The Devil's Apprentice
by Kitty Fisher
Sequel to THE ALCHEMIST'S MEASURE
July 1661: London, England
It was very late on a sultry summer's night. The streets were empty of all but the most determined drunkard, the doors all barred, the windows all shadowed. London sweated and slept, dreaming of money, of pleasure, and of a golden future. Even the thieves curled content in their lodgings, scratching as they snored. The King was in his palace, and all was right with the world. Except for one small part of it.
High up in one of the crooked houses overlooking the Thames, a light could be seen glimmering dimly, its reflection just enough to catch on the water like the faintest sprinkling of gold-dust. If anyone had been walking the streets, they might have wondered why the candles in that room were burning so late -- a scribe perhaps, worrying over some account, or a maid, tearful over some lost love. Any guess would have been wide of its mark, for who, on such a lovely summer night, would dream that in that room plans for a man's death were about to be hatched, and that, in the confines of those four walls, stood the bitterest woman within all of England's borders.
But as no one walked the streets, no one saw, no one wondered. When the curtains were pulled across the mullioned glass, no one sighed as the Thames was deprived of its glitter and the water swept on, unjewelled once more in the quiet, dark night.
Lucy York pulled the curtains tight over the window and turned back into the room she had borrowed for the night, surveying its shabbiness. It was badly furnished, ugly, stinking of the river, but for her purposes it was enough. She put her pomander to her nose and inhaled deeply, showing no sign of amusement as her indrawn breath -- and its affect on her low-cut gown -- distracted her companion from his words.
She smiled and prompted him, "You were saying, Mister Booth?"
He coloured slightly and looked away, dragging his eyes down to where his hands were folded on the pitted table top. It took a moment, but then he found the thread of his words, "I was asking who he is, this man you want killed."
She tutted, "Not killed. At least, not at once. I want him brought to me, then, maybe, I will want him dead."
He nodded, his eyes creeping back up of their own accord. Martin Booth had seen very few women in his life as splendid as this one; she was elegant, rich, poised, utterly beautiful. He blinked, dazed, when she smiled and, walking past him, lightly dragged her fingers over his shoulder.
If she'd wanted ten men dead, it would have made no odds. He was hers, and had been from the moment she smiled.
"I suppose you will have to know..." She turned, and all his senses giddied as her scent eddied around him. "After all, I'm sure you'd like to know that he deserves his fate."
"Mistress, I don't question..."
"I know, but you are entitled to know something of his history." She paced back past him, then turned and with perfect grace sat herself in the chair at his side. "We were to be wed but he rejected me, almost at the church."
"He what?" It was clearly almost too hard a concept for him to grasp. He gaped at her, graceless as a dead flounder.
Lucy lent forward and rested her very white fingers on his broad, tanned hand. "He spoke of love to me, made me promises..." Well, he might have done, eventually. Truth had to be warped here, she needed this man's faith. His trust. "Then, " she lowered her eyes, and her voice became soft and close to breaking with tears, "he told me that he could not really love me as a woman, for...for he preferred, lusted after, his own sex." She raised eyes limpid with unshed tears. "He left me, abandoned me for another man. And now I am laughed at, talked of. I loved him and he repaid my love with treachery."
"Indeed..." She would save the details of Doyle's other perverted lusts for another day. It would be interesting to see what reaction that revelation would have on this plain man.
"How could he, a filthy sodomite..." A spasm of revulsion passed over his face. "I'm so sorry..." Martin Booth turned his hand over, and gently, as he knew his skin to be calloused and rough from years of fighting with sword and dagger -- the skills that had brought him to her side -- clasped her fingers in his own. "Tell me where he is and I'll bring him to you, cut his skin off and present it to you as a trophy!"
She laughed aloud at his enthusiasm, and knew that this was the end of her search, this was a man who would be her instrument of revenge. It had taken too long. Every day she thought of the two lovers, thought of them together, knew they must laugh at her so. Well, death would put a stop to that. Maybe it would also pay back for all the gibes and whispers that had followed her around since that appalling day when he had gone, taking her dreams of court success with him.
Lord Raymond Doyle would pay for that day. Pay for it with the only currency he possessed that interested her -- his life.
She shivered at the thought, and smiling, brought the calloused hand up to her bosom.
This was one man who would not betray her. She would make very certain of that.
September 1661: Artois, France
Bodie called out the name as he searched the grounds. "Ray!"
The faint answer reached Bodie's ears as he walked past the long vegetable garden that Murphy planned with such care. He stopped in his tracks and listened. "Ray?"
There was a long dry-stone wall edging that part of the grounds and there he found Doyle, dressed in work-clothes of rough homespun, working at rebuilding a section of wall that had begun to fall into disrepair.
As Bodie walked up he stopped work and grinned over his shoulder. "What do you think?"
Bodie inspected Doyle, seeing the clean sweat that dampened his shirt despite the chilly air, seeing the easy flex of his muscles as he bent. Dragging his unwilling gaze to the wall, he nodded. "Looks good."
"Damned with faint praise -- it is a work of art!"
"Shame it's down here then, it should be on the wall inside the house."
"To go with the extremely bad landscape you bought off that man who came to the house the other day." Doyle slanted his eyes at Bodie.
"Bad? Who made you an expert on such things? It's a fine painting."
Doyle grinned. "Well, it is a painting!"
"Murphy likes it." Bodie sniffed delicately.
"Murphy would." Doyle opened his mouth, then clearly thought better of it and relented: there was an edge to Bodie that denied teasing today. He changed the subject. "Did you want me?"
"As always!" Bodie leered and forgetting the matter of the painting entirely, grabbed Doyle into his arms and gave him a kiss.
Half smothered, Doyle wriggled until he could breath. He was laughing though, easy in his lover's arms, a spark lighting his eyes in quick response to the need that had brought Bodie here. He paused, stirring at the intensity in Bodie's narrowed blue eyes. Resting a hand on the curve of strong neck, he bent close, whispering around a wicked smile. "Where? The barn's empty, plenty of straw. Bit chilly outside, unless you want it fast, up against the wall, or that tree." He licked at the ear, enjoying Bodie's squirm.
"No?" Doyle pressed them groin to groin, where heat answered heat. Confident, his eyes slanted with arousal, he dared Bodie, "Tell me that and mean it!"
Bodie took hold of his shoulders and made him still. "No, you know that's not what I mean."
The dark look intensified and in answer, all the laughter slowly ebbed from Doyle's face, replaced by a knowingness. "Yes..."
Bodie shuddered. He had never been refused yet, but each time he asked, and each time he never took assent for granted. "Tonight."
Doyle nodded, seeing his lover's smooth face so close, seeing the darkness, the restless need he shared. "I'll warn Murphy." Warn him so that any strange sounds would be ignored.
"Eat a light supper."
"Eat? I'll wait for breakfast." His lips spread into a wide smile. "Or for you."
Bodie managed a grin, though he was clearly elsewhere, his thoughts already on his plans. "Till later. You can get back to your wall..."
Released, Doyle stood still as Bodie turned and walked away. He shook his head and took a deep breath. It had been a while since they had indulged themselves, and a craving fine as the sharpest needles pricked though his veins. Tonight.
He swallowed, mouth suddenly dry, watching until Bodie disappeared into the house.
Then with a grin of absolute happiness he went back to his work.
The room was cast about with deep shadows. Beyond the walls, outside the old house, it was night; a deep Autumn night that held the sharp promise of Winter like crystals in its crisp air. Though there was no cold allowed in this room; heavy green velvet draped the windows, and a fire crackled softly in the wide hearth. Beeswax candles, set in heavy iron sconces, were placed against the walls, their soft, steady light almost enough to deny the night's existence. It was very late, past midnight, and some of the candles had already guttered and been replaced. The air smelled of wax and spice, of burning apple wood and warm leather, and of the heady musk of sex.
Kneeling on the bare boards of the floor, Lord Raymond Doyle, younger son of a duke, born to riches, sometime king's lover, held himself quite still. A trickle of sweat escaped from where his long hair was tied at his neck, to run the length of his bare spine and pool where his hands were bound at the small of his back. He shivered, the slight movement enough to draw a quick lick of the leather strap across his back. He hissed softly, but held himself still, tension making his breath shallow and uneasy, turning his muscles to water.
His back was welted down its length, his arse and thighs on fire; the strap held so casually in strong hands the cause. From the corner of his eye, Doyle could see it swinging slowly in the air, the movement itself enough of a warning.
He quickly focused his eyes back on the floor.
There, on the narrow, polished oak boards, sat three small cups, each inverted as if to cover some small object.
Of the three, he had to choose one.
And he wasn't at all certain if he wanted to choose any of them at all.
Doyle swallowed dryly. He had to make a decision. Under each cup was a counter. One was made of ivory, one of glass and one of leather. Each in turn stood for an implement that would be used on his body. No, and he shied at the thought, not on -- in.
He shivered again and this time the leather cracked loudly across his shoulders, making a soft sound escape his lips as his back arched away from the sudden pain.
The command was terse, soft spoken. Doyle held his place and waited while Bodie walked around until he stood in front of him. His boot-heels sounded loud on the wood, his clothes rustled in a shimmer of lace and linen.
"Raymond, decide now, or I will have to make your mind up for you."
Doyle risked a glance upwards. Bodie was there, smiling, his eyes in shadow, his cock hard, eager, beneath the gentle constriction of his breeches.
The smile was gone and in a flurry Doyle decided. He bent at the waist and with his nose nudged the middle cup out of line. He paused for a moment, face to the cold boards then, with a ripple of muscle, straightened.
"Well done, Raymond..." Bodie crouched down, his eyes no longer smiling, his face suddenly intent. He ran a hand through his long hair, letting it fall back, very dark against the pale linen of his open shirt. "I wonder which one you have chosen. Let us see..."
He reached down and placed his hand on the dark earthenware. He held it there for a long moment, his fingers lightly resting on the decisive cup. Then with the flourish of a conjurer he lifted it away.
There, on the dark wood, sat a disk made of clear blue glass.
Bodie reached down and, setting the cup to one side, picked it up. It was cold in his palm, the glass veined with tiny bubbles held prisoner forever, the whole smooth as sun-warmed ice.
It was also the counter he had wanted Doyle to choose.
Taking it in two fingers he held it up to the light of a candle. When he spoke, his voice was dark and low. "The glass one."
Doyle's eyes were fixed on the roundel, his wide gaze quite still.
"I wonder what fate made you choose this one." Bodie twisted the disc around, weaving it through his fingers as if it were a gaming counter -- which in a way it was. "The one I wanted, the one you dreaded." He raised an eyebrow. "Did you know?"
Doyle shook his head. The glass disc picked up the light and glowed translucent as the moon's reflection trapped under the sea. Glass.
He hadn't known. Or guessed. Had he? The need that flared bright as sunlight within him was a strange master. Strange and perverse. The choice might have been more careful than he'd known.
"Did you know which counter would be there?"
Doyle swallowed and shook his head, though his words, whispered, were more truthful, "I don't know..."
Bodie immediately knelt before him, tossing the strap to one side and pushing the redundant cups away with a screech of pottery on wood. He knelt and took Doyle's face in his hands, the glass counter cold against Doyle's cheek. "It will be good." He was earnest, sombre. Yet his excitement was palpable, his arousal clear in the sweat that beaded his upper lip, his pallor and the way his words emerged slightly roughened with ready desire. "I promise..."
Bodie kissed his lips. Bending forward, awkward almost. He kissed and tasted acquiescence. Doyle opened his mouth and whispered his lover's name, bending into the caress, pressing his naked length into the strength and solidity that kept madness from his door.
They kissed and, this time, when Doyle shivered Bodie did nothing but hold him tighter, lunging his tongue deeper into the open warmth of mouth and throat. When he pulled away, which was not for a while, his mouth glistened with both their saliva. Slowly, he wiped his fingers across the wetness, a finger across his lips as if considering, or as if commanding silence. His eyes held the wide green gaze in an unbreakable hold, taking the moment and stretching it, winding it around the two of them like a ribbon of faith. Of trust.
Then, with slow, steady fingers he unlaced his shirt and slipped it from the wide breadth of his shoulders, letting it fall unheeded to the floor. The fastenings of his breeches were next, and he peeled them back, letting his cock spring free, heavy and arrogant, seeping opalescent moisture from the darkly slitted tip. Bodie held its weight lightly in his hand and casually stripped back his foreskin, letting the pink head emerge and the whole length jerk and pulse, growing steel-hard in his hand.
With easy strength he stood and without needing to be told, Doyle was there, face buried in the dark hair that curled in profusion between the strong thighs; mouth wide, throat expertly accepting the length of flesh into itself. He closed his eyes when Bodie touched his hair. Swallowing hard he took the shudder as acceptance, but before he could go on, before he could begin to fuck himself on the hard cock, the hands meshed in his hair, tightening until there was no choice but to pull away.
"No." Bodie took a step back. "Not yet." All that skill had almost been too much. His cock jerked in frustration, close to coming. And he didn't want that. Not until he wanted.
He took a deep breath and returned to where he had stood, letting his cock rest lightly against the side of Doyle's face, seeing the eagerness, the need, in the slant-eyed face. A tongue came out and, cat-like, licked at the veined skin.
"No. You can have it later, if you're good." Bodie slapped gently at Doyle's face, his own need shown in hooded eyes and the sulky pout of his bottom lip. "If you take the Venetian first. Take it and come, that is. Then you can have me down your throat." He laughed softly, watching emotions pass like clouds across the up-tilted face. "I doubt if your arse will be up to me for a while." He ran a finger down Doyle's cheek, letting it rest on the fullness of the bottom lip until the mouth opened and Doyle sucked him inside. After a moment he let the other fingers join it, the width of his hand up to the knuckles stretching the mouth wildly out of shape. Bodie could feel the soft tongue pressing at him, the solidity of teeth, the strange texture of skin never meant to be touched. Only when Doyle began to retch did he pull back, pull free, taking the wet hand to his own mouth and licking each finger in turn, watching his lover's face all the while, seeing beguilement and yearning. Necessity. A need quite rightly laced with the fine silk of dismay.
For the Venetian, the whore's secret, was a bastard. As big as any man Bodie had ever seen, it was fashioned cunningly from heavy, solid glass that mimicked life as well as any statue. Better than most.
Two months before, the two men had been visiting the Doge's city. Wandering through Venice's narrow alleys they had become lost and entered a shop to ask directions. The shop had sold glass. A lady, exquisite and fashionably dressed, a sloe-eyed beauty who assessed the two strangers with a glance and then ignored them, was being served by an obsequious elderly man. The object that lay before her -- that in fact, even as they looked, was in the process of being paid for -- was enough to make both the Englishmen stare. Without a blush, the lady had waited for her purchase to be wrapped and left, walking delicately on her patens, a timid black page at her side. It had all taken but a few minutes, but not too little time for Bodie to see the lust that flickered across Doyle's face at the sight of the dildo. When their eyes met there was no doubt that they in turn would purchase such an example of the glass-maker's art.
One that to this day had rested in its velvet lined box, unused.
But much thought upon.
And now it was to be broken of its virginity. In Doyle's body.
Bodie reached over Doyle's back and with a quick, practised movement unhitched the rope that bound his wrists together. Then, one hand resting on a warm, naked shoulder, he stood while the kneeling man pulled off his boots and breeches.
Bodie watched Doyle still, curled in obeisance.
As Doyle obeyed, splaying his limbs wide on the floor, Bodie crouched down. He ran his hand down the long, welted back, tutting as the body tried to squirm away from him. Thin-skinned, lightly fleshed, Doyle felt every stroke of chastisement with an intensity that Bodie both relished and envied, yet also experienced pleasure at the same degree of concentrated need. He was the perfect bed-mate. Utterly inviting. Bodie saw wide shoulders leading via the spine's careful pathway to narrow hips, curving again to an arse full enough to fill his hands. Strong thighs, down-shadowed, elegant bones, a man in his prime. All was deceptive smoothness, all was strength hidden by grace. Lush, more than inviting.
Ruthlessly, Bodie quelled the need to simply fuck the prone body, to sink his cock into warmth and tightness and thrust until he cried out with the heady pleasure of it all. He had his own role here. His own stated place in the scheme of things.
And today, tonight, that was not to take his own delight -- though there would certainly be that in what he was about to do. But instead it was to rack his lover with pain and pleasure.
His own cock gave a sudden pulse of need and with gentle fingers he pushed it down, held it with a promise: later.
He was standing himself by the time Doyle rose from the floor. Intent, Bodie assessed the slim body, seeing strain, disguised, but there in the forced breath that flared his nostrils, in the almost opalescent sheen of his dark green eyes. Bodie saw fear and wanting, but most of all he saw the beauty of a strong body given in willing supplication.
"Look straight ahead."
The eyes were dilated, looking as if they were drugged with the strongest opiate. A faint tremor ran throughout the standing figure.
Bodie smiled, and went to fetch Doyle's choice.
He opened the ornate box that had stood in waiting for so many weeks. There, in its cushion of sable velvet sat the dildo. Scant of breath he picked it up with two hands, holding it uneasily, unsteadily. The glass was cold and seemingly impossibly heavy in his hands. He wondered what it would be like to bear it inside his body, to be stretched to accommodate its length and girth. To have that cold member deep in your flesh. He licked his lips. And tried to quell a sudden nervous doubt that he could turn this into delight.
He turned slightly, and saw that Doyle's eyes were fixed on the Venetian toy in his hands.
The ravenous expression wiped all doubt away in a single blinding explosion of lust.
This was something they both wanted.
His hands were no longer unsteady.
Bodie walked back to where Doyle stood and ran the tip of the glass cock down the side of the sweating face, accepting the small flinch elicited by the unexpected cold with a smile that twisted to one side.
Doyle opened his mouth, and gently Bodie slid the very head of the dildo between the stretched lips.
Doyle obeyed until it seemed as if he threatened the joint that held his jaw together, but the flaring head slid into his mouth. Tears formed at the corners of his eyes and he blinked hard, Adam's apple bobbing up and down, muscles in his jaw working, clearly trying to take more but not succeeding.
Bodie held the weight of the glass in his hand and smiled. "Your mouth is too small." He tutted. "Let's see about your arse instead." With a finger-tap on the cheek for warning he pulled the glass away and briefly gave a moment for Doyle to find his balance. "Go and bend yourself over the end of the bed."
Turning slowly on his heel, Doyle went over to the high, four-poster bed and with a simple grace bent himself over it, face and arms pressed to the dark red covers, feet squarely on the floor, as wide spread as he knew his master would want. He tried for easy, even breaths, though that basic task itself was not uncomplicated. Relaxing as well as he was able into the softness of the mattress he shivered once, then closed his eyes, opening them wide again when a hand cracked sharply against the already sore skin of a buttock.
At the fifth slap he sobbed out loud, not from the pain, though that in truth was there, but more from release. Bodie always knew. Always. He was the surest master. Utterly certain. As if he had learned his lessons from the Devil himself.
The hand came down more sharply, making the crooked body buck against the bed. "Who am I?"
Lost in a haze of need Doyle had to think about the question. After a second blow had him arching into the bed he found as answer: "My master. You are my master."
"Because you are the best..."
This time, after a brief pause, the hand was replaced by the strap. "Why?"
Doyle was sobbing aloud at each consuming strike. His words came out in an irregular jumble. "Because, because I need you."
"Because I love you!"
Like a moment of stillness in the heart of a storm there was suddenly no pain. Doyle shuddered into the bed and waited.
Then Bodie was at his side, face bent to his face. "And I love you."
The kiss was wet and needy. Two thirsty men parched of everything but each other.
Bodie pulled back but stayed crouched down, holding the wide green gaze with his own. "It'll be now then."
"I love you, Raymond."
Doyle closed his eyes and held the words inside himself.
When he opened his eyes again Bodie was gone and a hand was spreading cold oil into the cleft of his arse.
It was to be now.
He felt the calm in his centre and knew it was the right time. He shifted slightly, and in silence offered the darkness of his soul for Bodie's delectation.
Bodie pushed his fingers through the tight muscle, pushing deep with first one, then two, then three fingers. He worked slowly, insistently, making Doyle's body adapt to the invasion, waiting until each further penetration was accepted before pressing on. The feel was sublimely erotic, pushing until he felt the tightness give, watching his fingers accepted deep into Doyle's arse. Each time, as he added another finger, he heard the soft whimper of delight that was hurriedly pressed into silence by either the bed covers or perhaps an arm. Slow and easy he continued with the opening of Doyle's body, thrusting his fingers in and out, watching the opening expand around his flesh, until there came a moment when he knew that the width of his fingers was not enough. With a dark smile he pushed with carefully controlled pressure, pushed until his hand was buried knuckle deep, only his thumb left outside. He hissed as Doyle tightened, his body shuddering. Bodie whispered, coaxing... "Easy, my sweet. We've been here before...remember?"
Once or twice he had played this game until his whole hand was inside the needy hole, pushing with steady insistence until his hand, thumb and all, to the knuckles was inside. Then further, the last part an easy slide home that had left Doyle shuddering, lost in a place of ecstasy that few ever found.
Tempted, Bodie considered pushing for that now, pushing for the entrance of his hand, his wrist, his arm...
"I could go on, push myself inside you like this..." He let Doyle feel his strength, let his hand slide just that bit further inside, a movement that had the slender torso arching off the bed. "You don't need that glass cock when you have this..." He twisted his hand and smiled as Doyle tossed his head back, mouth wide in keening silent need.
"The glass will be cold and hard, it'll ream you without the mercy my fingers can show... Still want it?"
"Yes!" The reply was an explosive word drawn on a single breath.
Bodie had it in him to be almost jealous of so elaborate an example of the glass-maker's art.
"You want that cold thing more than me?"
"Please, Master... let me..."
And relenting, Bodie smiled. "Oh don't worry, I'll let you. Think I would give up the chance of seeing you stretched that wide?"
With a supple movement he slipped his hand free and bent to place a single kiss at the dilated opening. It was pink rimmed, eagerly spasming around emptiness. Hungry.
The words were almost a whisper, but Bodie heard them with a shudder of anticipation. He moved away and went to coat the glass cock with heavy oil. It was quite beautiful, fully formed as a magnificent man might have been, as long and impressive as any reality Bodie had ever seen. Thick veins travelled its length, a pair of balls weighted the end with a size that would stop the length disappearing entirely within the receiver's body -- if such a thing were at all possible. Ridges gave a hand hold just above the balls, a further ridge delineated the glans.
He licked his lips greedily and wanted it for himself. Another time maybe... Maybe.
Doyle was unmoving, still bent across the bed. On bare, silent feet Bodie approached and gently lay the dildo against the dark cleft. Startled, the waiting man flinched, his anus shadowed dark then light as his muscles clenched and relaxed.
When Bodie began the slow task of inserting it into his body he shuddered as a man on the rack, breathing hard and fast, his sweat running down to soak the cover that lay rumpled under his body. It was cold at first but the burning heat of his inside soon warmed it, so the cold was only at the point where the glass was slowly, inevitably being pressed inside him.
It was wider than he could have ever imagined. Colder. An exacting discipline that was harder to take, to accept, than any part of Bodie had ever been.
It seemed to take forever, the pain stretching every muscle in his body, breaking him free of everything. He breathed around the invader, lived around it. There was nothing else in existence, not his self, maybe not even the world.
Standing with his whole body bent to the task, Bodie was sweating almost as much as Doyle. It was incredible, watching the slender body stretch wide to take the monstrous thing he was forcing towards its centre. The dark pleasure, the perversity of it all had his own cock pointing hard into the air, begging. Not that he had time or inclination to spare for it. He was as focused as Doyle, and when the flaring head slid inside he moaned himself as if it was his own body that had shuddered in acceptance.
There he paused, wiping a hand over his face and taking a deep breath. "The head is inside..."
He felt Doyle's frisson of surprise, of shock, and realised that blind, relying only on the information his body supplied -- on his wicked imagination -- Doyle had imagined that the whole of the dildo was inside him, not just the bulbous head.
"Shh..." Not that Doyle was saying anything, but the sound was a comfort to them both. Bodie was whispering as if in church, his reverence greater. "The worst is done. Patience now..."
He shifted his weight on cramping legs and pushed gently on the protrusion that jutted from the naked body so obscenely. Doyle moaned. Immediately Bodie stilled and with his free hand stroked a sweat-damp flank. Then, instead of inwards, he moved the glass from side to side, easing it round until Doyle arched with unmistakeable pleasure.
Bodie nodded, licking at his own lips, tasting the salt of sweat, feeling the roughness of stubble. How long they had been locked in this room he had no idea, time had no function, no meaning here. No clocks ticked, no sun or moon strayed light past the curtains until they were done.
And they were not done yet. He nodded again, as if talking to himself. Then spoke: "You can take it, Raymond. Open for me...let me see you with this rammed deep inside you, let me fuck your mouth while this is reaming your arse..." His voice was low and as even as his own excitement could make it. "Raymond...you want this, I do as well...take it..."
And with a gulping breath Doyle did just that. He pressed back and moaned as the next part of the glass cock slid past his defences. Wider and wider he stretched, finally feeling it crawl into his belly, deeper and deeper. Bringing with it the darkest pleasure, the sweetest abasement. He was crying beyond concealment, hands and fingers clutching wildly at the bed-covers, sobbing with need and frustration and anger that he was failing. That he might fail.
But he didn't.
A minute, an hour, a lifetime after it had begun, the monster slid home and the glass balls ran cold and hard against the red, tender flesh of his arse-cheeks.
Bodie straightened, finding himself slightly dizzy. His legs were weak, as if after fever, but he forced his will upon them. And looked down. Spread wide on the bed, slicked with sweat, split asunder by the simulation of manhood, by the instrument of desire, Doyle possessed an unearthly beauty. Bodie knelt on the bed and gently ran a finger down the long rack of spine, quite willingly caught in enchantment. "Beautiful..."
The curved arse, so warm under his hand, rose up to meet his touch and desire soared like a sky-lark, high and distant in his soul. His body could feel no more without breaking into a million fragments of pleasure. He took a deep breath and steadied himself, holding his own cock down, forcing it to obey his need for respite, forcing it away from his groin until he no longer balanced so precariously upon the edge of where he had no wish yet to go.
Releasing himself, Bodie wiped his wrist over his face, then, fingers drawn back by absolute fascination, he touched the glass again, touching first the heat of peach-like skin then the faint warmth of Doyle-warmed glass. He bent and licked it, the mere pressure of his tongue enough to make the impaled man moan softly.
Bodie licked again and this time the body gave a long, slow writhe that told of nothing but need.
"How does it feel?"
Doyle shook his head. Words were beyond him.
"Tell me..." Bodie took hold of the glass balls and with care moved them out and then back in by the smallest amount. When Doyle shuddered he moved closer, running his own hard and needy cock down the exposed cleft, jutting it against the man-made intruder, sliding it underneath to nudge against the warm, fleshy balls that waited, pouched tight and ready against the bed-cover just below.
"It feels like nothing else!" The words were torn almost silently from Doyle's lips as they stretched to find some reasoning. "Like I'm being split apart yet...yet, as if the pleasure is so deep that I might never return..." He broke the words off in a moan as Bodie repeated the same, small exercise in pulling and pushing. "I can't tell you...any more. There are no words..." The same repeated movement had him writhing. "Sweet heaven...!"
"I wish you could see yourself, see how it looks."
Doyle shook his head, though not from any denial, then cried out as a hand slapped him quite gently.
"Beautiful. And I need to fuck you, so turn over. Move back on the bed so you are lying flat."
Slowly, biting his lip, Doyle obeyed, while Bodie held the dildo as deep as he could. Waiting at each stage for Doyle to adjust and begin to relax before making him move the next few inches, until he lay flat on his back, the tear tracks silver on his face in the candle-light, his cock half hard, trailing the evidence of his pleasure onto the dark hair at his groin.
With the weight of the supine body to keep the glass dildo in place, Bodie moved, trailing a line of kisses up to the dreaming face. Doyle was clearly elsewhere, though he smiled at Bodie with gentle sweetness and stirred himself to answer the kisses that opened his mouth.
Bodie pulled back, his own control at the limit. "I need to come, and I want to come in your mouth."
Bodie watched as Doyle nodded and swallowed, then licked his lips. The eyes were hooded, what Bodie could see of them glazed and calm. In truth he was very beautiful. As submissive as Bodie had ever seen him. All because of a glass toy that fucked him wider than any cock made of flesh ever had.
With a quick, muscular movement, Bodie was straddling the wide shoulders, facing the length of speared body, his arse over the upturned face. He felt a tongue come out and lick at him and he shivered, his cock jerking in instant response. With one hand he slicked the trails of come over his distended skin and then pushed it down, angling it until the head pushed against Doyle's swollen and bite-reddened lips. When they opened for him he waited a brief moment, then pushed deep.
He fucked Doyle's ready mouth without any mercy at all. He was too close, too lust driven to consider much else but his own need. It was bliss, the tight warmth closing as tight as a fist around his cock, the wetness, the easy glide into the long throat. Without any care he shifted Doyle's head to an acute angle, gaining a deeper penetration, hearing nothing but the slick sounds of the fucking and the soft mewling that could have been coming from his own mouth.
He reached down and cupped Doyle's throat, wanting to feel himself through the wall of flesh, groaning as with each muscular pump of his buttocks he felt his cock-head against his fingers, driving deeper, deeper.
Almost lost, he just realised that Doyle's cock was hard. Standing stiffly to attention, bobbing with the force with which he was ramming home, the force moving the whole of the stretched body, pushing it onto the glass cock buried deep in its arse, fucking it from both ends. Distracted by the realisation he reached down and found the tight drawn nipples and twisted them hard, making his lover choke, but also making his cock jerk in the empty air and a trickle of seed slide pearlescent down its side.
They were both so very close.
Bodie screamed. Arching forward as he began to come he took Doyle's cock into his mouth and sucked it deep, choking himself as come flooded his throat in a direct echo of what he was doing to Doyle. Who was who and where each body ended was of no matter. They held each other tight and knew nothing until the racking spasms of pleasure faded to memory and there the world was again. And each other.
Bodie straightened and lifted himself shakily off Doyle.
The other man scarcely moved at all -- lying as one dead.
Bodie ran a hand through the sweat-dark curls. A pair of eyes opened, focused, and Doyle smiled softly up at him.
Bodie winced in sympathy as Doyle tried to move then thought better of it.
"Wait, I'll take the dildo out, then it will be easier."
"Yes..." The word was expelled on an unsteady breath as Doyle's body began to catch up with what had been done to it.
"Turn on your side and take a deep breath."
Doyle obeyed and bit down hard on his hand as the glass beast was slowly withdrawn from his entrails. When the flaring head finally freed itself he shuddered and relaxed into the mattress with a soft sound of relief. Bodie was at his side, concern writ large on his smooth features.
Doyle smiled and twisting across the bed, buried his face in his lover's groin, placing a single kiss on the shrunken and satiated cock before settling himself and immediately stilling into a fast and deep sleep.
Bodie let his lover lie where he was. He was quite content. Not even the steady passage of Doyle's breath across his cock could stir his flesh. Not yet, not for a long while, he felt so drained.
Most of the candles had guttered and the fire was burned low. The dark, enclosed room was in soft shadow, the debris of their loving scattered around. Bodie shifted to a more easy position, but the man sleeping across his lap hardly stirred at all. With a hand Bodie toyed with a long, damp tendril of hair, then pushed it away, tucking it behind one half-covered ear. He wanted to piss, to sleep, but all in time.
The same hand skimmed across hunched, naked shoulders, tracing a pattern down the palely scarred back. They had played exactingly in the year of their acquaintance. With no quarter being asked or given. The scars were a mirror of his own, more fresh, but still the marks of hard-found pleasure.
In some ways the lovers were quite the same.
Bodie eyed the Secret where it still lay on the bed and smiled to himself. All the envy he had felt was gone. Anything that could bring such pleasure could not be denied, and maybe one day he would find out what that pleasure felt like to receive.
Moving carefully he manoeuvred the covers so that they were spread across as much of both of them as was possible. In his sleep, Doyle shifted, his hand coming up to lie by his face, almost holding onto the cock that lay under his cheek.
Bodie lay back, more than content. And drifted to an easy sleep himself.
Michael Murphy, all-purpose steward, friend and companion to both men, whistled as he set out the makings of lunch. Informal as always, they would eat together in the big, homely kitchen, the dining-room proper saved for the occasional meal a deux that Raymond and Bodie would share; something they did rarely, their life more that of three friends living together than two masters and one servant. Life was uncommonly good, something that made Murphy smile every day. There had been times when he had thought it unlikely Doyle would live to make old bones, his wildness, his perversity making him run risks no one sane would entertain. And there had been that appalling business with that woman. At least that was all in the past. And Doyle was now happy. With a man Murphy respected and liked. It was a turnout he would never have guessed at a year back. Life was indeed strange.
He grinned, and wondered how Doyle would be today. After the previous night. It was one reason he hadn't bothered with preparing any breakfast, knowing from old that after a night indulging their particular passion the two lovers would sleep late -- and wake starved at some time past noon.
Murphy went over to the great fire and stirred at a black-iron pot, taking a sip of the stew and smacking his lips in appreciation. The smells filling the wide room were savoury, of leeks and mutton, of rosemary, of the fresh baked bread that sat ready in the centre of the stripped oak table. They ate simply, but well. Vegetables from their own garden, meat from the local farmer, herbs from pots that sat on the kitchen window-sill and just outside the back door. Murphy traded vegetables for flour and was happy to do all the baking himself. Bread he would sometimes exchange for fish. Almost the only part of their daily diet that was bought in, apart from the essentials of salt and pepper and butter, was wine. And Bodie bought that by the barrel, along with the occasional cask of the apple brandy they all found so much to their taste.
He was pouring glasses of wine when the kitchen door creaked open and in walked Doyle.
"Morning...lunch is nearly ready."
"Great." Doyle yawned widely, showing a remarkably fine set of teeth. Picking up an apple from a basket on the side, he began to eat it, speaking around a crisp mouthful, "I'm starving."
"So I see." Murphy smiled, watching his friend casually prop himself against the dresser. His hair was still damp from being washed, hanging in long, reddish curls around his face. He was dressed in comfortable old clothes, casually worn, though the lace around his open shirt could have, if sold, fed a family of ten for a year. There was no mistaking his mood, he radiated ease. Languid eyed, he looked satiated. "You look well..."
"Mmm. Well fucked."
"A good night then." It was a statement, spoken around amusement. The way Doyle looked it could not have been anything else.
"The best." He yawned again, and stretched, wincing slightly.
"And from the look of you, pretty rough."
The grin that split Doyle's face said everything.
"Rough enough for you to want to eat standing?"
"Don't be foolish!" Doyle shook his head, took a couple of paces forward and pulled out a chair. He paused, and stared at the hard wooden seat. "Ummm..."
"Try this." And Bodie, walking through the door, placed a cushion on the wood with all the panache of a court magician.
"Thank you." A rueful smile went with the words and gingerly Doyle sat himself down. It was clearly comfortable enough, for he relaxed with a deep breath and began to pay attention to his sense of smell. At the same time as Bodie, he asked, "What's for lunch?"
Murphy sighed at the pair of them. "Stew." He carried the pot over to the table and set it down on an iron rest. He looked at their expectant faces. "And the way you two are I just hope I've made enough. Morning, Bodie. Mutton stew with barley, bread, fruit." He pointed his way around the table. "All right?"
"Perfect, Murphy." Distracted, Bodie nodded absently, his eyes on his lover.
After a moment, Doyle sighed impatiently. "Bodie, I am not going to fall to pieces!" He turned to Murphy, who was ladling out the rich stew into three blue-glaze pottery bowls. "We tried out the toy we found in Venice, and now he thinks I might be fragile!"
Murphy whistled. "I wondered when -- and if -- you'd ever try that out." He passed a bowl over and raised an eyebrow. "And..."
"It was wonderful, and I am fine."
The matter ended, as far as he was concerned, Doyle bent his head and slurped a spoonful of stew. Then he looked up to see two sets of eyes staring at him. He jumped very slightly. "For goodness sake!"
"He looks all right." Murphy nodded to Bodie. "You checked him over?"
"Of course. And he does seem to be..." The wide shoulders gave a sort of shrug.
"He always was tough as old boots."
"You know, I always forget that."
"It's the curls..."
"And the winsome humour..."
"Winsome! If you both aren't careful the stew will end up all over you."
Bodie looked at Murphy, who met the raised brows with a nod. "And today he's in a good mood."
"I'd say he's fine though."
"And thank you both." But for all the surliness in his voice, Doyle couldn't help but grin. "Oh, all right! I ache a bit, and I'll be very happy not to go riding for a while, but apart from that I am well, happy and enjoyed last night thoroughly, so can we please now get on with eating, as I'd like to at least try and finish this before it gets cold!" He looked from one set of blue eyes to the other and made a noise close to a growl. "Eat!"
Bodie picked up his spoon, and took a genteel sip of the gravy. His stomach rumbled at the same time.
"See, it agrees with me!" Doyle swallowed a lump of mutton and pointed his spoon in the direction of Bodie's midsection.
"Well, actually I do too." Bodie began eating in earnest. "And Murphy, this is delicious, thank you."
"My pleasure..." Murphy was busy tucking into his own portion.
Silence, apart from the noises of contented eating, reigned until the pot of stew was empty. Afterwards, they all sat back. Doyle sighed contentedly, his eyes blinking shut, the warmth of the kitchen along with the food enough to send him almost to sleep.
"So, you don't feel like taking the horses out this afternoon then?"
Bodie grinned to himself, watching his lover's eyes close as he sat back.
"Didn't think you would."
"And you do?" The voice was sleepy, but the irony complete.
Bodie gave a laugh that acknowledged defeat. He was going nowhere but here. Maybe they could go back to bed, to sleep. An ideal, indolent day. He sat back. Doyle's hair had dried in the warmth and it curled softly down to his shoulders, pulling here and there into long ringlets. His face was quite at ease, the full lower lip slightly parted from the perfectly bowed upper, his curiously canted eyes just closed, long lashes shadowing the fine skin under his eyes. With his open shirt baring the fine hairs on his chest, his indolent slouch, he looked the total reprobate; a corrupt rogue any mother would shield her children from.
He aroused Bodie merely by existing. Every day he was thankful that they had met, that such an accident could have happened in his life.
He blinked suddenly as Doyle opened his eyes and smiled so very lazily. Without a word Raymond leaned forward and began gathering the mass of his hair behind his head, tying a strip of leather he extricated from his pocket around it to hold it all in place. Bodie watched, fascinated. He loved the way Ray did such simple things with such perfect grace, his fine wrists twisting as he worked the knot into place, his fingers agile, adept.
Murphy watched them proprietarily; their happiness a source of his own contentment. He wondered how long it would take them to go back to bed. Awareness danced between them like fireflies. They would sleep and make love, argue, make up, sleep. They knew they had to make the most of these lazy days, for Bodie was soon to go back to work, and the summer was over. It had been very good. Maybe the best any of them could remember.
He sighed softly to himself and when the two men stood up, Doyle protesting all the way as Bodie led him back to rest, Murphy wondered idly if the miller's daughter was at home. Watching the two men had sown seeds of lust that just couldn't be dealt with alone. At least, not if there was a willing accomplice available.
Whistling again, Murphy cleared the kitchen and shrugging into his coat, went off in search of his own pleasure.
A week, almost to the day, later, Bodie slung his saddle bags over the back of his sweet-tempered mare, speaking her name, Briar, softly as he began to fasten buckles. He concentrated hard on the task in hand and tried manfully to ignore the disconsolate figure of his lover who was standing just within sight of the corner of his eye. He failed.
"Raymond, I'll be back before the end of the week!"
"And risk Christ alone knows what danger through that time." Doyle stopped kicking at the stone wall that was part of Bodie's house and walked over to where his lover stood, reins in hand and a miserable expression on his face. Seeing for the first time that misery, Doyle relented. "Very well. I'm sorry." He took a deep breath and unfolded his arms from across his chest, brushing out the lace of his shirt as he did so, mimicking the courtly fop he had once been. He tilted his head and drawled lazily, "You have to work, and I need to be kept in the luxury which you wish to foist upon me."
Bodie grinned, relieved that the parting would be easier than had first seemed possible. "I'll be back soon. And it isn't as if you won't be busy. You have to visit Calais to pick up the parcel that awaits you from England."
"Hah! I still think I should leave it there." The fop was gone, leaving Doyle standing with his arms crossed about his body and a vexed expression on his face. "Knowing my unloving brother, it will be some religious tract that will tell me I am Satan's spawn, or that will try and bring me back to the ways of the righteous!" He shook his head and his hair, curling in long threads down to his shoulders, gleamed with dark red and gold in the sunlight.
Breath catching in his throat, Bodie fought the impulse to give up on his journey and instead take his lover back inside and wipe the irritation from his face the easiest way he knew. That was impossible though, so he teased it away instead. "Little hope there, then!"
Doyle, after a moment, had to laugh. "So true -- and glad you should be of it..."
They stood for a while in the late Autumn sunshine. The day was chilly, but the sun warmed the patch of gravelled drive in which they stood. Close to a year they had been together, and this was the first time they had been apart. Somehow it was not easy on either man.
"How are you feeling?"
The question, dropped out of the blue, made Doyle start and colour slightly. "Fine... It was close to a week ago and I wasn't exactly a mess then." He shrugged defensively.
They had taken love easy since the long night of delight with their Venetian toy. Bodie being certain he had caused more damage than he had, Doyle sure he was as hardy as it was possible to be, they had argued amicably, though neither had really wanted anything but the most gentle loving since. Such intensity could only be stood with long intervals between. It would have been the way to madness to try anything else.
And neither of them was mad. Slightly crazed -- touched by the moon certainly, but mad? Not at all. At least in their own eyes. And as far as the two of them were concerned the rest of the world could go to hell.
One other person considered them sane, Murphy, Doyle's valet, companion-in-arms and friend. He knew all about the pair of them and the strange way they lived their life, and though he didn't share their delights, in no way did he censure them either. He emerged from the four-square house that was Bodie's, and hence all their own, a wrapped parcel in his hands. Dressed in the dark formality of a servant's plain suit of clothes he appeared dour. Until you looked in his eyes and saw the humour, and the life, that had kept him and his friend from despair through many long years of exile.
He smiled at the two men. "Ready to be off then?"
"Just about." Bodie took the parcel as it was handed to him and raised an enquiring eyebrow. "What's this?"
"Lunch and supper. Or breakfast if you find time to eat in an inn."
"Well, I thought you might need it. Seeing as how you're leaving a day late and will have to ride like the wind as it is."
"I was busy..."
"So I heard!" He smiled at the lovers without a hint of any jealousy, despite the fact that he had been Doyle's occasional bed-partner for many years.
Bodie coughed on a laugh and grinned. He shook his head at Doyle who was manfully ignoring them both and staring into the middle-distance. Bodie cocked his head towards him and spoke to Murphy. "Look after him."
"I'll try. We are only going to collect a package, aren't we?"
"Well then, what can go wrong?"
Bodie shrugged, and fought against superstition as the sun disappeared behind a cloud. For what could go wrong? He was the one stepping into the possibility of danger, as the Duc d'Orlean's employee that was always the case. But Doyle riding to the coast and then returning? He shrugged to himself and cursed the difficult protectiveness that seemed to swamp him whenever he considered his lover.
It would all be well.
He took a breath and turned back to his horse, stowing the food away. When he had finished, Murphy had diplomatically returned inside.
"I'll be back soon."
"Make sure of it. I've no desire to have the Duc as an enemy. And if you died that is exactly what I would make him."
"I will be back, safe and sound before you even know I'm gone."
Doyle stepped close and brushed a hand across the soft dark velvet of Bodie's riding coat. "How can that be? For I miss you already..."
"And I you."
It was foolish, but the truth.
With no more words, Bodie took the hand into his own and squeezed it hard. Turning away, he quickly mounted and gathered the reins. He smiled once. Then, quite sombre, clicked his tongue, urging Briar away. By the time he had eased the mare into an easy trot and turned his head back, all that was visible of Doyle was his coat tails disappearing into the house.
The week had been less arduous than Bodie had believed possible. In lack of accord with any memory he had of tasks performed in the past, this time every contact had been where he was supposed to be, every ostler had been friendly, every inn clean and the message he had delivered had been accepted with charm, with the added bonus of an unduly fat and weighty purse to cheer his way home. Sometimes work seemed so easy. Shifting in the saddle he laughed at himself, laughed at the thought. He risked his life. But then, in truth, that indeed had always been easy. But now that was changing. Perhaps it was even changed for good. With Doyle to come home to he wondered if he would ever risk his life with impunity again.
Still, there was other work to be had. Surely. And he had some money tucked away. Perhaps they should sell up, buy a small farm. Briefly, he considered Doyle living the life of a farmer and gave up, for he didn't want to laugh himself off his horse and into a ditch.
Riding through the mellowing countryside he was, for all the darting nature of his thoughts, very content. Life was good. As good as it had ever been. He reached forward and ran a soothing hand down Briar's neck, making her toss her head gently. Her true name was Eglantier, sweet-briar, but Bodie had wanted to give her a more English name and settled for Briar. Sometimes he called her Sweet, for she was a good-natured beast, and a knowing one. Now she knew as well as he that they were close to home. The thought made him squeeze his knees tighter and with a little skip she broke evenly into a gentle canter that took them a mile without care.
He rode through a countryside that was as close in looks to that of the England he knew as it could possibly have been without actually being on the other side of the water. Orchards filled the fields on either side of the hedgerow, small farms were dotted around. Harvest time was over, apples and wheat gathered in, fields gleaned and ploughed. Winter was on its way. The same things were sure to be happening in the southern Downlands of England. Yet for all the similarities to his homeland, there was something indefinably different, that meant he would never mistake the one for the other. And never wanted to.
He rode through a small hamlet and touched his hat to a black-garbed priest, smiled at a pretty girl who stopped in her tracks to watch him ride by, her hands smoothing the coarse homespun of her gown, touching at her hair, a dimple answering his smile. Geese busied themselves out of the way of his horse's hooves and boy ran past chasing a tabby-cat. Bodie rode on.
He was nearly home.
At peace with the world he found himself whistling tunelessly as he rode along, his mind already ahead of his body. He wanted hot water, hot food and Raymond. His cock swelled hopefully in his breeches and he shifted to ease the constriction, his whistling breaking off in a mild curse at his body's unruliness. But it had been a week. And with any luck Doyle would be just as eager as he was.
Perhaps supper could wait.
About to urge the mare forward, he paused, listening. A horse was approaching, fast. He pulled slightly to the side of the track, not wanting to impede the progress of whoever was in such a desperate hurry, speaking softly to Briar as her ears twitched.
All the calm, all the complacency he had felt shed away like skin the moment he saw who the urgent rider was. Murphy, hatless and white-faced. He pulled to a skidding stop at Bodie's side and took a moment to find his breath.
"What is it?" Fire, plague, death. The possibilities ran through his head with savage efficiency. "Tell me!"
"It is Raymond..."
"They took him. I'm sorry, I wasn't there, I didn't know. There was nothing I could have done, forgive me."
"Murphy! Easy, man!" Bodie took a deep breath and tried to still his own panic. There was only one person who had cause to harm Lord Raymond Doyle, but he asked the question anyway. "Who and how?"
"I parted from him for an hour. He was going to wait for me before walking down to the harbour. He didn't." Murphy wiped his sleeve over his face and took a deep breath. "When I got there he was gone, the ship sailed. But I found out what I could. The men were English and they were taking him to a place called Lymham. They spoke of it openly -- though in the thieves' palace they stayed at they could have boasted of anything. They had orders to keep him alive, I do know that. There was a girl one of them bedded, she remembered as much as she could..."
"Did anyone see him taken?"
"No, but a few saw a man dragged on board a ship called the Sea Belle -- they all thought he was drunk. He was alive, that was certain."
Bodie shivered, suddenly cold as ice despite his cloak. "She has him."
Neither of them needed to voice her name, the name of the woman Doyle had abandoned almost at the altar. The woman he had left because he met Bodie and suddenly nothing else in the world mattered, not king, nor country, nor the marriage that was being forced upon him to a woman he knew despised him. Despised, but wanted for the rank and position she saw as being hers as his wife. Being thwarted had clearly rankled.; and something had made that turn to a need for revenge. But how far would it go? Would she need to see him dead, or just humbled at her feet as she had once threatened. She was rich enough for anything.
Bodie cursed violently.
"I would have followed on the next ship, but I thought it more important to come back and tell you."
Bodie forced himself to be calm, to speak softly, coherently. "Thank you, Murphy. You were right. On your own what could you do? But the two of us..." Bodie shook his head and spat into the road. "We'll get him back and make that venomous bitch rue the day she was born. I suppose the message from his brother was a ruse?"
"I believe so. There was nothing there for him, apart from abduction."
Bodie uncurled his fists and gathered Briar's reins. "Home. We can collect what we need and sleep tonight. We ride in the morning and God help Lucy York."
They turned their horses and set a fast pace down the track. There was little more to be said and both men kept their council, concentrating on the road, fighting all the while against the insidious darkness of their thoughts.
Raymond Doyle knew he had been hit hard on the head; there was a sickness he remembered from old that came from nothing else. There was also a lump the size of a shilling just behind his right ear and he'd found that by the pain that caused bright sparks to shoot before his eyes when he moved. For a long while he had drifted in and out of awareness, not sure where he was or what had happened. Slowly, he had come to himself. He lay in darkness and after a while realised that he was in the hold of some sort of ship. They were at sea, wood creaked around him, and dimly he could hear the crack of sails. Salt and stale water were all he could smell. It had to be the channel they were crossing -- where else would he be headed but to England.
Unless he was to be sold as a slave. He shivered. There were places where white flesh, as well as black, was currency. He pushed that thought away. To be kidnapped was enough, to consider the worst was simply indulgent. He was in a boat sailing to England and that was enough. The consideration of what he might find there he pushed to the back of his mind.
If he moved very slowly the pain in his head was bearable. With careful control he sat up and found to his consternation that his ankles were chained somehow, tethered.
Immediately, the shadow of slavery loomed once more over his thoughts. He reached forward and felt blindly with his hands. His boots were gone and the metal was clasped tightly around his bare ankles. What if the vessel he sailed in was a slaver? He grappled with a moment of blind, absolute fear. Then took a deep breath and stilled the panic. Why would anyone sell him? The person who hated him most wanted his flesh, not the price it would bring. Besides, anyone troubling to take a man by force would scarcely leave him unfettered. The chains, in truth, meant only one thing: that he had no liberty.
He shifted, feeling around in the darkness. More chains were fastened to the bulwark on either side of him. He swallowed revulsion at the thought of a human cargo crammed tight into this hold, thankful that, for all his ills, he was at least alone.
His hand reached again and he touched something soft, something alive. It scuttered over his fingers and he drew them back sharply, with a quick-drawn breath. Only a rat. He breathed again and continued his exploration. Mindful of his head he slowly straightened, and found he could in fact stand upright, the wooden roof of his prison a few inches above his head. He stretched slowly, easing the muscles in his back, wincing at bruises he had no memory of collecting.
He was just about to shout out when the door opened and a lantern made him twist his face away at the sudden brightness. A hand thudded into his side and he crashed to the floor, the other man following to bring a knife, keen and eager, against his side.
"So, you're awake..."
"So it seems."
A laugh gusted foully across his face. He wondered what the man had been eating, his breath stank like rancid cheese.
"You took your time coming to pick up your package, didn't you, your Lordship." The voice was deep, quite civilised. No common criminal then. "We waited almost a week -- not very thoughtful of you, to keep us kicking our heels in that pox-ridden town. The mistress won't be pleased either. She's eager to see you, though Christ alone knows why, scrawny little thing that you are. I told her -- let me slit your throat and be done, but she wouldn't allow it." He shook his head sorrowfully.
"I must thank her..." Doyle's sight was coming back and he squinted at his captor, seeing a big man, tall and wide shouldered, not unhandsome, though his nose had been broken more than once.
"You would think that, but you're nothing but trouble to me. Nothing but. One excuse and I could tell her you fought too hard, that my knife slipped." The point of said blade whispered against Doyle's skin so that he felt the warmth of blood begin to trickle slowly down his side. "She wouldn't be happy, but I can deal with that." A wide, feral smile broke across the sun-brown features.
Doyle saw the amusement, hated the feeling of being toyed with. He bared his teeth and goaded -- "Go on, why don't you do it then?"
A slight start of surprise then the wide grin was back. "Why? You like to live dangerously, don't you?"
The knife pressed closer and for a long moment Doyle was certain his bluff had been called, then the sharpness was gone and he breathed again, sweat running cold down his neck.
The man said nothing else for a while. Instead he stood up and slid his knife back into its sheath that was tucked into his belt. He picked up the lantern, holding it as he stared down, scorn now the only emotion visible on his face. "I'll tell you why I'm going to keep you alive -- because she wants you. And I do what she tells me, for that's what I get paid very handsomely for. That and the fact that I reckon you'll be a long time dying when she's got her claws into you."
"Going to watch are you? Perhaps you should pay her."
"Oh, no!" The smile again.
"Do you bed her, is she inventive th--" Doyle broke off the words in a gasp as a boot thudded into his side.
"That's no concern of yours. You deserve nothing but what you get." The boot again, making the prisoner try to move away from the source of pain, but come up hard against the tether with a rattle of chain. "You could have married her!"
"I'd rather have wedded a goat!"
The man was at his side again, crouched, anger as volatile as gunpowder seething in his narrow eyes. Doyle took an uneasy breath and wondered if the fear he felt was visible. "I know what you'd rather wed. She told me about what takes your fancy -- what's here." He cupped a hand to his own groin. "Not sweet cunt, like a true man should. But don't fear, there'll be plenty of this waiting for you in England." With a squeeze of himself he grinned without humour and rose, standing for a moment, savouring the moment. "Plenty."
Without another word he went to the door and opened it, taking one last raking look at his captive before returning him to unhappy solitude and the swaying, impossible dark.
For Bodie and Murphy the journey to England was one of the worst either had experience of. They had left the comfortable house in Artois before first light, riding hard for the coast with only the clothes on their backs and basic rations in their bags, as if for a military campaign. They spoke very little, both men aware of the other in a way that had so far in their acquaintance been quite unnecessary. The truth of it was that they both loved Raymond Doyle, each prepared to do anything to free him. If murder was needed, then murder would be committed. Even that of a woman.
They rode into the bustling French port and Bodie forced his will upon the day. From nowhere the captain of a fishing smack arrived and offered them passage. The horses were found the last two loose-boxes in the only stable that could be trusted to still have them on their return. The two men kicked their heels for a few hours, both sitting grimly over almost untouched beer as the time passed by and, with infinite slowness, the tide began to turn. No one bothered them, they looked too grim, too hard. They ate some food, all that was put before them, sure that it would be needed. Eventually, a boy came and fetched them when all was well, and they walked together down to the quay, mounting the narrow planks that took them aboard the ship without a glance behind them. All was now. Nothing else mattered.
Neither man voiced the name of their quarry, there was no need, for Doyle haunted them with every breath. As did the image of his abductor.
Wrapped in their thick cloaks they stayed away from the busy crew, though Bodie had to fight the urge to demand more sail, more speed. He could feel despair as a knot hiding just under his breast-bone. If he let it, it would burst up and strangle him. There was no time for such indulgence, for they were two days, almost to the hour, behind Raymond Doyle, and that gave no room at all for anything but determination.
The darkness had an uncanny way of heightening his remaining senses. He was no seaman, but he could feel when the ship turned and they began the slow tack into harbour. For a long time he had been able to scent the sea above the fetid stench of the hold, now he was certain when land came close. There were no doubts left when the door was pushed unceremoniously open and the tall man returned. This time he was accompanied by a greasy oaf who stank of garlic and whose first act was to kick the bound man without any reason. The tall one merely laughed, and watched until the prisoner was unconscious.
For Doyle, this time the darkness was without any sensation at all.
After a while, and he never knew quite how long, some hearing, some awareness, returned. The slipping, monotonous motion of the ship had been replaced by the uneasy lurch of a poorly upholstered coach. Doyle knew this, but the same darkness was there, along with an violent need to vomit, a need he succumbed to without very much heed. The curses that rang through his ears would have made him smile, but the slight hold he had on sensation was gone, pushed away by a backhanded blow that slid him unceremoniously back into unknowing.
The next time he awoke the world was quite still.
He knew he lay on stone and that he was naked. Cold that sought to freeze his marrow had caused him to wake and the act of drawing his knees close to his chest brought pain swift and sure to his stiffened, bruised muscles. He lay still and breathed softly, waiting. After a moment he moved again, cautiously, and he sighed softly, the sound as loud as a cry in the dead silence.
Curled on himself, he lay quiet for a long time. Long enough to battle the fear that swept through him, fighting his way through it to the anger that must lie at the other end. He thought of Bodie and then of the woman. Anger was, finally, quite simple to find.
In time he moved again; though the chains wouldn't let him go far, tethered as the ones around his ankles were to a metal bar set firmly into a grime encrusted flag-stone. He shivered, this time as much in anger and fury as with the chill.
How could she do this? What right did she have, what power?
With a soft curse he smacked his hand against the rough stone floor and the pain added to his strength. Whatever she wanted, she wouldn't find it, he couldn't let her have such satisfaction. Though in truth she probably wanted little more than his humiliation and death. In the months he had been betrothed to her, Lucy York had shown little finesse. He knew her for vindictive and vicious, but for all that his death would most likely be a drawn out, yet simple, affair.
Though a year might have brought her many things, he hoped sincerely that a vivid imagination was not one of them.
He closed his eyes. Yet, he knew he could die well, if he had to.
He shivered again, wondering how his metal would be tested. He had no desire to linger screaming in this cold room. For screaming was sure to be what Mistress York had planned. And given the right provocation there were ways to make any man scream.
But it might not come to that. Would not. He moved slightly, trying to find a place where his bones didn't ache. Gave up. With a long sigh he considered escape, for somehow, there had to be a way out of this. One way or another, there had to be.
Opening his eyes, he peered blearily around. One eye was half closed with blood and he raised a hand to pry the lid free. He blinked at the bare cell. They had him kept in what had to be a turret room. The walls curved around, all forbidding stone sliced at intervals with narrow, unglazed openings. It was day, though he couldn't tell how advanced the hour was, as only a trickle of light managed to find its way into the room. It was, however, light enough to see the emptiness of his surroundings and the thickness of the door set into the one flat wall. The door itself was thick English oak and had no lock or fastening on Doyle's side. All that disturbed its dark and pitted surface was a closed peep-hole and a round handle that there was clearly no point even attempting to turn.
Anger pulsed above the fear, two voices in counterpoint. Neither dominated the other, though both sang as sweet. He told himself that there was no shame in feeling fear. But he had no wish to die. And there was a certain surety that death was what he had been brought here for. Death and suffering. And for all his amusements, pain suffered like this left him with nothing but discomfort -- he had discovered that long ago.
That made him almost smile. He curled tighter around himself, limb held fast against limb, settling against the wall with a rattle of chains, cursing the cold that was trying to thread its way through his bones. He closed his eyes, blocking out the cell. Somehow he found Bodie was there, warm in his thoughts.
It was as real as the smell of fresh cut grass or as the feel of sun-warmed velvet against skin. He lay in the garden of their house, a bee humming close to one ear, the heavy scent of honeysuckle laying like a drug on his senses. Warmth soaked into his bare skin and from the fact that he was naked he knew it was one of the days Murphy was at the market. Grass prickled against his skin and contentment weighed his eyes closed. Footsteps sounded closer on the grass, but he kept his eyes closed. The sound of clothing being dropped to the ground made the fine hairs on his arms stand on end, awareness coursing through his blood like wine laced with the headiest spirit.
The command was a rough whisper in the summer's quiet. The bee had droned away, leaving the distant rustle of crickets in the long grass the only sound.
He took a deep breath and obeyed.
"Spread your limbs out." That voice alone made him shiver. "Keep your eyes closed."
He nodded, unsure in this role but willing to play along, wanting once more to see the other side of the coin, to taste the wildness there. Obeying, he kept his eyes closed tight, finding that the darkness brought his senses alive. He stretched wide, fingers reaching into the grass, feeling daisies like soft lashes against his skin, seeing himself as an offering on the greensward. He spread his thighs and waited, wanting this with absolute need, breath catching like butterflies in his chest.
Then a slender body knelt between his strong thighs. A hand rested lightly between his buttocks, the fingers coated in some oil. It was pressed into him, the ease of a finger into his body gentle. He was open, ready. More than ready. He moaned softly, wanting this, wanting what would come later, in the darkness of their room, when the world was asleep.
When the cock pierced his body he cried out loud, possession taken in a powerful thrust that spiked pain and pleasure as one and left him craving more, with less will than the weakest addict to the juice of the poppy. He pushed back heedlessly, clawing at the grass as he lay wide-mouthed with need, impaled helplessly on iron-hard flesh. In his mind he saw himself and the image was impossible to ignore, he felt the surge in his body that presaged orgasm and fought it. In vain. He cried out loud wanting it all to continue, wanting this to last forever, but he was lost, the pressure too great as his seed gathered itself and shot from his body, blinding him with absolute pleasure, blinding him...
The dream vanished as phantoms often will, forgotten but for the taste of grass in his mouth and the yearning hopelessness for a time that may forever be gone.
"Wake up! You were crying out loud..."
Bodie opened his eyes and tried to focus. It took a moment, but then he caught Murphy's face in his gaze and nodded. It took a second for him to realise, then he curled over and hid his hard cock from Murphy's sight.
"Was it a good dream?" Perched on the side of the narrow bed in their room, Murphy smiled in understanding. "Raymond?"
"Who else?" Bodie was relieved that his voice functioned. He felt awash with need for Doyle.
"You'll get him back."
Bodie had the grace to grimace sheepishly.
He sat up, pushing himself up to lean against the wall. The room they had rented in Folkestone was small, probably lousy, but it was only till dawn. The inn was on the harbour front, the sea sounding softly outside the window.
"You should go back to sleep."
"Was it all those years of looking after Raymond that gave you the skills of a nanny-goat?"
"Probably." Murphy ignored the impatience and shrugged his bare shoulders. He was part wrapped in a blanket, the exposed skin goose-bumped.
"Go back to bed, Michael, I'll be fine."
"So will he."
"I believe it!"
"Just make sure you don't forget it..." And Murphy turned away, climbing back into the small pool of warmth still there under the moth-eaten blankets. In very little time he was asleep. Bodie however sat awake for a long time, only drifting away as the sky between Dover and Calais showed the first hint of morning, drifting back to dream of his lover.
Doyle awoke instantly at the sound of a bolt scraping back from its home. Stiff and fuddled he uncurled his limbs, but gave up on trying to stand. If they wanted him upright, then they could do all the hard work themselves.
The door was pushed open and the two men he had already met from the journey walked cockily into the cell. The one who was clearly in charge grinned down at his captive. "Morning!"
Doyle stirred himself to sit up straight, he didn't bother to reply.
"You're a surly one." The man threw a grin at his companion. "Close mouthed as a carp. Hey, Sam, what odds would you take on him singing sweetly by the end of the day?"
"Odds? You must be jokin'!" The smaller man walked in, leaving the door wide open behind him. "It's a bloody certainty."
"Ah, it is indeed. Well, your lordship, the lady of the house is waiting for you."
"You mean she isn't going to pay me a visit here?"
"Oh, no. She's warm and snug and we've been preparing the stage, as it were, for her entertainment."
Doyle grimaced, "Of which I am the leading actor?"
"Up with you, she'll be in a temper if you keep her waiting."
Not at all certain he cared, Doyle stayed where he was, his face showing all the contempt he felt.
"Sam, I said he was a surly bastard." Doyle winced as a hand cracked across his face. "Looks like we'll have to do some work."
"I could try kickin' him into some humour."
"No." A hand on his sleeve stopped the kick that was about to be delivered. "No use. He's determined."
Doyle found himself eyed speculatively, but in the end all the man did was unlock the fetters and shrug. "Come on, you take one side, I'll take the other."
They bent, and with all the disinterest of butcher's mates hoisted the body between them.
Hanging between their hands, Doyle let himself be pulled from the cell and dragged down a grimy corridor that seemed to lead into the main part of the house. He gave them no assistance, slightly light-headed, almost content to listen to their breath as they hefted him along, lifeless. But when they seemed quite willing to drag him carelessly down a flight of stone steps he suddenly found his feet, and from there on walked.
He was fairly certain that the house was Lucy York's own, part of the estate her father had bought her as a gift -- one of so many. It was where they would have lived together had they wed. Perhaps this was her sense of irony, bringing him here. Or maybe it was a far simpler knowledge that here was the one place in the country she could get away with murder and not suffer the consequences. No one here would inform against her. Each person on the estate knew their livelihood was held in her hands. If a witness to Doyle's innocent demise was needed, then that was what would be found. Ten if necessary.
The winding corridor ended in what must once have been the great hall. The strange trio walked in silence under its high, vaulted roof, the sound of two pairs of boots loud on the rush-strewn wooden boards, the prisoner's bare feet quite soundless. Doyle found himself halted by a large, ornately carved, pair of doors. The man called Booth rapped once against it with his fist, then without waiting for an answer, pushed inside, urging his unwilling prisoner before him.
There, dressed in all the finery her father's wealth could buy: vermilion silk from Paris; gossamer-weight lace from Valenciennes across her shoulders; hair elaborately curled in teasing ringlets; a heart-shaped face artistically, discreetly painted; tiny satin shoes peeking from beneath the full skirted gown, was the woman he had thought to marry.
Doyle watched as she took two paces away from the darkly glowing fire, seeing her beauty, her grace and her womanliness. Without any account he knew the value of her clothes, the cost of her cosmetics and the importance of the jewels that scattered across her form in a constellation of diamond and pearl. What he couldn't tell, and never had, were her thoughts, or her intentions. She was as mysterious to him as the wide oceans, and just as awe-inspiring. As a man he had faced many fears. Now he knew himself for a coward, for the sight of this beautiful woman made him want to howl like a dog at the fear rising in his soul.
A fist in the small of his back pushed him forward.
"Here you are, Mistress, the package you required from France."
"Martin, how clever of you." Lucy York smiled, the amusement changing on her face as her gaze slid across to the naked man held between her servants. "I see you had to persuade him. He looks a little damaged."
"Mistress, not even the mention of your name could make him come willingly--" Martin Booth broke off his obsequious sentence to cuff the prisoner who had breathlessly laughed. "Though I admit we didn't give him much of a chance to say no."
"Didn't give me a chance to say anything! Was it your plan, Lucy, or--" Doyle broke off with a hiss as a hand took hold of his hair and pulled hard.
"Were you given permission to speak, scum!"
"Oh, no, Martin, not scum, please! You hold an aristocrat between your hands." Her voice gave lie to her words and she laughed when Doyle was brought to his knees, his head pulled back so his throat was exposed, giving him all the lost appearance of a pagan sacrifice.
"Scum comes in all sorts, Mistress. Even kings can be scum, so can the bloody lords of the stinking realm. This one proved his worth when he jilted you."
"As always you are right. Did you hurt him much?" She sounded intently interested.
"No, Lady, you told us to be careful, so we were, eh, Sam?" His accomplice nodded, though he kept silent, clearly the servant. "No bones broken, not even much blood spilt. We saved him, like you told us to, for you."
"Yes..." She sighed and straightened her back with a cat-like ripple. "For me."
She walked forward and through tearing eyes Doyle saw her. She was watching him, dark desires written clearly under the fine paint on her face.
"You hurt me, Raymond, when you left. Hurt me very badly."
"You never cared for me." He gasped as Booth tightened his fist, but went on speaking. "How could I hurt you?" But he knew he had, and guilt, unsought, plagued him.
"You made a fool of me, people laughed behind their hands when I walked through the corridors at court. People laughed!" An expression of utter loathing passed over her face. "I thought long and hard about you, Raymond."
"I didn't mean--" Doyle broke off the sentence with a hiss of pain, sure his hair was being pulled out by the roots.
She ignored completely his attempted interruption. "You shouldn't have crossed me. There were things I wanted from you that not even my father's money can buy, and you took them all away from me. I'll never be the King's mistress now, not ever. His eyes meet mine, he looks blank for a moment, then he smiles a little knowing smile as he remembers the story; that I'm the woman whose lover left her to whore with a man who beats him." She turned on her heel in a rustle of silk and anger. Lucy York had had close to a year to hone her indignation into fury. She had used the time well. "Bind him and leave, I'll ring when I need you again."
And without further question, the two men hoisted Doyle to his feet, dragged him fighting to a heavy wooden chair and bound him there; arm of flesh and bone to arm of wood, flesh leg to wooden leg. For surety they passed a final rope around his waist and tethered him that way too.
She dismissed them with a wave of her hand and went back to stand by the fire.
The room was warm enough for comfort even naked, and despite everything Doyle began to find some hope within himself as the cold in his body gradually began to fade away. He watched her for a while, but Lucy York seemed to have forgotten his existence, her gaze fixed somewhere in the depths of the blaze that burned slowly in the wide, deep fireplace.
Doyle looked around him, seeing a room of luxury and comfort. There were no rushes strewing the floor here, instead a priceless carpet was spread across darkly waxed floor-boards. The walls were all panelled, finely carved, and above that the walls were plastered elaborately with a complex geometric design that continued between the beams of the ceiling. The furniture looked as if it cost more money than Doyle had ever owned. Even the chair he sat in had undoubtedly been fashioned at extreme cost, the carving detailed and implausibly fine. It was also uncomfortable in the extreme and he shifted slightly as the wooded flowers and fruit dug into his spine. The chair had not been designed to be sat in naked, of course.
His eyes explored every inch of the room, then restless came back to linger on the woman's still form, wondering how he could extricate himself. If he could, if charm would work. "Lucy... "
It was as if he had not even begun to speak. She turned and looked levelly at him. "What do you expect I will do with you?"
Her voice startled him, sounding loud in the silence.
"Well?" The malignancy of her gaze was shocking.
"They said you were going to kill me."
"So they talked to you?"
"Around making use of their boots, a little."
Lucy walked forward until she was just in front of him, her skirts brushing delicately against his knees. "The bruises are coming out." She spoke as if it was a delight, as if noticing the first primroses of Spring. "Though I suppose they are no worse than those your lover has inflicted on you."
Doyle merely shrugged, unsure what reply would be to his favour. He stared at the folds of her gown, somehow quite unwillingly to stare into her face.
He flinched as she moved, but all she did was walk around him. A hand touched his back, dragging a nail across skin marked with palest pink and silver scars.
"Scarred, too. How can you enjoy it, such pain? Does it mean that when I hurt you I will in fact be pleasuring you?"
Doyle gasped as the nails dug hard into the muscles of his neck, forcing an answer.
"Strange. I cannot understand the difference between pain given by a lover and pain inflicted by an enemy, but then I am not perverted as you are. I like my love rough sometimes, but pain?" She left the sentence hanging and went back to her circumnavigation of the prisoner.
Silence still seemed the only safe path through this thicket of thorny questions, so Doyle kept his council and, balanced on the fine edge of anticipation, waited.
He realised she was standing before him again, eyes hooded, a hand gently caressing the skin of her own neck. After a moment she continued. "Pain? Never. I would kill any man who dared to hurt me."
For a very brief moment, Doyle considered trying to explain the strange pleasure. He wondered if there were words to explain the mystery that could transfigure him at the simple touch of Bodie's lash. About how much love there was in such barbaric acts, about how Bodie gave more love in a simple beating than she had known in all her life.
He considered all this very briefly, then dismissed any such notion as the whim of a madman. She would beat him senseless. Maybe she would anyway.
"I'm glad I sent the others away. It is strange being alone with you again. In my own way I could have loved you, I think you should know that. Loved you, been a good court wife. You could have catted around as much as you wanted. I wouldn't have cared. Yet you still chose him over me." She sighed and walked back to the fire-place. There she crouched down and began softly humming a song he remembered as being all the fashion a year before. After a while, she broke off the lilting tune to speak, "Well, you are mine now. And if he comes to find you, then I will show him so. Before I kill you both."
"He won't try and find me!" Doyle was shocked into speech by her words, if this was really to trap Bodie as well... "He doesn't care for me that much!"
"Maybe, maybe not." Her voice was almost disinterested, her own world far more important than anything Doyle could ever say. With careful grace she stood and Doyle saw why she had been so intent on the fire. A long poker of metal was held in her right hand. Except it wasn't a poker, for instead of a blunted end as was customary with such a fire-iron, some blacksmith had fashioned there a flattened metal rose, a rose that burned white as ash fell away from its intense heat. "But he will know you for mine, I promise you -- as will any who see you from this day to the moment you die."
Suddenly livid with panic, Doyle fought at his bonds, twisting in the chair as the appalling metal came closer. He stilled, quite breathless, shudderingly close to nausea when she held it close to his face. Then at the last moment, when he could smell the burning of his beard stubble and hear his cheek begin to scorch, certain that she was going to mark him there, Lucy York pulled the brand away and pressed it with simple brutality into the soft skin just above his breast.
He had no time to take breath, no breath to scream, though the agony coursed in a howl of silent anguish through his body, leaving him sweat-soaked, shuddering, when the ability to breathe finally returned. Choking on the stench of his own burning flesh, Doyle opened his eyes and focused on his tormentor. She was leaning over him, her eyes alight as if in the throes of love, her lips red and swollen, her skin softly flushed.
She smiled. "Perhaps I can understand the delight of inflicting pain. Thank you for teaching me that, Raymond."
Heavy eyed, she lent down and kissed his cheek, just where she had teased with the brand. Doyle struggled to escape her lips, gasping as her tongue slid out and lasciviously tasted his skin. It was too much and, with a certain sense of satisfaction, he violently convulsed, vomiting up the remains of the last meagre meal they had given him to eat.
Though she danced back, nimble as a cat, the fetid mess splashed on her skirts. With a shriek of outrage she was at the door, calling for Booth, for her maids, for anyone, though it was the two men who came running.
"Guard him!" She was barely under control, her voice high and wavering. "And get someone to clean up that mess!" She looked down at her dress and fury twisted her face. "The silk... I need to change." She took a deep breath and found some measure of calm. "I want you to whip him until he begs my forgiveness, until he bleeds!"
"I'll do it now, Mistress, if you wish?"
"No. I want to appreciate every stroke, every scream. Prepare him -- I'll be back when I've composed myself."
And she turned on her heel, stalking away from the room.
Slumped in his bonds, Doyle watched her go. He straightened when the solid form of Booth blocked his view, leaning his head back, licking his dry lips.
Fingers dragged across the brand, making him jerk with pain.
"And that's only the beginning..."
Doyle closed his eyes, though the mocking laugh was still there and there was nothing he could do to block the sound away.
The trail left for them was quite obvious. Bodie wondered at it, knowing that the likelihood of Doyle's captors being foolish enough mark out a path they didn't want to be followed was small. And all that could mean was that they were being led onwards, like hawks to a lure.
Well, they weren't hooded yet.
They had left Folkestone early in the morning and their clothes were still damp from the light rain-shower that had caught them unawares on the brow of the Downs. The smell of wet wool and wetter horse followed them, vying with the earthiness of the countryside and the sweet-almond scent that Murphy sprinkled on his shirts.
The Kent countryside was as beautiful as Bodie remembered. At the turning of the year it was all rich colours, the copper and russet and dark green of the trees, the rich loam of newly turned earth. Old-man's-beard hung from the hedgerows and the last dog-roses faded sweetly amongst the turning leaves. The rain had merely served to wash the colours clean so the land lay before them bright and eager. It was a perfect day, one that should have lifted his spirits and had him singing as he rode. But neither he nor Murphy had any song in them. They rode with one purpose alone.
They also argued as they rode, their voices an intermittent accompaniment to the soft thud of their horses' hooves on the muddy road. "Bodie, I tell you, this is a trap, one so clear a blind man could see it. Let me go in your place."
"No! It makes no sense for you to be caught -- the bitch probably wants you dead as much as she wants Raymond. Why give her the chance?"
"She won't kill me outright." Bodie wrapped himself deeper into his cloak and refused to be drawn.
"No?" Murphy sighed long and hard, his breath frosting the clear air. "No, she'll probably play with you for a while, torment you a bit before tossing your carcass in the moat." He shook his head in disbelief. "He'll kill me if you end up dead."
Bodie had to smile, though it was sourly twisted. "If I'm dead, what do you think his chances are?"
"Nil." Murphy ran a hand through his hair and tried not to scream in frustration. The only way with Bodie was to wear away at him, like water on stone. But time was running away too fast for subtlety. "Though what if she kills you in front of him, or uses you in some way..." he shrugged as his imagination gave out. "I tell you, this is only falling in with her plans -- let me go in your stead?"
This last was so plaintive that Bodie turned in the saddle and faced his companion. He saw a plain man, handsome in a solid way, still young, thick light-brown hair tied at the nape of his neck. He was a man who Doyle loved as a brother, and had shared almost everything with. He saw a man with as much right to be here as himself: a man who for all his closeness to Doyle, Bodie felt no envy or jealousy of. In his own life a true friend had been a rare thing. One to be counted as a gift.
As he stared, Bodie's expression gentled, the hard lines that had dug their way into his face since his lover's kidnap, fading for the moment. He considered everything, seeing his friend before him and knew that for all Murphy's concerns, for all the possibility that he was in fact right, this was the only way it could be done. "No, Michael, I'm sorry. Trust me..."
"I do, but..."
"But nothing. We will go on as we planned. Once they have me, then we have a chance -- then you have a chance," he amended. "It is the only way. Now they are expecting a rescue attempt. Once they have one -- and me -- then they will relax their guard."
"You sound so certain."
Pushing a long strand of hair back behind one ear, Bodie turned to stare bleakly into the distance. He nodded, "I have to be."
Murphy watched him for a moment, then, gathering the reins in his hands, kicked his horse into a canter. He called back over his shoulder, "Come on then." He said nothing else till the other horse and rider had caught up. "Bodie, I'll pray that your certainty is well founded."
Bodie nodded, refusing to admit that for the past few hours he had prayed more than he could remember having done in the rest of his life.
Raymond Doyle had lost all feeling in his hands, and the numbness was spreading its way down his up-raised arms. The ropes that held him tethered in such an uncomfortable way had been tied tight, wrapped around a hook more used to hanging a side of deer, which had then been chained to one of the ceiling beams. He was thankful that he was allowed to stand on his feet, for another inch or two would have raised him off the floor.
As soon as Lucy York had retired in fury, the room had been cleaned by two black servants who scarcely looked at the bound man. Doyle remembered one of them from London, she had padded silently around the York household, aloof, different, indifferent. He knew they must be slaves, tribal scars were cut into both their expressionless faces and they moved as if every in breath was the possibility of fear. One of them accidentally caught his eye, and for a brief moment he read sympathy there, in the dark ebony depths, then the look was shuttered away.
He wondered what it must be like to be enslaved to a family such as the Yorks. To be a slave at all. He watched them and felt pity. At least his own treatment would be short-lived.
Impersonally, they had cleaned him as well as the floor. When he tried to speak to one of them, Booth had walked forward and cuffed him into unwilling silence.
Soon after the women had left, Booth and his accomplice had strung their captive to the beam, their comments leaving little to the imagination. They had laughed at him, abused him with casual indifference and left him hanging, waiting for punishment.
Waiting for what seemed an age.
By the time she returned, sweat was dripping down his back and what he wanted more than anything in the world was a drink of water. That and to be released, but that simple thing would not be won by wanting, of that he was sure.
The door opened and her shoes sounded softly as she crossed the floor. She halted just by his side.
"I'm having the other dress burned."
Now she was wearing dark green, a sombre colour made imperious by the knots of scarlet ribbon that adorned its low bodice and which had been set to tangle artfully in her tumbling pale curls. She looked, as she knew, very beautiful, her creamy shoulders rising in luscious curves from her gown, a tiny waist, full breasts, her ripeness unmistakeable.
"Mistress, that one becomes you very well." Martin Booth stood forward from where he had sat waiting, idly casting dice, hand against hand.
She glanced at him and smiled, then came back to feast on Doyle's misery. "I know."
She had calmed down from her earlier fury, but high spots of colour inked her cheeks without the aid of cosmetic; the brightness a sure sign that her anger had not entirely dissipated.
They had cleared the room to allow themselves space to work. The settle and long table had been pushed against one wall, the carpet rolled up, the chairs, even the one Doyle had been bound to, dragged out of the way. Now in the wide area that had been created around him, she walked, her skirts dragging at the wooden floor, brushing against his shins and calves as she turned. "You look most uncomfortable."
"As I'm sure you wanted." Doyle's voice sounded rough to his ears, and he wondered what she would do if he asked for water. The men had simply ignored him, she might think of something more ingenuous. He kept that need to himself.
"After ruining my gown you should be thankful you still breath."
"Torture is a messy business, Lucy. You should be prepared for that."
"Torture..." She tested the word. "Who would have thought I would ever come to torture someone. You see what you have brought me to?"
"I didn't bring you to this." Doyle closed his eyes, very tired. He wondered why he was even bothering to argue, but silence seemed far more of a defeat.
"But you did. In all my life I have never hated anyone the way I hate you. I have certainly never tortured anyone before."
"Not even your slaves?"
"They don't count." She dismissed the thought with a wave of her hand.
"No. Papa says the negroes are less than human."
"Papa is a fool."
She slapped his face, though there was little heat behind the action. "Don't speak of him so. He is the kindest of fathers and never wrong." She returned her hand to his cheek, resting it there lightly, smoothing her thumb across the sweat and beard stubble. "He would have had you hunted and killed like an animal, but I wanted you here. He understood, when I told him I wanted revenge. He told me to do whatever I wanted with you, that you deserved the vilest death I could conceive." She smiled, her lips parting gently. "You should thank me for your life, what is left of it, Raymond, think of that!"
"I'd rather you had forgotten me."
This time her laughter was forced, hiding bitter shame and indignation. It faded quickly. "I almost tried."
"You can't have tried very hard."
"Perhaps not. And now I am glad." Her hand moved down, brushing against his nipple. She took it between her nails and twisted hard. And licked her lips when he gasped aloud at the pain. "You know, some of our slaves have holes here." She flicked the nipple. "I wonder if gold rings set through your skin would look pretty?"
Without wanting to, Doyle shivered.
"Do you really want my opinion?"
Her hand was touching him again, twisting the nub of skin with the subtlety of a butcher.
"Then no, I don't think I would like it."
"Oh good. I'll save that treat for later. You can think on it, dwell on what it will be like. I wonder if it will hurt? Are yours as sensitive as a woman's, I wonder?" She dug her nail in hard and this time he felt blood begin to trickle down towards his belly. "Oh! You bleed so easily. Martin, look at this, and I hardly touched him."
"Mistress," Booth straightened from where he had slouched against the wall, watching. "You'll find white skin more easily damaged than the black you are used to. He'll mark, but he'll take as much punishment."
"Good." Lucy York inspected the blood on her fingers, then wiped it on Doyle's bare chest. "I was afraid he would break before I had finished enjoying him."
"Lucy!" Doyle watched the conspiracy of blood-lust between the two and turned to the woman with something akin to horror. "Listen to yourself! To enjoy this, to want...have you run mad?"
She raised an elegantly plucked brow at him, disdain clear on her face. "Why, because I want you to suffer?"
"Don't you think you deserve whatever fate I bring to you?"
"No!" But the denial was weak.
"So you do feel some guilt." Expertly she divined his feelings. "I had wondered."
"Of course I do, I--"
"Be quiet!" Her voice was enough to still his tongue. "I care nothing for what you think or feel. If I could I would enslave you for the rest of your life -- as it is I have to take what pleasure I can from your death. I am not mad, Raymond, merely honest."
"And vindictive, don't forget that when you are adding up the tally of your gifts."
"And vindictive." She smiled at him. "Besides, if I were a man you would not question my right to extract revenge in such a manner. It is because I am a woman that you think I should lisp my way up to some man and beg him for the favour of your death. Well, think once again."
She turned away and Booth handed over to her a long, slim riding crop, the sort ladies use. Doyle looked at it and with an expert eye immediately assessed its ability to cause pain. He barely managed to stop himself from shuddering.
He shook his head, wide eyes on the supple length of plaited leather. She moved close, and raising her arm, held the crop close to his face. All he could smell was old blood stained deep into its fibres.
If this had been Bodie...
Don't think that!
"Would your lover use something like this?"
His eyes shot open and he met her amusement, her arousal. He met it with silence.
"Cat got your tongue?" She laughed. "Or in this case is it the crop?"
She was still laughing gaily as she walked around him and with a sound of triumph, brought the crop down as hard as she could onto the rising curve of his flank.
About a mile away from the York estate of Lymham, William Bodie and Michael Murphy were crouched in a heavily wooded copse, hidden from the roadway. Not that there were many travellers abroad, but they could take no chances. Not when the stakes were so high.
It was close to dusk, shadows were drawing down around them. The trees around them were alive with birds settling down for the night, singing to each other through the branches and if they had turned, they would have seen the glory of the Autumn sun setting like fire across the land. They saw nothing of it though, heard little other than their own breathing. It was almost time.
The dice were about to be thrown.
Bodie checked through his gear a final time. Gun, knife, second knife hidden in one of his high boots. Powder and shot were safe at his waist and in his mind he had a rough idea of the path he needed to take.
"You have it all. I checked myself."
"I know, old habits..." Bodie gave a slight shrug.
"You'd better be on your way." Murphy closed a large hand around his companion's arm. "My thoughts are with you. I'll be there at the appointed hour."
"Let's hope to God that this works."
"Aye. And that you both come out of it alive."
"She won't kill me."
"Well, watch out for her men."
"I will. I'll give myself up without the slightest fight. At least none more than I need to convince them."
"Good." Murphy smiled, though it was more an attempt than anything else. "Then I'll meet with you later -- then we can be off, back to France."
Distracted by the tone of the soft voice, Bodie almost smiled, "Seems it won't be long until you'll be seeing that country as home."
"Bodie, though I never thought I would say this, I already do."
Bodie found Murphy's hand and held it, the touch passing all that words couldn't say between them.
And, quiet as a fox, Bodie melted into the growing shadows, leaving Murphy alone to his thoughts and the seemingly endless task of waiting.
"Enough! Bring him down."
Lost in a dark maze of pain, Raymond Doyle heard the words, but it was only when the beating stopped that he realised what they meant. Blinking sweat from his eyes he straightened slightly, fighting to focus on something, anything. It was the face of Martin Booth that came close first. It was grinning.
"Mistress, he can take more, he's still conscious."
Another face. This one heart-achingly lovely, yet cold as a Winter's dawn.
"Good, but I want some wine. We'll continue after a little refreshment."
"As you will, my lady."
The faces went away.
When they lowered his bound hands Doyle stood for a moment, unsteady on his feet, then the strength ran away from his muscles and he fell in a crumpled heap to the floor. He didn't make a sound. Any pain the ill-considered movement caused him was merely a small increment to that they had already inflicted.
He curled slowly, awkwardly easing his back and buttocks away from the floor, collapsing without coordination onto his side. Closing his eyes he pressed his cheek to the boards, finding in the cold wood a certain small ease for his heated skin. The room was very warm, the fire banked high; warm enough for Booth to have removed his own doublet after the first few strokes of the beating. Sweat gleamed on all their faces.
"Don't fall asleep, Raymond. I could consider that very rude in a guest."
Fighting the heaviness of his lids, Doyle looked up, seeing little more than emerald-dark skirts.
"That's better. Does it hurt?"
A sound answered the question. A sound so raw that it took her a little while to understand it as a laugh. Then Doyle found some breath and managed to reply, "What do you think?"
Lucy York crouched down by his side and a slight frown marred the smooth skin of her brow. "It is no worse than you have already suffered at your lover's hand, yet I saw no sign of pleasure."
Doyle closed his eyes and wanted to howl.
"Look at me!"
Eyes jerking open, he did so.
"Better." She patted his cheek and he had to fight against the way her touch made his skin crawl, certain that she would not take kindly to such a response. "How much does it hurt, did I beat you well?"
He blinked, and wondered how you assessed such a thing. Then, at her next words, he realised who she was measuring herself against. "Did I beat you as well as he does?"
With a sense, quite absurd, of betrayal, Doyle nodded.
She smiled. The two of them had taken it in turns to wield the long whip. It had been a surprise reminder to her of how demanding a task beating someone could be, how the muscles in your arm began to burn and how necessary it was to rest. "For that you earn a drink."
Doyle almost groaned. His lips were dry, cracked; water seemed the sweetest prospect.
"Martin, raise him up." Footsteps came close, and not even the rough touch of hands on his shoulders could take away from the absolute pleasure as wine, not water -- but it still quenched his thirst, was poured into his mouth.
It was a strange tableau: the two men, one bloodied, his hands bound before him, cradled roughly in the other's uncaring arms; the woman at their side, an expression of specious care upon her face. Held thus, a vile parody of a religious painting, they were interrupted by a loud knock on the door.
The door crashed open and the man called Sam walked grinning into the room; there were the sounds of shouting and the rough handling of someone in the hall-way behind him. "Mistress, we caught t'other one, though you might like to 'ave 'im in 'ere."
Lucy York stood, her face as happy as a child given its first present. "Well done, Sam. Well done!"
He cocked a finger to his hat and swelled with pride. "Come on then," he turned, speaking to others outside the room. "Bring 'im in." And two ruffians brought in a man, still fighting despite the blood that flowed from his head.
It was Bodie.
The voice was Doyle's, harsh with horror. He stared at Bodie, at the solid, dark-clad body held so tight. There was blood staining his shirt, a massive tear in his sleeve. He had clearly fought hard, but been overwhelmed. Freedom suddenly appeared a long way away. He whispered Bodie's name, though no sound escaped his lips.
"Oh, yes!" Lucy York looked between the two captives and knew her vengeance to be as sweet as she had dreamed. "The lover! Bind him to a chair, he can watch the amusement."
"You bitch! I'll do no such thing..." Dragging his eyes away from Doyle's bloodied form, Bodie stirred himself to fight in earnest, shrugging off the dizziness and the pain. But a soft sound held him suddenly still, for when he looked again a bright stiletto was held firmly to Doyle's upraised throat.
Martin Booth was the one to break the silence. "The choice is yours, but if you fight I'll slice him up in little pieces."
"Oh, I wouldn't kill him, but I can hurt him in ways you've never dreamed of..." He shrugged as if it was all the same to him, though the knife didn't move an inch from where it pressed a fine red line into soft skin.
"Martin has had years of practise. When he says he can do something, he invariably can." Lucy York smiled about her, imperious, certain. She nodded as Bodie visibly forced himself to relax, feasting her eyes as his strength was tamed by a sliver of steel at another man's throat. "That's much better."
"Bind him fast." Booth gave the instruction from where he knelt at Doyle's side. He had looked once at Bodie and assessed an opponent to be treated with clear respect. He waited until ropes held the dark man fast, and only then eased the knife away from skin and slid it back into its sheath at his waist. When he stood, he brought Doyle to his feet as well.
"Raymond!" Tied to the same heavy wooden chair that had held Doyle, with the same ropes twisting into his skin, Bodie, his skin starkly white, watched his lover, trying to see the extent of the damage. "What have they done..."
Doyle's voice, full of despair was drowned by Booth's command.
"I'll gag you, so keep your mouth quiet!"
Bodie took a deep breath, muscles bunching in his arms as he made himself obey.
The woman was ignoring them, intent on dismissing her men. "Well done Sam, keep watch for a while. You others, there'll be a reward in it for you in the morning. Off you go."
And with muttered thanks they went, the one called Sam preening, the others shuffling, their eyes lowered.
When the door was closed, Booth looked about him. "There, Mistress, everything you have wanted, and all to do with what you will."
"Yes." Lucy walked over and poured herself another glass of wine, raised it in a toast and drank it back in one go. She smiled to the world in general, then poured another, this time filling a second one as well. With a brimming glass in each hand she walked back to the centre of the room, her smile brilliant in the candle-light. "Here, to the damnation of my enemies!"
They ignored Bodie's derisive laugh. Booth forced Doyle to his knees and holding him there with a hand twisted through his long hair, took the glass.
They touched glasses and drank, the lust shimmering between them close to visible.
"I'm surprised you don't fuck her here!"
In two paces Lucy was at Bodie's side, her hand flashing out to slap him hard across the cheek. "Keep quiet, if you value your skin!"
"I value it well enough, but it's hard to keep silent when I watch him sniffing around you, his tail up because he's beaten a man bloody."
She narrowed her eyes and inspected him slyly. "Martin didn't do that, I did." She paused inspecting him. "What do you say now?"
Bodie swallowed, trying not to look at Doyle. "I say that you have a stronger right arm than I thought."
"Indeed." Lucy took the words as a compliment. She bit at her lower lip and smiled a strange cat-like smile. "Though considering the past-times you enjoy, to decry me for hurting your lover is a touch rich!"
"I don't--" Bodie broke off.
"Don't what? Don't hurt him? Well, I've seen the scars and I know you do."
"But it is different, I couldn't do what you do, hurt for the sake of hurting." He shook his head and wondered where a path through the thorny words lay.
"So the difference is that he enjoys it when you do it, yes?"
Bodie reluctantly nodded, sure he was walking somehow into a trap. Doyle saw it open and tried to speak, but a hand stifled any words he might have wanted to utter.
"How do you know he didn't enjoy it when I did it?" She smiled, turning with a joyful lift to her heel. "What would you do if I told you he came screaming my name in pleasure?" She halted at Doyle's side, warming herself on the hate directed up at her by wide green eyes.
"I wouldn't believe you." Bodie said the words implacably, but the creeping doubt that tendriled its way into his thoughts found a faint echo in his voice.
Doyle fought and somehow managed to bite the hand that shuttered his mouth. "She lies, Bodie--" A fist knocked the sense from him and he fell sideways to the floor, dazed, clinging with all his will to the despairing remnants of consciousness.
"Do I?" Lucy turned back to Bodie. "Who do you believe?"
"So loyal..." Her laugh was a musical ripple that set the hairs on Bodie's neck on end. "Shall I prove him wrong?"
"Like I said before, Mistress, he's a man." As Booth spoke he was pulling Doyle off the floor, hefting him easily to drape the almost insensible body across the long oak table. "I'll string him up again." And he left the body for a moment to prepare the hook. "You know from the slaves what to expect; just because he's white doesn't make him any different."
"Perhaps after this I should persuade my father to take us back to the Americas," she smiled indolently. "Or perhaps to the Indies; I could learn to appreciate the more subtle pleasures of white slaves."
Bodie spat his derision, "I should have known you would be a slaver. A filthy business that must suit your skills admirably, Mistress!"
"I don't deal in slaves, Bodie, I just own them."
"And torture them."
"Torture? No. I just treat them as they deserve."
"As he deserves this?" Bodie nodded at Doyle whose unresisting body was being hoisted until he hung heavily from the ceiling.
She too looked on as Booth finished tying off the ropes. Her nod was of absolute approval, cruelty carving fine lines around her eyes. "Yes."
"For the love of heaven, he only refused to wed you!"
She turned, anger flaring colour into her face. "He did more than that -- he shamed me. And I swear this, he will never have the chance to shame me again."
"Be quiet, or I will tear his bollocks off and feed them to you!"
Bodie held his tongue, his skin shocked with cold sweat, suddenly convinced that the threat was quite within her capabilities. That they would survive until night had to be. Murphy would come then. He held the thought as a faint guard against the spitefulness of her regard.
"I will do as I wish, you cannot stop me, so cease your pointless talk."
Bodie gave up on argument, and forced himself to nod. Why couldn't the bitch just go and whore the night away with her paramour? Why did she have to have so much enthusiasm for her task? He looked at Doyle and shivered. What had they done to him already? His skin was very white, what could be seen around the bruises, and his back. He tried to see more, but the room was so shadowed. All thought stopped as he saw the dark burn that spread in a livid weal across the high-ribbed chest, and realised what it meant; how the skin was patterned beneath the blistering. Bodie closed his eyes briefly, afraid his need to kill the woman would be divined.
But what if he had enjoyed it? What if that body was so conditioned to find release in pain that it reacted to even this? The question nagged at his mind and he found himself shivering, finding doubt and hurt and a strange sense of betrayal at the possibility. They had talked of branding, spoken of it as lovers. Now she had set her mark on him, where Bodie's should by rights have been. And what if he had taken pleasure in the rest...
Hating the world, Bodie opened his eyes again and started as they met Doyle's. In a brief moment, as their eyes met, he saw through her tricks, and all the doubt was burned away. She had lied. The knowledge sent a surge of hope through his veins.
As if in reaction, Doyle stirred, trying his own bonds. He started moving almost before realising how he had been tied. Shocked remembrance held him still, though almost at once the long muscles of his limbs began to tremble. He blinked hard. Then, as if unwillingly, searched past Bodie to the other man, his eyes scarcely able to touch on his lover.
Bodie swallowed something close to bile. Realisation drained what colour there was from his face. They both knew what was going to happen; how Booth was going to entertain himself and his mistress. He found himself breathing hard, anger and despair twin swords of pain in his breast. Blood was making his wrists slick and careless of damage he worked all the harder to escape.
"There's no point. You couldn't free yourself if you pared your skin to the bone." Booth walked past him. He was grinning, cocky as a bantam.
"At your service." He sketched a courtly bow.
His mistress' voice interrupted the amusement, and Booth turned, his hands on the lacings of his doublet.
"You can leave now." She walked to his side and pressed her body the length of his. "Go and warm the bed, I won't be long."
"Shush. I want this for myself, I'll share him with you tomorrow."
"Martin!" A delicate hand came up and gently slapped his cheek. "Trust me, I won't spoil him for you. And I'll be very eager when I come upstairs."
At her raised brow and reddened lips he gave in with a shrug and a smile, wanting to bed her far more at that moment than he wanted to rape the man. "Very well. But make sure they are guarded well tonight."
"There will be no one to rescue them, the other servant was last seen heading back towards the Dover road." She raised her brows and managed to look both coquettish and obedient. "But I will do as you ask, I promise."
"Minx!" He bent forward and kissed her roughly, his mouth opening around hers, his body bending hers to its own contours. When he stood back, she was dreamy-eyed. "Enjoy yourself, my Mistress. Sam will be outside if you need him."
"Good night, don't sleep without me."
"I couldn't." He kissed her again, then unfastened the knife from his waist. "You'll need this."
She took it, the long blade sheathed by leather and sapphires, the hilt, a longer span than from her finger-tip to her wrist, bright with the same stones. Spun gold twisted around the cross-piece. Beautiful and deadly it sat quiescent in her palm, its blade hidden. "Thank you."
"A pleasure..." and with a final check of the captives' bonds he was gone, the door closing firmly behind him.
Murphy blew on his cold fingers, trying to ease some warmth into them. It was quite dark, though the moon was rising slowly into a seemingly cloudless sky.
There was no sign of Bodie, so he must have been taken. Murphy cursed quietly under his breath; this was so hurried a plan, so full of possible pit-falls. Yet there had been no other way. The two of them could not have stormed the house. Stealth had been the only way.
Murphy had rode away from the house as far as he dared, until he was certain they thought he had abandoned his masters, then had doubled back. By then they must have found Bodie, for the way was clear and he found only one guard, dispatching him with silent ease. Now he crouched and waited; sure that waiting was wrong, for all Bodie's instructions. He was supposed to only break in when the house was in total darkness. But his imagination was too clear, too vivid. What he foresaw was too horribly probable.
The wait was hard on his nerves, and without really thinking he began to edge nearer the house, closer to the one room that was ablaze with light. Perhaps he could see in through the window. Then he would know what to do.
Within those four walls there was silence. Booth's departure had made them all aware that the best, or worst, part of the evening was about to begin.
Lucy York was the first to stir. She placed the knife in a wide, hidden pocket in her skirts. It weighed down the fabric, but she didn't seem to care. Then, slowly, she walked about the room, humming as she checked the candles, moving them about, bringing some closer to where Doyle was tied. At the fire she bent low and added more logs to already impressive blaze. It was for all the world as if she was alone. Alone and quite content with tasks she would normally demand a servant to perform.
Bodie watched her, wound tight as clock-spring with tension. Confusion unsettled him. What he had been certain was going to happen had not, could not, for the man had been dismissed. But, at the same time...this was clearly going to be of great delight to her, and hence of extreme distress to her prisoners. He cursed softly and continued working at the ropes as he worried about where Murphy was; if he was still free; if he was waiting.
Lucy was still humming softly as she came to stand before Bodie, a smile dancing around her lips. "You know..." She continued to hum around each few words. "I've thought about this for a long time... Wanted it so much, and now it is all here." Her hands clasped softly in front of her face, as if in joyful prayer. "You and Raymond here, Martin waiting for me..." She turned, letting her gown flow around her, the billowing folds of green silk a pool of brightness, candle-light catching like fire on the trailing scarlet ribbons.
Doyle twisted to watch her, suspicion narrowing his eyes, as she danced around the room. He blinked, found his voice, "Bodie..?"
"Be quiet, I think you might enjoy what I'm going to do to you. In fact I know you will, the slaves all seem to have, certainly." She was quite unconcerned about being alone with them, sublime in her own power. Her face was flushed prettily. Whenever she moved, her eyes found her own reflection in the ornately carved mirror above the mantle. She seemed to grow more aroused at every glance.
"Slut! What are you going to do to him?" Bodie stared hard at her, trying to foresee her intent.
"No more than you have probably done a hundred, maybe a thousand times." And she laughed.
"Listen, you bitch, tell me..." She moved, and the knife was unsheathed. Silenced abruptly, Bodie fought hard with his anger, hiding it away, letting her see that he breathed easily, that he was tame.
When he was calm she took the steel away from Doyle's throat, with a nod of understanding. "There. Now be obedient and silent, or he won't live until tomorrow."
Bodie nodded, seeing Doyle's head fall forward as she moved away. He was breathing erratically, his hair, the ends dark with blood, sweeping forward to hide his face. He was strong, but she knew very well how to play him. How to play them both. What evil had lain her as a curse against their door? They should be in France, happy, not here, concerned for the very air they breathed.
Of all the people Doyle could have made into an enemy, it had to be this...this harpy. Bodie felt sweat soaking his shirt, trickling down his neck and he shivered as if suddenly very cold as she moved to stand before him, the knife still in her hand, its edge darkened. "Understand?"
Blinking, sweat dripping into his eyes, Bodie nodded. If he had ever hated anyone in his life, and he had, it was nothing to what he felt for this woman. A minute with his hands free and her neck would be snapped. Just a minute... Less.
"And you can stop trying to kill me with your eyes. I am mistress here, when you live and when you die are at my command -- you are nothing. Remember that."
She turned. "Raymond?"
"Let Bodie go. Why do you have to make him watch this?"
"But you don't even know what this will be. He might enjoy it."
"I doubt that." Shifting his weight, trying to find some ease for his abused arms, Doyle licked his lips and tried for sweet reason. "Call your men in, have him taken to the room where you kept me. Please. For what can this serve? He is nothing to you, you said as much."
"Oh, how wrong you are." She crouched in front of Bodie's chair, quite lovely. "He is without power, which makes him nothing. But that doesn't mean he has no use." She spoke over her shoulder, one hand resting intimately on a solid thigh. "You see, it will be worse for you with him here. And it'll teach him never to steal anything of mine ever again."
"Ray! Stop it, she won't send me away. Whatever it is she has planned I seem to be needed as audience." Looking over her shoulder he found the unsteady gaze again and held it. He wanted to scream, don't beg her for anything, don't let her have the pleasure... But he held his despair to himself.
"Jesus! Ray, there is nothing to be sorry for!" Bodie stopped himself from further speech, suddenly aware that Mistress York was thoroughly enjoying their misery. He glared at her instead. "Why don't you get on with it!"
"You hear that, Raymond? Now he wants me to hurt you."
"No he doesn't." Doyle's voice was low and desolate. "But he knows you will, whatever. You'll kill us both. So get on with it." And he turned his face away.
To turn again at a sharp intake of breath from Bodie. "No!"
A vicious smile was slanted at him from where she crouched, her fingers baring his groin. "I only want to see what it is you would prefer to me."
"Leave him be!"
"Oh, Raymond, why try and spoil my sport so?"
"See, he is quite without words." Lucy smiled up at Bodie, and with great delicacy ran the knife's edge down the lax curl of his penis. Bodie held quite still, not breathing, not thinking. But the blade scarcely touched the skin, leaving his cock unmarked.
She pouted, and flicked at the unresponsive flesh with her finger. "It doesn't seem very pleased to see me."
"You sound so disappointed." Bodie himself sounded completely breathless and Doyle wondered what she had done to ensure his silence as she bared his genitals. Maybe a knife at his balls was all that had been needed. He shouldn't have looked away, it was cowardly; whatever happened here Doyle knew he needed to be aware of it. He tried to gather his scattered wits, and pulled at the ropes binding his arms above his head, knowing they were secure, but needing to do something. The ropes bit hard into his skin and the rough pain spiked something like awareness into his brain.
"I am, but not surprised." Lucy York ran a finger down the wrinkled shaft. "I know you prefer men, or boys. You wouldn't appreciate what I am..." She preened, arching her back so her breasts swelled enticingly above her bodice. "Fool that you are."
"I may be a fool, but what are you?"
"I am your queen, your king and your God. I have the power over your life and your death, remember that."
"I can't forget." Bodie looked down at the knife glinting against his exposed skin, then met her gaze without blinking. "Can I?"
"No." She paused, then stood up, leaving Bodie's skin intact; a fact that made him, quite against his will, give a shuddering sigh of relief. "Neither of you can." She paced slowly back to Raymond, the wicked knife still in her hand, its long, jewelled handle cradled quite expertly in her very white fingers.
"Let Bodie go, Lucy..."
"Raymond, you do harp on the same subject to a quite boring degree!"
He attempted to shrug, then thought better of it. "It is quite close to my heart."
"Well, so is this." She cupped his cock and balls in her free hand and stared into his eyes.
Bodie strained to see what was happening. "Ray..."
"Be quiet, Mister Bodie, this is not to do with you."
"If it concerns Raymond, then it is."
Lucy York paused, then took a sharp breath as if making a great discovery. "Indeed..." She smiled, though only Doyle could see its true corruption. As if making a request of her mirror, she asked a completely unexpected question. "Do you think I am beautiful?"
Doyle swallowed, trying to see where this would lead. He felt leaden, old, full of hurt. And she wanted to play games... "You know you are."
"But do you think I am?"
"Yes." He sighed softly round the word.
"Do I arouse you?" She ran a hand down her body, skimming across her breast and coming to rest almost coyly over where her sex was hidden in the folds of her gown.
She came close, pressing against him. "Are you sure..?"
"But I can arouse you, do you not believe me?"
Doyle shook his head, his dull eyes narrowed. "You think I can find pleasure in this, in you?" His derision was quite clear, his voice very tired.
"If I want you to, yes."
"You've hurt him too much."
She turned at Bodie's words. "Ah, the expert!"
"It doesn't need an expert to see what you've done to him."
"But I haven't done nearly as much as I want."
"Then you will only be happy when he's dead."
The silence pooled around them. The admittance quite shocking in its simplicity.
"When that happens, I will be glad. But it won't be for a while."
"Gods, what else do you want of him!"
She saw Bodie's expression and her lip curled in contempt. "Not how you imagine -- if you think I would suffer to have him inside me... Oh, no. But I do want something. Pain isn't enough, I want him to come for me, and I want him to call out my name in pleasure as he does so."
"Impossible!" Bodie's outrage sounded over Doyle's weak laughter.
She glared at the two of them. "Think I cannot do it? You think that?"
Bodie tilted his head at her, and without looking at Doyle set his challenge. "Yes."
"Be quiet!" She was at Doyle's side again, the knife a hair's-breadth from his eye. "Beg me to touch you."
"No..." He tried to back away from the glint of steel and the wildness facing him, but could hardly move from the place he was standing on.
"You will, and you will do whatever I want."
"You bitch, I wouldn't do anything for you, I wouldn't spit--" He broke off, for she stood at Bodie's side, the blade drawn under his chin.
Doyle, foundering on a sea of utter hopelessness, the small shot of anger completely wasted, could only stand numb.
"Now, beg me."
"Bodie!" It was impossible...
"Your lover can't help." She was breathing fast, her voice light and uneven. "You have to do as I ask, or I'll slice him into small pieces, very slowly." Blood began a slow trickle down Bodie's angled throat. "Beg."
"Raymond don't!" Bodie's words choked into silence.
And with a wounded sound Doyle gave in. "Please, touch me..."
"Ah, what sweet words. But try harder."
"Heaven help me! Lucy, I am begging you, take the knife from his throat and touch me. I want you to touch me." There were tears of anger, wet in his eyes. Anger and defeat. "I desire you..."
"Since you ask so sweetly..." Lucy York released her hold and went back to Doyle's side. She placed a hand on his groin, eliciting only a flinch. "Raise the standard for me, Raymond. Stand proud." She laughed like a girl, the sound obscenely, deceitfully, full of innocence.
"Christ, you're enjoying this so much! What did you do before Ray, Lucy? How did you find your dark pleasures then? I pity your servants, your slaves, especially your lovers!"
"You shouldn't. You see, I didn't know this was what I wanted, and once this is over, I can't imagine wanting it again."
"You'll go back to tormenting your slaves."
"When they deserve it." She was manipulating recalcitrant flesh, pumping hard at complete disinterest.
"When you feel like it!"
"Maybe." The accusation merely made her tilt her head in curiosity. "You know, cruelty is an aphrodisiac, I never knew that. I have learned a great deal from you. I feel I should almost say thank you."
"Don't." Bodie swallowed as if bile had risen in his gorge.
"Come on, Raymond, make an effort!"
"He's too hurt! Can't you see..."
"He knows what is the penalty for failure."
"Be quiet! So, Raymond, you need inspiration." Her hand dropped away, and in a moment of revelation Bodie suddenly knew that this was what she had been waiting for. When she turned to him, he was almost ready. "You aren't hurt, Bodie, there should be no impairment in your ability to perform. Perhaps seeing you hard and ready will inspire him."
"I couldn't." Bodie paled, his eyes wide, rimmed with red.
"No? But this is how you love to see him. You cannot tell me otherwise. Though perhaps, as I cannot loose either of your hands to aid your endeavour, you need some assistance" She crossed to stand behind him, the whisper in his ear as seductive as Lucifer, the smile on her face as innocent as Eve's. "See how lovely he looks, the tension in his body, the way his head falls forward so submissively. Don't you love the way the bruises pattern his chest, the whip marks curl around his skin. He could be hanging there for you, for your pleasure. Waiting for you to fuck him, to beat him..." She reached down and ran a gentle finger across a dark nipple where it shadowed the thin, damp fabric of his shirt. "He is so very beautiful, have you ever seen him look so good?"
Entranced by her words, Bodie watched, and saw what she made him see. Doyle was perfect, his long limbs stretched, his belly shadowed at every breath, his eyes downcast, the cant of his head asking to be beaten. Desire shuddered through his blood and his penis stirred against the dark thatch of hair at his groin.
There was horror and dismay in the word. Shaking himself Bodie straightened, and knew he had been seeing, as if in a mirror, reality twisted by her words. "Bitch!"
"But it worked..." She moved, laughing softly and took his cock in her hand. Despite Bodie's string of curses, it reared up to meet the softness of her touch.
"Leave me alone!"
"But why? When you seem to be having such a delightful time..."
"You are a devil!"
"Maybe." She considered, running her nails up his now straining shaft, petting it." But if I am a devil, then you are my apprentice. I wonder if I can make you come..."
"Are you so sure?"
"Yes." He was shaking, shamed by his own reactions.
"Ah, Raymond, and I was almost forgetting you. How remiss of me when you have been such a perfect guest."
"Leave Bodie alone." Doyle blinked away sweat, fought to be clear-headed.
"For a while." With a last touch that had Bodie's skin jumping she stood, wiping her hand on her gown. She was serene as a goddess.
"What are you going to do?" Suddenly full of fear, Bodie tried to ignore the unwanted erection that jutted shamefully from his groin. But willing it away only seemed to make it all the more hard. He gritted his teeth and lent forward as far as the ropes would allow, trying to see what she was holding in her hand.
It was the knife, bright and jewelled, still secure in its sheath. As she walked around the hanging figure he tried to fathom her purpose.
"I thought you might like a variation on your more usual pleasures." Lucy ran the pommel down his back, making his breath shudder from his lungs and fresh blood run bright amongst the dried. "Your lover would rather do this, I am sure, but I want the delight to be mine." The knife dropped lower until it nuzzled between his buttocks.
"No!" Bodie almost choked on the word as he realised what she intended. "You can't!" He was shouting.
"But I can..."
"Lucy! Mistress," Bodie stuttered, lost, loathing to beg but prepared to do anything. "Please, you'll hurt him."
"I'll kill him soon, do you think I care?"
"Yes, if you want him to feel anything but pain."
She cocked her head, and remembered her original intention. "Yes. The fit might be rather tight." She turned and was back at Bodie's side. "Then since you care so much, you had better make it easier."
Presented with the hilt at his mouth, Bodie understood. His lips twisted in revulsion, but he imagined the dry metal forcing skin. Closing his eyes he let the foul thing slide into his mouth.
They both ignored Doyle.
Force-fed the knife-hilt, Bodie tried to find saliva to coat its surface. The thing was hard against his teeth, jutting into his gums. It wasn't outrageously large, but it was impossible to imagine it causing anything but pain. He worked his mouth around it, swallowing, coughing as she pushed it deep, tilting his head back in self-preservation, gagging again as she followed, closing his eyes as tears squeezed their way down his cheeks.
Tiring of the game, she slipped it from his lips. It glistened wetly in her hand, and there was nothing but aroused fascination written across her face. For a long moment Lucy watched Bodie, seeing him fight for breath, his reddened lips wet, still slightly parted. Before he could react she bent, kissed him, her tongue sliding snake-like into his mouth, tasting metal. Then she was gone, leaving him choking on nausea, as daintily she went back to her other victim.
Resting a hand on his side she stood, silent, stroking him, quite complacent. He was dull-eyed, bone-white under the bruises; conscious, but barely so. The loss of blood, the pain, anticipation, making him seem only just alive.
She knew Bodie was talking to her, reasoning turning without pause into imprecation. But the arousal that swirled so deliciously in head and loins was enough to block everything out but the naked man before her, and the knife so ready in her hand. She pressed it close to his body, the pommel bright against the dull skin. He was begging her, as was Bodie, but she heard nothing, her whole being fascinated by the act she was about to commit.
Bodie bit his mouth into silence, fighting like a madman with the ropes that bound him. He couldn't see, but his imagination ran riot. He would kill her, kill her... Then a choked cry stilled his every thought into ice.
But the cry wasn't Doyle's. Standing at the open door, his face a mask of outrage at the tableau before him -- at Bodie, genitals lax and bared to the air, at Doyle, at the foul spectacle of what the woman was doing -- was Murphy. He shook his head, then cold and deadly, stepped into the room, walked up to the woman's unheeding back and, quite without pity, slid his own knife accurately through her ribs and into her heart. The sound of her dying was drowned by Bodie's call, "Murphy!"
Murphy, shock stark on his face, stood still for a long moment, then he shook himself. "Jesus!"
"Murphy, get me free!"
Murphy pulled his knife free, letting the woman slip to the floor, already pale in death, her skirts spilling around her. "Jesus Christ..." And there was no profanity in his words.
Hardly knowing what to do first, he swallowed dryly and wiped a hand over his own face as if to wipe away the horror. Then, stepping carelessly over the corpse he reached out, touching the metal that protruded from between Doyle's buttocks. He touched it -- a dagger, hilt inwards, sheathed blade close to his hand. Horribly, it was warm to the touch. He ignored what Bodie was saying, ignored everything but what needed to be done and, with infinite care, slowly pulled the obscenity free.
As it slid from his body, the hanging man gave one great shudder, then was still.
Murphy held the sheathed blade in his hand for a long moment, then threw it away as hard as he could. It clattered violently against the fire-irons. The noise made him hold his breath, waiting, listening. But no one came, and besides, who would, for the only guard outside the door was dead.
"Murphy, for the love of heaven, get me loose!"
Bodie was twisting in his bonds. He looked wild-eyed, a bruise darkened his cheek and blood stained the lace of his shirt. Murphy blinked, his face a mask. Then he was at Bodie's side, his own knife cutting through the ropes.
As soon as he was free Bodie moved, clumsy and awkward, fumbling to fasten his own breeches before stumbling to Doyle's side, to hold him, stroking his face, whispering comfort. He looked over Doyle's shoulder and commanded, "Release the rope, it's tied up to the wall there."
Murphy was already there. "I've horses not far away, will he make it?"
Bodie's answer was short. "Pray."
He grunted as Doyle's weight fell into his arms. Bodie held him, closed his eyes on the relief that threatened reason, and lowered him gently to the floor. He was conscious, but barely so.
"I shouldn't have waited so long."
"I was afraid you might not be able to be here at all. That you'd obey me and wait until it was too late."
Their eyes met, and Murphy saw the fear, still pulling at Bodie's mind. He imagined what it had been like, to be here as an observer, impotent. Then shied away from the thought. "How many are there? I killed two, and another won't bother anyone for a while."
"There's her lover, upstairs. She told him to stay there. He'll obey. Maybe more, but they seemed to be farmhands, not hired muscle."
"Good. Then let us take our chance while we can." Murphy touched a hand to Doyle's face, lines biting deep into his own skin as he assessed the damage done. He took a deep breath, expelling it in a long sigh. "I'm glad I killed her."
"Yes." Bodie nodded, his face set. He had scarcely given the dead woman a thought. In fact he never wanted to think of her again.
Murphy shook himself. "Are you all right?"
"Aye. They hardly touched me."
"Thank God for that." He considered. "We'll need clothes for him. Do you know where his own are?"
"No, he was naked when they brought me here."
"Damn." Murphy chewed his lip.
At that moment, Doyle stirred, his eyes focusing. "Bodie?"
"Where...?" He tried to sit and winced sharply.
"We're not free yet."
Bodie answered, "Murphy killed her. If he hadn't, I would have done."
Doyle tried to move again, and this time made it to a sitting position, though he stayed there, his head spinning, hurt running through his body like an echo through a cavern. "I wish I could be sorry."
Bodie gave a snort of derision. "Save your pity, she wasted none on you. Do you think you can stand?"
"Come on then..."
With Murphy on one side and Bodie on the other he did make it, though his body was trembling finely the time he was upright. "You need a doctor."
"No I don't, I need to be away from here, then Murphy can see to me." He was breathless, but his voice was steady.
"I can do it." Murphy looked over his master's head and nodded. "I've done it before."
"When he's been as bad as this?" Bodie shook his head. "I'm not going to argue now."
"Good." Murphy gave the ghost of a smile. "You see to his lordship and I'll scout ahead."
"Clothes." Bodie stated the reminder.
"They hadn't slipped my mind."
"What about the man outside?"
"I'll see." And he was gone, stepping out of the open door.
"Ray, rest for a moment." And Bodie helped his lover over to the long table, where Doyle half-sat, half-lent against it, one hand curled tightly over its edge, the other loosely wrapped across his body. Bodie watched him, seeing the glassiness of his eyes, the stark pallor of his skin and wondered if optimism was uncalled for. "Ray..."
Doyle stirred himself and looked up, seeing the concern and the fear in Bodie's eyes. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry! What for?"
"For this." He gestured weakly with one hand. "For you having to see it. For what she tried to do..."
"But she didn't." Bodie remembered the quick taste of her tongue as it slid into his mouth, and spat to one side. "Come, we'll talk of this later. Now we need to get you away from here."
"Get all of us away from here," Doyle amended, staring slowly around the room, his eyes skittering over the dead woman, the ropes, the brand-iron that was still set in the fire. "I'll be pleased to be gone."
"So will I." Bodie smiled gently, standing closer, drawing Doyle to him, holding him. Wanting desperately to know he was all right, not capable of sparing the time to be sure. At least he wasn't bleeding.
And he lived.
That knowledge beat like a hammer against Bodie's heart. Alive.
"Here, get these on him." Murphy was back, carrying a bundle that resolved itself into a shirt, long breeches and a cloak. There were no shoes, no linen, but it would suffice. In silence they helped Doyle dress, and, when it was done, the three men touched hands, three against the world. Then they were gone.
The way out of the house was simple; the great doors stood at one end of the hall. Murphy was wresting them open when one of the slaves walked unconcerned into the room. She caught her breath and dropped the pile of blankets she carried. The four of them held still, silent, fear rippling around all of them.
Then Doyle spoke, softly. "We won't harm you. Please don't raise the alarm."
She blinked, dragged her wide eyes away from them to find the dead guard's body where it lay against the wall. Instead of being scared into calling out, she calmed and spat. "You kill her too?"
"Then I don't see you." She bent to pick up the scattered blankets, then stopped. "Maybe I don't see me."
Doyle swallowed and asked, "Come with us, we can get you over to France."
She straightened, the blankets abandoned on the floor. "Two?"
"If you come now."
She was gone in flurry of coarse black linen.
"Ray!" Bodie took hold of his arm. "What are you doing!"
"They deserve a chance. After this...her." Doyle shook his head weakly, offering all he had of an explanation. "They hated what she did to me."
"They'll need horses!"
"We can steal one."
Bodie turned as the two girls appeared, both ebony skinned, both seemingly unconcerned by all the violence. "Can you ride?"
One of them almost smiled. "Watch."
"And your friend?"
"She ride with me. We quick. If not, we left behind."
Fair. Bodie nodded and offering support to Doyle, led them all out of the house.
"Murphy, where are the horses?" Outside now, he whispered, unsure where the bedrooms were and who might hear.
"By the first copse of trees." He pointed, and the moonlight showed where the group of trees stood.
"You two, fetch your horse and meet us there, can you do it in silence?"
Instead of an answer they were gone, melting into the night.
Bodie blinked, then turned to Doyle. "Give me your arm. And don't look like that, we need speed."
"How can you tell what expression I have?" Despite the moon all their faces were in shadow.
Bodie could hear the amusement in Doyle's voice, under the weakness, like hope rising from despair. "I just know."
They started off with Doyle's arm across Bodie's shoulder, but after a while it was easier for Bodie to simply carry him. The trees that marked where the horses waited were further than they looked, and all the men were breathless when a soft whinny greeted them.
Bodie propped Doyle against a tree and considered. Murphy was doing the same: "Bodie, you take Raymond up in front of you. He won't manage alone."
They both ignored him.
"It'll be slower, but safer. You're right, I'll take him up first, then we'll need to take turn and turn about -- rest the horses as we can."
"Where are the..."
Bodie didn't finish his words, for a horse appeared on the grass in front of him, the odd shape of two riders on its back. There had been no sound of saddle creaking or bit clanking. Then he saw that they rode without either, a simple rope enough to act as bridle. The women sat straight, one with her arms around the other, their bare feet dangling.
"We quiet enough?" White teeth flashed a smile in the shadows.
"Yes." Bodie grinned helplessly back. Then turned to mount.
Accoutered with saddles, bridles, stirrups and metal bits, the passage of their own horses was nowhere near as silent, but the worst danger was over. All that needed to be found now was the coast and a fast ship to France.
By the time dawn was spreading in gold across the hills, they were miles away from Lymham, though for each of them, the memories were less easy to leave behind.
The two slaves -- though indeed they were slaves no more -- showed nothing of what they were feeling. They kept their own council, only taking an interest in Doyle, watching him and on one occasion, when stopping to move his tiring body from one horse to another, reaching out to touch his heated skin, whispering softly in a language exotic to European ears. The women ignored the other men entirely, and in some way intimidated them with their strange beauty and their poise. Only at Doyle did they smile, and then it was more in a softening of their eyes, than in any more usual form of accord.
Murphy rode and cursed himself, laying blame firmly and squarely at his own two feet. He should never have let Doyle be kidnapped, never have waited before entering the house in rescue. He remembered the stark image of his master impaled on the dagger, found it haunting his thoughts. He was sickened by all the violence, hated what had been done, and what he had needed to do. Most of all he worried about his friends, about what damage the woman might have done to both their bodies and their minds. Being of an equable disposition though, much of this was already being resolved. He would fret for a while, then everything would be well. The murder he regretted least. She deserved it. He only wished he had killed her a year before.
Bodie, with Doyle close to unconsciousness in his arms, rode with his thoughts stoically set. He didn't want to remember, not yet. In time he knew he would have to. The images were too burned into his skull not to need some attention. He felt nothing but satisfaction that Lucy York was dead, he wasted not a moment of concern for her. All his concern was wrapped painfully around his lover. On what had been done to him. On what he himself had inflicted. And most of all on whether he would live, for the heat burning him up placed doubt about that firmly in Bodie's mind. But they couldn't afford to rest, not here, not this side of the water. To be free they needed to be in France. Bodie pushed the pace along, as hard as he thought the horses would take it. It wasn't enough; if the mares had sprouted wings he might have been happy, but that was all.
Doyle let himself ride along in a haze, barely clinging to awareness. The pain was too much, and this way he could blank at least some of it out. He knew himself fevered, maybe bleeding again. Even riding sideways, as he was, there was little comfort. He rode and thought of nothing very much, concentrating instead on the warmth and solidity of the man he lent on. It was just enough to keep him aware. Enough for everything, really.
No ghosts rode with them. Death had been exorcism enough. Memory was less easy, but each was sure that time would solve that puzzle. Time and home and friendship.
By the time they reached the coast the tide had begun to turn and luck stayed with them. Bodie found them places on a ship carrying cargo around to the southern coast of France, whose captain was willing, at exorbitant cost, but still willing, to set them down at a Channel port. The haggling took little time, the small party of refugees could not afford to pick and choose, and they had, after all, enough gold.
Where their luck ran out was in Doyle's condition. He was no longer able to walk unaided, and his skin burned dryly to the touch. The journey, with its haste, had been too much. The blood he had lost made him weak, close to delirium, so that Bodie had to carry him on board the ship. They stepped onto the deck just as the first sails were being set, finding themselves under the busy sailors' feet. Someone found time to lead the mismatched band below decks, and directed them to a space in the hold, out of the way. He left them a storm lantern and was gone.
The ship creaked her way into open sea and a certain weight lifted from Bodie's thoughts. Even the women smiled and began chattered softly to each other. The men they ignored, until Bodie began to strip Doyle's clothes away with as much gentleness as he was capable, which wasn't quite enough.
Dark, work-worn fingers pushed him away. Bodie held still, unsure.
He held her solemn gaze. "Why?"
"Because he care."
Simple. Bodie nodded, and backed away.
"Find water, hot. And some thing for bandage." She turned back to him, her hands resting gently on Doyle's skin. "You got money?"
It was enough, with silence she dismissed him and began to peel away the bloodied shirt.
He wasn't quite ready to go. "Tell me, what are your names?"
She paused, then spoke something that to his ears appeared to be made of whistles, glottal-stops and guttural sounds. She saw his face and almost laughed. "You call me Mary, this here Liza. She never call us by any name."
There was no doubt who the 'she' was. Bodie stood and with a careful bow introduced himself, then Murphy. "The man at your feet is Raymond Doyle."
She nodded, but said nothing. After a moment he left, dismissed.
When Bodie returned, it was with a pan of tepid water, goose-grease and a clean shirt he had paid more for than probably all his own clothes together were worth. He handed them over, then went to sit by Murphy, glancing at him as he lowered himself to the deck. He whispered, "Should you take over?"
"No, she knows her stuff." Murphy nodded in approval.
Mary cleaned Doyle efficiently, did everything with care. Though Bodie still couldn't watch, and he lowered his head to his knees, unwilling to leave, but quite unable to bear the sight before him. He shivered when Murphy shuffled closer and placed an arm around his shoulders.
"It'll be all right."
"You succeeded." Murphy took a deep breath and sighed. "Thank God."
A hiss of anger from the woman raised Bodie's head instantly. She turned her gaze on him, and Bodie could see that she had Doyle on his side. Blood, both blackly dried and startlingly red, fouled his thighs. "What she use?"
Bodie swallowed. "A dagger hilt, one encrusted so with jewels that it must have ripped him apart." He tried to still the tremor in his voice, gave in. Tried not to remember. "Is he very bad?"
"I seen worse." She muttered something under her breath, making her friend rock backwards and forwards in counterpoint to the dip and toss of the ship, humming. "To ride was..." She shook her head.
"It was the only way."
"Yes. It no help."
"Will he be all right?" Will we be able to -- want to -- make love? Will he be whole, strong, himself? Will he live? Those questions he kept to himself.
But she heard them anyway.
"He your lover?"
Startled, Bodie nodded. Waited for the derision.
There was none. "Come here."
After a moment, Murphy pushed him forward. Bodie found himself kneeling at Doyle's side. "Hold his hand."
The humming now came from both of the women. Bodie swallowed as his mouth was dry, shivered as the hairs on his neck set on end. Murphy reached forward and from his expression he was as unnerved as Bodie. They watched as she passed her hands over his body, hardly touching the heated skin. In the shadows, light coming from a single lantern, she swayed, her eyes half-closed, white-rimmed. Sweat turned her skin to ink, and she trembled like a willow leaf in a high wind.
Bodie held Murphy's arm and clenched his teeth. He dragged his gaze from her and found it drawn instead to Doyle. He too trembled, his eyes closed, fever burning bright on his skin. As she hummed, the trembling turned into a violent shudder that racked him from head to toe and he called out softly. The hand Bodie held clutched at him, tight as a drowning man's.
What was happening was so far from anything he knew, that Bodie would have moved, done something, but Murphy held him back, held him still by sheer muscle and a single, tense word: "Wait."
Another shudder, worse than the first, sending rat-tails of hair, wet and dank, flying about Doyle's head. He didn't loose his hold on Bodie's hand, though he was scarcely sane, barely alive. He was as wet as if he'd fallen in the sea, wet and somehow pared to the bone, as if the fever was riding out its week long course in a few minutes, as if the pain was stripping all his flesh away. The bones of his face were stark, white through translucent skin.
He looked as if he was dying.
But she was crouching now, her bare calves strong, muscular. And then all the strange song died. She stilled, held his head, her fingers digging into the skin, as if to burrow beneath the skull, keening softly. Then with one great shout she was done, dropping back to the deck like a rag-doll, all energy gone, her eyes dull, idolatrous divinity swept away.
Bodie was shaking so hard he almost let Ray's fingers slip from his grasp. But to his infinite surprise, they squeezed, holding tight. Bodie focused to find Doyle weakly smiling at him.
"Ray!" Bodie was on his knees, there at Doyle's side, a hand wiping the scum of sweat from his brow. He was crying. "I thought..." He couldn't say it, tried again, but failed, "I..."
"He thought you die."
Confused green eyes found the woman who spoke. Liza, he remembered, but didn't recall having been told. "She save you."
The other woman was asleep, curled like a child with her hand tucked under her chin.
Doyle blinked, shook his head slowly. "I don't remember."
"I do." Bodie wiped his sleeve over his face and sniffed. "And she's right."
"Good." Doyle smiled gently, sweetly, taking the announcement as a matter of course.
"How do you feel?"
Doyle took a moment to assess. Blinked again. "Well. I thought I was bleeding, it hurt..."
"No blood now." Liza grinned. "Go sleep."
And resting on his side, Doyle did so.
Bodie swallowed. "Are you a witch?"
"No!" She laughed again. "He tired. Time to sleep, that is all." But her eyes said something else, something Bodie wasn't at all sure he wanted to decipher. When she crossed back to her friend he said nothing, and he didn't even begin to wonder about asking what her friend was.
He was certain she was a witch.
For the rest of the journey the woman healer and Doyle slept. The others watched, and when the call of 'land' sounded through the ship each in their own way was relieved. They climbed on deck; Doyle wakened at the last minute, weak and stiff, but no longer anywhere near fever, or its close cousin, death.
The two woman stood to one side, wrapped once again in the dignity that gave them so much presence. Bodie drew himself up and went over to them. "Ladies, I cannot repay what you have done, I know that. But if you need somewhere to live, I have a house, not too many miles inland..."
"Thank you." Mary broke into his awkward speech. "We do not want to live as servants. What else can we be to you?" Bodie winced and shook his head. "Your lover's life I give in payment for ours."
He shuffled his feet, awkward and unsure. "Let me give you some money, you'll need it."
She hesitated, then nodded, looking away as if was something dirty that she agreed to. Bodie handed her a purse. "I wish you well. Where will you go?"
"The Captain will take you further south if I ask."
"If you pay!"
Bodie shrugged away the way of the world. "It'll be closer home than here."
She nodded, straightening herself and, almost as tall as he, looked him in the eye. "Goodbye. Your man be sick yet. Be patient."
"I will." Bodie looked out at the sea, seeing nothing but clouds where he knew England to be. "She damaged us all, in different ways."
A torrent of language flooded over him and startled, he looked back at her. She was without doubt cursing. Unmistakeably. He tried to back away but something held him still. She finished by spitting into the sea.
"To keep her spirit quiet." Mary nodded as if in satisfaction, then turned away from Bodie, walking back with Liza to the stairway leading back below deck. Neither of them turned again.
Bodie gathered himself and not without a shiver, went to find the Captain.
The three men arrived home tired, filthy and edged with strain. Murphy heated water and they all bathed. Tiredness so deep it seemed etched in their bones dogged every move, every thought. Even though it was only half-way through the afternoon, they all retired to sleep; there was nothing else sensible to do. Even Murphy dragged himself away from a list of tasks a yard long to climb up to his room. He was asleep before remembering to undress, just about wrapped in his blankets.
In their own room, Raymond and Bodie settled down. Doyle curled onto his side and Bodie moulded himself around him. In all the journey they had scarcely said a word about anything that mattered. All of the pain, all of the things she had done simmered underneath every banal word they spoke, but neither man had the strength or courage to broach the subject first.
In silence they lay together, and in the simplicity of touch was the beginning of healing.
Sleep, for all his exhaustion, was far from reach and for Bodie, the touch of his lover's body so close stirred him, so much so that he began to pull away, suddenly scared. A whisper stilled him. Within the circle of Bodie's arms Doyle turned until they lay face to face.
Bodie traced the rose-brand that marked the honey-skin with unsteady fingers, feeling the warmth of life beneath the obscenity. When his fingers were taken in a firm grasp he looked up, hating himself for the arousal pressing at Doyle's thigh, the arousal that was so unwanted, so impossible. The sight of the brand should have been enough, bringing all the memories back. But all he could feel was the life that pulsed through Doyle's body; feel it and want it, as he had never quite wanted anything before.
Bodie blinked hard and burying his head in the sweet-scented curve of Doyle's neck, took him in a tight grasp that threatened never to let go. Close to madness, he shuddered when the warm thighs opened for him, held him tight, offering a channel for him to use. Powerless, he began to move, pain twisting his face as pleasure like splinters knifed through him. Bodie came choking out his lover's name.
Doyle felt no lust within himself at all. Love, yes, but nothing else. When Bodie was spent, he kissed him gently, thumbed away the wet that smeared his face, then turned away.
Bodie didn't try and stop him, fear holding back his voice, his hand. After not too long, exhaustion drove away everything else, and curled together, scarcely moving, they slept all that afternoon and all that night.
In the morning Bodie woke alone. He sat up in a hurry, confused, his hair wild where he had slept with it damp, his breath fast and uneasy as he stumbled out of bed. A sound like chopping drew him to the window and he stared out of a diamond pane to see Doyle, clad only in breeches hitting something with a hammer. It took Bodie a while to realise that what he could hear was the sound of breaking glass, and that the object Doyle destroyed with such efficiency was the Venetian dildo.
Bodie crept back from the window, his arms wrapped around himself. Then slowly he dressed, strolling down into the garden as if nothing in all the world was wrong, going to stand just where Doyle could see him.
After a moment, Doyle looked up from where he crouched, a finger sifting through the shards of glass. He blinked, then stood, saying the last words Bodie expected: "I'm sorry..."
"Don't!" Bodie took a few steps forward, then hesitated, his confusion quite clear. "You shouldn't be sorry, it was only a piece of glass."
"I had to destroy something, better this than anything else." He paused, then a strange expression passed fleetingly over his face. "I'd have killed her, if she lived. Smashed that damned dagger, but it wasn't here." He sighed. "This was."
Bodie nodded, though he wasn't sure why. Doyle looked serene, his body, covered in half-healed marks, quite relaxed. As Bodie watched he took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, his head tilting to the sky.
"I'm so very glad to be home."
"Home?" Bodie's voice sounded as if he was unsure of that word's meaning.
"Being here, with you." Bodie winced as the steady green gaze lowered from the passing clouds and held his own. "Believe, me."
"I do." Bodie reached out a hand, almost surprised when Doyle moved into his embrace, standing quite calm, close enough to share his breath. "But everything else?" He asked the question with his heart beating hard in his throat.
"I don't know."
"I do know there is nowhere else I want to be."
Bodie swallowed, and nodded. "Good, for I want you here." He paused, trying for words that would explain. "I want you, in any way I can, any way you want."
Doyle gave a crooked smile, circling his arms around the other man, hiding the expression in the plain wool of Bodie's coat.
For a long time they stood just like that, wrapped together. Then Bodie stirred. "You're getting cold, it is almost Winter, you shouldn't be out here like this." He fingered the goosebumps that coated the scarred back. "Come on, let's get inside, get you dressed."
Doyle nodded, but a finger pulled Bodie's face back towards him and into a kiss. It was gentle, lingering; quite without passion but saying so very much.
Bodie stood where he was when Doyle walked away, watching. If he prayed as well, then his prayers were silent.
Time. That was what they needed.
And patience. That was what Mary had said. Patience. Well, he had that virtue, certainly. And Doyle was worth every drop. He took a deep breath and went after his lover, unsure of anything but hope. For Ray still loved him, that was sure. The only thing wrong was that something had been taken away by that woman; something lost in that terrible room.
But something lost could be found. It could be.
It had to be.
There was nothing else he could allow himself to believe.
-- THE END --