Sound and Fury, an Open Mic via Zoom event Hosted by Laura Antoniou and A Plague of Players, will be live on Sunday, September 20th, 2:pm EST. You can look it up on FaceBook: search for A Plague of Players.
I'm reading an excerpt from my Elizabethan--era story, and I'm posting the entire story here so that anyone intrigued by my reading can see all the rest
“A Dance of Queens” features two actors from the very first production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” with Queen Elizabeth herself in Titania’s disguise, nostalgic for her youth when she might roam free, masked, through Midsummer revelries. All mingle in a scene enabled by the Puck theirself, in no way imprisoned always in a man’s form, presenting as a dwarf servingwoman to the Queen.
Originally published in Hanne Block’s Best Transgender Erotica, reprinted in a collection of my own work, A Ride to Remember, and featured on The Nobilis Erotica Podcast.
A Dance of Queens
Midsummer's Night, the play safely done, dusk sweet as a languorous touch on yearning flesh...and still I could not take my love into the greenwood and lay her on my cloak and be consumed in her fire.
I cursed my own impatience. We should have pressed on without pause, but Quenta had tormented me so, slipping a hand beneath my shirt and then down into my breeches until I could scarce walk, and must stop for a taste of the feast to come.
So the Queen's messenger had caught us. And truly, by the shimmer in the air at the instant she appeared, I knew there had never been hope of escape. In the Welsh hills and valleys we have tales, more than tales, of such creatures, though I had thought the filth and disbelief of London must repel them. At another time I would have been glad that the green countryside along the Thames still held such folk. Glad or no, we had no choice now but to let the greenwood's promise fade into shadow.
Frustration pounded in my veins. I jerked away from Quenta's touch, the mere brush of her hand making me forget that I must not even think of "him" as "her" until we could be blessedly alone.
I focused on the wide skirt sailing just ahead. Though the farthingale was not devised with a lady dwarf in mind, its absurdity was more than countered by the messenger's bearing and the Queen's crest broidered on her sleeve. It scarcely needed Quenta's nudge to put me on guard against those keen, merry eyes, though they looked up at me from about the level of my belt.
Such danger should have chilled my ardor. But surely the Queen would waste little time on us, might have forgotten already her whim. At most there could be a gracious word or two, perhaps a small purse. Why, then, command that we bring our play-garb? A jest among her ladies?
But in the great bedchamber we found Her Majesty alone, a slim, pale figure whose aura crackled through the paneled room like heat-lightning.
Our diminutive guide swept a curtsy. "The player boys, Madam. Quentin O'Connor and Kit Rhys."
Bright, tired eyes assessed us. "Well enough, Gwen. Now keep us private for a bit." The attendant gave me a wicked sidelong glance as she went to sit between the great oak door and the carven screen before it.
Quenta elbowed me sharply. I joined her in an elegant stage bow, feeling the royal glance caress our snug-hosed calves. Her Majesty was said to have ever an eye for a well-turned leg; if it went farther than a look, or a leg… But I had never heard so much as rumor that it did.
Her voice was cool enough. "So, Titania and Hippolyta. You played the queen's part well, each in your own way."
"Never so well as you, Your Highness." Quenta's green eyes gleamed wickedly, and I suppressed a groan. This was no time for her sly wit!
An answering gleam lit the Queen's eyes. "Ah, but I have performed the role far longer!" Her face seemed less weary now; it was hard to credit that she had more than twice our years. "Do you not think I could play Queen of Faery as well as England's monarch?"
I tried to break the manic current between them. "Yes, in truth, Highness. Or Queen of Amazons, or any ruler ever conceived." I knelt with Hippolyta's tunic and gilded leather breastplate across one knee. Her gaze turned toward me, lingering on my long legs; I felt as when Quenta would stroke me from calf to thigh and beyond, and my flesh would melt and surge in sweet torment.
"I have not your height, lad, to play the Amazon," she said. "You did well enough, though one could scarcely credit that you would ever yield to Duke Theseus, whether in battle or in marriage bed. But come, it was bravely played, if a slighter part than Titania's."
She turned to Quenta with a thoughtful look. "Have you two played Master Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet?' You would suit well as lovers."
Did she toy with us? What hope had we against the wits of one who played with envoys, kings, even the Pope, for her own and England's gain?
"Quentin is acclaimed as Juliet," I answered cautiously, "but to tell truth, Hippolyta is my first speaking part, and well may be my last. I am more like to play an accompanying lute, or rattle distant armor."
"It is an awkward age, I know," she said. "Your voice is nigh too low already for a woman's part. Indeed..." Those keen eyes scrutinized us closely. "I might think you both somewhat old for boy players."
I tensed inwardly, forcing my body to reveal nothing. To stifle Quenta's special genius would be a crime against art, against life itself! But if she were judged to be a woman... A woman appearing upon the public stage was such outrage that the penalty could only be surmised.
Quenta laughed, and in that instant the tilt of her head, the cock of hip and shoulder, were entirely those of a brash youth. "I can play you any age, Lady, any sex." She took on the bombastic voice and gestures of Bottom the Weaver. "I can play you a roaring Lion, or a most excellent Wall..." and then her voice softened, its husky purr making my flesh quiver with longing for the velvet touch of her tongue. "Or I can be the Lady Moon herself."
She stepped toward the high window, every motion, every line now utterly female, despite the padded trunk-hose muffling the sweet curves of her hips. Had I been a jot closer my hand would have slipped of its own accord between cloth and smooth, seductive skin. And had she turned, and my fingers found what waited between her thighs....
"Look you, Lady, how the new moon burns, no silver bow, but a crescent slit through which the passions of the sky pour forth. Can you not see in me that same bright fire?"
And she was, in truth, the very essence of the new moon, its tremulous yearning in her slim grace, its hot intensity in her smoldering eyes. Then I stepped toward her and broke the spell, and it was not her madness but mine that gave us away.
"Sirrah! Do not force me to see that which were better kept hidden!" If the Queen sensed that we were lovers, she had no wish to bring it to an issue. I did not think that she had yet sensed more.
"But Titania may see what England's Queen may not." Quenta knelt, proffering her red wig, leaf-green draperies and silver demi-mask. "On Midsummer's Night, the fancies of mortal and fairy alike may roam free. Come with us, Lady, to observe their merry frolics!"
Even through my outrage I saw what Quenta had recognized at once. Though the Queen might conceal it even from herself, it was for this we had been summoned.
A moment of hesitation; then she took the silver mask. "In truth, I have a fancy to see my host's estate by moonlight. You shall escort me, and together we shall see 'what fools these mortals be.'" She caught my eye. "Yes, lad, I know, none better, how mortal and therefore foolish even a queen may be. That is my own affair. Send Gwen to me, and wait behind the screen." But Gwen was beside her already, the sole evidence of her passing the twinge of a playful pinch upon my rump.
When the Queen was ready Gwen went sedately enough before us. I could not discern how she bespelled each guard we passed, but it was clear that none could see her mistress until we were well outside and mingling with the crowd.
The Lord Chancellor's estate was alight as though to cancel out entirely this shortest night of the year. Near the great house lords and ladies strolled the torch-lit paths, or clung together in the shadowy embrace of shrubberies. Farther off, where the village clustered around the river landing, a bonfire flared and crackled and smoke hovered in the sky like a lecherous ogre.
Habitual command mingled with laughter in the voice that urged me forward. "Come, they can have devised no cruder games than when last I walked free on a Midsummer's Night, though it were half a lifetime ago."
Quenta, just behind me, slid her hand between my thighs, and I had no choice but to move forward or turn and punish her as she deserved.
Two Quentas imprisoned me, both shimmering with manic energy, both intent on torture. The green-draped lady on my right had every movement, every gesture, even the voice of Quenta-as-Titania. No actor could have surpassed her.
On my left pranced my infuriating love in full boy-mode, her russet hair swept up under a jaunty feathered cap. At every step her hand and hip and shoulder nudged and stroked me. The Queen might not see, but Gwen, trotting behind, smiled slyly.
Much more of this and I would be unfit to walk at all. In the bedchamber, as we had waited behind the screen, Quenta's seeking hands and mouth had maddened me until I grasped both wrists and held her away. Then she flicked her mobile tongue at me, and I could only muffle my groans in the hollow of her throat. This too Gwen had seen as she came to fetch us.
My arousal was mounting all too close to pain. "Quentin, you unmannered lout, take the Lady's other side!"
The Queen cocked a brow at my strangled tone, but held out a regal arm, and Quenta moved to take it. A glance behind showed a broad grin on Gwen's round face.
The Queen seemed drawn to all the bawdiest displays. She cheered on village maidens belaboring the pale hairy bum of a hapless stock-bound miscreant, and would have taken a switch to him herself had I not diverted her attention to two buxom wenches admiring the massive virtues of a docile bull, while their blushing swains tried to draw them onward.
A cluster of tipsy revelers drew us to the village square. I could hear the clown Will Kemp's falsetto above the laughter; he was a noted player in our troupe, and always rare entertainment. Then I saw his companion, and hoped short Gwen would take no offense.
Will pranced in strumpet's garb across a rough stage, swinging padded rump, while Long Tom the tumbling dwarf somersaulted in mock pursuit. Another time I would have laughed at their antics, and later bought an ale for Tom and traded japes in Welsh; he was a good man, philosophical, adept at using what he had to earn his living.
What he had, besides acrobatic skill and a merry black-bearded face, was the largest codpiece I have ever seen and ample means to fill it. A stallion might have envied his endowment.
Will crouched, and swung his bum into Tom's jutting cock. Tom tumbled and bounced and vaulted back, while the crowd howled, and my face burned. I tried to back my party out of the throng.
We were almost clear when I heard a gasp of outrage. I turned, and saw whose hands clutched at Gwen, and perversely welcomed this vent for my frustration.
That sniveling whoreson weasel's whelp Dick Fry, talebearer and eternal understudy! "Ho, Rhys," he hailed me. "Come help me toss this hobgoblin up on stage with t'other! What, no stomach for sport?"
Quenta gripped her dagger. Gwen narrowed her eyes, and Dick's ears and nose began to lengthen and grow hairy. It would have made a rare spectacle, but the Queen must not be found out.
"The lady is with me, you lout! Would you feel my fist smashing through that empty travesty you call a codpiece?" I moved so close he had to peer upward at me. "Do you wet yourself dreaming of my fist mangling your puny balls?" Fear flickered in his eyes, and rage, and something else; I pushed him away in disgust and led my company past the gawking bystanders.
"Lucky for that one you were here," Gwen muttered in Welsh, and spat in the direction Dick had gone.
A slim, imperious hand gripped my shoulder. "Enough, lad. You have done nobly, but the Midsummer's magic I recalled is gone forever."
"Nay, lady, there is magic still!" Quenta's eyes glowed cat-like in the torchlight. "Kit has found a place a fairy queen might lie, and takes me there this night. We shall see what magic three queens together may ignite!"
I could have wrung her slim white neck. The Queen, though, waved dismissively. "I doubt not such a tryst is meant for two alone. Only see me back to the Hall, and then be off wherever youth and Midsummer madness lead you." She took my arm. "You may divert me as we go. Is there indeed 'a bank where the wild thyme blows.... With sweet musk roses and with eglantine?'"
"As to that, Lady, the scent was more of mint and fern. I saw daisies but no roses, though there were berry brambles aplenty. Perhaps by daylight you might view it."
"Ay, perhaps." Her voice was bleak.
"Now!" said Quenta. "Now, by moonlight, or not at all!" Her fierce eyes held mine, her meaning all too clear. When I turned toward the greenwood the Queen, a gleam restored in her eye, did not demur.
The way was not so far that the Queen might tire. Indeed, I recalled, Her Majesty was known to out-ride and out-walk her courtiers, and out-last them on the dance floor, too, however fast or subtly sensuous the steps.
Earlier in the day I had followed a stream upcurrent to a place where the waters split and merged again, leaving an islet in their midst. Wading across had been easy, cutting my way through brambles harder, but the reward had been a grassy glade spangled with flowers and hidden from all but the sky.
Here I could bring my love where the rush of water would drown the wild, raw cries her touches forced from me. Always in the city I must stifle my voice, and my pleasure. But here, alone...
To be alone! But, now, not to be.
I waded across with Quenta first. She resisted being carried, but I clung to that remnant of my fantasy despite the temptation to drop her in the deepest water. When she guessed my mood and clung, other temptations rose to nearly overwhelm me.
"It was you who taught me, love, that the magic must be shared," she murmured, and laid a trail of kisses across my throat.
"Between two, yes! Solitary pleasures are paltry trifles! But three? And one of these the Queen? Your madness goes too far!"
"Yours has ever kept pace before! Truly, Kit, you always know my needs, better than I know myself. Open yourself to hers!"
"'Open?' You cannot mean..." but she had slipped from my grasp and danced away, her torch flickering eerily through the brambles.
I hoped that the Queen might have regained some sense, until I saw the torch set into the stream bank reflect from eyes gone fey and feral. "It is the Queen of Faery who goes abroad this night," she murmured, "and all she sees shall be no more than fairy-tale."
As I lifted her she leaned her head far back to watch the moon and trailed one hand into the stream, and I had to press her close for balance. She felt so like Quenta--or perhaps moonlight on the water dazzled my eyes and other senses--but when I set her on the bank my blood raced despite the water's chill.
Going back for Gwen did little to cool me. Anger played as great a part as arousal; both vixens would be well served to be marooned while I looked elsewhere for ease of my throbbing flesh.
I noted again how compact in form Gwen stood, her mouth scarcely above the level of my loins...
Gwen knew that look. "Nay, youngling, my taste is for meat less tender. Do we but get my Lady safe home before dawn, I am appointed to meet a certain short tumbler and countryman for deep conversation." She gave my thigh a shove. "Go to, distract the Queen from her melancholy. For once she shall be entertained by earthly pleasures on a Midsummer's Night. When she lies safe again in her bed both Tom and I will thank you; for now, I wait and ward here."
Across the water light flickered from the torches left in readiness. No doubt Quenta had also found my bed of heaped sweetfern and the basket of strawberries and flask of wine. Damn her capricious impulse! I ached so for the promised tryst...
Gwen whacked me ungently across the buttocks. "Go to, young fool, or they'll begin without you! And do not doubt that I shall see all!"
Such moonlight poured across the little glade that the slender crescent seemed to burn as fiercely as my desire. Pale daisy faces glowed with inner life, and fireflies' lanterns pulsed in shadowy bushes--or had Gwen provided fairy lights? The torches were scarce needed.
The Queen reclined on the cloak-spread bed, but I had eyes only for Quenta. Moonlight bathed her pale, smooth skin, flowing over every inch, as she stood, her back to us, naked and trembling and lovely before our eyes. When she looked over her shoulder her eyes were moon-glazed jewels.
"Now, sprite," said Titania, "now that your companion is come, you may reveal what you truly are, if you think I have not guessed."
I could scarce keep from laying hands on Quenta. There was no way now to play this scene save by whatever mad script she had devised, though my heart ached that my acceptance, my love, was not enough to allow her to accept herself.
"Some would call me hermaphrodite, Lady," she murmured huskily. "My mother named me son on scant evidence, and my father so wished to believe that he deceived himself. You will find me writ on the parish roles as male."
The Queen raised narrow brows. "I do not presume to question parish records, but I would judge of this evidence myself."
I held my breath as Quenta turned, all bravado fled.
For long moments the Queen surveyed her; the small tilted breasts; the slender waist curving into gently flaring hips; the small, dainty cock nestling amidst tawny curls above the woman's shadowed cleft.
When at last it came the royal voice held not shock, but years of anguish.
"Had I shown evidence twice as scant, my mother's neck had escaped the ax! Could my father the King have believed me a son...." Her voice sank almost too low to hear. "How many noble souls might have been spared...."
I fell to my knees before her. That she should feel self-loathing, after all she had done to make England strong!
"Nay, Madam, never wish yourself other! What was't you said before the troops when the Armada threatened? That you had 'the body of a weak feeble woman...but the heart and stomach of a king, and a king of England too...' Such a heart in such a body serves England best of all!"
"It may be so." She summoned up a smile and spoke to Quenta, who knelt now beside me. "Enough of idle speculation. I had guessed, of course, that you were no boy; I would not have come merely to witness love of Plato's Athenian sort." She turned to me. "You tell me, sir, is this eldritch chimaera male or female? I'll warrant your judgment can be trusted on that score!"
"She is my love," I said simply. "Her form is to me perfect and unique, but I would love her had she horns and a tail."
"You might well love me even better!" Quenta sprang up and twirled around the glade, her wild mood renewed. "Come, show how you love me!" She pulled me up and pressed tight against me, fingers busy in the lacings of my doublet.
"Show you? You know all too well!" I caught her hands. "Is it the audience you play to that quickens your blood? Best be sure she has a taste for such display!"
Titania's eyes were dark behind the silver demi-mask. "Play on," she murmured, and in her tone I heard regret, and sorrow, and the yearnings of a passionate heart too long reined in.
"Nay, Kit, truly, you alone inflame me." Quenta's eyes held mine; my hold slackened and her hands slipped free to brush my face, my lips, my throat, and then my chest in quicksilver, fire-trailing strokes. "Please, Kit, please, touch me, let me touch you..." Her husky voice deepened, throbbing in resonance with the pounding of my blood.
I pulled her close to still her fingers, but the press of her firm breasts was yet more maddening. I ran my hands over smooth back and waist and hips, cupped them over pert, rounded buttocks and lifted her whole body tightly against my hunger. "Your skin is chilled, love."
"Then give me your shirt." She laughed into my face and pulled open my doublet. When she drew up my shirt and worked her mouth across my chest I knew that I was lost, that not even the icy stream could quench this fire.
"And take off your hose and breeches, too, you are so wet against me!" One hand slipped far down between cloth and flesh and I felt myself grow ever wetter, and hotter too, despite the chill from the wading of the stream.
"Which will you bare first?" she purred, a wicked light flickering in her eyes as fireflies flickered in the grass around us and their throbbing points of light seemed to spark in my own depths.
It scarcely mattered. I chose what might by a fraction be the lesser shock. I tossed my doublet aside and pulled off my shirt, draping it around Quenta's chilly shoulders while she tore at bindings grown unbearable and let my aching breasts surge free.
"Not Athens." My breath caught as Quenta's soothing strokes became a torment that made me ever fuller and more sore. "Not Athens, Lady, but Sappho's Isle of Lesbos. Though I resist the constraints of a woman's body, I rejoice always in its pleasures."
This, she had not foreseen. The mask dropped; her eyes were wide.
"Please, Kit, please..." Quenta tugged at my belt while her hot mouth drove my breasts and nipples taut and aching with the need for more. "Please, I must..." Her voice was muffled against my swollen flesh.
"Slowly," I soothed, though I could scarcely speak. "The slower the sweeter, love." As ever, she who had teased and maddened me for hours was now all desperate haste, while to me each stab of pleasure promised such further, keener pangs that I would not give up any part to leap too quickly to release.
I kicked off wet boots and wriggled out of breeches and hose, Quenta's hands more distraction than help. Then I half-turned that the Queen might see I had no such exotic equipage as my love.
Her gaze moved over me from head to foot, taking in my length and strength and the incongruous swellings of a woman's body. A fierce longing for her approval swept me; now I understood what drove Quenta to reveal herself.
"You are the Amazon indeed," the Queen murmured at last, "and you," to Quenta, "a most exquisite Queen of Sprites." Then she laughed. "Master Shakespeare had it skewed, to say Hippolyta dallied with Oberon and Titania with Duke Theseus. Yours promises to be the better play, in truth!"
"Not so much play as dance, Lady, with intricate and subtle steps." I gazed into Quenta's eyes, holding her to stillness as my hands devoured the sweet curves of her body. She tried valiantly to wait, to savor, as I put my mouth to her small pouting breasts. She trembled, and her breath came in quick soft moans, as I licked and gently bit at her thrusting nipples.
Then her hips began to sway, and twist, and she clutched at me, and since the bed was occupied there was nothing for it but to lift her up along my body until that sweet seeking little dagger, no more in truth than a greatly inflated clitoris, pressed against my own.
She cried out, and clung to me with arms and thighs. I stilled, knowing her needs, that every movement must be hers now, every pressure, lest the rapture of her wondrous engorgement turn to pain. The lightest stroke of my hand, my tongue, could tip the balance.
As steadily as could be I endured the piercing stabs of pleasure. Rough moans escaped me as she arched and writhed against my mound, but from her there came only a keening so faint it might have floated from a distant world.
All at once she flung back her head, the moon mirrored in wild, half-closed eyes. "Now love, now!"
But already I had slipped one hand between our bodies and into her ready heat. Two fingers, deep and gently deeper, probing and pressing into her hunger; and now at last her cries burst forth, her slippery depths clutched at me, her great hard clit vibrated against mine; and my joy in her joy came near to overwhelming me.
Still there was more I must, would, have. I held her while spasms dwindled into trembling and her breath at long last slowed. Then I loosed my hold, and she slid gradually down my length, her mobile mouth teasing and caressing all the way until she knelt before me.
"Do you lag behind, love?" Her laugh was still unsteady. "Come, you will overtake me yet." She moved her hands over my hips until they pressed into my tingling buttocks, then pulled me toward her. My clit, still aquiver, leapt at the subtle flick of her tongue.
I tangled my fingers in her moon-burnished hair as she drove me to new extremes. Moans racked me as she nudged my thighs apart and thrust her long supple tongue up into my molten cunt. Deep inside me a bright slim moon seemed to pulse and swell into full roundness.
Pleasure surged and pounded through me. My own rasping cries seemed far away as I rode the waves, striving still for more, and more, needing something more with an incoherent desperation....
And then a warm body pressed against my back. A voice murmured low into my ear, "Surely this figure can be danced by three!" Slim arms wrapped about me from behind; long clever fingers cupped and weighed my full breasts, making the aching pressure build and build; and when she curved her palms around my nipples and circled them so lightly that the hardened tips must strain and thrust into her touch, it was the final stroke. My clit strained and thrust too, and my cunt clenched and swallowed at the firm flame of Quenta's tongue, until the moon exploded inside me in a roaring burst of tangible light.
Or perhaps the roaring was my own. When at last awareness spread beyond receding ecstasy I felt hot breath on my shoulder, and a voice, hesitant yet tinged with laughter, murmured in my ear; "And can you make me sing so, as well as dance?"
Her arms were tight about me as her body swayed and rubbed against mine, breasts stroking my back, soft belly pressed beseechingly into the curve of my buttocks.
"Yea, Lady, you shall sing as full and sweet as any!" Quenta toppled us both onto the sweetfern bed and sprawled atop us; and there indeed we tasted royal flesh and royal passion, and taught the woman within to sing, taught her most thoroughly the joys of the body fate had decreed.
We had no doubt that the spirit of Midsummer accepted our triple offering as graciously as that of any mundane coupling. As wave followed wave of pleasure my lovers took on a glow of celestial light, Quenta the silver of the moon, our Queen the royal gold of the sun; while I, the dark earth, absorbed and radiated back their overlapping aurae. Bright sparks like stars flashed and swirled above us, while a swooping comet bore the grin and wicked eyes of Gwen.
Much later we laughed together and soothed our throats with wine and berries. When Gwen's muted whistle sounded we looked up bemused; the moon hung low and the first faint harbingers of morning streaked the sky. I thought of her assignation with Tom and felt some guilt, but when we had made our way across the water she only smiled at the sweetfern clinging to the Queen and made no reproach.
"Ah, Gwen," said her Lady, somewhat ruefully, "I doubt but that I have forfeited the name of 'Virgin Queen.'"
"No such thing, Madam," Gwen said cheerfully, hurrying us along deserted pathways. "It is the Queen's English, after all, and means whatever the Queen decrees."
She brought us to the great house sooner than humanly possible, and maid and mistress slipped in through a small side door that took shape even as we watched. When Gwen reappeared with jeweled tokens from the Queen, I bade her give Tom my apologies. Her grin flashed bright, and then she sobered.
"No matter. Our sweet Lady has more need of you than you can know, for service quite apart from this night's frolic. Neither of you will strut upon the stage much longer; who would credit such protracted youth? But two who act so well can do it on the Queen's behalf, and be her eyes and ears about the world. Be sure I will send soon to tell you of her needs."
"We are truly hers, body and soul," I said. "But Gwen...who, or what, are you?"
"Need you ask?" she said impatiently. "The realm of Faery takes yet a care for England's welfare, and for her rightful monarch. As for me, think you the Puck must be ever prisoned in male form?" It took her sharp pinch to make me close my gaping mouth.
"For now, begone, before suspicious daylight catch us all." She gave us each a solid whack across our flanks.
Daylight be damned. I held Quenta close as we went toward the players' quarters.
"There is much danger in this business, Love," I warned her.
"'Tis true," she answered, "but you know as well as I there is no drawing back. We are as bound now to our royal mistress as to each other."
She spoke the truth. I lengthened my stride to match the skipping haste of hers, feeling anew the desire that was ever my torment and my joy; and when I squeezed her hand I felt within my grasp as well the long, slim, sensuous fingers of the royal hand that would ever hold us fast.