Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Publication date: November 21, 2016
Length: 130 pages
Kikeru, the child of a priestess at the sacred temple of Knossos in ancient Crete, believes that the goddesses are laughing at him. They expect him to choose whether he is a man or a woman, when he’s both. They expect him to choose whether to be a husband to a wife, or a celibate priestess in the temple, when all he wants to do is invent things and be with the person he loves.
Unfortunately, that person is Rusa, the handsome ship owner who is most decidedly a man and therefore off-limits no matter what he chooses. And did he mention that the goddesses also expect him to avert war with the Greeks?
The Greeks have an army. Kikeru has his mother, Maja, who is pressuring him to give her grandchildren; Jadikira, Rusa’s pregnant daughter; and superstitious Rusa, who is terrified of what the goddesses will think of him being in love with one of their chosen ones.
It’s a tall order to save Crete from conquest, win his love, and keep both halves of himself. Luckily, at least the daemons are on his side.
In fact, the stranger seemed to have knelt in the sand next to him, the arm belonging to that hand loosely draped around Kikeru’s back with a diffident pressure, willing to be shrugged off. Kikeru’s temple etiquette lessons did not stretch to what to do in a situation like this, but all the many levels of his mind had become single at this moment, and all his complexities had become simple. He went with what felt right and turned himself into the stranger’s shade.
“Were they right about the sunstroke?” his rescuer asked, the growl of his deep voice softened in concern. “Do you need water? Somewhere cool to sit?”
Kikeru leaned back into the encircling arm, and it snugged him a little closer, supportive rather than demanding. He thought it unusual in the circumstances that he should not mind the press of the man’s naked chest against the bare skin of his flank, solid, strong, and comforting, but he didn’t. It was a reminder perhaps that this was what manhood was for. Not to assault but to protect. Whether or not Kikeru was a man, he wasn’t sure, but he certainly didn’t want to be whatever it was the Achaeans meant when they used the word.
He rubbed the tears from his eyes, smearing black kohl over his fists and face. At least the fish gouge had stopped bleeding, though it had filled the palm of his hand with crimson now darkening into tacky brown. He smelled of rank fear-sweat and blood and dead fish. It made him laugh, and laughter helped reknit the sinews in his legs. Looking up, a little afraid of what he might see, he got his first real glimpse of the stranger’s face.
A good one. The man was perhaps on the older side of his prime—laughter lines fanned out from his eyes and marked the corners of his mouth with crescents, but vigour and vitality shone from his face like the kindly spring. His undressed, unbound hair was drying into long black waves, touched with brown umber, and his dark honey eyes were watching Kikeru with a warmth and a gentleness that made Kikeru’s affronted heart untwist inside him like a lily unpacking itself from its bud.
Naturally he had to express this by choking and blushing furiously while he tried to smother the coughing fit that followed. “I’m, ah . . .” He offered his hands in evidence, once he had mastered his breathing enough to laugh again. “I’m hideous. Water would be good.”
He could see where the man had got his crescent lines—he was grinning now, but it was a friendly grin, a grin that laughed with Kikeru rather than at him. “Let’s offer your dirt to the sea.”
He rose like a mountain rising. Kikeru tried not to stare, but no, he had not been imagining the size of the man. If anything, in his panic, he had been underestimating it.
Oh, he’d missed the hand being held out to help him up. One of the many daemons in the debating committee of his mind told him he’d been inappropriate again—he’d been off in the spirit world and lost track. He should do something to make it right. “Kikeru,” he said, and grasped the hand.
“No, my name’s Rusa,” the stranger said, droll and amused. Kikeru rolled his eyes and tested his knees beneath him. They held firm, but he leaned into Rusa’s continuing support anyway as they paced through the shifting sands and down into the ocean.
Cold at his toes, it was yielding and moving and fresh on his legs. Waist-deep, he became aware of its strength, pushing and rocking him. He spread out his arms, shut his eyes, and toppled backwards into the life-giving splash of its clean water. It closed over his face like the caul of birth, and he let it lift the dirt from him, from his face and his hands and his heart.
When he came up, the sea was piercingly pure, turquoise blue, clear down to the fish swimming by his feet. The long braids of his hair tugged pleasantly against his scalp, his unclogged nose scented woodsmoke and roasting fish. The sky was bright all around him. He was not, to his mother’s despair, a religious person, but sometimes Poteidon’s hand was easy to discern even for him.
“Better?” Rusa asked, standing close by with the spear, points up, poised in his hand. If Poteidon had chosen a human form he could not have done better. Floating, rocking on the waves, Kikeru smiled back.
“Much. Thank you for intervening. I think you saved my life.”
Rusa twitched a large shoulder like an ox shaking off a hornet. “Why would they kill you? I know the Achaeans are . . .”
The pause was eloquent. Ever since the foreigners had come to Crete, they had brought their notions with them. Profoundly wrong notions that created cruel people. They even twisted the goddesses, and they resisted the untwisting, as though they preferred them that way. “The Greeks are strange, but they usually have some reason for their actions. I mean, you’re beautiful, and they don’t need any more reason than that to . . . But killing? Why?”
Kikeru walked out from the sea, squeezing the water from his plaits, with his smile turned away. Beautiful? He wished he was. He wished his long, lean frame would put on some curves. If he could gain just a little flesh in the chest, he could pinch it in and mould it and look more finished, more complete, instead of the bony boyish thing he was now. But beautiful still brought the petals of his soul out of the unfurling bud.
In squeezing his hair dry, he forgot the ivory stylus he had threaded through one lock, and pushed its blunt point painfully into his palm.
“Ow!” he said, and then his wrist was caught and Rusa was looking at the red indentation and the fish’s bite with a quizzical smile.
“You don’t need Achaeans, do you? Look,” he pointed to a flat stone further up the beach on which a nest of sticks smouldered, the source of the smell. “Come and share my catch. I’ll cook—your hands have suffered enough. And you can tell me everything.”
The flat stone was within sight of the harbour and the tallest of the gleaming houses of the town. Rusa swept away the remaining pebbles around it and offered him the bare space. In the distance, a sleek white ship with a flower-garlanded canopy at its stern had just finished rowing out into the offshore winds and was dropping its sail. Kikeru watched it while he tried to martial his thoughts, distracted by Rusa’s movements. The man had a bag here and a cloak and he was rummaging about in them while the light shone in tantalizing shadows on the muscles of his back and thighs. Kiltless, his loincloth at the back was little more than a white line between his buttocks and—
And Kikeru ought not to be looking. He focused hard on the ship just as Rusa turned around.
“I—” he stammered. “Huh.” Where to start? “I am the child of Maja, priestess of Potnia Theron. We live in the palace, and I . . . I make things. I look at how things work, and I improve them. I study the world around me, and I use what I find to create new things—things that no one has ever thought of before.”
Rusa set a wineskin in front of him, then he raked the smoking ashes of his fire from the top of a leaf-wrapped parcel of fish. He gave Kikeru a darting glimpse of approval from his honey-gold eyes. “I thought so—you have a look about you as though you’re seeing more worlds than the rest of us.”
Kikeru sighed. Was it that obvious? He didn’t really want to be set apart for the goddess. She might have consulted with him before she made him this supple, middling thing with fizz for brains. It was nice to be holy, perhaps, but what he really wanted was to be normal.
He took a pull at the wineskin and accepted a handful of cool seaweed with a chunk of baked fish on top. The scent of olive oil and thyme rose from the food and made his cheeks ache with watering.
“I came down from Knossos this morning to walk and think. I am of an age to be married.”
About Alex Beecroft
Alex Beecroft is an English author best known for historical fiction, notably Age of Sail, featuring gay characters and romantic storylines. Her novels and shorter works include paranormal, fantasy, and contemporary fiction.
Beecroft won Linden Bay Romance’s (now Samhain Publishing) Starlight Writing Competition in 2007 with her first novel, Captain’s Surrender, making it her first published book. On the subject of writing gay romance, Beecroft has appeared in the Charleston City Paper, LA Weekly, the New Haven Advocate, the Baltimore City Paper, and The Other Paper. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association of the UK and an occasional reviewer for the blog Speak Its Name, which highlights historical gay fiction.
Alex was born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and grew up in the wild countryside of the English Peak District. She lives with her husband and two children in a little village near Cambridge and tries to avoid being mistaken for a tourist.
Alex is only intermittently present in the real world. She has led a Saxon shield wall into battle, toiled as a Georgian kitchen maid, and recently taken up an 800-year-old form of English folk dance, but she still hasn’t learned to operate a mobile phone.
She is represented by Louise Fury of the L. Perkins Literary Agency.
Connect with Alex:
- Website: alexbeecroft.com
- Blog: alexbeecroft.com/blog
- Facebook: facebook.com/AlexBeecroftAuthor
- Twitter: @Alex_Beecroft
- Goodreads: goodreads.com/Alex_Beecroft
To celebrate the release of Labyrinth, one lucky winner will receive their choice of an eBook off Alex’s backlist! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on November 26, 2016. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!