Black Bodie's Bargain
by NN West
Of how I came to follow the trade of privateer it is not my intention to speak. Nor seek you to learn aught from the narrative concerning my origin or kindred. Suffice it to say that I departed my father's house at the age of fourteen, he vowing that my name should nevermore cross his lips. That the pious hypocrite kept that vow I do not doubt. For my part I was glad to be gone; I have not returned even unto ...shire these years since, nor am I like to do so.
My wanderings over the next several years were varied, and if not always comfortable, were never dull. My wits and sword earned me my living, permitting the indulgence of what fast became almost an obsession, a growing collection of rare and beautiful gems. Small, easily portable, they accompanied me throughout my wanderings, ensuring that I would never lack food or lodging.
Another...collection had I, and this less permanent. I had long known the lure of male flesh, and my companions were chosen as carefully for their beauty and grace as my gems were for their fire and lustre. But the attractions of the body fade, alas, and once I had tasted the sweetness of each new experience satiety crept in and I allowed each to go with no regret save that the attraction should be so fleeting.
I had been several years my own master when I encountered again he whom men call The Scotsman, a wily rogue high in favour, whose sole passion was in the service of the King. To that end he made use of all who might serve his need -- and it seemed that I was one he would have in his employ. The offer he made appealed to my sense of adventure and to my love of profit; he cared little for my motives, only for results, and so the bargain was struck between us, bringing me my privateer's commission granted by no less than Sir Henry Morgan himself.
This new enterprise prospered mightily, though due I warrant more to careful thought and planning than to the good fortune my crew swore followed me. A desperate body of men, as pretty a set of rogues as ne'er graced Tyburn Tree, they were. Some few at first made shift to dispute my authority, but my fists, my sword, or my speed with a brace of pistols ensured that I had to repeat the lesson but seldom. They named me 'Black Bodie' and tales of my successes, my cunning, my ruthlessness were fair to become universally told -- tales which I encouraged, for an enemy who enters battle with fear in his heart is already half defeated...and I was greatly feared, so that mothers would quiet their fretful babes with the threat that Black Bodie would steal them away.
Much talk there was also of my by-now-fabled treasure chest. The proud Spanish galleons we preyed on were well- laden with treasures, and although it was the custom of the Brotherhood to share all plunder, as Captain the first choice was mine.
My other...collection grew more slowly, and remained a thing of memories only, save for the current object of my interest. Not once was I tempted to keep, and the crew quickly became accustomed to the ever-changing occupants of my bed, even -- as I learned to my great amusement -- laying wagers upon the tenure of each. Many such companions did I garner from our captives. Canting heretics! Prate as they would of my vileness, of their immortal souls, given the choice of sea-bed or mine, life suddenly seemed sweet to them; no doubt they made full confession later, and enriched their church in the purchase of absolution. Hah! Had their priests but seen how they writhed in my embrace...But enough of this. I will say merely that I always kept my word, and those who struck the bargain with me were set free when landfall permitted -- and not all were eager to go, though I to be rid of them.
Such a life suited me well, and I had little wish to alter it -- until the capture of the Santa Maddalena, bound for Spain laden with rich gifts for His Most Catholic Majesty; treasures which I, ever faithful to my calling, made haste to liberate into my own pockets and those of my crew. Four hours the battle raged, but once close enough to board the outcome was in no doubt -- the Dons have little taste for cold English steel.
I received the surrender of the Spanish Captain, Don Alfredo Gonzales di Vilar y Estoril, a gentleman whose protests at my immediate confiscation of his cargo were so vehement, and so personal withal, that I was constrained to silence him with his own cravat, whereupon he glared at me with a lively hatred, consigning me no doubt to those same depths of hell to which his compatriots had despatched so many honest English seamen: for myself I place little credence in such foolery, his maledictions therefore troubling me little.
I was informed, as I recall, prisoners had been found below decks, as I had more profitable matters on my mind, I bade my bosun, one Abnegation Smith -- vile wretch, but one loyal in my service -- dispose of them according to the custom of the Brotherhood, the while I addressed myself to the selection of my share of the booty. (Lest you be unaware, I here digress to explain that those whose circumstances warranted it are set aside for ransom, [while] the others are given the choice of joining our band or being sold off when we next make port -- there are ever those willing to pay highly for a likely slave, and the purchase price of such fattens our coffers.)
For some time I remained undecided between a fine diamond clasp and a magnificent ruby of the true pigeon's blood hue: settling at length for the latter I bethought me to see what else of value may be found on the Santa Maddalena, arriving on deck just as the prisoners were led up from the hold -- sorry wretches indeed, laden with chains and stinking as they were. Not too soon had I come, for certain hotheads of the crew set up a cry that being Englishmen, these would be cast overboard lest they somehow escape to bear witness against them, forgetting -- as such lackwits will -- that the letters of marque I carried ensured that they faced no penalty in our homeland. Swift as my descent to the well of the deck was, one poor wretch suffered this horrid fate and more were like to follow but my appearance stayed the hands of my crew.
Wishing to calm the fears of the survivors, if such may be possible, I smiled reassuringly as I stepped forward and made the customary offer, their lives for their pledge of loyalty.
Mazed by my intervention when they had resigned themselves to death, most stared dumbly, all save one slender youth who dropped to his knees and in a voice that scarce reached my ears set up a prayer to be delivered from temptation, that he may not succumb to the blandishments of such villainy as mine. Pious brat! But my curiosity was whetted and I advanced to look closer upon who set his life at such little value.
He rose at my bidding, returning my gaze with defiance, and I needs must fall to gawping like any ninnyhammer. Something shorter than I he stood, slender of limb and frame, yet I suspected he owned more of strength than was at first apparent. He wore his own hair, a riotous tumble of curls that my fingers ached to touch despite the dirt that befouled them. Some long healed injury marked one delicate cheekbone, flawing the angel's face into a very human beauty, and the full, soft lips were temptation to the veriest saint -- which I have never been. His eyes were living emeralds, blazing fire as they looked upon me; beneath the torn clothing his flesh gleamed with a soft lustre that set the heat to building in my loins.
Our eyes held. There was a question in mine and something in his flared in answer, although I sensed that as yet neither his mind nor his body knew what his heart desired. So be it. He would be mine -- and willingly, if I would tread but warily.
I smiled at him for the sheer pleasure his beauty gave me, and gently asked his name. The wariness in his eyes faded a little as he answered, "Raymond Doyle."
His voice was music and it disappointed me that the only answer he gave to my invitation to join my crew was an emphatic shaking of the luxuriant curls. I could not choose but frown and he flinched a little as I pointed to the sea and spoke of the hampering chains that would surely drown him ere he came to the safety of land.
He recovered quickly and met my eyes again. "Nonetheless, I will have no part in villainy," he said firmly.
He was afraid but would not show it. I liked that in him. Frowning, I thought how to win him, but instinct told me I would need time and privacy to tame this lovely creature. Whiles he stood, head lowered, waiting to learn his fate, I could see the sweat on his brow, and longed to comfort him, dared no more than to laugh in delight at his beauty and courage. Join us he must, or stand on the auction block. Or...
Unable to resist I tipped his chin, gazing deep into those green eyes. My answer was there. He would not speak, from ignorance, from modesty, but his soul leapt in response to mine. I nodded and smiled, acknowledging the slumbering fire within him.
"Methinks we are much alike, thee and me," I told him softly.
More I dared not say then. Reluctantly I left him, calling Abnegation to my side.
"The ruby I selected -- return it to the common loot," I said curtly. "Mark instead Master Doyle as my share of this day's work."
The rogue chuckled lewdly. "An expensive toy, Cap'n," he observed with the freedom of long service.
"Think you so?" I was too content to rebuke his loose tongue. "Methinks I have a bargain there. Have him conveyed to the Gay Mariner. See that he is bathed, given fresh clothes, and fed. He is to be lodged in my cabin, Smith, and see to it that he is not molested. I'll have the guts of any man who offers him injury!"
"Aye, Cap'n." With a sly wink, the rogue sped to do my bidding.
As malign fate would have it my return to the Gay Mariner was attended by the rising of the wind, so that I needs must look to the safety of my ship and crew, a task which I performed with a better heart knowing what awaited me below deck. It was dawn however before the sea grew calm enough to permit me to seek my cabin.
Entering, I resolved to enjoy the anticipation a little longer. Stripping off my sodden clothes, I therefore stretched myself out upon the wide bed and fell to contemplation of my spoils of war.
He sat upon the bench that ran below the great stern window of my cabin, one leg drawn up between his clasped hands as he gazed out at the white-capped waves, his hair -- clean now and shining -- haloed by the lantern that swung in random arcs, alternately revealing and shadowing the hauntingly beautiful face. My orders had been obeyed, for he was dressed in clean clothing, but -- perhaps not wishing to be overly beholden to one he deemed a villain -- he had taken only what he must for decency's sake: a pair of breeches and a shirt open to the waist were his only garments, his feet were bare and his nether garments (which my gaze sought eagerly) were so close fitting that the outline of his sweet flesh was clearly discernible through the cloth. In some it may have been coquetry but the innocence I had read in those green eyes must give the lie to any such suspicion; it was in my mind that, fearing to be surprised, he had dressed hurriedly, giving small thought to his appearance.
For a time I lay, feeling the weariness seep from my bones as I contemplated his beauty. He would not look at me, keeping his gaze fixed on the dawn-lit sea, but anon he glanced hurriedly away, his tongue moistening the full lips as he swallowed convulsively, so that I knew him in distress from the motion of the ship.
So proud, so stubborn! I could not choose but laugh in delight, nor could I resist the impulse that drove me from the bed to his side, my hands rising to his shoulders as a finger sought the softness of his throat.
"This day," I told him, shivering with the pleasure of the touch of his hair on my lips as I bent to his ear, "my share of the plunder hath exceeded all my hopes."
With those words I pulled him to me, dismay in my heart as I felt his body stiffen and recoil from the touch of my naked flesh. Yet a tremor ran through him, filling me with hope. Have him I must and would, with his consent or without it -- yet how sweet it would be to know his willing surrender.
"You will not fight this, will you?" I pleaded, and for the first time he met my gaze, the emerald eyes wide and questioning.
He knew now what I wanted of him. Heart and body were willing, but that damnable piety of his might yet defeat me. I touched my thumb to the full lips, longing to set my mouth there, worshipping him with my touch. My eyes dropped to his lap and methought to see his flesh stir in response.
"I was not wrong, was I?" I murmured, smiling at his shyness. "We are much alike, thee and me."
He answered not in words, but swallowed mightily and dropped his gaze as though fearful of what his eyes may reveal. As I waited, scarce breathing, I saw him glance sideways, his lips parting as he looked fully upon my nakedness, upon the jutting flesh that bespoke my desire, and resting my hand over his heart I could feel that organ pounding heavily within his chest.
So I had my answer and I lifted his chin again, seeking and finding a hunger in those wide eyes to match mine own. Untouched by a man I knew him to be, yet the purity of that gaze made me wonder if, perchance...
I smiled upon him and shook my head whispering, "How long is it since thee hath lain with a maid?"
Colour stained his cheeks and he leaned his head against me as though overcome. Cruel it seemed to force an answer and yet I had to know. "How long?" I repeated.
He met my eyes, looked away, then his gaze returned proudly to mine. "Never," he said, shaking the silken head and the endearing shyness in his face tamed my hunger to a wish to give him pleasure before taking my own.
I bent my head to his, taking his mouth as I had longed to do. The full lips parted, granting me admission to the moist heat of him, and his arms rose to encircle my body as he gave himself into my embrace, warm and responsively eager as I.
Twice a virgin, he had much to learn, and I the most diligent of teachers. I took his body and gave him mine in those first hours, as I had never done before -- submission was never in my nature, but it was strangely sweet in his arms. There was a passion in him that delighted me, and when we fell asleep at last, locked sticky and sweating in each other's arms, I knew -- as did he -- that we would never part.
Nor have we. Upon my urging the Scotsman accepted him as my partner, granting him joint commission with me. My Ray would never make a ship's captain, but his quick wit and lively intelligence made him a valued adviser, and his courage won him the loyalty of my motley crew who followed him as they did me. Learning that as commissioned privateers in the service of our country we had earned the gratitude, not the condemnation of our King, he entered most whole-heartedly into his new life, and if the name of Black Bodie had been feared throughout Spain, no less so became the name of Raymond Doyle -- or the Dark Angel, as the Dons came to call him.
He hath been all that man could wish in mate, warm and tender, passionate and exciting. Gladly we pledged ourselves each to the other in lifelong fidelity; he has never broken that pledge, nor have I -- and have never wished to.
Loving and beloved, we lived and fought together until the day came when we had gathered enough wealth from our joint ventures to return to our native land; with the Scotsman's blessing we set sail for England, to the fair County of Devon, where on our new-purchased estate we lived as gentlemen, our greatest hazard the neighbouring ladies who saw in us eligible husbands for their simpering daughters. Hah! What milk-and- water miss could lure me from the arms of my delight? And he has told me that only my embrace kindles the fire that ever smoulders in his green eyes.
There is yet a footnote remaining to be told of the choice I made on the Santa Maddalena. Some years after our return to England we were summoned to Court to receive in person the thanks of our King for our service. Near the Throne stood a small, quietly dressed figure who, it seemed, had the Royal Ear, and Ray's eyes met mine in delight and amazement when the Scotsman favoured us with a wintery smile of recognition. It seemed we had not been forgotten in the places of power...
It was as we were making our way from the audience that I halted, mouth agape. A Most Exalted Personage was making his way through the crowd, his Lady on his arm and around her white throat hung that very heart's blood ruby I had exchanged for a greater prize.
"Bodie! What's amiss?" My ever vigilant companion had noted my hesitation.
I turned laughing eyes to his. "The ruby -- you see it?"
"A valuable stone. What of it?"
"Later." I contained my amusement and leaned closer to his ear. "The memories that stone evokes make me want to kiss you -- and I fear this is not the place."
He said nothing further then, only a most becoming colour stained his cheeks; but he returned to the attack in the privacy of our carriage.
"What about the ruby, Bodie?"
"It was my share of the loot from the Santa Maddalena," I told him. "Yet it never came into my hands, for I exchanged it for a pair of matched emeralds."
"Emeralds?" His brow furrowed in thought. "I have never seen such stones in your possession."
"You have -- each time you look in the glass." Seeing that he did not yet understand, I leaned forward and kissed his eyes, each in turn. "There and there."
The blood burned in me at the feel of the silken eyelids beneath my lips, the brush of his lashes.
"You mean you took me instead?" Exquisite colour mounted in his face, and the breath came faster between his parted lips, "Oh, Bodie..."
"Aye, Ray." I needs must lean forward to take the offered mouth, enjoying the never-failing sweetness of his kiss. I pulled back then, tracing the soft fullness of his lips with my thumb. "I thought then, and I do think now," I whispered, pulling the proud head to my shoulder, "that never did Black Bodie strike so fair a bargain."
And thirty years on I am still of the same mind.
-- THE END --