Chapter 3: Matelot

A few weeks later, Luke woke one morning with a heavy head. He slid out of bed and found his legs wouldn’t hold him up, so he fell onto the floor.

“Captain?” Sebastian was at his side in seconds.

“I’m fine. Help me up.”

Sebastian put a hand on his forehead. “You’re not fine. You’re burning up.”

“I’m fine I tell you.” Luke forced himself to stand and get dressed while Sebastian gazed at him from worried eyes.

His head was pounding and sweat poured down his back as he made his way up on deck… to find he was not the only man down. Marc’s pale skin was red and feverish, and little Nicky was barely able to stand.

“Tis the pox!” Marc said.

“If only we had a surgeon onboard,” Jim growled, swaying so much he had to sit on a barrel, his one good eye glinting darkly. “But our captain refuses to steal one for us.”

“I’ll not have any man here unwillingly,” Luke snapped. He was in no humour for a fight right now. “How many are afflicted?” he asked Marc quietly.

“Half at least,” Marc replied. “It’s going round fast.”

Over the next two days the pox raged around the ship, and man after man fell victim to it. Luke forced himself up on deck, but all he could hear were the moans of his men calling for help, and begging God to take mercy on their souls. At first, he did his best to offer succour, taking water to those most in need, but on the third day he couldn’t even walk. He lay on his bed, seeing double, watching as two Sebastians came to his side and placed something cool on his head.

“This will help,” the Sebastians said, smoothing back his sweaty hair.

“Are you not ill, too?” Luke croaked, trying to grab Sebastian’s hand and finding only thin air.

“I’m fine.” Sebastian smiled down at him gently, but Luke could see the worry in his eyes. “I’ll look after the men, don’t worry. Just stay here and rest.” Luke watched him open his little pots of medicine, then gather them up and leave the cabin.

He didn’t remember very much about the next few days. He lay in his bed, sweating and crying out. One minute he was burning up, the next freezing cold. His head ached, his tongue was swollen and dry, and he couldn’t keep any food down. At one point, a golden dragon in the shape of a man tried to tug him from his bed, but he cried out and fought the dragon until it let him be. Sometimes, he could smell strange scents, and feel something smooth being rubbed on his breast and head. Other times, he tasted cool water on his parched tongue, and cried out for more.

On the morning of the fifth day, he fancied himself back in Cwm Drysor, in the tiny cottage he’d shared with his Mam and Tad and his brothers and sister. His little sister, Nerys, was crying for water. He rolled out of bed and crawled across the mud floor to the water barrel, scooped some out, and crawled back. He tipped the water into her mouth and watched her swallow, crying as it hit her scorched throat. Her face was red and blotchy, and she was as hot as burning coal.

“Please, Luke… annwyl…” she whispered, reaching out to him. He tried to lift her, but he was too weak, so he laid down beside her and held her gently. She died like that a few hours later, her big brown eyes still wide open, gazing at him sightlessly. Nerys, his naughty little sister, gone forever. He thought his heart would break. His little brothers Rhys and Cai were next. He didn’t know how to tell his Mam that they were gone, but he didn’t have to, for when he crawled to her side, he found that she’d left him, too. Luke lay beside her, weeping for his sweet, funny mam, until he fell asleep again.

When next he woke in that tiny dark cottage, he felt weak and light-headed, but the terrible fever had gone. He sat up and looked around for his father. Tad had left to get help days ago. Why hadn’t he come back? Luke walked, unsteadily, to the door, only to find he couldn’t open it. Weak as a kitten, he leaned against it, pounding it with his fists to no avail. He slept awhile against it, and when next he woke he had a little more strength, and could push it harder this time. Something moved outside, and he climbed out through the small gap he’d made… to see a man’s big body lying in front of the door. That was why it hadn’t opened! Luke approached the man, his heart in his mouth. He reached out and pulled the man to face him… to find it was Tad. His face was blue, and he’d clearly been dead some time, probably as soon as he’d left the house to seek help.

Luke sat on the porch step and wept. Only a few days ago they’d all been sitting around the table, laughing as Tad told stories. Tad was a big, strong man who’d loved them all dear. Now he was gone. Now they were all gone – his entire family. What would happen to him now?

A hand held blessed water to his lips, and he gulped it down, gasping for more.

“Nerys?” he whispered. Maybe she wasn’t dead after all. Maybe he’d got it wrong, and it was she who’d brought him water, not the other way around.

“Sebastian,” a voice said softly. “Hush, my love. You must rest.”

Luke blinked, wondering who this person was. He reached out and gripped Sebastian’s hand tight.

“Mam’s dead,” he whispered, choking for how much it hurt to say it. “And Cai, and Rhys. All gone. Even my naughty little Nerys…” Her name broke in his aching throat. “And Tad. My wonderful tad.”

“I’m sorry to hear it,” Sebastian said, from far above, so far that he must be very tall. Luke didn’t know him, but he sounded kind. “Oh, my poor love.” Luke felt a cool hand brush his sweat-soaked hair gently from his forehead.

“They’ve all gone and left me,” Luke whispered. “They were here, and now they’re gone.” He squeezed Sebastian’s hand tightly. “I don’t know what to do. I have no other family. Where do I go?”

“How old are you, Luke?” Sebastian asked gently.

“I’m eight,” he whispered, feeling very small beside this tall man.

“Ah.” Sebastian’s voice was so sad. “You poor, sweet child.”

“I’m all alone. Will you help me?” Luke asked.

“Of course. I’ll look after you. Don’t worry, little one. I’m here.”

“Thank you,” Luke whispered gratefully. He tried to open his eyes, but the light hurt them too much. He closed them again. “I cannot see you, but you seem tall. Are you a grown man? Old enough to take in an orphan child, sir?”

“Yes, I’m old enough to care for you, my dear,” Sebastian replied. There was silence for a moment, and then a little sigh. “I am full grown now indeed.”

Sebastian placed a cool cloth on Luke’s eyelids and covered it with the light pressure of his hands. That soothed the stinging in Luke’s eyes. When the cloth was removed, Luke found it was easier to open them. He gazed up at Sebastian and caught sight of a man shrouded in a golden haze, his eyes glowing a deep shade of amber, like fire on a winter’s night.

“You are aflame, sir,” he croaked.

“You have a fever, Luke,” Sebastian said gently. “You do not see true. Hush now, little one.” He drew Luke to him and pressed his cool lips to Luke’s forehead, calming him. The golden light emanating from him seemed to grow greater and greater, until it enveloped Luke completely. It bathed him in its warm glow, lapping against his skin like a soothing balm, slowly washing away the pain. Luke slept.

He dreamed he was on a hillside, a scrubby place with olive trees growing wild. He was a child, roaming free. In his feverish imagination it seemed as if he could fly through the air, or take the shape of a leaf, or a flower, or become water and whoosh down a river, at one with all around him. He giggled with delight at his freedom, and when it was time to rest, his family brought him close and held him to them. They loved him dear. He was so happy, so innocent, and full of joy. Then, one day, he woke to find himself alone, his family gone. Luke cried out, for it reminded him of seeing his Mam and Tad, lying dead and sightless.

“Hush, love,” a warm voice beside him said. “It’s just a dream.”

Night had fallen when next he woke, and his fever had broken. His head ached, and his mouth was dry, but he was no longer delirious. He felt hollow and empty inside. He was alone in the cabin. He sat up, slowly, then heaved himself onto the side of the bed until the stabbing pain in his head from the exertion subsided. He took a long draft of water from the pitcher by the bed, which helped a little. Then he got to his feet, holding onto the bed as the room swam around him. It took him awhile to move, but then he staggered across the cabin, holding onto the walls as he went.

He had to stop many times on the way, but he finally managed to make it onto the deck. The ship was eerily quiet, with no sign of his men. Had they all succumbed to the pox and been thrown overboard?

There was a light glowing from the direction of the hold. Luke made his way towards it. He climbed slowly down the stairs towards the men’s quarters, the light beckoning him on. He held onto the walls again as he finally made it down the stairs and stepped into the light. He stopped short at the sight that greeted him there.

The men’s quarters had been transformed into a hospital. Each hammock held a sick man, and each man had a damp cloth on his head and a blanket over him. The crying was constant, an endless croaking wail for water, water, water… Some men were sobbing for their mothers or sweethearts, while others, bodies slick with sweat, were clearly delirious, gibbering nonsense in their sleep.

The room was lit by several flickering lanterns, and there, in the middle of all that glowing golden light, stood a man. To Luke’s tired, pained eyes, it looked almost as if Sebastian was flickering too.

“Sebastian?” Luke rasped.

Sebastian looked up from where he was standing beside one of the men, holding a cup of water to his mouth.

“Luke? You shouldn’t be out of bed!”

Sebastian was by his side in an instant, which was all to the good because Luke’s legs would not hold him up anymore. He would have fallen if Sebastian had not placed a strong hand under his elbow and guided him onto a nearby chair. Sebastian knelt down in front of him.

“How are you feeling?” he asked, placing a hand on Luke’s forehead. “Ah, you’re cooler now – that’s good. I check on you every hour, then return here. At the outset, I tried to carry you here to be with the rest, but you cried out and fought me, so I thought it best to leave you be.”

“Are all the men afflicted, save you?” Luke asked, peering around the room, wishing his eyes did not ache so.

“Yes.” Sebastian nodded. “I set them up in here and organised a makeshift infirmary, as best I could.” He gestured to the pots of medicines on the table. “Some of the herbs in these help – I smear some on the men’s heads and chests, and others I add to their drinking water. I did so with you.”

“How did you escape the pox?” Luke asked, his head thrumming as if he had his own private drummer living inside it.

“I have no idea. Maybe I’ve had this pox before and that gave me protection?” Sebastian shrugged.

“And you knew what to do?” Luke glanced around the well-organised infirmary, with the men laid out in their hammocks.

“Yes. I’ve travelled a lot – I’ve encountered many a pox before.”

“I think you’ve been wasted cleaning my boots and tidying my cabin,” Luke said wryly.

Sebastian grinned. “I’ve loved every second of it.” He leaned in and pressed a kiss to Luke’s cheek.

Luke caught a good look at him as he came close. Sebastian’s face was drawn, his eyes heavy-lidded, with dark shadows beneath them. His fair skin was grey and lined.

“Dear God – you must be exhausted from tending us all!” Luke exclaimed. “Have you had any rest?”

“A half hour here or there,” Sebastian said wearily.

“You’ll fall over yourself if you carry on like this. You must rest!” Luke commanded.

“Not yet. It’s not over yet,” Sebastian replied.

“I could make it an order,” Luke said.

Sebastian smiled, wryly. “You’re about to fall over faint again. I don’t think you’ll know whether I obey you or not!”

He was right. The room suddenly lurched around Luke and then went black.

Luke woke many hours later, feeling much better. He was lying in a hammock; Sebastian must have heaved him into it after he lost consciousness. Luke looked around to find that his men were all starting to come to, able to stand and walk for the first time since the pox took hold. The crisis had passed. Luke searched the room anxiously and finally saw Sebastian, sitting beside a rickety old table, his head in his hands, looking utterly spent. Luke lurched to his feet and went over to him.

“Now will you rest?” he asked.

Sebastian looked up at him, wearily. Luke’s heart ached to see how tired and wretched he looked; the pox had aged him ten years in as many days.

“Yes. Now I will,” Sebastian said softly.

Luke pulled him to his feet and the two of them held onto each other for support as they staggered back to their cabin. Sebastian collapsed onto the bed the second they were inside and closed his eyes.

“How many did we lose?” Luke asked, his heart in his mouth. “How many are gone?”

Sebastian’s eyes flickered open, and he gave a little smile. “Why, none,” he said, reaching out to caress Luke’s face. “I knew you’d take it to heart if you lost a single man – well, except maybe Jim – so I saved them all, even him.”

His eyes closed again, his hand dropped to his side, and he fell immediately into a deep sleep. Luke stared down on him in disbelief. How? How had Sebastian saved an entire crew of men from a pox this ferocious? He gently pulled the blanket over Sebastian and pressed a kiss to his boy’s hair.

“Thank you, my love,” he murmured. “Apothecary’s apprentice?” he snorted. “I think you are a good deal more than that, my pretty piece of flotsam.”

He remembered their talk the night Sebastian had first arrived. Luke had known then that this boy had secrets, but he’d never demanded he give them up. Every man was allowed his secrets. Now, his mind was full of wild fancies. Maybe, Sebastian had been a surgeon on a Royal Navy boat – that would explain a good deal. He might have kept quiet about it for fear Luke would imprison him on the Christabel – a good surgeon was an asset to any ship, and many a pirate vessel had kidnapped them before and put them to work. Sebastian had not been to know that Luke would not do that, and by the time he did know, maybe he felt too deep in the lie.

Sebastian was clearly no cabin boy, nor apothecary’s apprentice, and he was also, Luke suspected, older than he claimed, though what reason he’d have for lying about that Luke could not fathom.

Luke gazed down on his love, wondering what course to take. Sebastian was a free man – Luke would not have it any other way. So, in the end, what was to be done but let him decide in his own time what to speak of and what to keep to himself? Luke would rather die than speak of some of his own truths – why should Sebastian not feel the same?

He pressed a kiss to Sebastian’s cheek, then left the cabin. After all Sebastian’s heroic efforts over the past few days, he’d earned his rest, but Luke was the captain of this ship and there was work to do.

The crew soon recovered, though they tired easily for a few weeks after their battle with the pox. Sebastian seemed restless, though, and out of sorts, intent on uncovering the cause of the affliction that had felled all the crew save him.

“What does it matter what manner of pox it was?” Luke demanded one night, as he saw Sebastian poring over his books and medicine pots ’til well after midnight for the tenth night in a row. “Dear lord, boy – it’s over! Let it go!”

“I will not,” Sebastian replied stubbornly. “I’ve seen a pox like this before… it’s my belief it was carried by rats.”

“Rats? What’s to be done about that if it’s so?” Luke demanded. “Show me any ship that doesn’t have rats!”

“You need a cat,” Sebastian told him irritably. “Why do you not have one already? A ship needs a cat.”

“We used to have one,” Luke snapped back. “Her name was Mog. She was the Queen of the Christabel until she died last year. A fine old cat was Mog.” He gave a wan smile.

“Last year? Why the hell haven’t you found another one?” Sebastian barked accusingly.

“Why have you turned into such a scold?” Luke growled. He’d loved Mog so much it had felt as if his heart would break when she died. He wasn’t about to embrace such heartache again so soon, but he also wasn’t about to admit to Sebastian that was the reason he’d not found another cat.

“You are impossible. I can’t talk to you!” Sebastian yelled, grabbing his books and his lantern and stomping out of the room. He’d not been himself since the pox. He was tired all the time, and seemed old and slow. He was quick to anger and even quicker to argue. They also hadn’t touched each other in weeks. Sebastian stayed up half the night reading, and when he did come to bed Luke was still too tired from the pox to make love to him.

Luke didn’t know what to do to make it right between them. His doubts about who Sebastian really was also came between them. There was a little wall of suspicion where before there had been none. Before the pox, he’d easily thrown Sebastian onto the bed and ravished him, or taken him over his knee and spanked his fine white arse, and they’d both enjoyed those things. Now… was it seemly to treat a learned man that way? It was one thing to chastise your cabin boy, another to take your belt to the man who’d single-handedly saved your crew. Sebastian seemed less a lad and more a man now. His sparkling blue eyes were dimmer now, world-weary and strained, as if he’d lived too long and seen too much. He no longer seemed like the bright-eyed boy Luke had dragged onboard a few months ago.

Even the crew had become weary with Sebastian’s moods. At first, they had been full of gratitude towards him, but now, as Sebastian’s mood alternated between restless discontent and downright petulance, they avoided him and whispered about him behind his back.

There was another problem, too, and one that Luke hardly dared admit, even to himself. Ever since the pox, Luke had felt no movement in his cock – it refused to get stiff, even when Sebastian touched it, or when Luke saw his cabin boy lying naked on the bed. Luke had too much pride to tell Sebastian this – he’d never suffered from this particular affliction before, and it shamed him deeply. He pushed Sebastian away when he tried to kiss him, for fear it would lead to the discovery of his most private of disgraces. Now they barely touched, not even to offer affection.

It was a sorry state of affairs, and Luke had no idea how to fix it. He was used to taking charge and making things right, but this seemed mired in difficulty whichever way he looked at it. Every day that passed, Sebastian became more sullen, his eyes more sunken, and that fair countenance greyer and more drawn.

The ship fared poorly too. Their run of good luck was over – first, a raiding party went wrong, then they were nearly caught by a Navy vessel. The Christabel took some fire, and they had to cool their heels in a secluded bay while they made their repairs.

Everyone was in a foul mood. Arguments broke out all over the ship over matters so trivial Luke could hardly credit it. He was run ragged exerting his authority, wielding the cat on the worst offenders and generally stepping in to calm his men down.

Sebastian’s wild, jangly humours didn’t help. He was scaring even the most hardened of Luke’s crew. He challenged men to pointless fights, or races around the deck, seeming to need excitement to bolster his erratic mood. After challenging Nicky to yet another climb up the rigging, he took to the yardarm again, as he had months before, but this time he didn’t just perform a little jig – he pirouetted. Luke watched him, in disbelief, his heart in his mouth. Sebastian looked deranged up there, dancing in time to a music only he could hear. He had always been a lively dancer, lithe and sure-footed, but now he was like a man possessed as he twisted and swayed from a great height. The men all stopped to watch, their faces dismayed.

“Is he taken by demons?” Marc asked fearfully.

“Taken by lunacy more like,” Luke snorted. “Get down, Sebastian, before you fall!” he cried.

“I won’t fall!” Sebastian yelled back. He looked exhilarated, but there was a strained, unnatural kind of exuberance in his jerky movements.

“It’s not a request!” Luke yelled. “You’ll do as I say. Get down now.”

“No!” The word was bellowed petulantly. Sebastian, it seemed, was in the grip of some mania and would not listen to reason.

“If I have to climb up there to bring you down, you’ll suffer for it all the more!” Luke shouted.

“I don’t care. The pox can take you for all I care!” Sebastian screamed. Then he laughed. “Hah – I forgot, it nearly did!”

“Sebastian – listen to me. You will climb down now. That’s an order.” Luke wished he hadn’t said it the second it was out of his mouth. The crew all gazed at Sebastian expectantly, but he made no move to climb down. Instead, he danced on, in a clear act of disobedience towards his captain.

He swirled like a wraith, laughing all the while, and then, just as Luke was about to climb the rigging to reach him, he fell. A shout went up from the crew, but Sebastian snagged his arm on the rigging on the way down, saving himself.

Luke climbed up to seize him, his heart beating fast. He grabbed Sebastian forcefully, and pulled him the rest of the way down. He was full of rage, the more so because of the shock of nearly losing his boy. He flung Sebastian down on the deck and stood over him.

“You little fool!” he yelled. “Go to my cabin and wait for me there!”

Sebastian glared up at him mulishly. The men muttered, shifting from side to side.

“Seems to me, captain,” Jim said silkily. “That he disobeyed your direct order. When I was accused of that, you took the cat to me.”

“Is that what you all want?” Luke demanded. “This man saved your sorry arses a few weeks ago, and now you want me to take the cat to him?”

“Is it one rule for him then, and another for us?” Jim asked. “Because he warms your bed?”

“No!” Luke said fiercely.

“Then he should be whipped,” Jim retorted.

Luke looked around, to gauge the mood of his crew. This was not a problem he had faced before, and he was sore pressed to know what to do. The faces of his men told him what he did not wish to know.

“Nicky?” he asked, looking to the child for guidance as the men were being only brutish.

Nick screwed up his face anxiously. “We trust you because you’re fair,” he said. “Tis not fair that you treat this one different to us.”

Sebastian said nothing. His eyes were aglow with a wild light that Luke feared would burn him up. Luke felt an odd sense of calm wash over him. He could see the way clear now.

“Sebastian,” he said quietly. “Take off your shirt and go to the foremast.”

Sebastian stared up at him. Then he threw back his head and laughed, like a madman. “Will you take the cat to me now then, captain?” he demanded. “And let me taste her savage kisses at last?”

“I will,” Luke said softly. “Maybe she will bring you to your senses. You’ll take six lashes.”

It was a fair punishment, for the offence had not be so grievous as Jim’s. Luke had no wish to hurt his boy, for he feared Sebastian was not in his right mind. Yet, some inner voice guided him now, and he knew this might be what Sebastian needed to shock him out of his strange humour.

Marc brought him the cat, and Luke knew instinctively what was to be done. He stood over Sebastian, feet planted firmly on the deck, looking down on his boy. Sebastian gazed up at him, his blue eyes as dark as the night now, with no light at all glowing within them.

“Take off your shirt. Don’t make me tell you again,” Luke growled.

Slowly, his eyes cast down with mute rebellion, Sebastian unbuttoned his shirt and stripped it from his shoulders. He seemed thinner, his ribs showing beneath his skin. Luke stayed over him, glaring down on him, until Sebastian was done. Sebastian would not meet his eye, and looked down on the deck instead, but Luke wanted none of that. He must have the boy’s gaze on him now, to work his purpose. He tapped Sebastian’s head.

“Look at me,” he ordered. Sebastian ignored him, so Luke placed a finger under Sebastian’s chin and drew his face up so he had no choice but to look him full in the eye. What he saw in Sebastian’s eyes made him certain of his path, for they contained an unfathomable sadness and seemed to beg Luke for help.

“Kiss the cat,” Luke ordered, holding it beneath Sebastian’s nose. His men shifted uneasily, for this was not a normal part of this particular ritual. “Kiss it!” Luke roared, needing to see Sebastian submit before he would use the cat upon him. If Sebastian refused to submit, he knew in his bones that this would go very wrong. He had to bring his boy to the right frame of mind to take his punishment.

Mutely, angrily, Sebastian leaned forward and pressed his lips to the cat.

“Stay there,” Luke ordered, as Sebastian began to draw back. “You’ll kiss her ’til I say you can stop.”

Sebastian obeyed, and Luke felt the tension in his belly lessen a notch. His boy needed this. He needed all the grounding Luke could give him right now. Luke was determined not to fail him.

He waited good and long before he allowed Sebastian to draw back. Then he gave him another command.

“Watch me!” Slowly, very slowly, he unbuttoned his shirt sleeves and then folded them up to the elbow. Sebastian followed every small movement with avid eyes, eating up the sight of him. That was good. That was what Luke wanted. Luke took a step back, and Sebastian’s gaze wavered. “I said, watch me!” Luke growled, and Sebastian’s gaze immediately snapped back onto him.

Luke shook out the cat, watching as a dim light slowly returned to Sebastian’s eyes. Luke paced around the deck, flicking the cat through the air as he went, making as big a show of it as he could. All the while, Sebastian, kneeling, watched him closely. Luke felt a strange kind of energy passing from Sebastian to himself and back again. It gave him a jolt, and the hairs on the back of his neck rose, making him shiver. Then he felt the faint stirrings of that warm glow in his belly that he hadn’t realised had been absent for so many weeks.

Luke finished pacing and returned to Sebastian. He took hold of his hair and pulled back his head.

“You are my boy,” he said, in a low, hard tone. “You’ll take your lashes from my whip and be glad of it.”

“Yes, sir,” Sebastian breathed.

“Jake, Marc – string him up,” Luke ordered. Jake and Marc stepped forward and grabbed hold of Sebastian. They dragged him to the foremast and tied him there.

Luke went over to him and spoke direct into his ear.

“Six lashes for your disobedience, boy. Six lashes from your captain to tame your unruly heart. Do you submit?”

Sebastian trembled and put his head down. “Yes, my captain,” he whispered. His odd mania from earlier seemed to dissipate as he surrendered to the punishment. Satisfied, Luke stepped back and raised the cat.

He did not go easy on the boy – his men would expect nothing else, and Sebastian would benefit from nothing less. Luke gave the first lash with the full force of his strength. Sebastian screamed, wild and loud, as his skin ripped and blood welled up on his back.

“Count,” Luke demanded mercilessly. This was also not a usual part of the ritual either, but Luke knew what would best bring his boy back to himself.

“One,” Sebastian screamed, half-defiance, half-acceptance. Luke knew he must swing his mood back to full acceptance before Sebastian would be at peace. He shook out the cat again and laid the second stroke lower, just as hard. Another scream, and Sebastian was now quivering in his bonds. The strange plume of energy passing between them pulsed jerkily, erratic and juddering, but there all the same. Luke welcomed it thirstily, craving it.

“Two,” Sebastian called out.

The third stoke went lower still, the cat’s tails tearing into the boy’s skin once more. Sebastian threw back his head and howled.

“Count,” Luke ordered sternly.

“Three.” Sebastian’s voice was shaky now, low and lost.

Luke returned to him and took a fistful of his hair again, needing Sebastian to feel his touch.

“Who am I, boy?” he whispered into Sebastian’s ear. “What gives me the right to punish you so? Who am I to you?”

“You are my captain, sir,” Sebastian whispered, so low that none but Luke could hear him.

“And?” Luke demanded.

“My man, sir,” Sebastian said, and now there was a dreamy tone to his voice.

“And what else?” Luke asked. He didn’t know what answer he required, just that one more was necessary.

“Your love, sir,” Sebastian said, letting out a little sob. Now the energy flowed freely between them again, and the warmth in Luke’s belly was full and strong. He pressed a little kiss to Sebastian’s cheek.

“Aye – and don’t you ever forget it,” he said sternly.

Luke walked away and then turned to deliver another lash, harder even than those that had gone before. Sebastian sighed and seemed to melt against the foremast. If he had not been tied, he’d have fallen.

“Four,” he said dreamily, as if he was chanting a prayer and not counting out his lashes. Luke knew he was nearly back to himself, but now was not the time to show mercy. The fifth stroke thundered across Sebastian’s shoulders. Luke was no longer aware of the men watching, no longer aware of anything save Sebastian.

“Five,” Sebastian counted, in a tone of near ecstasy. He was not fighting the punishment, and nor was he merely submitting to it, either. He was welcoming it – and that was what Luke needed.

Luke took a moment to allow the anticipation to build. Sebastian’s shoulders flexed, and tensed, and then relaxed. He was ready. Luke made the last stroke count, delivering it hard and true. Sebastian received it like an old friend, shouting in joy.


The men drew away, muttering, unsure of what they had just witnessed, but Sebastian had been punished to their satisfaction, and Luke knew they’d soon forget what they’d seen today.

Jake went to cut Sebastian down, but Luke waved him away with a growl. Nobody was allowed to touch his boy right now. He’d fight any man who laid a finger on him. Luke took his cutlass and cut Sebastian down, lifting him up in his arms when Sebastian fell.

He carried his boy back to his cabin and threw him on the bed on his back. Sebastian cried out as his sore flesh made contact with the hard bed, but Luke was not minded to grant him any soft words just yet.

Luke stripped off his clothes, and found his cock standing hard and proud against his belly. He gave it barely a thought – he was in the grip of something too strong.

He stripped Sebastian of his britches, then climbed onto the bed and lay on top of him, pinning him down. He took hold of Sebastian’s arms and pushed them above his head. Then he rested there, taking a moment to feel the joy of skin on skin, of reconnection, and the great sense of peace that came from being naked with his boy again.

Sebastian moaned and opened his eyes to reveal they were full of light once more, after weeks of empty dullness.

Luke claimed Sebastian’s mouth with his own, plundering him long and hard in a deep, merciless kiss. He did not stop until Sebastian surrendered everything to him, offering himself up completely. Then Luke drew back.

“Open your legs,” he ordered.

Sebastian obeyed, mutely, gazing up at him in wonder, as if seeing him for the first time. Luke grabbed the oil and slicked the boy’s hole, but he had no patience to do so for long – he had to be inside his boy, riding him hard, reminding both Sebastian and himself of their true selves.

He entered Sebastian in one savage thrust, immersing himself to the hilt in his boy’s tight heat. Sebastian gave a shout, which Luke claimed with another deep kiss.

He held Sebastian’s arms above his head as he took him hard, sparing his boy nothing, giving him everything. Sebastian was all sensation; weeping, screaming, laughing, and moaning, all at once.

Luke rode Sebastian as he would a stallion, taming him, making him his own, giving him no quarter. Beneath him, Sebastian was as open and accepting as it was possible for a boy to be. His eyes glowed, his body shook, and skin was slick with sweat.

Luke roared his victory, spilling out deep inside his boy, feeling powerful and strong, like a lion taking down his prey.

Sebastian stared up at him with a gaze of pure wonder. His cock stood, rock hard against his belly; Luke felt a sense of pride that even at a time like this, his boy would not spill without his man’s command.

“You may not spill,” he said roughly. “You’ll take me three more times before you take your own pleasure.”

Sebastian nodded, mutely, completely obedient to Luke’s will. Luke made good on his word. His cock, which had been dormant for weeks, now made up for lost time. Within a short while, far shorter than it had any right to be, it was hard again. This time he fucked his boy’s mouth, holding Sebastian down by the hair as he took him. He slid his cock between those finely chiselled lips and rode him rough and long, each thrust driving deep, until it hit the back of his boy’s throat. He drew back and came on Sebastian’s face.

Next, he threw Sebastian onto his front, held him down, and licked the marks on his back, making Sebastian shiver. Then he fucked his hole again, longer and slower this time, savouring the way his boy accepted him deep into his body, and the fine sensation of his balls slapping his boy’s plump arse. He spilled within him and then rested there awhile, covering Sebastian’s body with his own. He threaded his fingers between Sebastian’s fingers, holding him down beneath him, and kissed the back of his boy’s neck, then bit him, marking him.

He rested there a long time, without speaking. Sebastian was soft and compliant beneath him. He could feel the warm heat of Sebastian’s lashed skin against his belly and before long he was hard again. He drew Sebastian up onto all fours and fucked him once more, taking his time, enjoying the sight of his naked boy in front of him, offering himself up to his man’s pleasure. He drew out before completion and spilled out onto Sebastian’s bare arse.

Then he flipped Sebastian over, took his cock whole in his mouth, and sucked it hard. It didn’t take long before Sebastian spilled. Luke held his thighs and swallowed down every drop of him.

Luke had never felt so powerful. His belly glowed with warmth, and he knew Sebastian felt it too. Luke lay back down on the bed and took his boy in his arms.

“My apologies,” he said, in a low, gruff voice. “You deserve better than the sorry excuse for a man you’ve had these past few weeks. You saved my crew, and I repaid you poorly, my love.”

“I was adrift,” Sebastian whispered. “Depleted. I needed…”

“This. Me. You needed me to be… me.” Luke couldn’t claim to understand it; he just knew it to be true.

His cock was hard again which was surely an impossibility, yet it was so. He slid it between Sebastian’s arse cheeks and parked it deep in his boy’s hole. Then, holding him tight in his arms, they both fell fast asleep.

When Luke awoke it was morning, and he felt better than he had in weeks. Months. Maybe ever. He stretched and felt his cock slide out from his boy’s arse. He grinned and lifted the sheet… then stopped, frowning. Sebastian was smiling up at him, and he looked as sweet, young, and beautiful as he had the day Luke had fished him from the water. Gone were the worry lines and sunken eyes. Gone the sullen stare and mulish mouth. He was Luke’s Sebastian once more, fair and true. Luke gently captured Sebastian’s mouth in a tender kiss.

“You are returned, my love,” he murmured.

“As are you.” Sebastian caressed the side of his face.

“I should tend to you as you once tended to me. Your back must be sore. I could fetch the unguent if you tell me which one?” Luke asked. His own back had ached less since Sebastian had tended his scars. They were still there, as ugly as ever, but they weighed less heavily on the flesh beneath now, and gave him less trouble. Sebastian would heal up fine – six strokes would leave no lingering mark behind; Luke had been careful about that.

“It’s not as sore as it was. I’m fine,” Sebastian said, pulling him in for another kiss.

“How did it feel? You so longed to taste the cat’s harsh kiss; did she disappoint?” Luke asked.

“No. She was magnificent – as were you.” Sebastian’s eyes were full of a happy light. “I’d take her again if it could be as good as that.”

“I’ll use her on you any time you wish – just no more dancing on the yardarm!” Luke ordered firmly.

“No.” Sebastian had the grace to blush.

“Do you promise?” Luke demanded.

“I do,” Sebastian said solemnly.

“Well and good then!” Luke tickled him until he dissolved into a fit of giggles.

Much later, Luke watched his boy slide out of the bed to get dressed. The lash marks on his back were not as deep as Luke remembered. They made perfect pink stripes on the boy’s fair skin, but there was no bleeding, and a couple were even starting to fade.

“You do heal fast,” he murmured, a little surprised.

“I do. I always have.” Sebastian smiled at him. “It’s a good thing – it means I’m always ready for the next dark deed you wish to visit upon me!”

“Dark deeds! Pah! Come here, and I’ll make you pay for that,” Luke said, jumping out of bed and chasing his boy around the cabin.

They spent the next few weeks like newlyweds, luxuriating in each other’s bodies for hours every night. Yet, as the time passed, a shadow fell over Luke, for he knew it wouldn’t be long until the Christabel arrived back at Port Royal. It was like a foul humour, hanging over them, until finally their sorrowful last night was upon them.

Luke returned to their cabin to find that Sebastian had cooked him his favourite meal. The place was neat and tidy, his cutlass polished, and his spare boots clean. They ate the meal in silence. When at last he pushed his plate away, Luke turned to his boy, and spoke softly.

“I’ll not say goodbye to you tomorrow. It will hurt me too much. You’ll just leave as if going to the hold, or the cabin, and I’ll barely notice you go that way. So, do not expect me to take you in my arms and whisper sweet words to you, for it will not happen.”

“I understand,” Sebastian said quietly.

“Tonight, I’ll say my goodbyes, over there.” Luke gestured to the bed. “You’ll know me true tonight, as no-one else ever has. When you go, you’ll take me with you here.” He tapped Sebastian’s chest, over his heart. “Aye, the best of me and the worst too, for you’ve seen both.”

Sebastian took his hand and held it. His eyes sparkled wetly.

“You’ve been the best of men to me, like none I’ve ever known,” he said softly.

Luke did not trust himself to say anything else. He stood, still holding his boy’s hand, and pulled Sebastian to him. He held him close and kissed him sweetly, then drew him to the bed.

This was not a night for wild pleasures. Luke undressed Sebastian as if for the first time, taking his time and kissing every sweet inch of flesh he uncovered. Sebastian was soft and willing, moving every way Luke bade, his eyes full of a sad, liquid light.

Luke poured his heart into the love he made to Sebastian that night. He held his boy close and entered him slow, then moved within him gently, gazing at his love the entire time. Sebastian held Luke’s face in his hands and gazed back, as if trying to imprint the memory of him forever in his mind.

Luke took his time, for he wanted this moment to last. The gentle swaying of the ship rocked them, like a cradle, soothing them both. Time seemed to stand still, for suddenly it was nearly dawn, and Luke knew that a bare moment ago it had been dusk. He was still inside his boy, making love to him slowly, gently, their gazes still locked. How long had they been this way? Surely not all night? Luke captured Sebastian’s mouth in a long, tender kiss. If this boy had to leave, he’d leave with Luke’s love branded on his lips.

“Don’t you ever forget me,” Luke whispered, nuzzling Sebastian’s neck.

“How could that ever be?” Sebastian replied, his eyes glazed with tears.

“I’d keep us this way forever, if I could,” Luke said, not wanting to hasten their lovemaking to its inevitable conclusion for that would mean the end of it, for all time. He was right where he wanted to be, and he had no doubt Sebastian felt the same. “I love you,” Luke said, hoarsely, his voice aching with the truth of it. “I love you, and only you, and always will. There’ll never be a lad again who means as much to me as you, Sebastian.” Sebastian reached up and gently smoothed his hair from his face. “I’ll not ask you to make the same vow,” Luke said. “I may be a pirate, but you are a thief, my dear. You stole my heart, and you’ll never give it back. Your own heart is wild, and I fear I’ve not tamed it. Others might, but I damn them all for not one of them will love you much as me, or know your true spirit so well as I do.”

“You are right,” Sebastian said. “I don’t believe it’s possible for any other man to fit me so well, like hand to glove.”

“Aye, we do fit. For all your strange ways and my jealous temper – we fit.” Luke rocked inside his boy a little harder, to prove the point. Never had his body merged with that of a lad so well, to such great pleasure for them both. It was not possible he could find such a lad again. “Then let us part on good terms, and know that if you ever need me, I’ll always be yours,” Luke said.

He closed his eyes and moved faster now, his hand moving on Sebastian in rhythmic time to his thrusts. Soon – too soon – it was over. He spilled inside his boy for the last time, and a second later felt his boy spill over his hand.

He lay with his boy for a while after, kissing him gently.

“My life has always been thus,” he murmured. “I lost my Mam, and Tad, and my brothers, and sister to the pox when I was but eight years old.”

“I know,” Sebastian said, kissing him. “You told me when you were feverish with the pox.”

“Ah. I thought I might. I have never spoken of it to any but you. Then I lost my first captain, the kindest soul, to a Spanish pirate. I made the whoreson pay for it some years later, but a foul pox take any Spaniard who crosses my path now, for I bear a long grudge.”

“I’ve never doubted it,” Sebastian murmured, stroking his cheek gently.

“And then there was Adam, taken from me by death, too. I couldn’t fight death to keep any of them… and I cannot fight you to keep you, though I would if it were possible. Love always leaves, in the end. I’m used to it, but that doesn’t make it any the easier.”

“My family left me too.” Sebastian sighed. “When I was much the same age as you. What did you do after? Did you have any other family to take care of you?”

“None.” Luke wrapped his arm around his boy and held him close. “I was sent to the church, but they beat me so hard I ran away. I have no quarrel with God, but I’ve had no regard for his minions since then. They grew weary of not being able to break my spirit, and sent me to work for a farmer. He worked me like his poor, sad horses, until I could barely stand. I thought of my proud Tad and what he’d say to me, and I knew he’d tell me that I was no man’s slave, and to live my own life. So, I ran away again, to Cardiff, to seek my fortune at sea. A witch once foretold I’d sail through the stars, and I have! At night, up on deck, the stars feel so close I could touch them. I’ve had a good life, Sebastian, and I’ve loved my life, sadness and joys both. I took my life in my hands, and by God I’ve lived it! I could die tomorrow with no regrets.”

Sebastian’s eyes were glowing. “Yes! I love life, too. I love to feel truly alive – the thrill of it, the spark, the excitement… and none more so than when you take me to your bed, or over your knee.”

“Or when you’re dancing on the yardarm?” Luke grinned.

Sebastian giggled. “What can I say? It gives me that same wild flow of blood through my veins and makes my heart beat harder. That’s when I feel the most alive.”

“And what will you do when you leave? Find another who’ll sling you over his knee and take you hard and rough from behind?” Luke couldn’t keep the tone of jealousy from his voice.

“I don’t think any other could do that as well as you,” Sebastian told him.

“Has any other before?” Luke asked, hardly sure he could bear to know the answer.

“No,” Sebastian replied, and Luke knew he spoke true. “No, my love. Until you, I’d never met one who so clearly understood me and my strange needs and wants.”

“Good then,” Luke grunted. He’d always have that at least.

“A witch saw you sailing through the stars?” Sebastian smiled at him. “Come then, let us sail through them together, one last time.”

They left the bed, pulled on their clothes, and returned to the deck, hand in hand. Only the night watch crew were there, and they paid them little mind.

They went to the prow and stood by the figurehead of Christabel herself. She was painted with blonde hair and a red dress, and Luke saw how much she looked like his Mam. He’d never noticed it before.

There was never a more beautiful sight than the Caribbean Sea on a clear night, with the stars blazing overhead in a milky line, showing them the way. They had sat this way before, many times, and Luke always loved it. He put his arm around his beloved and held him close as they sailed through the stars one last time.

“What of you, Sebastian?” Luke asked. “After your family left – how did you live?”

“People were kind,” Sebastian said softly. “I was a child for a long time, stuck in that moment as I think can happen after a great shock or sadness – but now, I believe, I’m full grown.”

Luke laughed. “I know I call you ‘boy’, but you are definitely full grown!” he said. Sebastian giggled. Luke thought there was never a sound he would ever enjoy hearing more should he live to be a hundred years old.

As dawn glowed softly on the horizon, and the light broke over Kingston harbour, illuminating Port Royal in the distance, Luke kissed his boy’s neck and whispered in his ear.

“God speed, my love. Go safe and well.” Then he drew away and left, never once looking back for fear his heart would break.

Luke was true to his word, and made no time for farewells. He busied himself dropping anchor and telling his men their tasks and timetables. He had provisions to buy and people to see – in particular, he was looking forward to taking young Jamie Bellwether his share of their fine Castilian gold.

Sebastian did his rounds, saying goodbye to all the men. Then he retreated back to the cabin and emerged a little while later holding only his little purse of their spoils and the black leather bag he’d arrived with. He approached Luke, holding out the bag.

“Keep these pots of medicine,” he said. “For I can make more.”

“That’s a fine gift indeed,” Luke said.

“The herbs in these potions are good,” Sebastian said. Then he hesitated. “But often I wonder if the cure is rather in the belief of their healing power than in the truth of it.”

“You’re saying these precious medicines are worthless, after all?” Luke asked, in surprise. “Even after they cured us all of the pox?”

“Hmm.” The light caught Sebastian’s eyes, making them glow a little keener than usual. “Well… who knows?” he said with a shrug. “But even if the belief is the cure, it’s worth it!”

Luke took the bag, wondering at Sebastian’s strange words. If it had not been the medicines that cured them all of the pox, then what had it been? He’d seen the power of the pox first hand, as a child. It had wiped out all of Cwm Drysor, and some of the surrounding villages, too. Yet, not one man had died of it aboard the Christabel. What reason could there be than that these potions had cured it? Yet Sebastian seemed not to think it so.

“I would leave you with one other gift, though you won’t open it until I’m long gone,” Sebastian said. He stepped forward and pulled Luke into a warm hug. Luke had not wanted a goodbye, but Sebastian was, as usual, stronger than he looked. He held Luke fast in his arms until Luke finally submitted and relaxed against him. Sebastian ran his hands lightly over Luke’s back, caressing him. Luke closed his eyes and held onto his boy one last time. He had that sensation he’d had once before, of being bathed in golden light, and then it was gone. Sebastian drew back. He said not a word, just smiled, then turned and walked down the gangplank and was gone.

Luke did not stay to watch him disappear. There was work to be done – he could sink himself in rum later to drown his sorrow. He would not allow himself to be sunk in sadness now, though – his way was clear.

He gave Nicky an order, and then called his men on deck. Nicky disappeared into the hold and returned soon after, carrying a little bundle.

“Jim!” Luke called. One-eyed Jim stepped forward, warily. “Here are your belongings. You’ll not be returning to the Christabel while I’m her captain,” Luke said, throwing him the bundle.

Jim caught it with a growl of anger. “I’d not want to come back to serve under a sodomite such as you,” he hissed.

Luke gave an easy grin. “You’d drop your britches for me, if I asked. Your grievance isn’t my love of men, but that I have no fancy for you. Now go. There are boys aplenty in the taverns of Port Royal, if you can but get over your dislike for your own true nature.”

Jim turned beet red, and looked as if he’d like to take his fists to Luke. Luke stood fast, staring him down, and finally Jim’s temper cooled, as he acknowledged the truth of Luke’s words. He stomped off down the gangplank without another word.

Luke turned back to his men. “You have two weeks, in shifts, to enjoy the pleasures of this town. Do not be late to return, for I’ll not hold anchor for any one of you.”

Luke went about his business, keeping himself occupied in Port Royal. There was plenty to do – it was the long, lonely nights aboard the Christabel when she set sail that he feared more now that Sebastian was gone.

Two weeks later, the ship was set fair and ready to sail. It was a bright, sunny day, and the Christabel was in good shape following some minor repairs. Luke had overseen her provisioning, the hold was full, the men were back onboard… and he’d had a long talk with Jamie about all the fine Spanish ships he could expect to raid in the coming weeks.

The anchor was weighed, and he was about to give the order to pull up the gangplank when a shout went up from Nicky.

“Wait! Look!”

Luke turned to see a figure running towards the ship, pushing a cart full of bulging sacks. He frowned as the figure drew closer – it was a man, wearing a black cloak and fine new clothes, and… his heart skipped a beat… Sebastian!

Sebastian pushed the cart up the gangplank and onto the ship.

“Another last gift?” Luke asked, going towards him. “I thought never to see you again.”

“I have brought gifts, yes. Whether they are the last is up to you,” Sebastian retorted, a little breathless from his run. “These…” Sebastian opened one of the sacks. “Are oranges. It’s long been my belief that men fall sick on sea voyages for lack of this kind of fruit to eat.”

“Hmm.” Luke wasn’t sure he believed that, but the gift was kind all the same.

“Also…” Sebastian opened his fancy new cloak to reveal a tiny bundle of brown striped fur. “A kitten – it’s time, captain, and fewer rats means less pox, for sure.”

Luke’s heart melted instantly, as it always did when he saw a cat. He scooped the baby up and held her close, tickling her under the chin with his big fingers.

“We will call her Mog!” he announced.

“Wasn’t your last cat called Mog?” Sebastian frowned.

“All cats are called Mog!” Luke proclaimed.

“Well and good then,” Sebastian said, rolling his eyes a little.

Mog gazed up at Luke from solemn yellow eyes and then bumped her little head against his hand and began to purr.

“She’s taken to you already,” Sebastian observed.

“Cats like me,” Luke said, without false pride. They really did. “So, you brought me someone warm to cuddle at night with you gone. It’s a kind thought, though not the same.”

“On that subject… could we go to your cabin and talk? If you have time before you sail?” Sebastian asked.

“I always have time for you.” Luke led the way to his cabin, holding Mog gently against his chest. He set her to the floor when they arrived, and the little miss began doing what kittens do best – making mischief with all his belongings.

“What do you want of me, Sebastian?” Luke asked, when they were alone.

“I wanted to tell you that I’m a fool, first,” Sebastian said.

“Aye, I’m sure that’s true!” Luke grinned.

“For saying goodbye to a man such as you, when I’ll never find such a one again. I’d stay, if you’ll have me?”

Luke felt a giddy wave of joy, but Sebastian’s face was serious, so he knew there was more to be talked of first. “What of your uncle?” Luke asked.

“There is no uncle,” Sebastian replied. “But I think you knew that well enough already.”

“I did.” Luke inclined his head.

Sebastian took off his cloak, and Luke gave an appreciative whistle, for he looked mighty fine in his brand new clothes. A pair of black britches, a white cotton shirt, a fancy blue waistcoat to match the colour of his eyes, a shiny leather belt, and polished black boots on his feet.

“I see you took my lessons to heart.” Luke grinned. “For a good looking boy, you had little idea how to show yourself to best effect until I showed you the way.”

“For a pirate, you have far too much liking for clothes,” Sebastian retorted. Luke laughed.

Sebastian sat down at the table and gestured to Luke to do the same. Then he spoke.

“I’m a traveller, Luke,” he said. Luke found he missed being called ‘captain’ or ‘sir’ but also that it was a new kind of joy to hear his own true name on Sebastian’s lips. “Ever since my family left, all I’ve known is travel. I go from place to place, making friends and meeting new lovers along the way. I thought you were that, nothing more – a new lover to enjoy and part from with no hard feelings, so I could move on to fresh adventures.”

“Did I mean so little to you?” Luke murmured, wounded.

“No! That’s just it!” Sebastian said fiercely. “I wasn’t expecting to find love – just some fun to fill the time. I didn’t expect you to be…well, you.” He grinned. “So fine a man, so full of the love of life and adventure – and so good with his hands and lips upon my body, bringing me more joy than any man I’ve known. You made me feel alive, and for a long time I’ve not felt that,” he said sadly. “I’d grown jaded with the world.”

“You’re too young for that, lad!” Luke scolded.

“But I’ve been travelling since I was a little child,” Sebastian said quietly. “So, I feel weary at times, and old. You brought me back to myself, and made me want to meet each new day with joy again.”

“I’m glad.”

“If I held back from telling you so, it was only because…” Sebastian looked down, biting on his lip.

“Love?” Luke tipped his chin to gaze on him.

“Because I was afraid of losing you, as I lost my family. You know that fear, because you’ve lost so many, too. I took to moving on before I fell in love, so as not to suffer the pain of another loss – as if by being in charge of the leaving I could lessen the loss. It was always so before… but then I met you. I stood on the dock yesterday, out of sight, and watched you at work on the deck. My heart beat so loudly I thought you might hear it. I knew then, I’d be a fool to let you go.”

“I’ll never leave you, as you know, but a pirate’s life is not a long one,” Luke said with a shrug. “What then for you, love? Could you stand another loss? Or must you always run away?”

“That’s just it. I know I should go, but I want to stay. For what is the point of living if there is no loving? I will stand the loss, when it one day comes, for I cannot stand the loss now, knowing it is all of my own making, and that we could have many good years together were it not for my foolish ways.”

“Then you’ll stay – for good?” Luke pressed his hand over Sebastian’s.

“I will, if you’ll have me. But first you must hear another part of my story, as it may make you change your mind about keeping me here,” Sebastian warned.

“I don’t believe anything could, but by all means tell.”

Sebastian nodded. Beside them, on the floor, Mog made a squeaky mewling sound. Luke scooped her up and nestled her against his chest.

“I’ve always had an interest in medicine – the right herbs to treat the right ailments and so on. I’ve studied it hard, and believe I have some talent in that area,” Sebastian began.

Luke nodded – the lad had saved them from the pox, so that was hard to argue with. “I thought you might be a surgeon from some Navy ship,” Luke said. “Maybe that you were lying about your age for some reason of your own, for you look mighty young to be a surgeon.”

“Well, a good guess for sure, but wrong.” Sebastian grinned. “I have had some training as a surgeon – that much you guessed true – but I was not on a Navy ship before you found me. I’d paid for passage on the Marie-Louise; I wanted to go to England, as I had a fancy to visit there again. The captain of that ship was a superstitious soul, and when I healed some of his men of their ailments, he grew suspicious. He believed too much in the tales of witches and the like, and thought my medicines tainted by evil. I helped a man who lost an arm when he fell from the rigging; I healed another of some common scurvy; and when a fever swept the crew, I healed them too. T’was not as bad as the pox on the Christabel, but he called foul deed on me and decided I was in league with the devil, whatever that means.” Sebastian gave a crooked grin. “He said I brought ill luck to his ship, and bade me be gone. He strapped my medicines to my back, for he said he’d have no dark witch magic on his ship, and he threw me overboard.”

“The lousy scum!” Luke exclaimed. “He took your money and your services and used you ill.” Mog stirred at the vehemence of his tone and took herself off over the table to explore some more.

“So, you see, my dear, I’m not flotsam, but jetsam after all.” Sebastian smiled.

“Indeed. Thrown overboard and not shipwrecked. How did you survive without the piece of hull you said protected you?” Luke demanded.

“I used the leather bag to float on – it was actually a good thing they threw it in with me!”

“So, you’re not a witch?” Luke asked, gazing at him earnestly.

“Of course I’m not a witch!” Sebastian chuckled. “Just a man with a little learning and a wish to heal and help where he can.” He sat back, gazing at Luke. “You’d not throw me overboard for such superstition, I’d hope?”

“Of course not.” Luke took his hand. “You cured me and my men of the pox – whatever you are, you’re good luck, not bad.”

“So, will you have me?” Sebastian asked.

“You need to ask? Where else will I find a boy who likes to play the games we play together, that bring us both such joy?” Luke grinned. “But do you really mean to stay, Sebastian? Forever?”

“For as long as we are both living.” Sebastian smiled.

“Do you promise?” Luke hated that side of himself that needed to ask, but he couldn’t stop himself all the same.

“I promise. ‘Til death do us part,” Sebastian said, squeezing Luke’s hand.

“Are we married then, my love?” Luke grinned.

“Why not? I’ll have you, if you’ll have me!”

“In a heartbeat.” Luke pulled him close, sat the lad upon his knee, and kissed him fiercely on the lips.

“I have one more gift for you,” Sebastian said, when at last Luke released him. He reached into the bag he’d placed upon the table, and drew out a package. He handed it to Luke. Luke stripped away the cloth to reveal… an exquisite black leather belt, thick, wide and finely tooled, with a sparkling bronze buckle. “I feared that if you let me stay, you might wear out your old one on my arse,” Sebastian said, with a grin. “So, it seemed only fair to bring you a new one!”

Luke laughed. He folded the belt over and slapped it firmly against the palm of his hand. It was a sturdy strip of leather and made a hard slap and an even harder sting. “T’will hurt,” he warned.

“Oh, I do hope so,” Sebastian purred.

Luke set Sebastian on the floor and removed his old belt. Sebastian took the new belt and fastened it around Luke’s waist. “With this ring, I thee wed,” he said, as he buckled it in place.

“It’s a strange looking wedding ring, but then we are a strange pair, are we not, my matelot?” Luke asked, drawing Sebastian in close to hold him tight.

“The strangest, my captain.” Sebastian smiled.

“You know, now we are wed, you may call me Luke. I like how my name sounds on your lips,” Luke told him.

“Luke then.” Sebastian kissed him. “Though, to me, you’ll always be my captain.”

“And you my best boy.” Luke lifted Sebastian and carried him to the bed. He then proceeded to make it clear, in no uncertain terms, that Sebastian now belonged to him. Sebastian seemed entirely happy to have the matter made clear, and even happier when Luke tried out the new belt on his bum.

Luke woke in the night to find his best boy beneath one arm, and a tiny purring kitten beneath the other. He did not think it was possible for a man to be happier.

He slid out of the bed to piss in the pot, and looked back over his shoulder to smile at his sleeping boy in the lanternlight. Then he frowned as he caught sight of his own back in the mirror. He’d forgotten about the scars on his back these past few weeks as they’d hurt him so little… but now he could see no trace of them. It must be a trick of the light – no matter how good Sebastian’s unguents were, Luke knew of no medicine that could take away scars so deep. He held up the lantern and looked in the mirror again… only to find his back as smooth and unblemished as it had not been since he was fourteen years old.

When Sebastian left, he’d said he’d grant Luke a gift. At that time, his matelot hadn’t intended to return. He’d hugged Luke close and touched his hands to his back. Was it possible…? Surely not… and yet, what other explanation could there be? Sebastian had left his medicines behind when he thought to leave, as if their only worth lay in what men believed of them, rather than any power they actually had. Luke had a sudden strange fancy that the healing lay in Sebastian’s hands and not any of those pots of herbs and unguents. Maybe he used them only as a kind of pantomime, to disguise the truth, for fear he’d be burned at the stake otherwise. If so, it had not worked with the captain of the Marie-Louise. Yet if the medicines were mere show, how did the healing work? Luke remembered a peasant woman back in Cwm Drysor, who was said to have healing hands. T’was a powerful gift indeed, if so, but where did such a gift come from? Was it witchcraft? Sebastian had laughed at such a notion and sworn true that he was no witch. Then what was he?

Luke gazed down on his sleeping lad. Did it matter? He loved Sebastian, whatever he was. What good would come of asking? If Sebastian had anything to tell him, then no doubt it would come out in time. If not, then Luke was content with what he had. Indeed, no man could be more so.

Luke slipped back into the bed and pulled Sebastian close once more, so the lad’s chin was resting on his shoulder. Mog climbed up his arm and settled on his chest. Luke stroked her soft fur and lay there, listening to her rumbling purr. Sebastian sighed and murmured something in his sleep. Luke pressed a kiss to his hair and held him tight.

His happiness was complete. For the first time since he was eight years old, he had a family again.

The End

It’s lovely to be posting fiction again! I hope you enjoyed A Willing Lad. I’d love to hear from you if you did! (you can leave a comment below)

More From Xanthe: I’ve spent the past year working on two novels in an entirely separate original character trilogy that I hope to publish some time later this year. I’ve been editing and polishing them for the past twelve months. They are now being professionally edited – and I hope to write the third novel in the trilogy shortly.

It’s not been an easy time for me. I lost my beloved Mum to Covid in April last year, and Dad has just been in hospital for a few weeks with severe pneumonia; he’s now staying with me while he recuperates. It’s been a real tonic for me to return to writing and editing. I’ve very much missed posting my particular brand of bonkers stories, and I’ve missed interacting with all you lovely people about them! I hope this is the start of a return to being Xanthe again!

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