Published: Feb. 23, 2011
Words: 89385 (approximate)
Amazon Kindle: Arabesque
An ambitious young princess, Ulrike, turns to the dark arts in order to become queen despite her younger sister’s warnings of a fatal consequence to mortgaging her soul. She succeeds, yet Ulrike finds herself trapped in a hateful marriage, her mind slowly being devoured by her powers, while conceiving and giving birth to a boy.
Alarick—“the bastard prince”—becomes the court’s favorite object of mockery because of the scandal of his conception, his mother’s spiraling madness compounding his ordeal. When Alarick falls in love with a childhood friend, Roald von Thiessen, the added sin of an unnatural romance gets caught up in a tumultuous aristocratic environment that’s rife with hypocrisy, cruelty, betrayal, and murder.
Forcibly separated from each other during a bloody uprising, Roald and Alarick become helplessly ensnared in nightmarish adventures designed to twist their characters and destroy their minds in the process. The young lovers fight for their souls and a way back to each other in a world weighed down by the forces of dark and light magic, and gods grapple with each other over mortal destinies.
Arabesque is a gothic, homoerotic retelling of the “Snow White” folktale, set in a darkly decadent, alternate Europe.
From Chapter Eight
Alarick had gone through his list of things to do. He’d ventured out to the people again to talk, observe, absorb. He’d inquired after the sick, the dying, the old. He’d acknowledged the poor, who made up at least three-quarters of his subjects, and followed them to their decrepit cottages or the noisy, filthy marketplace. He’d listened to complaints, suggestions, and pleas. He’d reassured, promised, and offered comfort.
Not everything he’d attempted succeeded, however. He saw how embittered too many people have become, no thanks to the king and many others currently in power. Some of the poor refused to speak to him, daring him to have them arrested for—well, for whatever perceived crimes were made against the crown. Some were only willing to spit a few words out while eyeing him and his company with deep suspicion, if not naked dislike.
One filthy, ill-looking woman practically chased them away from her run-down hovel, wielding a broom and screaming something about her lost daughter, who’d been raped by someone in court and who’d hanged herself out of shame, and her husband, who was now rotting in a prison cell, for having the audacity to demand justice for his child.
“You’ll have to work harder than ever to win them back,” Roald observed as the two cast one final glance down the dusty road that linked the palace to the rest of the land. He winced visibly, realizing the ridiculousness of what he’d just said.
“I wouldn’t know where to start,” Alarick replied, his spirits low. What were his options, besides? He’d learned to loathe his position, for all the luxuries it offered. His future, he knew, remained nebulous, and visiting the peasantry on occasion was an exercise in futility despite his sincerity in wanting to help them. If he couldn’t ascend the throne, he could at least remain in court and use his influence on the king, whoever it might end up being once Lambrecht died.
During moments of weakness, as he’d always believed them to be, Alarick caught himself wishing that he were born to a different set of parents, a family nowhere near nobility, one that wasn’t tainted with a history of jaw-dropping scandals and atrocities. His mother was nothing more than a creature just a step above a wild beast, mocked by former friends, shunned by her husband, reluctantly cared for by servants who once half-killed themselves to be in her service—at least according to rumors. His “adoptive” father, with his own rich list of moral shortcomings, had grown feeble in mind, spirit, and body, though without any clear marks of an illness. That final point was the most baffling to Alarick, and he was too rational, too level-headed, to give much thought to hints dropped by his peers that the king was under a spell of some kind. A fatal weakness was in his mother’s blood, moreover, and Alarick feared it. How long would it take, after all, before he’d begin feeling its effects on him? The implications staggered him.
I don’t want to be like her, and I sure don’t want to be like him, he’d sometimes thought as he watched the king eat and get drunk at the table. It was like being born under a curse, though in his case, it didn’t involve transformation into one unnatural form or another. Cursed heroes and heroines in his old, favorite nursery tales certainly had it far better than he ever did.
And it was always with a sharp pang that Alarick would be assailed with incredible shame for feeling that way toward his family, real or otherwise. With a muttered curse, he’d shake himself back to the present, silent, bitter chiding filling his next moment.
Trailing several feet behind them were their escorts—a pair of young, gangly pages and one servant. They all made for a strange parade, for the pages were exhausted and nearly fell off their own horses despite their brightly colored costumes that were specifically made for their roles. Their wigs sat crookedly on their heads, and neither seemed to realize it—or perhaps care. The trailing servant looked alert and smart in his own uniform, occasionally giving the two yawning and nodding pages a look of clear disdain.
“As long as we don’t find ourselves in another war…”
Roald appeared grim. “How realistic is that? His Majesty’s got too many enemies beyond our borders.”
Alarick sank into a pensive silence. Too true.
In fact, he’d always been secretly surprised that no restless stirrings had been noted within the court, but perhaps it was only a matter of time. Roald turned his horse and urged the prince to follow him. They’d done their duties for the day, and with peacetime upon them, they’d nothing more to look forward to but long, idle hours.
Alarick dismissed their pages and their servant, who showed quite a bit of relief at being let off for the day. Suddenly energetic, the pages turned their horses around and galloped back toward the palace, while the servant merely bowed and followed them without another word or even an expression that could be read. Alarick and Roald rode off toward a quiet patch of trees some distance from town and the palace, the promise of privacy and delicious pleasures steering Alarick away from more dour thoughts, the ticklish rippling of excitement through his body making him shiver.
It was a recently discovered patch of paradise outside the stifling borders of the palace, completely ignored by humanity and blessed by all the best that Nature could give such a little area.
But a vague sense of foreboding grazed the edges of his mind, and once or twice, Alarick couldn’t help but slow his horse down and glance back over his shoulder, his eyes wide and searching. There was no one behind them, of course, the general area nothing more than gently rolling terrain of green and occasional color, trees scattered here and there, the sky a breathtaking shade of blue, the peacefulness softly laced with the occasional twittering of birds. It was beautiful, a magnificent idyll that belied the land’s bloody history.
Alarick tried to shake off the creeping chill and the whispered doubts as he followed Roald. And he’d almost managed to settle into a reasonable state of calm and contentment had he not caught movement just in his vision’s periphery. He turned, startled, and saw a woman standing alone in the middle of a meadow to his right, watching them. Her distance was close enough that Alarick could easily make out familiar details in her dress, catching the soiled and tattered fabric, the telltale marks of fire, and the half-scarred face gazing out at him.
“Amara,” he breathed, gaping.
Amara merely watched him ride on, her face a picture of profound sadness. She said nothing to him, and neither did she attempt to reach out, physically, to Alarick. But her mere presence chilled Alarick’s being, for he knew that she didn’t belong there. The dead, his aunt had told him, had limits as dictated by Fate, and it was Amara’s fortune to haunt the palace’s corridors, shadowing her mad sister and keeping her nephew company.
“No, surely—it’s my imagination. That’s all,” he breathed, pressing his eyes shut as though to clear his vision. “She can’t be out here. She’s not supposed to be out here.”
“What did you say?” Roald asked, and Alarick started, blinking his eyes open, and looked at Roald.
“I thought I saw…” He looked back at where Amara stood and found it empty. Alarick forced a tight smile when he spurred his horse on till they were abreast with Roald. “Nothing. Just a trick of the light.”
They rode up to the trees that marked their new retreat’s borders, and there they dismounted, leading their horses through familiar spaces till they reached their sanctuary, a clearing that was at least three times the size of their little glade in the pleasure garden. Everything in their new patch of paradise was a far cry from what they’d been used to. While everything in the pleasure garden spoke of a studied design that was meant to appear natural, this newly discovered clearing was all wild beauty and liberating spontaneity.
There they sat in the sun, enjoying the gentle warmth and brilliant clarity of the day. They stripped and swam in the pond beyond the trees and then enjoyed their usual pleasures once they dried themselves.
“You’re daydreaming again,” Roald murmured once he’d fully seated himself in Alarick. He paused for a bit, wondering at his lover’s distraction. He kissed the prince and tasted the familiar. He brushed damp, black hair from Alarick’s brows, marveled at green, slightly haunted eyes that stared back at him. Pressing down, he whispered the usual calming words in Alarick’s ear and punctuated them with a ticklish swipe of his tongue.
Before long Roald sensed something unusual. Something different. It was all around them. The birds, the trees, the warm breezes, the cloudless sky—all pointed to rugged perfection, yet all seemed very, very slightly askew. How odd. Something—something—didn’t feel right, yet he saw nothing unusual. He moved inside Alarick, rewarding himself with a breathless moan from his lover, determined to undo these odd feelings.
Alarick’s eyes darkened, looked even more haunted despite the obvious pleasure he felt. His fingers curled around Roald’s shoulders turned claw-like in their grip as he tipped his head back, his mouth slack, his eyes unseeing, while panting and grunting under Roald’s weight.
“Close your eyes for me,” Roald hissed, gritting his teeth and feeling more beads of sweat bursting out of his pores. No, he didn’t want to see that uncertainty in Alarick. Not now, not ever. Everything was good. Everything.
Alarick’s glazed eyes fluttered shut, and Roald rewarded him with a deep, salty kiss, their sweat and the remains of their swim mingling in their mouths. There was something deliciously filthy about making a prince obey a subordinate’s order, which turned all the sweeter when Alarick clearly enjoyed being dominated.
Time moved forward. Desires were sated in a rush of wild sensations and breathless cries. Roald’s thrusts quickened, went deeper, drove Alarick’s willing body against the crumpled grass with increasing ferocity. Release finally overtook them, with Alarick not even touching himself, and Roald cried out first, shuddering and emptying himself in his lover. Alarick mingled his voice with Roald’s gasps when he released, coating his stomach with ropes of semen. The flight back to earth was languid, much like the gentle kisses they exchanged, with each young man brushing sweat-pasted hair away from his lover’s fogged eyes. Then came rest—fitful, refreshing. When they awakened, both of them wondered what had just happened, wondered why the sudden unsettling doubts in the midst of lovemaking. They gazed around them, and everything looked perfect as it had always been in that tiny patch of paradise.
The sun’s position in the sky urged them to return to the palace, and they reluctantly rose from their grassy bed and dressed up. An embrace, a kiss, and they were on their way. They led their horses through the trees, Roald in front. He stepped into the open countryside, turned around to look for Alarick, and was suddenly enveloped in darkness. The last glimpse he had of the prince was that of Alarick in the arms of a large man, his face almost fully covered by a rag. The horses whinnied, and the calm was further violated by voices, low and harsh, and footsteps, mixed and hurried.
“Roald,” a voice whispered harshly amid the confusion. “You force my hand in this.”
Roald barely had time to recognize his father’s voice before something struck him from behind, painfully wrenching the world and his consciousness away.