Alex stumbled into the captain’s quarters, shocked at the rich carvings and heavy desk. He didn’t know what he expected—or rather he did, and he’d expected piles of stolen goods and a skull or two as this monster showed off his kills. Instead, this was a place where Alex’s father might have worked. The hatches were open, allowing in a breeze that did little to cool the hot air. Doors led to a balcony across the back of the stern of the ship. So he was to be the entertainment for one man instead of the entire crew.
Alex could handle that.
He could also fly during full moons. Panic was starting to crawl up his throat again, but Beche shoved him forward. He ended up stomach down over a well-made table, and anger derailed Alex’s movement toward becoming completely unnerved.
“You are more trouble than you’re worth.”
“Then put me over the side,” Alex said. He’d never anticipated he would reach a point where he would welcome death, but he did…as long as he didn’t have to face a death like Pieter’s.
“I’m starting to think you have a death wish.”
“No. I have an aversion to pain.”
“Then you might want to avoid attacking me.” Beche yanked at Alex’s hands, and it took a second to realize he was being untied. The only thing worse than being tied up by a pirate was being untied because he didn’t pose any threat. The bindings came away, and Alex went to stand, but the pirate put his hand on Alex’s back and shoved him back down to the table.
“I should have known you were an urning.” Alex spit out the last word with as much venom as he could manage.
“Is an urning someone who is upset with someone else’s poor behavior?”
“An urning is a man who chooses to take his pleasure with another man.”
Surprisingly, the pirate laughed. That was not a word that caused most men amusement, but this Beche was not like most men. “There are no women on this ship. Men can take pleasure in each other, or they can go without pleasure. There’s no other option, not unless you want to get creative with fish. I knew a galley cook once that did that, but I think he had drunk enough to damage his brain.”
Alex shivered in horror. “A fish?”
“The captain tossed him off at the next port,” Beche said, “but the point is that you will not bring your moral judgments here. Having a lord lecture on right and wrong would annoy most of the men on this ship.”
Alex didn’t care whether he annoyed men who held him captive, but he was more than concerned about being on a ship of urnings. The doctor who had explained the term to Alex had said urnings had only partially developed as fetuses. While Alex might not believe in making a man a criminal for his feelings, he certainly didn’t trust someone who openly embraced the idea. “Let me up,” Alex said quietly.
“Not until we’ve reached an understanding,” Beche said firmly. “In case it has escaped your notice, you are not the most popular person with the crew.”
Alex didn’t answer. He would have to be addlebrained to miss the general hatred.
“Right now, the others are willing to leave you be, but if you offend them with your presence, I’m not sure what they’ll do. If you’re lucky, they’ll only toss you off the ship. Honestly, knowing the background of most of these men, I doubt they’d show as much mercy as that.”
“You’re suggesting I should stay here and allow you to unman me.” Alex could feel a rising storm of emotions that he couldn’t identify.
Beche pulled Alex upright and turned him. They were the same height, which surprised Alex because Beche felt larger than life. In reality, he was five feet and ten inches. “If you’re a man, nothing I do would unman you.”
“So I should accept you using me as a woman?” Alex lifted his chin and dared Beche to even suggest that.
Beche had the gall to look satisfied. He was entirely too easily amused. “You are not a woman, so if I use you, I will have to use you as a man. And as of right now, I don’t intend to use you at all. I am not the monster you seem to presuppose.”
“No doubt you entered piracy hoping to pursue it for altruistic purposes.”
“I am going to assume you’re being sarcastic and showing a poor attitude since I don’t know all those words,” Beche said, and for some reason Alex was surprised. Beche struck him as being frighteningly intelligent as well as entirely too strong. Alex felt bruised from top to bottom after their fight. “So let me explain your life, young lord. You will clean my rooms, mend my clothing, and some day you may move up in my trust enough to clean my weapons and care for my contraptions. You will do all this with a good spirit. You will show humility when crew are here until you earn their trust, and then I will be able to send you on chores.”
“You want me to be a cabin boy,” Alex said. He had never been so offended in his life. He was no twelve-year-old to tend some man and sleep on his floor.
“My last cabin boy has been recently promoted to work in the galley and run powder for the gunners, so yes, you are a cabin boy. Now do you still need to use the privy?”
Alex felt quite a bit of satisfaction as he announced, “I urinated on the wall of the closet.” His mother would collapse if she’d ever heard such language from him, but it felt amazingly good. The look of horror on Beche’s face was even better.
“Next time I warn you that I need to use the head, perhaps you’ll listen.” Alex might not have the power here, but he could still make his displeasure known, even if he had to do it in ways that made him as uncivilized as the pirates who had taken him captive.
“Next time you’ll hold it, or I’ll find one or two ways to force you to,” Beche warned. Alex frowned, not even sure he understood that threat. “Now we have the issue of your attack upon me.”
“I am a prisoner. I am entitled to attempt to free myself.” Alex expected punishment, but that didn’t mean he had to accept it quietly.
Beche stepped back and crossed his arms, once more looking very amused. “And if you had fought your way out of that closet, where would you have gone?”
“I’m sure you have multiple launches,” Alex said. “And I am equally sure you stole them and stole this vessel, so I would not feel guilty about stealing them again.” A ship this size had to be one of the warships retired when the militaries started switching to airships. Either Beche was clever enough to steal a military ship from the military or whoever had been ordered to sink the ship after it was decommissioned had failed badly.
“You planned to set out in a launch with no navigational equipment, no maps, no provisions, no concept of our current location, and no idea the direction of the nearest land. That is a remarkably stupid plan, milord.”
“I would have died on my own terms.”
“I find it best to avoid death at all,” Beche offered, “so please refrain from any more suicide plans masquerading as escape attempts. Right now we need to discuss your punishment for that incident.”
Alex gritted his teeth and glared at the pirate.
“You have three choices. I can punish you like a man, which would mean a flogging while being tied to the mast. I can punish you like a cabin boy and put you over my lap for a spanking, or I can punish you like crew and put you on biscuit and water rations for five days. Your choice.”
It seemed obvious, but Beche held up his hand before Alex could say anything. “I believe you’re about to make an uninformed decision, so understand that the punishment is not the biscuits and water. The punishment is the absolute agony in your bowels when they try to move and they cannot. It sometimes requires the application of an oil enema to get things moving again.”
Alex stared at Beche in horror. Not only did polite people avoid discussion of bowels, but they would never use bodily function as punishment. Never. Alex had been captured by the worst sort of barbarian. Worse, he called that a crew punishment, which clearly implied he’d used it in the past. Alex felt a little ill at the thought.
“Your choice?” Beche asked.
Alex was being asked to choose between internal bowel pain, the agony of a flogging, or the humiliation of being treated as a child. There was no answer that would preserve any sort of dignity, so what was the point of asking him to choose? It was like asking him which leg he would like amputated. Barbaric.
Alex was truly stuck on that word. He narrowed his eyes, and a new thought came to him. No matter what he chose, he would regret it, and if he had chosen the punishment, he would—no doubt—come to hate himself as well. Beche might be a barbarian, but he was a very clever one.
Alex crossed his arms. “I have no intention of playing games with my dignity or your twisted wit. Whatever you will do, you will do. I will not participate other than to endure the punishment you dole out.” And if it was biscuits and water, Alex was determined to avoid eating for five days. He would never allow someone to perform a procedure on his bowels, no matter how stuck they might become. Alex had good cause to be protective of his anatomy.
“You do surprise me,” Beche said in an almost admiring tone that didn’t make much sense. “This is your last chance to either choose a punishment or remove one from consideration.”
Alex thought about taking the bread and water option off the table, but at the last moment he closed his mouth tightly. He would not be tempted to engage in this farce.
Beche’s smile only grew. “Well, don’t complain if you find you don’t like my choice,” he warned.
Alex raised his chin and braced himself for the worst. He could survive any of the punishments, and more than that, a punishment would not deter him from trying again.
“One day I’m going to correctly predict what you are likely to say, but that day is not today,” Beche admitted.
“Do not presume to know me.”
“Oh, I think I will know you very well before long, milord.”
“You’ll live longer if you claim no title,” Beche said. “And to that end, you will remove that clothing.”
“Excuse me?” Alex took a step back, but found his retreat blocked by the table.
“We’re close enough to the same size that you can wear some of my poorer clothes, but if you walk around here in a silk tie and vest, someone is going to take offense.”
“I don’t care. Besides, you said I was going to stay in here.”
“You are, but the crew does come in here, so off with that clothing.” Beche walked to the side of the room where a bed was tucked between carved pillars. Below were drawers, and he started searching for something.
Alex looked around wildly for some sort of weapon, but unless he was willing to attack a man armed with a sword and gun using a fountain pen or a letter opener, he had no options.
Beche turned around with a loose white longshirt and trousers in his hands. “You’ll change into these.”
“Not here,” Alex said desperately. He was not going to get naked in front of any man.
Beche tossed the clothing at Alex and crossed his arms. “You’ll change here. And I will watch every moment, so if you have more of your sister’s clever contrivances hidden about you, you will not be able to transfer them over.”
Alex’s hand went to his spider.
“Take your punishment well, and I’ll allow you to keep that toy,” Beche said.
Alex hated himself for having shown even that much weakness. “You’ve just made it clear I own nothing, so don’t pretend otherwise.” He took the pin that attached the spider to him by way of a chain and then carefully unhooked the tiny mechanical feet from his jacket before putting it down on the pirate’s desk. The loss of that little spider hurt more than the loss of his ship or his freedom, which made no sense, but then Alex suspected he was already suffering from some weakness of the mind. His father had always told him he was too feeble to take up manly duties, and perhaps this proved his father right.
With trembling hands, he stripped free of his coat and vest. He worked on the shirt. It was stained by sweat and smelled too strong for good company, but then Alex didn’t figure this was good company. When he had bared his chest, he grabbed the longshirt he’d been provided and pulled it over his head. It would give him some cover as he changed his pants.
He felt terribly vulnerable in his thin cotton drawers. He grabbed for the rough trousers Beche had provided.
“Stop,” Beche said as he moved forward. Alex was so shocked by this that he did as ordered. “Since you’re my cabin boy, let’s use a cabin-boy’s punishment. Bend over the desk, and we can get this spanking out of the way.”
“What?” Alex’s voice rose dangerously high.
“I know you’re not deaf, so I have no interest in repeating myself.” Beche lunged so fast Alex didn’t really notice before Beche grabbed his arm and shoved him against the wood. Either Beche had some magical powers or Alex was not tracking reality well. Maybe both.