QSFer Sebastian Nothwell has a new MM historical fantasy out: Fiorenzo.
Fiore has a plan. Find a wealthy elderly gentleman, delight him until the end of his days, and retire on the resulting inheritance. It’s the best outcome a low-born courtesan in the city of Halcyon can hope for.
And it seems a perfect scheme… until a mysterious masked man upends it.
Banished from university after a disastrous duel, Enzo wanders the city searching for scraps of the affection he’s lost. His public mask conceals private agonies. A single night in the company of a courtesan, however, balms his wounded heart, and he finds himself returning again and again to Fiore, revealing more of himself than he’s ever dared before.
Furthermore, and more astonishing still, Fiore finds he returns Enzo’s affections.
But while Fiore wears no mask, he nonetheless has secrets of his own. And when the ghosts of their pasts return to haunt them, only the bond of trust between them will carry them through.
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Crowds flooded the streets canals surrounding the dry-docked ship. This, despite the icy winter wind that threatened to spill snow into the lagoon surrounding the city. The paper lanterns strung from windowsill to windowsill across every street, canal, and alleyway defied the evening’s darkness. Likewise the music of fiddles, lutes, pipes, tambourines, and raucous human voices defied any gloom. It was the final night of Saturnalia, and the people of Halcyon intended to make the most of it—Fiore among them.
Fiore, a young man of twenty summers, leaned against the railing on the upper deck of the Kingfisher which he called his home. The ship had run aground about a century earlier. Captain Corelli, lacking the funds to make it seaworthy again, had left it ashore and turned it into a tavern. She had willed it to her daughter, also called Corelli, who in turn willed it to her daughter, the third Corelli, who generously let a chamber below-decks to Fiore by the week for his lodging and trade alike.
Tonight, Fiore wore a mask—most holy days in the city required at least a token mask—but his was a mere black-paper domino that covered a slender two inches or so around his eyes and little else. To cover anything more wouldn’t serve his purpose.
His clothes didn’t cover much, either. He had his breeches and hose, of course. Above the waist, however, he’d untied his shirt-collar’s laces so the deep plunging neck opened to expose the dark hair over his bronzed chest. He didn’t have the brawn of some fellows, but his small and slender frame still had a particular appeal to a certain sort of gentleman whom he hoped to attract tonight. The scarlet sash around his waist removed any doubts about his trade.
Despite his lack of cloak, the winter wind hardly seemed to touch him. The sheer crush of bodies drinking, dancing, and flirting on the deck created a bonfire’s worth of warmth. Fiore had counted himself amongst their number for most of the evening. However, most of the gentlemen on deck seemed more inclined towards his feminine cohorts.
And so he’d made his way to the railing for a breath of fresh air.
The view below proved just as exuberant as the celebration aboard the dry-docked ship. Boats crowded the canal like a pod of playful porpoises, hardly able to slide past each other, each carrying as many masked revelers as they could hold. The narrow fondamenta surrounding the ship itself likewise teemed with a multitude of costumes in a full prism’s worth of color.
The clear night sky, the fullness of the moon, the festive lanterns, and the ever-lit aediculae on every bridge and corner combined to set the whole city aglow. It afforded Fiore a marvelous view—
Except for one particular sliver which remained in perpetual shadow.
Shadows flitted all throughout the crowd, for one could hardly have light without casting shade. But this singular shadow remained rooted to one spot. At first Fiore didn’t realize why his gaze kept returning over and again to this anomaly. When his mind caught up to his eyes, however, he leaned out and squinted down for a better look at the queer phenomenon.
And realized it was not a shadow at all, but a human figure.
They stood well above the crowd swirling past them. They wore the costume of the bauta; tricorn hat, waistcoat, breeches and hose; the tabarro cloak and zendale hood; and finally the bauta mask itself, with its distinctive prominent beak obscuring everything from nose to throat. Unlike the traditional bauta, however, this particular shadow had everything in black—including the mask itself.
From this distance Fiore couldn’t pick out the eyes in the black mask. Nevertheless he met the mysterious gaze and, when he felt certain he held the bauta’s attention, granted them a winning smile and a resplendent bow, arising to toss his hand carelessly over his head as he invoked, “Io Saturnalia!”
Several anonymous voices returned the cheer from the crowds both below and above. The bauta did not. They continued staring up at Fiore in silence for another moment.
Then they dropt their gaze and headed towards the the ship’s starboard gangplank.
Fiore watched their progress in eagerness. He hadn’t really expected his proposition to work from such a distance and towards so mysterious a figure. Whoever they were, they moved with astonishing grace for someone of their stature. Not too drunk yet, if at all, which boded well for Fiore’s purpose. He wearied of gentlemen who drank themselves out of performance and then blamed him for their inability to raise their masts.
Soon the bauta had surmounted the ladder and plunged into the crowded deck, whereafter Fiore beheld a particular tricorn hat bobbing well above the rest. The tide of bodies parted as the hat sailed forth, revealing in short order the full costume standing before Fiore.
Or rather, looming over him, for the figure stood at least a head taller on a long, lean, lithe frame.
Sebastian Nothwell writes queer romance. When he is not writing, he is counting down the minutes until he is permitted to return to writing. He is absolutely not a ghost and definitely did not die in 1895.