Raymond Doyle arrived at the Liverpool docks late in the evening. The summer sunset gilded the masts of the ships that crowded the dock, glittering on the wide sea beyond, and Doyle wondered how he would ever find a single ship amidst all this chaos.
A porter seemed to appear out of nowhere, hoisting Doyle's trunk easily onto his shoulder. "Where to, guv?"
"A brig called the Seahawk. Its berth should be along--"
But before Doyle could finish the sentence, the porter swung the trunk down with a fearful crack and fled.
Doyle stared after him, perplexed and irritated. He needed to reach the Seahawk before dark, and he'd be damned before he'd throw the trunk over his shoulder and carry it himself.
He flagged down a passing porter. "Two shillings if you'll carry this for me," he said.
The porter eyed the trunk. "Where d'you want it?"
"Along the way here," Doyle said, wondering if the Seahawk was moored at the far end of the dock. The porter hefted the trunk onto his shoulder and followed Doyle as he peered at the painted names on the ships.
It was the figurehead of the Seahawk that caught his attention, rather than the name on the hull. In the twilight, the stretched wings and open beak of the gull made it look brutal, almost demonic. Doyle allowed himself a moment of morbid fascination, hoping that the eerie figurehead was not an omen of the journey to come.
Yet he could hardly turn back now. He had let his father's house to a young family from Kent, after all; he had no home to which he could return. And then there was Ann. She was waiting at the journey's end, and so he would make the crossing for her. Her father's company owned the Seahawk itself, and so it was only sensible that Doyle should book a passage on it. Perhaps it would make Mr Holly warm to him somewhat--Doyle knew that he needed every ounce of goodwill he could gain.
Movement near the bow distracted him from the striking figurehead. A man was climbing a rope up the side of the ship, despite the fading light. It seemed odd that he should be working so late in the day, but if the ship was to leave in the morning, everything must be prepared by then, no matter how late the hour.
"This is the ship," he told the porter. The man took a single glance at the figurehead and threw down the trunk in the same manner as the previous porter. He hurried off into the teeming dock without waiting for Doyle's payment.
A bearded man in a sailor's rough clothes came down the ramp to meet him. He mumbled an introduction and hefted Doyle's trunk easily to lead him on board.
At the top of the ramp, he was met by a second man, in considerably finer clothing than the first. He offered Doyle a short bow. "Captain James Keller, at your service," he said. "Are you our Mr Doyle?"
"It is good to have you aboard in such a timely fashion. I am afraid that our other passengers will not be joining us. They have sent word that they are unavoidably detained in London."
"A pity," Doyle said without much regret. He had known that the Seahawk boasted three other cabins for passengers, but he had not known any of the others who were to make the crossing. He did not think he would miss their society overmuch.
"Matheson will show you to your cabin," Keller said, gesturing to the sailor who still bore Doyle's trunk. "I am afraid that the preparations for departure require my attention, but if there is anything that you need, Mr Doyle, please do not hesitate to ask it of the crew."
"Thank you, sir." He wished Keller a good night and then followed Matheson down a short flight of stairs into his cabin. The ceiling of the tiny room was too low for Doyle to stand upright, and the single salt-crusted porthole admitted only a dim light.
There was no question of fitting the trunk inside the tiny cabin. "I'll take it to top cargo, sir," Matheson murmured.
Doyle nodded as though he understood, hoping that he would have some opportunity to inquire of the captain exactly where and what top cargo was.
He sat down on the narrow shelf of a bed, wondering how on earth Mr Holly could charge six pounds for such a berth. He looked up to find Matheson still standing in his doorway. He had taken his shapeless sailor's cap from his head, and he was twisting it anxiously in his hands. "Mr Doyle, you might think about taking another ship."
"I beg your pardon?"
"You don't want to be here," he said baldly. "Not on this ship, not this voyage. You should find passage some other way."
Doyle eyed him suspiciously, taken aback. "I've paid for the berth already. The owner of the fleet is known to me, and I'm sure he'd not be pleased to find that you've been attempting to send passengers away."
The vague threat seemed to cow Matheson, who simply scooped up the trunk again and scurried away down the corridor.
Doyle closed the door, plunging himself into utter darkness, and tripped across the tiny room back to the bed. He sat down again, turning Matheson's warning over in his mind. Why should he want Doyle to leave? Was it a premonition of disaster? Perhaps Matheson was a superstitious sort. Or perhaps he simply did not want the inconvenience of having a passenger underfoot.
A knock sounded on the door, and Doyle sighed as he rose to answer it. If it were Matheson again, come to warn him away, Doyle would have words with the captain about it.
But the sailor at the door was not Matheson. He was slightly taller than Doyle, with broad shoulders and close-cropped dark hair. He hadn't brought a lantern, and the waning light made anything else difficult to discern.
"I'm Bodie," the sailor said.
"Raymond Doyle. Have you come to try and warn me off as well?" Doyle asked dryly.
"Not at all," he replied. "I only thought I'd stop to greet to our only passenger. And I've brought a gift, as well." He held out a cloth bundle. "You'll ruin your things, you know, if you wear them on deck. They'll fade in the salt and the sun."
"Should I shut myself in belowdecks, then?" he said, faintly proud of knowing the proper term. "Or just go naked when I'm on deck?"
Bodie chuckled. "If you want to roast your bollocks, that's your choice. We've spare clothes that would fit you--sailor's things."
Doyle hesitated. "I--"
"Not quite ready to give up the trappings of civilization yet, eh?" Bodie asked with a grin that was visible even in the near-darkness. "I'll leave 'em here with you, then, in case you change your mind."
Doyle accepted the pile of rough cloth, and found that it felt strangely heavy. He unfolded the shirt and trousers to find a bone-handled knife in a leather sheath, hidden in a pocket of the trousers. "What on earth--?"
Bodie paused in the act of turning away; clearly he hadn't meant for Doyle to find the knife until after he'd left. "You don't carry a knife, do you?"
"No. Why would I?"
"It can't hurt, you know. Can be...useful, on board a ship."
Useful for what? Doyle wanted to ask, but by the time the words were on his lips, Bodie had vanished up onto the deck.
Doyle laid the clothes aside and thrust the sheathed dagger under the thin mattress of his bed. He didn't like the idea of carrying it with him, but he wasn't sure what else he ought to do with it. It seemed rude to throw it overboard, after all, as it had been a sort of gift.
He lay down on the bed and, quite unexpectedly, fell instantly asleep.
Doyle woke the next morning to a rise and fall of the ship that could only mean they were underway. He took the knife from beneath the mattress and pulled it from its sheath. The handle was polished bone, with a star carved into the hilt, and the blade was keen, six inches long or more. It was a good knife, he could see that, but to accept such a gift from a stranger seemed improper.
He would have to return it to Mr Bodie; he should never have accepted it in the first place. The exhaustion of the long journey to Liverpool had certainly clouded his judgment, and he would have to set matters right immediately. Slipping the knife into his pocket, he rose and left the cabin.
The passage was dim, though it was well past dawn. Instead of making his way up to the deck, he explored the opposite direction. At the end of the corridor was a doorway that led to the galley.
The galley itself was occupied by just the person Doyle had set out to find.
"Mr Bodie?" he asked.
Bodie jumped and nearly dropped the paring knife in his hand. "Christ, mate, don't sneak up on me when I've a bloody great knife in my--" He turned and saw Doyle in the doorway. "Beg your pardon, Mr Doyle," he said, laying the knife aside. "I thought you were one of the crew."
"I did not mean to startle you," Doyle said apologetically. "I only...I wondered if there might be tea." Tea would make the awkward conversation easier.
Bodie grinned, and Doyle realised that he was a very handsome man. His eyes were a dark blue in the lamplight, his well-formed mouth tipped up in a smile. Doyle looked away before his scrutiny could become obvious.
"Aye, there's tea," Bodie said. "Sit down, and I'll make some." He filled a kettle with water from a barrel, then set it on a wood-stove to warm. They did not speak as the water rose to a boil. Bodie lifted the kettle off the stove and poured steaming water over the leaves he'd dropped into a pair of chipped teacups. He set one cup in front of Doyle and the other opposite himself, then took down a tin of biscuits from a high shelf and offered one to Doyle.
"Dip it in the tea first, or you're like to break a tooth," Bodie warned him. "There's a reason it's called hardtack."
Doyle found that, after a few moments' soak in the tea, the biscuit became edible, if not very appetising. He finished it and stared down at the remnants of his tea, wondering how best to broach the topic on his mind. "Mr Bodie..."
"Just Bodie, please."
"Mister Bodie," Doyle repeated, quietly but firmly. "I have come to return the knife that you gave me." He drew the sheathed blade from his pocket, but Bodie held up a forestalling hand.
"It's called a dirk, that sort of knife, and I'd like you to keep it. The seas can be rough in more ways than one."
"Storms? Or are you speaking of something else?"
"Mr Doyle, the laws of England--or America, if you like--have no place on board a ship. The captain is a law unto himself, and punishments are swift and harsh." He paused and took a sip of his cooling tea. "No captain I've ever sailed under has been as harsh as Keller."
"Surely he cannot be so bad?"
"Not so bad?" Bodie lowered his voice and leaned forward, as though afraid to be overheard. "I sailed with him once before, nearly four years ago now. Our navigator's measurements were a degree off, and the ship lost perhaps a day before the error was discovered and corrected. Now, it was the man's fault, and another captain might have docked his pay for the error. A stern captain would order five or ten lashes. But Keller said that the man clearly had no use for both his eyes...and so he took one. Put it out with the tip of the man's own knife."
"The rest of the crew may have other tales, and perhaps not all are as true as this. But I swear it on my life, Mr Doyle. Keller took that man's eye--and I have no doubt he'd take more, if he felt the infraction great enough."
"Forgive me, but...why would you sign on with him again, if he is so harsh?"
Bodie chuckled. "Because starvation is a harsher captain still," he said ruefully.
"Oh, blast," Doyle swore, his face growing hot with shame. "I am sorry, that was abominably rude of me. Pray forgive me; I should not have asked."
Bodie looked up again. "On the contrary. It is refreshing, to find a fellow willing to speak his thoughts. It no doubt seems strange to you that a man would sail under a captain with such a history, but we all have our reasons, Mr Doyle. Jax, for example--" Bodie paused and looked up sharply at the door behind Doyle's back. "Anson."
Doyle turned and found the first mate standing in the low doorway; he wondered how much of the conversation the man had overheard.
"Captain Keller has invited Mr Doyle to tea."
Doyle eyed his empty teacup with amusement. "One can never have too much tea, I suppose." He nodded to Bodie and, after a second's hesitation, picked up the knife and tucked it into the pocket of his trousers, where the bone handle was hidden by the fall of his coat. Bodie gave him a small, warm smile, and Doyle turned away to follow Anson up to the deck.
Anson knocked on the door to the captain's cabin and waited for a response from within.
"Come in," Keller called.
Anson opened the door and let Doyle step inside.
"Thank you, Anson," Keller said without looking up from the map he was examining. "That will be all."
Anson nodded and closed the door as he left. Doyle looked about the cabin, and was somewhat reassured after the rustic quality of the galley.
The captain seemed a civilised man, and his quarters reflected his gentility. The furniture was fine, the tea service silver, and the walls were graced with several fine portraits. The floor was laid with a thick Turkish rug. If not for the rolling of the floor beneath them, Doyle might well have forgot that they were at sea.
"Please, Mr Doyle, have a seat," Keller offered. "Tea?"
Keller poured the tea, then offered him the sugar-bowl. Cheered--for there had been no such amenities when he had taken tea with Bodie--Doyle spooned a restrained amount into his tea, then sipped it as it cooled.
"How do you find your first day at sea, Mr Doyle?"
"Well enough," Doyle said cautiously.
"The winds are light today; you may feel differently when they freshen," he warned.
Doyle nodded. He hoped he'd not mortify himself by spending half the voyage seasick.
"Have you spoken at all with the sailors?" Keller asked. "They are rough men, of course, and not precisely suitable company for a gentleman. But as I will not always be able to take tea with you, you may wish to avail yourself of their company."
"I have hardly had time to speak with them," Doyle said. He hesitated, and then forged ahead. "But--one of them offered me a knife, a dirk, when I came aboard. He said it might be useful."
The captain frowned, and his green eyes turned hard. "Which sailor was this? Do you know?"
"I...I fear I am not sure," he lied, though he was not quite prepared to give credence to Bodie's story about the half-blinded sailor. "There was no lamp, you see, and the journey had wearied me."
"He should not have presumed to do such a thing," Keller said. "Yet he was right--a knife can be useful, even to a passenger. Did you take it from him?"
Doyle nodded. "It seemed rude to refuse."
"Very well. Keep it in your quarters, then, if you don't like carrying it. Under the mattress, perhaps."
Doyle hid a small smile, amused that the captain's thinking so nearly paralleled his own. "Yes, sir. I shall certainly keep it there."
Keller took a sip of his tea, and then set the cup down and leaned forward. "I did not ask you to tea without purpose, of course. I wanted to request your assistance on a very minor matter."
"I should be glad to help," Doyle said.
Keller drew a sheet of paper from beneath the map and held it out. "Tell me, Mr Doyle. Have you seen such as this before?"
Doyle took the sheet of paper and examined it. At the bottom of the page were two circles, one drawn inside the other, and within the ring they formed were scribbled signatures. "No," he said at last. "What is its purpose?"
"It is a round-robin," Keller said, distaste evident in his voice. "Often used by men preparing to mutiny. The circle is used so that no man's name appears on top--so no one may know who was the first to sign."
Doyle frowned. "That seems like cowardice," he said.
"Ah, but mutineers are by nature cowardly," Captain Keller said, rolling the paper up and stowing it in a cabinet. "If you should ever see such as this, on board the ship, you will tell me?"
"Of course," he said swiftly. After all, mutineers could hardly be trusted not to kill him as well as the captain should they succeed in capturing the ship. But he could hardly believe that a man like Bodie would allow--
Doyle quashed the thought swiftly. He did not know Bodie--though he certainly might like to know him, in a number of different ways--and so there was nothing to be gained from supposing he would or would not participate in a mutiny.
"It will not, I believe, come to this," Keller said reassuringly, "but to be prepared may save much grief in the end. --Come, let us take a walk along the deck."
Doyle was startled by the sudden change of subject, but he gladly followed the captain onto the deck. The sea was green-grey and calm; the sails hung half-empty from their masts.
Keller approached Anson, who was standing near the bow of the ship. "Mr Doyle, you have met our first mate, I believe, but I fear you have not been properly introduced. This is Mr Anson. Anson, Mr Doyle."
Anson tugged at his cap. "Pleased to make your acquaintance," he said.
"Mr Anson," Keller announced, "I feel we shall soon have a blow."
"Do you, sir?" he asked, his surprise not entirely concealed.
"I do indeed. Call all hands."
Anson moved to a large bell that hung near the railing, and gave three sharp pulls on the cord. "All hands! All hands!" he shouted.
Within a minute or two, the entire crew had appeared on deck. Keller proceeded to shout orders to them, sending them scurrying about the deck or climbing up into the rigging to let out the sails. More than once the captain cursed or berated a sailor for some fault that Doyle could not begin to fathom. He began to feel that the whole commotion was a pageant put on for his benefit, a charade intended to demonstrate Keller's control over his crew.
As though sensing Doyle's suspicion, the captain offered an explanation for his apparent harshness. "Sailors are, by nature, a lazy breed, and require a strong hand to guide them and set them to their work."
"I see." Doyle remembered Bodie's story and refrained from making any further comment.
Shortly thereafter, the sails being arranged to the captain's content, Keller turned to Doyle once more. "Pray excuse me, Mr Doyle, but I have business to which I must attend. If there is anything you require, do not hesitate to seek me out, or to have one of the sailors do as you require. Good afternoon." With a short bow, Keller strode off along the deck, and Doyle returned to his cabin below.
By the next morning, the constant rolling of the sea had increased. The ship rose on swells and plunged into deep troughs, and Doyle began to feel faintly uneasy. He thought the fresh air of the deck might do him good. He emerged from the cabin, congratulating himself on remaining upright on the shifting deck. Then the Seahawk rolled on a swell, and he barely stumbled to the rail before retching over the side of the ship.
A cheer went up from the deck behind him, accompanied by various groans, jeers, and a shout or two of victory. Doyle felt his face burn. Of course, they'd laid money on whether--or more likely when--their passenger would be sick.
A warm hand steadied his shoulder, and he looked up to see Bodie standing beside him. "Easy, Mr Doyle. It'll pass."
"How many weeks to port, again?" he asked weakly.
"It won't take that long. You'll get your sea-legs soon enough."
"Why the kindness?" Doyle mumbled. "Did you win the bet, then?"
Bodie chuckled. "No, my money was on the second dog watch--yesterday. Proved me wrong, you did."
"Then why bother coming over here?" Doyle said, his stomach still threatening mutiny. "I fear I'm hardly fit company, at the moment."
Bodie was silent for a moment, as though he hadn't thought about why he'd come. In the end he just shrugged. "Every sailor needs a final friend, after all."
Bodie grinned. "When a sailor dies at sea, he's buried there, sewn up in his hammock. A 'final friend' is the one who does the sewing for him."
"How cheerful," Doyle said dryly. "And if a passenger dies?"
"I suppose we'd have to use your bedsheets. I'll do the sewing, if you like."
The absurdity of it all was such that Doyle had to laugh. "All right, then." He stepped away from the rail, and his legs tried to give out from beneath him. Bodie caught him with an arm around his waist. One broad hand curled around his hipbone, and Doyle fought against a stirring that did not emanate from his rebellious stomach.
He slipped away from Bodie, leaning again on the rail. He would make it back to his cabin if he had to crawl, and he'd do it unaided.
"Stubborn bastard," Doyle heard him mutter, but when he turned back Bodie was already up in the rigging.
The next two days passed in an ugly blur, with bouts of retching followed by a sleep so deep it might almost be called a swoon. Twice Doyle awoke to find a cup of tea and a biscuit set just inside the door; though he appreciated the kindness, he could not keep even the tea in his unsettled stomach.
But Bodie had promised that the seasickness would pass, and as the second day dimmed into evening Doyle found himself truly hungry for the first time since the journey began. By the next afternoon, he was striding along the deck with ease, if not with the grace he usually had on land.
"You're looking better, Mr Doyle," Bodie said, dropping the last few feet down from the mainmast's rigging.
Doyle sighed. "Just Doyle, please," he said. "I fear the formalities will grow tiresome over the next weeks."
"Doyle, then," Bodie said with a smile. "How are you feeling?"
"Better, thank you. Though I would still be happier on shore, I fear."
He laughed and leaned on the railing, looking out over the rolling sea. "So what brings you across the sea, Doyle? A passing fancy?"
"There's--a woman," he said. It sounded like a weak reason, even to his own ears.
"Must be a fine one, to be worth making the crossing for her."
"She is. Too fine for me, but..." He shrugged.
Bodie raised an eyebrow. "Rich, is she?"
"Some might say so, but were she penniless I would care for her no less," Doyle said stiffly. The Doyle family had more prestige than pounds, and he was well aware of the whispers among society and scullery maids alike. But Ann's fortune was not why he cared for her, and indeed if she had no money at all, he was certain he would love her the same.
He consoled himself with the knowledge that no one could say he was courting her for her title. In America, after all, there would be no such things.
"Are you engaged, then?" Bodie asked. "May I wish you joy?"
"Not in such terms. We thought it would be better to wait until we were both settled in the same country, before...taking such a step."
"Very sensible," Bodie said, and Doyle frowned.
"You are mocking me."
"Not at all. It just seems a bit reserved, that's all. I thought young lovers were meant to be all recklessness and passion."
Doyle shrugged. "It would do neither of us any good to have our emotions run ahead of our arrangements, would it?"
"I suppose not." Bodie looked out at the sea, and Doyle was on the point of leaving when Bodie's face lit with a sudden grin. He pointed down at the waves below. "Dolphins," he said.
Doyle leaned forward as much as he dared, and saw sleek silvery shapes moving just beneath the surface of the water, keeping pace with the Seahawk as she raced over the waves. As he watched, one of the dolphins leapt out of the water, its body curved in a graceful arc as it dipped back down into the waves.
"They like to swim alongside a ship--said to be an omen for a smooth crossing."
"Let us hope so," Doyle said quietly.
"Yes," Bodie said, his voice just as soft. "One can always hope."
That evening, Doyle dined with the off-watch members of the crew. Bodie, to his unexpected regret, was not among them. Then again, he supposed that Bodie had to sleep sometime.
The meal was of plain fare, salt pork and hardtack, but the tea was fine. Doyle came to regret that when the pot ran out.
"We need more tea," he announced, looking expectantly about the galley. His eyes settled, to his eventual shame, on Jax, who eyed him evenly and made no move to fill the teapot.
Murphy broke in before they could say anything else. "Mr Doyle, on board this ship we are all equals. No one serves any other--regardless of colour--save that we all serve the captain. If there is something you need, you'd best fetch it for yourself."
Doyle felt his face burn and wondered if he would ever stop making a fool of himself in front of the sailors. "I am sorry, I did not mean to--"
Jax shrugged. "No need to apologise. There's water heating on the stove, and tea leaves in a tin in the cupboard."
"Very well." Doyle rose from the table and scooped up the teapot, managing to make a new pot of tea without disaster. He set it back down on the table and sat down without a word, and without even daring to fill his cup.
Jax reached for the teapot and poured his own cup. He took an experimental sip. "Not bad, for a novice," he said cheerfully, and Doyle knew that no lasting harm had been done.
After the meal, Doyle returned to his cabin. The flickering light of the lamp he had brought made it impossible to read, and he was not yet tired enough for sleep. The cabin's stuffy warmth grew rapidly unbearable, until at last he and went out to see if there might be a breeze on deck.
The air above was just faintly cooler than the stale heat of the cabin, but there was no wind to stir it. He stood by the rail, hoping for a cool burst of sea-spray, and happened to look up at the sky.
He could not stifle a gasp at the sight. Not in all his life had he seen so many stars, and so bright. He knew a few constellations--Orion, the Plough, Ursa Major and Minor--but so thick were the stars that he could not make out their familiar shapes.
"A good sailor doesn't need anything more than this to guide him home," said a voice at his shoulder.
Doyle started and half-turned to find Bodie standing beside him. "Do you never sleep?" he asked, more sharply than he'd meant to.
"The watches change--we all take turns on the night watch. And I might ask the same of you, you know."
"It was too hot belowdecks. I hoped there might be a breeze."
"There is--but you'd have to go aloft to find it," Bodie said, nodding up towards the mast.
Indeed, the sails were full, but Doyle shuddered at the thought of climbing to such a height. "I think not," he said.
"Not fond of heights?"
"Not a bit."
"It's not so bad once you're used to it."
"I imagine I'd fall from the rigging before I had the opportunity to grow accustomed."
Bodie gave him a measuring look. "I think you might surprise yourself."
Doyle flushed under the scrutiny, thankful that the darkness hid his reaction. "I doubt it."
"Go on--just up to the first spar."
Doyle examined the ratlines that led up the mainmast. The first spar was barely ten feet above the deck, and the sea was calm enough. Perhaps...
He stepped away from the rail and stood looking up at the ropes. He grasped one experimentally, then hauled himself up a single rung. He turned to look at Bodie over his shoulder; in the dim light, his expression was unreadable.
"If I fall..."
"I'll be here."
"Watching and laughing, I expect." Doyle reached up to the next rung. His hair stirred in a faint breeze. Ten feet--well, it wasn't so far, was it? Hand over hand, he climbed up until he could rest his arms on the lowest spar.
It was cooler, even though he'd not climbed far. But he would not be sorry to feel the deck beneath his feet again, all the same.
Of course, he had not reckoned on the difficulty of climbing down. In the darkness he had to feel for each line below, to catch it with his foot before he could lower himself. It took more than twice as long as the ascent, but Bodie was still waiting for him below.
He made it to the second-last rope unscathed. Grown overconfident with his success, he dropped down to the last rope with less care than before. The heel of his boot caught in the line, and he fell backwards.
Bodie caught him before he could hit the deck, one arm wrapped around Doyle's shoulders. For a heartbeat Doyle could only look up at Bodie's face, very close to his.
Coming back to himself, he looked away and scrambled upright, desperate to put a few inches of space between them.
"Not a bad start," Bodie said lightly. "We could make a sailor out of you yet."
Doyle laughed weakly, still shaken by the rush of landing in Bodie's arms. He cursed himself for a fool and said good night. The cabin below may have been uncomfortable, but he was beginning to feel that it was far safer than standing on the deck with Bodie.
Doyle was very well aware of the dangers of allowing himself to grow too fond of Bodie. But avoiding him, he realised, would prove difficult indeed on so small a ship. The only place where he could be certain not to meet Bodie was within the cramped, hot confines of his cabin, and so it was there he must remain.
His resolution lasted a single day. He ate in the galley at odd hours, when he was unlikely to encounter the crew, and when he finished he returned immediately to his cabin. By the following morning, he felt that to remain belowdecks for another bell would drive him mad. If he saw Bodie, what of it? He did not have to speak to the man, after all.
Doyle emerged from his cabin with a book in hand, aiming to find some quiet place where he'd not be in the way. Immediately his eyes lit on Bodie, where he sat on a crate near the rail with a salt-stained, sun-faded copy of Keats' Endymion open in one hand.
Doyle's heart sank even as his spirits rose--he knew that his plans to avoid Bodie had been entirely in vain.
Bodie looked up and caught Doyle watching him. "Surprised?"
"A bit," he admitted.
"That I can read, or that I'd choose to?"
Doyle grinned. "Perhaps both. I had thought you'd take your off-watch to sleep."
"No, I much prefer to sleep while I'm on watch," Bodie said dryly.
"May I join you, then? --I mean here, reading, not sleeping, I..." Doyle trailed off uncomfortably.
Bodie took no apparent notice of his embarrassment and nudged an upturned crate in Doyle's direction. Doyle sat beside him, intending to speak no more.
"What have you got, then?" Bodie asked, peering at the spine of Doyle's book. He rolled his eyes. "Christ. Setting out to sea, and he's reading the Odyssey--and in Greek, no less. Are you asking for disaster, sunshine?"
"I thought I might like to know what to do, if we should meet a Cyclops," Doyle said, wondering what use a sailor would have for ancient Greek.
"What we do is feed you to him, and then sail off while he's distracted."
"I see. Well, in that case, I suppose I needn't have bothered. And anyway, it could be worse--I could have brought Barrow's book on the Bounty mutiny."
"Yes," Bodie said, a frown crossing his face. "I suppose so."
After a while, McKay came out to sit with them, a pile of mending in hand, and engaged Bodie in a conversation about the winds and the course, laying various wagers over how soon they were likely to make port in Massachusetts. Doyle went back to his Odyssey.
When he glanced up again, Bodie was leaning back against the rail, his eyes closed, and Doyle thought he might really have fallen asleep. But a few moments later he began to sing in a warm voice, as though to himself, a song that sounded like a dirge. Doyle let the book fall closed in his hands, squinting against the sun and letting the sound wash over him.
Then he caught a few of the words and realised that, though the tune was melancholy, the lyrics were perhaps the bawdiest Doyle had ever heard. He turned to stare at Bodie, and found Bodie watching him, grinning as he carried the song to its conclusion.
Doyle smiled back. Had he ever thought he would be capable of keeping his distance from this man? Bodie opened his mouth--to speak or to launch into another song, Doyle didn't know--and was cut off by McKay.
"Damnation," McKay muttered, chucking a broken needle over the rail. He looked up. "Oi, Doyle, be a dear lad and fetch me another one, will you?"
"He's not your bloody cabin boy, McKay," Bodie said sharply.
"He's not yours, either."
Bodie's eyes narrowed, and Doyle spoke quickly to head off an argument. "I don't mind being useful."
"There are spares in my trunk," Bodie said. "Might as well bring the whole mending kit--no doubt it won't be the last one the oaf breaks."
Doyle had never ventured into the forecastle before--it was the realm of the sailors alone, and not even the captain was welcome there. He knocked at the door, and was met with the sounds of shuffling and scraping and slamming trunks. Jax opened the door and stood there, blocking the room from view. "Can I help you, Mr Doyle?" he asked, his voice flat and cool.
"Bodie asked me to fetch a needle from his trunk."
Jax stood aside and nodded at a trunk in the corner. Doyle crossed the room and knelt next to it, finding it unlocked. Beneath a salt-worn shirt of dark blue lay a sewing kit, which Doyle scooped up.
He turned to take his leave, and he was nearly to the door when he caught sight of a sheet of paper, hastily stuffed into another sailor's open trunk. Drawn upon it were two circles, and within the ring were signatures.
Beside the scrap of paper lay a pistol.
He forced himself not to alter his pace, although he wanted to put as much distance between himself and the round-robin as possible. He turned and walked out of the forecastle into the blinding glare of sunlight. By the time he had crossed the deck to hand over the sewing kit, he was almost reeling.
"You all right, Doyle?" Bodie asked.
He blinked. "I...I hardly know. Might I have a word? Privately?"
McKay coughed. Bodie glared at him and stood up. "Of course," he said. "There's time left before the watches change."
Bodie led him down into the welcome darkness belowdecks. He hesitated at the galley, but there were voices from within, and Bodie passed by the doorway. He picked up a lantern and led Doyle down a short ladder to a hold. He stopped and set the lantern down, revealing a space crowded with barrels of rum and water and sacks of flour. Doyle frowned. "Where are we?"
"Top cargo," Bodie said. "Your trunk is somewhere hereabouts, I imagine."
Doyle could have done with a spare waistcoat, but now was hardly the time. He hesitated, unsure of what to say.
"Forgive me, but...is something wrong? Surely you're not seasick again?" Bodie's voice was light, but the look on his face belied the tone.
"I saw something in the forecastle."
Bodie winced. "Murphy and Jax, I suppose? I said once that the laws at sea are different. Sailors keep their behaviour to themselves, and we certainly cannot be hanging sailors mid-voyage for a bit of...well."
"It was not Murphy and Jax. Jax was the only one who spoke to me."
"Ah." Bodie looked vaguely embarrassed. "Then what...?"
"I saw a round-robin in one of the trunks."
Bodie sighed and sat down on a barrel, rubbing one hand over his face. "Bloody fools," he muttered. "For want of a damned needle..."
"You knew about this."
"And you said nothing--to the captain, to the first mate?" To me? he nearly added.
Bodie looked away, and Doyle knew.
"You signed it, too."
"No," Bodie said calmly. "I wrote it."
For a moment Doyle could only stare at him. Then at last he found his voice. "Good God, Bodie, what can you mean by it? If you're not killed outright, then you will all be tried and hanged when we make port! What could possibly be worth that?"
"Keller has wronged us all," he said, his voice cold. "I told you about Franco, how Keller took his eye. The others have their own tales, as bad and worse. Scars, stories...Have you ever noticed that Matheson is missing his little finger?"
"I had not."
"He missed a call for all hands once, on a voyage to the West Indies. Keller made sure he would not miss one again. He's got quieter since then, too, Matheson has. And there are other things...Keller has lost six men in storms over the last two years."
"That seems unfortunate, but not a cause for mutiny."
"Consider that all six of those men had quarrelled with Keller in the course of their voyages. A man who falls overboard in rough seas can make no charges against his captain on shore, and no one will think to question the man's fate. A fall or a shove, it makes no matter."
"But you have no proof."
"Any proof we might have had is lying on the bottom of the sea. Every man of this crew has a grievance with Keller. We mean to see justice done."
"Justice," Doyle echoed. "Justice is done in court. This is revenge, Bodie."
He turned away and paced down the length of the hold before turning back. "And what justice would a sailor find in court, speaking against his captain? Do you imagine that we have never tried to bring Keller up on charges? Our cases were thrown out, on both sides of the Atlantic."
"And mutiny is an acceptable recourse?"
"What other recourse do we have? You believe in justice. When a man is denied that justice in the courts, what then can he do?"
"You are speaking of murder."
Bodie's glance turned almost pleading. "Perhaps not. If we could take Keller and hold him captive, then when we reach port you could speak to Mr Holly on our behalf."
Doyle laughed sharply. "I fear my word would do rather more harm than good. Mr Holly is not at all fond of me, and he would be inclined to doubt my word simply because it is mine." To say nothing of the fact that Doyle had as yet seen little proof of Keller's cruelty--he could not swear to the captain's past behaviour without perjuring himself.
"We are committed to this course," Bodie said, his voice soft. "If revenge is what you call it, then so be it. But you need not fear; I've had their word that you will not be harmed."
"Bodie, that is not why I--"
"Even if I withdrew my support, the others would continue, and I fear the bloodshed would be even greater. I could not promise that you--" He stopped abruptly and shook his head. "I must know, Doyle. Where do you stand?"
He sighed. "I am damned if I know," he said at last. It rather seemed he would be damned either way. If he allowed the mutiny to continue, then Keller's blood would be as much on his hands as the crew's. And if he sided with the captain, if he chose to betray the mutiny... Bodie could hardly allow him to walk into the captain's cabin and inform on the crew. Surely Bodie would not harm him, but at the very least Bodie would have to hide him away until the mutiny was done. Doyle had not seen the Seahawk's brig, nor had he any desire to explore it.
"You have my silence," he said.
"Do you swear?"
Doyle looked up to meet Bodie's eyes. "I swear it."
"When will it happen?"
"Tomorrow," Bodie said. "We cannot wait any longer. When the bell rings for the afternoon watch, stay in your cabin. I will fetch you...when it is over."
When Keller is dead. Doyle nodded.
"I'll be missed if I'm not up in the rigging soon. Remember, tomorrow at noon--do not leave your cabin, whatever you may hear."
"Yes. And Bodie?"
He turned back from the ladder. The lantern light glimmered in his eyes. "Aye?"
"I wish you luck."
A slow smile spread across Bodie's face, and then he was gone, up the ladder to the passage, leaving the lantern swinging abandoned on its hook.
Doyle blew out the candle and clambered awkwardly up the ladder in the dark. He had cast his lot now, and there was no choice left but to wait.
He only hoped he had chosen the right course.
That evening, midway through the second dog watch, there was a knock on the door of Doyle's cabin. He opened it to find Anson standing in the evening gloom, a lantern held aloft.
"If it please you, sir, the captain wishes to extend an invitation to tea."
Doyle hesitated on the verge of declining. It would be a simple enough thing to plead illness or exhaustion, and it would spare him the confusion of speaking with a man against whom he had all but conspired with the crew. Yet if he claimed ill health, the captain might pay a visit on the morrow, out of courtesy, and throw the whole plan out of order.
"Very well," Doyle said, and he followed Anson up the passage to the captain's cabin.
Determined to avoid any actions that might seem out of the ordinary, Doyle made only polite conversation about the good weather and the speed of their travel as Keller poured the tea.
"You are quiet," Keller observed. "I hope you are quite recovered from your seasickness?"
"I am well, thank you. Only a headache, from the sun on the sea."
"Ah, yes. In time you may become accustomed to it." Keller sat back with his teacup. "Tell me, Mr Doyle, have you read Barrow's book on the Bounty and her mutiny?"
Doyle took a slow sip of tea before replying. He set the cup back down on its saucer with steady hands. Keller could not know of the crew's plans--could he? "I am afraid not," he lied. "I much prefer classical works to sensational accounts of piracy."
"A pity. You might learn much of a sailor's mind from such a book."
"I am certain that is true."
Keller leaned back in his chair. "You see, Mr Doyle, the loyalties of any sailor are inevitably divided. While his primary duty is, of course, to the captain of his vessel, there is a natural affinity for one sailor to another. One does not wish to 'lose face' before his companions, and for some that desire nearly equals his awareness of his duty to the captain. And when one sailor's loyalty turns more to crew than to captain, then the trouble begins."
"But surely it would take more than one dissatisfied sailor to foment a mutiny?"
"Even an unlettered man may be surprisingly persuasive," Keller said. "And once the first man is won over to his cause, the rest will join him in a rush, like a mob in the street."
Doyle said nothing, cradling his cup of tea.
"It is a terrible thing, for men to upset the natural order so. Do you not agree?"
"You may rest easy, of course," Keller said. "We are entirely proof against a mutiny, I assure you."
"Indeed? How so?"
Keller smiled and rose from the table. He lifted a portrait from the wall and revealed a key tucked behind the frame. "This key will open that cabinet in the corner," he said, gesturing towards a tall, carved cabinet that Doyle had not noticed before. "Inside are twelve muskets, loaded and primed to fire, and ten pistols as well."
Doyle thought of Bodie facing a line of Keller's muskets and struggled to keep his expression neutral. "Is that not...dangerous, sir?"
He waved a hand. "Not at all. The door to the cabin is locked at all times, and to be ready immediately may save the ship."
"You do not expect such trouble on this voyage, I hope?"
Keller's smile was thin. "I expect trouble whenever I sail. Thus, I am always prepared when it arrives."
Doyle scarcely knew what he said for the remainder of the tea. When he excused himself, he found that his headache was less a pretext than it had been when he arrived.
The night watch had begun by the time he reached his cabin, which meant that Bodie would be working. It would be hours yet until the midwatch began, when Bodie might be found in the galley. Doyle had to speak with him--Keller knew that something was amiss.
He waited until two bells into the midwatch, long enough that he would not seem to have been waiting for Bodie. He stepped out into the corridor and walked past the galley to the head, taking in the room's occupants in a glance. Bodie was not among them.
Doyle sighed and turned back for his cabin, only to find Bodie descending the wooden steps into the passage. Doyle caught his arm and pulled him aside, into one of the unused passenger cabins.
Bodie chuckled. "If you'd wanted to get me alone, mate, you only had to say."
"Keller has muskets," Doyle said softly, and the humour went out of Bodie's voice.
"How do you know?"
"I've seen where he keeps them, in a locked cabinet in his cabin. If he gets to them tomorrow..."
"We'll make sure he doesn't," Bodie said. "It will change nothing."
But Doyle could not feel at ease. "He spoke of mutinies, at tea today. I am afraid..." He sighed. "I am afraid, that is all."
Bodie laid a comforting hand on Doyle's arm. "There is nothing for you to fear. By this time tomorrow, it will all be ended."
The ship's bell rang again "I am not afraid for myself," Doyle muttered, but Bodie had already gone.
Doyle spent the next day in his cabin. The ceiling was too low for pacing, and he was forced to sit on the bed in the half-darkness of the room, waiting for each bell to pass. He wondered if he would hear it, when the crew took control, but all he heard throughout the forenoon watch was the creak of the masts and the snap of sails.
Just as the afternoon watch began, a knock sounded on the door. Doyle leapt up from the edge of the bed to unbar the door. "Bo--"
But it was not Bodie standing in the passageway. Keller stood before him with a pair of pistols thrust through his belt. Anson stood behind, with a musket in each hand.
"Mr Doyle," Keller said coolly. "You will come with me."
He pretended not to notice the pistols. "Pray excuse me, sir; I am indisposed."
Keller drew one of the pistols from his belt and cocked it, though he kept it aimed at the floor. "Then I am certain the fresh air on deck will do you good."
"Thank you, but I would sooner remain."
A flash of irritation crossed Keller's face. "Mr Doyle, this is not a request."
"No, it would appear to be a threat," Doyle said sharply, even as despair threatened to sink him. Had he given the whole plan away at tea the evening before?
"No, Mr Doyle, this is a threat." Keller raised the pistol until it was aimed squarely at Doyle's chest. "Now would you be so kind as to accompany me?"
The muzzle of the pistol looked large enough to swallow the world. Doyle took a deep breath and held his ground. The captain would not shoot an unarmed passenger, surely.
When Keller spoke, his tone was light. "It is a sad fact of seafaring, Mr Doyle, that one often encounters terrible storms in one's voyage. A careless sailor, or even a passenger, might easily slip over the deck, never to be seen again. Do you understand my meaning?"
Seeing no choice, Doyle stepped into the passage. Keller prodded him with the muzzle of the gun, guiding Doyle out onto the deck.
As soon as they emerged from the cabin, he knew that something was amiss. The sails hung limply from the masts, and nowhere was there a sailor to be seen.
The Seahawk was adrift.
"Mr Anson, call all hands," Keller said grimly.
The first mate shifted his weapons to one hand in order to ring the ship's bell, and for a moment Doyle thought that perhaps no one would answer; perhaps the crew had taken the jolly boats and deserted the ship entirely.
Then he heard footsteps pounding up the stairs.
Instead of emerging from the forecastle and standing ready to receive orders, the crew seemed to spill onto the deck from all quarters. Each was armed, some with swords, others with muskets fixed with rusted bayonets.
Bodie was one of the first to emerge, a pistol gripped in one strong hand. His face was grim, and he did not look Doyle in the eye.
Doyle considered the sailors who now formed a menacing ring around the three of them, and found there was a stranger among the crew. He frowned. Visitors did not simply come to call on a sailing vessel--he must have stowed away. The man held a long knife in one hand, and a leather patch covered his right eye.
This, then, was Franco, the man of whom Bodie had spoken, the man whose eye Keller had plucked out for poor navigation. He brandished the round-robin in his fist. "We are relieving you of your captaincy," he said with a heavy French accent. "You are not fit to captain a rowboat, let alone a fine brig like the Seahawk, and--"
The roar of the pistol left Doyle's ears ringing. Franco fell back to the deck, the knife tumbling from one limp hand. His good eye blinked once and then fell closed.
Bodie made a start for the dying man.
"Leave him be," Keller growled. He tossed the first pistol aside with a clatter and drew the second from his belt.
Bodie looked up, his eyes flat and cold, and he knelt deliberately by the fallen man's side. He laid down his pistol, took Franco's hand in his and felt for a pulse. "He's gone," Bodie said quietly.
"Throw him over."
"I said, throw him over. He was a stowaway, excess cargo, and he'll be disposed of as such."
Bodie rose slowly to his feet. "No," he said.
Keller raised the pistol to aim at Bodie's chest. Bodie stared him down, coldly and without fear. Keller shifted his aim and looked down at the body with contempt.
"Mr Anson," he said, gesturing to the body.
For the first time, Doyle saw the first mate hesitate to carry out the captain's orders.
"Mr Anson!" he repeated, more sharply.
Anson set his pistol along the rail and opened the gate. With distaste evident in his expression, he dragged Franco's body to the edge of the deck and pushed him over the side. The splash of the body hitting the water was nearly lost in the snap of the sails.
"Now lay down your arms," Keller said flatly. "Lay them down, God damn you all! I will have no disorder on my ship."
For a moment Doyle thought that they would open fire on the captain after all, and he hoped uncharitably that they would all aim true. But one by one, as Keller's loaded pistol pointed to each man in turn, they set down the arms that they had taken up. Bodie, who not picked up his pistol again, kicked the gun towards Anson as he approached. Anson gathered it up with the rest of the weapons and laid them aside.
"Now," Keller said coldly. "Our stowaway's presence was not authorised, and thus his death cannot suffice as a warning to the crew. Mr Doyle, will you do me the honour of choosing who shall be punished?"
He recoiled in horror. "Are you mad?"
"Very well," Keller snarled. He looked from Doyle to the crew, as though waiting for him to betray himself with a glance towards one sailor or another. Doyle kept his eyes on the blood that stained the deck, and he did not speak.
"Mr Bodie," Keller said at last, his voice dripping with cold amusement.
Doyle's stomach dropped, and he looked up to see Bodie step forward, his shoulders set.
"Have you anything to say for yourself, Mr Bodie?"
Bodie raised his head. "I've been at sea since I was a lad of twelve, and I've served a lot of captains in my time. But you, Keller--you were the worst. You have no pity, no mercy in your soul, and if you do not pay for it in this life then you surely will in the next."
Keller sneered at him. "Fine, empty words for a failed mutineer. String him up, Mr Anson. He's to have fifty lashes."
"Fifty?" Anson murmured, aghast.
"Are you questioning my order?"
"No, sir," Anson said. He stripped off Bodie's shirt and bound his wrists to a pair of ropes above his head.
Captain Keller disappeared into his cabin and emerged with a coiled whip. He passed the whip to Anson, who took hold of it with distaste and shook the coils out of it. The braided ends trailed over the deck like a serpent, and Anson raised his arm.
Doyle could keep silent no longer. "Captain, please, have mercy--"
Keller rounded on him with such rage that Doyle thought he'd be the next man strung for a lashing. "Mercy? Think you that they would have had any mercy, should they have succeeded? They would have murdered me, and likely you as well. Or perhaps they'd have kept you in the brig, a slave to their baser pleasures. No, Mr Doyle, I will give no quarter to those who would afford me none."
Doyle fell silent as Anson raised the whip again. He took a single stumbling step backwards, unwilling to bear the spectacle to ensue, but Keller heard.
"Mr Doyle, you will remain," he said coldly. "We must have a witness, after all."
Doyle flinched and turned aside as Anson snapped his wrist forward. When he dared to look again, he saw that the whip had raised red welts across Bodie's back. They were not bleeding yet, but Doyle could see that it would take only a few strokes more to break the skin.
A second stroke, and a third, and yet Keller was still not satisfied. "With spirit, Mr Anson!" he demanded.
But Anson quailed. "Sir, I--"
Keller growled and snatched the whip from Anson's hand. He flicked his wrist and sent the whip cracking through the air. More red lines appeared on Bodie's back, but these were deeper and began to bleed straightaway.
The whip cracked again, and again, and a slow dread began to build in the pit of Doyle's stomach. Already Bodie's back was torn and bloody, and he had not suffered ten strokes yet.
At the eleventh, he tried pleading once more. "Please, Captain--"
Keller ignored him and raised the whip again.
"For God's sake, you'll kill him!" Doyle said, reaching desperately for the whip. He caught it just above the grip and pulled. They struggled for control of the whip, and Keller struck out at him with a fist. Doyle raised his arm to defend himself, the whip still clutched in his hand, and one of the tarred tails lashed back to slice Keller's cheek.
A long red welt appeared, stretching from his hairline nearly to the edge of his nose. Blood began to drip from the cut.
Keller swore viciously and shoved Doyle aside. He crashed against the rail and slid to the deck, dazed by the impact. The whip remained in Keller's hand.
Now in a rage, Keller whipped Bodie mercilessly, and Doyle lost count of the sharp sound of the lashes as it competed with the high ringing in his ears. Finally the captain threw the whip down and stalked back to his cabin, his fury spent.
Bodie was sagging against the lines that held his wrists, and if there was any mercy in the world, he would be unconscious. The other sailors converged, Murphy leaping up into the rigging to cut the ropes holding Bodie, the others waiting below to catch him as he fell.
Doyle climbed unsteadily to his feet and took a step forward, as though to help, but the cold glares of the other sailors stopped him. No doubt they thought he had betrayed their plan to the captain, and indeed Keller had given them no indication otherwise.
Seeing no other choice, Doyle fled back to his cabin.
He did not leave his cabin for a full day. His head ached fiercely, and he would have welcomed a cup of tea, but he dared not set foot in the galley. He waited out the long night, too apprehensive to sleep. He had not chosen Bodie for the punishment himself, but Keller had certainly noticed the friendship between them, and he had found a way to hurt both of them at once. If Doyle had only kept his distance from Bodie, then Bodie might have been spared the pain.
At last he did emerge from his cabin, in the fading light of the sunset. He raised his head, determined not to let captain or crew stand in his way. He needed to make his apologies, and he needed to know that Bodie would be all right.
On deck, the crew were gathered along the rail, and a single voice was speaking low. Doyle wondered how they could dare to gather so openly, after the failed mutiny, but he saw Anson standing apart from the others, his hand resting on the butt of the pistol thrust through his belt. Doyle counted the sailors standing together, and came up one man short. But that made sense. Bodie was hurt, so he must have been belowdecks still--
Doyle saw the sewn-up hammock and froze.
When a sailor dies at sea...
He swayed on his feet, clutching at a line of rigging for support. Anson had thrown the stowaway's body over the side, so it couldn't be his hammock. And the only man missing was--no. He couldn't have died; surely his injuries hadn't been so terrible. Doyle counted the sailors again, hoping desperately that he'd been wrong, but the number was the same. One man short.
"Oh, God," he breathed. "Bodie."
No one had seemed to notice his presence, and his absence too went unremarked as he retreated once more to his cabin.
He sat slumped on the narrow bed, staring at the floor, seeing nothing. Could the flogging have been so bad? Or had Keller found him in the night and finished the job?
Two days before, Doyle would never have believed the captain capable of such cruelties. Now he had no doubt that the man would kill, and without pity or mercy.
It was his fault, Doyle realised. Somehow at tea he had given away the crew's plans, and Keller had murdered Bodie in vengeance. Doyle curled himself onto the bed, haunted by an ache deeper and more horrible than seasickness. Bodie had promised that the nausea would pass, and it had.
But would this?
He must have slept at some point in the night, for he woke to find himself tangled in the blanket, drenched in the cold sweat of terror, with Bodie's bone-handled dirk clutched in his fist. The sight of the weapon in his hand brought the memory of the man who had given it to him, and, chilled to the core, he shoved the dagger back beneath the mattress.
He slept no more that night. He spent the long midwatch in thought, barely hearing the bells that marked the passage of time. He could not make amends, that much was certain. How could a man atone for such a thing as this? But he must do something. He had to acknowledge the role that he had played in Bodie's death.
By morning, he still had no idea how to begin. Nevertheless, he left his cabin, crossed the deck without comment, and knocked at the door of the forecastle.
The voices within fell silent abruptly, and after a moment Murphy flung open the door. "What do you want, Mr Doyle?" he asked, the cold formality a thin veneer over his disgust.
"I wanted to--" Apologise? How did one apologise for spoiling a mutiny and getting two crew members murdered?
He was suddenly aware that there were three other sailors watching him from their hammocks.
He took a breath and rushed on. "I am sorry for what happened. I swear, I never spoke to Keller about your plans."
"Then how did he discover them?"
"I do not know."
Murphy sneered at him. "If you've nothing more to say, then go. Go to the captain--perhaps he will be more forgiving."
"I'll have nothing to do with him," Doyle said, his voice thick with loathing. "He murdered the stowaway, and Bodie--"
"Aye, and Bodie too."
"Let me take his place," Doyle said, the sound of his own voice surprising him.
Murphy blinked. "What?"
"Let me make amends. I haven't Bodie's experience, but I can learn."
"Wait here." Murphy closed the door, and Doyle could her muttered voices. He wondered if Murphy would deign to return at all, but at last the door opened again.
Murphy's voice was as cold as his eyes. "A sailor who can't do the work is worse than sailing short-handed. You'll have to prove yourself capable--if you can climb to the royal yard, we'll let you stay on as a sailor."
"Be ready at three bells," Murphy said, and then he closed the forecastle door in Doyle's face.
Two bells of the watch had already been rung, which left him with less than half an hour to prepare himself. He returned to his cabin, his eyes studiously averted from the mainmast. If he looked up to the top of it now, he might well shut his cabin door and let the third bell pass unremarked.
In his cabin, he reached beneath the bunk and found the shirt and trousers that Bodie had given him when they'd set out. He had scorned the idea, then, of dressing like these rough men, but now he stripped off his clothing without hesitation and donned the garb of a sailor.
The clothes were surprisingly comfortable, and he thought he might perhaps become accustomed to wearing them, in time. Doyle remembered the last time he had tried to climb the rigging, how his slick-soled boots had tangled in the lines, and how Bodie had caught--
Right. There was no question of climbing in the boots, so he left them in his cabin. He strode out onto the deck, barefoot, just as three bells struck.
The entire crew, with the exception of captain and first mate, was gathered at the base of the mainmast, waiting for him. His step faltered, but he did not drop his head as he approached the mast.
"The agreement is this," Murphy said when he reached the gathered men. "Mr Doyle wishes to stand in Bodie's place as a sailor. If he proves himself able to climb the mainmast, all the way to the royal yard, and lives, then he will move to the forecastle and we'll teach him all he needs to know. If not..."
"If not, you'll have no further need to concern yourselves with me," Doyle said flatly.
Murphy inclined his head in acknowledgement. "When you're ready."
Doyle turned to the mast and took a deep breath. He was hardly fond of heights at the best of times, and climbing a rope ladder on a pitching brig was not exactly an optimal situation.
He looked up, and abruptly wished that he had been less curious when he'd first come aboard. Perhaps then he wouldn't know that the mainmast rose nearly 120 feet from the deck--taller than the dome of St. Paul's in London. Furthermore, a church spire did not pitch and yaw as one attempted to climb it.
But he refused to turn aside, and so he gripped the ropes and began to climb.
The first ten feet were no struggle, save that he could not forget climbing the lines before, with Bodie waiting below to catch him. Yet as he progressed in his climb, the rises and falls of the ship seemed to become exaggerated, as though he were standing on the back of a rearing stallion.
He made the mistake of looking down only once. Thenceforth he looked only as far as the next rope, and it served him well through the next several yards.
At the spar above the upper-main topsail, he paused, his hands aching from his tight grip on the ropes, and he found himself lacking the will to take the next step. What was he hoping to gain by this? It would not bring Bodie back--nothing could do that. This whole affair was madness.
He had nearly decided to start climbing down again when a voice from the deck below called out to him.
"Come on, lad! Not much farther now!" Jax shouted.
Jax wanted him to succeed in this?
"Nearly there, Doyle!" That sounded like McKay.
The support of his would-be crewmates moved him, and he reached up to the next rope, and the next, until finally there were no more ropes, and he laid a hand on the sun-warmed wood of the royal yard.
The sea stretched to infinity around him, the light wind tangling his hair as he scanned the empty horizon. Filled with a sudden triumph, Doyle laughed aloud.
Then he began the long climb down. He had been so concerned with reaching the top of the mast that he'd scarcely spared a thought for this half of the journey. Now he could no longer avoid looking down, seeking the next rope with his foot, and the distance between himself and the deck was dizzying.
It was precisely his luck that a fresh breeze sprang up then, the sails snapping and filling around him. The rigging swayed as the ship's speed increased, and Doyle clung desperately to the ratlines. Gradually he convinced himself to keep going, reminding himself that each step brought him closer to the deck, closer to winning his place among the crew.
Closer to a life in which he'd have to make this very climb ten or more times a day.
The sound of the fourth bell was fading when Doyle dropped back to the deck, his legs shaking beneath him, and then the bell was drowned in a tide of cheers from the crew. He dropped gracelessly to one knee, still trying to catch his breath as his new crewmates congratulated him.
When he rose to his feet he saw Captain Keller standing before him.
"Have you taken leave of your senses?" The wound across Keller's cheek was dark and ugly.
"I don't believe so, Captain."
"What do you think you are doing?"
"I've decided to join the crew," he said firmly.
"After you mur--" Doyle reined in his temper. "Since Mr Bodie is no longer capable of carrying out his duties on this ship or this earth, I've chosen to take his place."
Keller rounded on the rest of the crew. "And you lot, you accept this madness? You will have him as one of your own?"
"Aye," Murphy said firmly, and the rest of the crew echoed him.
"Then so be it, Doyle," Keller said coldly, and it was now very clear that he was speaking to an inferior. "Your quarters will be in the forecastle with the others." Keller swung round and stalked back to his cabin without another word.
As soon as the door closed behind him, the sailors raised the cheer again.
That night, Doyle slept in a hammock in the forecastle. He took nothing from his old cabin, from his old life.
There was nothing he felt he needed.
He had not expected sailing to be easy work, and each day proved that he was more right than he could have guessed. His hands blistered and roughened, his skin turned pink and then brown in the sun, and though he ached when he climbed into his hammock, he was surprised at how good it felt. It was honest work, work that would, with luck, bring them into port safe and on schedule.
He learned to reef a sail, to scour the deck, to steer a course by sunlight and starlight. And he climbed the royal yard so often, in sun and shade and storm, that it soon ceased to strike any fear into him at all.
The cursing came more naturally to him than most of the other aspects of a sailor's life. Though he lacked Murphy's creativity or Matheson's element of surprise, he felt he made a decent account of himself, and after the third or fourth time nobody even laughed.
Just over a week after he joined the crew, he came off-watch to find Murphy and Jax up against the wall in the forecastle, pressed together with their trousers around their knees. Jax only glanced over at him, gave Doyle a wink, and returned his attention to Murphy. Doyle scooped up his washing and retreated to the deck without a word.
Hadn't Bodie said, on the first night of the voyage, that the laws of England meant nothing on board a ship? So an act which might end in hanging on land could be carried out without fear on the sea. His brow furrowed as he scrubbed. It hardly seemed fair that his inclinations might not be unwelcome here, now that the only man he might have wanted was gone.
That night, Doyle picked up the copy of Endymion that still lay in the forecastle, surprised that it had not gone down with Bodie in his hammock. It was worn as though it had been read a dozen times, the gold-stamped title all but rubbed off the spine. Bodie must have liked it very much.
Without really knowing why, Doyle crawled into his hammock with the book in hand, and proceeded to read until the lowering night and his own exhaustion sent him to sleep.
He repeated the ritual at every off-watch until he had finished the poem. He still found it odd that a sailor's favourite poem would be a hymn to dry land. He wondered what kept Bodie at sea, what had made him choose this life.
And he would never know the answer. For the first time since Bodie's death, Doyle felt tears pricking at his eyes. He laid the book aside and turned over, hoping that none of the others had noticed.
"He cared for you, you know."
Doyle winced, caught out, and dashed at his eyes before sitting up to look at Jax. "Did he?"
He nodded. "He vowed bloody murder on anyone who harmed a hair on your head, even during the mutiny."
Bodie had promised that he wouldn't be harmed, but to hear it from another, after everything...
"I wish--" Doyle's voice failed; he shook his head.
"Aye, so do we all," Jax said.
Doyle closed his eyes. "I'm sorry. I never meant--I never meant anyone to be hurt. If Keller hadn't found out your plans, Bodie would still be here."
Jax shook his head. "No, it doesn't matter. We had Keller surrounded, and none of us had the guts to shoot. We'd have failed even if he hadn't held you hostage."
"But he chose Bodie because of me."
Jax gave him a teasing shove, setting his hammock swinging. "Are you saying you'd rather it had been one of us?"
"No, that isn't--"
"Listen." Jax leaned out of his hammock, speaking in a low voice. "You didn't kill Bodie."
"I may as well have."
"No, Ray, listen to me. Bodie didn't--"
"Jax." Murphy's voice was sharp. "Leave it."
He glanced over at Murphy and sighed. "Yeah, all right." He squeezed Doyle's shoulder briefly. "It still wasn't your fault."
Murphy glanced from Jax to the door, and they stepped out of the forecastle together. Doyle assumed that whatever they'd gone to do was none of his business, and he settled back in his hammock to rest.
But he could hear the low conversation in the passage, voices just sharp enough to carry.
"Come on, Murph, the lad's heartbroken!"
"I know, and I'm sorry for it. But it doesn't change anything."
"What would it hurt now? You can't think he'd go running to Keller. He's more than proven himself."
"He has, but Keller would notice the change soon enough. Just...wait till we reach port, eh? It won't matter then."
"Aye, all right," Jax said, and the voices faded away again. Doyle lay in the hammock wondering what the argument had been about, and how it could have concerned him.
He fell asleep, no closer to puzzling the matter out than he was when he began.
As he grew accustomed to sailing, Doyle began to notice oddnesses in the captain's behaviour towards him. There might be any number of reasons for Keller to treat him with disdain, but the strangeness grew until Doyle decided to share his qualms with the rest of the crew at supper.
"Keller never speaks to me," he said.
"Aye, and we should all be so lucky," McKay drawled.
"No, it's strange. To any of you, he gives the orders himself--but when he has an order for me, he tells Anson, and makes Anson tell me."
"Don't want to sully himself by speaking to you, maybe," Murphy suggested.
"But he watches me, all the time. It makes my skin crawl."
"Of course he watches you," Jax said. "He's waiting for you to make a mistake."
"And then what will happen?"
"Then he'll threaten to punish you for it--have you whipped, or keelhauled, or sent down to the brig. Probably whipped, because of what happened to Bodie. Likely he thinks you'll give up sailing and retreat to your old cabin in the face of such a threat."
"Then his thinking is wrong," Doyle snapped.
"Aye, we know that."
Doyle took a long swallow of tea. "Do you think he'd carry through with it? If I didn't back down?"
"Who knows?" Jax said, shrugging. "Best idea is to keep doing as you are, and never let it come to that."
Doyle had to agree that it was sound advice, but he went back to his watch with a prickle at the back of his neck that could only mean that Keller was watching him again.
Midway through the watch, a brilliant red bird swooped down to settle atop the royal yard, squawking a harsh cry over the wind. Doyle smiled, for he had never seen its like. "That bird--does it mean we're near land?"
Matheson looked up at it, frowned, and shook his head. "Bird's from the Caribbean--nearly a thousand miles off."
"The Caribbean? Then how on earth did it get here?"
"Storm-driven," Matheson said. It was perhaps the longest conversation Doyle had ever heard Matheson hold. "There's a hurricane to the south of us."
Doyle had heard of such storms from the other sailors, and had never heard it spoken of with less than awe or dread. He had no desire to encounter one now. "Will we have to sail around it?"
"No telling," Matheson said. "Our course is up to the captain."
Doyle returned to the forecastle when the watches changed, less than reassured.
McKay and King were grumbling in low, tense tones when Doyle walked in. He paused. "Is something wrong?"
"Probably," King muttered.
McKay expanded upon King's dark comment. "You've heard about the hurricane? Keller wants to put us on the edge of it, to catch the winds."
"That seems--unwise," Doyle said.
McKay spat on the floor. "It's more than unwise, it's bloody madness. Oh, if we catch the winds aright, we'll come to port days before we're set to. But if we catch them wrong..."
He grinned. "Then we won't be coming to port at all, will we?"
By the next afternoon, even Doyle's untrained eye could see that the clouds massing to the south of them were not typical stormclouds. The whole mass of them seemed to have a curvature, and every hour brought the ship nearer the edge.
At the change of the watch, Murphy slipped into the forecastle and held up a hand for silence. "He means to do it," he said tensely. "I heard him arguing with Anson on deck. He means to sail us along the edge of the hurricane, so you'd best rest on your off-watch, as much as you can, because when we sail into that storm we'll need all hands."
There was a peculiar emphasis to his voice, and Murphy glanced at Jax as he spoke. Jax nodded, almost imperceptibly. Doyle wondered what had passed between them, but, reflecting on the nature of their relationship, he doubted it was any of his business.
Despite Murphy's warning, Doyle found that sleep was a long time in coming.
Midway through the night watch, the ship's bell rang sharply. Doyle was nearly pitched out of his hammock as he tried to rise. He threw on a shirt and stumbled up to the deck against a vicious wind that drove icy rain into his face. Waves crashed over the rail and flooded the deck with salt water, each one threatening to drag the crew overboard.
"All hands aloft!" Anson cried, standing at the bell. "All hands aloft!"
Aloft? In this wind? But Doyle looked up and saw why. The sails were snapping to and fro in the buffeting winds, out of control. A straining sail could break its mast in two, and while they had spare sails, a broken mast couldn't be repaired until they made port. Two broken masts, and they'd be all but adrift.
He started for the mainmast and was intercepted by the captain. "Doyle!" he shouted, driven by the desperation of the storm to address him directly. "Cut the main topsail free! Have you a knife?"
He'd rolled out of his hammock without stopping to fetch one. "No, sir."
Keller reached into a pocket, then hesitated, as though realizing for the first time to whom he was speaking. Then the sail cracked again, with a noise like a whip, and Keller handed him a splicing knife.
Doyle pocketed the knife and clambered up into the rigging. The rain lashed at his skin, the wind threatening to toss him from the ropes at any moment, but he gritted his teeth and kept climbing.
The topsail was snapping in the wind, first full and bowed, and then lank and clinging to the mast. Doyle timed his cuts, waiting for the sail to fill and pull the ropes taut. In such a state, a mere flick of the wrist would be enough to cut through the ropes. As he cut the last line, the heavy canvas sail went spinning out into the darkness of the sea.
The next hours were a blur of waves and wind and rain, until Doyle scarcely remembered what it was like to be warm or dry. Most of the sails had been cut loose, and there seemed little else to be done except cling to the ratlines and pray that the ship would not sink.
Gradually the rain slackened, and the wind ceased altogether. Morning sun glimmered through a gap in the clouds. "We're through," Doyle said, a grin lighting his face.
Murphy shook his head. "No, lad. It's the eye of the storm. In an hour, maybe less, we'll be sailing through it again--and the winds will be blowing us the other way."
Doyle's heart sank. "Then we haven't managed to catch the edge of the storm properly?"
"Not at all. We've sailed right through the heart of her, and we'll be lucky to come out the other side alive and afloat."
The crew set to clearing the deck, casting the fallen sails over the side and lashing down whatever had come loose in the first part of the storm.
They had barely made a start when, true to Murphy's word, the sky darkened once more, the wind roughened, and the storm began anew. There was little left to be done in the rigging, as few sails remained to be cut, but Doyle was sent aloft once more to cut the tangled fore-topgallant sail from its mast.
The sail came loose with little effort, but before Doyle could free it entirely a gust of wind caught the sodden canvas and flung it against him, knocking his hands from the rigging. He reached out to grab the ropes again, but missed his grip, and found himself dangling upside down, his legs caught among the ratlines.
If he moved, the odds were he would fall. But he could hardly hang there like a bat at roost until they had passed through the storm. He gathered his courage and swung himself up, reaching desperately for the ropes as his legs slipped free of the tangled ratlines. A hand flashed down out of the storm to catch his, pulling him upright again.
A burst of lightning illuminated blue eyes in a pale face, dark hair dripping with rain.
"Bodie?" he gasped, but the wind of the storm snatched the word away and hurled it out to sea. He let go of Bodie's hand long enough to catch hold of the rigging again, and when he looked up Bodie was nowhere to be found.
If he had lost his mind, he could worry about that later. He made his way down towards the pitching deck, careful of the rain-slick ropes. He was scarcely fifteen feet up when there came a great cracking sound, as though the earth itself were splitting in two. The taut ratlines buckled, and Doyle tumbled down to the deck and to darkness.
He woke, or thought he did, to more darkness. Somewhere, far away, someone was humming, the bawdy chantey that he had once heard Bodie sing.
It hurt to move, but he turned his head anyway, just enough to see that Bodie was sitting by his bed. Did that mean that he was dead now, too? He hadn't thought that being dead would hurt so much.
Bodie caught the small movement and looked down. He smiled, just a little, and laid a hand on Doyle's shoulder. He felt real enough, his palm warm even through the rough canvas of Doyle's shirt.
If this was death or delirium, Doyle thought, then it wasn't so bad. He let his eyes fall closed, and Bodie's humming lulled him back to sleep.
When he woke again, it was Murphy sitting beside him, and Doyle felt unaccountably disappointed. What was he going to say? Pardon me, have you seen my hallucination of your dead crewmate? I'm sure he was here just a moment ago...
"Murph--" he began, but his voice cracked and died in his throat.
Murphy jumped at the sound. "Welcome back to the land of the living," he said. "How do you feel?"
"Terrible," he admitted in a whisper.
"You're lucky you're still breathing air, lad."
He didn't feel lucky, though. His head throbbed, and his whole body felt sluggish and heavy. He struggled to make sense of his memories.
He frowned. "I dreamed..."
"Laudanum will do that to a man," Murphy said lightly.
"I dreamed that Bodie was here."
"Did you?" Murphy seemed neither surprised nor concerned. He turned aside and poured a cup of tea. He lifted Doyle's head with one hand and held the cup to his lips. Doyle might have been embarrassed by the solicitude had it not been so clearly necessary.
"Sleep," Murphy said when the cup was empty.
"No, I've done enough sleeping. My watch--"
"You'll not be much help to the watch if you cannot even stand. We can get by without you until you're well again. Now sleep."
Despite himself, Doyle found his eyes closing. Wake me for the next watch, he tried to say, but he was asleep before his mouth could form the words.
He woke to the sound of four bells, and he saw a faint light from the porthole. It might be dawn or late afternoon; he did not even know the day. He was lying in his old cabin, and the chair that had been set by his bedside was empty. He was alone.
No sooner had the thought crossed his mind than the door opened, revealing Murphy in the hall. "How are you feeling?"
"Better," he said, "at least a bit. Murphy, how long have I been here? I don't remember..."
"Later," he said gently. "There's someone to see you, and he won't wait."
Doyle eyed him suspiciously. "It is not Keller, is it?"
"No. A more pleasant guest, I promise. But...you must stay quiet. You are not recovered from your fall, yet, and...well, it would be best if the captain did not hear you. Do you understand?"
"Of course," Doyle said uncertainly.
Murphy slipped out of the cabin and beckoned to someone in the corridor. A shadow slipped away from the stairwell and moved forward.
Bodie stood in the cabin's doorway.
Bodie took the lantern from Murphy and stepped inside, closing the door swiftly behind him. He looked pale, almost drawn in the half-light of the cabin, but for a dead man he seemed remarkably well.
There were a thousand things Doyle might have said, but in the end all he managed was, "You died."
"Not quite. And neither did you, although you had us all a bit worried for a while."
"I saw them send your hammock over the side."
Bodie sighed and settled into the chair that Murphy had left behind, hanging the lantern over a hook on the wall. "Stuffed with sailcloth and weighted with ballast. The crew decided it would be better if Keller thought I had died, and that meant you had to believe the same. I'm sorry."
"You're sorry? When it was my fault that you--"
"Settle down," Bodie said sharply, pressing Doyle back onto the bed as he tried to rise.
"It was my fault--it must have been. He was hinting, talking about the Bounty mutiny, bragging that his ship was proof against such things. I should have refused his summons, pled illness or sunstroke, anything to keep away from him--" He broke off. Bodie was smiling at him, laughing at his rambling apology.
"Are you quite finished?" Bodie asked wryly.
"How can you laugh about it?"
"If I am not dead, how can my death be your fault?"
Doyle had to smile. The expression raised a sharp jolt of pain from the side of his face, and he swore. He lifted a hand to trace the line of his own cheekbone, carefully, and found an unevenness that had not been there before.
"I tried to catch you," Bodie said guiltily. "But the mast broke, and--"
"I remember that much."
"You fell. The lads brought you down below, but you--you didn't stir for two days. We didn't know if you'd ever wake." Bodie's voice was low and tense.
"How long has it been?"
"Going on four days now. We're becalmed. I know what Keller was trying to do, pushing us through that damned hurricane, but it was bloody foolish, and it hasn't helped us any."
"I tried to ask Murphy how we made it through, but I couldn't stay awake."
Bodie winced. "That was our fault, not yours--we've been drugging you. Didn't want you thrashing about and doing yourself more damage, so we put a bit of laudanum in your tea."
"I see." Doyle's hand returned to his battered cheek, absently tracing the contours of it.
"It's not so bad," Bodie promised. "Makes you look rakish."
He looked up. "And you're really...all right?"
"Aye," Bodie said. "A few scars, that's all."
"Can I--" Doyle cut himself off, aware of the impropriety of his request.
"Doubting Thomas," he teased, but he stripped off his shirt anyway, his movements careful but not pained. He drew the lamp closer so that Doyle could see, and turned his back.
"Oh, Bodie," he sighed, trailing a fingertip along the pink lines that cris-crossed Bodie's back. The scars must have been tender still, because Bodie shivered at the touch.
Doyle pulled away. "Do they hurt you?"
"I have never seen such cruelty," Doyle said, his voice growing rough at the memory.
"Every sailor's had his lashes," Bodie said, and indeed there were faint white lines under the new marks. "Sometimes he even deserves them. But I've never had the like of this. Murphy likes to make out that it was some grand jest, faking my death, but it was nearer to true than I like to think. For a day or two, I don't believe any of them knew if I would recover."
"I wish they had told me the truth."
"So do I. But when you joined the crew, I was out of my head with fever, in no state to tell you myself, and the lads thought it was best to keep my secret. They feared you wouldn't be able to bluff well enough to keep the truth from Keller."
Doyle grimaced. "Because I let on to him about the mutiny."
"So Keller said. But he must have known something before he had you to tea--someone must have slipped."
"Or someone is less trustworthy than you thought."
Bodie raised an eyebrow. "Now that is a chilling thought, Doyle." He drew his shirt down over his head, and Doyle nearly sighed with disappointment. He could vividly remember the last time he had touched another man with such familiarity, and the memory brought a flush to his face. He hoped it wouldn't be visible in the dim light of the cabin, and indeed Bodie made no mention of it. Instead, he poured a cup of tea from a chipped teapot and passed it over to Doyle.
Doyle suddenly realised that he was desperately thirsty, but he eyed the cup's contents suspiciously. "Is this one drugged, too?"
Bodie took it back from him and took a noisy slurp before handing it back, his fingers curling around Doyle's for an instant before he pulled away. "Satisfied?"
Not at all, Doyle thought ruefully. He drank the rest of the tea in silence, too many thoughts vying for attention in his aching head.
Bodie smiled faintly, shaking his head. "You know, I could scarcely believe it when they told me you'd joined the crew," he said. "I hated that you still thought... I wanted to tell you, but there was no safe way to do it. Even some of the crew still thinks I'm dead. Anson does--or did."
"Did? Did he see you, during the storm?"
"Never mind." Bodie's face went abruptly blank, all emotion carefully masked, and Doyle knew there was something that he wasn't being told.
"Bodie," he said again, softly, but Bodie took the teacup from him and pushed him back down onto the bed.
"You should sleep. Keller made the crew swear to tell him when you woke up, so the longer they can pretend you're still unconscious, the better."
"It's nothing you have to worry about," Bodie said firmly. "Just rest."
Doyle stood up unsteadily, stooping beneath the cabin's low ceiling. He braced himself against the wall with one hand. "I won't rest until you tell me," he said. "Why does the captain want to know when I'm awake?"
Bodie's eyes shifted away from him. "I told you, it's nothing to worry about."
"But you won't look at me when you say it."
He sighed. "They found Anson found on the deck after the storm. At first it seemed as though the mast must have fallen on him, but...there was a dagger in his back. Your dagger, Doyle."
"What?" Doyle sat back down on the bed, his eyes wide. "Anson?"
Bodie nodded. "Murdered, with the knife I gave you when you came aboard."
"I left that in here, when I moved to the forecastle. I haven't seen it since." A chilling thought struck him, and he reached out, taking hold of Bodie's wrist. "You don't think--you can't think that I did it?"
"No. I know you better than to think you would have done it. But my word would count for nothing, even if I could stand witness for you. Keller says you're to be tried for his murder. And I told you--on a ship, the captain is judge and jury."
Doyle winced. "That hardly sounds promising."
On deck, two bells struck. Bodie grimaced. "I have to go," he said. "Keller walks the deck at three bells, and I can't be seen." He ruffled Doyle's hair very gently and slipped out of the cabin, leaving him alone with his thoughts.
Anson was dead, and Keller suspected him of the murder. If Doyle intended to survive this voyage, he would simply have to discover who really murdered Anson, and clear his own name.
He could set aside some of the crew immediately. Jax and Murphy would never stab a man in the back. Matheson and King were not made of stern enough stuff--they had been the first to throw down their weapons when Keller demanded it. McKay was mad as a hatter, true, but Doyle had never heard him say a sharp word to Anson. Stuart...Doyle didn't know much about Stuart. He was the second mate, but Doyle could hardly imagine that he was so ambitious as to have murdered Anson in order to succeed him. He sighed. It was possible, he supposed, but then it was possible that any of them might have done it.
And then there was Bodie. Doyle didn't want to consider the possibility, but he could not avoid it. Bodie would have had the chance. He was used to keeping himself hidden, after all, and no one was giving him orders during the hurricane.
And he knew where Doyle had kept his knife. It would have been easy to slip inside, retrieve the dirk, and wait for the right moment.
But why would he have done it? True, Anson had sided with the captain in the mutiny, and he had strung Bodie up for the lashing. Perhaps he had seen Bodie, during the storm, and Bodie had killed him to keep his secret.
Doyle sighed. His head was pounding, and he almost wished for another cup of laudanum-laced tea. He did not want to believe such a thing of Bodie, but even in his partiality he had to allow that it was possible. Did Bodie mean to see Doyle hang for his own crime? That, he could not believe. Though Doyle could never hope that Bodie returned his feelings, he knew at least that Bodie thought of him as a friend. A man could not allow a friend, an innocent man, to stand trial for his own crimes.
His thoughts were turning in circles, making no progress. The light in the room was dimming as the day wore on, and Doyle found himself exhausted even from an hour's wakefulness. He lay back down and slipped instantly into sleep.
He slept through the next two watches, waking just past dawn. He felt much stronger now, aside from a lingering ache along his broken cheekbone, and he decided he was ready to face whatever judgment Keller pronounced on him. He could hardly let the crew protect him forever, and he could see no other course of action, short of faking his death as Bodie had done. He rose and made his way out onto the deck to survey the damage.
The ship was becalmed, drifting in a thick grey mist that hid the upper sails and left the ratlines dripping. He could not see the stump of the fore-mast until he was nearly upon it. The remains were a jagged mess, the tallest splinter barely six feet high. They would catch less wind with a single mast, he knew, but they could still reach port this way--provided, of course, there was a wind to carry them there. The slackened mainsail told him they were making no progress at all.
Yet the rest of the ship seemed largely unharmed; new sails had been put up to replace those lost to the storm. The Seahawk was merely wounded, not defeated.
A shadow loomed up out of the fog, and Doyle looked up to find Captain Keller standing before him. The scar on his face was livid, but Doyle felt no remorse at all for having caused it. He'd seen the scars on Bodie's back now, and he knew who had come off worse between them.
"Mr Doyle, you are charged with the murder of Mr Anson in the midst of the storm."
Even expecting the accusation did not lessen its impact. "I did not--"
"Save your arguments. You will be tried at the first dog watch this afternoon; until then, you will be confined to the brig. Stuart," Keller said, gesturing towards Doyle.
With a vaguely apologetic look, Stuart grasped Doyle's arm and led him down into the depths of the ship, below the steerage and into the very belly of the Seahawk, where unseen water sloshed ominously and the walls were curved like the ribs of the Leviathan. He lit a lantern, then unlocked the door of an iron-barred cage and ushered Doyle inside it. The key grated in the lock as it turned, and then Stuart started for the ladder.
"Wait--won't you leave the lantern?"
Stuart shook his head. "If it were to fall, it could set the hull alight," he said, and then he vanished up the ladder, taking the light with him.
Doyle sighed and leaned against the bars. What he'd not give to have Bodie here, to suggest to him what he ought to do. Where did he go, Doyle wondered, when he was not playing nursemaid in Doyle's cabin?
Somewhere in the depths of the hold, there was a spark, and then the steadier glow of a lantern. Bodie appeared like a wraith conjured out of the darkness. "He really means to try you, then."
"At the first dog watch."
"So soon? I'd have thought he'd let you linger down here. A man could go mad, you know."
"Is this where you've been, then, since you...died?"
"Yes. But don't worry, I'm as sane as I ever was."
"Not reassuring, that," Doyle said, shakily matching Bodie's grin. Then his smile faltered. "Bodie, I have to ask. Did you--"
"No. Anson was never a friend, but I wouldn't have murdered him."
"But he whipped you."
Bodie smiled. "You saw the scars--you know it was not the first time. I've had worse than Anson, but Keller...Keller enjoyed it."
"Why haven't you killed him, then?"
Bodie shook his head. "To be honest, it was you that changed my mind. All your talk of justice and revenge. I spent a long time trying to think of another way to remove Keller from his command, and I've not yet succeeded."
"Perhaps I can help," Doyle said. "Can you get me a pen, and something to write on? If Keller tries me and has me hanged, then at least I can leave a letter. Would you see that it gets to Miss Holly? Her father is hardly fond of me, but he dotes on her. If she brings the case to him, he is sure to listen, even if..."
"Keller won't hang you, Doyle. He wouldn't dare."
"If he doesn't, then I'll tear up the letter and throw it out to sea. It will hurt nothing, at least, to set down what has happened."
"I'll bring you the paper," Bodie said. "But I'll need the lantern. Will you be all right?"
"Of course," Doyle lied unconvincingly.
The moments of Bodie's absence ticked by interminably. With no sun to mark the passage of time, no candle to melt down towards its base, Doyle felt that he might have been in the brig for an hour or a month. He knew that thought for the lunacy it was, and counted slow, deep breaths until a faint light announced Bodie's return.
Bodie brought him an inkwell, a pen, and Endymion. The hurricane had not been kind to the book; the pages were stiff and crinkled from the salt-water. "The endpapers are blank," Bodie explained. "You should have enough room to write down what's happened."
In the dim light of the lantern, Doyle set down a brief account of his weeks on board the Seahawk, from the foiled mutiny to the captain's vicious whipping of his crew to the hurricane and the trial he now faced. As to his innocence, he wrote, he could offer no more than his word. But the story that the captain would tell would surely be different from the letter, and so even if Mr Holly were glad to be rid of an unworthy suitor, he might at least be driven to question the crew on the events of the voyage. Murphy and Jax, at least, could be counted on to attest to Doyle's story.
He had just finished with the letter and signed his name when footsteps began to sound on the ladder above. Bodie leaned closer to the bars, so near that Doyle almost thought he meant to kiss him.
"Doyle--keep your temper," Bodie said swiftly. "He'll only use it against you." He blew the lamp out and vanished into the shadows.
Stuart descended the ladder, lit by a lamp of his own, and unlocked Doyle's cell.
"Time for my trial, then?" Doyle asked.
Stuart only nodded and led him up onto the deck. Squinting against the light, Doyle found the rest of the crew gathered near the rail. Keller lounged in a plush, water-stained chair from his cabin. A plain wooden stool stood empty, and it was to this that Stuart led him.
"Mr Doyle, since our destination is America, we shall have a portion of that democracy which they so prize," Keller announced. "Your peers, then, stand before you, ready to defend or condemn you as they will."
Doyle said nothing. Keller continued.
"Raymond Doyle, you stand accused of the unnatural murder of Mr Anson, first mate of this vessel. How plead you?"
"Innocent," he said flatly.
"The accused pleads innocent," Keller announced. "Now, Mr Doyle. Do you deny that Mr Anson was murdered?"
"I have been told that it happened," Doyle said. "But I have seen no evidence of the crime."
"His body was consigned to the sea in a proper Christian burial. Mr Jax, will you attest to the fact that Mr Anson was found on deck stabbed with a dagger?"
He glanced up at Keller, then briefly turned his glance to Doyle. "Aye."
"And would you say that it is natural for a man to die in such a way? Could it have been an accident?"
Jax shook his head. "Not an accident, no, sir."
"I suppose so."
"Very well. Mr Doyle, you are a man in an unnatural position--"
"Your pardon?" Doyle asked, suspicion tightening his voice.
Keller smiled. "Would you say it is natural, then, for a young man of wealth and good breeding to throw in his lot with a crew of mutinous sailors, to spend his days at hard labour, and all this by his own choice?"
"It may not be usual," Doyle said, "but I should not call it unnatural."
"And the other unnatural activities of the crew--will you deny that you participated in them?"
"I do not know what you mean."
"The sodomy, Mr Doyle! Do you deny that you have done such things with the crew?"
"Yes, I deny it," he said. "I have committed no such act with any member of the crew, living or dead." Though that fact was more from lack of opportunity than lack of desire, it was nevertheless true, and none of the crew could prove anything to the contrary.
"Do you recognise this blade?" Keller asked, abruptly changing subjects. He held up the bone-handled dirk that had killed Mr Anson.
"Does it belong to you, Mr Doyle?"
"It did once," he replied. "I left it behind in my cabin when I joined the crew."
"And why would you do so? It is a fine blade, and would be useful to a sailor."
Doyle gritted his teeth. "It was a gift from Mr Bodie, and as I felt that his death was my fault, I could not bear to carry it."
"You are, then, a man whose emotions are deeply felt. Guilt, as you say--and perhaps anger? Tell me, Mr Matheson, does Mr Doyle have a temper?"
Matheson jumped at being addressed, and his shoulders seemed to slump. "I...we've all got our ill humours, sir--"
"I did not ask you about the crew at large, Mr Matheson. I asked you about Mr Doyle. Has he a temper?"
"I suppose so," he mumbled.
"Have you heard him use speech unbefitting a man of his station?"
"I suppose I have."
"And has he taken the name of the Lord in vain?"
"Captain, we all say things that we--"
"Aye," Matheson sighed, casting an apologetic glance at Doyle. "He has."
"So," Keller said with satisfaction. "We have established that Mr Doyle possessed the knife that murdered Mr Anson. We have established also that he is possessed of a hot temper, and that he harboured a partiality for Mr Bodie, which gave him a reason to hate Mr Anson. Now all that need be established is whether he had the opportunity of murdering the first mate."
Doyle opened his mouth to argue the logic of the point, but recalled Bodie's words about keeping his temper, and fell silent again.
Keller continued with his prosecution. "Your hatred of Mr Anson began after he whipped your great friend Mr Bodie, and thenceforward you bided your time. Under the cover of the storm, you murdered Mr Anson, and left his body to be found when the storm had passed."
"And how could I have done this?" Doyle interrupted. "I was unconscious during the latter part of the storm, when the murder must have been done. Anson was alive to help us untangle the lines in the eye of the storm--McKay, you saw him as well."
"Aye, so I did," he said, ducking his head under Keller's scrutiny.
"In which case," Keller concluded, "you must have committed the murder just after we passed back into the storm. Perhaps you stabbed him while you were both aloft, but in his death-throes he struggled, and pulled you down to the deck along with him."
"No--I fell from the rigging when the mast broke. Anyone might have seen that."
"But did anyone see?"
Silence from the crew.
"If none saw you fall, none would have seen you murder Mr Anson."
"I did not kill him," Doyle said, maintaining his temper with difficulty, "and I don't know who did. I was up in the rigging, cutting the fore-topgallant sail free."
"With this knife?"
"No, sir. I had no knife when all hands were called. You had given me a splicing knife when the storm began. I was trying to climb back down to the deck when the mast broke."
"Can anyone confirm your story?"
Only a dead man. "No, sir," he admitted.
Keller turned to the crew. "Will any of you, then, speak in Mr Doyle's defence? Or would any of you care to confess, to unburden your soul of its crimes?"
Doyle looked at each of the crew in turn, and found that no one would meet his eyes. How many of them believed he had really done it? How many of these men with whom he had worked, and laughed, and eaten--how many of them now believed him a murderer?
And which one of them had committed the crime for which Doyle was now to be condemned?
"Very well," Keller said, and Doyle knew that there would be no vote to determine his guilt or innocence. "Mr Doyle, you are found guilty of the cold-blooded murder of the first mate, Mr Anson, and the sentence for that crime is death. At dawn tomorrow you shall hang by the neck from the yardarm until dead." He pounded the butt of his pistol on the rail, and the trial was over. Stuart, who had by all appearances been promoted to first mate in Anson's place, led Doyle back down to the brig, locked him in, and left him in darkness.
Not long after Stuart left him, a candle flared in the hold, and Bodie sauntered over, a lamp in hand. "If you're planning to stay down here, I'll have to charge you board, you know."
"Not for long, you won't."
"I'm to be hanged in the morning," he said flatly.
Bodie cursed. "I didn't think he'd dare it."
"Why shouldn't he? It is in his best interests that I be dead when we make port. After all, he cannot think that I will refrain from telling Mr Holly what has transpired here. The foolhardiness of sailing into the hurricane alone would be sufficient for Keller's dismissal, even without consideration of his cruelty. But without me, it will be only the word of a sailor against his master--and the weight will be given to Keller's tale."
"You forget the letter," Bodie said. "I'll keep it safe, and find a way to get it to Miss Holly."
Doyle smiled wanly. "Forgive me if the comfort I take in that is small."
"Still, it's better than nothing at all, isn't it?"
"I suppose so." Doyle sighed. His head was aching again, and he felt more exhausted than he had ever been in his life.
Bodie drew back. "You should sleep."
"Sleep?" Doyle laughed. "What good will that do? I've only a few hours left, after all."
Bodie's face twisted in the lamplight, and Doyle reached for him, suddenly fearful that he would leave.
"Will you stay?"
Bodie's eyes glittered with mischief. "I can do better than that. I've been making improvements while you were up on deck, and I've just about finished." He set the lamp aside, then reached down and twisted two of the brig's iron bars from loosened sockets.
"Liberty," Doyle said, matching Bodie's smile. And then Doyle stepped forward and embraced him.
Even in the darkness Bodie's lips found his easily, perfectly, one hand sliding through the curls of Doyle's hair. Then Doyle's lips parted, and Bodie pulled away.
"I'm not a fool, Bodie, nor am I an innocent. I know what I'm asking."
"Yes. And I've wanted it--wanted you--for a long time now."
"It's hanging if you're caught, you know."
Doyle laughed against the side of Bodie's throat. "What does it matter?" he asked. "We're both dead men."
"Come on, then." Bodie led him to an alcove hidden among the barrels and crates of cargo. There was just enough space for a bed fashioned out of spare blankets, with a bent nail hammered into a crate above to hang the lantern.
"Cosy," Doyle said.
"Better than a coffin."
Doyle shuddered and kissed him, and they sank down onto the blankets together.
They had little luxury of time or comfort; at any moment someone might descend the ladder to the hold, and Doyle would have to bolt for the brig. But they made the most of what time they had to themselves.
Doyle rolled to lie atop Bodie, pressing them together from chest to thigh, and Bodie arched up against him. Bodie's hands slid from Doyle's waist to his hips, pushing aside the encumbering canvas of his trousers. His hand brushed against the length of Doyle's cock, and he shivered.
Doyle leaned down to kiss Bodie roughly, sighing against Bodie's lips when Bodie reached a hand down between them to unfasten the fall front of his own trousers.
His hand was broad enough to surround them both, moving in swift, even strokes. Doyle let his lips wander from Bodie's mouth to his jaw, his hands slipping under Bodie's shirt to explore the planes of his chest. He rubbed his thumb over one nipple and was rewarded with a shuddering groan. He smiled against Bodie's neck and repeated the motion, feeling Bodie's breath quicken in response.
Doyle would have liked nothing more than to continue thus until they reached port, but the pleasure was rapidly overwhelming him. Bodie's hand moved faster, echoing Doyle's own urgency. "Please," he whispered. "Please, Bodie, God..." Bodie stroked once more, long and sure, and Doyle muffled a shout against the side of Bodie's throat as he came. He was still shaking with it when Bodie's arm tightened around him, his hand moving faster and faster until he too found his pleasure.
They lay together for a long moment, unsteady breaths gradually deepening. Bodie used a clean handkerchief to tidy them up, and then he settled back beside Doyle, their legs still tangled together.
Doyle slid his fingers through the short hair at the nape of Bodie's neck. "Do you remember when I first came on board? You told me that every sailor needs a final friend."
Bodie shook his head. "Don't talk like that. It isn't over yet."
"He's not going to pardon me, Bodie."
"No, but...if we could discover the true murderer, then perhaps--"
Doyle shook his head, unwilling to allow his hopes to rise, but Bodie persisted.
"Who knew about the knife?"
"Not many people, I'm sure. Did anyone know you were to give it to me?"
Bodie considered. "It was Jax's idea--he didn't like the thought of an unarmed passenger caught up in our plans. He'll have told Murphy, of course, but no one else, I'm sure of it."
"Murphy and Jax." Doyle did not think either of them would have murdered Anson, but it was a start. "And I told the captain, at tea during that first day."
"You told Keller?" Bodie said sharply, raising his head.
"At the time, I believed that it was right," Doyle admitted, "though I left your name well out of it. He told me I should keep it beneath the mattress and hope that I should never have need of it."
Bodie sat up and gripped Doyle's arm. "Ray. Keller argued with Anson during the storm. I heard them shouting about the course. Anson threatened to report him for endangering the ship. Keller knew where you had kept the knife, and he had a reason to want you punished."
"So he murdered Anson, and made it look as though I had done it? It would have been easier to kill me himself."
"You spent most of the storm aloft--if he had gone up into the rigging after you, you might have cast him down in a struggle. Easier to murder Anson, who meant to tell Mr Holly about Keller's irresponsible risks, and let the blame fall upon you. He would rid himself of two enemies with a single stroke."
Bodie's words made a great deal of sense, more than any theory Doyle had been able to concoct on his own. "And yet it changes nothing, does it?" he said with a sigh.
"If we could prove--"
"Bodie, you're dead, and I'm a condemned man. No one will listen to us, and even if they did, it is still Keller who passes judgment. He will not order himself into the noose."
"No," Bodie agreed. "But there must be some way..."
"I hope you are not planning anything foolish."
He shrugged. "I have been making foolish plans since Stuart brought you down here, but there's nothing to be done. If we could get to the guns, we might be able to hold him prisoner until we reach port. There are plenty of knives, yes, but Keller would never respond to a threat like that. We would have to--"
"Compound one murder with another? No, I could not do such a thing."
"I could," Bodie said simply. "If it meant your life, I'd do it in a moment."
And if it were Bodie's life at stake, and not his own, Doyle thought he might do the same, but he shook his head. "I'll not be responsible for that, Bodie. Though I am...flattered, I suppose, at the offer." He brushed his lips against Bodie's cheek and closed his eyes. Perhaps a bit of a rest would be all right, even if he were to be hanged tomorrow. After all, with all the guns locked away, there was hardly any way that they could challenge Keller--
Doyle sat up, suddenly far from sleep. "Bodie."
"I know where he keeps the key to the musket-case."
He lifted his head. "What?"
"The key! When I had tea with Keller on the day before the mutiny, he showed me where the key was kept. He won't have thought to move it, I'm sure of that. He always believed I was a fool. If I can get to the guns, if I can bring them to the crew..."
"Then there might yet be a chance."
"Can you find someone above, and tell the crew to be ready? There may not be time, once I have the guns."
"I'll find someone." Bodie leaned forward and kissed him again. "You're bloody brilliant," he said, grinning, and then he picked up the lantern and made his way up towards the forecastle. This time, Doyle did not let the darkness disturb him. He was no longer caged; he could wander the hold or even escape it if need came. Indeed, their plan depended on his ability to reach the captain's cabin without drawing Keller's notice.
Soon, quiet footsteps descended the ladder again, and Doyle ducked back into the brig, on the chance that the visitor was someone else. But he needn't have worried, and when he recognised Bodie he stepped out of the cell once more.
"I found Stuart," Bodie said. "I told him to pass word on to the rest of the crew, to make sure they're ready. At three bells of the morning watch he'll invent some reason to get Keller out of his cabin. You can slip in and get the guns, and leave the rest to us."
"You trust Stuart?"
Bodie shrugged. "He's known about me all along, and hasn't betrayed me to Keller. That's reason enough for trust, isn't it?"
"I suppose so."
"I'd have rather had Murphy or Jax, but they were out on deck, and I couldn't risk it, even in the dark."
"No," Doyle agreed. If Bodie had been caught, it would all have been over before they had a chance to begin--and Bodie would certainly have been killed.
They waited together for three bells to strike, passing the time with kisses and caresses, knowing they had no time for more.
When the third bell struck, Doyle leaned in and kissed Bodie one more time.
Bodie stepped back reluctantly. "Good luck," he murmured, handing over the darkened lantern. Then Doyle scrambled up the ladder and out of the hold.
He froze at every tiny sound, from the creaking timbers to the quiet scurry of a rat somewhere in the passage. But the hold and the galley were empty, and he passed his old cabin without interruption. The faint predawn light was barely enough to guide him to the captain's cabin.
Doyle laid a hand on the door and found that it was unlocked; he could only hope that Stuart's distraction had been successful.
The room was pitch black when he entered, closing the door carefully behind himself. Doyle lit the lamp and raised it.
The light fell upon Captain Keller, sitting in his chair, alone and unarmed. "Good morning, Mr Doyle. Do come in."
Doyle's heart sank as set the lamp down on the table. "Stuart," he sighed. "He talked."
"Mr Stuart has been talking ever since he arrived on this ship."
"So he was the one who told you about the mutiny."
"Yes, but you provided a far more convenient scapegoat. Because the crew believed you were responsible for the failed mutiny, Stuart could remain among them and continue to pass me useful information about the crew's activities. Such as the fact that your dear Mr Bodie was still alive."
"No thanks to you."
"No, indeed. Had I but known the trouble he would cause, I would have sought him out and finished him while he lay weak from the lashing."
"Coward," Doyle growled. What was the use in reining in his temper now? If only he had the dirk, he felt he might be able to make use of it.
"Coward, you call me?" Keller asked. "When you came sneaking into my cabin, no better than a common thief? Worse, even, for surely you know that the crew meant to murder me, and that my blood would be upon your hands."
"And what of the blood of the stowaway, and of Mr Anson?" Doyle snapped.
Keller only smiled. "Ah, so you have discovered me. I must thank you, Mr Doyle, for your kindness in informing me of what you planned to do with that dirk. Did I not tell you that such a blade could be...useful?"
"Aye, and had I known what you meant to do with it, I would have cast it out to sea in an instant."
"But you did not, of course. And here we stand."
"What do you plan to do, then?"
Keller settled himself more comfortably in his chair and folded his hands on the table-top. "I am not wholly unprepared to grant you clemency, Mr Doyle. I once told you that I would tolerate no disorder on my ship, did I not? One can be a sailor, a captain, or a passenger--to flit between such positions is, as I have said before, unnatural. But I will give you a choice. You can return to the brig and be hanged at the next bell. Or you can don the clothing appropriate to your station, publicly renounce your...activities with the crew, and beg for mercy. I promise, if you should do this, I shall grant you the mercy you seek, and you will live to see land again."
"No? Then you choose to be hanged."
"No," he said again, smiling faintly. "I don't choose at all." He turned and darted out of the cabin into a dim grey dawn.
On deck, the crew were carrying on with their work, climbing the rigging or scouring the deck, as though anxious to avoid any notice. They did not look like a crew prepared for mutiny. But of course they would not--for Stuart had never intended to pass on Bodie's plan.
Bodie himself was leaning heavily against the stump of the fore-mast, his hands bound in front of him. Stuart stood guard over him, a makeshift bandage wrapped around his knee. At least Bodie had got in a lick of his own.
As Doyle crossed the deck, all eyes turned in his direction. He glanced behind and saw that Keller had followed him out of the cabin. And now he, like Stuart, was carrying a pistol.
"You see for yourselves!" Keller shouted. "Mr Doyle sneaked into my cabin in the dead of night--he murdered Mr Anson, and he meant to murder me!"
"Yet you are the one who stands before us with the pistol," Doyle said, turning to face him.
Keller made no reply, only advanced slowly. Doyle stepped back, keeping distance between Keller and himself. He passed Stuart, who made no move to take him; it was clear to all on deck that this conflict was between Keller and Doyle alone.
For one damning instant, Doyle glanced down at Bodie. Blood was trickling from a cut on his forehead, and he looked dazed and pale.
All of this Doyle noticed in a heartbeat, but Keller had seen the slip. The pistol's aim tilted, coming to rest on Bodie.
As his hand tightened on the trigger, Doyle leapt forward, shoving Bodie down to the deck. They tumbled together onto the salt-worn boards as a shower of splinters from the mast rained down on them. Doyle's ears rang with the sound, and the air was sharp with the smell of powder, but Bodie was unhurt.
No one else had moved. As Doyle rose to his feet, the motion drew a line of fire across his right arm. He stumbled before steadying on his feet--there would be time enough for bandages later.
Or perhaps not. Though the pistol was now useless, Keller had drawn a knife from his pocket. The white bone handle was easy enough to recognise. It had once lain under the mattress in his cabin, and had more recently been found buried in Anson's back.
Keller did have a keen sense of the poetic.
Once more Keller stepped forward, and Doyle paced back before him, up the steps to the fore-deck, past capstan and cathead until the back of his legs collided with the rail at the ship's bow. Still Keller approached, and Doyle stepped up onto the bowsprit itself, balancing precariously as the ship dipped and rose. It seemed they had found a wind at last.
Keller's teeth bared themselves in a mad grin, and Doyle saw that Keller meant to follow him and throw him overboard by sheer force of strength.
Doyle took hold of the rope that anchored the flying jib, ignoring the blood that trickled down his arm. He used the line to steady himself he retreated along the narrowing bowsprit, remaining always just out of Keller's reach. Keller followed him, his footing precarious on the slick surface, but still he smiled, for Doyle had nowhere to go.
If it came to a struggle, they might be better matched than Keller supposed; but then, they might just as easily both tumble from the bowsprit and into the rolling sea below.
As if conjured by his thoughts, a wave slapped the side of the ship. The Seahawk pitched, and Keller's glossy boots slipped. Keller fell forward, sending the dirk spinning out to sea as he clutched at the bowsprit. He caught it with one hand, struggling to hold on as the bow rose again on the crest of a wave.
Suddenly Doyle was no longer the one in danger. He clambered back along the bowsprit, still clinging to the line for balance, and reached out to Keller. "I'll pull you up!" he shouted over the creak and snap of the sails, but Keller ignored his hand, scrabbling at the slick bowsprit while the ship bucked as though to throw him off.
It happened in the trough between two swells. When the bow dipped low, Keller's hand slipped from the bowsprit, and he saved himself by catching hold of the open beak of the shrieking figurehead.
The gull sank into the foam. When she rose again, Keller was gone.
Doyle gripped the line tightly and scanned the sea around them, knowing already that Keller was lost. Then, abruptly exhausted, he scrambled back along the bowsprit.
As soon as his feet touched the deck, he found himself the object of a chorus of raucous huzzahs. He shook his head, fatigue threatening to overwhelm him. He turned to Murphy. "Give me your knife."
"I don't know, Doyle, are you going to stick it in my back?" he teased, but he held out a blade. Doyle turned and cut the rope binding Bodie's wrists, only to find himself immediately wrapped up in Bodie's arms.
"Not out here, you damned fool," Doyle said, his voice muffled against Bodie's shoulder, but Bodie could hardly let go when Doyle was clinging to him just as tightly.
They parted after a far shorter time than they might have done, had they been alone, and Doyle looked round the deck. "What happened to Stuart?"
"Nothing much," Jax said dryly. "He got distracted by the pantomime you and Keller were putting on, so McKay knocked the gun out of his hands and we tied him up." He nodded towards the mast, where Stuart stood with his wrists lashed to a spar, his head drooping.
"If you put him in the brig, mind you fix those two loose bars," Doyle said. "A man could cause all sorts of trouble, you know."
"So it seems," Jax said with a grin.
"It also seems," Bodie added, "that we are in need of a captain."
"Doyle's the one who rid us of Keller," Murphy said. "Maybe he should be captain."
Doyle laughed. "I'd run us all aground, you know that. Why not Bodie? He might manage to keep us afloat for a while."
Murphy turned towards the rest of the crew. "Is there anyone here who will sail under Captain Bodie with me?" he called out.
"Aye!" came the shouted reply.
The crew fell silent, but Stuart's glare seemed to speak volumes.
Bodie shook his head. "All right, then. We've plenty of things that need to be set to rights. Back to work, you lazy bastards. Take your usual watches, and I'll work mine the same as always. And as a gesture of goodwill, an extra tot of rum for us all, eh?"
A cheer greeted this last statement. Doyle set his hand to the rigging, meaning to tighten a loose rope on the lower-main topsail, but Bodie stopped him. "You're still bleeding," he said.
Doyle looked down at the torn sleeve of his shirt. "Hardly a scratch," he countered, ignoring the sharp sting of the wound. "Not worth a fuss."
"I've seen men take a fever and die over less."
"And what about you?" Doyle countered, touching the cut on Bodie's forehead.
He sighed. "Stuart got the drop on me, clubbed me over the head with that pistol of his. I'll be all right."
"Oh, but my scratch needs looking after?"
Bodie grinned. "Captain's orders," he said cheerfully. "You will let Jax patch you up, and then to bed with you. Jax?"
He dropped down from the rigging. "Aye, sir?"
"Bugger your sir. Take Doyle down below and patch him up. And I swear, if you say 'aye-aye, captain,' I will bloody well keelhaul you."
Jax grinned brightly, but he led Doyle down to the galley without another word.
In the dim quiet, Doyle's weariness began to catch up to him, and he slumped down into a chair without a word, barely acknowledging Jax. He was brought back sharply to attention when Jax doused the cut in brandy to clean it.
"I told you it would sting. Hardly my fault you weren't listening."
Doyle glared and snatched the bottle from him to take a long swallow. He endured while Jax stitched the wound closed and wrapped his arm in a length of clean linen. "You'll do, I suppose," Jax said. "Though I would advise a day of off watches, just in case. I'll send word to the captain that you're not to be doing anything too...strenuous."
Doyle groaned. "Does everyone know?"
"Might be they do. None of them has ever spoken out against Murphy and me, though, so I don't expect you'll have to face anything worse than a round of teasing from the lads."
That was assuming, of course, that Bodie would have him. Things would be different now that he was captain. Doyle would have to follow his orders, for one...
The thought of being commanded by Bodie threatened to turn into a daydream, so he took his leave. He made his way back to the forecastle and sank into sleep as soon as he settled into the hammock.
He rose at the next watch feeling somewhat refreshed, and certainly not so much of an invalid that he could shirk his watch. He went out and set to scouring the deck, and if he favoured one arm, then no one commented.
It was nearly halfway through the watch when a pair of scuffed black boots appeared in Doyle's vision.
"I thought Jax advised a day of rest for you."
Doyle looked up guiltily from the half-scrubbed deck. "It doesn't feel right, when I'm capable of the work."
Bodie nudged the scouring stone away from him with the toe of his boot. "Back to bed," he said.
"Is that an order?" Doyle asked, a smile stealing across his face.
Bodie crouched down beside him. "Only a suggestion, as I don't plan to let you do much sleeping tonight."
Doyle felt a flush rise in his face. "Oh. In that case, perhaps a bit of a rest..."
"And you'll take tea with me this evening?" Bodie asked, his eyes dark.
Tea, indeed. "Of course. In your cabin?"
"First bell of the second dog watch. For now, just sleep."
Doyle returned to the forecastle with exaggerated reluctance, fearing that the rest of the crew would think him weak, or at least coddled by the new captain. But no one made any comment or snubbed him, and he had to admit that the rest felt good.
He rose when the second dog watch began and spent the time between bells washing up with a cake of hard soap and the contents of a rain barrel that the hurricane had filled.
As he crossed the deck to Bodie's new quarters, a few of the men on watch offered sly winks or catcalls. Doyle flushed, but he had the presence of mind to send them a rude gesture in response. How strange it was, to go to another man and not fear discovery.
He knocked on the cabin door. "Come in," Bodie called.
Doyle turned the doorknob and stepped inside for the first time since he had confronted the captain.
In the daylight he could see that the cabin had fared poorly in the hurricane, and many of the furniture legs were splinted, if not broken outright. The silver tea service was dented as well, but the teapot was steaming cheerfully despite its misshapen spout.
"You see? I wasn't lying about the tea," Bodie said, pouring two cups. His hair was still damp from washing, and it had grown long enough that Doyle could see the wave in it.
"I never thought you were."
Bodie took a scalding sip. "And it makes an excellent pretext for all sorts of--"
There was a knock on the door.
"Oh, what is it?" Bodie said.
McKay opened the door and poked his head inside. "Begging your pardon, Captain, but there's a new course needs setting, and the matter is yours to decide...provided you're not otherwise occupied?" he added, with a wicked grin in Doyle's direction.
"Oh, for God's sake," Bodie sighed. He turned to Doyle. "Don't go anywhere?"
"Where would I go?" he asked wryly. Bodie stormed out of the cabin to set their course.
Doyle was reaching for the teapot to pour another cup when the sun flashed on a bit of glass on the cabin wall. He set the teapot down and rose, knowing already what had caused the flash.
The captain's cabin, he vaguely recalled, held the only good glass mirror on board--the mirror the crew had used for shaving was wavy and jagged, and it returned only a distorted reflection. A crack now ran through the centre of the captain's mirror, but the image it showed was clear enough. Doyle stood before it for a moment, relearning the contours of his battered cheekbone.
The door opened and closed with a soft creak, and Bodie stepped up behind him, his arms sliding around Doyle's waist. "I told you it wasn't so bad," he said. His hands slipped beneath the hem of Doyle's shirt, rough fingertips tracing gently over his skin.
Doyle shivered and twisted round to kiss him, tasting the sweetness of well-sugared tea on Bodie's tongue.
They stumbled towards the high bed built along the port side and fell onto it together, their hands mapping new territories. Doyle reached out to remove Bodie's shirt, but Bodie pressed him gently back onto the bed. "You're not to strain yourself--doctor's orders."
"Jax is no doctor."
Bodie shrugged. "He's the ship's surgeon and he's as close as we've got. Now be a good lad and lie still, would you?"
Doyle made a face and did as he was told. As he lay back he grasped a handful of Bodie's shirt and pulled him down atop him.
Bodie tried to glare at him, but Doyle moved his hips a fraction and the words on Bodie's lips faded into a sigh. "You are a menace," he said, making no move to rise from his new position. Doyle kissed him thoroughly, taking his time as he had not been able to do before.
Doyle let his hands fall to Bodie's hips, tracing the line of Bodie's cock through his trousers. "Mm. Your ship has a fine bowsprit," he said.
"And yours a handsome mast," Bodie replied, laughter shaking his voice.
Doyle smiled, and Bodie leaned down to kiss him again.
Eventually Bodie raised his head and rolled off to the side. He carefully helped Doyle out of his shirt, and Doyle hid a wince as the movement pulled at the neat row of stitches below his shoulder. Bodie tossed the shirt aside and looked down at him with undisguised appreciation. "I couldn't see you properly down below," he said, tracing his hands over Doyle's chest. "Sailing's done you good."
Doyle felt his face warm at the heat of Bodie's gaze. He reached out to pull Bodie's shirt over his head, tangling him in the rough material. When he emerged, his hair was endearingly mussed, and Doyle had no choice but to kiss him. Bodie bent down to him, and Doyle slid his hands through Bodie's hair, holding him close.
Then Bodie's mouth left his to press a line of lingering kisses over Doyle's throat, his collarbone, his chest.
He reached the waist of Doyle's trousers and tugged. Doyle lifted his hips to let Bodie strip the last of his clothing from him, baring him to the cool air of the cabin.
Then Bodie gently took the head of Doyle's cock into his mouth.
Doyle's breath caught, and he tightened his hands in the sheet, fighting the urge to thrust up into Bodie's mouth. Bodie had told him to lie still, hadn't he? So he closed his eyes and let Bodie have his way.
He made long work of it, teasing him, sometimes drawing away entirely to press his mouth to Doyle's hipbones or the crease of his thigh. He was trembling, barely able to contain himself by the time Bodie wetted his lips and took Doyle deep in his mouth.
Doyle groaned so loudly that he was sure the whole bloody ship heard. He moved one hand to Bodie's shoulder to steady himself, clinging to the last shreds of control until Bodie's tongue pressed against the underside of his cock, just there, and Doyle came with a choked cry.
Bodie drew off after a moment, and Doyle opened his eyes to find Bodie watching him hungrily. He reached out to pull Bodie down beside him, meaning to repay the favour in the same way it had been given.
But Bodie shook his head. "I--I won't last. Just touch me, Ray, please."
Doyle nodded and pushed Bodie's trousers out of the way, then curled his hand around Bodie's cock. Bodie's head rocked back, his breath coming in sharp pants as Doyle stroked fast and hard. Bodie was beyond teasing, beyond anything but sensation now.
His cock jerked in Doyle's hold, and Bodie gasped as warm drops spattered Doyle's hand.
After a moment, Bodie opened his eyes, looking faintly embarrassed that it had taken so little to bring him off. Doyle kissed the flush from his cheeks before pulling him down into a languid kiss. He could taste the bitter salt of himself on Bodie's tongue.
He would have been happy to lie awake all night with Bodie, but sleep crept up on him unaware.
From out of a hazy dream, the ship's bell rang, and Doyle counted the notes with trepidation--seven. Nearly time for the watch to change, and he would be expected. He shifted reluctantly and climbed out of the bed, careful not to jostle Bodie awake.
He unshuttered the lantern just enough to find his clothing and dress again. When he looked up, he was caught out by the sight of Bodie, half-draped in the sheets.
The scars that crossed his back were still pink, and perhaps always would be, but the guilt that had once sat heavily on Doyle's shoulders had lightened. Bodie did not blame him, and soon enough he would learn not to blame himself. Better by far to focus on the other things, the way Bodie's hair curled just behind his ear, the strong muscles of his arms, the sleepy curve of his lips.
Doyle shuttered the lamp again, but Bodie was already waking. He yawned and sat up, letting the blanket fall to a wonderfully indecent point around his hips. "Don't go yet."
"They'll not make a fuss if you're a few moments late."
Doyle shook his head. "I won't abuse my privileges as the captain's lover."
Bodie sighed. "If you must, then."
Doyle turned back and kissed him one more time, long and lingering, before going out to watch.
The winds were fresh and steady, coming out of the northeast. Jax jumped down from the rigging with a grin. "We'll make port in a week, maybe, if the weather holds," he said. He looked perfectly happy about the idea--and it would only be sensible to be happy about the end of such a terrible voyage.
Doyle knew that he ought to be glad, as well--Ann would be waiting, after all, and she was the reason he had begun this journey.
So why did his spirits sink with the thought of land?
He took supper with Bodie in his cabin, but he found himself curiously without appetite. Bodie frowned at him, and Doyle felt he owed him some small explanation for his silence.
"Jax says we might make port in a week."
Bodie nodded. "We lost time to the storm, but we've done well besides that."
"It doesn't seem very long."
"No," Bodie said quietly. "It doesn't."
They sat in melancholy silence for a moment, until Bodie looked up, a wicked glint in his eye. "Best make what we can of the time, then," he said, drawing Doyle to his feet.
Doyle laughed and followed him across the cabin to the high, soft bed.
In the last week of the voyage, they settled into a routine. They spent each off-watch together, and sometimes they even slept.
It was on one of these occasions that Doyle, crossing to light a lamp, saw the captain's logbook lying open on the cabin's battered desk. The pages were brittle and curled by the saltwater, but Keller's meticulous script was visible on the page.
Bodie caught him looking. "A duty I've not had the will to take up," he said. "I'll have to put something down about Keller, I suppose, but I'm damned if I know what to say."
"The storm," Doyle said.
"You told me once that Keller had lost half a dozen men in storms. No one ever questioned him, did they? And with a broken mast, no one could disbelieve you if you said he had fallen overboard."
Bodie nodded. "Aye, it might work. I suppose I'll have to make it heroic, too."
"Much as it pains me, a heroic death will satisfy everyone--even the newspapers, if they take note of it. The dashing captain giving his life to save the ship... No one could call it slander."
"True," Doyle said, "though I hate to see a hero made of him."
"Ay, but we will know the truth, and that is enough."
Doyle nodded, but he could not avoid the thought that soon they would reach land--and there would no longer be a we of which to speak.
He sat curled beside Bodie as he composed a few lines for the log, heedless of the occasional droplets that escaped the inkwell. One of these drops landed on Bodie's bare thigh, and Doyle absently traced the drop into abstract, curling shapes.
Bodie shivered and set the pen aside. He cupped Doyle's face in his hands and kissed him. Doyle shifted, easing down until he was lying on his back, with Bodie settled on top of him. Doyle parted his lips, sweeping his tongue lightly against Bodie's own.
Bodie sighed, shifting his hips so that Doyle could not help but notice the effect of their kiss. When Doyle reached down to trace the line of Bodie's cock, Bodie smiled and pulled away. He crossed the cabin to the small table and returned with a small silver bottle in his hand. "Olive oil."
"And what do you plan to do with that?" Doyle asked, arching an eyebrow.
"What would you like me to do?" Bodie asked, his voice low.
"Anything," he said, almost desperately.
"I mean, do you wish to be...on top, or..."
Doyle blinked, surprised that Bodie would even consider the idea of being buggered. After all, he was the captain now, and to submit in such a way to a mere sailor...but Doyle could not deny what he truly wanted, and after a moment he found his voice. "I want you to do it. Please."
Bodie's eyes lit with desire, and Doyle kissed him before rising to his knees.
Bodie took his time, trailing his fingers along Doyle's shoulders, tracing the ridges of his spine. At long last Doyle heard the bottle being opened, and the clean scent of olive oil wafted through the cabin.
The touch of Bodie's hand was cool, his fingers generously coated with oil. Doyle let himself relax as Bodie pressed inside, first with one finger and then a second. He drew back, and Doyle glanced over his shoulder to see Bodie reaching for the bottle of oil again. Doyle sighed. "It's enough, Bodie. Go on--please"
He hesitated. "If I hurt you--"
"You won't hurt me."
"But if I do."
"Then I will tell you, I swear."
Clearly reassured, Bodie reached for the bottle of olive oil again. He knelt close behind Doyle and slowly, carefully began to push inside.
Doyle shifted his weight, pressing back carefully until Bodie was halfway inside. Doyle felt Bodie's cock slide perfectly against him, sending a chill through his body.
Then the ship tilted on a sudden swell, knocking Bodie sidelong into the cabin wall. Thrown off-balance, he slipped out of Doyle entirely and fell backwards onto the bed, swearing viciously.
Doyle sat up, and as soon as he saw that Bodie was not hurt, immediately began to fight a hopeless battle against laughter, which only caused Bodie to swear with greater fervour. When the laughter finally faded, Bodie gave him a dark look. "Perhaps, to save my skull and your breath, we should defer our entertainments until we reach a calmer sea."
Doyle's amusement vanished, and he shook his head. "No, we needn't. Come here, and lie behind me." He turned onto his side away from Bodie, one knee bent, and Bodie lay behind him. The weight of Bodie's hand on his hip was enough to let him know that Bodie understood their new course of action. He pressed into Doyle again, just as carefully as before, until with a sigh of frustration Doyle pushed back, sheathing Bodie entirely.
Bodie's forehead came to rest on the back of Doyle's neck, his breath warm against Doyle's spine. There was a long moment of stillness before he began to move. Lying together in such a way made the act slower and gentler, neither of them able to find the leverage for a more powerful thrust. It imbued everything with a tenderness that neither of them had foreseen. Bodie's hand trailed across Doyle's body, teasing, as he thrust against him.
Doyle shifted position slightly, and suddenly Bodie's thrusts sent pleasure sparking up and down his spine. He tipped his head back, his spine arching. "Bodie, please--"
Understanding, Bodie lifted his hand from Doyle's hip and curled it around his cock. Doyle let out a sharp breath and rocked forward into Bodie's grip, then back against the heat of Bodie's cock.
"Go on, Ray," he said softly. "Don't hold back."
Overwhelmed with sensation, Doyle tumbled over the edge, everything blurring in a white-hot rush of pleasure. Bodie's hand tightened, and then Doyle felt him go still, his ragged breathing the only sound.
Doyle let himself drift, half asleep and still tangled up with Bodie. He felt Bodie's lips brush the back of his neck, the sunburned curve of his shoulder, and at last he slept.
He woke gradually. There was a faint light in the cabin, though he hadn't heard the bells ring for the morning watch. He stirred. "Did I miss the watch changing?" he asked.
The light vanished. "No," Bodie said. "Go back to sleep."
Doyle twisted round to peer at Bodie in the darkness. "What were you doing?"
Bodie trailed a fingertip over the line of Doyle's nose. "Watching you," he whispered, sounding embarrassed.
Doyle raised his head to nip at Bodie's fingertip. "Go on, then, if you like," he said. "I'm going back to sleep."
As he drifted off, he caught the faint light once more, and he smiled.
It had been eight days since Keller's demise when Bodie called to Doyle during the first dog watch.
"Ray--come and see."
Along the horizon was a dim, dark haze, and Doyle's heart sank unaccountably. "Land."
"Nearly home," he said.
Not home. "Yes." But Doyle took the first opportunity of tempting Bodie back to his cabin, away from the reminder of how soon their companionship would be put to an end.
Knowing that in little more than a day they would reach shore, the crew might not have minded if Doyle spent the remaining hours in Bodie's company. But when the eighth bell rang, he disentangled himself from his sleeping captain and went out to serve his watch, using the work to keep his mind away from thoughts of the future.
At moonrise, Bodie found him, and they stood the last midwatch together, side by side. They spoke but little, for there was little to be said.
Doyle thought that if Bodie had uttered so much as the words Please stay, he would have taken to a life at sea in a heartbeat. But either his will was too strong to permit such a speech or he did not wish for Doyle to stay; whatever the reason, he remained silent. When the watch ended they parted with a kiss, knowing it was to be the last time they would see each other alone.
Bodie vanished into his cabin, his hand shaking slightly as he gripped the doorknob. Doyle turned away with great effort, and not long after dawn he set to aiding the other sailors in bringing the ship to port.
When the ship was secure, Doyle retrieved his trunk from top cargo, where it had lain all but forgotten. The sailor's clothes and the unsent, unneeded letter to Ann were laid in the trunk. Doyle dressed once again in the fine clothes he had formerly worn. Now, the clothing seemed at once confining and fragile, too delicate for the work to which he'd become so accustomed. The cravat at his throat put him in mind of the noose to which he'd been sentenced, and he loosened it absently. A man could never reef a sail in such frippery; but then, he would never be expected to reef a sail again. He shaved more carefully than he had during the voyage--it wouldn't do for a gentleman to look slovenly, after all. He emerged from belowdecks for the last time as the gangplank was being settled into place. He nodded farewell to the few men on deck, and received friendly waves in reply.
Then Bodie emerged from his cabin, and Doyle stopped in his tracks. This was the meeting he had hoped to avoid, the farewell where nothing could truly be said. It would not do to embrace him, not where the curious eyes of the dock workers could see. Yet for a moment Doyle stood, rooted to the spot, with his trunk lying forgotten at his feet.
"Go on, sunshine," Bodie said gently. "Your girl will be waiting."
He gave Doyle a forced smile. "Don't make me give you an order," he said.
Doyle nodded, his throat too tight for speech. He hefted his trunk onto his shoulder and descended the gangway to the dock.
He did not look back.
As soon as he reached the dock, a porter took the trunk immediately from his shoulder, babbling apologies. His trunk was loaded onto a carriage, and in a moment Doyle was riding off to his new home.
He did not notice until he stepped out of the carriage how strange the ground felt beneath his feet. He had grown so accustomed to the rolling of the ship that he expected he now looked faintly drunk as he made his way up the garden path to the house he had taken on the outskirts of town. He pulled the bell and waited to be admitted.
His manservant, who had been sent ahead to ready the house, nearly refused him entry, and only then did Doyle begin to suspect how much he was changed. A rueful inspection in the bedroom's mirror explained Marsdon's reluctance. Doyle's hair had grown longer, his skin darker, and the kink in the line of his cheekbone conspired with these other changes to render him nearly unrecognizable, even to a man who had been in his service for years.
He began to dread what Ann would think of him when he saw her. Nevertheless, he composed a brief note assuring her of his safe arrival and begging leave to call on her the next day. He sent Marsdon out with it, and wondered what he would do now. He seemed to have forgotten how to be idle.
That night, he lay awake, feeling the motion of the waves as though he were still at sea, still on the Seahawk...with Bodie. The room was warm and too still, lacking even the smallest breeze. Doyle rose and opened the window, letting in the misty night air, cool with approaching autumn.
He leaned on the sill, fancying that he could almost smell the salt air again. He watched the stars turn slowly above him, and after a while he closed his eyes, imagining that he leaned not on a windowsill, but on the Seahawk's railing, racing ahead of the wind with Bodie beside him.
The thought of Bodie roused him out of half-sleep. He left the window thrown wide and returned to bed, but he could only toss restlessly. The last thing he ought to do, of course, was to think on Bodie now. After all, the voyage was over, and they would likely never see each other again. They had neither asked nor offered promises of any kind. Doyle had not even ventured to tell Bodie where he was meant to live, and now he bitterly rued that oversight. To be with Bodie here, where there were no bells to call them away, no rough seas to stagger them, would be wonderful indeed.
But perhaps Bodie would not have come even had he known; that would have been a blow more crushing than his present solitude.
Doyle sighed. He had thought too much on Bodie, and now could not ignore the parts of him that clamoured for release.
His own hand was rough from weeks of sailor's work. The calluses were all the same, but his hand was too narrow to be Bodie's. He thought of Bodie's weight on top of him, the feel of Bodie inside him, Bodie's mouth on him. So vivid were the memories that it was not long before he gasped and spilled over his hand, feeling not shame but only regret that he should never share such things with Bodie again.
After a time, he slept.
He woke just after dawn to the quiet creak of the window closing. He sat up and saw Marsdon drawing the curtains over a grey sunrise.
"What are you doing?"
"You'll catch your death leaving the window open like that, Mr Doyle," Marsdon chided gently.
"I like the breeze," Doyle countered.
Marsdon considered him for a moment, clearly not knowing what to make of this changed Doyle. "Very well, sir," he said, and he lifted the casement once more.
Doyle lay back down, but he found he could not sleep any longer. He had grown accustomed to sleeping only four hours at a stretch over the last several weeks, and it would take time to adjust to life on land again.
He rose and dressed, ignoring Marsdon's faint surprise at seeing him awake "so early in the day."
Doyle seemed to recall a time, before the journey, when he had enjoyed late, languorous mornings. But it might have happened to someone else, for all that had changed since then.
A note from Ann arrived after breakfast, saying that she would be pleased to see him this afternoon. He smiled as he set the page aside, but there was an uneasiness in the pit of his stomach that he dared not consider too closely.
He alighted from the carriage after a journey both interminable and too short, and walked up the path to knock at her door.
It was opened almost immediately; Ann must have been waiting for him, for she had outstripped even the servant.
"Raymond," she said warmly, her face lit with a smile. "Do come in." She seemed smaller than he remembered, with her red hair and china-pale skin, and he was suddenly struck by how fragile she looked, after weeks in the company of sailors. She called for tea and led him into the sitting room, all without comment.
But in the bright sunlight of the sitting room's picture windows, his changed appearance could no longer be hidden. She stopped short at the sight of him, startled and almost afraid, and Doyle hastened to explain all that had happened. His broken cheekbone, he claimed, was the result of an accident on board--which was true enough, in its way. He simply neglected to mention that he'd been climbing the rigging in a hurricane at the time. Ann wrung her hands and called him poor thing, and the sympathy itself was curiously irritating. Bodie had suffered far worse, and he had not accepted a moment's pity. Why should Doyle?
But Ann of course knew nothing of what had happened on the voyage, and her sympathy was offered from kindness and affection.
Doyle smiled. "Can you still fancy me," he teased, "even without my good looks?"
"Oh, Ray, how can you even ask such a thing?" she chided, tracing gloved fingertips over the broken place. "The sun must have been terrible--your skin is grown awfully brown."
"I liked being out on deck."
"Without your hat?" she asked with a small smile.
Doyle smiled back, knowing that Ann could not understand. A bonnet could be tied down, but a top-hat would have lasted scarcely ten minutes on deck--the first fresh breeze would have swept it over the railing and out to sea.
"Is your father well?" he asked, hoping to turn the conversation away from his changed looks.
"Oh, yes. He's in New York on business, and he will return tomorrow. Why? Did you have...something you wished to discuss with him?" Her voice was light and teasing, but Doyle found that he could not share in the jest quite yet.
"I wanted to offer my sympathies. The captain and first mate were both lost in the voyage."
"There was a terrible storm," he explained. "I wanted him to know that the man who acted as captain afterwards--William Bodie--served us well, and to recommend that your father keep him on."
"I am sure he will," she said. "I am sorry that your voyage was so hard."
"It was not all bad--at times it was quite an adventure."
She shivered. "An adventure I would sooner do without."
They sat down to tea, talking over light subjects like the weather in the States and the gossip of local society. Doyle knew none of the people whom Ann mentioned, but he made an attempt to follow along nonetheless.
She paused in her talk to pour them each another glass of tea. "Oh, the sugar-bowl is empty," she said.
"I'll take care of it." Doyle scooped up the empty china bowl and rose from the table.
"Ray!" she said, startled.
He stopped. "What?"
"Let the servant fill it. Mary? Sugar, please."
A young woman stepped forward to pluck the sugar-bowl from Doyle's hands, and she scuttled off to the kitchen. Feeling foolish, Doyle sat back down again.
"What has got into you?" Ann asked, concern evident on her face.
"There was no one to wait on us at sea," Doyle said, faintly defensive. "I became accustomed to fetching what I needed for myself."
She looked distressed at the thought, but she smiled. "Not to worry. We'll soon have you civilised again."
Doyle forced himself to return the smile. "I'm sure you will."
Soon afterward, he took his leave, claiming exhaustion after the long crossing. Ann had sent him on his way with smiling orders to rest and recover himself, but once home Doyle found that rest was far from his mind.
In his bedroom, he found his water-stained trunk set neatly at the foot of the bed. He opened it to find that the clothes it had contained had been removed--even the rough sailor's shirt and trousers--and put away carefully in a chest of drawers.
He did not, however, find his letter to Ann anywhere. Filled with a sudden unease, he called his servant.
"Marsdon, did you find a letter in my trunk?"
"Yes, sir, I did. You had already written the direction on it, so I had it delivered." He hesitated. "Did I do wrong?"
Doyle closed his eyes briefly. If it had been any other letter, to anyone else--! But Marsdon could not have known that the letter was not meant to be read. "No, it is quite all right," he said.
But it was with no little bit of trepidation that Doyle received the next morning's invitation to take tea with Mr Holly. It was clear that Ann would not be joining them.
A servant led Doyle to the sitting room, which was uncomfortably warm in the late-summer weather. He could not fathom why a fire would be laid on such a day, but Mr Holly would certainly consider such a question an impertinence, and that was hardly the manner in which Doyle wished to commence the afternoon.
Mr Holly made him wait just long enough to be irritating and not quite long enough to be called impolite. He greeted Doyle with cool civility, and a quarter of an hour's stultifying conversation ensued, wherein Doyle did little more than make polite sounds of attention when it seemed most appropriate. The conversation drew his full attention when Mr Holly abruptly changed the subject.
"I have received a most interesting letter this week," he said. "Can you guess what its contents might have been?"
"You have received it?" Doyle countered. "I do not recall that it was your name on the direction."
Mr Holly carried on without comment. "It concerned the events of the Seahawk's voyage--but rendered in such a fashion that I hardly recognised the characters involved. An attempted mutiny, innocent accidents sensationalised as murder, respectable young men turned no better than pirates. And the libellous account of the captain's behaviour--! It is scarcely to be credited." He paused quite calmly to take a sip of tea. "You see now that I am placed in a most difficult position, Mr Doyle. Two accounts of the voyage I have, which conflict in every particular. One, then, must be false, but which?"
"Which, indeed? Pray tell me, Mr Holly, did you have any idea what sort of man Keller was, when you named him captain of the Seahawk?"
"Why, a man of discipline, as all captains must be. And speaking of captains, I find that a decision must be made regarding this acting captain. If this fantastic account of the voyage were true, it could only mean that the account given to me by Mr Bodie was a falsehood, and I would have no choice but to dismiss him immediately without reference."
Forced to choose between the truth and Bodie's well-being, Doyle found the lie falling easily from his lips. "The letter was a fiction, sir. I had thought to try my hand at a novel, in the epistolary style, and my manservant mistook it for a letter intended for Miss Holly. If you would return it to me, I shall take care that it is not seen again."
Mr Holly removed the letter from his breast pocket and made as if to hand it to Doyle. At the moment before the letter came within Doyle's reach, he tipped his hand to one side and allowed the letter to drop into the roaring fire. "Oh, how careless of me," he said, without the slightest hint of chagrin.
Doyle forced a faint smile. "It is no matter," he said. "The letter was unimportant."
And yet, for all that it was unnecessary, it had been important to him. The pages themselves had been torn from Bodie's book, and they contained the only account of the voyage outside of Doyle's own mind.
"Perhaps it is better thus," Mr Holly suggested. "Without such contradiction, life is far more pleasant and orderly, don't you think?"
Doyle thought of his last acquaintance with a man who had so revered the concept of order, and he smiled thinly. "Oh yes, sir. Certainly."
"You will of course have no reason ever to speak of this matter to my daughter. I cannot prevent your union, if that is indeed your goal, but know that if I suspect you have allowed such rampant falsehoods to reach Ann's ears, you will not see one penny of her fortune."
Doyle rose to his feet. "And if you think me the sort of man who might be swayed by such a threat, we have nothing more to say to each other. Good afternoon, sir."
Mr Holly inclined his head. "Good afternoon, Mr Doyle."
Doyle walked out of the room without a backward glance.
Instead of taking the carriage that awaited him, Doyle dismissed it and walked along the street, welcoming the chance to clear his head. He wandered through unfamiliar streets, knowing only vaguely the turns he would have to make to get home.
Home. The idea was laughable--this was not home to him. Yet he no longer had a home in England, either.
He looked around himself and found that he had reached the top of a steep hill, lost in his thoughts. From here he could see the docks away in the distance, the tall masts and furled sails bobbing gently in the harbour. He wondered which mast belonged to the Seahawk, and if a new fore-mast had been stepped already.
He wondered where Bodie might be.
Oh, he knew it was a foolish notion to think that Bodie might seek him out while the ship was repaired. He could have found out where Doyle was living easily enough, but perhaps it was better to make a clean break of it. It might have been worse to draw out their dalliance, only to have it ended when Mr Holly's business called Bodie to depart again.
Doyle took a deep breath, but there was no salt in the air. A peculiar sort of homesickness overcame him suddenly, and he realised that his longing was not for Bodie alone. He missed the surge of waves and the coarse ropes under his hands, the feeling of purpose that went along with sailing work.
Bodie needed only his Endymion to remind him of life on land. Could Doyle carry on living a landlocked life, with only a bit of Coleridge or Homer to sustain him?
He feared that he knew the answer already.
The sun was already sinking behind him when he started down the hill towards home.
As the days wore on, he began to grow accustomed to land-locked life once more. The rolling sailor's gait left him slowly, and after a week he no longer expected to be roused at midnight by a ship's bell. He spent much of the days walking about the town, often venturing into places that a gentleman ought not to be found. Perhaps it was the broken cheekbone, but no one ever troubled him.
He kept well away from the docks. He did not trust himself to avoid the Seahawk if he were to find her, and he feared to discover that she had already sailed.
At times, he cursed himself for his sentimentality. There was no call to mope about as though his time with Bodie had been a great love affair. And yet how many other love affairs had begun with mutiny, suffered the apparent murder of one party and the death sentence of the other, and still turned out all right in the end?
He found himself torn between a past that was lost to him, and a future to which he could not quite resign himself. How could he marry and confine himself to the stuffy society of Boston, when he felt more at home on the sea?
And yet did he not owe some loyalty to Ann? He was being grievously unfair to her, though she had no idea of it. He still cared for her, certainly; she would always be dear to him. Yet each time he thought to apply to Mr Holly for her hand, he found himself setting the matter aside again. How could he marry Ann, when so much of him belonged with another? It would be unforgivably cruel of him.
It was Ann herself who spared him the decision. She had accepted his invitation to tea, and they lingered together over the cooling teapot. Each of them sat with a book in hand, as they were wont to do, in a perfectly companionable silence. Doyle could remember a time when he had wished for nothing more than this idle pleasure.
He soon found that he was reading no more than one word in three, and after a time he gave in and allowed his gaze to wander to the wide eastern window. Somewhere far beyond the garden wall lay the docks, the vast open sea, and somewhere...
"Ray," Ann said, drawing his attention away.
He turned to look at her, hoping that his feelings did not show on his face.
"You are not happy here."
Her words so perfectly paralleled his thoughts that Doyle nearly dropped his book entirely. His instinctive protest died on his lips; he owed Ann the truth, or as much of it as could be safely shared. "No--not yet. It is different here, but I will become accustomed to it."
She smiled. "Perhaps. And perhaps one day my father will warm to you."
"I would say it is a bit more likely than that," Doyle protested weakly.
"I suppose it is. I only want you to know that you are not...beholden to anyone. If you are unhappy here, then go back to where you were happy."
"And what would you do, then?" He would not allow himself to contemplate leaving, not if it would hurt Ann.
"This is my home," she said simply. "But it is not yours, I can see that now."
Doyle glanced out the window and tried to gather his thoughts. They had planned to be married one day. Of course they had never really spoken of such things--the sentences once begun had always trailed off. When we are settled...
Ann was settled and happy now. Doyle feared that his own restlessness would never fade while he remained here. Yet Ann was the reason he had come here, and if she had given him her blessing, then there was nothing to keep him in America.
The sudden fierce joy of the thought shamed him, and he turned back to Ann.
"Can you forgive me?"
She touched his hand. "There is nothing to forgive."
She rose to leave a few moments later. Doyle walked her to the door, where she turned to him and smiled. "We will always be friends, will we not?"
"Of course," Doyle said.
Ann stood on her toes and pressed a chaste kiss to his cheek. "Then farewell."
She stepped out into the sunlight to meet the carriage that stood waiting for her. As it disappeared around the bend, Doyle found himself wondering when next they might meet. Her father would certainly be happy with this turn of events--he only hoped that Ann had not been hurt so very much.
She would do well here, he knew. Boston society agreed with her, and he did not doubt she would make a match far more suitable--and more suited to her--than he.
Doyle let the door fall closed and returned to the sitting room, lost in thought. Go back to where you were happy, Ann had said. Yet he had been happiest in a place to which he could never return--could he?
He sat deliberately askew in one of the rigid, high-backed armchairs, one leg slung over the padded arm. He picked up the newspaper lying on a side table, more as a screen from Marsdon's curiosity than for any real care about the paper's contents.
He did not even notice the dock-register until a name caught his eye. The brig Seahawk, under Captain William Bodie, to sail for Liverpool on the 9th of September.
Doyle had done his best not to wonder about the Seahawk, even if he could not stop himself thinking about her captain. If pressed, he would have presumed that the ship was already at sea again, on a course for Liverpool or Lisbon or Tripoli. It must have taken some time for the new mast to be stepped and the storm's damage to be repaired. To stumble upon the notice now seemed almost like Providence.
Doyle set the newspaper aside and fetched a pen and ink from his study. It was the afternoon of the seventh; if the Seahawk were to sail with the morning tide on the ninth, then he would have two days in which to settle things. It should be long enough.
The instructions he wrote were simple. Marsdon was to retain the house, for Doyle would want a place where he--he dared not think they--could stay when not at sea. He left a note that authorised the banker to disburse funds to Marsdon as needed to manage his affairs. Doyle had known the man for a long time, and he did not think that he would be robbed blind, but as he signed his name to the paper he realised that he no longer cared.
He did not send word of his decision to the Seahawk or her captain. If Bodie turned him away, then Doyle would hire on with another ship--for though it was Bodie that he truly cared for, he had become curiously fond of sailor's work, and the life would suit him far better than the one he had begun in America.
The next evening, he dressed in his sailor's clothes and left the house in the faint glow of sunset. Night fell as he made his way towards the docks, but any pick-pocket who thought him an easy target would have to contend with Murphy's knife in the pocket of Doyle's trousers. Indeed, Doyle was in truth a convict, though a wrongfully accused one. The thought made him smile.
His pace began to slow as he neared the docks, even as the sight of the ships' masts against the rising moon set his heart racing. Perhaps Bodie would not wish him to return; perhaps he was content to let their affair end as it had. Perhaps it had meant less to Bodie than it had to Doyle, and he was already sharing his quarters with another.
Then he caught sight of the shrieking seabird figurehead, and he knew that, for good or ill, he could not turn back now. He set his shoulders and strolled up the gangplank without a backward glance.
A shadow stirred beside the rail. "Who's there?" Bodie called sharply, lifting a lamp from its hook.
He froze at the top of the ramp, suddenly unsure. "It's Doyle," he said cautiously. "May I come aboard?"
Bodie set the lantern down and pulled Doyle forward into his arms. Doyle's pack dropped forgotten to the deck as he embraced Bodie.
It was a long time before they cared to move. At last Bodie took a half-step backwards, keeping his fingers twined with Doyle's as though loath to release him for even a moment. "What are you doing here?" he asked, when they had breath enough for speech.
Doyle grinned. "I decided to come home."