John Hamilton-Smythe lay back on the sweet smelling heather and allowed his body to sink into the springy bed of moorland vegetation. He felt the warmth of the sun on his face and he pulled his hat across his eyes to shield them from the glare. He was conscious of a healthy burn in his leg muscles from the morning hike and a satisfied repletion following their substantial picnic lunch.
He reflected yet again that it had been an excellent idea to bring Richard to the North York Moors for an early autumn break before pressure of work made it impossible for them both to get away from London. His own caseload in Chambers was getting heavier and he was likely to have long stretches in court right up until the Christmas recess.
He knew he had been right to trust the forecast that the north of England would be enjoying an Indian summer. Walking the moors on days like this was such a pleasure. And how wise to ignore Richard’s complaints about Yorkshire always being cold and wet, especially in view of Richard’s thoughtless admission last night that this was his first visit to God’s Own County. Reaching for his discarded jacket, John bundled it up to form a comfortable pillow and slipped it under his head in preparation for a brief nap.
Meanwhile Dr Richard Evans wandered over to the nearest tree to relieve himself and then, turning back towards his resting partner, uttered a quiet groan of exasperation. He’d just had a week from hell at the hospital and, to cap it all, there was the little matter of a fixed penalty notice sitting accusingly in his desk drawer back home. It was bad enough to be dragged all the way to Yorkshire for a hiking holiday but now he was going to have to kick his heels for half an hour or so while John took a nap.
It didn’t occur to Richard to go and lie down beside his partner, despite the fact that the morning’s hike had taken its toll on leg muscles unused to so much exercise. He had been sitting beside John to eat their picnic lunch but once the rucksacks had been repacked his customary impatience had led him to stand up and start pacing around restlessly. Well used to Richard’s inexhaustible energy, John ignored his partner’s activity whilst privately resolving to take an extra break later that afternoon, by which time he judged that Richard would have run out of steam and be ready for a rest.
In the midst of such an open landscape it was a surprise that their picnic spot was situated beside a forest, but it was clearly not a natural feature. Even without the notice boards proclaiming the land to be the property of the Forestry Commission, the regular rows of identical pine trees made clear that this was planting on an industrial scale. Richard walked back to the edge of the forest and gazed along a line of uniformly straight trunks which were plainly intended for felling and cutting into planks. He couldn’t see far into the forest; the trees were planted so closely together that their branches cut out most of the light. However, the dark, damp interior exercised a powerful attraction as he realised that he had never explored a forest.
Without stopping to think how his sleeping partner would react when he woke up alone, Richard stepped out of the light into the darkness of the wood. The forest floor was largely devoid of vegetation but he found himself walking on a crunchy litter of pine needles and cones. In places where a little light penetrated the canopy, brambles and nettles had become established, the latter occasionally stinging his bare arms, while thorns on the brambles tore at his trousers and he had to stop from time to time to extricate himself from their grip. He pressed on, nonetheless, feeling a sense of adventure as the darkness closed around him.
He remembered the story of Hansel and Gretel lost in the woods and imagined himself as a child terrified by the dark. This must have been a common experience in past times, he thought, as further fairy stories featuring dark woods sprang to mind, stories like Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It occurred to him that children brought up in cities, as he had been, would have no way of relating to these traditional tales which reflected the fears of country dwellers. Lost in his reverie about children’s stories, Richard walked on until he became conscious that he'd been away some time. He was beginning to suspect that John would be less than pleased by his latest exploit so he turned round, intending to head back to his partner.
As he faced the way he'd come, he was shocked by the impenetrable gloom where he'd been expecting to see light at the edge of the forest. Then he berated himself for his stupidity. He hadn’t been able to see far into the forest from the outside. Given the distance he'd walked it was only logical that he would not be able to see out until he got back to where he started. He was beginning to feel the chill without his jacket and he tried to pick up the pace on the return leg. It was too dark to read his watch and he had no idea when he had entered the forest, so there was no way of judging how long it would take to get back. By the time he accepted the inescapable truth that he'd spent far longer walking back than he'd spent on the outward journey, without seeing any glimmer of light from the outside, Richard knew he was well and truly lost.
Capable of engaging in thoughtless and even dangerous behaviour himself, when faced with a genuine emergency Richard could be relied upon for a calm and measured response. He regularly made life and death decisions on behalf of his patients at the hospital. Now he recognised that by his careless conduct he'd placed himself at risk. Putting aside all thoughts of how John would deal with his behaviour, he concentrated on thinking of a way out of his predicament. He shouted John’s name but his cries were met with silence. Searching through his pockets his fingers closed with relief around his mobile phone. When he slid the phone open its backlight provided a welcoming glow and the battery symbol indicated that it was fully charged. Richard remembered with reawakening guilt that John had recharged the phone for him the night before, pointing out that they must not go out on the moors without a means of contacting one another in an emergency or of summoning help.
Now he opened his list of recent contacts and, knowing that John’s number would come up first, pressed the dial button. But the call failed. He took the phone from his ear and looked again at the display and this time he noted that he hadn’t got a signal. Maybe that wasn’t so surprising up on the moors but he remembered that John had used his all-singing, all-dancing device to pick up his office emails before lunch so clearly they were not totally out of transmitter range. It would just be a case of moving to a better location to pick up a signal and that usually meant moving to higher ground. Richard looked around the forest again and realised that it was on a slope. He hadn’t really noticed the incline earlier so he had no idea whether he had entered the forest at a higher or a lower level. However, if he concentrated on walking uphill he could at least be sure he would eventually reach an edge of the wood even if he exited well away from his partner. He was beginning to suspect that he'd been walking round in circles earlier and he needed to get out into the sunlight and warm up.
The sense of panic which had made itself felt when he was unable to contact John began to abate now that he'd fixed upon a clear course of action. He checked the time on his phone so that he could make some estimate of distance travelled and walked as briskly as the brambles allowed, trying to follow a straight course uphill. He walked until his legs began to ache but when faced with a clear stretch he broke into a jog in order to keep warm. It crossed his mind that John would not be pleased with him for going off into the forest without his jacket and then he dismissed the thought with the wry acknowledgement that leaving his jacket behind was going to figure quite low down on the list of his misdemeanours.
He knew that John would certainly be awake by now and would have realised that his partner was missing. John would also have worked out that there was only one place where he could possibly be: in the forest. Trying to predict what John would be doing, he decided that his partner would remain in their original location in the hope that they would soon be reunited. There was also the confidence of knowing that John had a signal on his phone and could summon assistance if necessary. Richard prayed that it wouldn’t be necessary. He couldn’t bear to think of the implications of a rescue on the moor. They’d probably call out the army and the story would make the national press. The consequences didn’t bear thinking about. Richard broke into a run in his desperation to reach the edge of the forest and, although he initially put it down to his own fevered imagination, he was finally convinced that he could see glimmerings of light.
When he finally emerged into the warm sunshine he looked round hopefully but there was no sign of John. That was unsurprising in view of the fact that the location was unrecognisable. It certainly wasn’t where they had stopped for lunch and it did not look like any of the places they'd passed on the morning hike. Richard walked further up the hillside in order to get a clearer view over the top of the trees and all the time he kept glancing at his phone to see if he had a signal. Now that he was on open ground he tried shouting again in the hope that his voice would carry but there was no reply, only the flutter of wings as a few agitated grouse flew out of the heather.
When Richard’s phone rang unexpectedly he was startled by the ring tone which seemed harsh and discordant in the silence of the moorland. Glancing down at the caller ID, he answered hesitantly, “Hello, John.”
“Where are you?” came the calm enquiry.
“I’m not sure,” Richard responded uncertainly.
“Well, why you don’t just tell me where you went and what you’ve done and I’ll try and work out where you are?”
There was just a hint of laughter with an underlying suggestion of exasperation in John’s tone. The lack of any sort of recrimination steadied Richard. He knew that he would undoubtedly face some uncomfortable questions in the future but John was making it clear that the first priority was locating his partner and making sure he was safe.
Safe: that was how John always made him feel. Richard might consider John to be bossy, too willing at times to discount his lover’s firmly expressed opinion and objections, but John’s reassuring voice delivered a powerful reminder of the security and protection he unfailingly provided. Richard took a deep breath and explained as concisely and neutrally as possible how he had strayed into the forest and how he had finally managed to find a way out.
John’s response was a surprise, “Well done, my love, for working out how to escape!”
The words of approbation left Richard feeling ridiculously pleased with himself and able to forget, for the moment at least, that he'd got himself into a tight spot in the first place.
“Now, I want to work out where you are,” John continued. “I’ve got the ordnance survey map here so it’s just a matter of identifying the key features of the landscape. Listen carefully. I want you to stand with the sun directly behind you and describe the lie of the land.”
Richard did his best but struggled to make himself understood. He didn’t really have the language to describe the moorland and dales he was looking at and he found it difficult to estimate distances in the open countryside.
Eventually John said, “I think I have an idea where you may be now and luckily we can easily check out whether I’m right. If you continue a short distance to the brow of the hill you should find a trig point. Walk straight up to the highest point, mind. Don’t stray off anywhere else and ring me back as soon as you reach the summit. Do you understand?”
“What’s a trig point?” Richard enquired in a small voice.
Richard set off to climb to the summit. He walked as fast as he could and was soon panting from the exertion. As he neared the brow of the hill the unmistakable outline of a concrete pillar, about four feet tall, emerged against the skyline and he gleefully called John to report his success.
“Right, I’m coming to get you,” Richard said. “I’m afraid it’s going to take me some time to skirt the forest. Don’t you dare move from that spot.” His voice dropped to a growl which immediately put Richard on the alert. “Now, you’re going to spend some time, my lad, thinking about how and why you finished up there. Are you standing right beside the trig point? Right, when I give the word you are to kneel in front of it with your hands on your head. And you’re to put the phone down in front of you where you can see and hear it. Do you understand me, Richard?”
Richard recognised that the tone of the conversation had undergone a subtle change and he replied promptly and politely, “Yes, sir.”
“Now, do it.”
John ended the call and Richard bent to place his phone on the concrete ledge running round the bottom of the trig point. He then straightened and nervously surveyed the landscape. Logically he knew there would be no witnesses to his humiliation but it didn’t feel right to kneel as instructed in the open air. On the other hand, having provided much needed reassurance, John was clearly ready to address the issues which had led to the latest emergency. Richard therefore concluded that obedience was the only option and sank reluctantly to his knees, clasping his fingers behind his head. If any hikers came upon him unexpectedly he would have to pretend he was engaged in some weird prayer ritual in front of this unlikely concrete altar. The excuse made him laugh and his immediate reaction was to think that John would find the idea amusing too.
Unable to engage in the restless wandering which would be his normal response to an anxious wait, Richard’s enforced immobility had a steadying and calming effect. He thought with affection of John’s uncritical and supportive response when they first re-established contact and he determined to show proper contrition and accept whatever penalty John saw fit to impose. He recalled John’s warning, given in the car driving north, about the dangers of getting lost on the moors and he also remembered his own casually given promise not to wander off. He had dismissed that conversation from his mind as yet another example of John’s bossiness but he knew with certainty that John would not have forgotten a single word of the exchange and would call him to account for his broken promise. Richard was surprised to find that he felt reassured by the inevitability of John’s response even as he experienced a slight involuntary shudder as he considered the likely punishment.
Immersed in these thoughts Richard was oblivious to the passage of time until the strain in his arms and shoulders caused him to lean forward and try to relieve the discomfort by resting his elbows against the cold concrete pillar. The sun which had warmed him as he emerged from the forest was sinking lower in the sky and the temperature was dropping. He wondered how much longer it would be before his partner reached him. John had said it would take some time to walk round the edge of the forest. What if John had misread the map and couldn’t find him? Richard began to worry about what he should do once it started to get dark and cold but his worries were cut short as his phone rang. He guiltily snatched his elbows away from the pillar before dismissing the absurd notion that John must somehow know that he was taking an unauthorised rest. However, it was a relief to stretch his arms out and bend to pick up the phone and accept the call.
John addressed him calmly but without preamble. “Stand up, please, my love. Now I want you to listen carefully to the following instructions. I want you to set the timer on your phone for two minutes. Can you do that?”
“I don’t have a timer on my phone.”
“Yes, you do. You’ve just never used it. Go into applications and you’ll find timer. You should be able to set it for two minutes. Ring me back when you’ve done it or if you have a problem. Okay?”
Richard just managed to stop himself asking why before he ended the call and successfully followed instructions. “I’ve set it for two minutes. I think I just have to press enter to activate it.”
“Well done. As soon as you activate the timer you are to spend two minutes doing press ups. You can then take a short rest, and I mean short, while you reset the timer and then you do sit ups for two minutes. The third two minute period will be spent running on the spot and then you begin the sequence again. Are you clear about that, Richard? Press ups, sit ups and running on the spot; two minutes each. And you continue that sequence until I contact you again.”
This time Richard couldn’t control his smart mouth. “North Yorkshire boot camp!” he muttered.
“I beg your pardon.”
“Nothing… I mean that’s quite clear, sir.”
“Right, get started.”
All thought about John’s whereabouts and the time it would take him to reach the trig point were forgotten as Richard cursed loud and long before activating the timer and stretching out on the ground with his hands flat on the grass. He began the exercise slowly but nonetheless the first two minutes seemed interminable. Although he'd played rugby at medical school his fitness level had declined once he began working and had so little time to work out. When the timer went off he collapsed gratefully with his face in the heather and took as long as he needed for his breathing to return to normal and his arms to stop shaking. Finally, he picked up his phone and reset the timer whilst picturing his partner in the hands of a sadistic personal trainer.
This pleasing fantasy got him through two minutes of slow motion sit ups and then he staggered to his feet and bent forward, putting his hands on his knees to ease the ache in his muscles. Two minutes running on the spot was almost restful after the exertion of the previous exercises but it could not banish the mental anguish of knowing that he had to begin the sequence again and continue for an indeterminate period.
After a timeout which he knew was longer than John would have permitted, he cast himself face down on the moorland grass once more. There was a faint sheen of sweat on his arms and his shirt was sticking to his shoulders.
‘At least I’m not going to freeze to death up here’, he thought angrily. But as he built up a rhythm he experienced a sense of well being as his body responded to the exercise. Maybe this wasn’t so bad after all. It was taking his mind off the waiting and worrying and it was certainly keeping him warm. And then the realisation hit him that this was exactly what John intended.
“You bastard,” he whispered, his tone laughing and affectionate. “You cunning bastard.”
After that he concentrated on steadily pacing himself and taking short rests until he felt he could continue with the exercise sequence indefinitely. He had no idea how long it was before the phone rang again and the warm voice said, “Well done, my love.”
No questions, no doubts about his reliability, absolute trust that he had done as he was told: John’s congratulations warmed Richard’s heart as much as the workout had warmed his body.
“You can take a rest now,” John continued. “I’ll soon be with you. Kneel down again in front of the trig point and put your hands behind your back. You can spend the time thinking about what you want to say to me about your expedition into the forest. If you get tired of kneeling you may sit crossed legged but if you do that I want you to put your hands on your head. It’s your choice. Any questions?”
“How long will you be?” Richard couldn’t control the note of pleading in his voice. He felt angry with himself for revealing his neediness but John was calm and reassuring.
“I’m nearly there, I promise you. It’s a long walk round this forest. It’s taken me nearly three quarters of an hour but I’ll be with you before you know it. I love you, Richard.”
Richard had tired of kneeling and trying to rehearse his explanation. He'd taken advantage of the option to sit cross legged and, although he had his hands on his head, he was resting his elbows on his raised knees. This meant he was leaning forward but it was a comfortable position and he was sitting with his eyes closed. Consequently, he didn't see John advancing quietly towards him until the last minute when the crunch of hiking boots on dry heather brought his head up swiftly and his expressive features registered relief and joy at the sight of his lover.
John held out his arms and Richard scrambled to his feet and straight into a warm and comforting embrace. He rested his head against John’s shoulder and whispered, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“I know. Don’t worry about it. Sit down again and have a drink. The tea is still hot in the thermos. And there are some sandwiches and an apple left from lunch. It’ll take us a couple of hours to walk back to the car from here so calm down and have something to eat.”
John passed Richard his jumper and jacket and then poured two cups of tea. As they sat side by side John talked inconsequentially about a grass snake that had slithered across the path on his walk around the forest. Clearly the awkward questions were to be dealt with later and Richard was relieved by the unspoken message that nothing would be said about his latest escapade throughout the long walk back to the car. He relaxed and gulped his tea, realising he was very thirsty. He had also given himself quite a fright and he wanted some quiet time with John to recover from the shock of getting himself lost on the moors. Things could have turned out very differently and now his overwhelming emotion was one of relief combined with a deep sense of security.
John drove his Porsche into the hotel car park around five o’clock, by which time the sun was low in the sky. It had become noticeable over the last few weeks how the evenings were drawing in. When they entered their room John immediately put on the kettle and instructed Richard to take the first shower. Obediently, he stripped off his clothes before entering the small ensuite bathroom and allowing the hot water to wash away the dirt of the forest and refresh his tired body. Emerging from the steamy bathroom with a towel around his waist he was snagged by his partner who exclaimed sadly over the many scratches on his arms and legs. Richard pulled his hands away and averted his eyes. He hadn’t noticed at the time how badly the brambles had scratched him and now the crisscross red marks reminded him that the two of them had unfinished business.
John sensed his partner’s withdrawal and wordlessly passed him the mug of hot chocolate he had prepared from the contents of a sachet provided for guests. He then took his turn in the bathroom, leaving Richard to finish the drink and dress. Unsure what his immediate future held, Richard surveyed the few items hanging in the wardrobe and decided on a smart casual outfit which would be suitable for dinner in the restaurant.
When he emerged from the bathroom, John took in Richard’s choice of clothing as well as his tense body language and anxious expression and he came to a rapid decision.
“Right, my lad, we’ll discuss this afternoon’s shenanigans and then we’ll go down to dinner. You can tell me how you finished up in the forest while I get dressed.”
That was a surprise. In Richard’s experience these discussions were usually conducted face to face with no opportunity for prevarication. Strangely enough, though, the fact that John was sorting through the wardrobe dressed only in his underpants made it easier for Richard to abide by his resolution to show proper contrition. He took a deep breath, reminded himself not to make excuses and bravely launched into an honest confession of his fault.
“I know I promised not to wander off… I know I did. But you were asleep and I’ve never been in a forest. It didn’t feel like wandering off. I never meant to go far…” He pulled himself up as he realised he was trying to justify his conduct. “I know it’s my fault. It was just so dark in there and I started to think about Hansel and Gretel and before I knew it I was lost. I really don’t know how it happened. I’m very sorry. I got such a shock when I turned to come back and couldn’t see the edge of the forest. And I was so relieved when I heard your voice on the phone… I knew I was safe when I heard your voice.”
John had by now put on a clean shirt and smart trousers. Hearing the catch in Richard’s voice as his recital ground to a halt, John padded across the room in bare feet, sat down beside him and enveloped him in a crushing embrace.
“And I was so relieved, my love, when you finally answered my call. I got quite a shock too when I woke up and you were nowhere to be seen. I really thought I had impressed on you the importance of staying with me at all times when we’re out walking.” John leaned back and placed a hand under Richard’s chin. “You did understand how serious I was about that didn’t you?”
If any question called for prevarication this was it. Richard took a deep breath and answered with devastating honesty, “I’m so sorry, John, I thought you were making a fuss about nothing. I didn’t take it very seriously.”
There was a moment of stunned silence before John laughed. “Well, I can’t fault you for your candour, my love. I see I’m just going to have to employ other measures to convince you of the importance of remaining in my sight at all times. I don’t think there’s much more to say now. We both know where we’re going with this, don’t we? Is there anything else you want to add?”
“Just one thing. Thank you for helping me cope while I waited up on the moor by myself. I dread to think what I would have done if you hadn’t kept me occupied and grounded… and… and given me time to think things through.”
“Really! I thought you were less than enamoured of my exercise programme. What was it you called it?”
“I hoped you hadn’t heard that!” Richard gave a nervous laugh. “Don’t make me repeat it.”
“Okay,” said John tolerantly. “We’ll give you a free pass on that one. Come on, let’s get this over with and then we can go and eat.”
John held out his hand and Richard stood up, colouring to the roots of his thick blonde hair. Long familiarity meant that no instructions needed to be given but Richard had never been spanked outside the home before and he was deeply embarrassed to think that other guests might hear the sound of his punishment. John guessed the reason for his confusion and tried to reassure him.
“There’s no one in the room next door so we won’t be overheard… as long as you don’t shout too loudly, that is.”
His words had their intended effect, not least because the underlying amusement in John’s voice signalled very clearly that this was not going to be a very heavy punishment. Nonetheless, Richard always found it hard to co-operate at this stage and he fumbled with the fastening on his trousers before he slowly lowered both trousers and underpants to his ankles and awkwardly bent himself across his John’s knees.
John took the time to guide his partner’s body further forward across his lap in order to shift his torso firmly onto the bed and place his bottom in the optimum position for the forthcoming spanking. Richard tensed as he felt his shirt tail being pushed up his back and then willed himself to relax, bending his head submissively onto his folded arms where they lay on the bed. John cupped first one and then the other buttock, running the palm of his hand round the taut curves whilst waiting for Richard’s breathing to slow as he mastered his panic. Only then did John lift his hand and bring it down with a smart crack which elicited an audible gasp.
John continued without pause, alternating from one side of Richard’s bottom to the other. The slaps were firm and fast and soon Richard’s gasps became grunts and his legs gave involuntary jerks which caused his trousers to tangle round his feet. Pink handprints had initially flowered on Richard’s white bottom but soon his buttocks acquired a uniform red glow and he struggled to control his squirming and remain in position. He was determined to take his punishment with fortitude and thus demonstrate to his lover that he accepted the penalty without reservation. When the onslaught ended Richard had no idea how many swats had been delivered but in fact John had silently counted out a couple of dozen.
“All done, my love.”
Richard made no attempt to get up but reached back to rub his stinging backside.
“Ouch, that hurt!”
“What did you expect? It was meant to hurt.”
But John took over rubbing and gently squeezing Richard’s bottom until the smart began to subside. As soon as Richard made a move John helped him to his feet and then bent to untangle his trousers and help him dress. Richard then took several turns round the room, occasionally rubbing or squeezing his bottom. He knew from experience that it helped to keep moving. Finally he looked accusingly at John.
“I hope you don’t expect me to sit down to dinner any time soon!”
“We don’t have to go just yet, no,” John replied peaceably. “I’ll ring down and book a table for nine. Will that suit you?”
Richard glanced at the clock and then swallowed his pride. “I’m hungry,” he said quietly. “Let’s make it seven thirty.”
“That’s fine with me. It still leaves us time to discuss arrangements for tomorrow when I won’t be letting you out of my sight. In fact, you’re not going to move more than an arm’s length away from me without permission, my lad. You’ll be learning the hard way that I mean what I say when I tell you not to wander off.”
Richard groaned and threw himself face down on the bed to endure a lecture. But John’s warnings were soon forgotten. By the time they'd enjoyed their evening meal and returned to the bedroom Richard had other things on his mind. He undressed with deliberate provocation and turned to inspect his bottom which showed scarcely a sign of earlier ill usage. Nor could he claim that his buttocks were still sore but this did not prevent him pushing his naked bottom up against his partner’s body and whispering, “Rub it better, please, darling, rub it better.”
John made a few perfunctory moves to rub his lover’s bottom but then he concentrated his efforts on parting Richard’s buttocks and rubbing a lubed finger over his crinkled orifice. Richard gasped with pleasure and bent to rest his hands on the bed and spread his legs to grant his lover greater ease of access. He felt one finger slip inside him and then a second to stretch and pleasure him. When the fingers were withdrawn Richard sighed with need but the rustle of fabric confirmed that John was hastily undressing and soon he felt the broad, blunt head of John’s penis nudging against his anus. Richard pushed back against the intruder to aid penetration and felt John’s balls slap against his thighs as he buried himself up to the hilt in his lover’s welcoming body. John gave Richard a few seconds to adjust to the sensation whilst he savoured Richard’s tightness and then began rhythmic thrusting whilst reaching round to stroke his lover’s penis in time with his own movements.
They were in no hurry. They were both tired from a day’s strenuous activity and emotional turmoil. They proceeded with frequent pauses to kiss and caress. Leg and back muscles were feeling the strain from unaccustomed exercise but this was an opportunity to reconnect and express with their bodies what neither of them was good at expressing in words. By taking it slowly their sexual tension increased until Richard could hold back no longer and he thrust into his lover’s hand until his semen spurted copiously over the sheet. His convulsions triggered John’s orgasm which left him gasping with its intensity and leaning for support against Richard’s back. When he felt able to stand upright without falling over, John went into the bathroom to fetch a flannel to clean up and then they fell into bed, avoiding the damp patch, and slept the sleep of the just until the alarm woke them at eight the next morning.
They were on holiday and could afford to enjoy an extra half hour or so in the warmth of the bed but Richard was immediately aware of the pressure in his bladder and swung his legs out of bed.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“To the bathroom for a pee.”
“Did I give you permission to go to the bathroom?”
“You do seem to have a problem remembering the simplest instructions,” John observed conversationally.
Richard decided not to respond to this particular gambit and just swung his legs back into bed. John seemed happy to have a lie in and closed his eyes leaving Richard seething and very uncomfortable. He held out for almost half an hour by which time he was getting seriously worried about wetting the bed.
“May I use the bathroom… please,” he finally muttered through gritted teeth.
John ignored the tone. “Of course you may,” he responded, without opening his eyes. “Leave the door open though. You’re not allowed out of my sight today.”
Richard growled but refrained from pointing out that John actually had his eyes closed. Instead he jumped out of bed and walked quickly but a trifle stiffly into the bathroom, glad that he could stand with his back to the open door as he emptied his distended bladder.
By the time they had both got up and had breakfast Richard was in need of the toilet again. As they entered their bedroom he was a trifle embarrassed to voice his request.
“I need to go to the toilet before we go out,” he said tentatively.
“That’s fine. Go ahead.”
“May I shut the door? I’ll need a bit of time.”
“You stay in my sight all day today. That means the same inconvenience for us both.”
“I take it that’s a no, then,” was the sullen response.
John did not deign to reply. Instead he carried the newspaper over to the seat by the window, thus affording his graceless partner a degree of privacy. When Richard had finished his business John stood up, folded the newspaper and took his own turn in the bathroom, leaving the door open. Richard then realised that John truly meant what he said, they were going to remain within sight of one another all day. Despite his irritation, Richard at least had the courtesy to take the seat by the window and gaze fixedly outside until he heard the cistern flush. It was going to be a difficult day.
Once they were out on the moor in the autumn sunshine Richard revised his opinion. It took some concentration to remain the required distance from John at all times, especially when the terrain got rough, but Richard found he was enjoying himself. John had demonstrated the maximum gap by grasping Richard’s outstretched arm so technically, Richard decided, he was allowed to walk up to six feet from his partner. Nonetheless, there wasn’t much scope for deviation and John pulled him up whenever his concentration wavered and he began to lag behind. Otherwise, they chatted and laughed and enjoyed one another’s company in a way they could so rarely do when they were both busy at work.
The lunch break provided an awkward moment when John lay back for a rest. Richard blushed and then did the same. In fact, he was feeling the pressure of walking in close order. John moved fast and made no allowances for his partner, unlike the previous day when he'd stopped occasionally to wait for Richard. Unable to find his own path through the heather, Richard needed to run sometimes to keep up and maintain the mandatory gap. He was glad of the opportunity to lie down after lunch and take the weight off his feet.
By mid afternoon his feet were beginning to feel quite sore and he was glad when John informed him that their circular hike would bring them back to the car in under half an hour. In fact, the final leg took forty five minutes but Richard reckoned that John slowed the pace when he realised that his partner could no longer conceal a limp. When they finally got back to their hotel room Richard gratefully removed his hiking boots and socks and gingerly examined his sore foot.
John gasped when he saw the huge blister on his partner’s heel. “Oh Richard, why didn’t you say something? You shouldn’t have walked on that.”
“Actually, I didn’t realise I had a blister. It only really hurt for the last little bit of the hike.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It’s nothing. Don’t fuss. I’m the doctor here.”
“How are you going to treat it then?”
“Well, would you mind running down to the car and bringing up my medical bag? There’ll be a sterilised needle and dressings in there.”
When John returned, Richard had decided that he needed help. “We need to puncture and drain the blister and I can’t reach very well. Would you mind doing it?”
“You know I’m not very good at things like this but I’ll do anything you tell me to.”
“Okay. Wash your hands and then put on some latex gloves. There’s a box of them in there… Fine. Now use this needle to just puncture the blister and let the fluid flow out. You can use this wadding to clean it up.”
Richard lay face down on the bed to give John access to his heel. John lifted his foot and asked, “Ready?” in a rather uncertain tone.
“Go ahead. You won’t hurt me if you just pierce the top layer of skin.”
John took a deep breath and hesitantly pushed the sharp point of the needle into the puffy swelling. “I’ve done it but there’s a lot of fluid.”
“That’s fine. Just mop it up and then make sure that all the fluid has drained out. If you’re not sure, press gently with the wadding. You’re doing a great job.”
Richard sat up to inspect John’s handiwork. “Yes,” he reiterated. “You’ve done a great job.”
John breathed a sigh of relief. He was rather squeamish if truth be told and he'd been very much hoping that a broken blister wouldn’t start to bleed.
“We’ll just leave it to the air for now,” Richard continued, “and we’ll put a dressing on it before we go out tomorrow.”
“We’re not going anywhere with your foot in that state. Why on earth didn’t you say something sooner?”
“My foot will be fine by the morning. Honestly, don’t worry.”
“Well, we’ll see. At the very least we won’t do anything very strenuous. Tomorrow can be a rest day.”
By the morning Richard’s prognosis was proved correct. The blister had dried up and it was necessary to look closely to see how large an area it had covered. Richard cut a dressing to size and enlisted his partner’s help to tape it in place. John then insisted that he wore a thin pair of cotton socks under his much thicker woollen hiking socks.
“I’ve got a suggestion for today,” John said. “We could go into Helmsley which is a delightful little market town and then if you feel up to a walk we could go on to Rievaulx Abbey. It’s an easy three miles walk each way. If your foot's sore we can drive to Rievaulx. It’s a magnificent ruin of a Cistercian abbey; I think you’ll like it.”
“Sounds like a good plan. Let’s go.”
“Let’s walk to Rievaulx. I’m fine. Really I am.”
“Okay, if you’re sure. But I’ll just pop into the tourist information place and get the Moors Bus timetable and then we can get the bus back to Helmsley if we want to take it easy.”
As they strode out of Helmsley walking shoulder to shoulder along the Cleveland Way, John returned to the events of the previous day.
“I’m so sorry you walked until you got a blister yesterday. You must tell me if that foot gets painful today. I wish you’d said something when you were uncomfortable; I don’t want you to finish up limping again.”
Richard grunted his assent but said nothing more. The conversation then lapsed as they walked through lush farmland until John tried again to get his partner to explain why he had suffered in silence. But Richard skilfully deflected the query with a question of his own about their route.
John had suspected that there was something Richard wasn’t telling him about the events of the previous day and now he was convinced of it. He tried to guess what Richard was hiding and finally he began to think that his lover may have remained silent out of fear. John had never before punished his partner by not letting him out of his sight and it wasn’t something they had talked about or agreed upon in advance. John had a sudden guilty impression of what his new friend Geoff would make of such high handed behaviour. Geoff had made it very clear to John that a discipline partnership should be based upon trust and consent and yet he had once again punished his lover without prior discussion and agreement.
Do you remember the first time I spanked you?” he asked as his mind jumped back to an occasion about which he still felt uncomfortable.
“No. The very first time I spanked you. I thought you’d leave me after that.”
“Did you?” Richard turned to his lover in genuine in amazement. “But that was when I knew for certain that I wanted us to be together always!”
They both laughed, although the laughter was tinged with embarrassment as they realised that they had totally misread each other’s reactions. Not only that, the misunderstanding had gone unresolved as they'd never taken the time to talk through their feelings.
“We never discussed discipline in advance. You never had a chance to give your consent.”
“Well, I know I put up some resistance but I could have escaped if I’d really wanted to. I was playing rugby then and you were stuck in a desk job. I could easily have overpowered you… just like I could now.”
Richard grabbed him in a headlock and the two wrestled playfully until a smiling couple rounded the bend ahead of them and they sheepishly separated and responded to the friendly greeting which hikers always exchange. Whilst waiting for the couple to get out of earshot, John took time to frame the question he was desperate to ask.
“So why did you let me spank you then?”
Richard blushed. It was easier to accept that the spanking had been forced upon him. He had certainly acted the part of the outraged victim at the time. But he took a moment to examine his own motives and responded truthfully.
“I knew I was trying your patience to the limit when we were first living together. I didn’t do it deliberately and yet I couldn’t seem to stop my behaviour spiralling out of control.” He laughed self consciously. “You know me! I seem to have some evil genie prompting me to behave outrageously and you’re the only one who can shut him up. I can’t remember what I actually said to you that first time but the truth is, I felt so much better after you spanked me. I knew you’d look after me and keep me safe… and you’ve always done so.”
Richard picked up the pace to move ahead of his partner. It had cost him something to make that admission and he didn’t want John looking at him too closely. John caught him up and slipped his hand into his partner’s, forcing him to slow down.
“Thank you for that, my love. You’ve lifted a weight from my shoulders. I’ve always felt guilty for the way I punished you that first time. In fact, I’ve got so many other things wrong in our relationship. So thank you for your trust. It’s a precious thing and I’m honoured that you feel safe with me.”
Richard squeezed his partner’s fingers to convey his thanks for John’s sincerity and kindness. Somehow it was easier to exchange these confidences whilst walking. The two men did not have to make eye contact and the conversation could be punctuated by silences without embarrassment. Both were conscious that they had shared some intimate truths although John realised that he'd still not got to the bottom of Richard’s reticence about the previous day.
As they rounded the next bend Richard exclaimed in amazement as the soaring arches of Rievaulx
Abbey came into view.
“It’s beautiful. I was just expecting ruins. You never told me there was so much of the building left standing.”
“I wanted to surprise you with this wonderful view of the abbey nestling in the valley. No matter how often I visit here it always takes my breath away.”
John began their tour in the ruined church pointing out the side chapels with their stone altars and the remains of the patterned tiling on the floor. As they walked eastwards into the chancel John described the lifestyle of the Cistercian monks who lived there until the dissolution of the monasteries. He pointed out where the night stairs would have brought the monks down from the dormitory for the night offices and the place in the choir where they would have stood to sing the psalms. The abbey ruins came alive for Richard as John described the function of each area and the rule by which the monks lived.
“How come you know so much about this abbey then?” Richard asked.
“You’re forgetting that I read history at Oxford and only studied law later on. I spent a lot of time learning about medieval monasticism. The subject fascinates me and when I wander through these bare ruined choirs I can almost see the ghosts of the monks who lived and died here.”
“I didn’t know you were such a romantic!”
“That must be my fault. I should reveal my romantic side more often!”
Glancing round to check that they were unobserved amongst the ruins, John swept his lover into his arms and kissed him deeply and lovingly. Coming up for air, Richard could only whisper, “Yes please; I’d love to see more of your romantic side.”
Leaving the cloister the two men entered a long room which clearly had once had an apsidal end. The raised stone seating was still in situ around the edges of the room and the gravestones of long dead abbots remained in the centre of the floor. John explained that this was the chapter house where the monks met each day to hear a chapter of The Rule of St Benedict read aloud and where tasks were allotted and the business of the abbey was discussed.
“The monks also dealt with discipline in this room,” John explained as an idea occurred to him. “The monks had to take it in turns to publicly confess their sins, seek pardon and accept punishment. I’ll show you how.”
He seated himself on the stone bench and solemnly addressed his lover, “Brother Richard, come and kneel before us all and confess the sins you have committed since you were last called to account.”
This was clearly a joke but Richard looked around to check the whereabouts of the other visitors to the site. The only other tourists they'd seen in the abbey seemed to be heading back to the entrance and they were unobserved in the ruins of the chapter house. Rather self consciously Richard knelt before his lover who assumed a stern expression and slipped easily into the role of Abbot John.
“Brother Richard, what do you have to accuse yourself of?”
Richard had been listening with interest to John’s account of monastic life and had no trouble manufacturing the likely failings of a less than saintly monk.
“I confess that I broke the rule of silence and spoke in the dormitory, I didn’t get up promptly when the bell rang for the night office, I ran in the cloisters and I fell asleep in choir. I fell asleep in choir on two occasions,” he added provocatively, glancing up at John to gauge his reaction. He wasn’t quite certain how seriously John was taking this role play. He had a shrewd suspicion that corporal punishment was usual in medieval monasteries. If John was planning on playing that game then maybe he’d been handed an unexpected but valuable opportunity to come clean. He smiled as he remembered the old adage: ‘You might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb’. If John was going to spank him, even in play, it might as well be for a genuine offence.
He'd been waiting for the right time to unburden himself, so long in fact that he could hardly deny that he was concealing his misdemeanour. When John intoned, “Is there anything else on your conscience, my son?” he summoned up his courage.
“Yes, Father. I spoke impolitely to Brother Francis, I stole food from the kitchen, I got another ticket for speeding.” The latter was said quietly and very hastily as Richard went on to cover up with more imaginary offences, “I’ve allowed my mind to wander during meditation and… and I took a forbidden break when sent to work in the fields.”
Richard was running out of ideas and his confession tailed off. John did not break the silence, seeming in no hurry to address the issue of Richard’s speeding. Instead he gently prompted with a further question of his own, the question he had been waiting to ask.
“And you didn’t tell me the truth, did you, when I asked why you kept walking when you were in pain yesterday?”
Richard winced but could see no way to evade the question. “No,” he mumbled.
“Were you afraid to tell me you were in pain?”
This time his answer was confident and forceful. “Of course not.”
“Then will you tell me why you kept walking when you’d raised such a blister on your foot?”
There was no trace of the abbot left; this was his lover, John. No role play, no artifice, just a sincerely worded request for the truth.
“I wanted to keep walking beside you. I was enjoying it. I’ve never felt so completely yours as I did yesterday when you were in total charge of me. And, funnily enough, I’ve never felt so free. It was as though I never needed to worry about anything ever again; you'd taken over and lifted a burden from me.” Richard hung his head as though ashamed by his admission. “I didn’t want to do or say anything to make you think I was looking for a way out. I want to walk beside you… always.”
John leant forward and cupped Richard’s chin in his hand, raising his head so that he could look directly into his lover’s bright blue eyes.
“Don’t look so ashamed, my love. That’s one of the nicest things you’ve ever said to me. I hope you know that I feel the same. I want you beside me for the rest of my life, to love, to protect and to care for.” The sincerity of that declaration was overlaid with laughter as he continued, “To be honest, I enjoyed myself as well yesterday having you on such a short leash. It was a novel sensation knowing what you were up to at all times!”
Richard smiled. Having revealed as much, if not more, than he was comfortable with, he reverted to the light hearted banter which was his customary mode of defence. “Well, I hope you didn’t enjoy it too much,” he said, “because I’m back to doing just what I want now.”
“So that was a one off penalty, never to be repeated?” John asked, confident that he was putting his partner on the spot.
“I didn’t say that,” Richard blustered.
John decided it wasn’t fair to torment his lover any more. He pulled Richard to his feet and hugged him and then, glancing at his watch, broke the mood with a brisk command.
“Come on. If we get down to the entrance in five minutes we can catch the Moors Bus back to Helmsley. It takes the scenic route and I fancy a bit of a sit down. I need to conserve my energy as I'm going to have to deal with the non-disclosure of a motoring offence when we get back to the hotel. It seems I can’t escape my legal duties, even on holiday!”
“How come you always put the case for the prosecution?” Richard groaned. “Couldn’t you defend the accused man once in a while?” But his complaint wasn’t intended to be taken seriously and John just laughed.
Walking quietly beside his lover towards the bus stop, Richard felt happier and more relaxed than he had for a long time. This was turning out to be a good holiday. North Yorkshire was a lovely place to be in early autumn.