No one had seemed to notice his presence, and his absence too went unremarked as he retreated once more to his cabin.
He sat slumped on the narrow bed, staring at the floor, seeing nothing. Could the flogging have been so bad? Or had Keller found him in the night and finished the job?
Two days before, Doyle would never have believed the captain capable of such cruelties. Now he had no doubt that the man would kill, and without pity or mercy.
It was his fault, Doyle realised. Somehow at tea he had given away the crew's plans, and Keller had murdered Bodie in vengeance. Doyle curled himself onto the bed, haunted by an ache deeper and more horrible than seasickness. Bodie had promised that the nausea would pass, and it had.
But would this?
He must have slept at some point in the night, for he woke to find himself tangled in the blanket, drenched in the cold sweat of terror, with Bodie's bone-handled dirk clutched in his fist. The sight of the weapon in his hand brought the memory of the man who had given it to him, and, chilled to the core, he shoved the dagger back beneath the mattress.
He slept no more that night. He spent the long midwatch in thought, barely hearing the bells that marked the passage of time. He could not make amends, that much was certain. How could a man atone for such a thing as this? But he must do something. He had to acknowledge the role that he had played in Bodie's death.
By morning, he still had no idea how to begin. Nevertheless, he left his cabin, crossed the deck without comment, and knocked at the door of the forecastle.
The voices within fell silent abruptly, and after a moment Murphy flung open the door. "What do you want, Mr Doyle?" he asked, the cold formality a thin veneer over his disgust.
"I wanted to--" Apologise? How did one apologise for spoiling a mutiny and getting two crew members murdered?
He was suddenly aware that there were three other sailors watching him from their hammocks.
He took a breath and rushed on. "I am sorry for what happened. I swear, I never spoke to Keller about your plans."
"Then how did he discover them?"
"I do not know."
Murphy sneered at him. "If you've nothing more to say, then go. Go to the captain--perhaps he will be more forgiving."
"I'll have nothing to do with him," Doyle said, his voice thick with loathing. "He murdered the stowaway, and Bodie--"
"Aye, and Bodie too."
"Let me take his place," Doyle said, the sound of his own voice surprising him.
Murphy blinked. "What?"
"Let me make amends. I haven't Bodie's experience, but I can learn."
"Wait here." Murphy closed the door, and Doyle could her muttered voices. He wondered if Murphy would deign to return at all, but at last the door opened again.
Murphy's voice was as cold as his eyes. "A sailor who can't do the work is worse than sailing short-handed. You'll have to prove yourself capable--if you can climb to the royal yard, we'll let you stay on as a sailor."
"Be ready at three bells," Murphy said, and then he closed the forecastle door in Doyle's face.
Two bells of the watch had already been rung, which left him with less than half an hour to prepare himself. He returned to his cabin, his eyes studiously averted from the mainmast. If he looked up to the top of it now, he might well shut his cabin door and let the third bell pass unremarked.
In his cabin, he reached beneath the bunk and found the shirt and trousers that Bodie had given him when they'd set out. He had scorned the idea, then, of dressing like these rough men, but now he stripped off his clothing without hesitation and donned the garb of a sailor.
The clothes were surprisingly comfortable, and he thought he might perhaps become accustomed to wearing them, in time. Doyle remembered the last time he had tried to climb the rigging, how his slick-soled boots had tangled in the lines, and how Bodie had caught--
Right. There was no question of climbing in the boots, so he left them in his cabin. He strode out onto the deck, barefoot, just as three bells struck.
The entire crew, with the exception of captain and first mate, was gathered at the base of the mainmast, waiting for him. His step faltered, but he did not drop his head as he approached the mast.
"The agreement is this," Murphy said when he reached the gathered men. "Mr Doyle wishes to stand in Bodie's place as a sailor. If he proves himself able to climb the mainmast, all the way to the royal yard, and lives, then he will move to the forecastle and we'll teach him all he needs to know. If not..."
"If not, you'll have no further need to concern yourselves with me," Doyle said flatly.
Murphy inclined his head in acknowledgement. "When you're ready."
Doyle turned to the mast and took a deep breath. He was hardly fond of heights at the best of times, and climbing a rope ladder on a pitching brig was not exactly an optimal situation.
He looked up, and abruptly wished that he had been less curious when he'd first come aboard. Perhaps then he wouldn't know that the mainmast rose nearly 120 feet from the deck--taller than the dome of St. Paul's in London. Furthermore, a church spire did not pitch and yaw as one attempted to climb it.
But he refused to turn aside, and so he gripped the ropes and began to climb.
The first ten feet were no struggle, save that he could not forget climbing the lines before, with Bodie waiting below to catch him. Yet as he progressed in his climb, the rises and falls of the ship seemed to become exaggerated, as though he were standing on the back of a rearing stallion.
He made the mistake of looking down only once. Thenceforth he looked only as far as the next rope, and it served him well through the next several yards.
At the spar above the upper-main topsail, he paused, his hands aching from his tight grip on the ropes, and he found himself lacking the will to take the next step. What was he hoping to gain by this? It would not bring Bodie back--nothing could do that. This whole affair was madness.
He had nearly decided to start climbing down again when a voice from the deck below called out to him.
"Come on, lad! Not much farther now!" Jax shouted.
Jax wanted him to succeed in this?
"Nearly there, Doyle!" That sounded like McKay.
The support of his would-be crewmates moved him, and he reached up to the next rope, and the next, until finally there were no more ropes, and he laid a hand on the sun-warmed wood of the royal yard.
The sea stretched to infinity around him, the light wind tangling his hair as he scanned the empty horizon. Filled with a sudden triumph, Doyle laughed aloud.
Then he began the long climb down. He had been so concerned with reaching the top of the mast that he'd scarcely spared a thought for this half of the journey. Now he could no longer avoid looking down, seeking the next rope with his foot, and the distance between himself and the deck was dizzying.
It was precisely his luck that a fresh breeze sprang up then, the sails snapping and filling around him. The rigging swayed as the ship's speed increased, and Doyle clung desperately to the ratlines. Gradually he convinced himself to keep going, reminding himself that each step brought him closer to the deck, closer to winning his place among the crew.
Closer to a life in which he'd have to make this very climb ten or more times a day.
The sound of the fourth bell was fading when Doyle dropped back to the deck, his legs shaking beneath him, and then the bell was drowned in a tide of cheers from the crew. He dropped gracelessly to one knee, still trying to catch his breath as his new crewmates congratulated him.
When he rose to his feet he saw Captain Keller standing before him.
"Have you taken leave of your senses?" The wound across Keller's cheek was dark and ugly.
"I don't believe so, Captain."
"What do you think you are doing?"
"I've decided to join the crew," he said firmly.
"After you mur--" Doyle reined in his temper. "Since Mr Bodie is no longer capable of carrying out his duties on this ship or this earth, I've chosen to take his place."
Keller rounded on the rest of the crew. "And you lot, you accept this madness? You will have him as one of your own?"
"Aye," Murphy said firmly, and the rest of the crew echoed him.
"Then so be it, Doyle," Keller said coldly, and it was now very clear that he was speaking to an inferior. "Your quarters will be in the forecastle with the others." Keller swung round and stalked back to his cabin without another word.
As soon as the door closed behind him, the sailors raised the cheer again.
That night, Doyle slept in a hammock in the forecastle. He took nothing from his old cabin, from his old life.
There was nothing he felt he needed.
He had not expected sailing to be easy work, and each day proved that he was more right than he could have guessed. His hands blistered and roughened, his skin turned pink and then brown in the sun, and though he ached when he climbed into his hammock, he was surprised at how good it felt. It was honest work, work that would, with luck, bring them into port safe and on schedule.
He learned to reef a sail, to scour the deck, to steer a course by sunlight and starlight. And he climbed the royal yard so often, in sun and shade and storm, that it soon ceased to strike any fear into him at all.
The cursing came more naturally to him than most of the other aspects of a sailor's life. Though he lacked Murphy's creativity or Matheson's element of surprise, he felt he made a decent account of himself, and after the third or fourth time nobody even laughed.
Just over a week after he joined the crew, he came off-watch to find Murphy and Jax up against the wall in the forecastle, pressed together with their trousers around their knees. Jax only glanced over at him, gave Doyle a wink, and returned his attention to Murphy. Doyle scooped up his washing and retreated to the deck without a word.
Hadn't Bodie said, on the first night of the voyage, that the laws of England meant nothing on board a ship? So an act which might end in hanging on land could be carried out without fear on the sea. His brow furrowed as he scrubbed. It hardly seemed fair that his inclinations might not be unwelcome here, now that the only man he might have wanted was gone.
That night, Doyle picked up the copy of Endymion that still lay in the forecastle, surprised that it had not gone down with Bodie in his hammock. It was worn as though it had been read a dozen times, the gold-stamped title all but rubbed off the spine. Bodie must have liked it very much.
Without really knowing why, Doyle crawled into his hammock with the book in hand, and proceeded to read until the lowering night and his own exhaustion sent him to sleep.
He repeated the ritual at every off-watch until he had finished the poem. He still found it odd that a sailor's favourite poem would be a hymn to dry land. He wondered what kept Bodie at sea, what had made him choose this life.
And he would never know the answer. For the first time since Bodie's death, Doyle felt tears pricking at his eyes. He laid the book aside and turned over, hoping that none of the others had noticed.
"He cared for you, you know."
Doyle winced, caught out, and dashed at his eyes before sitting up to look at Jax. "Did he?"
He nodded. "He vowed bloody murder on anyone who harmed a hair on your head, even during the mutiny."
Bodie had promised that he wouldn't be harmed, but to hear it from another, after everything...
"I wish--" Doyle's voice failed; he shook his head.
"Aye, so do we all," Jax said.
Doyle closed his eyes. "I'm sorry. I never meant--I never meant anyone to be hurt. If Keller hadn't found out your plans, Bodie would still be here."
Jax shook his head. "No, it doesn't matter. We had Keller surrounded, and none of us had the guts to shoot. We'd have failed even if he hadn't held you hostage."
"But he chose Bodie because of me."
Jax gave him a teasing shove, setting his hammock swinging. "Are you saying you'd rather it had been one of us?"
"No, that isn't--"
"Listen." Jax leaned out of his hammock, speaking in a low voice. "You didn't kill Bodie."
"I may as well have."
"No, Ray, listen to me. Bodie didn't--"
"Jax." Murphy's voice was sharp. "Leave it."
He glanced over at Murphy and sighed. "Yeah, all right." He squeezed Doyle's shoulder briefly. "It still wasn't your fault."
Murphy glanced from Jax to the door, and they stepped out of the forecastle together. Doyle assumed that whatever they'd gone to do was none of his business, and he settled back in his hammock to rest.
But he could hear the low conversation in the passage, voices just sharp enough to carry.
"Come on, Murph, the lad's heartbroken!"
"I know, and I'm sorry for it. But it doesn't change anything."
"What would it hurt now? You can't think he'd go running to Keller. He's more than proven himself."
"He has, but Keller would notice the change soon enough. Just...wait till we reach port, eh? It won't matter then."
"Aye, all right," Jax said, and the voices faded away again. Doyle lay in the hammock wondering what the argument had been about, and how it could have concerned him.
He fell asleep, no closer to puzzling the matter out than he was when he began.
As he grew accustomed to sailing, Doyle began to notice oddnesses in the captain's behaviour towards him. There might be any number of reasons for Keller to treat him with disdain, but the strangeness grew until Doyle decided to share his qualms with the rest of the crew at supper.
"Keller never speaks to me," he said.
"Aye, and we should all be so lucky," McKay drawled.
"No, it's strange. To any of you, he gives the orders himself--but when he has an order for me, he tells Anson, and makes Anson tell me."
"Don't want to sully himself by speaking to you, maybe," Murphy suggested.
"But he watches me, all the time. It makes my skin crawl."
"Of course he watches you," Jax said. "He's waiting for you to make a mistake."
"And then what will happen?"
"Then he'll threaten to punish you for it--have you whipped, or keelhauled, or sent down to the brig. Probably whipped, because of what happened to Bodie. Likely he thinks you'll give up sailing and retreat to your old cabin in the face of such a threat."
"Then his thinking is wrong," Doyle snapped.
"Aye, we know that."
Doyle took a long swallow of tea. "Do you think he'd carry through with it? If I didn't back down?"
"Who knows?" Jax said, shrugging. "Best idea is to keep doing as you are, and never let it come to that."
Doyle had to agree that it was sound advice, but he went back to his watch with a prickle at the back of his neck that could only mean that Keller was watching him again.
Midway through the watch, a brilliant red bird swooped down to settle atop the royal yard, squawking a harsh cry over the wind. Doyle smiled, for he had never seen its like. "That bird--does it mean we're near land?"
Matheson looked up at it, frowned, and shook his head. "Bird's from the Caribbean--nearly a thousand miles off."
"The Caribbean? Then how on earth did it get here?"
"Storm-driven," Matheson said. It was perhaps the longest conversation Doyle had ever heard Matheson hold. "There's a hurricane to the south of us."
Doyle had heard of such storms from the other sailors, and had never heard it spoken of with less than awe or dread. He had no desire to encounter one now. "Will we have to sail around it?"
"No telling," Matheson said. "Our course is up to the captain."
Doyle returned to the forecastle when the watches changed, less than reassured.
McKay and King were grumbling in low, tense tones when Doyle walked in. He paused. "Is something wrong?"
"Probably," King muttered.
McKay expanded upon King's dark comment. "You've heard about the hurricane? Keller wants to put us on the edge of it, to catch the winds."
"That seems--unwise," Doyle said.
McKay spat on the floor. "It's more than unwise, it's bloody madness. Oh, if we catch the winds aright, we'll come to port days before we're set to. But if we catch them wrong..."
He grinned. "Then we won't be coming to port at all, will we?"
By the next afternoon, even Doyle's untrained eye could see that the clouds massing to the south of them were not typical stormclouds. The whole mass of them seemed to have a curvature, and every hour brought the ship nearer the edge.
At the change of the watch, Murphy slipped into the forecastle and held up a hand for silence. "He means to do it," he said tensely. "I heard him arguing with Anson on deck. He means to sail us along the edge of the hurricane, so you'd best rest on your off-watch, as much as you can, because when we sail into that storm we'll need all hands."
There was a peculiar emphasis to his voice, and Murphy glanced at Jax as he spoke. Jax nodded, almost imperceptibly. Doyle wondered what had passed between them, but, reflecting on the nature of their relationship, he doubted it was any of his business.
Despite Murphy's warning, Doyle found that sleep was a long time in coming.
Midway through the night watch, the ship's bell rang sharply. Doyle was nearly pitched out of his hammock as he tried to rise. He threw on a shirt and stumbled up to the deck against a vicious wind that drove icy rain into his face. Waves crashed over the rail and flooded the deck with salt water, each one threatening to drag the crew overboard.
"All hands aloft!" Anson cried, standing at the bell. "All hands aloft!"
Aloft? In this wind? But Doyle looked up and saw why. The sails were snapping to and fro in the buffeting winds, out of control. A straining sail could break its mast in two, and while they had spare sails, a broken mast couldn't be repaired until they made port. Two broken masts, and they'd be all but adrift.
He started for the mainmast and was intercepted by the captain. "Doyle!" he shouted, driven by the desperation of the storm to address him directly. "Cut the main topsail free! Have you a knife?"
He'd rolled out of his hammock without stopping to fetch one. "No, sir."
Keller reached into a pocket, then hesitated, as though realizing for the first time to whom he was speaking. Then the sail cracked again, with a noise like a whip, and Keller handed him a splicing knife.
Doyle pocketed the knife and clambered up into the rigging. The rain lashed at his skin, the wind threatening to toss him from the ropes at any moment, but he gritted his teeth and kept climbing.
The topsail was snapping in the wind, first full and bowed, and then lank and clinging to the mast. Doyle timed his cuts, waiting for the sail to fill and pull the ropes taut. In such a state, a mere flick of the wrist would be enough to cut through the ropes. As he cut the last line, the heavy canvas sail went spinning out into the darkness of the sea.
The next hours were a blur of waves and wind and rain, until Doyle scarcely remembered what it was like to be warm or dry. Most of the sails had been cut loose, and there seemed little else to be done except cling to the ratlines and pray that the ship would not sink.
Gradually the rain slackened, and the wind ceased altogether. Morning sun glimmered through a gap in the clouds. "We're through," Doyle said, a grin lighting his face.
Murphy shook his head. "No, lad. It's the eye of the storm. In an hour, maybe less, we'll be sailing through it again--and the winds will be blowing us the other way."
Doyle's heart sank. "Then we haven't managed to catch the edge of the storm properly?"
"Not at all. We've sailed right through the heart of her, and we'll be lucky to come out the other side alive and afloat."
The crew set to clearing the deck, casting the fallen sails over the side and lashing down whatever had come loose in the first part of the storm.
They had barely made a start when, true to Murphy's word, the sky darkened once more, the wind roughened, and the storm began anew. There was little left to be done in the rigging, as few sails remained to be cut, but Doyle was sent aloft once more to cut the tangled fore-topgallant sail from its mast.
The sail came loose with little effort, but before Doyle could free it entirely a gust of wind caught the sodden canvas and flung it against him, knocking his hands from the rigging. He reached out to grab the ropes again, but missed his grip, and found himself dangling upside down, his legs caught among the ratlines.
If he moved, the odds were he would fall. But he could hardly hang there like a bat at roost until they had passed through the storm. He gathered his courage and swung himself up, reaching desperately for the ropes as his legs slipped free of the tangled ratlines. A hand flashed down out of the storm to catch his, pulling him upright again.
A burst of lightning illuminated blue eyes in a pale face, dark hair dripping with rain.
"Bodie?" he gasped, but the wind of the storm snatched the word away and hurled it out to sea. He let go of Bodie's hand long enough to catch hold of the rigging again, and when he looked up Bodie was nowhere to be found.
If he had lost his mind, he could worry about that later. He made his way down towards the pitching deck, careful of the rain-slick ropes. He was scarcely fifteen feet up when there came a great cracking sound, as though the earth itself were splitting in two. The taut ratlines buckled, and Doyle tumbled down to the deck and to darkness.
He woke, or thought he did, to more darkness. Somewhere, far away, someone was humming, the bawdy chantey that he had once heard Bodie sing.
It hurt to move, but he turned his head anyway, just enough to see that Bodie was sitting by his bed. Did that mean that he was dead now, too? He hadn't thought that being dead would hurt so much.
Bodie caught the small movement and looked down. He smiled, just a little, and laid a hand on Doyle's shoulder. He felt real enough, his palm warm even through the rough canvas of Doyle's shirt.
If this was death or delirium, Doyle thought, then it wasn't so bad. He let his eyes fall closed, and Bodie's humming lulled him back to sleep.
When he woke again, it was Murphy sitting beside him, and Doyle felt unaccountably disappointed. What was he going to say? Pardon me, have you seen my hallucination of your dead crewmate? I'm sure he was here just a moment ago...
"Murph--" he began, but his voice cracked and died in his throat.
Murphy jumped at the sound. "Welcome back to the land of the living," he said. "How do you feel?"
"Terrible," he admitted in a whisper.
"You're lucky you're still breathing air, lad."
He didn't feel lucky, though. His head throbbed, and his whole body felt sluggish and heavy. He struggled to make sense of his memories.
He frowned. "I dreamed..."
"Laudanum will do that to a man," Murphy said lightly.
"I dreamed that Bodie was here."
"Did you?" Murphy seemed neither surprised nor concerned. He turned aside and poured a cup of tea. He lifted Doyle's head with one hand and held the cup to his lips. Doyle might have been embarrassed by the solicitude had it not been so clearly necessary.
"Sleep," Murphy said when the cup was empty.
"No, I've done enough sleeping. My watch--"
"You'll not be much help to the watch if you cannot even stand. We can get by without you until you're well again. Now sleep."
Despite himself, Doyle found his eyes closing. Wake me for the next watch, he tried to say, but he was asleep before his mouth could form the words.
He woke to the sound of four bells, and he saw a faint light from the porthole. It might be dawn or late afternoon; he did not even know the day. He was lying in his old cabin, and the chair that had been set by his bedside was empty. He was alone.
No sooner had the thought crossed his mind than the door opened, revealing Murphy in the hall. "How are you feeling?"
"Better," he said, "at least a bit. Murphy, how long have I been here? I don't remember..."
"Later," he said gently. "There's someone to see you, and he won't wait."
Doyle eyed him suspiciously. "It is not Keller, is it?"
"No. A more pleasant guest, I promise. But...you must stay quiet. You are not recovered from your fall, yet, and...well, it would be best if the captain did not hear you. Do you understand?"
"Of course," Doyle said uncertainly.
Murphy slipped out of the cabin and beckoned to someone in the corridor. A shadow slipped away from the stairwell and moved forward.
Bodie stood in the cabin's doorway.
Bodie took the lantern from Murphy and stepped inside, closing the door swiftly behind him. He looked pale, almost drawn in the half-light of the cabin, but for a dead man he seemed remarkably well.
There were a thousand things Doyle might have said, but in the end all he managed was, "You died."
"Not quite. And neither did you, although you had us all a bit worried for a while."
"I saw them send your hammock over the side."
Bodie sighed and settled into the chair that Murphy had left behind, hanging the lantern over a hook on the wall. "Stuffed with sailcloth and weighted with ballast. The crew decided it would be better if Keller thought I had died, and that meant you had to believe the same. I'm sorry."
"You're sorry? When it was my fault that you--"
"Settle down," Bodie said sharply, pressing Doyle back onto the bed as he tried to rise.
"It was my fault--it must have been. He was hinting, talking about the Bounty mutiny, bragging that his ship was proof against such things. I should have refused his summons, pled illness or sunstroke, anything to keep away from him--" He broke off. Bodie was smiling at him, laughing at his rambling apology.
"Are you quite finished?" Bodie asked wryly.
"How can you laugh about it?"
"If I am not dead, how can my death be your fault?"
Doyle had to smile. The expression raised a sharp jolt of pain from the side of his face, and he swore. He lifted a hand to trace the line of his own cheekbone, carefully, and found an unevenness that had not been there before.
"I tried to catch you," Bodie said guiltily. "But the mast broke, and--"
"I remember that much."
"You fell. The lads brought you down below, but you--you didn't stir for two days. We didn't know if you'd ever wake." Bodie's voice was low and tense.
"How long has it been?"
"Going on four days now. We're becalmed. I know what Keller was trying to do, pushing us through that damned hurricane, but it was bloody foolish, and it hasn't helped us any."
"I tried to ask Murphy how we made it through, but I couldn't stay awake."
Bodie winced. "That was our fault, not yours--we've been drugging you. Didn't want you thrashing about and doing yourself more damage, so we put a bit of laudanum in your tea."
"I see." Doyle's hand returned to his battered cheek, absently tracing the contours of it.
"It's not so bad," Bodie promised. "Makes you look rakish."
He looked up. "And you're really...all right?"
"Aye," Bodie said. "A few scars, that's all."
"Can I--" Doyle cut himself off, aware of the impropriety of his request.
"Doubting Thomas," he teased, but he stripped off his shirt anyway, his movements careful but not pained. He drew the lamp closer so that Doyle could see, and turned his back.
"Oh, Bodie," he sighed, trailing a fingertip along the pink lines that cris-crossed Bodie's back. The scars must have been tender still, because Bodie shivered at the touch.
Doyle pulled away. "Do they hurt you?"
"I have never seen such cruelty," Doyle said, his voice growing rough at the memory.
"Every sailor's had his lashes," Bodie said, and indeed there were faint white lines under the new marks. "Sometimes he even deserves them. But I've never had the like of this. Murphy likes to make out that it was some grand jest, faking my death, but it was nearer to true than I like to think. For a day or two, I don't believe any of them knew if I would recover."
"I wish they had told me the truth."
"So do I. But when you joined the crew, I was out of my head with fever, in no state to tell you myself, and the lads thought it was best to keep my secret. They feared you wouldn't be able to bluff well enough to keep the truth from Keller."
Doyle grimaced. "Because I let on to him about the mutiny."
"So Keller said. But he must have known something before he had you to tea--someone must have slipped."
"Or someone is less trustworthy than you thought."
Bodie raised an eyebrow. "Now that is a chilling thought, Doyle." He drew his shirt down over his head, and Doyle nearly sighed with disappointment. He could vividly remember the last time he had touched another man with such familiarity, and the memory brought a flush to his face. He hoped it wouldn't be visible in the dim light of the cabin, and indeed Bodie made no mention of it. Instead, he poured a cup of tea from a chipped teapot and passed it over to Doyle.
Doyle suddenly realised that he was desperately thirsty, but he eyed the cup's contents suspiciously. "Is this one drugged, too?"
Bodie took it back from him and took a noisy slurp before handing it back, his fingers curling around Doyle's for an instant before he pulled away. "Satisfied?"
Not at all, Doyle thought ruefully. He drank the rest of the tea in silence, too many thoughts vying for attention in his aching head.
Bodie smiled faintly, shaking his head. "You know, I could scarcely believe it when they told me you'd joined the crew," he said. "I hated that you still thought... I wanted to tell you, but there was no safe way to do it. Even some of the crew still thinks I'm dead. Anson does--or did."
"Did? Did he see you, during the storm?"
"Never mind." Bodie's face went abruptly blank, all emotion carefully masked, and Doyle knew there was something that he wasn't being told.
"Bodie," he said again, softly, but Bodie took the teacup from him and pushed him back down onto the bed.
"You should sleep. Keller made the crew swear to tell him when you woke up, so the longer they can pretend you're still unconscious, the better."
"It's nothing you have to worry about," Bodie said firmly. "Just rest."
Doyle stood up unsteadily, stooping beneath the cabin's low ceiling. He braced himself against the wall with one hand. "I won't rest until you tell me," he said. "Why does the captain want to know when I'm awake?"
Bodie's eyes shifted away from him. "I told you, it's nothing to worry about."
"But you won't look at me when you say it."
He sighed. "They found Anson found on the deck after the storm. At first it seemed as though the mast must have fallen on him, but...there was a dagger in his back. Your dagger, Doyle."
"What?" Doyle sat back down on the bed, his eyes wide. "Anson?"
Bodie nodded. "Murdered, with the knife I gave you when you came aboard."
"I left that in here, when I moved to the forecastle. I haven't seen it since." A chilling thought struck him, and he reached out, taking hold of Bodie's wrist. "You don't think--you can't think that I did it?"
"No. I know you better than to think you would have done it. But my word would count for nothing, even if I could stand witness for you. Keller says you're to be tried for his murder. And I told you--on a ship, the captain is judge and jury."
Doyle winced. "That hardly sounds promising."
On deck, two bells struck. Bodie grimaced. "I have to go," he said. "Keller walks the deck at three bells, and I can't be seen." He ruffled Doyle's hair very gently and slipped out of the cabin, leaving him alone with his thoughts.
Anson was dead, and Keller suspected him of the murder. If Doyle intended to survive this voyage, he would simply have to discover who really murdered Anson, and clear his own name.
He could set aside some of the crew immediately. Jax and Murphy would never stab a man in the back. Matheson and King were not made of stern enough stuff--they had been the first to throw down their weapons when Keller demanded it. McKay was mad as a hatter, true, but Doyle had never heard him say a sharp word to Anson. Stuart...Doyle didn't know much about Stuart. He was the second mate, but Doyle could hardly imagine that he was so ambitious as to have murdered Anson in order to succeed him. He sighed. It was possible, he supposed, but then it was possible that any of them might have done it.
And then there was Bodie. Doyle didn't want to consider the possibility, but he could not avoid it. Bodie would have had the chance. He was used to keeping himself hidden, after all, and no one was giving him orders during the hurricane.
And he knew where Doyle had kept his knife. It would have been easy to slip inside, retrieve the dirk, and wait for the right moment.
But why would he have done it? True, Anson had sided with the captain in the mutiny, and he had strung Bodie up for the lashing. Perhaps he had seen Bodie, during the storm, and Bodie had killed him to keep his secret.
Doyle sighed. His head was pounding, and he almost wished for another cup of laudanum-laced tea. He did not want to believe such a thing of Bodie, but even in his partiality he had to allow that it was possible. Did Bodie mean to see Doyle hang for his own crime? That, he could not believe. Though Doyle could never hope that Bodie returned his feelings, he knew at least that Bodie thought of him as a friend. A man could not allow a friend, an innocent man, to stand trial for his own crimes.
His thoughts were turning in circles, making no progress. The light in the room was dimming as the day wore on, and Doyle found himself exhausted even from an hour's wakefulness. He lay back down and slipped instantly into sleep.
He slept through the next two watches, waking just past dawn. He felt much stronger now, aside from a lingering ache along his broken cheekbone, and he decided he was ready to face whatever judgment Keller pronounced on him. He could hardly let the crew protect him forever, and he could see no other course of action, short of faking his death as Bodie had done. He rose and made his way out onto the deck to survey the damage.
The ship was becalmed, drifting in a thick grey mist that hid the upper sails and left the ratlines dripping. He could not see the stump of the fore-mast until he was nearly upon it. The remains were a jagged mess, the tallest splinter barely six feet high. They would catch less wind with a single mast, he knew, but they could still reach port this way--provided, of course, there was a wind to carry them there. The slackened mainsail told him they were making no progress at all.
Yet the rest of the ship seemed largely unharmed; new sails had been put up to replace those lost to the storm. The Seahawk was merely wounded, not defeated.
A shadow loomed up out of the fog, and Doyle looked up to find Captain Keller standing before him. The scar on his face was livid, but Doyle felt no remorse at all for having caused it. He'd seen the scars on Bodie's back now, and he knew who had come off worse between them.
"Mr Doyle, you are charged with the murder of Mr Anson in the midst of the storm."
Even expecting the accusation did not lessen its impact. "I did not--"
"Save your arguments. You will be tried at the first dog watch this afternoon; until then, you will be confined to the brig. Stuart," Keller said, gesturing towards Doyle.
With a vaguely apologetic look, Stuart grasped Doyle's arm and led him down into the depths of the ship, below the steerage and into the very belly of the Seahawk, where unseen water sloshed ominously and the walls were curved like the ribs of the Leviathan. He lit a lantern, then unlocked the door of an iron-barred cage and ushered Doyle inside it. The key grated in the lock as it turned, and then Stuart started for the ladder.
"Wait--won't you leave the lantern?"
Stuart shook his head. "If it were to fall, it could set the hull alight," he said, and then he vanished up the ladder, taking the light with him.
Doyle sighed and leaned against the bars. What he'd not give to have Bodie here, to suggest to him what he ought to do. Where did he go, Doyle wondered, when he was not playing nursemaid in Doyle's cabin?
Somewhere in the depths of the hold, there was a spark, and then the steadier glow of a lantern. Bodie appeared like a wraith conjured out of the darkness. "He really means to try you, then."
"At the first dog watch."
"So soon? I'd have thought he'd let you linger down here. A man could go mad, you know."
"Is this where you've been, then, since you...died?"
"Yes. But don't worry, I'm as sane as I ever was."
"Not reassuring, that," Doyle said, shakily matching Bodie's grin. Then his smile faltered. "Bodie, I have to ask. Did you--"
"No. Anson was never a friend, but I wouldn't have murdered him."
"But he whipped you."
Bodie smiled. "You saw the scars--you know it was not the first time. I've had worse than Anson, but Keller...Keller enjoyed it."
"Why haven't you killed him, then?"
Bodie shook his head. "To be honest, it was you that changed my mind. All your talk of justice and revenge. I spent a long time trying to think of another way to remove Keller from his command, and I've not yet succeeded."
"Perhaps I can help," Doyle said. "Can you get me a pen, and something to write on? If Keller tries me and has me hanged, then at least I can leave a letter. Would you see that it gets to Miss Holly? Her father is hardly fond of me, but he dotes on her. If she brings the case to him, he is sure to listen, even if..."
"Keller won't hang you, Doyle. He wouldn't dare."
"If he doesn't, then I'll tear up the letter and throw it out to sea. It will hurt nothing, at least, to set down what has happened."
"I'll bring you the paper," Bodie said. "But I'll need the lantern. Will you be all right?"
"Of course," Doyle lied unconvincingly.
The moments of Bodie's absence ticked by interminably. With no sun to mark the passage of time, no candle to melt down towards its base, Doyle felt that he might have been in the brig for an hour or a month. He knew that thought for the lunacy it was, and counted slow, deep breaths until a faint light announced Bodie's return.
Bodie brought him an inkwell, a pen, and Endymion. The hurricane had not been kind to the book; the pages were stiff and crinkled from the salt-water. "The endpapers are blank," Bodie explained. "You should have enough room to write down what's happened."
In the dim light of the lantern, Doyle set down a brief account of his weeks on board the Seahawk, from the foiled mutiny to the captain's vicious whipping of his crew to the hurricane and the trial he now faced. As to his innocence, he wrote, he could offer no more than his word. But the story that the captain would tell would surely be different from the letter, and so even if Mr Holly were glad to be rid of an unworthy suitor, he might at least be driven to question the crew on the events of the voyage. Murphy and Jax, at least, could be counted on to attest to Doyle's story.
He had just finished with the letter and signed his name when footsteps began to sound on the ladder above. Bodie leaned closer to the bars, so near that Doyle almost thought he meant to kiss him.
"Doyle--keep your temper," Bodie said swiftly. "He'll only use it against you." He blew the lamp out and vanished into the shadows.
Stuart descended the ladder, lit by a lamp of his own, and unlocked Doyle's cell.
"Time for my trial, then?" Doyle asked.
Stuart only nodded and led him up onto the deck. Squinting against the light, Doyle found the rest of the crew gathered near the rail. Keller lounged in a plush, water-stained chair from his cabin. A plain wooden stool stood empty, and it was to this that Stuart led him.
"Mr Doyle, since our destination is America, we shall have a portion of that democracy which they so prize," Keller announced. "Your peers, then, stand before you, ready to defend or condemn you as they will."
Doyle said nothing. Keller continued.
"Raymond Doyle, you stand accused of the unnatural murder of Mr Anson, first mate of this vessel. How plead you?"
"Innocent," he said flatly.
"The accused pleads innocent," Keller announced. "Now, Mr Doyle. Do you deny that Mr Anson was murdered?"
"I have been told that it happened," Doyle said. "But I have seen no evidence of the crime."
"His body was consigned to the sea in a proper Christian burial. Mr Jax, will you attest to the fact that Mr Anson was found on deck stabbed with a dagger?"
He glanced up at Keller, then briefly turned his glance to Doyle. "Aye."
"And would you say that it is natural for a man to die in such a way? Could it have been an accident?"
Jax shook his head. "Not an accident, no, sir."
"I suppose so."
"Very well. Mr Doyle, you are a man in an unnatural position--"
"Your pardon?" Doyle asked, suspicion tightening his voice.
Keller smiled. "Would you say it is natural, then, for a young man of wealth and good breeding to throw in his lot with a crew of mutinous sailors, to spend his days at hard labour, and all this by his own choice?"
"It may not be usual," Doyle said, "but I should not call it unnatural."
"And the other unnatural activities of the crew--will you deny that you participated in them?"
"I do not know what you mean."
"The sodomy, Mr Doyle! Do you deny that you have done such things with the crew?"
"Yes, I deny it," he said. "I have committed no such act with any member of the crew, living or dead." Though that fact was more from lack of opportunity than lack of desire, it was nevertheless true, and none of the crew could prove anything to the contrary.
"Do you recognise this blade?" Keller asked, abruptly changing subjects. He held up the bone-handled dirk that had killed Mr Anson.
"Does it belong to you, Mr Doyle?"
"It did once," he replied. "I left it behind in my cabin when I joined the crew."
"And why would you do so? It is a fine blade, and would be useful to a sailor."
Doyle gritted his teeth. "It was a gift from Mr Bodie, and as I felt that his death was my fault, I could not bear to carry it."
"You are, then, a man whose emotions are deeply felt. Guilt, as you say--and perhaps anger? Tell me, Mr Matheson, does Mr Doyle have a temper?"
Matheson jumped at being addressed, and his shoulders seemed to slump. "I...we've all got our ill humours, sir--"
"I did not ask you about the crew at large, Mr Matheson. I asked you about Mr Doyle. Has he a temper?"
"I suppose so," he mumbled.
"Have you heard him use speech unbefitting a man of his station?"
"I suppose I have."
"And has he taken the name of the Lord in vain?"
"Captain, we all say things that we--"
"Aye," Matheson sighed, casting an apologetic glance at Doyle. "He has."
"So," Keller said with satisfaction. "We have established that Mr Doyle possessed the knife that murdered Mr Anson. We have established also that he is possessed of a hot temper, and that he harboured a partiality for Mr Bodie, which gave him a reason to hate Mr Anson. Now all that need be established is whether he had the opportunity of murdering the first mate."
Doyle opened his mouth to argue the logic of the point, but recalled Bodie's words about keeping his temper, and fell silent again.
Keller continued with his prosecution. "Your hatred of Mr Anson began after he whipped your great friend Mr Bodie, and thenceforward you bided your time. Under the cover of the storm, you murdered Mr Anson, and left his body to be found when the storm had passed."
"And how could I have done this?" Doyle interrupted. "I was unconscious during the latter part of the storm, when the murder must have been done. Anson was alive to help us untangle the lines in the eye of the storm--McKay, you saw him as well."
"Aye, so I did," he said, ducking his head under Keller's scrutiny.
"In which case," Keller concluded, "you must have committed the murder just after we passed back into the storm. Perhaps you stabbed him while you were both aloft, but in his death-throes he struggled, and pulled you down to the deck along with him."
"No--I fell from the rigging when the mast broke. Anyone might have seen that."
"But did anyone see?"
Silence from the crew.
"If none saw you fall, none would have seen you murder Mr Anson."
"I did not kill him," Doyle said, maintaining his temper with difficulty, "and I don't know who did. I was up in the rigging, cutting the fore-topgallant sail free."
"With this knife?"
"No, sir. I had no knife when all hands were called. You had given me a splicing knife when the storm began. I was trying to climb back down to the deck when the mast broke."
"Can anyone confirm your story?"
Only a dead man. "No, sir," he admitted.
Keller turned to the crew. "Will any of you, then, speak in Mr Doyle's defence? Or would any of you care to confess, to unburden your soul of its crimes?"
Doyle looked at each of the crew in turn, and found that no one would meet his eyes. How many of them believed he had really done it? How many of these men with whom he had worked, and laughed, and eaten--how many of them now believed him a murderer?
And which one of them had committed the crime for which Doyle was now to be condemned?
"Very well," Keller said, and Doyle knew that there would be no vote to determine his guilt or innocence. "Mr Doyle, you are found guilty of the cold-blooded murder of the first mate, Mr Anson, and the sentence for that crime is death. At dawn tomorrow you shall hang by the neck from the yardarm until dead." He pounded the butt of his pistol on the rail, and the trial was over. Stuart, who had by all appearances been promoted to first mate in Anson's place, led Doyle back down to the brig, locked him in, and left him in darkness.
Not long after Stuart left him, a candle flared in the hold, and Bodie sauntered over, a lamp in hand. "If you're planning to stay down here, I'll have to charge you board, you know."
"Not for long, you won't."
"I'm to be hanged in the morning," he said flatly.
Bodie cursed. "I didn't think he'd dare it."
"Why shouldn't he? It is in his best interests that I be dead when we make port. After all, he cannot think that I will refrain from telling Mr Holly what has transpired here. The foolhardiness of sailing into the hurricane alone would be sufficient for Keller's dismissal, even without consideration of his cruelty. But without me, it will be only the word of a sailor against his master--and the weight will be given to Keller's tale."
"You forget the letter," Bodie said. "I'll keep it safe, and find a way to get it to Miss Holly."
Doyle smiled wanly. "Forgive me if the comfort I take in that is small."
"Still, it's better than nothing at all, isn't it?"
"I suppose so." Doyle sighed. His head was aching again, and he felt more exhausted than he had ever been in his life.
Bodie drew back. "You should sleep."
"Sleep?" Doyle laughed. "What good will that do? I've only a few hours left, after all."
Bodie's face twisted in the lamplight, and Doyle reached for him, suddenly fearful that he would leave.
"Will you stay?"
Bodie's eyes glittered with mischief. "I can do better than that. I've been making improvements while you were up on deck, and I've just about finished." He set the lamp aside, then reached down and twisted two of the brig's iron bars from loosened sockets.
"Liberty," Doyle said, matching Bodie's smile. And then Doyle stepped forward and embraced him.
Even in the darkness Bodie's lips found his easily, perfectly, one hand sliding through the curls of Doyle's hair. Then Doyle's lips parted, and Bodie pulled away.
"I'm not a fool, Bodie, nor am I an innocent. I know what I'm asking."
"Yes. And I've wanted it--wanted you--for a long time now."
"It's hanging if you're caught, you know."
Doyle laughed against the side of Bodie's throat. "What does it matter?" he asked. "We're both dead men."
"Come on, then." Bodie led him to an alcove hidden among the barrels and crates of cargo. There was just enough space for a bed fashioned out of spare blankets, with a bent nail hammered into a crate above to hang the lantern.
"Cosy," Doyle said.
"Better than a coffin."
Doyle shuddered and kissed him, and they sank down onto the blankets together.
They had little luxury of time or comfort; at any moment someone might descend the ladder to the hold, and Doyle would have to bolt for the brig. But they made the most of what time they had to themselves.
Doyle rolled to lie atop Bodie, pressing them together from chest to thigh, and Bodie arched up against him. Bodie's hands slid from Doyle's waist to his hips, pushing aside the encumbering canvas of his trousers. His hand brushed against the length of Doyle's cock, and he shivered.
Doyle leaned down to kiss Bodie roughly, sighing against Bodie's lips when Bodie reached a hand down between them to unfasten the fall front of his own trousers.
His hand was broad enough to surround them both, moving in swift, even strokes. Doyle let his lips wander from Bodie's mouth to his jaw, his hands slipping under Bodie's shirt to explore the planes of his chest. He rubbed his thumb over one nipple and was rewarded with a shuddering groan. He smiled against Bodie's neck and repeated the motion, feeling Bodie's breath quicken in response.
Doyle would have liked nothing more than to continue thus until they reached port, but the pleasure was rapidly overwhelming him. Bodie's hand moved faster, echoing Doyle's own urgency. "Please," he whispered. "Please, Bodie, God..." Bodie stroked once more, long and sure, and Doyle muffled a shout against the side of Bodie's throat as he came. He was still shaking with it when Bodie's arm tightened around him, his hand moving faster and faster until he too found his pleasure.
They lay together for a long moment, unsteady breaths gradually deepening. Bodie used a clean handkerchief to tidy them up, and then he settled back beside Doyle, their legs still tangled together.
Doyle slid his fingers through the short hair at the nape of Bodie's neck. "Do you remember when I first came on board? You told me that every sailor needs a final friend."
Bodie shook his head. "Don't talk like that. It isn't over yet."
"He's not going to pardon me, Bodie."
"No, but...if we could discover the true murderer, then perhaps--"
Doyle shook his head, unwilling to allow his hopes to rise, but Bodie persisted.
"Who knew about the knife?"
"Not many people, I'm sure. Did anyone know you were to give it to me?"
Bodie considered. "It was Jax's idea--he didn't like the thought of an unarmed passenger caught up in our plans. He'll have told Murphy, of course, but no one else, I'm sure of it."
"Murphy and Jax." Doyle did not think either of them would have murdered Anson, but it was a start. "And I told the captain, at tea during that first day."
"You told Keller?" Bodie said sharply, raising his head.
"At the time, I believed that it was right," Doyle admitted, "though I left your name well out of it. He told me I should keep it beneath the mattress and hope that I should never have need of it."
Bodie sat up and gripped Doyle's arm. "Ray. Keller argued with Anson during the storm. I heard them shouting about the course. Anson threatened to report him for endangering the ship. Keller knew where you had kept the knife, and he had a reason to want you punished."
"So he murdered Anson, and made it look as though I had done it? It would have been easier to kill me himself."
"You spent most of the storm aloft--if he had gone up into the rigging after you, you might have cast him down in a struggle. Easier to murder Anson, who meant to tell Mr Holly about Keller's irresponsible risks, and let the blame fall upon you. He would rid himself of two enemies with a single stroke."
Bodie's words made a great deal of sense, more than any theory Doyle had been able to concoct on his own. "And yet it changes nothing, does it?" he said with a sigh.
"If we could prove--"
"Bodie, you're dead, and I'm a condemned man. No one will listen to us, and even if they did, it is still Keller who passes judgment. He will not order himself into the noose."
"No," Bodie agreed. "But there must be some way..."
"I hope you are not planning anything foolish."
He shrugged. "I have been making foolish plans since Stuart brought you down here, but there's nothing to be done. If we could get to the guns, we might be able to hold him prisoner until we reach port. There are plenty of knives, yes, but Keller would never respond to a threat like that. We would have to--"
"Compound one murder with another? No, I could not do such a thing."
"I could," Bodie said simply. "If it meant your life, I'd do it in a moment."
And if it were Bodie's life at stake, and not his own, Doyle thought he might do the same, but he shook his head. "I'll not be responsible for that, Bodie. Though I am...flattered, I suppose, at the offer." He brushed his lips against Bodie's cheek and closed his eyes. Perhaps a bit of a rest would be all right, even if he were to be hanged tomorrow. After all, with all the guns locked away, there was hardly any way that they could challenge Keller--
Doyle sat up, suddenly far from sleep. "Bodie."
"I know where he keeps the key to the musket-case."
He lifted his head. "What?"
"The key! When I had tea with Keller on the day before the mutiny, he showed me where the key was kept. He won't have thought to move it, I'm sure of that. He always believed I was a fool. If I can get to the guns, if I can bring them to the crew..."
"Then there might yet be a chance."
"Can you find someone above, and tell the crew to be ready? There may not be time, once I have the guns."
"I'll find someone." Bodie leaned forward and kissed him again. "You're bloody brilliant," he said, grinning, and then he picked up the lantern and made his way up towards the forecastle. This time, Doyle did not let the darkness disturb him. He was no longer caged; he could wander the hold or even escape it if need came. Indeed, their plan depended on his ability to reach the captain's cabin without drawing Keller's notice.
Soon, quiet footsteps descended the ladder again, and Doyle ducked back into the brig, on the chance that the visitor was someone else. But he needn't have worried, and when he recognised Bodie he stepped out of the cell once more.
"I found Stuart," Bodie said. "I told him to pass word on to the rest of the crew, to make sure they're ready. At three bells of the morning watch he'll invent some reason to get Keller out of his cabin. You can slip in and get the guns, and leave the rest to us."
"You trust Stuart?"
Bodie shrugged. "He's known about me all along, and hasn't betrayed me to Keller. That's reason enough for trust, isn't it?"
"I suppose so."
"I'd have rather had Murphy or Jax, but they were out on deck, and I couldn't risk it, even in the dark."
"No," Doyle agreed. If Bodie had been caught, it would all have been over before they had a chance to begin--and Bodie would certainly have been killed.
They waited together for three bells to strike, passing the time with kisses and caresses, knowing they had no time for more.
When the third bell struck, Doyle leaned in and kissed Bodie one more time.
Bodie stepped back reluctantly. "Good luck," he murmured, handing over the darkened lantern. Then Doyle scrambled up the ladder and out of the hold.
He froze at every tiny sound, from the creaking timbers to the quiet scurry of a rat somewhere in the passage. But the hold and the galley were empty, and he passed his old cabin without interruption. The faint predawn light was barely enough to guide him to the captain's cabin.
Doyle laid a hand on the door and found that it was unlocked; he could only hope that Stuart's distraction had been successful.
The room was pitch black when he entered, closing the door carefully behind himself. Doyle lit the lamp and raised it.
The light fell upon Captain Keller, sitting in his chair, alone and unarmed. "Good morning, Mr Doyle. Do come in."
Master Post | Part One | Part Two | Part Three |