The Beginning, 3000 B.C., somewhere in E'uropia:
The red-golden flames of the fire illuminated the pitch-black night when the two young warriors were brought to the stone circle, throwing long shadows over the tall menhirs that craned their long necks into the dark sky. Each of them was dedicated to one of the holy gods that had ruled from the very beginning, and they all shone in the light of the fire, each of them except for two stones that remained cold and dark, the two stones that were dedicated to the most important gods M'anii and S'oleo, the gods of the moon and the sun.
M'anii, the ruler of the night, was angry with his faithful children, and he was hiding his face behind thick clouds in the dark hours of his reign like his brother S'oleo was hiding his face behind a thick layer of gray dust during the short and cold days. They were twins, the most powerful gods of all gods, and they had turned their backs on their people. Their younger brother V'ulcan had been able to finally seize the power he'd craved for so long and his triumphant growling was audible everywhere, never quietening, not even in the night. His giant mouth didn't stop roaring, spitting liquid fire and black ashes into the sky and bringing death and destruction to all living beings that had dared to challenge the gods and settle at the base of V'ulcan's mouth to build their villages and live there.
M'arcos held his head up high when the priest forced him onto his knees, and M'atos' heart clenched painfully with both love and fear. The warrior with the black hair and the dark eyes didn't fear death, but he feared that he and M'arcos would be separated and blamed for their love in the afterworld too, a love that had been doomed and forbidden right from the start. He'd fallen for the younger warrior right at first sight when his own tribe, the M'unichera, had sent him to M'arcos' people, the D'ormundera. The M'unichera and the D'ormundera had fought against each other as long as M'atos could remember - until both chiefs had come together for negotiations to end the bloody war between them that cost too many lives on both sides. M'atos was the chief's son and heir, the admired prince, and he'd loathed the thought of having to spend his life among their worst enemies, but everything had changed when he'd looked into M'arcos' amber-green eyes for the first time.
M'arcos was the heir of D'ormundera, the shining golden prince. Everyone loved and adored him, especially J'ogiso, V'ulcan's high priest. He wasn't allowed to take a mate as one of the three high priests of the three most important gods, but M'atos knew that J'ogiso desired M'arcos with every fiber of his being nonetheless, and the priest rather wanted to see M'arcos dead than being together with anybody else other than himself.
J'ogiso had his spies everywhere, and his most loyal novice O'livos had followed M'atos and M'arcos when they had met on their secret clearing and revealed their forbidden love to his jealous superior. This had been shortly before V'ulcan had triumphed over his older brothers and started to spit fire and ashes, and the high priest had made M'arcos and M'atos' love responsible for the fury of the gods and their behavior, telling both tribes that they had to die to save the others.
M'arcos and M'atos would die in this dark night, sacrificed to calm the god's anger, and M'atos' only wish was that they would be reunited again in the afterworld. His love for M'arcos was eternal, stronger than J'ogiso's wrath and hate, stronger than even death. He stumbled when O'livos pushed against his back with an angry hiss, his eyes glowing in a fanatic fire behind the mask he was wearing. M'atos fell onto his knees, staring up at the high priest without showing any sign of fear.
J'ogiso lifted his arms into the dark sky and glared down onto M'atos. “S'oleo and M'anii have turned their backs on their children, and they decided to punish all of us for the betrayal of these two men!” His voice howled in the air, drowning out even the cackling noises of the hungry flames, and M'atos couldn't suppress a shiver of fear that was wrecking him when he saw insanity glowing in 'Jogiso's eyes. “The gods hunger for a sacrifice, and M'atos and M'arcos will give their lives to calm their righteous ire and save all of us.”
The crowd outside the stone circle roared, and M'atos swallowed thickly when M'arcos' flickering glance searched for him. They looked each other in the eyes, and the loud screaming of the two tribes that had gathered together to watch them die became a distant background noise that didn't reach M'atos any longer.
“I love you, M'arcos,” M'atos whispered, “even the gods won't be able to keep us apart forever. One day we'll be together again, and I won't stop searching for you until I'll have found you again.”
M'arcos' smile was filled with pain and regret, but there was no fear showing in his beautiful eyes, only love and the certainty that M'atos would keep his promise. “I love you too, M'atos. Always will,” he said, and Jogiso roared in anger when he heard M'arcos confess his love for M'atos again.
“You will never be together, not in this life and not in any other life – no matter how much time will pass! You are destined to suffer and lose each other again and again. Your love is doomed to bring pain and grief to you, and one day your love will die and turn into hate!” the high priest screamed in red fury, but M'atos only reached out for M'arcos' hand and smiled at him, awaiting the fate the gods had chosen for him in the knowledge that their love was eternal and would never die.
“J'ogiso is not right, my love,” he said, “My love for you is endless. I will never stop searching for you and loving you.”
M'arcos smiled at him, and his smile and his amber-green eyes were the last thing M'atos saw before everything went black, Marcos' promise following him into the darkness.
“My love for you will never die, M'atos. I will wait for you, no matter how long it takes. One day we'll be together again!”
Ara Ubiorum, Germania Inferior, 9 A.C:
Tribune Matteus Hummelus looked down at his lover Marcus, hungry eyes roaming over the male features of the handsome blond Roman, savoring the sight of Marcus writhing in ecstasy beneath him to the fullest. The younger tribune arched his back against him, and Matteus knew that Marcus was close and that he didn't even need to touch him at his proud sword to make him come.
“Matteus, meus amor!” Marcus' hoarsely whispered confession made Matteus' heart clench in his chest. Their love was forbidden, true Roman citizens didn't fall in love with other men, and surely not when they were high ranking officers. They could have sex with male slaves that were nothing more than toys and possessions, and if they yet had sex with another free Roman man, than they were never on the receiving end. Matteus was still amazed that Marcus allowed him to take him like that, and his throat tightened with the wave of overwhelming love he felt for the amazing and brave man in his arms.
He'd fallen in love with Marcus Retus right with the first look in his beautiful amber-green eyes, and he'd been shocked when he'd realized that the blond tribune returned his feelings with the same force. They simply couldn't keep their hands off each other, no matter how hard they tried to be reasonable and stay away from each other, their love and desire for one another too strong to fight against their feelings.
“Marcus, meus pretiosus...” Matteus bent his head down to drink Marcus' strangled cry of ecstasy from his lips when he came undone with his next deep thrust, and he followed his beloved one over the edge when he sensed Marcus spilling his pleasure against his abs, losing himself in their love and desire for each other for a few precious moments.
Matteus knew that their love could never come to a happy ending, but in this moment he was sure that not even death could tear them apart. His love for Marcus was stronger than the wrath of the gods and the Roman Empire that didn't allow two Romans to love each other, and no one and nothing would ever come between them.
“My decision is final, tribune. You'll return to Rome tomorrow.” Legatus Joacimus Lowenus stalked over to the window to look outside, ignoring the plea in Matteus' brown eyes. Matteus knew why the older Roman sent him back to Rome. He was jealous of the bond between Marcus and Matteus and had finally found a way to separate them. It wouldn't change anything between Marcus and him, Matteus knew that for sure, but the mere thought of having to leave the man he loved more than life itself was unbearable.
“But my place is here, Legatus. I know this land and the Teuton tribes better than anyone,” Matteus tried to object, but it was to no avail. Joacimus Lowenus didn't even bother to turn around. “Better than Proconsul Varus? I highly doubt that. Besides, this mission is too important to trust any other messenger with it.” This was a lie and both of them knew that, but Matteus swallowed and nodded his head.
“Of course, Legatus,” he said, leaving the office without any other word. He had one last night with Marcus, and Matteus was not going to waste a single second of it with useless debates. His face was stoic when he entered the large courtyard to cross it, and he tried to suppress the sinking feeling in his stomach that he would never see Marcus again after this night.
“We'll see each other again, Marcus,” he whispered to himself, “if not in this life, then in another one.”
Marcus didn't ask any questions, he just came into his arms with the same despair Matteus felt, and they parted the next morning with a firm handshake and their heads held up high like the brave and proud Romans they were, Matteus not looking back when he rode out of the camp, but his heart was shattered into a million pieces, and it would never be whole again, not until Marcus was back in his arms.
The messenger fell down on his knees before Augustus, and Matteus' heart stopped beating with a bout of fear when the young man sobbed and gasped his way through the horrible news. Rome's god-like emperor sank into his throne, and he reached for his own heart, grasping his chest in shock and pain.
Three Roman legions were gone, slaughtered by Arminius and his Cheruski, and Marcus was gone with them and would never come back.
“Quintili Vare, legiones redde!“ Augustus cried out in horror and helpless fury, and these were the last words Matteus heard before everything went black around him and the world he'd known just stopped existing.
1193, Pfälzer Forest, Monastery of Eußerthal:
“Brother Matthias, will this knight live?” The young novice who'd asked this question handed Matthias another wet cloth, and the Cistercian monk took it to gently wipe away the blood from the unknown knight's chest. “He will live if Almighty God in Heaven above wants him to live, Marian,” he answered calmly without taking his eyes off the pale face, but his heart clenched painfully at the thought of this knight losing his battle and die under his caring hands.
They had brought the knight in the middle of the night. He'd been unconscious and covered in his own blood, a horrible wound gaping in his left side. He hadn't regained consciousness so far, and the young monk with dark hair curling around his tonsure found himself musing about the color of the knight's eyes without being able to stop himself from doing so.
His features were not beautiful in the classical way, but handsome and very male despite his poor state and the paleness and sunken cheeks, and his hair shimmered red-golden like the sun when it was setting on the horizon or shining through the colorful windows of the abbey church. Brother Matthias was the one seeing to the injured and sick people since Brother Hilarius had been called to Castle Trifels to cure King Richard the Lionheart from a minor illness that fallen upon him last week. Emperor Heinrich couldn't risk losing his royal hostage to a disease and had given order that the well-being of the English sovereign had first priority before anything else. Matthias hoped that Brother Hilarius would return to Eußerthal soon again as he didn't feel capable of saving the knight's life himself and without the older monk's help.
Nobody knew the knight or where and when he'd gotten this horrible wound as those who'd been doing that to him had been long gone when one of the farmers living near the monastery had found him lying on the roadside of the road that led to Annweiler. The farmer had thought that the knight was dead at first, but he'd hurried to bring him to the abbey when he'd realized that the young knight was still breathing.
Matthias was sitting beside his sickbed and trying to keep him alive for three days now, hardly catching any sleep in between his attempts to save this poor soul.
“You will live, my brave knight, you must live. He is merciful with His faithful children, He won't let you die. I don't even know your name or the color of your eyes, but I feel as if we'd known each other for a long time. You must fight for your life, my knight, please don't give up!” Matthias whispered hoarsely, gently stroking a soft blond strand out of the knight's pale forehead. There was a strange connection between them, and the young Cistercian monk kept murmuring inaudible prayers to God and all saints he knew to beg for the unknown knight's life until the first rays of the golden sun fell through the windows of the large room that served as the abbey's hospital.
Brother Matthias was about to fall asleep on his hard stool when a soft gasp made its way to his ears and the handsome young man lying pale and motionless on the cot suddenly opened his eyes, the most beautiful amber-green eyes the monk had ever looked into.
Brother Matthias looked into those green-golden orbs gazing back at him and fell in love, hopelessly and helplessly as no faithful man of the Holy Church was allowed to fall in love and feel desire for any other human being.
His love for the beautiful knight was forbidden, and he would for sure burn in hell for it.
The rose garden that belonged to the monastery of Eußerthal was dark and quiet at this time of the night, and the moon hid its silvery light behind clouds as if it wanted to protect the two young men walking the paths before they had to part. It had once been worshiped as the powerful god M'anii by the ancient tribes that had once lived on this continent, and later on the Romans had come and called the large silver disc ruling over the dark night Luna, but both gods were long forgotten by the descendants of both the tribes and the Romans, the past of their ancestors lying in the darkness of lost memories.
Brother Matthias stopped under one of the bushes, the sweet scent of the red roses filling the soft air of the early summer night.
“You're still not well enough to ride to Castle Trifels, Marco,” he whispered, the mere thought of losing the one he loved more than he'd ever loved anybody and anything in his life causing him unbearable pain. He knew that he was damned because of his love for Marc, Baron of Hörde, but he couldn't rip his love out of his heart, no matter how hard he'd tried to do so. They'd never lain with each other during the long weeks of Marco's recovery, but Matthias' dreams were filled with vivid pictures of Marco writhing beneath him in ecstasy, and his cheeks were wet and his small-clothes sticky when he woke up from those dreams. It was almost as if they were more than just dreams, memories of something they'd once shared in another life, and his dreams would be all that was left from Marco when he was gone.
“I must go there. I was entrusted with this important message for King Richard, and I will not betray the faith Queen Eleanor put in me to bring this message to her son. I can't stay, I need to deliver her message to the king, and you know that, Matthias.” Marco cupped Matthias' cheek and looked at him with a smile so full of love and tenderness that the young monk wanted to cry and beg his knight to stay, but he knew that he couldn't put the burden of his ungodly love and desire onto Marco's strong but slim shoulders. His knight didn't know that the love his life-savior felt for him was not the brotherly love a monk should feel for other men or women, but the deep and passionate love that happened only once in a lifetime and lasted longer than even death, and Matthias wouldn't reveal his dark secret to him and pull Marco into the abyss of damnation together with him.
“Yes, I know,” he just murmured, and Marco's smile was breathtaking in its beauty and wistful resignation. “Thank you for everything you did for me, Matthias. God shall always be with you and protect you,” he said, leaning in to place a soft kiss onto Matthias' lips. “I love you, Matthias.”
Marco was gone before Matthias could react, and he watched his golden knight walk out of his life with burning but dry eyes, his heart screaming for what could never be. “I love you too, Marco of Hörde, always and forever. My love for you will never die,” he whispered when Marco had gone, slowly sinking down on his knees to pray for his knight and the trapped King Richard of England who was waiting desperately for his mother's message.
“You brought shame on us, Brother Matthias! You're not worthy to wear this cowl any longer!”Abbot Joaquin said, his voice icy-cold. He stared down at Matthias' kneeling figure, raising his right hand with the seal ring, and Prior Olivier pushed Matthias' cowl up and took the whip to let it hail down on Matthias' bare back.
The young monk with the dark hair flinched under the hard and merciless blow, but he remained silent, enduring his punishment without making any sound. He should have known that Abbot Joaquin's confidant, Prior Olivier, would spy on them and not hesitate to tell his admired abbot lies about the monk they both hated. Matthias had seen the way Abbot Joaquin had looked at Marco when he'd visited the young knight to see for himself that he would recover from his injury, and he didn't care about his own well-being, only about Marco and that he was far away and safe from the abbot's wrath.
Blow after blow rained down on him, but Matthias didn't feel them, and he didn't see the stone tiles before him that were coloring with his blood, all he saw before his mind's eye was Marco's handsome face and his amber-green eyes, his beautiful smile when he told him that he loved him.
Matthias' bitten lips curled into a small happy smile as well, and he was still smiling when everything went dark around him and the world stopped moving.