The Farm, Crucible

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Thank you all for your comments and critiques on this story. You’ve helped me bring each chapter into the light. I look forward to reading your thoughts.

This chapter has been too long in my mind.



Five Months Later

“I think he’s dead.” The sound came from far away, mater of fact at the base with anxiety tucked in at the edges. The voice light and small as a child’s. A mouse squeak from the mouth of a bull. Prize felt bodies move around him. The scrape of a chair, the heavy shoes on dirt, the sound of cloth on cloth.

March leaned forward and poked at the filth-streaked buttock with the tip of his cane, prodding until it found a place with broken skin. Both cheeks were striped, some just causing the skin to form welts and some dried blood. The wounds extended up Prize’s back and down his legs to the ankles. A blanket of purple: dogs violet, vetch, columbine, iris, feedwell, and lupine; fading to yellow: marigold, tansy with horn well, and hellebore bloomed where the wales faded with time. Prize groaned and the muscle twitched under the prodding.

“See, not dead, my dear friend. He’s just starting to change. The angel’s gonna come out soon.”

The huge man, Russian, leaned closer to the stirring form and rolled Prize onto his back. Another groan. An involuntary arch of the back. Across the bruised chest and abdomen a jagged wound cut with the sharp-edged lid of a peach tin during one of March’s many drunken rages twined like raw ivy. The chain that held Prize to the wall raddled dull as cold lead. Russian ran his hand through the black hair, crabbed a fist full, and lifted Prize’s head. He pressed the chipped water jug of cadmium yellow to the mouth and poured a little liquid past the cracked and flaking lips. Prize drank in reflex and sputtered. The room started to take shape out of a black and red haze. The low ceiling, bird wings suspended by greasy string, rags on the dirt floor, a single thin blanket, the broken chair where Cruel sat legs splayed, smoking a cheroot and watching. Always watching and waiting until he was moved to action, to thrash with fists and belt or fuck with prick and fingers. And always the syrup, the peach syrup.

The manacles bit into Prize’s wrists and rubbed against the rude lesions and broke the healing skin. He groaned again and arched to relieve the pain not caring if March enjoyed the display of belly and groin. Not dead and back in this place. He’d been safe and far away feeding the chickens and watching Tom mend the fence where the goat had pushed through. He smelled the smoke from William’s pipe. The clank of the skillet in the kitchen as Nanny cooked. The clank of the chain now.

“You’ll not have him long if you continue this way.”

“He’s my peach, my angel. Got to tame him before the change. Teach him. Even a fool knows that. Tomorrow, tomorrow I cut the angle out.” March walked to the bench and picked up a pair of long-handled hoof clippers. He let them smack down in the palm of his hand as he moved to Prize. He pressed the sharp blades to the spot where the upper ribs attached to the breastbone. “Just a few clips here and here.” He traced the prominent bones. “Two quick slices along here to free the skin.” The cold iron moved down the ribcage. “And pull. That’s where you come in, my friend. Pull back and the wings will free themselves.”

Prize felt the iron warm and intimate on his skin. It was good to know it was almost over. Finished tomorrow.

Russian turned his greasy bald head toward March. “You offered me my full share if I helped ya. I’ll have it before tomorrow.”

“Then help yourself. I like to watch. I’m a peeking Tom.”

Prize wrenched at the name. A knot in his heart and gut.

“But ya’ll see his wings tomorrow. Soon the feathers’ll grow in and we’ll have us a tame one to sell to a king in a far away land, and you and me’ll live in the palace with our angel.”

He stooped and ran his hand along Prize’s ribs and let his fingers work along the bones expertly. He turned his head and looked up at Russian, his eyes looking at something far away. “We’ll live like kings our ownselves. Eat from plates of gold, wear fine clothes. Russian, we’ll sleep on beds of rubies and drink wine from cups carved in diamonds as big as yer bald head. Velvet pillows for our feet. This angel will bring us all we desire. But he has to be tamed first.”

The Russian smiled and nodded and turned his head in the yellow light of the lantern.

Prize felt hard hands as big as shovels clasp his shoulders, lift him, and shift him to his knees. He sank back on his heels unable to rise. Face lifted, he wondered how long he’d been chained in the dirt-floored room. How long? He kept his eyes on Cruel back in his watching chair; the Russian moved to block his view. Big knuckled fingers ran down a cheek streaked with dirt and tears. A hand tangled in his greasy hair and pulled his head back. The sooty ceiling swung into view. The sound of rough cloth falling on itself. The stink of unwashed sex hikayeleri skin and old urine. Russian pressed his penis to the swollen cracked lips. Prize opened his mouth and tried to suck with a mouth too dry. Prize’s body yielded when Russian came to him. Always water and food, some bread, and a bit of cheese, the syrup from the canned peaches Cruel kept in the sub cellar. Each time he drank or ate he cursed his body for its weakness, for prolonging his own life. How long? Tomorrow? Each time he opened his mouth to swallow Russian’s thick cock, he hated his Prize self, but not as much as when he stopped struggling and kicking to lift his ass for March.

Russian withdrew in frustration. The pitcher touched Prize’s lips and he gulped more of the tepid water. It tasted of dirt and something green. It rolled down his throat and splashed in his empty stomach. It ran from his chin and trickled down his chest, making him shiver in the damp cold and leaving a track in the blood and filth. It stung in the cut. It dribbled down his penis and dripped, dripped on the earthen floor.

“Use this. Don’t stand there with ya dick wilting in ya hand.” March handed over an open can of peaches. “Pour that in. Make him sweet and slick.”

Danny, Danny was proud enough to fight and bite, but he was gone when water and food touched his lips. When Russian with his thick prick and thin voice touched him, Prize licked and swallowed for more food. Prize sighed and cried as he was meant to. For how long? What Prize didn’t do was die. Prize fed himself on a feast of hate. He opened his mouth and the peach syrup coated his tongue. He lifted his eyes to Russian and opened his lips. And he knew how much longer. Tomorrow.


Seven Months Earlier

The push solid, the question earnest, the hope sincere, the body strength and safety, the fear of the question palpable, but Tom wouldn’t let it go. Danny felt the questions coming again. All that morning Tom pushed questions like he pushed the stones. Building and building.

They strained to lift a large stone of hornblende, black and forest-green, that Tom found half-buried in silt beyond the bend in the Callcote that ran beneath the stone bridge.

“‘Tis a remarkable stone to find in these parts, Danny.” He smiled. “Most likely left by them that built the stone bridge.” They lifted together. “See how it’s bits of this and that. Black like yer hair but green, too.”

“It were born, in part, of fire, but it ain’t hard. We’ll put it near the top to mark were the last of the old stones end.” Tom’s smiled. “It’s the beginning of all that’s new.”

“What do you want to ask, Tom?” Prize kept his voice low as he lifted.

“It troubles me. Ye know so much.”

Prize laughed. “You know this rock’s name and its strength. You can build this wall. You know more than me.”

“About rocks and dirt. Horses, pigs, and chickens.” Tom smiled. “You know things of education and that of educated men. And an ostrich, ye didn’t make that up to try to tease me?”


“Danny, forgive me,” Tom pressed his lips together, “I canna believe ye’re the child of a brothel as ye say.” He held Prize’s eyes in his frank gaze. No guile. No motive beyond the question.

Prize pushed harder on the hornblende and remained silent.

The rock slid in place close to the top of the wall. They pushed together to help it find purchase.

“Will ye try to think back to before?” Tom tilted his head and tried to catch Danny’s eyes. “Don’t do it for me. I know you won’t tell me about living up the hill there at the cottage . . . .”

Prize tensed and turned his back on Tom. His stomach froze. A tremble ran down his back, making his thighs weak. He reached for the wall to steady himself. To keep his hand from reaching for the scar.

He asked his question to the wall. “What do you know of that,” a pause and slow breath, “that time.”

Tom felt the fear roll off the man in front of him, alternating icy dread and forge-hot hate.

“Nay but I was called to farm for William and Nanny. I heard there was a man sick at Gordy’s little play cottage, and they had gone to nurse him.”

Prize turned wild eyed and let slid his hand up to touch the mark on his shoulder. “And?”

“And it were ye who was so terrible ill.” Tom reached for Danny’s hand and pulled it away from the search, search, search at the scar on his back. He held it trapped between his own hard and rough as the rocks in the wall and pulled it toward his chest. “It were you so worn and weak from the fever.”

Prize felt the need to sit; he couldn’t control his legs and his fears both. He looked past Tom.


Tom smiled. “And I saw you there on the hearth and my heart went out to you, Danny.” The smile faded. “Yer shaking.” He released the hand and pulled Danny close. He bent his head and whispered, “And I think I loved you at that moment. That’s all I need to know about the cottage. Ye were desperate ill.”

Danny leaned against him though porno hikayeleri every fiber sang out for him to run. What didn’t he need to know?

“But what ye said about long before then, back when ye were a child. That’s what I mean now.”

Danny Prize inhaled deeply, smelling the sweat of hard work and the sharp odor of the green weeds that grew by the Callcote clinging to the wool coat. “I stood on a train platform and the steam swirled and hissed about me. It was cold and dark. I stood there, Tom, between the two of them. I know one was my mother. She was with a man. Another man was there, an old man, and he pressed money into the hand of my mother’s companion. The money changed hands and my hand was placed into his. Tom, I was sold on that platform.” Danny sat down on the winter grass by the edge of the lane. His head rested on the wall just below the hornblende. “I was sold. I saw the money change hands. I went dearly for twenty pounds, Tom. Don’t shake your head. I was five, but I knew then what twenty pounds bought and how quickly the man took it.” Danny pushed the heels of his hands against his temples. “Please, let this be the end of it.”

And there at the wall he’d said it. He’d said that part, the rest of his far past less substantial that the dragon’s breath of steam. The near past more scalding.

The dodge and dance Tom engaged in as he eased Prize on to the thin ice of the past. The way he held his shoulders for added strength. The arms open. Tom hunkered down before him and tilted his head. His backs of his arms rested on his knees. His palms up, extended toward Danny. Dirt deep in the lines of his palms and calluses. He curled his fingers in as he thought. The muscles in his forearms tensed and relaxed as the fingers unfurled.

“A dream or remembrance?”

Danny lifted his gaze to watch a small bird dart from the wall to balance, wings extended, on a slender, dry weed. “I see it in my mind’s eye as surely as you see the wall.” He lowered his chin to rest on his chest where his heart beat an irregular tattoo. “Remembrance, Tom, remembrance.” Danny closed his eyes to keep Tom from seeing past the face he wore. To keep him from seeing Prize.

“Will ye meet me in our bower tonight? I’ve need to hold you.” Tom saw the shadow pass on Danny’s face. “Danny, please tell me ye’ll come.”

William whistled from the front if the cottage, calling them in to supper. Tom wrapped his hand around Danny’s wrist.

“I’ll wait for you.”

No answer came.

They stood and walked to the kitchen door and removed their muddy shoes. Nanny stood pink before the fire. Dinner waiting on the table. Danny walked through and sat by the hearth that did not warm him.

Voices from the kitchen, muted and cross. Danny pulled his knees up to his chin and let the firelight play on his back. He slid his hand beneath the collar of his shirt and along the plain of his shoulder. The scar burned cold on his back. Cold as winter rain. His fingers ran back and forth. He heard the scrape of a chair and the clink of a spoon on earthenware. Quickly he withdrew his hand and pushed his hair out of his eyes and adjusted his face, pulled down the mask. Nanny brought his plate to the hearth and placed it by his feet. He forced a smile and nodded a thank you. He didn’t trust his voice. He’d said it to Tom. He’d told him that memory. Sold.

The food grew cold on the plate.

No chapters tonight. No Tom in the small sitting room. He closed the book after a few halting, croaking lines and set it aside. His tongue lay thick and dry. Nanny knitted, needles flashing and the clicking like exoskeletons of wasps on glass as she worked the sleeve for a jumper for Danny. The wool was blue as his eyes. That’s why she purchased it, dear as it was. Blue and soft.

Danny carried his uneaten dinner to the kitchen and slipped on his work shoes. Silently out the door and down to the wall. It stood darker against dark. A small animal ran through the dead grass. A blind mole, gray and soft. The barn owl called. Behind him the light of the lamp on the carved table at Nanny’s elbow. Tobacco smoke from William’s pipe on the cold air, the last before bed. Before him the night.

He knew the differentiation between dreams and memories. Dreams crawled unbidden through the night and left him halfway across rooms or crouching on the floor with arms strained at the small of his back. Hands clawing at a rope around his neck. Whispering Rahim.

Memories, memories lay beyond a waterfall, a powerful cataract, cascading past the mouth of a cave. He pushed himself to the mouth and peered through the cascading flow. There was danger there. Too close and he risked falling into the pool, pushed to the bottom to drown in the mud, legs tangled in water grasses. Too far from the mouth of the cave and the picture blurred and the voices died in the rush of water. He’d pushed himself to the edge of the cave. Water sucked at his ankles. He’d done it for Tom. It frightened him. A world of bleeding watercolors. seks hikayeleri He saw the train. He’d heard it sigh. Twenty pounds and a big hand that took his. Remembrances.

The light in the cottage moved in the irregular ripples of the glass as William and Nanny sought their bed. Prize ran his hand along the top of the wall, his fingers hunting the smooth bits among the rough of the hornblende. Cold to his soul. The moon new. Tom in the bower waiting. Tom waiting for Danny and not Prize. Orion low on the hill of a winter-barren field.

He followed the path narrow as a deer trail through the bare trees. A low fire flickered ahead. Tom waited. Always to Tom. And why he waited astounded Prize. Tom so solid and strong. Tom who laughed and sang.

He saw Tom colored rose-gold as he crouched by the fire, poking at it with a stick. Warming his big hands over the newly risen flames. Tension in his shoulders. His head turned to catch the sound of twig catching in the fallen leaves. Prize stepped from the tangle of bare branches and watched the lines of worry fade as a smile caught the corners of Tom’s lips.

“Danny, ye came. I feared ye wouldn’t.”

Danny moved closer. Silent.

“I’m sorry I pressed ye.” Tom extended his hand. “I wanted you to remember something good.” Prize frowned. “Not for me. For yer sake.” Tom rose. “I wanted it for you. Please, oh Danny, please.” Tom stood. “Ye listen to my stories of chasing sheep and playing pirate and ye look so wanting them to be yer stories. I see it and it breaks my heart. I thought you surely had yer own.”

Tom stood back and pushed his tumble of curls off his forehead. “I was wrong.”

And Danny stepped closer. A wild thing drawn to the fire. “No, you wanted to help. Maybe not help, but you did what you thought right.” Danny felt the cold and wrapped his arms across his chest. “I’m the one who’s sorry. Sorry that I was angry. Sorry I couldn’t give you what you wanted.” He moved, adjusting to flee.

Tom covered the distance, one, two strides and folded Danny in his arms. “Yer, what I want. All of ye. It’s Danny Prize that stands here. Yer shivering.”

“It’s the cold.”

Tom pulled him to the fire and wrapped him in the blanket and held him to his chest. He rested his chin on the black hair and rocked him in the heat of his arms. “It’s over and gone. God, I wish ye knew it like I do.”

Danny relaxed and let the warmth fill him and wondered that a good man like Tom loved him. Someone like him when it wasn’t over and it wasn’t gone.

Tom’s arm slid up his back and Danny tipped his head back to rest on the strong arm. The light of the fire played along his face and neck. The knotted muscles relaxed. A deep breath held and slowly exhaled. It was the way he tipped his head and exposed his neck in trust that broke Tom’s heart every time. It was when he did that that Tom knew Danny would stay tonight. The Danny who loved and accepted love. He leaned down and placed a soft row of kisses across the exposed neck and lingered at the last kiss to feel the pulse urgent and strong.

Danny turned in his arms, throwing a leg wide, and straddled his lap. He pushed his hips forward to press Tom’s growing erection with his own. He reached for the top button and let it slip slowly free of the buttonhole. Each button worked free. He slid his hands into the shirt and pushed them along the strong sides to grasp the muscled back. Leaning forward he brushed his cheek on the blond curls and took the nipple between is lips and sucked it gently. The low fire crackled behind them and Tom sighed and let a low sound rumble up from his chest.

“An unhappy growl?”

Tom laughed and pulled Danny close to kiss his full lips. A gust of cold wind touched Danny’s back and he shivered.

“Come back and lay yerself on the blankets. I’ve taken the chill off it with rocks from the fire. I’ll warm ye more.” Tom lifted the black hair and kissed the spot below Danny’s ear. The spot that turned his muscles to water and his prick to iron.

Danny pulled away. “Not yet.” He reached up and pushed the open shirt and coat off Tom’s shoulders. The cold air played along his chest, giving rise to gooseflesh. “Not yet.” And he kissed Tom’s collarbone and left a trail of kisses down the center of his chest. The gooseflesh followed, causing the blond hair to rise. The ripple ran past the band of Tom’s trousers and tickled down into his groin. The growl vibrated up Tom’s throat and Danny laughed.

“Please, Danny, while the heats still in the blankets.”

“Not yet.” Danny ran his hand down Tom’s left leg and felt the flex and vibration of the muscles there. He untied the work shoe and pulled it off the long foot. Rolled down the thick sock. Placed a kiss on the pale arch.

The rumble rising died in Tom’s chest. The tension in the muscles changed. A large hand lifted Danny’s head.

“Come kiss my lips. I’ll no have ye kissing my dirty, old feet. I’m shamed I didna think to wash them.”

Danny turned his head and smiled. His hair slid along the arch. A tremble skittered up Tom’s calf and thigh. “There’s nothing about you that doesn’t make me love you. There’s nothing shameful nothing bad.” But he stopped and moved to the other foot to remove the shoe and sock.

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