and Robert beat Sven two times today. But he needed to lay down for a couple of hours after the training, and I thought this to be a good opportunity to spend some time with my best friend. Oscar is with him in case he'll need something, and I will go back to our quarters later again.”
Erik nodded, knowing what Marian was referring to. They were among friends here in Castle Trifels, but people would start to talk if they weren't careful, and there were a lot of strangers in between the proud walls of the imperial castle currently, traders and merchants and servants preparing everything for the emperor's arrival and the big feast that would take place then.
Richard had been very clear about not wanting to make any fuss about his birthday, but he was a king after all, and he needed to keep up appearances and give the residents of the castle and the nearby city Annweiler and the smaller villages a reason to celebrate. Sir Walter had assured him that he could fulfill the wish of his royal hostage when it came to his actual birthday, but not regarding Heinrich's visit and the official banquet at the weekend after his anniversary.
There would even be a tournament again, and the preparations for these two events were in full swing already.
Richard and his head guard Robert had been involved in them for quite some time, but Sir Walter had eventually run out of patience and asked them very politely to take a break and enjoy the last peaceful days before the castle would be overcrowded again. Needless to say that everything went much more smoothly now that both warriors were out of the way and not capable of destroying Sir Walter carefully laid plans any longer.
Erik suspected that Richard had wanted to disturb the preparations on purpose, and he understood his Lionheart's frustration better than others did. Robert was simply not back to full health and therefore got impatient and grumpy much quicker than he usually did, but Richard simply didn't want to celebrate his birthday with the man who kept him trapped and demanded such a huge ransom from him. The English sovereign was normally a great and experienced diplomat, but he was a hostage for months by now, worrying about his people in England and his territories in France, and it was no wonder that he wasn't in the mood to endure more false courtesies and smiles for days and perhaps even weeks.
“I'm pleased to hear that our lord has almost gained back his full strength. It really should be him guarding the king during the visit of our great emperor,” he gave back, his eyes on Richard and Blondel instead of his friend. He knew that Marian didn't mind, and the shorter squire's next words showed that Marian was much more attentive and observant than most people gave him credit for.
“Yes, it should be him, and I'm sure that it will be him as stubborn as he is. Sven and Lars are great, but it's really important to him – more because of the king than because of our emperor.” Marian murmured before he paused, and Erik could feel his thoughtful gaze on his face. “You've made your peace with what's between them, Erik, haven't you?”
Erik chewed on his lips for a moment, regarding Richard as he bent forward to touch Blondel's cheek when the last tunes of their wistful serenade about England's green hills wafted through the fragrant air. It was only a brief and innocent touch how good friends united in their longing for their home would share, but Erik could sense the deep unspoken emotions between them. “Yes, I have. I didn't think that I would come to that point and ever accept their love for each other just like that when Blondel stood on our threshold so unexpectedly and I realized what he means to Richard, but I did, and it's actually easier than I thought.”
Marian remained silent for a few minutes. “They might never get another chance like this one,” he said at last, careful to keep his voice quiet and inaudible for possible spies.
Erik didn't take his eyes off his king, and his lips hardly moved when he replied in the same whispered voice:
“Yes, I know. That's why I decided to let them make the best out of the one chance they've gotten here in Castle Trifels, Marian.”
The stables were quiet when Erik entered them a couple of hours later. He would have to go back to his king soon again, but his talk with Nuri wouldn't take long if everything went the way Erik hoped that it would go.
The handsome young equerry of the emperor's stables was busied with grooming Blondel's lady as everyone called Summerwind now, his fluent motions as he pulled the brush over her shiny fur in long strokes showing his skills and long-time practice perfectly.
Nuri didn't look up from his task when he sensed Erik's presence in Summerwind's box, but Erik could see a small smile tugging at the other man's mouth when he closed the door behind himself.
“Good evening, Erik,” the dark-haired equerry said, “I'd expected you to come to me for quite some time already.”
“So you know what I've come here for tonight?” Erik leaned against the wooden wall of the box, watching his friend untangling the knots in Summerwind's mane with great skills and experience. The beautiful mare snorted softly, craning her head to sniff curiously at Erik's pocket.
Nuri shot him an amused sidelong glance. “Should I not?” he retorted with a counter question, shaking his head about Summerwind's attempts to get the treat Erik was still hiding from her. “Is the carrot you're carrying in your pocket meant as a bribery for his lady - or rather more as some kind of bribery for me?” he chuckled, and Erik's cheeks heated up in a pink color.
“Probably for both of you, I guess.” He took the carrot out of the pocket, offering it on his flat palm to Blondel's favorite lady friend. Summerwind crunched it happily with a grateful snort, licking the salt from Erik's palm when the treat had found its way into her belly.
Nuri's mocking smile turned melancholic for a moment. “You didn't need to come here, Erik. It's not me who'd need to give their permission for what you want to do. It's not as if we were a real couple. We're friends finding comfort in each other's arms, that's all.”
“That doesn't mean that it can't hurt you, and apart from that, I know how much you mean to him, Nuri, please don't you doubt that. He might not love you like he loves him, but his feelings for you are deep and strong. Besides, they don't know about it, my friend, not yet. That's why I came to you at first - I don't want to hurt you with my wish to let them have this one night together, and I really wanted to talk to you before I'd tell them about my gift for them on Richard's birthday.”
Nuri stopped his grooming, leaning against Summerwind's neck. The mare seemed to sense that he needed something to hold on to and stood perfectly still, rubbing her nostrils against Nuri's side with a soft neigh. “He means a lot to me too, Erik, he really does, and I was jealous of his permanent flirting at first because I thought that I didn't mean more to him than just a flirt either. But we don't love each other the way he loves him or...” he swallowed, straightening his shoulders a bit when he continued: “...and I would never deny him what he's craved for so long so very much – long before he knew you or me.” he paused, looking at Erik intently for a moment, and the young squire got the impression that the other man had actually wanted to add something important but then decided to rather keep it to himself.
“If it was someone else, someone he doesn't love as much as he loves his king and savior, someone he wanted to have just for the pleasure of one night, then it would hurt me, Erik,” Nuri then said thoughtfully after a moment or two, “but this? How could I say no to something that must hurt you much more than me – and yet you're willing to give it to them out of your selfless love for your king. I feel honored that you came to me and asked me, but you don't need my approval for what you want to do, my friend – nor will you have to fear that it will change anything between Blondel and me. How could I begrudge him this single night with the one he loves so much that he would give his life for him without even thinking?”
Erik swallowed, deeply touched at Nuri's open and honest words. “I hoped that you would say that, but I needed to be sure, my friend. I feel the same way as you do. Of course it hurts me somehow, but this might as well be their only chance. My Lionheart is a prisoner and can't leave Castle Trifels and go back to his own people, but in some ways, he's much freer here than he ever was before Duke Leopold captured him. One day he will be free again and go back to his own country and his people, but his physical and royal freedom will cost him the freedom of being able to love whom he wants to love and to be loved back by them, and I could never live with the thought that I was too selfish to grant him the one special love he more than deserves for one night.”
“That's honorable of you, Erik of Thanstein,” Nuri said gently, and his smile was sincere and honest. “You couldn't give your Lionheart a better proof of your own deep and special love for him.”
“Thank you, Nuri. This coming from you means more to me than I can tell you. So I don't need to fear that I will bereave Blondel of your friendship and your tender arms when I tell them what's my birthday gift for Richard?”
“No, you don't need to be afraid that this could happen, Erik. Never. Our arrangement will come to an end one day, but not because of your truly selfless gift for your king – at least not from my side. I could never begrudge him this moment of happiness, not after all he has done for me. It'll be short enough anyway, ” Nuri assured him, and Erik reached out to offer him his hand as a confirmation of their understanding and respect for each other.
“Thank you for easing my mind, Nuri,” he thanked the young equerry when Nuri took his hand to shake it and squeeze his fingers for a moment. Erik regretted that he couldn't treat his friend as the nobleman he actually was, noble by birth because of his father, but even more because of his mindset and demeanor. But he would keep Nuri's secret and not reveal it, knowing that Nuri would rather be taken for a simple and unworthy servant than damage the reputation of his half-brother Robert and their deceased father in any way.
“You're welcome, my friend,” Nuri said with a smile, and Erik left the box with a smile on his own, asking himself what he'd done to deserve not only the love of a king but also the friendship of so many honorable and wonderful people as he'd found here in Castle Trifels.
8th September 1193:
Emma had outdone herself for King Richard's birthday, cooking and roasting and baking all of his favorite dishes, which were actually rather simple meals regarding what other aristocrats expected on their tables, from the hearty stew Richard liked so much to the delicious raspberry pie with a topping made of fresh cream.
The anniversary of one of the most famous sovereigns of the known world had dawned brightly, and Sir Walter had ordered the servants to bring the tables to the large gardens behind the castle and decorate them with flowers and twigs, and Richard had been touched visibly when he'd come down to celebrate the thirty-sixth repetition of his birth. He was a man in his best age, tall and strong and proud, his body the body of a warrior and knight with taut muscles and the motions of a gracious predator. Richard bore the few scars time and battles had left on him with pride and as a proof of his bravery, and Erik could hardly take his eyes off him when they made their way to the gardens together with Blondel, Lord Robert, Marian, Sven and Lars.
Sir Walter was already waiting for them together with Oscar, and his little speech to congratulate his royal hostage and guest moved all of the listeners within earshot. Erik had expected to be the one standing behind his Lionheart and serve him during the impromptu banquet under the warm September sun, but Richard smiled at him and asked him to sit at his left side. Erik didn't mind only the slightest that the right side of his beloved king was reserved for Blondel on that special day. The left side was the side of the heart, and Erik's only concern was that the man he loved more than anything in this world would be happy and enjoy the one birthday he had to celebrate as a prisoner in a foreign country as best as he could.
Sven and Lars took up their usual positions behind them, and Lord Robert and Marian were seated at the other side of the long table, opposite Richard and Blondel, which was a clever move of Sir Walter to avoid damaging the etiquette too much. The gardens were perfect for a private feast in more intimate surroundings, no stranger would come here by accident as Lord Robert and Sir Walter had made sure that the earl's men were guarding the paths and would deny access to those who weren't invited guests.
Erik was a little bit sad that Brother Hilarious, Matthias and Jonas couldn't be here with them, but this would have been too dangerous for the Forest People so shortly before the arrival of Emperor Heinrich. But he was happy that at least Nuri had been invited to the celebration as well, sitting at one end of the king's table a little further away but still within earshot, because Nuri definitely belonged to the small circle of Richard's true friends here in Castle Trifels. They smiled at each other when Nuri caught his gaze, exchanging a look of understanding and knowledge with him.
Erik was pretty nervous because he feared that Richard and Blondel wouldn't show the reaction to his special present he hoped for, and Nuri's silent reassurance helped him to calm his nerves down a bit. His official gift for Richard was sitting in his bag, and Erik was eager to present it to his Lionheart after the feast. He had worked on it for weeks, and his heart beat faster with anticipation when he imagined the moment he would pull it out of his bag and give it to his king.
But first they would enjoy Emma's cooking skills, and Erik held his breath when Richard rose to his feet and looked around, gifting each of the guests with a warm smile. His guests followed his example instantly, waiting for his majesty to speak to them.
“I want to thank all of you for having come to join me at my table and celebrate my birthday with me, my dear friends. Most people would say that this feast isn't worthy to be called a real banquet for a king, but I don't want to celebrate my anniversary as the King of England with you, but as your friend Richard - and for me, this here is the real celebration of my special day, not the tournament and the banquet that will take place at the weekend. With you, I feel free and valued, and your friendship and loyalty is the best gift I could wish for. They make me feel humble and blessed, and I am grateful that God honored me with the chance to get to know you and become your friend in return.”
Richard Plantagenet sat down again, and his speech was met with deep bows of each of his guests and heartfelt applause as the small crowd celebrated their hero with shouts and wishes for his health and well-being.
Erik's voice cracked with emotion when he joined them, but his eyes told his king what he felt, and this was all that mattered to the young squire when he bowed before his Lionheart, wishing that this moment would never end so much that the world actually seemed to stop spinning for a single heartbeat.
The bowls and plates were empty, and Erik thought that Emma would be very pleased with them. Richard had gotten presents from Sir Walter and Lord Robert, and Erik was the next one to give his own present to him. He pulled it out of his bag with trembling fingers, swallowing audibly when he put the small figure onto the table before Richard's seat with another bow.
“It's nothing precious, sire, just something silly, but it kept me busied when I was worrying about your well-being so much during your absence and we waited for news about you and Lord Robert so anxiously,” he murmured, worrying his bottom lip to keep himself from bursting into tears out of sheer nervousness.
The other guests went quiet when Richard took the wooden figurine in his hand with greatest care, and his voice was hoarse when he looked up at Erik standing beside his chair. “A present you've made for me with your own hands can never be silly, Erik of Thanstein, and this figurine is for sure the most beautiful carvings in the world, a real treasure, much more precious than gold and jewels could ever be to me. I will always keep it close to my heart, thank you, my young knave.” The English monarch stroked over the shimmering oak wood, tracing along the carvings with tender fingers, and the look of awe and amazement on his handsome aristocratic features made Erik want to cry again, this time because of his happiness and joy.
He had spent the nights with carving Richard sitting on his Arab White Arrow when he hadn't been able to sleep, the sight of how Richard had looked when he'd ridden away from Castle Trifels to justify himself in Worms burnt forever in Erik's memory. He had wanted to give Richard the figurine after his safe return, but Robert's injury had made him forget about it, and Erik was glad that he could give it to Richard now as his first birthday present. The second, much more important gift, was nothing he could ever talk about to anybody, and the astonished murmurs of the other guests assured him that this gift was the best he could have chosen for his king.
“Thank you, Erik,” Richard said again, and Erik could see in his eyes that his Lionheart wished to be alone with him and kiss him in this moment. This wasn't possible though, and the precious moment was over when the English monarch turned around to look at his friend Blondel.
“I have a present for you as well, my King Richard,” his faithful minstrel said when he had Richard's attention, “it is nothing you can hold in your hands, only in your heart.”
Blondel took his harp and knelt down before Richard's feet, and his clear voice filled not only the heart of his king with its beauty, but the hearts of everyone who could hear him sing his praise of the bravest and most faithful king that had ever lived on Earth: King Richard I. of England, called the Lionheart.
The sun was setting earlier in September, but for Erik it hadn't even been early enough, and he heaved a relieved sigh when they were back in their quarters, finally alone and undisturbed. He had asked Blondel to come to them half an hour later, and he trusted the minstrel to find his way to Richard's quarters without being seen. Blondel had looked surprised but luckily he hadn't asked him what this was about, only nodded and promised to be punctual.
Erik needed these few minutes alone with Richard to work up the courage and do what he wanted to do, and he came willingly into the older man's arms when Richard embraced him with a small sigh of his own.
“I love you, my sweet young knave,” he whispered hoarsely, and Erik wrapped his arms tightly around Richard's broad shoulders and let himself be kissed. He could sense Richard's hunger, longing and despair for closeness and comfort, and he melted against him and surrendered to the fierce kiss of his Lionheart with devotion and love. Richard's tongue was stroking and licking its way around in his mouth, and Erik kissed him back with the same passion without trying to take control. Richard had received a letter from his mother the previous day but only read it tonight when they had come back to their rooms while Erik had been busied with his clothes, and the young squire could feel Richard's homesickness in the way his king held him and kissed him. Sometimes, love wasn't enough to make the feeling of loneliness and sadness go away, and Erik felt the last shreds of doubts about his 'real' gift for Richard drain away.
“I love you too, my Lionheart.” The need for air forced them apart after a while, and Erik smiled when he heard the quiet knock at the door. Richard frowned, but Erik put his finger onto his lips.
“You don't need to worry, your late guest is someone I'd invited myself to come here at this hour, my Lionheart.” He rushed to the door to let Blondel in before he would be noticed, and the blond minstrel slipped through the small slit like a dark shadow, his eyes searching for his beloved king instantly when Erik closed the door behind him.
“Erik, what is Blondel doing here?” Richard demanded, confusion and exhaustion coloring his voice. It was apparent that he wasn't happy about the delay of his wish to make love to his sweet young knave all night long, and Erik smiled and took Blondel's hand to guide him to the man both of them loved with every fiber of their being. Blondel remained silent, his eyes glued to Richard's tall figure, and Erik wanted to cry for him when he saw the look of love and resignation on the blond's face.
His friend had resigned himself to the fate over never being more to his king than just his friend and confidant a long time ago, and he had accepted Richard's love and desire for another man without ever begrudging him or Erik their happiness as he knew that they would have to part again sooner than either of them would ever be ready for.
“Blondel is my real gift for you, my Lionheart,” Erik now said when Richard was looking at him, “I know how much you love him - and that only your fear that you could hurt him kept you from admitting your desire for him. I want you to have one night with Blondel, my beloved Richard, one night where you will be lovers and not only friends.”
“What? But...” Richard stared at Erik in shock, and Blondel made a strangled sound and gasped out in surprise too, but he didn't pull away or tried to step back when Erik gently urged him to move closer to Richard. His amber-golden eyes were glowing with the fire of his long suppressed desire for his king, and his lips trembled with the fear that Richard would reject him and tell him that he didn't want that night with him, that he would not accept Erik's selfless gift.
“You don't need to do that, Erik,” Richard whispered at last, but his gaze wandered to his dear friend, and his dark eyes shone with the same fire and passion for his minstrel Blondel felt.
“I want to, Richard. I've thought about this for a long time, and I won't regret it later, I promise you. I know that you love me, my Lionheart. You love both of us with all your heart, and you have loved Blondel for much longer than I'll ever know. He loves you just as much, and you being lovers for one night won't take your love for me away for me. Please accept my gift, Richard, it comes from the bottom of my heart and the deepest parts of my soul.”
“You're too good to be true, my sweet young knave. I don't know what I have done to deserve you and be blessed with your love and kindness,” Richard whispered, bending forward to kiss Erik tenderly on his lips. He raised his hand to touch Blondel's face, and his fingers trembled when he cupped Blondel's cheek. Erik could see tears in Richard's eyes, but he knew that they were tears of joy and not tears of pain or sorrow.
“Do you want that too, my dear friend? Do you want to be mine tonight, Blondel?”
Blondel swallowed, and he didn't try to hold his own tears back when he pressed his face into the tender touch. “There is nothing I want more, my King Richard, nothing I have craved more than to feel your love for a few precious hours. But I can't do that, not if it means that I will hurt Nuri...” he croaked out, and Erik lifted his own hand to cup Blondel's other cheek as well.
“It won't hurt him, my friend,” he said, “Nuri understands, he really does.”
Blondel swallowed, staring at him. “You talked to him?” he asked, and Erik smiled. “Yes, I did. My gift for Richard – for both of you – is not meant to hurt anybody. I needed to make sure that he would understand. This night will change nothing between you and him, please don't think that.”
Blondel closed his eyes for a moment, and Erik gently wiped one of the salty pearls glistening on his cheekbone away with his thump.
“Are you sure that you want that, Erik? I don't want this if the price is your unhappiness.”
“I could never be unhappy about something I know that it is making my Lionheart happy, Blondel. This might be your only chance to be together, and I want you to make the best out of it. I will leave you alone now, I will sleep in my old chamber tonight.”
Erik kissed Richard on his cheek first, kissing Blondel then as well, and he had almost reached the door when Blondel's voice made him stop and turn around again.
“Erik, please stay. You belong to him – to us, please spend this night together with us.”
Erik hesitated, as this was not what he'd ever expected to happen. He had made his peace with spending the night of Richard's birthday apart from his king to give him and Blondel the chance to savor their first night together alone and undisturbed, and Blondel's words took him by surprise.
“This is not about me, Blondel,” he said with a frown, and the minstrel smiled at him. “I know, Erik. But it would make me happy if you shared this moment with us. It would make us happy,” he said with a quick glance at Richard, and the English monarch finally shook off his haze and shocked surprise and reached out for Erik with his hand.
“Please, Erik,” he begged him to come back to them, and the young squire slowly crossed the distance between them to take it. “I love you, sire,” Erik whispered, kissing the back of Richard's royal right with all the love and devotion he felt for him.
“I know, my sweet young knave. Please, stay with us, be a part of our night. Don't leave me.”
“I won't, Richard.” Erik put his hands on Richard's shoulders to kiss him hard and passionately on his lips. Then he moved to the side, taking Blondel's hands to gently lay them onto their king's shoulders as well.
“Kiss him, my Lionheart, show him how much you love him,” he demanded, sensing that he had to take the lead for a while. Blondel was too shy to make the first move and meet Richard as the lover he'd always been in his heart and his soul but never for real, and Richard was still cautious that he would hurt Erik if he gave in to his desire for his deeply cherished friend.
Erik's tender encouragement was all Richard needed though, and he pulled Blondel's lithe and slim frame close to his body in a passionate embrace and searched for his lips to kiss him. “My Blondel, my dearest Blondel,” Richard breathed out when he claimed his mouth, and his left hand came up to bury itself in the silken strands of Blondel's red-golden hair and keep his head in place when he kissed him, his long-suppressed longing and yearning bursting free all at once. Blondel moaned and sobbed at the same time as he surrendered to the ardent onslaught and opened his lips for his king to grant him access to the soft cavern behind them and return his kiss with the despair of a man dying of thirst.
Erik thought that he had never seen something more touching and heart-wrenching in his entire life, the sight of his beloved Lionheart and his friend Blondel finally giving in to their overwhelming desire for each other forming a huge lump in his throat. If he had feared that he would feel jealous having to watch them kiss and embrace each other, then his fears turned out to be ungrounded now, because all he felt was a huge wave of relief and happiness surging through him.
Richard and Blondel kissed until they ran out of breath, and the tall monarch turned his head to kiss Erik as well, his lips hot and swollen from Blondel's touch. Erik had been burning with desire for the love of his life for the entire day, and the flames of his passion burnt even higher now, fueled by the beautiful and arousing sight of the two other men kissing each other. He could feel Blondel's intense gaze on his flushed face as he welcomed Richard's tongue in his mouth, and he felt for Blondel's hand, entangling their fingers when the minstrel took it.
“Let us undress our Lionheart together, my friend,” Blondel murmured against his ear, finally daring to believe that this was real, and that he was allowed to love his king like he had dreamed of loving him for so long.
Erik nodded and stepped back to liberate his royal love from the last garments, carefully and rapturously removing the velvet and linen from Richard's tall and strong body. Blondel knelt down before him to unlace Richard's boots, and the powerful king of a foreign country so far away from Erik's home stood perfectly still and let his two beloved ones undress him with emotion written all over his face.
“We love you, Richard, we love you so much, let us show you how much we love you!” Erik murmured against his lips when his Lionheart was bereft of the last piece of clothing, standing in the middle of his chamber naked and vulnerable, his pale skin shimmering like precious ivory in the light of the candles Erik had lit up when they had returned to their quarters. His desire for his two lovers was jutting proudly between his legs, and Richard didn't try to cover himself and hide his longing from them, but let Erik and Blondel caress him with their heated and adoring glances without shame.
“You're so beautiful, my Lionheart, so magnificent and beautiful.” The young squire offered his hand to Richard to guide him to the bedroom and the large canopy bed waiting for them, and Blondel did the same at Richard's other side. They smiled at each other as they led the king to the bed, and Erik knew for sure that he would never forget this magical night, no matter how long he would live.
Richard was waiting lying on the bed for them, and Erik smiled at Blondel as he knelt down before Blondel to unlace his shoes like Blondel had done it for their king.
Blondel stared down at him, and his voice was hoarse when he tried to pull Erik back onto his feet. “Please, don't do that, Erik,” he said, but Erik shook his head and didn't falter in his doing. “This is your night, my friend, yours and our Lionheart's night, so please let me serve you and undress you for him. Our king is aching for you. He needs you, and his happiness is my only concern.”
“You put me to shame, Lord Erik,” Blondel whispered quietly, “I'm not sure that I could be as understanding and generous as you are.”
Erik rose back to his feet to pull the dark-green and golden jerkin over Blondel's head. “Then you're doubting yourself for no reason, Blondel the Minstrel. You have already proved your generous heart and your will to refrain from your deep love for the Lionheart's sake more than once. We're kindred spirits in our love and wish to see him happy, my friend, so please stop chiding yourself for a weakness and selfishness you don't posses at all.”
“Thank you.” Blondel closed his eyes and let Erik do his work, and the young squire turned around to meet Richard's gaze and smile at him. “Your love is ready for you, my King Richard,” he said with a bow, and Richard rewarded him with a smile of his own.
“Thank you, my sweet young knave. Your gift is so very much appreciated and valued. Words cannot express how much your offer means to me, Erik.”
“I can see it in your eyes, Richard. Words are not needed.” He took Blondel's hand to guide him to the bed. “The Lionheart is waiting for you, my friend.”
Richard's faithful minstrel drew in a shaky breath when they approached the large bed, and a small sob made its way to Erik's ears when Richard's loving arms enclosed him to pull him against his body and kiss him. Erik watched them for a moment before he began to shed his own clothes and take the vial with the oil out of the chest with Richard's clothes for the night. Oscar was the only one who had access to the royal bedroom apart from him, but Erik felt safer keeping the vial hidden under the linen shirts and underpants Richard wore only when they were alone.
He went over to the bed and crawled onto it, leaving enough distance between the two lovers and himself not to intrude on their privacy too much. Blondel deserved to have his beloved king for himself within these first so important minutes, and Erik was fine with lying there and looking at them from his side of the bed, the love, desire and happiness so visible and palpable between them touching him deeply again.
Richard covered the younger man with his body and was stealing the air from his lungs with his deep kiss, and Blondel's face was suffused with devotion and ardor, his beautiful features shining brightly with love and trust.
The small boy Marcus Blondel had once been had endured so much cruelness and grief in his short life, and yet he had grown to a brave and strong man who was still able to believe in goodness and love, and this because a young prince had cared enough about this small and unhappy boy to save him.
Richard whispered unintelligible words against Blondel's damp cheeks, showering his face with kisses, and his voice was hoarse with tenderness and wonder about the miracle that he was finally allowed to show Blondel his love without having to restrain himself any longer.
Blondel moaned softly into his mouth when his king claimed his lips in another fierce kiss, and his hands roamed over Richard's naked form and the scars on his arm and his sides as if he wanted to burn the memory of the king's astonishing male beauty into his heart and his mind forever.
Erik was hard from the breathtaking and wonderful sight, but he ignored the ache in his groin. This first hour was reserved for Blondel and Richard, and he wouldn't ruin their first time just because he craved to be touched, kissed and held as well. Richard loved him, there was no doubt about the depth of Richard's feelings for him, and he crawled closer to put the vial with the oil onto the pillow beside Blondel's head when the king turned his head to look at him.
Richard smiled gratefully, and Erik opened it for him and coated his elegant fingers with the fragrant oil.
Blondel shivered when Richard reached between his legs, spreading them without hesitation for his love and arching his back to feel his king where he needed him to feel so badly. “I love you, my King Richard, I love you so much. Please, I need you. I need you inside me.”
“And you will have me, my beloved Blondel.” Richard moved his fingers in an urgent and yet gentle rhythm, and he turned his head again to look at Erik. “Come here, my sweet young knave, I want you to share this moment with us.”
Erik glided closer until he lay beside Blondel and could stroke his face. Blondel was a master in hiding his true feelings, life had taught him this lesson the hard way, and he was as good in wearing a stoic or mocking mask on his face as Richard was. But tonight he looked young and vulnerable, open and even afraid, and Erik's heart clenched with the hot wave of love and sympathy that shot through him at the sight of his friend.
He cupped Blondel's face and bent down to kiss him on his forehead, and he didn't pull away when Blondel blindly searched for his lips, but kissed him softly on his mouth as well. Blondel inhaled with a gasp and shuddered violently beneath them, and Erik knew that Richard had found the small sensitive spot hidden deep inside his secret passage. He distracted him with another chaste and soft kiss on his mouth, and Blondel smiled at him and relaxed, welcoming the mixture of pleasure and slight burn the stretching aroused in him.
Erik lost all tracks of time while he watched his king preparing his friend for their lovemaking, and he took the oil again when Richard pulled his fingers out to replace them with his heard weapon. “Let me do that for you, my Lionheart,” Erik murmured, and Richard pulled his head close and kissed him hard when Erik touched his spear to coat it with the oil and prepare his beloved lion for the act of claiming.
Erik felt dizzy with desire when Richard let go of his bruised lips, and for a split second he felt jealous and wanted to tear his adored king away from the other man, but he just balled his fists instead and willed his face into a smile until the brief moment was over and the joy for Richard and Blondel replaced the ugly feeling of betrayal and jealousy again.
“I love you, Erik. Please don't you ever doubt my undying love for you,” Richard said stroking over his hair before he covered Blondel with his body again, making himself comfortable between his spread thighs.
“And I love you, Blondel. Let me show you how much I love you and desire you.”
“Yes, my King Richard, please take me, make me yours. I have waited for this moment for so long,” the blond bard said, and he looked deep in Richard's eyes when the older man entered him slowly, pushing into his tight heat with one single gentle thrust.
Erik resisted the urge to touch himself and satisfy his burning need. Nothing else other than Richard's love would ever truly satisfy him and make him happy, and Erik would wait patiently until his Lionheart would make love to him in this night.
The impressive English ruler held the key to his heart in his hands, and he could see that it was the same for Blondel when he looked at him. Richard had given up some of his iron self-control and possessed the younger man with unrestrained passion, driving in and out of him again and again until Blondel was sobbing and shivering with sheer and raw need.
Richard's dark gaze was fixated on Blondel's face, and he shifted the angle of his powerful thrusts and reached between their bodies to enclose his hard shaft and stroke him to completion.
“Richard, my King Richard...” Blondel's words were barely more than a soft whisper, and Richard drank his name from the minstrel's lips with another passionate and deep kiss. “Come for me, Blondel, come for me, my love. Give yourself to me, I need you to.” The king encouraged him to let go, his only goal to make his first love cry out in ecstasy and prove his desire for him.
Erik caught glimpses of Blondel's truly beautiful manhood when he craned his head a little bit, hard and thick and throbbing with desire, deep red and swollen, the head glistening with the milky pearls of pleasure Richard's thrusts against his sweet spot milked from him. Erik longed to touch Blondel there and feel him explode in his own hand, but he didn't try to touch him. This was not the right moment to do that, and Erik could also see how close Blondel already was, his member growing harder and twitching forcefully in the royal hand of his lover.
The next hard thrust against the bundle of nerves pushed Blondel over the edge and made him coat Richard's fingers with his hot ecstasy, and Erik held his breath and listened to Blondel's strangled cry of pleasure and triumph when the blond bard fell apart beneath Richard's strong body. The king watched him as he came, and he pushed deep into him one last time when he was sure that he had satisfied the younger man completely, throwing his head back with a low growl that sounded like the roar of a real lion when he filled Blondel with his hot seed.
Erik didn't want this moment to end, the raw beauty of Richard and Blondel united in their shared passion filling his eyes with tears and his heart with joy and gratitude. Loving Richard I. of England, called the Lionheart, was his destiny, but it was Blondel's destiny as well, had been his destiny from the moment on when the young prince Richard had carried the bleeding and unconscious boy out of the tavern that had been never been a true home, but only a place of endless torture and pain.
Erik's gift for Richard was a gift for Blondel just as much, and Erik would gladly give it again and again without any doubt or regret.
Erik had waited patiently for them to recover from their forceful height, enjoying the peace and quiet as he listened to the slowly calming breathing of the two other men.
Richard took his time to kiss and stroke his beloved friend and make the loss more bearable when he gently pulled out of Blondel and bereaved him of his warmth to turn to Erik instead. The blond bard let out a whine but didn't protest, snuggling under the covers to watch their Lionheart take care of the man who had made him such a selfless gift.
“I might be in my late thirties now, but I'm still man enough to satisfy you, sweet young knave,” the royal lion growled ardently when he trapped Erik underneath his tall frame, and Erik surrendered happily to his king and let him claim his mouth. He could taste Blondel on Richard's lips, he still remembered from the one kiss Blondel had once stolen from him how the minstrel tasted. He could feel Blondel watching him like he had watched Blondel earlier, but Erik focused on his beloved Lionheart now, not wanting to miss anything about their lovemaking, not even the tiniest moment.
“Need you, Richard, please, it's hurting,” he whispered, and Richard soothed him with his passionate kiss while taking the vial to prepare his beloved knave for his proud spear. Erik was so aroused and aching to be filled that it didn't take long until Richard could push three fingers inside his trembling body without meeting any resistance, and Erik heaved a relieved sigh when Richard turned them around to lie on his back and pull Erik on top of him. He was hard again, hard for his beautiful squire, and Erik hissed in pleasure when Richard grabbed his hips to lower him down onto his impressive length torturingly slowly and carefully.
“Ride me, Erik, have your way with me and take what you need from me,” he demanded, and Erik was all too happy to obey and set up a hard and fast pace, slamming himself down onto Richard's hardness all over again, just like he needed it in his painful arousal. His practices and workouts with Marian, Sven and Lars finally paid off, because his thighs bore his weight easily and without cramping, and Erik braced his hands against Richard's chiseled breast muscles and started to ride him ardently and without holding himself back.
The touch of a hand on his manhood made his eyes snap open, and he stared at Blondel in surprise, but the minstrel's long and clever fingers felt too heavenly on his neglected and aching cock to push them away. Blondel did not only know how to play the harp, he also knew how to play another man's sword like one of his instruments, coaxing embarrassing sounds out of Erik's throat with his skilled digits as he ran them up and down on his twitching shaft with firm strokes, making Erik's mind spin with raw desire.
“Don't fight my minstrel, darling, let him pleasure you,” Richard asked him when he sensed Erik's reluctance, “let him reward you for your generous gift, my love.”
Erik met Blondel's golden gaze, his own hazel-green orbs dark with desire and need, and he swallowed when he saw the expression on Blondel's face, the deep longing and desire for him making his breath hitch in his throat.
Erik hadn't expected Blondel to desire him too, and the revelation that the other man did boosted his own passion and desire to new levels. He swallowed and nodded, and Blondel moved closer with a sigh until he knelt beside Erik.
“Will you let me kiss you, Erik of Thanstein?” he murmured, his eyes glued to Erik's full pink lips, and Erik unconsciously leaned in, his eyes falling shut again of their own will. Richard was watching them as they kissed and Erik shyly invited Blondel's tongue in his mouth, and he could feel Richard's approval and happiness about their closeness. Blondel's kiss was so different from the kisses he shared with Richard, but not less passionate or tempting, and Erik succumbed to the sensations coursing through him and grabbed Blondel's head to deepen their kiss and explore the other man's mouth as thoroughly as Blondel had explored and claimed his.
The tension in his body became stronger with every up and down on Richard's hard length and each of Blondel's caresses, and Erik cried out into his mouth when it finally became too much and he exploded into a million glittering pieces with the first wave of his release, spurting hot and wet over Blondel's tender hand.
His walls clenched and crumbled around Richard's proud weapon, and his Lionheart came together with him and pumped his ecstasy deep into his trembling body until Erik feared that he would black out from the sheer force of his climax. Blondel stroked him through his high until Erik had nothing more to give and the waves of ecstasy subsided to the soft afterglow, Richard's arms catching him when he slumped down on him.
“I love you, Richard, I love you so,” Erik heard himself say, and then there was nothing but warmth and love and pure bliss for a very long time.
They had lain snuggled close together under the silken covers for a rather long time, Erik's head pillowed on Richard's chest right where his heart was, his fingers entangled with Blondel's, who was lying at Richard's other side with his head on the king's shoulder.
They had looked at each other after a while and begun to kiss and stroke their beloved king, both of them craving to make this night unforgettable and an outstanding experience for their wonderful Richard. Erik hadn't thought it possible, but he was happy watching Richard kiss and stroke Blondel, and he didn't need to feel neglected because Richard kissed and stroked him too, his smile whenever he searched for Erik's gaze so full of love and happiness that Erik wanted to burst with love and happiness himself.
Richard lay on his side now with Blondel at his back, the two younger men determined to drive their king crazy with desire and need. Erik wandered down on his front with hot and ardent lips and tender hands, and he didn't stop until he had reached his goal and could take the lion's rock-hard shaft into his mouth. Erik had done that a few times for Richard since they had become lovers, and his love and eagerness had helped him with becoming truly skilled when it came to this kind of ardent ministration.
Richard tasted wonderfully and he felt so perfect on his tongue, hard and heavy and delicious, and Erik swallowed him deeper and massaged his shaft with his tongue until Richard snarled and gasped with pleasure. He could feel the motions of Blondel's caresses that pushed the royal hardness deeper and deeper into his mouth, and Erik cracked one eye open to look what Blondel was doing. He smiled when he saw his friend sucking at Richard's shoulder blade where no one else than them would see the small red mark on Richard's neck, and Blondel's fingers caressed Richard's sensitive thighs and his balls until his king moaned for him with longing and need.
The young squire sucked harder and increased his efforts to pleasure the man who had shown him what true and unconditional love was, searching for Blondel's hand to stroke Richard together with him. He could hear Blondel's ardent murmur, but he didn't understand the words as Blondel was talking to their beloved king in French. He didn't need to understand the words to know that they were love declarations though, and he murmured his own love confessions for his Lionheart in his mind, knowing that Richard could sense them in his own heart.
Erik went back to his task and focused all of his senses on pleasuring Richard in the best way possible, and he was prepared to swallow all of the king's ecstasy when Richard started to come in his mouth with a strangled cry. More spurts followed the first wave, and Erik licked the softening shaft clean when Richard relaxed in Blondel's arms with a contented sigh, pulling Erik up and into his arms.
“I am a prisoner here in this castle, but I am a free man in your arms, Erik of Thanstein,” Richard I. of England said when Erik tenderly cupped his face to kiss him, “because the freedom of the heart is much more important than the freedom of the body.”
“You will always be free in our loving arms, my King Richard,” Blondel whispered tenderly into his ear, and Erik smiled at Richard and said:
“Blondel is right, my Lionheart. Our love will set you free and never trap you, and our love for you will be stronger than the strongest chains and ropes.”
The young squire sealed his promise with a deep and passionate kiss, and Richard relaxed in his arms and kissed him back not like a king would do, but only like a man who loved and was loved deeply in return.
It was still dark outside when Blondel silently got up to leave Richard and Erik, finding his clothes in the darkness and pulling them on with practiced motions. The young baronet was sound asleep in Richard's strong arms, and Blondel reached out to stroke his warm and rosy cheek with feather-light fingertips. The young man he'd considered his most dangerous rival at first sighed softly, but he didn't wake up, and Blondel dared to bend down and press a gentle kiss onto his lips.
“You'll never know how much I love you, Erik of Thanstein, how much I desire you and long for you,” he whispered in the dark chamber as he let his gaze travel over Erik's figure partly hidden under the covers one last time.
“You think that it's only Richard I love, but that's not true, because I love you just as much. But you will never know, and I hope that you will find love and happiness in the arms of a caring being when we'll be gone.”
Blondel turned his head to look down at Richard as well, and he bent down again to kiss Richard one last time as the lover he had been allowed to be for one precious night.
“I love you, my King Richard. You saved me when I was lost, and I will come to save you whenever you need me, no matter what it will take. I am so happy that you've found in Erik's arms what I could never give you. Sleep well, my love, tomorrow I will be your faithful friend and minstrel again, and the memory of this one precious night will warm me whenever I'll feel cold and lonely.”
Blondel turned around and crossed the quiet chamber with firm steps, the soft whisper of his last words still audible in the fragrant air when he was already long gone.
“I love you.”