In which our heroes meet a legend (perhaps), take a train journey in midwinter and complete a more personal journey.
Beta thanks to mad_with_july
There have been many adventures in which Sherlock Holmes and I encountered bizarre characters and extraordinary events, which my readers could scarcely believe were true. Then, there have been times where I myself found it hard to credit either the vagaries of luck or the wickedness of the human heart. Finally, I have witnessed some very few occasions where even Holmes himself was not quite sure what to make of events. Not that he would have readily admitted it.
This tale is one of that last, select band.
It was the depth of winter. Not a grey, wet, foggy winter, fit for lanterns and umbrellas and staying indoors unless one had the absolute necessity of emerging, nor like the swirling, howling, snowy winters of my Northumbrian boyhood: deep drifts and muffled footsteps, skating parties in the Park and boys throwing snowballs across doorways.
It was simply cold, very cold. There was not so much a nip in the air as a mortal wound. Bitter weather had seized the city in its jaws and held on fast. "Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone." To venture outdoors was to gasp at the agonising shock of attack on every exposed inch of skin. It had been years since my campaign wounds had played the part of barometer, but now they cramped and throbbed and drove me to the fireside like ox goads.
Holmes had no current case – criminals no more fancy becoming ice sculptures than do the law-abiding – and we passed our days giving silent thanks that we had no need to trudge to the dock or the factory every morning to earn our bread. Indeed, by this point in his career, Holmes had something approaching a gentleman's means to go with his polished - if sparingly employed - manners and refined taste, and he unhesitatingly shared it all with me.
But I had become greedy. I wanted more: to share more than funds, more than lodgings, more than friendship. I loved my friend, had loved him for years in spite of his acid tongue and black moods, his ill-treatment of himself and, at times, of me. I loved him for his fierce grasp of fact and his blissful abandon to music; for his selfless pursuit of success and his egotistical acts of mercy. So help me, I loved him even when he abandoned me, and near fell down in worship when he returned. At the beginning of that – let it remain unspecified - year, one morning in the early hours, when truth so often slips free in spite of every effort to keep it bound, I knew that I loved him also for the lithe grace of his body, for his sharp, clean profile and soft, black hair: that I not only admired, but wished to possess him.
It was autumn before I first kissed Sherlock Holmes.
I had dared no action in the first shock of recognising my desires and as they took root and flourished, it became harder, not easier, to imagine approaching him. The pictures formed in my head, only to dash themselves fruitlessly against a cliff of impossibility. Aside from the small matter of proposing grave danger to his career and our liberty, what could I say? He openly sneered at romantic love. In all the years of our acquaintance he had betrayed not the least hint that he owned sexual wants of any kind, let alone unorthodox ones. The result of speaking out could only be astonished rejection and, what was a far worse prospect, final parting.
Well, there are many things we long for, yet may never attain. Fate is fickle. There seemed nothing to be done but square up to its whims, rein oneself in, and go on as before.
I have related in my published works that Holmes, having little concern for propriety when he caught the scent of a mystery, occasionally woke me from sleep by appearing at my bedside, candle in hand, summoning me to the chase. In mid-October, we were at the tail end of a case concerning the murder of two sets of twins from the same large and noble family. Holmes had secluded himself in the sitting room, conjuring one of his all-night tobacco miasmas and sparking a train of thought that inspired him to hail a cab at dawn and fetch me to attend his masterly reveal of the culprit and motive.
I was deep in the arms of sleep and, I dare say, dreaming of lying in a certain other pair of arms. A quiet call, then a louder one, only partly roused me. As Holmes bent down to speak in my ear, I turned my head and our parted lips brushed and held for a fraction of a second. He stepped back, wide-eyed, as I started fully awake, stuttering apologies and clutching the sheet higher. Molten wax from the candle had splashed onto his thumb but he paid it no heed. His other hand was at his mouth, nimble fingers feeling across his lips as if reading Braille. Another moment and he had gathered himself, all business.
We ended the case triumphant once more and in credit to the tune of a hundred guineas. Swift reaction and exhausted silence I had come to expect from Holmes in the wake of success, but there was something else too: during the long journey home, I felt his eyes on me every minute. Though it became almost a game to try, I could never catch him at it outright, but my skin felt the sting of his delicate, thorough dissection all the same.
At home, he offered no explanation and I asked for none, even when in the ensuing days and weeks he fell to doing it again, but so casually that it felt foolish to challenge him. After all, why should he not look at me? Half his life was looking. I had vivid dreams of us dancing together silently to a silent orchestra: in perfect harmony but never touching, and I could not see his face.
So into winter. The reader will, I hope, pardon my long digression. I would not have it presumed that we acted without thought, or under some arcane influence against our true nature. The thread was there; we only took our time following it home.
Even the calling card was singular. Our visitor that December evening sent it up ahead of him as he made a great labour of mounting the stairs. Mrs. Hudson fussed and clucked as he entered the room, holding the door open for him and bringing over a chair. The reason was all too clear: the man was entirely a cripple. His armpits rested in the forks of curiously fashioned wooden crutches as he swung both his legs from the hips to walk, and he all but fell into the proffered chair.
"It is no doubt fortunate, Mr….Smith, that you did not have to go far for a cab either in Wiltshire or at Paddington," Holmes remarked as he passed the calling card to me. On thick cream stock was the single word 'SMITH', block letters raised in gold. There was nothing else.
I was used by now to Holmes' geographical scrying, but it failed to impress the client either, a rare exception. He was wrapped up in a heavy wool cloak that he had not removed upon entering; a slouch hat hung down his back from a cord around his neck. A full shock-head and beard of grizzling, once-golden hair, blue eyes full of fire and the powerful set of his shoulders made it seem as if a lion inhabited our sitting room.
"Ill-named, bright-head," he began, with a sly smile at Holmes' look of surprise. Holmes smoothed a hand back over his coal-black locks in unconscious acknowledgement and cocked his head to one side, considering our guest with heightened interest.
"That which is mine is coveted by another; I would resist the invader but I lack the means. You must come, and then they will go." Smith spoke in the broad accent of the West, but his bearing was not that of a common labourer. It was as if he summoned Holmes, rather than petitioned him.
Holmes frowned. "Sir, we are but two. Surely if resistance is required, a stout body of countrymen would serve you better?"
"They do not come armed with honourable weapons in open face but with guile. Your fame shines brighter even than your name, Sherlock Holmes. Come to Longhall Drift. Save my treasures."
So it was that we found ourselves, and a trunk of warm clothes apiece, outward bound from Paddington the next day. Smith had gone on ahead of us, and as we alighted at a deserted country station, we were greeted by name by one we supposed to be his servant, a young woman. She beckoned us to a waiting trap, loaded our cases without waiting for an offer of help and stepped up to the driving seat, flicking the reins with easy skill to urge the pony into a brisk trot.
It was a landscape in which Frost was king. Ghostly skeletons of trees drifted out of the mist as the wheels crunched over gravel and grass that glistened in the weak sunlight. The only notes of colour came from the lingering russet leaves of the beech-trees and the red hawberries in the hedgerows above our heads, but they too were half-shrouded in white.
We travelled through one of the many valleys surrounding the chalk downlands of Salisbury Plain. Deep-set, twisting country roads branched right and left and we took turning after turning until I had quite lost my bearings. Holmes, meanwhile, appeared oddly preoccupied with examining between the seats and pocketing what he had found there. After a while he left off that and began, at my urging, to look about him. As he did, his chin came up; he twisted in his seat and sniffed the air, muttering:
"Hmm. I should have approached it from quite the opposite direction." At my puzzled frown he continued, waving his hand vaguely in the air: "Oh, did I not mention it? Your humble servant first saw the light of day in the valley just over from this one."
I knew next to nothing of Holmes' early life, and now I found we had come down into the very lanes and fields of his boyhood. I was consumed with curiosity, but he fended off my excited exclamations and questions. "It is London that has made me, Watson: London and crime." He smiled softly, suddenly. "And friendship."
Never mind Smith's treasure; mine was sitting next to me, his arms folded into the sleeves of his greatcoat, his ivory cheeks stained pink with the cold, his grey eyes trained on the road ahead.
Longhall Drift was a hamlet of six cottages clustered around a frozen pond. We passed through, our driver tipping her whip to an aged native as he trudged homeward, hat slung low over one eye. Great black birds circled in the sky as we turned down a green lane lined with holly and hornbeam.
Our client's home, for which the village was surely named, sat in a clearing in woodland. It was very old, long indeed and low: great oaken ribs spanned the house ends and the doorway; low-set windows had been let in here and there, long after its completion. The walls were a chessboard of glassy flint and the hard chalk called clunch, weathered green with age and damp. Holmes had to stoop to enter, but once inside we were in one great room taking up most of the lower floor and part of the upper.
The house was lit by oil lamps – no gas pipes out here – and it was dim and deep shadowed. All was massive timber and dull, intricately wrought ironwork; the fire smoked and crackled in a grate that might have held three men in tolerable comfort. There was no sign of our host. However, the coachwoman presently appeared, strode briskly into another room on one side and emerged after a short interval bearing a meal of bacon, bread and beer.
Holmes exerted his best efforts to charm her in an attempt to find out about our commission. It occurred to me that I should have hated him to address me so. The truth of him, the abrasive, infuriating, exhilarating, changeable demon of his genius was my idol: not this anodyne stranger he wore like a borrowed coat. In any case, she remained unmoved. Only as we rose from table, by which time Holmes had dropped his performance, did she announce:
"My lord sends this message: 'the calf has swallowed the land, and speaks with the voice of men, though none hear her.' He trusts that you will discover what you must do. He will see you again when all is done."
With that, she picked up our cases as if they were empty buckets and took them through yet another doorway. Her footsteps echoed as she mounted some stair out of sight. There was a bench by the fireside and we sat warming our hands and waiting for her to reappear, but when after some time she did, she only bade us good night and left the house.
"What the devil did she mean by that ludicrous message?" I was beginning to be out of temper, abandoned in this strange and lonely dwelling and with no idea what we were to be about next.
Holmes chuckled as he lit his pipe. "A riddle, my dear Watson: a test! This is most uncommon, most gratifying. Although …" and he sobered a little, "the evidence so far teeters on such an edge between the impossible and the improbable, that as yet I am hard put to say where it may eventually fall." He dug into the pocket of his coat as it lay across his knees in the fashion of a blanket – for the fire went only some way to warming the place – and retrieved his gleanings of our journey from the station.
"A tail- and some breast-feathers of Cygnus Cygnus, the Whooper Swan," he said as he displayed the dirty white mass on his open palm. I confess that I could not fathom how such could be 'evidence'.
"They could be planning an unusual feast for Christmas, and the carcass was carried home in the trap."
"I think not; even if Smith is permitted to take a swan, this is the wrong species; besides, these came from the living bird."
"Then what does it mean?"
"It means that our client merits at least as much scrutiny as the case. However, as he is not here, I propose we begin by acting on his instructions. That will have to wait until tomorrow."
Holmes, as he so often did, had raced ahead of me and stood securely in the winners' enclosure before I had even heard the starting gun.
"Words that cannot be heard may be read. Of what are ancient books made but the skins of calves – vellum and binding both? And what book contains the land? We are surely bidden to consult a map, and one of venerable age, but there is no such here: hence, a journey awaits us."
There were indeed no maps, no books of any kind in the room, nor in the whole house: we explored it thoroughly. There were no refinements, no luxuries, though it was not a poor man's home. The upper floor room contained not beds but cots built into the walls, with thick, warm, wool blankets and hangings: more dormitory than chamber, but it promised comfort enough, if no privacy.
Should I have felt shame as I covertly watched him undress, his long limbs lit by a beam of moonlight slanting through the shutters; shame at the rising heat in me - stirred, as it had been all my adult life, by courageous, gentle women and exceptional, striking men? Common wisdom would have it so, would accuse me of sullying a noble friendship with my perversions. Yet I felt exalted, not brought low.
The voice out of the darkness that set my heart racing was perfectly calm.
"Watson. I am sorry to have to say it, but your capacity for subterfuge does not improve with practice. You will have noticed, of course, that I have been observing you over the past few weeks; but that is because I did not trouble to hide it."
He could not, he could not have been watching me for the same reasons I had watched him. I could only cling to the hope that we were not about to have the conversation I dreaded, the one that would expose my folly to his pity or disgust. I forced a question past my dry throat:
"What …what did you conclude from your observations?"
"That the merest accident may betray truths one has spent years refusing to admit to oneself and denying before others. That those who speak of 'platonic' love have rarely read Plato. That it is well past time one or other of us – preferably myself – did this."
As he spoke, he slipped silently across the room, and suddenly he was closer than my next breath, the one still tight in my chest. In the next second, he was tipping up my chin with one precisely placed forefinger and the second after, his lips were on mine, the taste of smoke and hops on his tongue filling my mouth. He swallowed that next breath from out of me, leaving me gasping and aching hard, tangling my hands in his nightshirt, clumsy in my need to have it off him, to know his bare skin against mine.
In romantic novels, a delicate veil is drawn over men's passions, supposedly to preserve women's innocence – rather, their ignorance. But I write nothing here of what happened next for the simple reason that nothing did, not that night. Holmes disengaged himself after a long (not long enough) minute with a small sigh of satisfaction, prised my fingers carefully away from his clothing and pressed a kiss to my temple. Despite the shadows, I could just make out a tentative, apologetic smile at the corner of his mouth.
"I hope you will forgive me if we hold off on more just now? This is fresh ground for me to tread. That is," he continued carefully, catching my bewilderment, "I know what I am, have always known, and yes, I have known other men." He leaned forward until our foreheads touched. "The difference between going with those others and the thought of lying with you is the difference between a tallow candle and the sunlight. Until the case is over I cannot go out into that sun as I would want to, with sure step and clear eye. My dear, my very dear Watson, will you wait with me until we are home again, and there make me forget I ever wanted a lesser light?"
What could I do in reply to such a plea, to his utter sincerity, to what amounted to a declaration, but stifle my body's plaintive cry and do as he asked?
"One condition: that you tell me why I never knew until tonight what all your talk of 'pure, cold reason' was hiding? You must have known I think ill of no man on account of mere preference."
He sat on his heels beside the box-bed with a grunt of dissent. "It was not trust in you that I lacked, but in myself . It may well be that I cannot love as others do and keep my mind clear: if I can even think of making the attempt, it is only because I trust you as I trust no-one else."
Next day brought light snow and a slippery journey into Salisbury, thronging with noisy Christmas crowds. The coachwoman (she contrived somehow to withhold her name in spite of all our stratagems to learn it) waited in the street as we went into the Office of Records where Holmes set about interrogating the clerk.
He found us a very old map of the ancient parish of Longhall Drift, in a great book which matched our riddle. Behind the hall, out of sight as we'd arrived, the wood stretched back to a perfectly round enclosure bearing the legend 'barrow' on the map and a sketch of that monument viewed from one side, partly obscured by trees. It was part of a plot named as 'Cadley's field': a name that brought an exclamation to Holmes' lips.
"We need something more up to date, for comparison," he argued, and asked for the Tithe Map to be brought.
"I'm sorry, but that is presently in use by the group of gentlemen over there." The clerk pointed to a table around which four serious-faced, scholarly men spoke in urgent, low voices as they gestured at a large paper in their midst, coloured and coded according to the ownership of, and income from, the parcels of land; the key of it lay to one side.
Holmes takes an actor's pleasure in impersonating the rougher sort of man, in wearing the whole skin of a class and trade very different from his own. To play the scholar, and especially the pedant, is so near his own soul that it is barely an act at all, and needs no transfiguration of his looks or dress. So to hear him speak to the map readers in a rich Wiltshire brogue nearly made me laugh aloud.
"Excuse me, but I could not help but notice that you are none of you local men."
They allowed that this was so.
"Whereas I was born and bred not fifteen miles from here, in the very direction you are searching. I may perhaps be of some help?" Holmes has, for an unsociable man, such a facility for ingratiating himself with perfect strangers that I have often wondered at it. Within five minutes he had quite become one of their circle, and before he left them they had arranged to meet him at the site after lunch.
"Watson," he hissed as he manhandled me out of the door, "the clouds clear minute by minute. These are the raiders of whom Smith spoke, and those maps between them give me the means to see them off!" He was glowing with triumph, energised, irresistible. "They want to excavate, or rather to wreck, the barrow behind the hall, but first they need the owner's permission."
I protested that surely Smith was capable enough of refusing it without our aid, although I could not see how, interest aside, a prehistoric monument could be described as 'treasure'. Then I recalled: grave goods had been found buried in such places, wrought in precious stones and gold.
"Indeed. As to giving permission, now that is a much more interesting matter." But he would not be drawn further.
My friend's supreme self-assurance has on occasion exasperated me, but as he swept, scarf flying, up the wooded slope to where the group of mufflered men stood waiting, and waved his cane in jaunty greeting, I was content to swim in its wake. The leader of the would-be diggers, a Professor Chastey, was eager to expound on their plans, in fulfillment of which the mound would be riven by a series of deep trenches to expose the inner structure and any contents.
"Yet we are no vulgar treasure hunters, gentlemen," he reassured us all sententiously, "but men of science. We will publish our findings to advance knowledge of and foster pride in our great Anglo-Saxon nation's history."
Holmes sniffed delicately He dropped the local accent and the others looked at him in some surprise as he replied: "If you can reconcile the demands of truth with those of patriotism, now that would be a discovery to rival Newton's. As to 'our Anglo-Saxon nation'…take myself, for example. My name is English - as, I feel bound to remark, yours is not, Professor - my blood is part French; my birthplace is over the next hill, my fashion of speech was acquired from an Italian polyglot who tutored me to be a gentleman. We are none of us 'Anglo-Saxons' and this place will in any case be keeping its secrets."
Chastey bristled. "Unless you, sir, are the owner of this plot, I cannot see how you can be so sure of that."
Holmes fixed him with a steady, expectant stare.
I stifled a laugh as it dawned on me what trick Holmes had played on them, so pompous in their certainty of success. Chastey sighed and passed a hand across his brow. "Of course; the local knowledge you promised us. Are there any terms you will accept? A limited survey, exploration of the interior chamber if we can gain access without excavating?"
Holmes brushed the end of his cane against the unyielding blades of frozen turf. "By the innovations of Duke William, my elder brother is heir to our late Mother's lands and must decide. By those traditions you presumably would laud as truly English, we have equal rights. In either case, I think it is safe to say you had best pack up your theodolites and go home. There is no shortage of other candidates to be laid open, but this one is to be left alone." And, despite protestations and pleading, he held his ground until they conceded defeat.
As we watched the disappointed troupe trudge away, I wondered aloud what we were to do next; when Smith would make himself known; what on earth he meant by speaking of 'his' treasures when they must by rights be no such thing; why he had simply not communicated all this by letter and saved us the trouble of a journey in such weather. Holmes only took my arm and led me down a different way to the one we had come, listening intently all the while, straining to follow a sound completely inaudible to me. It was only when we stood in front of three great stones upended to form a crude gateway that I heard it at last, faintly: the crackle of a forge and the steady clink, clink of a smith's hammer.
He must be working there, under the earth in some stone chamber, but search as we might there was no way to get inside. After a fruitless hour trying to find some secret passage, continually teased by the sounds that emerged here louder, there fainter, there was no alternative but to return to the house, mists clinging to every branch as we passed.
There, his back to us as we entered, wrapped again in his cloak, crutches propped against the fireside bench, sat Smith, rubbing his hands and nodding his satisfaction at the leaping flames in the hearth. How he had passed us unseen on what had seemed the only track through the woods evidently puzzled Holmes as much as it did me, but like me, he was more interested in the whole purpose of our quest.
"Success, Mr. Smith. I can, given some time, produce and lodge with you or some convenient solicitor, documents as proof against further incursions, if academic rumour proves insufficiently discouraging." He paused. "Which, of course, I could have done without stirring from Baker Street."
Smith beckoned us over to sit with him. "It is not my way to send messengers in a matter so dear to me; besides, what glory is there in mere clerks' work? Do you deny that to solve my riddle, to trick the invaders, to frustrate their schemes and meet them face to face on the hill of your ancestors, was worth the journey?"
Holmes turned his most penetrating gaze on our host. "I do not deny it. I would be most interested to know whether I have correctly solved a yet deeper, more obscure riddle: and if I have, whether the solution can possibly be true and not some fantastic dream, whether mine or yours?"
Smith turned back to the fire, smiling as if to an unseen companion. "In your mind, truth and the dream-world cannot live together then, bright-head? If that is so, you are the poorer for it."
"Shall I rather believe that a man can live a thousand years and more, or that a woman can become a swan; that a hamstrung smith can fly from forge to home through the open air? Shall I bid you 'waes hail, Wayland Smith'?"
"Not without an ale-horn in your hand, I hope." The answer was so mild, and what Holmes had said so extraordinary, that I could only sit and gape at the two of them. It was preposterous, insane; Smith must be in the grip of some delusion of grandeur. We could not possibly be sitting with a figure out of legends long past: Wayland of whom the Eddas sang, captive smith of kings, purposely crippled so that his supreme skill at making swords and fashioning treasure could be held captive too.
Yet the treasure was real enough. He reached into the pocket of a great leather apron he wore under his cloak and drew out two intricately fashioned, massive bracelets. They were gold set with garnets, a host of tiny red mirrors in which flames danced and glittered, in which beauty and barbarism combined.
They were still warm from the working.
"For you and for your shield-brother, with my thanks," he said, closing them around our upper arms, where they sat incongruous over the sober wool of gentlemen's suiting. I protested that I had contributed but little to the enterprise, but Smith would have none of that.
"You are the strength of his arm, his shoulder-companion. Without a trusted friend, what is a man? A voice in the darkness, no more." He grew grave and wistful. "It has been good to walk in the world again these few days, but now I must leave you, for the year turns tonight and once again the long sleep beckons. Swans fly home, ravens to their roost, the smith to his bed among the embers. Good speed." So he took up his crutches and limped to the door, without looking back.
In the morning there was no sign of him or of the lady. We hired a farm cart in the hamlet and reached the station just as the stopping train to Paddington was about to arrive. Stepping into the bustle of London jarred my nerves, as might a rude awakening from a dream. The cold bit harder here, metallic, flaying my face and grinding my aching limbs.
Back at Baker Street, we sat for a while just looking at each other across the hearth, the golden bracelets in our hands.
"Did it really happen?" I mused.
"It happened, undoubtedly. The real question is: what 'it' was. Perhaps it is only Smith's fancy. Perhaps we shall see some claim in the papers that he drew wool over the eyes of the great Sherlock Holmes, though it seems very elaborate for a ruse. I shall consult Mr. Fourthorpe at Bonham's – I assisted him in the matter of the Duchess of Lemley's diamonds, if you recall-and see what he makes of our payment in kind, and what light it may throw on the mysterious Smith. Not forgetting brother Mycroft, I must swing by the Diogenes Club and take news of our… of his expanded patrimony, that is to say matrimony - ah, no, that is to say…"
"Holmes. Why are you chattering on so?" I knew full well why - nervous excitement makes him garrulous as it makes me silent - but thought it the quickest way to stop him. He wasted no more time, but knelt on one knee directly in front of me, the gold bracelet still in the hand which dipped to the hearthrug to steady him; his other hand rested on my forearm. As he spoke, his face begged forgiveness for his contrariness, his faults, for never telling me his secret all these years.
"Because there are many things I find it all too easy to speak of, but to come at last to this moment: that robs me of words."
"Then may I make you a gift of my own words? I love and esteem you beyond all others; what happened the night before last I have longed for but not dared hope for; I care not what other men you have known but I am determined to be the last of them, for as long as you choose. If any of those words fit your case, you are welcome to have full use of them." I grinned - suddenly, giddily bold - and dared more. "As you are welcome to have full use of me, if that is your desire."
His eyes widened at that, his hand on my arm began to knead and stroke me through the cloth and he leaned quickly forward to complete the undoing of me with a consuming kiss. Soon he was almost in my lap, his still-kneeling body between my spread legs, pulling off my collar and tie, delving under my jacket and into my shirt front, cupping my jutting prick through my open fly, insinuating those damnable, dexterous hands everywhere he could find a piece of bare skin to tease and delight with fingers or tongue.
We parted, gasping and groaning, hardly daring to look at each other, full of trembling fervour for what must come next. The bracelets had long since tumbled on the floor and we seemed set to join them, but instead Holmes rose, keeping my hand still in his, and reached to put the golden gifts away in the drawer of his desk. Now we had forded the river, so to speak, he was confident again, to the point of positive mischief.
"I believe I shall take you up on your kind offer in every respect, dear fellow. Your words fit my case entirely, and as to the other: pray, hurry and lock the door. Mrs. Hudson has gone to take a Christmas box to Wiggins. As he is presently in Poplar for his uncle's wedding, she will be some time. The bedroom we will need later: for now, I propose some experiments of the sort that require the settee, some moderate agility on my part and an enthusiasm on yours that seems by no means wanting."
Neither was it. On a makeshift bed of shed clothing we feasted on the scent and feel of each other, learning how to please, how to ask for pleasure: that nothing was forbidden to want or to have, if it was humanly possible to give. I came to know what my friend sounded like when he could only breathe and not speak because his mouth was busy about the head of my cock, when he couldn't catch his breath because my mouth was sweeping slowly up the inside of his thigh, when he was calling to his maker in his ecstasy, and every sound he made was to me music and joy.
We shared the night together in my room, naked and unashamed - no, more than that, glorying in our nakedness, only the whole-cloth of our lovemaking to cover us - as we have so many nights since. We have chosen indeed to be each other's last lover and dearest companion, shield and shoulder, soul's friend, name it what you will, and hope to remain so to our lives' end. If Holmes often lacks the words to speak to me in private of emotions he still professes in public to despise (he is my shield in this, as I am his), I am seldom short of them: he is welcome to borrow.
We have never decided for certain what to make of Smith or his story. The writer occupying 221b Baker Street wants to believe that the real Wayland Smith stepped out of the sagas, out of the realm of dreams for a few days to commune with ordinary, modern mortals (at least, with one ordinary, and one extraordinary, modern mortal). The resident rationalist keeps his counsel. Only, when he returned from Bonham's early in the New Year, he was singing quietly to himself in German - something from Wagner, I fancy, about rings and swans – and happened to mention once that Smith's calling card was embossed not with ink but with pure gold leaf.
What we are quite sure of, however, is that neither swan maiden nor secret forge, forgotten field nor ancient house was the chief point of interest in connection with the case at Longhall Drift.