The Saga Of The Rajah ten Rajah, Or How Bartholomew Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Dutch

The third and final story in the Tales From Black Oceans series—still thematically similar to its predecessors, but much longer and more stylistically ornate.

As usual, this story began life as a conversation that I had with Whitney, after which I ran off and did terrible, terrible things. The illustration is, as always, by GlassShard.

Warnings: despite its cutesy title, this story is unrelentingly unpleasant, dealing as it does with badtouch, humiliation, emotional abuse, and Stockholm syndrome. Also: violence, profanity, gore, and a whole lot of porn, much of it falling under the heading of 'dubious consent'. Further: willfully historically inaccurate, downright florid in the language department, and studded with dated attitudes towards race and gender, as befits the time period in which it theoretically occurs. Moreover: the story can be oddly dull when it isn't actually being pornographic. Finally: in all honesty, this story is probably not for... anyone?





      The hard-packed drive which wound from the governor's mansion to the port was as smooth and free of ruts as a dirt road could be, thanks to the governor's good fortune in being able to secure the free labor of convicts whenever he wished it. Many a drunkard or petty thief had sweated off his sentence on the outskirts of the governor's property, cursing his fate while bent double under the weight of heavy stones (the governor's fiefdom had a lovely low stone wall about its borders) or while laboring mightily under the momentum of the scythe (the governor's mansion was surrounded by vast close-cropped fields which yielded excellent hay) or while on his hands and knees on that self-same dirt road, filling in the ruts, tamping down the fill, and smoothing the new surface down with water and oil until it was nearly glassine (because God forbid that the governor feel so much as a momentary jolt when he ordered his coach down to the port). In short, a man could walk blindfolded from the governor's front door to the outskirts of the port and stumble over neither pothole nor rut on the way, and while Bartholomew was neither precisely a man nor precisely blindfolded, still, he was quite lucky in his choice of roads, if in nothing else.

      Snuffling and hating himself for it, Bartholomew let his feet and his memory carry him blindly down the initial stretch of his father's well-tended road, heading pell-mell away from his home and every hateful thing in it. He was trying very hard not to cry—his father had been very firm: out here in the colonies, where life was harsh, a fifteen-year-old boy was nearly a man, and McKittrick men simply did not cry—but still Bartholomew's traitorous eyes continued to fill with water, embarrassing and blinding him at the same time. Every few steps he was forced to pull off his spectacles and swipe his shirt sleeve across his eyes, only to have to do it all over again ten steps later.

      The book he was carrying was of awkward weight and size, and he was still unsure which one it was; he had reached out and blindly snatched the topmost book from his stack as he rushed by. Every few steps he was forced to switch it from one hand to the other, and the sweat on his palms was beginning to take on a blueish hue as it washed the cheap dye from the leather. He was so exercised at the moment that he could not bring himself to care, which was a surer barometer of his emotional state than any number of tears; for, to be fair, Bartholomew was a boy quite prone to weeping, whether in joy, in sadness, in shock, or (most often) in purest frustration.

      It wasn't fair, he told himself, blinking away a fresh welling of tears. Just because Avery was two years older didn't give him the right to be such an awful snot, and if their father had been home he'd certainly have sided with Bartholomew on the matter. Avery had had no right to go knocking down that bird's nest, particularly not after Bartholomew had (foolishly) confessed to having a scientific interest in it—now the fledglings were dead, the mother bird was frantic, and Avery had responded to Bartholomew's exercised protests with a guffaw, a lofty order to stop being such a sissy, and, ultimately, a desultory thrashing. Fortunately Avery took no real pleasure in thrashing his brother any more, for, as has been noted, Bartholomew was prone to snivel, which made him dull and soggy prey as far as Avery was concerned.

      If only Father had been home—! Oh, it was true that Sir Richard McKittrick did not approve of his younger son's bookish tendencies, but surely he'd have objected to this wanton cruelty. Surely! Father was a hard man and undemonstrative, but fair—Bartholomew believed in his father's innate judiciousness with a fervor which rivaled that of many preachers for God. Wasn't he the governor of this entire island, from one shore to the other, appointed by the King himself? Surely the King wouldn't name a man who was less than even-handed to such a position. It was that selfsame position that had led to his absence today, Governor McKittrick being down at the magistrate's office looking after the affairs of the island that owed so much to his tireless efforts.

      By the time Bartholomew reached the low stone wall that marked the edge of his father's lands, his furious tears had dried to streaks on his flushed face. A cool breeze ruffled his overlong black hair back away from his face, beckoning to him; his footsteps quickened. A pleasant afternoon's read on the docks, in the presence of that lovely breeze, that was for him. Gingerly he switched his book from one hand to another and hissed in dismay at the whitish patches on its leather cover (it was The Black Island that he'd seized, he was pleased to note, a book he'd been looking forward to reading) before tucking it into the crook of his arm.

      It says much about Bartholomew that he was unable to walk the half-mile to town, a walk he had made surely a hundred times, without pausing half a dozen times along the way. A thin rabbit breaking cover to one side of the road, a hawk wheeling in the sky overhead, an interesting cloud formation, a pretty blueish pebble in the road: all these things and more caught both Bartholomew's eye and his interest, and if only the pebble wound up in his pocket, well, it was only for lack of speed and reach. Bartholomew would put the world in his pockets, if he could, and carry it home to be studied at his leisure, at least until Avery stole, scattered, or broke it.

      By the time he reached the edge of the low-roofed port town, two roses were blooming in his cheeks. His steps sped, carrying him towards the docks at the far end of town. Human beings did not hold nearly the same interest for Bartholomew as did shrikes, voles, or heather; now that he was in town, he was able to pay attention solely to where he was going instead of to the bustle around him. Ten minutes later he was seated comfortably atop a weathered crate, with a second crate providing a comfortable backrest and his knees providing all the writing-desk he should ever need. With a sigh of both relief and anticipation Bartholomew cracked open the mottled blue book and settled it across his thighs.

      With the passing of the first word, a new world bloomed in front of his eyes, sweeping him away from the petty cares of this one. The pages flicked by under his eager fingers. So profoundly lost was Bartholomew in the (admittedly purple) prose that even the shouts of the stevedores faded into silence; had he not been seated in the lee of a warehouse, the sun should have doubtless scorched him to cinders before he noticed.

      The afternoon passed. The pages turned. And Bartholomew in his nook found himself perhaps just a little too comfortable, his fingers slowing as the sun sank down in the western sky. For a time he fought the urge to doze off, pushing up his spectacles to rub his eyes, shaking his head to dispel the sleep that wrapped itself soft about him. He read on by main force for a few moments more, telling himself that he should at least finish this paragraph, this chapter, this section!—but eventually he succumbed, proving himself a liar in the end. His head drooped until his chin touched his chest; his eyes closed. One hand splayed out over the book's thin pages to mark his place, and Bartholomew drifted into dreamland, lulled by the constant rushing of the sea.


      He woke—abruptly, shrieking—when the hush of the night was split in two by the initial roar of cannon. Fire leapt from the buildings all around. A moment later, the screaming began. It might almost have been a nightmare, were it not for the smell.

      Part of the dock almost at his feet exploded with a roar, showering Bartholomew with charred splinters and coals; cringing away from the volley Bartholomew half-fell from the crate, landing awkwardly on all fours and bruising his knees. His book went spinning away into the darkness. Idiotically he patted after it, panting, terrified beyond all measure but, being Bartholomew, wholly unable to stomach the idea of losing the book before he learnt how it all came out in the end.

      Out in the harbor, what seemed a hundred unfamiliar ships floated at anchor, cannons barking and belching fire. Even as Bartholomew scuttled after his book, gasping his mewling little prayers under his breath, the largest of the ships—a looming, bloated tar-black galleon like a nightmare grub given flesh—shouted another salvo. The docks to Bartholomew's left rose as one, neatly-laid planks splintering into a cloud of burning matchwood and geysering into the air; the concussion knocked Bartholomew over onto his side and slapped the spectacles from his face.

      Now Bartholomew's hands groped their way over the docks in deadly, panicky earnest, even his book forgotten in the face of this new peril. Without his spectacles he was nearly blind, and out here in the colonies glass was dear beyond measure—if his spectacles were lost he should be blinded until his father could send back to England for another pair! Months and months of being unable to see a foot in front of his face, unable to protect himself against even Avery's most casual depredations—and his father's cold disappointment was all too easy to picture. Even the imaginary specter of Richard McKittrick was enough to make Bartholomew cringe and sweep his hands over the boards without a moment's care for the slivers.

      All around him the port town was burning, not that Bartholomew spared a second to bemoan its fate. Indistinct figures twined through the flames like smoke, screaming, laughing, fighting, falling, not a one of them paying Bartholomew a whit of attention. Bartholomew returned the favor, having (so to speak) eyes only for his missing spectacles. He swept his hands over the boards in wide arcs, hopping forward on his knees like some sort of particularly ill-formed bird—

      —his left hand landed, not on his wayward spectacles, but on a bare, horny foot smeared with blood.

      "Ho! What's this, then?" boomed out from above his head, and Bartholomew jerked back and fell on his narrow backside, screaming out a thin sound of dismay. The figure looming over him was indistinct enough in the smoke and darkness—and made more indistinct still by Bartholomew's poor weak eyes—but it was huge, and it bore three feet of fire-lit cutlass, and how it stank of tar and filth and sweat! Bartholomew scuttled crabwise backwards on all fours, gasping in newfound terror. Even as he whipped about to scramble to safety, one corded arm lashed about his waist and jerked him up off the boards.

      Kicking and gasping he clawed at the arm around his waist, but the scholarly Bartholomew had never been robust—the arm about his waist might have been the branch of a tree, for all that he could affect it. The pirate boomed out a smoke-cracked laugh and ran one lascivious hand up along the inside of Bartholomew's thigh to the fork of his crotch. Horrified, sickened, Bartholomew flailed and squealed like a shoat as the pirate's hand closed on him through the cloth of his breeches, weighing what he found there like a granny in the marketplace—"You'll do for me," the man gloated, dragging his tongue over Bartholomew's cringing cheek until it could violate the shell of his ear.

      It was all too much for a boy of Bartholomew's sensitive constitution to bear. With a great sob he collapsed into the dubious shelter of unconsciousness, barely aware of the pirate slinging him over his shoulder and making for the boats, leaving both Bartholomew's book and his spectacles to their respective fates.


      The belling side of the black galleon loomed overhead when next he came to, and Bartholomew gagged on the resurgence of his horror. He had been flung into the bottom of a ship's boat like a sack of potatoes—indeed, a sack of potatoes had been thrown on top of him, Bartholomew's narrow body serving to keep the sack out of the bilge-water that even now soaked into his clothes.

      Indistinct nightmare figures twisted and cursed to either side of him, their sweaty hides gleaming orange in the light of the burning town; one of them had its bare foot planted atop Bartholomew's thigh, a gesture less lecherous than it was prudent. Even had Bartholomew not been too terrified to move (and, let us be fair, not pinned to the bottom of the boat by half a hundredweight of the island's small, mealy potatoes) the foot would provide its owner with ample warning should he make a bid for freedom.

      Tarred ropes fell from the galleon above, licking at the small ship's boat like snake's tongues, fore and aft. The sweating figures caught them and made them fast in some way. A wave, a bellow, and the whaleboat lurched up and out of the sea, swinging as it rose—dimly it registered that this was his last chance for escape, and Bartholomew woozily demanded of himself that he move, jump, get free before that chance was taken from him. Accordingly he lunged for the side of the boat, trying to claw himself out from under both the potatoes and the possessive foot.

      With a bellowed laugh the owner of the foot shifted his weight, pinning Bartholomew's leg to the boards. Bartholomew subsided with an airless shriek of pain like the mewling of a kitten, then threw himself forward again. It availed him little, but he continued to struggle until the boat grated up and over the ship's railing.

      The cacophony was stunning. The cannons were still firing, both from the ships and from the colony's beleaguered garrison, and bellowing voices filled the air with curses and raucous laughter. Dim figures bent over the boat. Rough hands seized first the sack of potatoes and then Bartholomew himself, hoisting both into the air to equal amounts of roaring approbation. Bartholomew was roughly passed from hand to hand, his feet barely touching the deck, his wails of fear and protest mocked or simply ignored; somewhere along the line he and the potatoes parted ways. Bartholomew himself was tossed onto a squirming pile of humanity with little regard for his safety or comfort.

      The captive townspeople huddled together on the deck, surrounded by a brace of armed pirates whose vulgar comments and lewd stares raked the clutch like little assaults. Bartholomew stared about wildly, trying to make sense of the vague blurs that he saw. To attempt escape while in the midst of those drawn swords would be foolhardy. He would be struck down and killed! Or worse! (Granted, Bartholomew was unsure what could be worse than dying, but his books had thoroughly pressed the dread phrase 'a fate worse than death' into his mind, and he supposed there must be something to it, even if he did not know precisely what that fate might be.) Hitching up the shoulder of his torn and sodden shirt, Bartholomew found himself a place in the huddle, wiping his watering eyes on his sleeve.

      Piles of plunder grew rapidly on the deck, although Bartholomew found their contents indistinct. And still the cannons thundered and men screamed—"WE SAIL!" an awesome voice boomed over the confusion like the very voice of God—or the Devil—Bartholomew begged pardon for his blasphemy and tried to make himself as small as possible.

      Men leapt to comply, hauling at the ropes. The massive sails bellied out with basso-profundo whip-cracks. The galleon shuddered and lurched forward. The townsman next to Bartholomew wailed out a protest and lunged for the railing; he barely got five steps before the flat of a cutlass cracked against the back of his skull, downing him. The pirate who had struck the man down spat on him, then grabbed his arm and dragged him back to the huddle. "The same for any o' yeh who try such tricks," he warned, grinning as if he hoped they'd try and give him the pleasure.

      The blazing wreck of the island town receded slowly in the distance. All that Bartholomew could see of it was the dim orange glow, growing smaller with every passing moment, and between the galleon and the fire, the black shapes of the smaller, trailing ships—"Father!" someone near Bartholomew wailed, and it wasn't until the nearest pirate cursed and kicked him that Bartholomew realized that the voice had been his own. Trying not to snivel—and failing—Bartholomew curled up against the unresponsive back of another prisoner and hid his face. His favorite books extolled adventure with a breathless joy but never mentioned the little details, such as filthy, waterlogged breeches that tried earnestly to climb up between one's buttocks. It only completed the picture of Bartholomew's misery.

      "Well, lads!" that same Devil's voice bellowed from the foredeck. "Show Us what you've won!" The shocking voice boomed through the night, filling the world with sound—the answering shouts and cheers sounded thin by comparison. The royal 'we' was astonishingly distinct, even to Bartholomew's untutored ears. Bartholomew risked a sidelong glance from under the screen of his hair, less out of his natural curiosity than out of a dreadful need to anticipate the next blow.

      At this distance, with Bartholomew's poor vision, the massive figure that swept down the steps from the foredeck was nothing but a blur of crimson and black roaring with laughter and congratulations. The others gave way before him like the tides, every one of them sketching out their rude obeisances as he passed; choice items were held up for his approval, which was given or withheld seemingly at whim. Disdaining the trinkets he bore down on the little clutch of prisoners like a hurricane, his lunatic grin brilliant against the backdrop of his swarthy face. "Let Us see, then!" the man roared—at this near remove his shout was deafening, like cannon-fire—and, plunging his hand randomly into their midst, he dragged out a townsman by the shirtfront.

      The townsman, sturdy as he was, dangled from the giant's hand like a child's toy, his feet kicking feebly six inches off the deck. The fist knotted in the man's shirt was the size of a Christmas ham and the pirate, surely eight feet tall—nine!—held the man aloft as easily as Bartholomew might hold a kitten, or a book. Shaking the townsman once (and making the man's teeth rattle) the pirate barked out a laugh. "So!" he said, thrusting the man to one side so that he might see the other captives. "Do you know these, your fellow citizens?"


      "It is a simple question," the pirate said, giving the man another shake. "Do you know them?"

      "Most," the townsman faltered. "Most!"

      "Excellent! You shall play host, then, and perform Our introductions!" Still holding the man aloft with one hand, the giant plunged his other hand back into the faltering huddle and dragged out a shrieking woman by one ankle. Her skirts fell up over her head, exposing her under-drawers and prompting a roar of laughter from the pirates around. The giant paid them no heed, his grin never faltering. "Who is this?" he asked, shaking the woman once.

      The townsman shut his eyes. "Martha... Martha Wineman, she runs the tavern with her husband—"

      "Useless!" the pirate bellowed. "And wizened, to boot! Whoever brought her onboard shall be thrashed! Over the side!" The nearest pirate snatched her away and bore her off; even as Martha Wineman (whom Bartholomew had never known, and never would) went screaming over the railing to plunge into the sea, the giant seized another thrashing form by the neck and held it aloft. "And this?"

      Now the poor man's eyes were as wide as saucers; horror snatched his voice away even as it glued Bartholomew's own tongue to the roof of his mouth. Was he then to be flung away to drown? (Bartholomew knew himself to be quite useless, after all, as little as he cared to admit it—had not Avery said so a thousand times?) The pirate had to shake the man again before he managed to collect himself. "Jim—Jim, I don't know his last name, he's the eldest son of the miller—good God, sir—"

      "Useless!" the pirate roared. "But barely twenty years, this one!" He flung the boy like a favor into a waiting knot of slavering pirates; they closed over him like water closes over a stone, howling with anticipation, the boy Jim vanishing entirely into their midst. Underneath the sound of their laughter there came the furtive sound of ripping cloth—even as Bartholomew strove with all his might not to comprehend what was happening, a piercing shriek tore the air, cut off almost as quickly as it began.

      A sudden warmth informed Bartholomew that he had wet himself. Dimly he supposed that he ought to be ashamed, being nearly a man grown, but he could not spare an iota of his attention for the task: the giant pirate was still plucking townspeople from the thinning herd for the first man to falteringly identify, and soon enough he would catch Bartholomew. Bartholomew cringed away, trying desperately to form a prayer—for aid, for succor, for luck, for the Royal Navy, even just for his immortal soul—but the closest he could come was a whimpering, breathless litany of God, Father, please, oh please as his fellow captives were each declared useless in their turn and thrown one by one either into the hot clutches of the waiting pirates or into the cold clutches of the implacable sea below.

      So transfixed was he by his terror that the enormous hand clamping down on the back of his neck came entirely as a shock; Bartholomew squeaked like a mouse as he was dragged forth and presented to his 'host'. Had he not already wet himself, surely he should have done so now. "And this one?" the pirate demanded, thrusting him forward.

      The townsman's eyes, gone mad and staring in their terror, locked onto Bartholomew and widened in awful recognition. "I don't know his Christian name," the man babbled, cringing like he hoped the news would please, "but he's the governor's son, I've seen him about..."

      "What?" The pirate hauled Bartholomew back and looked him over, incredulity giving way to an unholy, fiery glee. "McKittrick's boy? We've caught McKittrick's boy?" The roar of laughter that followed buffeted Bartholomew like a typhoon and caused heads to rise all over the ship. The giant tossed his erstwhile 'host' back to the boards and hefted Bartholomew aloft, raising his voice. "Use the rest as you will!" he roared, causing another ragged cheer to rise. "We lay claim to this! An extra half-share for the man who brought this to Us!"

      Behind him the few remaining prisoners cried out as they were once again seized and borne off by pirates to meet their respective fates, but the shuddering Bartholomew could spare them no thought. The massive figure who held him so negligently inspired in him something beyond terror—something akin to the abject dread of a savage crouched before his blood-smeared wooden idol. Laid claim to—for what? Dear God! A thousand waking nightmares crowded his thoughts, jostling for enough space to display themselves to him. Blessed unconsciousness plucked at him but failed to lay hold, much to Bartholomew's despair.

      "Here!" a ragged voice cried in challenge. A figure stumbled from the crowd, reeling and drunk and splattered with blood; Bartholomew cringed away from that horrible, familiar voice. "Tha's mine, tha' is," his original captor protested, deaf to the sudden, awed silence that swept the ship (broken only in a place or two by muted sobbing). "Caught 'im fair 'n' square!"

      For a moment the giant was absolutely still, Bartholomew dangling from his grip like he had been forgotten there. "We beg your pardon," he finally said, his voice so normal and calm as to be wholly ominous.

      The other man subsided, shrinking, the moment that the giant turned his eyes upon him. He opened his mouth to speak, then shut it again.

      "Who are We, Henrik?" the pirate asked, his voice now silken and soft, yet still loud enough to carry over the silent hordes around them.

      "Cap'n," Henrik said, his voice airless and small. "Beggin' yer pardon, Cap'n, I en't meant no mutiny!"

      "Yes, yes, of course not," his captain said, waving that away. "But what is Our name?"

      Henrik's faltering answer was no louder than a puff of breath and nearly stopped Bartholomew's heart in his narrow chest. "... the Rajah ten Rajah, Cap'n."

      "And We will not be gainsaid within the borders of Our nation—remember that, wherever you go," the Rajah said, and he seized Henrik's neck in his free hand. Henrik's eyes bulged and his tongue squeezed out from between his purpling lips; the Rajah bared his teeth in a mad flash of white and flexed his tree-trunk wrist.

      The sound of the man's spine snapping echoed from stem to stern. For a moment his body hung from the Rajah's fist much like Bartholomew himself did; then the Rajah flicked his fingers and Henrik-that-was collapsed to the deck, still twitching. "One less share to pay out," the Rajah said, mostly to himself. "Oh, your pardon. One less share... plus a half." His booming laugh broke the spell of stillness upon the great ship; throwing Bartholomew negligently over his shoulder the Rajah ten Rajah stalked away from the pirate's body, accompanied by the rising sound of hell-fueled carousing.


      Bartholomew lay in the semidarkness and stared at nothing.

      The brig was scarcely populated, all of his fellow townsmen dead or simply gone; only a filthy wreck of a human being occupied the cell next to his. He had reacted to Bartholomew's presence with a slavering of his tongue over his hairy jaws, either of lust or of simpler, more terrible hungers. At first Bartholomew had cringed dumbly away from the man and his skeletal, grasping, clawed hands, already too ecstatic in his terror to become any more afraid. As the day wore on, however, his horror gave way to the dull ache of his own inevitable death; the next time a ragged-nailed hand clutched at his knee Bartholomew only stamped upon it, like Avery crushing a bug. The other prisoner raised a woeful ululation and pulled away, clutching his hand to his chest.

      A row of portholes let in bits of the sun, tiny circles of light swinging across the floor as the ship sailed. Without his spectacles Bartholomew found the light vague, at best; the light shifted and danced and Bartholomew watched it dispassionately, his mind no more active than the rest of him. His shoes and hose, his waistcoat, these things had been stripped from him as he lay in a daze, leaving him only in ragged shirtsleeves and trousers; an iron cuff had been hammered about his bare ankle, the filthy black chain clanking and dragging at him as he shifted. He lay in a few inches of tepid, spoilt water, which left his backside sodden but at least replaced the stink of urine with another, duller stench.

      His mind, on those few occasions that it could not cling to its dulled state, raced to bring Bartholomew fresh terrors like still-pumping organs torn from a corpse. Every frightful rumor he had ever overheard returned to haunt him: the Rajah ten Rajah, got by a sun-crazed sailor of the Dutch East India Company on a fierce cannibal giantess (or on the Devil himself, to hear the whispers)—the Rajah ten Rajah, heir to a madman's island kingdom lost even before his birth, when his mad father its self-declared ruler was driven from its shores—the Rajah ten Rajah, who led a fleet of five black-painted ships, ever in search of the lost island, his fantastic birthright! Immense, mad, omnipotent, cruel, capricious—his fleet was his nation until such time as he once again found his island kingdom, ruled with the iron fist of not merely a captain but a king, believing himself ordained by God! Even in this febrile state Bartholomew begged God's pardon for the blasphemy, his breath hissing out between his pale, cracked lips.

      The sounds of a galleon under full sail reached to his ears, but if ever the time was called, he could not hear it. The gnawing in his belly was the only clock that he had. Fierce enough to place Bartholomew at two meals missed, not yet fierce enough for three—afternoon, then. The color of the sun agreed.

      Eventually Bartholomew achieved a light and fitful doze, which broke when the door to the brig was flung open to the accompaniment of coarse laughter. Two blurry figures stumped down the stairs, one tall, one stout, the both of them dressed in rags and grime and little else; the stout one dangled a blacksmith's hammer from one paw. Bartholomew cringed back against the ship's side, terror flaring anew.

      "Rajah wants t' see you, boy!" the stout man bellowed. The tall man wielded the keys in sullen silence, his bloodshot gaze fastened on Bartholomew in a way that seemed wholly insalubrious; instinctively Bartholomew edged away as the door swung open. Reaching down, the stout man caught Bartholomew's foot and dragged his leg out straight. "Hold that there," he ordered the tall man.

      The tall man hastened to comply, catching Bartholomew's bare foot in a grip like a pincer. One finger pressed into the space between Bartholomew's largest toe and the next, rasping back and forth like a saw against tender and oddly secret skin; the tall man wet his lips. "Pretty," he breathed, his voice hoarse. His eyes caught Bartholomew's and held them, hypnotic, like a serpent's.

      Bartholomew, already flushed with horror at this outrage, only pulled his eyes from the tall man's when a shock smote his leg with the ringing of iron. He shrieked, certain for a moment that the stout man had crushed his leg with the hammer, that the pain must surely follow; instead the leg cuff fell away, leaving a reddened ring of clammy skin behind. "Up you get, boy," said the stout man, putting the hammer in his belt. "Or must we carry you?"

      "Aye, we'll carry yeh," the thin man breathed, going to his knees in the bilge-water by Bartholomew's cringing side. His hands caught Bartholomew by neck and leg, but made no effort to lift; instead he forced his dirty fingers in between Bartholomew's thighs, a thin scum of drool forming on his lower lip.

      "Here, the Rajah said t' bring him," said the stout man, although he made no effort to stop this latest horror.

      "Got nothin' last night but me own hand and th' watchin' of others," his mate rasped over the sound of Bartholomew's sobbing breaths. A knee pinned one of Bartholomew's legs to the floor, leaving his thighs spread wide, his wet breeches clinging to his skin. "None'll notice five minutes gone and he'll be none th' worse for wear, none'll know, none'll see..."

      "You saw what happened t' Henrik," the stout man warned, but all the same he retreated a step to the foot of the stairs. Glancing up at the door, he added, "Quickly, then, an' leave no marks!"

      Bartholomew's wordless wail of dismay and negation choked off as the tall man flung him onto his belly in the muck, filthy water flooding his mouth and nose. Two fingers stroked roughly down the cleft of his ass and would have violated him then and there, foiled only by the heavy linen of his breeches—for all that the man was scrawny his weight was nearly that of the world as he fell onto Bartholomew, pressing the air from Bartholomew's lungs as he ground himself down against Bartholomew's clothed backside. "It'll do, it'll do," he gasped, crushing Bartholomew into the wooden planks of the floor.

      Tears flowed from Bartholomew's eyes to add to the water on the floor. Above him the pirate labored, wheezing and gasping, the sheer weight of him pressing Bartholomew's buttocks apart to accommodate the heavy thing that rasped along that channel and ground Bartholomew's hips against the boards. Suddenly the thin layers of linen between them seemed like no barrier at all, and Bartholomew's screams bubbled in the water—

      With a hoarse cry the pirate flung himself forward, squashing Bartholomew entirely, the heavy thing pulsing and jumping between Bartholomew's clothed buttocks. A shock of purest sensation leapt from Bartholomew's half-parted fundament to his navel, and he squealed in denial of everything and began, belatedly, to thrash.

      The tall man forced a hand under Bartholomew, sniggering. In truth Bartholomew's own small prick was half-engorged, pressed as it had been against the boards—it had always been foolish for any slight sensation ever since Bartholomew rose thirteen, and it was a fool even now. "Aye, yeh liked it fine, yeh did, for all thet yeh mewled," the pirate breathed, pinching Bartholomew's prick between his first two fingers and prompting another airless squeal. "I'd give yeh more—"

      "Bring him an' let's go," the stout man interrupted, his voice a nervous whine. "You've been about it too long."

      "Too bad for yeh, aye," said the tall man. He rolled off Bartholomew and stood, grabbing Bartholomew's arm and hauling him to his feet; the stout man caught Bartholomew's other arm and together they dragged him up the stairs and out into the painful daylight.

      By the time Bartholomew's eyes stopped watering they were halfway across the massive black ship and he was stumbling along on his own feet instead of being dragged. Shouts followed them, but in truth fewer than Bartholomew expected; the galleon was a working ship by the light of the afternoon sun. The sun spilled generously over him, warming him without thought of recompense. Bartholomew was so grateful for even this tiny kindness that his eyes watered anew.

      His mind felt cracked, as if it had been dropped and damaged; such things were never the same, even after mending. Bartholomew stared foolishly about himself, at the mercifully-fuzzy world of the galleon all 'round, at the enormous popping sails overhead, and only whimpered like a beaten dog when he was dragged through a door and out of the kindly sun.

      The vast captain's chambers were comparatively dark and cluttered with stolen finery, all of it luxurious to the point of absurdity, all of it vague to Bartholomew's dazzled eyes. "You took your time, certainly," boomed a horribly familiar voice, and Bartholomew's shriek of fear sounded thin in its wake. The Rajah ten Rajah stood at one of the cabin's glass windows, massive hands clasped behind his back, eyes fixed on the ship's hissing wake.

      "Aye, Rajah, beggin' yer pardon, Rajah," said the tall man, cringing in newfound obsequiousness. "Took some doin' t' get off the chains, he squirmed and cried so!"

      Bartholomew's jaw dropped and he uttered a single disbelieving "Uh!" of protest. The enormities that had gone before were too large to comprehend, let alone cope with—but to be lied about, Avery's own worst trick, that Bartholomew both understood and loathed. His cracked mind fixed upon it like it had been nailed there. Even the calculating glance that the Rajah shot him could not banish his newfound outrage.

      "Ah," said the Rajah, after a frost-laden moment. "See him to the chair, and then you may go."

      "Aye, Rajah! Thank you, Rajah!" The two pirates hustled Bartholomew forward and pushed him down. Soft upholstery squelched under Bartholomew's sodden, outraged backside; relieved, his legs went limp. His escort let him go and scrambled out of the room in relief.

      "Do you have your letters, boy?"

      The voice was thin and of no account; Bartholomew, still chewing over the indignity of the lies, barely paid heed. His awareness was taken up entire by the bulk of the man at the window, who still stood with his back to Bartholomew. Bartholomew wet his lips, staring at the vast expanse of crimson cloth that strained over those monumental shoulders. "I didn't," he whispered, his voice as airless as the grave.

      "Boy!" The owner of the thin voice rapped his inkwell impatiently on the heavy wooden desk. Bartholomew, startled, jerked his poor weak eyes away from the silent Rajah at the sound. The man seated at the desk was thin and sour, dressed all in rusty black, like a crow, or a lawyer; he wore a barbaric silver collar about his throat in lieu of a cravat, and a pair of bent spectacles, the sight of which brought tears to Bartholomew's eyes anew. Oh, his spectacles—"Have you your letters?" the thin man demanded to know, his mouth pursing. "Are you simple?"

      "I don't—"

      The man's voice was impatient and harsh. "Your letters! Can you read and write?"

      Bartholomew blinked. He was prepared, if incompletely, for any manner of horror, but the unexpected mundanity confused him. "Yes?" he said, and a moment later, uncertainly, "Sir?"

      "Ah, praise be to God, it talks," the thin man said. Behind him the Rajah rumbled out a bone-shaking low laugh. The thin man pushed a sheet of parchment across the desk and laid his quill upon it. "Take that and address a letter to your father," he said, nudging the inkwell closer. "A line or two in your own hand will do. Tell him that you are unharmed, and sign it with your full name."

      Bartholomew, who had never in his life felt less unharmed, nevertheless took up the quill in shaking fingers. "Sir," he dared to say, "I don't understand—"

      "Proof enough that we hold you and that you live," said the thin man. "Such things loosen the purse-strings of men who might not otherwise pay a ransom."

      Ransom! Sudden hope flooded through Bartholomew with such force that it nearly flung him from the chair. He could taste it; he could feel it spilling from his eyes. They intended to ransom him—he would not die here! His father would pay any amount to have him returned safely and the promise of money would surely keep him safe—keep him unharmed! Tears standing in the corners of his eyes Bartholomew bent to the parchment, squinting to bring it into focus. Dear Father, he wrote. I am shaken but unharmed, although I am sorry to say that I have lost my spectacles. The usual platitudes sprang to his mind, fresh from the pages of a dozen books, but did not quite spring to his pen; he did not write I am being treated well or I am in fear of my life. I will be strong, he wrote instead, until such time as you send for me. A tear fell to the parchment, starring it, but fortunately marring none of the ink. Biting his lip, Bartholomew dipped the pen again and signed all three of his lengthy names, Bartholomew Kimberly McKittrick.

      The thin man pulled the parchment out from under Bartholomew's pen before the ink on his signature had had time to dry, scanning it. "Hm, hm," he said in disdain. "Well, it will do." He passed the parchment to the Rajah (with a small and humble bow) and plucked his pen from Bartholomew's fingers.

      The Rajah cast his narrowed eyes down the page, weighing Bartholomew's hopeful words; the rumble of his laugh shook the world. "Well, now," he said, even his ordinary voice a rich booming sound. "You've become a treasure, haven't you?"

      "Sir," Bartholomew said, falteringly.

      With a speed belied by his size, the Rajah spun around and caught Bartholomew by his collar, half-lifting him from his chair. "Never call Us that," he said, his voice dangerously low. "We are no knight, no Englishman, to be dismissed with a feeble 'sir'!"

      "Y-yes!" Bartholomew squeaked, catching the Rajah's tree-trunk wrist in both hands. His bare feet scrabbled at the rug. "Yes, Rajah!"

      "Good." The Rajah set Bartholomew on his feet in a manner almost gentle, holding his own massive strength in check as if he held back an avalanche. He bared his teeth, lifting his upper lip in a sneer (it was shaved clean, as were his cheeks, in the manner of the Dutch); his bright, crazed eyes raked Bartholomew from one sodden, filthy end to the other. Abruptly Bartholomew felt naked, and more than naked, flayed; more than flayed, laid bare to the bone; more than laid bare, brushed open like a book, such that the Rajah could read his very thoughts. "A valuable thing," the Rajah repeated. "Such things ought to be locked away."

      The horror of the cell exploded once more in Bartholomew's mind, nearly crushing him. To be returned to the chains, the bilge-water, the casual sport of the pirates—"Please, Rajah," he said, incoherent with fear.

      "Hah! See how he begs," the Rajah told his secretary, the laugh like the snapping of a man's spine. His eyes shifted back towards Bartholomew, still cringing in his grip. "Please, Rajah, what?"

      "Please, not the cell," Bartholomew whispered, wetting his lips with his tongue.

      "You dislike Our brig?" the Rajah inquired, his voice almost jolly, now. "Is it not fit for a king? Because We are a king, you recall."

      Bartholomew shut his eyes. How could one reason with a madman without being mad oneself? "Please," he repeated, the sound a mere puff of breath.

      "Mmmmm," the Rajah rumbled, deep in thought. Bartholomew hung in midair, terrified, poised on the verge of screaming—"Would you say We are a reasonable man, boy?" the Rajah inquired, softly.

      "I-I have heard it said of you that you are," Bartholomew said, lying desperately, eager to please.

      The Rajah snorted. "You have not," he said. "For We are no reasonable man. We are, indeed, quite mad. And the thought of storing a valuable thing in a ordinary chest, where any man might come and make use of it, possibly break it—well. It makes Us more unreasonable yet."

      In his confusion, in his terror, Bartholomew almost said Sir?. He bit it back at the last moment. "R-Rajah?"

      "However, We are honorable, after Our fashion," said the Rajah, almost as if speaking to himself. "No merchant's blood runs in these royal veins, but still, it would grieve Us to give your father less of you than he paid for. So!" With a gesture oddly graceful for its immense size, the Rajah released the front of Bartholomew's poor sodden shirt and indicated that he might move freely. "You may beg Us for mercy, if you like."

      "Please, Rajah," Bartholomew croaked, his tongue suddenly as dry as leather.

      "Please, Rajah, what?" prompted the Rajah.

      "Please, Rajah, mercy!" Bartholomew wrung his hands. Tears formed in his eyes but he dared not dash them away—all the pretty words and high-flown speeches in all the books he had ever loved had deserted him now, leaving him only with his own poor, clumsy tongue and those few words it might call forth. "I beg you, Rajah..."

      The Rajah seemed unmoved. Behind him, his secretary caught Bartholomew's eye and held out a hand, lowering it; accordingly, after a moment of confusion, Bartholomew dropped to his knees. "Have mercy, Rajah," he implored, catching the hem of the Rajah's captain's coat. A week ago—two days ago!—he would have been appalled at the idea that he might beg anyone for anything (save to beg Avery to leave him be, which was a different thing altogether). Now, however, his earlier violation still writ large across his cracked mind, Bartholomew begged as abjectly as a penitent on his knees before God... and, truth be told, discovered in himself something of a facility for it, here in his direst need. "I beg of you, Rajah, do not return me to the brig, for—" Bartholomew swallowed and groped for words "—for they are kept in a state unbecoming of your majesty, filthy and dank as they are!"

      "Are they?" the Rajah inquired, his voice once again dangerously soft. One colossal hand fell to Bartholomew's head, stroking his damp hair back from his forehead.

      "Forgive me, Rajah, but they are," said Bartholomew, terrified and encouraged, both. "Look at my clothing and see for yourself... ah... should it please you."

      Above him, the Rajah rumbled out a little sound. "It has already pleased Us to do so," he said. "And yet, it has not pleased Us at all."

      Emboldened by his success, Bartholomew clutched at the Rajah's coat. "And your servants whom you sent to fetch me..." Here, he faltered, and who amongst us might blame him? "... they made free with me, in such ways that they thought would not raise your suspicions—"

      The Rajah's hand dropped from Bartholomew's head—the open-handed slap was negligible, using as it did not a hundredth of the Rajah's strength, but still Bartholomew's head snapped to the side and his cheek flamed. Bartholomew's cry of pain was quickly bitten off, becoming only a choked whimper. "Be still," the Rajah said. "A valuable thing you may be, but still merely a thing. We do not suffer Our possessions to make accusations against Our subjects."

      "I... I beg your pardon, Rajah," Bartholomew mumbled, trying and failing to stifle his sobs. His cheek throbbed as if he had the tooth-ache. "I over... overstepped myself."

      "You did," said the Rajah. "But it suits Us to forgive you."

      Bartholomew scrubbed his sodden sleeve over his streaming eyes and nose. "Th-thank you, Rajah," he said, still sniveling. "Please, I cry mercy. I... I throw myself up-upon your mercy."

      "Ahhhhh," the Rajah breathed. "Do you?"

      "I do! Oh, God, please, I do..." Bartholomew shuddered out a sob.

      The Rajah touched the top of Bartholomew's head, like a benediction. "Then you may grovel before Us."

      Bartholomew, who already believed himself to be groveling, trembled in confusion and dared a glance at the Rajah's secretary. Once again the man's hand made the surreptitious lowering gesture. Bartholomew's mind churned—could he go lower?—of course he could. Bartholomew gasped out a sob and fell on his face, his clutching hand falling from the Rajah's coat to his booted ankle. "Please, I beg you! Please!" A fragment of some book (read long ago and mostly forgotten, now) surfaced in his flailing mind, and Bartholomew dared to kiss the Rajah's boot, the leather rough and cracked under his lips. Anything—even this abasement—anything but the brig, and the bilge-water, and the outrages upon his person!

      The answering laugh was a mere rumble, but even the Rajah's merest noise was a thing of physical force. "Oh, prettily done, Our treasure. We shall show you the mercy you beg for: you shall not be clapped back in irons, nor returned to Our brig."

      "Thank you, Rajah! Th-thank you!" Bartholomew snuffled, the stolen rug soft against his burning cheek.

      "Indeed, We shall personally keep you whole and hale," proclaimed the Rajah, "so that We may show you to your father and say, look, We are a man of Our word."

      A shudder of relief shook Bartholomew as if he had a palsy. "Your Majesty," he croaked.

      "But you must not think that you are anything more than Our creature," the Rajah added. "If We command, you shall obey."

      "Your Majesty," Bartholomew repeated, too swept away in his relief to consider the implications of such a statement.

      "Stand, then, O creature," said the Rajah, with another of those rumbling laughs.

      Scrubbing his sleeve over his face again Bartholomew stumbled to his feet, finding himself almost too weak to stand. He doddered like an ancient before the Rajah, whose rumbling laugh erupted like a volcano at the sight; "Come!" the Rajah cried, seizing Bartholomew and flinging him negligently over his shoulder. Bartholomew coughed out his breath and struggled to reclaim it. The Rajah, insensible to Bartholomew's distress, carried him to one corner of the cabin, where a staircase lurked; with another shout of laughter the Rajah ran lightly down the steps, carrying Bartholomew from ornate office to equally ornate bedchamber.


      Flung over the Rajah's shoulder like a sack of potatoes, fighting for breath, his eyes weak and dazzled, Bartholomew could make out little of the cabin as it flew past. It was dark, the edges of furnishings barely visible in the gloom, and over all a strange and not-unpleasant scent, heavy like velvet, earthy like loam; just as Bartholomew's eyes sought to grow accustomed to the gloom there came a crack, and a squeal, and light flooded into the room from an opened panel. "Here, then, is where you shall be stored!" declared the Rajah, and hefting Bartholomew as another man might heft a kitten, he tossed the boy into the narrow room thus revealed.

      Bartholomew's backside struck the boards with a bruising force. He yelped, and attempted to stifle the yelp in the same breath; the Rajah only boomed out a laugh. Even as Bartholomew struggled up onto one elbow, blinking furiously to clear his poor weak eyes, the Rajah stepped back and swung the panel to; it fitted so cleanly into the wall that Bartholomew was hard-pressed to tell where wall ended and door-panel began.

      Alone—blessedly alone!—Bartholomew sat up and rubbed at his eyes until the dazzle faded. He found himself tucked away in a long and narrow chamber. Twice his height in length, it was, but narrower even than his outstretched arms, and lit only by a single, tiny porthole high above his head; empty of everything save Bartholomew, but the tarred boards were blissfully dry, and—luxury!—a small hole at one end opened onto the bilge! Two days ago Bartholomew had taken his small bed and writing-desk for granted, cared nothing for his wardrobe and his book-shelves; now he cried with relief to be allowed dry boards on which to stretch out, and a hole to act as his privy.

      On trembling legs he explored his new abode, his hands patting at the walls to augment his failing sight. In truth, there was little enough to explore. The boards were old and well-planed, worn smooth with time, age, and footsteps; the edges of the hole had been smoothed. He should not even have to fear splinters—the tiny kindness brought Bartholomew to tears once more.

      He half-collapsed onto the boards at the far end of the chamber, his wet breeches squelching around him. Misery, to be certain, but such a small misery in comparison! Perhaps, his spinning mind informed him, perhaps later he might take them off and endeavor to wring them out above the privy; perhaps he might contrive some way to hang them to dry? Small opportunities, they were, tiny and limited in comparison with the astonishing freedom that he had enjoyed a scant two days before, but so much more than the brig had afforded him. The euphoria that follows a narrow escape had him firmly in its grip; Bartholomew laughed even as he cried, perilously close to hysteria.

      It wasn't until the Rajah's voice boomed from outside the chamber that Bartholomew once again grew still and silent, his heart rabbiting along in his chest. To whom the Rajah spoke, he did not know. The wooden panel muffled the words sufficiently that Bartholomew could not understand them, but the oddly gentle hectoring tone was still clear enough. Bartholomew huddled in his corner, his cheek burning, too wary to put his ear to the door-panel.

      The rumble of that outsized voice ceased. A moment later the door-panel cracked open and pulled back, revealing the Rajah—automatically Bartholomew cringed into his corner, both hands coming up as if to ward off the giant. The Rajah only raised one eyebrow. "You may greet Us, creature."

      "Your Majesty," Bartholomew said tentatively. He feared to stand—what if he fell?—but still he endeavored to duck his head in as pretty a bow as he might.

      Chuckling, the Rajah put down a bucket—forgetting everything, even his terror, even the Rajah, Bartholomew scrambled for it on hands and knees. Cupping his trembling hands together he brought clean, clear water to his mouth, gulping it avidly, spilling it down his shirtfront (already sodden, it is true). The water tasted of wood and tar, but Bartholomew could not bring himself to care. Water!

      The Rajah next put down a bundle tied in a napkin and a pile of folded cloth. "We do not care to hear from you save when you are in Our presence," he said. "Clean and feed yourself. There will be more tomorrow."

      "Yes, Rajah, thank you, Rajah!" It came so easily now, but Bartholomew could not bring himself to wonder at it. His hands itched to claw the napkin apart, to see what wonders it might contain, but in the Rajah's presence he forced himself to be still, bowing his head.

      "Good creature," said the Rajah, touching Bartholomew's head. With that, he withdrew, and the door-panel slid shut once more.

      Bartholomew fell on the napkin like a ravening wolf. The napkin fell open to reveal jerked meat and ship's biscuit, a goodly amount of both, and to Bartholomew's way of thinking he had never had a grander nor more welcome feast. A brownish strip of stuff towards the bottom proved to be dried fruit pulp; the sweetness of it made Bartholomew's eyes water once more.

      Finally, once the howling hole in the center of him had been well and truly plugged, Bartholomew turned his attention to the rest. The folded cloth proved to be a long robe of rough homespun; astonished, wondering, Bartholomew gingerly stripped off the ruins of his sodden clothes, salvaged what might be salvaged, and laid those few pieces out to dry, then washed himself as best he might with a corner of the napkin dipped in his precious water supply. By the time he slid into the robe—ridiculously overlarge, but warm and dry and generous enough to serve as blanket and bedroll both—Bartholomew knew a moment of absolute joy that threatened to send his cracked brain a-spin. The kindness, no matter how perfunctory or mocking, was a balm upon his thirsty soul; any abasement was scant enough payment for such thoughtfulness.

      Such were Bartholomew's scattered thoughts as he snuggled down in the robe to sleep, for the moment as rich a man as has ever lived.


      It could not last. Such things never did.

      The next morning Bartholomew awoke with the sunlight from the tiny porthole full in his eyes. For all that his father often claimed that life in the colonies was hard, still Bartholomew was a soft boy with a soft existence; a night on the bare boards had left him stiff and sore. He struggled to his feet, whining under his breath as his body tautened and complained at this ill treatment, and shuffled over to his privy-hole.

      A strange alchemy, this, and yet true beyond all measure: in the face of prosaic aches and pains, in the face of boredom, both the memory of terror and the memory of ecstasy fade and lessen. Bartholomew remembered his terror of the day before—still winced away from the memories of the brig—but at the moment was more concerned with his bodily aches, and how unfair it was that he should suffer them. Indeed, thinking on his prior behavior caused him some embarrassment. Surely it had not be necessary to go so far—

      Even the boom of the Rajah's voice from outside the door-panel failed to unnerve him overmuch. The illusion of his safety was complete. Had the man not been kind to him yesterday? Had the man not set himself to preserve Bartholomew whole and hale in order to earn the ransom Bartholomew's father would pay? Did the man not bring Bartholomew food and water with his own hands, like a servant? Bartholomew, it must be said, was neither particularly imaginative nor particularly bright, and thus in the sharp morning light he could find little enough reason to fear the Rajah.

      Once again the panel cracked and opened to reveal the Rajah, bearing that day's ration. In the clear light of morning Bartholomew could see that the man was merely seven feet tall, not eight or nine as his earlier fancies had had it, and while certainly strong and broad, not some giant. "Good morning, Rajah," said Bartholomew, his voice clear and even, and he essayed a little bow of the most general sort, secretly begrudging the man even that.

      The Rajah said nothing, merely glanced Bartholomew's way before swapping his empty bucket for one full. The napkin of food he placed beside it. Emboldened, Bartholomew straightened and eagerly said, "I beg your pardon, but would you be so kind as to tell me if you have sent to my father—"

      The Rajah's hand swept out and cracked against Bartholomew's cheek, sending him reeling back into the wall. He only barely caught himself, crying out in pain—he had never before been struck so hard—and before he could stagger upright the Rajah pinned him there, one hand engulfing Bartholomew's throat and forcing his chin up. "You will show Us respect," the Rajah hissed, his mad eyes burning on Bartholomew's, his immense shape blotting out the light. "We have spared you for Our own ends, boy. Do not think that even the promise of a king's ransom can save you, should you put on airs."

      Choking, frightened anew, Bartholomew caught at the man's wrist. "I'm sorry, Rajah!" he croaked.

      "You are not sorry," the Rajah proclaimed. "Or, rather, you are only sorry that your lack of respect was discerned by Us."

      Bartholomew swallowed. Frightened he was, but not yet terrified, not yet touching that vein of abject horror that had so informed his actions yesterday, despite the new ache in his jaw. "Please, Rajah, forgive me," he tried.

      "We are not inclined to," said the Rajah, his hand tightening on Bartholomew's throat. "Of all the various offenses perpetrated by mankind, We despise disrespect to Our person the most. Such offenses..." He paused and tilted his head to the side, like a great hunting cat, as a thought came to him. "Such offenses must be punished, to ensure that they do not recur."

      "I won't do it again!" Bartholomew promised, in the desperate, cheated voice of a child. Punishment! In his short, soft life Bartholomew had known many a tongue-lashing, and on serious occasions the crack of his father's hand; his books had added more fanciful chastisements to his vocabulary. Bartholomew clung to the Rajah's arm, in uncertain fear of the lash, of keel-hauling, of a thousand terrible and undefined things upon which his favorite writers had lavished their attention. "I promise! I'm sorry!"

      "Do you think We care so for your good opinion, that We would accept mere empty words as your penance?" The Rajah shook him, such that the back of Bartholomew's head thumped against the wood with a hollow sound. "It would please Us best to return you to your father in one unwounded piece, it is true, but there are many punishments We might devise that would still leave you... whole."

      Bartholomew snuffled in dazed incomprehension. "Rajah...?"

      "You shall service every man of Our nation if We wish it," the Rajah said. Deep in his eyes a mad spark snapped alight. "Indeed, it might amuse Us to return to McKittrick an unharmed boy whose mouth has nevertheless known intimately the pricks of a hundred men—a lesson in humility that McKittrick desperately requires!"

      Now Bartholomew's eyes widened, watering; now that horror bloomed in his gut. He knew little enough about such deviant sexual practices, but his first harsh lesson in the brig had left him sore afraid of that which he did not understand; he clutched at the Rajah's wrist anew. "Please, Rajah, no, I beg you, don't!"

      "They'd clamor for your ass, you realize," the Rajah went on, implacable in his anger. His voice dropped to that dangerously low pitch, the venom dripping forth. "We might have you bound to the mast on your knees, your mouth available to any man who desired to spend five minutes using it, and still there would be among them men who'd beg to have you turned over, your backside bared to the air—but a soft thing like you would bleed to death long before the tenth prick was jammed into your vitals, and We swore to keep you whole, didn't We?"

      The filth struck at Bartholomew's poorly-repaired mind, cracking it in half once again. He was helpless not to envision the horrors as the Rajah spoke them aloud—much like how, in better days, he had seen the events of his precious books unfold in his mind—and Bartholomew swallowed a sob. Already his jaw ached, like it was happening—his backside throbbed—"Oh, God, please, no, Rajah, I beg you—"

      "Perhaps We should tell them that your ass was Our treasure, to claim at Our leisure?" The Rajah's other hand came to rest on Bartholomew's hip. "They would understand such a claim, We are certain." In confusion Bartholomew said nothing, only gibbered; the Rajah eyed him, his upper lip lifted in a sneer. "A hundred men might fuck your mouth and not kill you, provided you do not choke—do you understand, O thing, that you should hope that is all the punishment We decide you have earned?"

      Sobbing aloud, Bartholomew squeezed his eyes shut and dared to nod. The Rajah loomed close; Bartholomew shuddered in fear before growing absolutely still, like a frightened mouse. The Rajah's laugh was the hunting snarl of a tiger, so close. "Do you understand, then, that your only hope of surviving this day is for Us to lay claim to you, boy?"


      "Beg Us to do so," the Rajah breathed against Bartholomew's cheek, his breath hot against Bartholomew's skin. "Beg Us, and you might yet survive to see your father again."

      "... please," Bartholomew said helplessly, in horror lacking all other words, but still knowing in his gut that all pleading must begin with 'please'. His eyes opened and rolled skywards, until he was staring at the tarred boards overhead. "Please..."

      "Please... what?"

      "Please... please, Rajah..." Bartholomew swallowed. He could not say it—he did not have the words to say it. Nothing in his sheltered vocabulary could come together to allow him to beg for such an outrage. "Please..."

      "You begged more prettily yesterday," the Rajah said in disdain. "We might almost think that you wished to be used by Our citizens."


      "Then beg Us!" the Rajah roared, nearly deafening Bartholomew, whose thin and mewling scream of terror was entirely lost under the avalanche of sound.

      At that Bartholomew's cracked mind shattered. "Yes," Bartholomew whimpered, "yes, please, Rajah, please, I'll say whatever you want, just tell me what to say..."

      Silence fell. The Rajah's gaze was heavy on Bartholomew's face. "You must say 'please lay claim to my virginity, Rajah'," he prompted, in a low rumble.

      "Please..." Bartholomew faltered, then rallied, largely in panic. "Please lay claim to my... my virginity, Rajah..."

      "Good," breathed the Rajah. "Now say that you want nothing more than to accommodate Our prick in your ass."

      "I... I..." Closing his eyes Bartholomew surrendered to his humiliation, his cheeks burning red. "I want nothing... n-nothing more than to... to accommodate you..."

      "You want it."

      "I-I want it..."

      "You want Our prick."

      "I... oh God... I want..."


      "I want your prick," Bartholomew whispered, aching with his shame.

      "How badly?"

      "So... so much..."

      "And where do you want it?"

      "In... in my ass, Rajah. ... oh, God. Oh, God."

      Again there was silence. The hand on Bartholomew's hip ticked its thumb lightly over the protruding point of his hipbone. "Now you must put it all together," the Rajah said in the barest rumble.

      "I... I..." In a perfect ecstasy of mortification Bartholomew writhed against the wall, his voice little more than a choked breath. "I want... I want your prick in... in my ass... so much..."

      "Say 'please'."


      "As if you mean it."


      "Please, what?"

      "Please, put your prick in my ass!" Bartholomew only choked on the last word—it had come out so cleanly, so clearly...

      "That is not how you must ask," the Rajah said. "You must ask Us to fuck you."


      "Say it," the Rajah snarled. His eyes were portals to Hell.

      It came out as less than a whisper. "... fuck me..." Even now, even at this extreme, Bartholomew flushed at the filth as he mouthed it.

      "Do you think that you are God, to order Us about?" the Rajah inquired. "We must be asked humbly—We must be begged."

      Bartholomew swallowed. Once again he touched the floor of his horror; once again he touched that facility for abasement. "Please, Rajah," he began, licking his lips. Tears flowed freely down his cheeks. "Please... please fuck me..." In his shattered mind words hastened into line, and for all that they made him burn with shame they fell from his lips like poisoned wine. "Please fuck my ass, I want your prick, I want it, please, please Rajah, fuck me, I want it so badly..." He trailed off there, horrified and ashamed.

      For the moment the Rajah was silent, his eyes mere slits as he weighed Bartholomew's pleas. For a moment Bartholomew dared to hope—then the Rajah gently turned him to face the wall, pinning him there by dint of his grip upon the back of Bartholomew's neck. He leaned in until his lips nearly touched Bartholomew's reddened ear. "Once more," he whispered.

      Gasping out a sob Bartholomew pressed his cheek against the boards and squeezed his eyes shut, cowering in terror of the violation to come. Still, what has been said once may be said more easily a second time, even if it must perforce be said in a terrified whisper; "Please, Rajah, please, I want you to... to put your prick in me, please fuck me..." The Rajah's other hand fell to cup Bartholomew's buttocks—indeed, it was nearly large enough to contain them both—and Bartholomew sobbed out his next breath so loudly that it echoed. "Please, please, please... please..."

      "Please, what?" the Rajah breathed into his ear.

      Bartholomew snuffled. "Please, Rajah, fuck me," he said—or tried to say, but in his extremity he could only mouth the words. The hands on him nearly stopped his heart—no, let us be honest, what nearly caused his heart to fail was the slight swelling of his prick, ever a fool for sensation, even this, even now.

      The Rajah considered. For several seconds he considered, stroking Bartholomew's buttocks in an idle manner. Then: "No," he said. "Beg for it all you like, but no. No matter how much you desire it, We will not, for you are disrespectful to Us and do not deserve Our consort." He let go of Bartholomew with both hands and stepped from the chamber, the door-panel clicking softly back into place.

      For a moment thereafter Bartholomew cringed against the wall, in his terror unable to believe that it was over, so convinced had he been of his own death, or violation, or both. In the end, still sobbing, he collapsed into a huddle, clutching at himself, white with shame over his own importuning.


      It seems absurd that Bartholomew might learn the true meaning of boredom on the same day as he learned the true meaning of shame, and yet, he did; after all, the day was destined to be long, and Bartholomew was not a boy accustomed to entertaining himself, not when there had always been so much about to entertain him.

      For the first few hours he did little but huddle in a corner and weep, it is true. Still, even Bartholomew could only weep so much; eventually he must perforce grow still and stare wild-eyed at the opposite wall, painfully reassembling the fragments of his reason. Once calm, the first thing he became aware of was his thirst. Accordingly, Bartholomew crept over and drank from his water bucket.

      Next, he seized the napkin that contained his daily ration and scuttled back to the corner with it, only pausing to pick apart the knot once he had once again made himself small. He ate a small portion of ship's biscuit without much enjoyment, wept anew over a bit of pickled onion wrapped in a piece of leaf—it spoke to him of the Rajah's earlier goodwill towards him, which he had foolishly wasted, ensuring that he would never be deemed worthy of such treats again—and then ate onion and leaf both, snuffling at the sting of sharp vinegar. The strip of fruit leather he carefully tore into parts, eating only one part before putting the rest aside for later.

      Perhaps he had angered the Rajah so much that the Rajah would no longer deign to feed him at all—Bartholomew wrenched his mind away from the thought. And yet, he was only Bartholomew; wil-he or nil-he his mind clutched at the idea, worrying at it like a dog worries a bone. Bartholomew cast a glance at his water bucket, only half-full, and resolved to ration it as stringently as he could.

      Exhausted by his terror, his bodily needs seen to, Bartholomew next endeavored to sleep for a while. The floor was hard, however, and he still ached from sleeping upon it the night before; he dozed fitfully against the wall for a while before giving up. Stretching out his sore muscles passed some time, and washing himself with a few dabs of water passed a bit more, after which time he tended to his laundry: his shirt was torn but his breeches were still whole, if discolored. Bartholomew put aside the rough robe and slid back into his breeches, grimacing at their dampness.

      A search of his pockets turned up treasures: his handkerchief, filthy but whole, with a trio of thin copper pennies carefully bound up in one corner, and a pretty blue pebble that Bartholomew frowned at. He had no memory of picking it up, and yet, here it was. Bartholomew spared a palmful of water for the washing of his handkerchief, then carefully bound up the pennies and the pebble within, unmindful of the wet; he had little enough in the way of possessions and he intended to preserve these as best he might.

      Recalling a passage from one of his favorite books Bartholomew next scratched a mark upon the boards with the buckle of his belt, and after some consideration, a second. Two nights had passed since his abduction; the book's hero (altogether a braver and more worthy soul than Bartholomew) had mused at length upon the importance of keeping track of time. It kept one's mind focused, he said. Bartholomew saw much justice in that. If only he could tell what time of day it was! The porthole was high, and small in any case, and the galleon might shift as it liked; save for the hours of dawn and twilight, Bartholomew could not tell the time.

      In this way—and in a thousand ways like it—the day dragged past. Bartholomew rationed both food and water, telling himself that, even parched, he should not drink before he counted to a thousand. And yet the level of water in his bucket steadily dropped; the amount of food in the napkin lessened. Bartholomew found himself turning the pebble over and over in his fingertips, first memorizing the subtle play of light upon tiny crystals and then simply fondling the pebble to be doing something; along about mid-afternoon (although he did not know it to be mid-afternoon) he began to hum tunelessly under his breath, first songs that he remembered, and then no song at all, but only a cracked and random series of notes.

      Eventually, twilight came. Relief stood naked on Bartholomew's face, for he had veered wildly between believing it would come at any moment and believing that it would not come for hours yet; now, here it was, and thus Bartholomew docilely changed into his robe and lay down to sleep. He paused only to whisper his bedtime prayers as a child might, although no child would think to ask for those things which Bartholomew most ardently desired.


      He slept poorly, plagued with nightmares, and bolted awake in terror at the first cannon-shot of the Rajah's outsized voice. Clutching at the front of his robe Bartholomew waited with bated breath: would he be fed now, or was it his fate to starve here, hidden in the walls?

      The door-panel cracked open, and Bartholomew scrambled to his knees even as it opened. "Good... good morning, Rajah," he rasped, ducking his head and falling into a cringing huddle.

      For a moment silence stretched between them, taut as a rope. Unspeaking the Rajah swapped out Bartholomew's empty bucket for one full—Bartholomew dropped a few tears at that sight, stifling his sniveling as best he might—and replaced the empty napkin with another day's ration of food. Bartholomew's crying became uncontrollable. "Th-thank you, Rajah," he sobbed, most humbly.

      Silence, again. Bartholomew dared to swipe his sleeve across his eyes. Finally: "That is better," the Rajah said, touching the top of Bartholomew's head in a benediction—Bartholomew could not bring himself to beg pardon for the blasphemy, only shuddered in relief and a certain, low pleasure. "We forgive you," said the Rajah. "And thus, We inform you that We sent to your father this morning. We anticipate a response within five days' time."

      "Thank you, Rajah!" Bartholomew snuffled. "Thank you for informing me!"

      The Rajah brushed a bit of Bartholomew's overly-long hair from his eyes, in a manner so gentle that it called to mind Bartholomew's mother, long since deceased. "Indeed, you are welcome," said the Rajah, approval clear in his voice. "We trust that your incarceration does not prove too onerous."

      "I... I want for nothing," Bartholomew said, although it was a lie. Unthinking, like a dog, he leaned into the Rajah's caressing hand. "Your Majesty has been most... most generous." Despite his best efforts, a sob shivered the last word into two parts.

      "We have indeed," said the Rajah, stroking Bartholomew's hair. "And yet, perhaps We might be more generous, to reward you for this proper show of respect. Is there anything you desire that We might provide?"

      For all that Bartholomew was rapidly learning under duress to lie prettily, like a courtier, he could not resist the show of generosity. "If it... if it please your Majesty," he faltered, "I would... I would be most grateful for the loan of a book, to... to pass the time."

      "A book," the Rajah repeated. His hand stilled. "You understand that We can promise nothing, but We shall... inquire."

      "I could ask for nothing more," said Bartholomew. The pretty words came easily to him now—certainly in this, if in nothing else, his bookish tendencies served him well. "Your Majesty."

      He sensed more than saw the Rajah's smile—indeed, he had not dared raise his eyes from the ground since the Rajah first arrived. "Well done," the Rajah murmured. His hand lifted from Bartholomew's head; a moment later the door-panel slid to, leaving Bartholomew alone once more. The glow he felt at the Rajah's approving words might only have been relief.


      The third day dragged on much like the others. Worse, even, for (it must be said) gibbering in terror does pass the time; the relief of Bartholomew's fear only increased his boredom. He invented counting-games to pass the morning, and in the afternoon contrived to tear his useless shirt into strips and fashion a loop of string from the remains, with which he played cat's-cradle. When these diversions palled, he paced his chamber, stumbling as the ship heeled about into the wind. Still, by the time twilight darkened the world Bartholomew thought himself but half a step from madness. (Like many of Bartholomew's cherished ideas, his idea of madness was literary and, therefore, largely unrealistic.) If the Rajah should fail to keep his promise—!

      Still, at least privation led to finding the bare boards a more comfortable bed, as he slept well enough that night. Excitement—no, let us say it, hope—woke Bartholomew even before the Rajah called for rations; Bartholomew added a fourth mark to the wall and then waited, his mind afire with impatience. By the time the door-panel slid back he was wholly unable to sit still—Bartholomew pressed his forehead to the floor. "Good morning, your Majesty," he whispered, determined to say or do nothing that would cause the Rajah to take offense.

      "Boy," the Rajah said negligently, exchanging bucket and napkin as he did every morning. Bartholomew remained in as abject a posture of supplication as he knew, praying brokenly both to God and to the Rajah that there would be some diversion—"Ours is not a nation of libraries," the Rajah said. "Still, a book or two graces Our cabin. Surely We do not need to warn you that the book must be cared for?"

      Hope soared in Bartholomew's chest, so powerfully that he thought he might be lifted from the ground. "No, Rajah! Thank you, Rajah—oh, God, thank you!" Rising back to his knees he caught the Rajah's hand and kissed it, then pressed it to his forehead, transported in his joy.

      The Rajah only chuckled and pushed a fat volume into Bartholomew's other hand. "Care for it well," he said. "And, We warn you, make it last; We have little with which to replace it."

      Bartholomew subsided again, clutching the book to his chest with both hands. His eyes fairly shone with his joy. "I will, Your Majesty," he said, bowing his head. "Your generosity is—ah—generous."

      This brought a whip-crack of laughter from the Rajah. The touch to Bartholomew's head: well, Bartholomew anticipated it, and craned up into it without the least hesitation. "Pray you that Our generosity remains so," said the Rajah, most amused. He shut the door once more.


      Never before had Bartholomew paid such strict attention to his rationing. He doled out the book in parsimonious slivers, reading each page twice and pausing to reflect at length on its contents before allowing himself to move on; in freer times he might have thought the book dull, but now he found it spellbinding. At the end of every chapter he forced himself to put it down and pace his cell for the count of five thousand—and the day passed, without excessive boredom or torment, and Bartholomew had read but the first third of the book by the time that twilight stole the words from the page.

      In this manner he passed three days, shyly displaying the undamaged book to the Rajah each morning and thanking him anew. When, at last, he came to the end, he did not cast it aside (as once he had been wont to do) in favor of another; instead he read it again, from the beginning, discovering much that was illuminated by his knowledge of how it all came out in the end, and then embarked upon a third journey through the book, simply because he could.

      It was only when he paused to count his handful of marks and discovered that they numbered eight that his newfound joy faltered. Had the Rajah not said that he expected a response by now? Was there an issue—please God let there not be an issue! And indeed when the Rajah slid open the door that morning, his countenance was newly thunderous; fearing the worst Bartholomew all but fell to the ground before him. "Your Majesty," he said, his voice quavering.

      "Stand up," the Rajah said, the whip-crack of his voice jerking Bartholomew back to his feet. "Take off your clothing."

      Fearful all over again, Bartholomew fell back a step, even as his hands fumbled at the front of the robe. Only now did he notice the Rajah's silver-collared secretary, lurking behind the Rajah—"M-Majesty?" he asked, his cheeks reddening.

      "Must We help you?" said the Rajah, in that dangerous tone.

      "No!" Schooled now to terrified obedience Bartholomew swallowed and yanked the robe off over his head, leaving him naked before the gaze of both men. The Rajah's gaze was harsh, infuriated; the secretary's impersonal and unimpressed. Between them there was nowhere for Bartholomew to hide. His cheeks flamed red; helplessly he attempted to cover what little of himself he might with his hands.

      Seizing Bartholomew's wrists the Rajah drew his hands away. "There, you see, on his chest below his right tit," he told his secretary. "Two moles, nearly touching."

      "I see them, Rajah," said the man. He wrote something on the slate he carried.

      "Rajah, I... I implore you, please, what have I done to wrong you?" Bartholomew asked, squirming desperately. The Rajah's hands were as immovable as manacles and still Bartholomew dared to pull against them, frantic to cover himself, to avert some of this shame.

      The Rajah only bared his teeth at Bartholomew. "Your lord father pretends that he does not recognize your hand," he said, his eyes raking down Bartholomew's bare body. "He asks for more proof. Well. He shall have it. We shall catalog every mark and spot upon you—he shall know that We have stripped you, and further, at his request!"

      Mortification clutched at Bartholomew's heart, on top of his abject humiliation. To have his father shamed so—! And yet... yet he was only Bartholomew, what could he do to prevent it? How could he gainsay the Rajah? He could only get it over with quickly, and hope that his father did not stall for time in vain. "There are..." He faltered. "There are several moles on the back of my neck, Rajah."

      "Ah," said the Rajah, letting go of one of Bartholomew's wrists and spinning him around. "Good boy. ... see, there, there are five—perhaps a diagram is in order." The Rajah's fingers walked over the skin of Bartholomew's neck, with a delicacy like a cat's footsteps.

      "Yes, Rajah," his secretary said, and all fell silent save for the rasp of chalk on slate.

      "And this, here, a scar—" One of the Rajah's massive, blunt fingers touched the upper curve of Bartholomew's buttock. The touch was brief and spoke only of business, but still the shock of it spread outwards, tingling along Bartholomew's stretched nerves like fire.

      "I..." Bartholomew faltered. "I fell upon a vase and broke it, when I was only four..." In truth, Avery had pushed him into it, but his father had chosen to believe Avery's version of events, and now was hardly the time to drag up such ancient, petty disagreements.

      "Note that down," the Rajah said. The rage was fading from his voice as he grew satisfied with his ploy. "And here, another mole in the small of his back."

      "Yes, Rajah, I have it."

      "Well, boy?" the Rajah prompted, letting go of Bartholomew's other wrist. "Where else are you marked? Be quick! The more thorough you are, the less likely your lord father is to deny that We hold you."

      By now Bartholomew was covered in a flush so extreme as to cover not only his face, but his throat and shoulders, as well. His freed hands folded themselves over his groin almost of their own volition; his fear prompted him to turn about again, to cringe properly before the Rajah. "I... I have scraped my knees many times," he said, in a small and faltering voice. "The skin there is uneven, from... from the healing."

      The Rajah cast a dismissive glance at Bartholomew's knees. "Note it down," he said. "And?"

      "... tell him that I broke my left arm falling from a tree, when I was seven," said Bartholomew. "There is no scar, but he would remember, because he was... he was angry."

      "Mm." The Rajah pursed his lips. "Tell me, why do you cover yourself?"

      Bartholomew could only tremble. "A-ah?"

      "What do you think you hide from Us?" As easily as he might fling away a chicken bone the Rajah snatched Bartholomew's hands away from his privates once more. "Do you think We have not seen a prick before?"

      "No!" It was not an answer, but simply a shouted negation of this latest indignity. Moreover, a command aimed at Bartholomew's mindless, treacherous prick, already lifting its head in curiosity, seeking after what it could only see as brief caresses; mortified, Bartholomew fell back against the wall, to cringe there.

      The Rajah's eyes raked like coals down Bartholomew's body to burn against his half-hard prick. The ensuing rumble of laughter brought to Bartholomew a whole new source of shame and he cast his face aside, staring blindly at the far wall. "Look, there is no cap on his acorn," said the Rajah, negligently, viciously amused. "See how naked it is—" and he curled the fingers of one colossal hand gently under Bartholomew's prick, cradling it with all the delicacy of a shop-woman displaying a fine silk scarf to a customer.

      Bartholomew's foolish prick leapt wholly to attention on the instant. In an eye-blink he was ragingly hard—as much so as his small, soft body could manage, in any event, since even the Rajah's fingers near dwarfed his efforts. Another rumble of laughter assured him that his new state had not gone unnoticed, and Bartholomew knew in that instant that it was possible, after all, to die of humiliation. He was choking on it, drowning in it, bursting from it—"Look at it," the Rajah told his secretary, the tips of his fingers rubbing a small and secret pattern against the underside of Bartholomew's cock.

      The secretary adjusted his little spectacles and took in the sight, his clinical disinterest almost as shaming as the Rajah's laughter. "I see it, Rajah," he said. "It is a common enough mutilation, amongst the English."

      Bartholomew did his utmost to sink into the wall and vanish, writhing under the gaze of both men. His heart beat fit to burst. "Make a note of it in any case," said the Rajah. "These Englishmen, so civilized."

      Chalk struck the slate. "I have it, Rajah."

      With one last offhand caress the Rajah let Bartholomew's prick go; it bobbed its head dumbly in midair before settling, jutting out before him, ready and eager to shame Bartholomew further. He could not even cover it, as its new size and shape would defy his small scholar's hands. "We are satisfied," the Rajah announced. "You may hope that your father will be equally so."

      "Y-yes, Rajah," Bartholomew choked out. His knees gave out and he fell to the floor nearly at the Rajah's feet, cowering there. Chuckling, the Rajah stepped back and slid the wall shut once more, leaving Bartholomew alone with his trembling shame; he did not dare move until the cannon-shot of the Rajah's voice faded away entirely.

      When finally he did move, he bolted not towards the pile of his discarded robe but towards the privy-hole, scrambling awkwardly on hands and knees. His own hand was but a third the size of the Rajah's, but still three shaking strokes of his prick brought Bartholomew off with stunning force, his cry a strangled whimper as he shot into the privy. The floodgates sprang open; Bartholomew dropped to the boards beside the hole and sobbed in terror, his fingers still stroking shakily along the length of his slowly softening cock.


      When finally he could move again—once he became resigned to the fact that he was not to be allowed to die quietly of his mortification—Bartholomew hurried into his robe and his trousers both, as if covering himself doubly now would somehow mitigate his earlier nudity. Dressed, nearly lost in the cascading folds of his robe, Bartholomew huddled in his corner and hugged his knees to his scrawny chest. His horror at his own complicity in the act—at the sheer need he'd felt to participate in his own humiliation—was beyond his mind's feeble powers to comprehend, let alone convey.

      Outside, largely unnoticed, the day aged on. The quality of the light in Bartholomew's narrow cell changed, fading from white to yellow to a deep, rich orange; Bartholomew huddled where he was, carefully putting himself back together once again, intent wholly upon himself and his misery. Even his precious book held little appeal for him now (although he pulled it into his huddle once he recollected it, clutching it to his chest like a stuffed toy).

      He did not rouse from his stupor until the orange sky outside began to fade to a deep purplish twilight. For all that Bartholomew was accustomed to sleep at this hour, a day spent huddled in shame had left him unmoved to do so: who knew what nightmares he might suffer? Stiff from long hours of sitting Bartholomew put his book aside and rose shakily to his feet, supporting himself with a hand against the wall until he felt able to stand on his own. He visited the privy (casting his eyes aside in memory of his earlier shame) then ate and drank until his stomach stopped rumbling. All around him the galleon made the customary noises of a ship under sail; far overhead sailors shouted and swore, as they were wont to do, and Bartholomew attended to these noises with half an ear as he ate his portion of ship's biscuit.

      A stealthy cough, far, far too close by, made Bartholomew jump and mewl in fright, spilling crumbs across the floor. His heart sped. The Rajah was in residence—had most likely been in residence for a while—indeed, in his fright, Bartholomew fancied that he could sense the man's very presence, like a flame against the side of his face. Huddled against the back wall in the darkness Bartholomew watched the hidden door with dread, both craning to hear even the slightest sound and fearing that he might, indeed, hear it. The Rajah walked with the step of a cat, however, despite his massive size, and when alone in his cabin felt no need to speak aloud; whatever further noises he made were generally lost under the creak of the ship's hull and the rush of the sea beneath.

      The faint patter of fingertips against the boards galvanized Bartholomew in his terror. "O creature," the Rajah rumbled, his voice pitched low and amused as it floated through the wall between them. His voice was muffled and slurred. "Our... little creature."

      Once again Bartholomew could only squeak. Surely the Rajah could not have heard so small a sound, and yet he laughed and tapped the wall between them once more. "Is it dull in there, Our creature?"

      Bartholomew found himself nodding dumbly in agreement (for it was crushingly dull in his little chamber) even as his cloth-dry mouth worked soundlessly in search of speech. The Rajah rapped out four precise, measured taps and rumbled his earthquake laugh once more. "Would you come out, then, and ease the monotony for an hour, if you could?"

      Terror rooted Bartholomew to the spot. He feared to give offense, but even more, he feared what fresh horrors the Rajah might devise to 'ease his monotony'—either way he should suffer, he was certain. He found himself shaking his head, still struck dumb with fear. No, please, he begged soundlessly. No, no, no...

      Despite his pleas, the hidden door cracked open and slid back. Dim and reddish lamplight struck the floor at Bartholomew's feet in a widening stripe, revealing the massive shape of the Rajah blocking out the light like a mountain in front of the sun. He was bare-chested, bare-footed, and wore a barbaric dragon-embroidered silken robe over his breeches, the robe casually open in front to bare the massive, scarred barrel of his chest—Bartholomew's new schooling threw him to his knees on the instant. "R-Rajah," he mumbled through cracked and dry lips, bowing his head and staring down at his knotted, fidgeting hands.

      "You may join Us," the Rajah said. Bartholomew risked a stealthy glance: the Rajah had stepped back and was now gesturing for Bartholomew to step forth from his narrow cell. Bartholomew glanced past him and gasped in newfound fear. Surely the room outside was Hell. Surely! Outside all was fire and smoke, blood and shadow—the Rajah's cabin was lavishly furnished and upholstered in deep and bloody reds, which seemed to shift in the flickering, dull light from three lanterns. Smoke roiled over the high ceiling, blurring the edges of things in this nightmare world, and Bartholomew's next breath perforce pulled a measure of that hellish smoke into his body. Numbness shot through him on the instant, so fierce that he could not even cough the vapors back out.

      He had delayed too long. The Rajah's bleary goodwill vanished, his reddened eyes narrowing. "Does it not suit you, then, to join Us?" the Rajah asked, his voice deceptively soft and sweet.

      "No, Rajah!" Bartholomew croaked, in his fright. Even the protest of his abused lungs he disregarded, overwhelmed by more immediate threats. "I mean, yes, Rajah! ... I mean, please, Rajah, allow me to join you, if you would be so kind!" He scrambled forward on hands and knees, gaining his feet only by catching the doorframe and pulling himself upright. Oh, how his head spun! Unable to do anything else, he inhaled another giddy, numbing lungful of the eddying smoke and nearly fell straight back down again.

      Mollified, the Rajah swayed backwards. Three ground-eating strides brought him to the massive pile of cushions in one corner and he sprawled out upon them, becoming to Bartholomew's unworldly eyes a true maharajah in all his barbaric splendor. Plucking a strange long pipe from its stand with one massive hand—in his fingers the pipe looked as fragile as a dry twig—the Rajah drew on it, then exhaled another cloud of dismal smoke, so unlike the clean and honest smoke of a wood-burning fire. "Do as you like," the Rajah said, waving a negligent hand at the rest of that hellish chamber. "We are finished with Our repast, if you hunger."

      Confused and uncertain, Bartholomew squinted against the roiling smoke before groping his way forward. The lanterns and his own poor eyes made it possible only to pick out the edges of things, but soon enough he found the low table, and on it—Bartholomew's mouth watered. Enthralled as never before, he whimpered, then set to with a will. Eight days on dull rations of ship's biscuit faded into the past as Bartholomew made free with the carcass of a roast chicken, real bread and soft white cheese, turnips and peas and small, hard fruits and pastry... even the looming presence of the Rajah faded into the background as Bartholomew stuffed himself with a will, stopping only to lick his fingers clean. A gaudy silver goblet proved to still hold half a measure of rich, red wine; this also Bartholomew availed himself of, letting its bitter tang clear the taste of the smoke from his mouth.

      Finally he was done, having stripped one end of the table bare like a veritable plague of locusts. His stomach muttered to itself, content. Bartholomew licked the last of the grease from his fingers, then wiped them dry upon a discarded napkin. Even as he slumped back in his chair, gloriously replete, the Rajah gave tongue to another of those low, rumbling laughs. "And how, then, do you intend to repay Us for Our beneficence, O creature, O thing?"

      Bartholomew (who in his greed had forgotten entirely the presence of the Rajah) grew still with trepidation, shrinking down in his seat. Tricked again—oh, it was not fair! "I... I cannot," he said, without much hope. "... your Majesty."

      "Hah! Fear not. It pleases Us to accept a trifling service in trade," said the Rajah. His hand looped negligently out to indicate the table. "Bring Us the grapes."

      Bartholomew had learned enough to be suspicious of this generosity; he had also learned enough to know that he dared not refuse. Ducking his head, he stood and shuffled to where the bowl sat, careful not to trip over the hem of his overlong robe—"Wait," said the Rajah, holding up his hand. "We are not God, to be served by monks. You will take off the robe."

      Bartholomew's face flushed as he struggled with the robe, eventually drawing it off over his head and baring his pathetic, narrow chest to the overheated air. His skin prickled. It was only by luck that he wore the trousers underneath—by luck, that is, and by his horrified reaction to the events of earlier—and, judging by the surprised snort that the Rajah made, a piece of luck that was entirely unexpected. Cringing, covering his bare chest with his arms as best he might, Bartholomew awaited with dread the order to remove his trousers, as well—"The grapes, O thing," said the Rajah. Perhaps there was some mercy yet to be found, here.

      The grapes, so purple as to be nearly black and ripe unto bursting, filled the silver salver from end to end. The serving-dish was so large that it required both of Bartholomew's hands to lift and both of Bartholomew's arms to support; its rim pressed against his chest firmly enough to mark his flesh. Still, it was large enough that the half-naked Bartholomew might hide behind it to a certain extent. His embarrassment faded, to be replaced with more prosaic worries. The rugs underfoot were vast, plush things, as bloody a red as everything else in that hellish chamber; Bartholomew picked his way across them with care, lest the lush pile shift underfoot or simply swallow him down into its hidden depths. "Your... your Majesty," he said, bending awkwardly down to offer the Rajah the salver.

      The Rajah snorted in bleary-eyed amusement. One massive hand snatched the salver carelessly from Bartholomew's arms; the other closed like a trap on Bartholomew's wrist and tumbled the half-blind boy into his lap.

      Bartholomew cried out, less in fear than in purest surprise; but for the first time his vast experience at being Bartholomew stood him in good stead, for Bartholomew was ever a clumsy boy and thus long accustomed to falling over things. The vast mound of cushions was as soft a landing spot as an ungainly boy could hope for, and the Rajah for all his muscle was not liable to be much harder. By dint of his experience Bartholomew contrived to twist in midair, landing hip-first across the Rajah's tree-trunk thighs and sprawling out with little enough damage done, save to his pride and his courage. He blinked twice, and then caught his breath. "I, I, I beg your pardon for my clumsiness, your Majesty!" he blurted, struggling to free himself and stand upright. Perhaps it would still be all right—

      "Your clumsiness is forgiven," said the Rajah, one vast arm curling about Bartholomew's waist. Bartholomew found himself settled comfortably within the crook of that arm, being dandled on the Rajah's knee like a serving-wench in a tavern—were the adventurers in his books not always tumbling wenches about thus? The indignity of it was utterly eclipsed by the dreadful meaning—affecting not to notice Bartholomew's consternation, the Rajah set the bowl down by his side and abandoned it there, instead picking up the slender pipe once more.

      Unable to do otherwise Bartholomew sat bolt upright in the Rajah's lap and watched in helpless fascination as the man put the pipe to his lips and drew in the smoke. The Rajah held it in for the space of five seconds, then tipped his head back and let the smoke curl from his lips to join the low-hanging clouds that scudded across the ceiling. The smell of it was as unlike honest wood smoke as it could possibly be, but there was the air of tobacco about it, and something else, something rich and earthy that reminded Bartholomew equally of digging in the garden for earth-worms, and of sausage, oddly enough. He could not decide whether it was foul, or enticing, or both. "Ah, but We are ill-mannered—will you join Us?" the Rajah asked, opening his bloodshot eyes and offering Bartholomew the pipe.

      Bartholomew eyed it as he might a snake: with trepidation and fascination both. His head was already spinning from the smoke that eddied about—"I, I humbly beg your pardon, Rajah," he said. He paused to stop and cough. "But I-I have never... I do not know how—"

      Somehow, even as he excused himself, the pipe found its way into his hands. It was scarcely as big around as his thumb and yet as long as his arm, oddly heavy, with a little cup on one end that smoldered. "A simple matter," said the Rajah, his eyes alert behind the thin curtain of foggy goodwill. One massive hand rose to cup Bartholomew's chin; Bartholomew went still, like a rabbit might at the first cry of the hawk. "First you must open your mouth," said the Rajah. His thumb stroked along Bartholomew's lower lip, easing it open with a delicacy all the more astonishing for its patience. Once Bartholomew's lips were parted (somewhat to his surprise) the Rajah gently pressed his thumb between Bartholomew's teeth, urging his jaw open.

      Bartholomew found himself with his mouth closed about the man's thumb, and a blush stained his cheeks scarlet on the instant. He did not dare pull away—equally, he did not dare bite. The Rajah's thumb brushed against his tongue, flooding Bartholomew's mouth with the taste of salt and smoke, and even as Bartholomew's mind spun and his ears rang, the Rajah pulled his thumb free and guided Bartholomew's limp hands up until the mouthpiece of the pipe entered his mouth, sliding past his teeth to push, gently, against the meat of his tongue. "Close your lips on that," the Rajah said, nudging at the underside of Bartholomew's chin. "Gently, mind."

      Unable to do otherwise, Bartholomew complied. The mouthpiece was still damp from the Rajah's own mouth, a heady and upsetting thought; Bartholomew blocked the tube with his tongue and drew in his next breath through his nose, fearfully anticipating the next order.

      The Rajah considered this tableau through smoke-fogged eyes, a little flash of cruelty sharpening his expression. "Now you must only breathe in," he said. One hand flashed up and pinched Bartholomew's nostrils shut, to ensure that he might inhale only through the pipe.

      Bartholomew half-choked on the instant. The hand that blocked his nostrils curled also over his eyes, blinding him in truth, and in his shock he did draw in the smoke—his mouth fell open and Bartholomew fell to coughing, a harsh, tearing sound that jerked the smoke up and out of his abused lungs in little puffs. "I'm sorry, Rajah!" he managed to croak, between fits. His eyes were watering terribly.

      "Tch," said the Rajah, most amused. In any other circumstance Bartholomew might have feared that sly expression, but the coughing claimed all his attention and then some; he was only vaguely aware of the pipe being lifted from his hands, but grateful to be rid of it, all the same. By the time his eyes cleared and his lungs once again deigned to work, his head was spinning from more than just the smoke.

      The Rajah touched the pipe to his own lips again, Bartholomew's wastefulness seemingly forgotten. Dizzily Bartholomew watched the Rajah work the pipe, watched the man pull in another lungful of smoke with hateful ease. The Rajah held the smoke within, his eyes drifting half-closed, and for a moment he was so still that Bartholomew forgot to fear—the Rajah again caught Bartholomew's chin in his hand and brought Bartholomew's face to his own, breathing the smoke directly into Bartholomew's half-open mouth.

      It was not a kiss, not quite (a small favor!) for the Rajah's lips never came in contact with Bartholomew's; still, the smoky, spicy, animal scent of the man hovered all around, and the smoke that flowed from him was rich with mysterious flavors. Bartholomew, startled, caught his breath. The Rajah merely pressed down on Bartholomew's bared belly with one immense and wide-spread hand, forcing the air from his lungs. Bartholomew, perforce, wheezed in a new breath lest he pass out, taking into himself almost the entirety of the Rajah's last, smoke-laden breath.

      The hellish reds of the Rajah's chamber darkened, then brightened to a new and virulent shade even as they blurred further. Flashes of lightning struck at the sides of Bartholomew's vision as the chamber moved sluggishly about him. Too overcome even to cough, Bartholomew slumped back against the Rajah's waiting arm and numbly watched the smoke that eddied from his half-open mouth, rising to join the rest. Eventually a low earthquake rumbling resolved into the voice of the Rajah: "There," he said, most pleased. "Now you may try again—" and the damp mouthpiece of the pipe gently pressed itself between Bartholomew's lips, to touch his tongue once more.

      Dazed, numbed, barely able to feel his own extremities, Bartholomew clumsily brought up both hands and curled them about the body of the pipe, much like an infant might clutch a bottle. "Take it in," the Rajah encouraged him, in a low voice fit for intimacies; obediently Bartholomew sucked on the pipe, his eyes dropping half-closed in anticipation of the coughing that was sure to follow.

      It did not. Newly accustomed to this abuse or merely paralyzed by it, his body made no further move to reject the smoke. In imitation of the Rajah Bartholomew held it within for the space of five seconds—the vapor was so foul that Bartholomew fancied he could feel it coiling in his lungs, like a snake—and then pushed away the pipe and breathed forth the smoke, vaguely astonished at this, his new skill. Around him the Rajah's chamber disintegrated, its details blurring and vanishing under the onslaught of the smoke—he and the Rajah floated together in a space made entirely of eye-searing redness, and of smoke. "I don't like it," Bartholomew said faintly, and with little care and less good sense he curled against the Rajah's shoulder, hiding his face against the side of the man's neck. The animal smell of the man, all salt and sweat and sun-dried meat, overwhelmed him on the instant, and Bartholomew nearly swooned of it.

      The Rajah only laughed, the quake of it shaking Bartholomew to his bones. "Don't you?" asked the Rajah. "You sucked it down greedily enough! We thought We might have to take it from you!"

      "I don't like it," Bartholomew repeated, his voice now just a shadow of itself. "It feels so odd."

      "Oh? How is it odd, pray?"

      "I can't—" Bartholomew attempted to rally, to gather his scattered and fuzzy thoughts. "My skin tingles, but it's numb—I can't really feel anything... I feel as if my foot is asleep, but it's all of me."

      In retrospect, a poor choice of words, but in such a situation, perhaps there were none that might have served him better. The Rajah's massive hand curled over Bartholomew's poor bare foot, one knuckle rubbing up along Bartholomew's cringing, ticklish instep. "Then you cannot feel this?"

      "Oh!" Stuttering out a hapless, helpless laugh, Bartholomew attempted to yank his foot from the Rajah's hand. He might as well have attempted to pull it free of a bear-trap. "Y-Your Majesty! Don't, please don't—augh!"

      "Ah, so you lied to Us," the Rajah said, his hand stilling.

      Bartholomew too grew still—but in this odd, benumbed state, he could not summon more than a taste of that everpresent fear. "I thought it was the truth," he said weakly. A phrase (doubtless literary in origin) bubbled to the top of what was left of his mind—"I suppose... I suppose you have shown me the error of my thoughts."

      The Rajah's fanged smile flashed, white against the gloom. "Ahh," he sighed. "That was tolerably well-spoken." His hand shifted to curl about Bartholomew's ankle, like a barbaric ornament.

      The room spun lazily about Bartholomew; to keep himself from flying off into space he looped his arms about the Rajah's neck. Surely an anchor so large would keep him grounded. Some part of him, small and growing smaller yet with every lungful of smoke-tainted air, screamed of the foolhardiness of this rash action, just loudly enough to make Bartholomew quiver. "You tremble," the Rajah noted almost dispassionately.

      "Your Majesty," Bartholomew said, and then stopped, uncertain of what to say.

      "Is it because you fear Us?" the Rajah asked, his voice a bare rumble.

      Something in that ominous voice warned Bartholomew, even in his extremity, to be truthful—to a point. "Y-yes," he said.

      "That is good," said the Rajah, nodding his approval. "We are truly a thing to be feared."

      Bartholomew nodded, subsiding into nervous and uncertain silence. If there was a single truth left to him after the eight days of his captivity, it was that one: that the Rajah ten Rajah was to be feared, second only to God. This was the sort of truth that deformed a man, molding him like wet clay around a certainty as hard as rock. Like God, the Rajah held Bartholomew entirely within his power; like God, the Rajah would not scruple to mortify or hurt Bartholomew should it serve his greater plan. And yet Bartholomew still lived, and more than lived, remained largely unhurt; his belly was full and his mind was becalmed. Perhaps, then, like God, the Rajah could be merciful to those he deemed worthy of such a gift. To those who had earned his regard—to those who pleased him, and abased themselves fittingly before his might.

      Such blasphemous thoughts as these would have left the old Bartholomew sick with guilt and fear, but at the moment, they seemed to him to be as self-evident as the hand on his ankle. The Rajah's hand was still and held him only loosely, and yet the skin of his leg prickled, as if he stood too close to a lightning-strike. Bartholomew shivered.

      "Will you have more?" the Rajah asked. He touched the mouthpiece of the pipe to Bartholomew's bare stomach and stroked it upwards, leaving a scintillating trail printed on Bartholomew's poor nerves.

      The foul smoke confused him and left him numbed, but Bartholomew feared to refuse. "Yes, Rajah," he said, letting go of the man's neck long enough to guide the pipe to his mouth. Perhaps it was for the best. If one suck on the pipe rendered him so languid, perhaps two would bring on oblivion.

      The next lungful of smoke stole the last bits of starch from Bartholomew's muscles and draped him entirely limp and unresisting across the Rajah's lap. Unconsciousness eluded him, however. He remained aware, however dimly, of the hand on his ankle, and of how the rest of his skin tingled and stung wherever it was bare to the air. It was pleasant, though, in its way, and Bartholomew closed his eyes.

      When the Rajah's hand finally moved, trailing up along Bartholomew's leg, Bartholomew was hard-pressed to tell if the touch was real or just the tautening of his nerves. The sensation of even the slightest touch radiated out in a way that proved that every bit of his skin was connected (for a touch on his knee made his thigh quiver, and the hand stroking up the outside of his thigh made his stomach tauten as best it might). "Oh," he said, his voice tiny and rich with drugged wonder. "What are you doing?"

      "Whatever We like," the Rajah said negligently, his hand pausing wrapped loosely around Bartholomew's thigh—even that his hand could almost wholly encircle, although that said as much about the slimness of Bartholomew's leg as it did about the size of the Rajah's hand. "After all, you are Ours to do with as We see fit, until such time as your father sends for you."

      "No, I meant—" Bartholomew floundered, wincing away from the thought of his father. "Why are you doing that?"

      "Because We wish to." Monstrous, clever fingers stroked tiny circles over Bartholomew's hip, spreading electricity over his skin in a widening circle. "Or did you mean to gainsay Us?"

      "No!" Bartholomew strove to fold in on himself, to curl into a ball and protect himself—even this the lassitude in his muscles denied him. "No, your Majesty, I wouldn't dare!"

      The Rajah chuckled. "That is wise of you," he said. "For We will not be denied anything, in this, the capitol of Our nation." His fingers stilled, heavy where they curled over Bartholomew's hip. "You must realize that We will take from you whatever We like, and you will surrender it to Us gladly—or, if not gladly, weeping in shame. It is all the same to Us."

      Bartholomew shivered as a thrill of terror raced down his spine. And yet, the soporific smoke cushioned him from the monstrous wall of his fear, held him apart, wrapped him in a blanket of calmness—"Please don't hurt me," he said, his voice very small. "Your Majesty."

      "We do not intend to," said the Rajah, waving that away. "Oh, certainly if you are recalcitrant, or if you attempt to withhold something from Us—then We will certainly hurt you." He paused, his fingers slipping up to touch the slight rise of Bartholomew's lowest rib. "But you will do whatever We require, for you are a good and obedient thing, are you not?"

      "Y-yes," Bartholomew said. For all that he could not properly fear, still his stomach tightened and his skin prickled, as if with cold.

      "And properly grateful for your rescue from Our brig?"

      "Yes," Bartholomew said.

      "You have learned your lessons well?"


      "Then you must invite Us to use you," said the Rajah. The expression on his bleary face was most beatific.

      Bartholomew hesitated, shuddering and abject as he marshaled certain low skills to himself, hard-won skills from the eight days of his confinement now brought forward through the veil of the smoke. The red world about him brightened as the pupils of his eyes expanded to swallow the green; abruptly Bartholomew became aware once again of his position, sprawled loose-limbed and helpless across the Rajah's lap, his thighs thrown sluttishly wide and his arms up over his head in a gesture of surrender. "Please," he said, then licked his lips. The beginning was good, but where to go from here—

      "You must say 'please use me, Rajah'," prompted the Rajah, his fingers lighting on Bartholomew's shoulder and trailing up along the underside of his upraised arm.

      The skin there tingled with such force that the nearer of Bartholomew's nipples hardened into a tiny pebble. Bartholomew bit back a shudder. "Please..." His tattered dignity began to shred away once more. His voice dropped to a bare whisper, a mere shadow of itself. "Please use me, Rajah..."

      "Say that you belong to Us."

      "I... I belong to you."

      "Your body is Ours to use however We wish?"

      "My..." Those clever fingers dropped to Bartholomew's bare and quivering belly, and he gasped out a startled sound. Feathery trails of purest sensation radiated from the touch, raising his skin in goose-pimples and attracting the attention of his foolish, hedonistic prick—it tented out the front of his worn trousers on the instant, staining Bartholomew's cheeks with a faint flush.

      "Say it," the Rajah murmured, his voice the low rumble of thunder in the distance.

      "My body is... is yours to use..." Bartholomew squeezed his eyes shut.

      "However We wish?"

      "However you wish," Bartholomew repeated, his voice airless with something that was not quite fear. The Rajah was silent—that silence was expectant—"Please, use me however you wish," Bartholomew murmured, stringing those words together, striving to tell the Rajah what he wished to hear so that the pain might not follow, clinging to that promise that he would not be hurt just so long as he obeyed. In exchange for such largesse he strove to please, marshaling words from that low place within. "I am... I am yours to command..."

      "Do you wish to please Us?"

      "I, I do. I would... I would do anything to please you."

      The pause was short and felt well pleased. "Anything?" prompted the Rajah, his fingers pressing up onto Bartholomew's narrow chest.

      "Anything," Bartholomew whispered, both lulled and excited by the stroking. Although he did not know it, lost as he was in the depths of the drug and his own mortification, he squirmed in the Rajah's lap, his hips cycling up against nothing but air. "Take... take whatever you will of me..."

      "And We may do this... why?"

      "Because... here and now I am yours," Bartholomew breathed. Where the words came from, he never knew. Abased as he was, he knew a spreading sense of exaltation—his yielding was complete, absolute, and being Bartholomew, he found peace there. "And... and nothing you do to me while I am in your power can possibly be wrong."

      The Rajah's hand fell still, spread out over Bartholomew's chest from shoulder to shoulder. "Well said, O thing," he said. "Do you surrender yourself to Us?"

      "I surrender." Bartholomew was never afterwards certain if he spoke the words aloud or merely radiated them from the core of his being. "Use me as you will." Entranced, he added, "Your Majesty."

      The silence which followed these words was so profound that Bartholomew stirred, afraid that he had caused some affront. The hand on his chest finally lifted away and reappeared, flicking open the topmost button of Bartholomew's trousers with a delicacy all the more surprising for that hand's massive size; even the slightest offhand brush of those fingers against Bartholomew's prick caused it to leap like a hooked fish. Bartholomew mewled like a kitten and arched up, striving after another of those touches with a shamelessness of which he had never known himself capable. "Now you shall find out what you have promised Us," said the Rajah.

      Bartholomew acknowledged this with another whimper, quivering under the Rajah's touch. The second button on his trousers popped free—the side of the Rajah's hand pressed against his prick for a heartbeat of time—Bartholomew hid his eyes against his arm and shuddered. By the time that the last of the buttons popped free, Bartholomew was gasping for every breath, awash on a tide of drugged sensation that was like being caressed by a thousand hands. Obediently he lifted his hips when the Rajah's hand prompted him to do so, and his worn trousers were stripped from his body with unconscionable ease.

      Now Bartholomew lay naked across the Rajah's lap, his silly, eager prick arching up to nudge its head against his lower belly. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew himself ashamed, but he could not bring himself to care, for the Rajah's fingers trailed up along the inside of his naked thigh and banished every thought in favor of feeling—the Rajah drew a wide circle about the reddened shape of Bartholomew's cock, his fingers trailing up one thigh, over the slight crease that bisected Bartholomew's belly, and down the other thigh.

      How Bartholomew longed for an end to the teasing! But no matter how he squirmed or arched his back, it was all for naught. He could neither drive nor implore those fingers to go where they were wanted most, and he dared not ask for relief: the little smile on the Rajah's face was as flat and cruel as his fingers were gentle. Bartholomew's body sang with tension, as electrified as a tree struck by lightning. And still those fingers held themselves aloof from the core of him—"Now," the Rajah said, "you must stand."

      "... I cannot," Bartholomew said, frightened anew. "I can barely move..."

      "How quickly you forget your promises to Us," the Rajah said, vastly, blearily disappointed. His hand tightened on Bartholomew's hip.

      Bartholomew swallowed and tried bravely to pull his numbed, limp legs underneath himself. All smiles again now that he was being obeyed, the Rajah sat forward and set Bartholomew onto his feet, both hands steadying him until such time as he might bear his own weight. Bartholomew wavered in place, his head spinning, his mind befogged, his prick jutting eagerly out in front of him. "Now," said the Rajah, turning Bartholomew about via his grip on the boy's hips. "Do you see the sea-chest, there beside Our bed?" One thumb traced an arc over Bartholomew's buttock, making the muscle there clench and shiver.

      "No, Rajah," Bartholomew said miserably.


      "I-I lost my spectacles when your fleet attacked my home..."

      After a moment's hesitation, the Rajah rumbled out a laugh. "You will find it when you draw closer," he said. A stinging slap across Bartholomew's buttocks made him squeak and stumble forward, falling to his hands and knees upon the lush carpets with his newly-reddened ass in the air. Flushed and mortified Bartholomew scrambled clumsily back to his feet, while behind him the Rajah settled back into the cushions, wearily waving one hand towards the bed. "Bring Us the bottle that you find inside."

      "Y-yes, Rajah," Bartholomew said, hurriedly groping his way towards the shadowed red cave that his poor weak eyes made of the Rajah's massive, curtained bed. Without his clothes, without the animal heat of the Rajah's body, Bartholomew quickly grew chilled, hugging himself for what scant warmth his thin arms might bring him. He stumbled on, as fast as he dared, thinking only of returning to that heat, and that repose—and those hands, that they might give to him some much-needed relief that he could not name and barely dared anticipate.

      The sea-chest revealed itself first as a vague hillock at the side of the bed and then as a massive iron-barred thing, its fist-sized lock standing open. Who would dare steal from the Rajah ten Rajah? Certainly none of his subjects, and certainly not Bartholomew, whose mind was entirely conquered by the lulling smoke and his ardent prick; Bartholomew fell to his knees by the chest and heaved at the heavy lid with all his might, groaning as he forced the sea-chest open. Its contents were vague, most wrapped carefully in oiled leather and stored just so, but his squinting eyes located a large flask of hammered brass, its squat neck corked firmly against spillage. Bartholomew plucked it from its place. "This, Rajah?"

      "Yes, that," said the Rajah, from his place atop the cushions. "Close the chest and bring the bottle to Us."

      Bartholomew wavered to his feet. Tucking the flask under his arm he strained to close the lid of the sea-chest without dropping it, gasping in relief when it finally slotted into its place. Now he needed only to return; accordingly he stumbled forward through the eddying smoke, the flask half-forgotten in one hand.

      For all that Bartholomew's poor eyes could see the Rajah only as a massive blur of a thing sprawled out in the cushions, his body could still feel the weight of the Rajah's crushing, hungry, covetous gaze; embarrassed, Bartholomew reddened and slowed. He brought the flask inwards, foggily believing that he might hide his nudity behind it until such time as he might abandon himself again. The quality of the Rajah's gaze changed on the instant. "Stop there," the Rajah said.

      Bartholomew lurched to a halt, still a good five feet from where the Rajah waited. "... Rajah?"

      "Let the flask hang at your side," said the Rajah, one blurry hand rising in a vague flicking gesture. Bartholomew flushed but complied, looking away, so that he might not see the Rajah's amused eyes devouring his body; for a long moment all was silent, then the Rajah chuckled. Bartholomew's ears flamed. "Touch yourself," said the Rajah.

      How Bartholomew strove not to understand the meaning behind those words! "I-I beg your pardon..."

      "As well you might," the Rajah said benevolently. "You still have a hand free, and We wish to see you display yourself to Us. Take your prick into your hand."

      What new embarrassment was this—was Bartholomew never to find the end to these surprises? With the blood burning in his cheeks Bartholomew groped clumsily for himself, gingerly wrapping his fingers about the shaft of his prick, which leapt indiscriminately at the touch. A smallish thing it was, even fully erect, but surprisingly heavy for its size. Bartholomew hefted it, closing his eyes against this newest humiliation.

      Again there came that heavy, measuring silence. Bartholomew tottered on his feet, striving to endure it. His skin stung, energized by the slight and grudging caress—the Rajah shifted in his cushions with the faintest whisper of silk against silk. "How your little prick jumped to attention at Our touch, this forenoon," said the Rajah, savagely amused. "Even another pair of eyes upon your nakedness could not daunt your longing for Us, O thing."

      Bartholomew's eyes flew open. "No, Rajah!" he said, too horrified to play courtier. Surely that was wrong—surely it was only that his prick enjoyed any little touch, no matter its source!

      "You deny it?"

      "I..." Bartholomew stopped and swallowed. In truth he did not know—his memories of milking his prick over the privy-hole clouded the issue even as they made his cheeks go hot with shame.

      "And yet your prick leaps for Us even now," said the Rajah. "You writhed in Our lap like a cat being petted, you whimpered, you moaned—surely you understand that We are only granting you that which you have so eloquently begged Us for, both with and without words, ever since you came into Our power?"

      Bartholomew could only swallow. His cock twitched inside the circle of his fingers, eager as ever. Perhaps more so—the more he abased himself, the more anxious his prick seemed to become, much to his consternation.

      "You ought to be grateful to Us," the Rajah said, with another grand wave of his hand. "Granting you your dearest wish. Surely you do not think yourself so irresistible that even We must be swayed by your charms."

      "No, Rajah!" The answer to that, at least, Bartholomew knew. "I... I haven't any charms."

      The Rajah chuckled. "Then you are grateful, yes?"

      "Yes," Bartholomew said weakly, striving to tell the Rajah what he so plainly wished to hear. "I... I thank you, Rajah."

      "For what?"

      "For... for the favor which you... which you intend to grant me," faltered Bartholomew.

      "And you are eager for it?"

      "It is... it is as you say, Rajah."


      The blood roared in Bartholomew's ears. "... yes."

      "Then bring the bottle to Us," said the Rajah, spreading his arms wide. "Let it not be said that We would deny such ardent importuning."

      Scarlet now, Bartholomew let his hand drop away from his prick and stumbled forward the last few steps. The Rajah was obliged to snatch the flask from Bartholomew's relaxing hand as the boy tumbled bonelessly forward into his lap; the Rajah did so with a booming shout of laughter that echoed through the chamber. Bartholomew, for his part, curled shamefacedly about himself in the Rajah's lap, hiding his eyes against the man's shoulder. Embarrassment trumped all, even the dull ache that had hold of his belly, flaring every time that his prick rubbed its head against one of the Rajah's powerful thighs.

      In his triumph the Rajah was merciful: he said nothing else, only put the flask aside and stroked Bartholomew's shuddering skin, much like he might pet a cat. The Rajah's monstrous hand ran heavily down Bartholomew's ribs and over the small hillock of Bartholomew's hip, then along Bartholomew's thigh almost to his knee; it then lifted away and returned, to stroke its way downwards again. Eventually, lulled by the petting, Bartholomew consented to stop shivering, although he could not bring himself to uncoil, nor to lift his face from the Rajah's shoulder. "Your need distresses you," the Rajah said, his voice as soft as it might ever go.

      Was it truly need? Bartholomew no longer knew. The smoke, the Rajah's poisonous words, his own reactions, it all had him turned around, until truly he no longer knew white from black. So little was clear, except for this: he was distressed, and he dared not argue the point. "Yes," he muttered, his voice choked. "Rajah."

      "You need not be ashamed," said the Rajah, still caressing Bartholomew's hip. "See how your body knows what it desires, no matter how your mind strives to deny it. A man's body is always honest; it is only his mind which lies to itself."

      Bartholomew remained silent, uncertain of what to say. A man—he was not a man... was he? He had never felt so soft and silly, so boyish, as he did curled up in the Rajah's lap like a suckling infant. Abruptly this childish hiding shamed him and he shifted in the Rajah's lap, letting the massive hand ease his legs out straight once more.

      The Rajah rumbled out an approving sound—on the next stroke his fingers ran negligently up along the shaft of Bartholomew's prick and away. What little softening time and embarrassment had wrought was undone on the instant; Bartholomew groaned out a heartfelt sound as the ache in his belly flared into wakefulness once more. Suddenly he knew nothing else, and he flung himself over with abandon, sprawling out across the Rajah's lap. One upraised arm he dropped across his eyes. Thus blinded, he yielded himself to his fate, pretending that the destiny of his body had nothing to do with him.

      The Rajah's laugh was mocking, and yet not wholly unkind; his hands strove to take every piece of Bartholomew into their grasp and quite nearly succeeded. So alive was Bartholomew's skin that it felt as if a thousand hands stroked him and left electric trails of sensation burned across his chest, his belly, his thighs, his leaping, ecstatic prick—abandoned in the depths of a shame so total that it encompassed him, he let those hands move him as they would, until his legs spread wide and his chest heaved with every breath. Those colossal, clever fingers probed at him, exploring the insides of his thighs, delectating upon the skin of his balls, tracing along the cleft of his ass, until Bartholomew believed there was no place on his body that had not known the Rajah's touch. Some of those places were so hidden, so secret, that Bartholomew barely suffered himself to touch them, and yet now he let them be exposed and caressed, hiding his embarrassment behind the shield of his upraised arm, pressed across his eyes.

      One of the Rajah's hands came to rest curled loosely about Bartholomew's reddened prick, dwarfing it even in this, its extremity. The other disappeared from Bartholomew's ken—shortly there came the soft 'pop' of the cork being drawn from the neck of the flask. Even this could not rouse Bartholomew to lift his arm from across his eyes. As long as his arm was there, whatever occurred was none of his doing, and happened elsewhere, to some other Bartholomew, whose shameless behavior only too well merited this treatment. The Rajah's wetted fingers parted Bartholomew's buttocks with unmatched delicacy and Bartholomew, the other Bartholomew, the sluttish, whorish, shameless Bartholomew—that Bartholomew only mewled and lifted his hips into the touch.

      The Rajah's fingers brushed across the hidden pucker there, sending sparks up along Bartholomew's spine. Had he known it could do such a thing—"Look how wanton you are," the Rajah crooned, and with a deft flip of his wrist he twisted one massive finger deep into Bartholomew's ass, spearing him like a fish.

      The shock electrified Bartholomew, nearly flinging him from the Rajah's lap as he bucked in reaction, all too late. His arm came away from his eyes and both Bartholomews resolved into one, scarlet, mortified, spread-eagled, and impaled—he squealed and thrashed in a futile effort to dislodge the Rajah. The Rajah only bellowed out a laugh and ground that finger in further, forcing it into Bartholomew past the second joint, forcing the tight ring of muscle to stretch wide to admit him—Bartholomew flung back his head and screamed, the sound echoing madly from the walls and ceiling. From somewhere high above, faint, coarse voices laughed to hear it.

      "Do you hear them?" the Rajah grated out, catching the back of Bartholomew's neck in his other hand and forcing the boy to be still. "They know why you scream—they know that We are claiming what is rightfully Ours!" A final, cruel thrust completed the violation, burying the Rajah's finger in Bartholomew's ass all the way to the knuckle. Beyond screaming now Bartholomew choked and shook in horror, eyes wide and watering at the indignity, at the straining hot ache of it, so close to pain and yet, not quite... "You will scream again," promised the Rajah, and deep within Bartholomew, his finger flexed just so.

      The resulting jolt along his nerves exploded in Bartholomew's mind like cannon-shot. He convulsed in the Rajah's lap and, for a blinding, white second, knew no more—it was no merciful death, however, as his thick and tearing gasps shortly proved. His abandoned prick leaped eagerly against his belly. The Rajah only laughed and tightened his grip on the back of Bartholomew's neck, flexing that invading finger a second time—the pad of his massive finger stroked forward over that deep and secret spot and Bartholomew spasmed again, an airless, breathless squeak escaping him.

      Despite the Rajah's prophecy Bartholomew was too overcome to scream again, desperately choking down breaths that his lungs seemed unable to keep. The Rajah's other fingers splayed out across Bartholomew's buttocks; the one that violated him dragged itself halfway out before driving back in again. Then Bartholomew screamed. Then he could not stop screaming, and the Rajah's booming laughter mingled with the sound, as did the faint laughter and catcalls of the other pirates up on deck... the finger that pumped into him spared him nothing, did not bother to be slow or gentle, and every time that it slammed into him up to the knuckle Bartholomew jumped and shuddered and broke off his screams in a shocked squeak, his cock leaping and thudding frantically on his belly—

      It ended without another touch to the aching skin of his prick, as mindlessly eager as it was for such caresses. He was driven cruelly to his crisis by the finger in his ass alone, jerked along like a braying and recalcitrant mule, given little choice and less respite—the shocks piled up along his spine until one powered directly into the next, and somewhere in the midst of being overwhelmed Bartholomew bucked towards the ceiling and screamed one last time, his cock spasming as he shot all over his own quivering belly. And if the scream was not, perhaps, as horrified as it might be, well, he was only Bartholomew, and unable to master himself at this extreme. The cries from above took on a vicious and celebratory edge.

      Once Bartholomew was still, only shuddering and gasping, the Rajah deftly twisted his finger free. One last tired shiver of sensation rippled up Bartholomew's spine and dissipated. Fetching a bit of silk from the pile of cushions the Rajah wiped his hand clean, a small and cruel smile of contentment playing about his face. For his part Bartholomew curled up once again, shocked into silence, burning with shame—he had not yet tightened back up after his violation, and every time he shifted this new looseness informed him that he was still ripe for use, should the Rajah so choose. Perhaps he should always be—perhaps he had been broken in, like a woman losing her maidenhead—perhaps he would forever after be open and ready for the Rajah's use, and the Rajah's cruel eyes upon him would always contain that secret, vile knowledge. Bartholomew bit back a sob and pressed his face against the Rajah's side, so that he might not see.

      "Do you know why they believe you scream, O thing?" asked the Rajah, startling Bartholomew from his woes. The Rajah's voice was velvet now, his hand a threat in abeyance on Bartholomew's bare hip.

      "They," Bartholomew said, then choked on another sob. "They believe I scream because you have... because you have violated me," he finished, miserably.

      "Indeed, that is true," the Rajah said. "And they joy in it, O thing. They cluster above to listen to your screams, and cheer when they come at last—each of them imagines for himself the details of your violation, and how your body must shudder as We use it, and then perhaps they touch themselves, or each other, if they are so inclined. Every man among them thinks of you with lust in his heart, and envies Us, that We might lay claim to your virginity so."

      Bartholomew tried to speak and only made a small, horrified sound. The Rajah's facility for language was surely the work of the Devil, to bring such clear pictures leaping forward to soil Bartholomew's mind. "Take heart," said the Rajah, rumbling out a bleary laugh. "You shall never again be such an Aphrodite, to inspire such lusty worship."

      "No... I..."

      "And yet." The Rajah shifted like a landslide underneath Bartholomew, the heavy hand on Bartholomew's hip lifting away. "They do not know the truth of it, do they, O thing? When they dream of you and stroke their filthy pricks, they do not picture you merely impaled upon Our middle finger. What a poor substitute they should think it! They should be taken aback to know that We were so merciful." This last, delivered in a sneer.

      The act to which the Rajah alluded—Bartholomew's stunned, drugged mind shrank away from it, refused to let him see it clearly. "Rajah," he said weakly, able to marshal nothing further.

      "Do you realize, then, what they believe to have happened?" asked the Rajah. Heaving himself upright in the massive nest of pillows, the Rajah spread his legs wide, lowering Bartholomew to curl, cringing, upon the cushions between them. "Shall We show you what they fantasize about?"

      "Rajah, I—" The world spun around Bartholomew. For a blessed moment he hovered on the verge of unconsciousness—but he recollected to himself his courtier's duty, and fear caused him to wake once more. "Rajah?"

      The Rajah took hold of the silken cord that held his breeches shut and loosed it. Bartholomew, exhausted beyond measure, could only stare dumbly. In his innocence (what little of it was left) Bartholomew could make little sense of the shape that bulged there until the knot came untied and the cloth fell—then, all too suddenly, it made too much sense, and Bartholomew shrank bank, terrified and shamed anew. The Rajah, affecting not to notice, caught his own monstrous prick in one hand and gave it a long, rough stroke. "They believe you to have been truly deflowered," he said, his voice both negligent and thick. "Instead of a mere finger, they believe you to have accommodated this—do you see, now, why they believe you scream?"

      Bartholomew's vision went black around the edges in his horror. His stomach roiled, threatening to rid him of the food he had so enjoyed. The heavy, club-like thing in the Rajah's hand seemed nearly the size of his forearm—"It wouldn't fit," he squeaked, the first foolish idea to spring into his cracked mind.

      "It would," the Rajah said, giving it another lazy stroke. "With enough patience. Or enough force."

      "Please," Bartholomew tried to say, choking. "Please don't—"

      "Be silent. Do you truly believe that We would waste precious time diddling you with Our fingers, if We only intended to fuck you properly a moment later? Should We waste Our time thus?"

      Bartholomew could not speak. His lips moved, forming the words, but no breath filled them, no voice projected them. "No, Rajah," he mouthed.

      The Rajah eyed him narrowly, his hand never ceasing its long, slow strokes. "Do you understand, then? Or are you truly simple?"

      "I... I don't understand!" Bartholomew squeaked, cowering back, his arms rising to protect his head. "Please, Rajah, I don't understand, I'm sorry..."

      "We have done you a favor," the Rajah said. "We have given you relief from your aching prick with no thought for Ourself—We have refrained from forcing Ourself upon you, although it lies well within Our rights. We have refrained, despite your promise that We might do as We liked! Do you see, now? How kind We have been?"

      Bartholomew squirmed upon the cushions, his eyes cast down, his hands pressing down over his newly-limp prick. Addled as he was by the smoke and his eight days of confinement, he could find no holes in the Rajah's poisonous logic—they must be there, but Bartholomew's poor mind could not find them. Indeed, the upswell of relief in his breast was real, and he nearly swooned from it. "Th-thank you, Rajah," he said obediently, dipping his head. "I... I am grateful..."

      "Still, even so, We have earned relief of some sort," said the Rajah. "In Our kindness We do not propose to use your ass, despite it belonging to Us—so you must accommodate Us in some other manner."

      Bartholomew went still, his eyes going as round as two coins. The massive thing in front of his face seemed to have little enough to do with him; the Rajah's prick was an alien object, cowled and heavy, as unlike Bartholomew's small member as a goose was unlike a sparrow. While Bartholomew had known how to bring himself off since he was twelve, huddled in blushing excitement underneath his sheets with one ear always cocked for the stealthy sound of Avery's approach, he could not reconcile that knowledge with the thing before him. "I don't know how, Rajah," Bartholomew said, his voice airless and small.

      "We have cause to doubt that," the Rajah said dryly. "Still, if We must guide you... give Us your hands."

      Obediently, cringing, Bartholomew lifted his hands and held them out. The Rajah took Bartholomew's hands in his own, nearly smothering them, and brought them up—Bartholomew gasped, startled, as the Rajah's prick surged into his grip. It was, perhaps, not as monstrous as his weak eyes had led him to believe, but still there was far too much of it for his two dainty scholar's hands to encompass. The skin was paper-thin and velvet-soft, slightly loose over a core as hard and hot as an iron stove. Bartholomew thought for a moment that his hands might be scalded. The Rajah's blood rushed underneath his palms, so close to the surface that Bartholomew could mistake it for nothing else. In that instant Bartholomew's heartbeat fell in with the Rajah's own, and he gasped out an breathy sound at the heady throb of it.

      "That is a start," said the Rajah. His hands fell away, leaving Bartholomew in possession. "Must We continue to guide you?"

      "N-no, Rajah," Bartholomew said. Rising up onto his knees he essayed a small stroke, his cringing fingers taking the measure of the man. The Rajah settled back with a bleary rumble of contentment, his eyes hot on Bartholomew's hands; Bartholomew linked his fingers together (as, indeed, he was wont to do when he brought himself off) and brought them upwards until they caged neatly about the heavy, blunted head. It was in that moment that reality reasserted itself, that Bartholomew first became able to recognize the alien thing in his hands as the prick of another man, and that Bartholomew came face-to-face with the knowledge of what he did—what he did, seemingly, of his own free will. He went scarlet on the instant, squirming in mortification, his own prick lifting its contrary little head from his lap once more.

      The Rajah lifted one eyebrow, viciously amused. "Your technique is lacking, O thing," he said.

      "I'm sorry!" Biting his lower lip, Bartholomew did his best, caressing the length of the Rajah with trembling hands. He knew even as he tried that it would not be enough. He could not press hard enough, could not move quickly enough, insulted the Rajah with these shaking, feather-light strokes... still he persevered, hoping for the best.

      The Rajah relaxed into his cushions for a minute or so, lazy and purring, watching Bartholomew through slitted eyes. "Your mouth, O creature," he eventually said. "It would please Us to be sucked now."

      It was with an effort of will that Bartholomew refrained from repeating that he did not know how. His own prick was half-hard again, his abused ass swollen and aching in such a way as to suggest that it was ready—hungry!—for more abuse, and he feared to hesitate for long enough to allow the Rajah to notice his wanton state... he leaned forward, whimpering as a bolt of sensation jerked from his fundament to his prick, and awkwardly fit the head of the Rajah's cock into his mouth.

      The taste of it was unique, the heat upsetting. Squirming on the cushions between the Rajah's outflung legs Bartholomew cringed, abased and degraded, and struggled to do something, anything, that might please the Rajah—he stroked the shaft of the Rajah's prick with both hands while pleasuring the head with his mouth as best he might. It was awkward, to say the least. After a few tentative dabs of his tongue Bartholomew gave it over as a bad idea and simply sucked, his cheeks indrawn and soon smarting.

      And still nothing happened. The Rajah suffered him to continue for a few minutes, until Bartholomew's jaw ached with the strain. "We might, if We chose, catch your head in Our hands and force it down," the Rajah said lazily, chuckling as if this idea amused him. "We would certainly choke you, but We would be within Our rights to do so."

      Bartholomew snuffled, too afraid to stop, too afraid to go on, certainly too afraid to lift his mouth away and beg for mercy. A massive hand curled over the back of his head and Bartholomew could only gag on his terror. "Still, your eagerness for the sport moves Us to be lenient," said the Rajah. "How quickly you moved to swallow Us!"

      Two tears dropped from Bartholomew's closed eyes, but he dared not stop and protest. His little moan, muffled as it was by his mouthful of the Rajah, came out only as a soft humming sound; the Rajah closed his eyes, briefly. "Take as much as you can," he said, his fingers pressing ever so gently on the back of Bartholomew's head. "We wish to see how far you can go."

      After a moment of hesitation Bartholomew squeezed his eyes shut and craned forward, pressing his mouth down upon the Rajah. The head of the Rajah's prick pushed demandingly against the roof of his mouth, leaving a salty slug-trail there; Bartholomew, straining to take more, fought to swallow. The Rajah's prick bulled with vicious intent from the roof of Bartholomew's mouth to the entrance of his throat, and Bartholomew gagged in earnest and jerked back, falling to the cushions between the Rajah's legs, coughing helplessly. "I'm sorry," he gasped out between coughs. "I'm sorry, Rajah!"

      "A good try," the Rajah said. "You are hungry for cock indeed, to take so much on your virgin outing. Perhaps later We will teach you to take more."

      "Y-yes, Rajah," said Bartholomew, huddled in a ball on the cushions, ashamed nearly to death. To think that he was so—! No true Englishman would suffer himself to be used so, no McKittrick would permit himself such utter submission—Bartholomew knew himself to be a lesser thing, a catamite, a toy fit only for the use of rough men. Before, he had been ashamed of his weakness, his softness, his scholarly leanings; now he yearned for those days with the sharpness of a knife, when he was only a soft and bookish thing, not a wanton aching to be abused. Soon the Rajah would grow tired of Bartholomew's awkward advances and would seize him, use him, jam that massive prick into his vitals, and Bartholomew knew that he would deserve it when it came—

      When at last the Rajah did seize him, Bartholomew's poor heart nearly failed. He screamed out a thin and terrified sound, throwing out his hands like he might somehow prevent his deflowering as he fell onto the massive slab of the Rajah's broad chest. The Rajah only boomed out a laugh and caught Bartholomew's flailing limbs as they went by, wrenching Bartholomew over onto his back with insolent ease; Bartholomew found himself spread-eagled atop the Rajah, staring blindly up at the smoke eddying over the tarred boards of the ceiling, his thin back pressed hard against the Rajah's barrel chest. Between his sprawled legs the Rajah's massive prick jutted forth. Bartholomew's mind cracked anew in his terror, even the cushion of the smoke not enough to protect him now. Unconsciousness eluded him. It seemed the cruelest stroke of all.

      "Press your thighs together," the Rajah hissed in Bartholomew's ear, his breath hot against Bartholomew's skin. "Quickly, now. We lose patience."

      Uncomprehending, Bartholomew brought his legs together—they closed on a tremendous thing as hot as iron and insistent as a hammer, making Bartholomew squeal again. The Rajah only deafened Bartholomew with a laugh and settled himself with one mighty upwards thrust, not just of his prick but of his entire body. Bartholomew flailed as if thrown and came to rest with the Rajah's prick jammed hard against his body, held in place by the trembling muscles of his thighs. At its base the Rajah's cock tormented the aching flesh of Bartholomew's ass, dragging at the puckered opening with every shift and forcing it to part; along its length it rubbed against the secret spot just behind Bartholomew's balls; its head alternately jostled Bartholomew's balls and kissed off the underside of Bartholomew's own, smaller, foolish prick, once again as hard as rock and eager for more of this shame. Bartholomew's squeal became an indescribable sound.

      "Cross your ankles," ordered the Rajah, and mindlessly, Bartholomew did. The Rajah curled one massive leg over both of Bartholomew's and wrapped one arm about his chest, strapping him down as surely as if Bartholomew were once again in irons; the first, slight, shallow thrust thereafter was still enough to startle a cry from Bartholomew. How it dragged at him, how it stimulated already-throbbing skin! Like prodding at a sore tooth with his tongue, it brought such aching pleasure with it—the Rajah shouted out another cruel laugh and bucked up underneath him, taking his pleasure from the fork of Bartholomew's thighs, introducing Bartholomew's most private parts to the roughest of friction.

      Bent back against the Rajah's chest, strung as tightly as a bow, Bartholomew could only writhe and cry out, his hands catching great handfuls of silk cushions. No callous violation this, nothing like the cruel experiment of earlier; now, while the Rajah wrung every last bit of pleasure from Bartholomew's body, he returned at least a little. Bartholomew's helpless cries grew agonized with shamed ecstasy, as he learned to cherish the ache, to anticipate the burn, to need the cruelty, to tangle shame and horror with desire in the depths of his mind—the Rajah's free hand caught up Bartholomew's eager prick and Bartholomew quite lost his mind.

      The Rajah, cunning even in his extremity, waited until Bartholomew was mewling for it, begging with his body if not with his mouth, straining to both thrust up into the Rajah's hand and grind down upon that implacable prick sawing roughly away between his thighs. It was then, when Bartholomew's earlier cries were reduced to gasping whimpers, that the Rajah leaned up and put his lips once again to Bartholomew's ear. "You have Our word," the Rajah said, his voice only slightly thickened by his exertion. "Should your father still prove recalcitrant—" he broke off there and bore down with his hand, milking Bartholomew's blissful cock until it throbbed "—We shall, indeed, grant your dearest wish and possess you in every possible way—" he paused again to tighten his leg about Bartholomew's "—We shall shame him by teaching his son to worship Our prick, to beg for it, to put his ass in the air and plead for Us to fuck him, to never again know satisfaction unless he is submitting to Our cock!" On this note, the last, the Rajah slammed up one last time and came with a choking roar, substituting a slick and molten heat for the earlier friction.

      So far gone, Bartholomew could only summon up a dim and distracted horror at these threats—indeed, in his ecstasy, they sounded instead like promises, and for a brief, shining, terrible moment, Bartholomew wished for these things with all his heart. A fool his prick might have been, but a powerful one, as long as its urges were being sated. Indeed, when the Rajah's hand brought Bartholomew off, Bartholomew shrieked out a sound that had everything to do with rapture before the force of his roiling emotions granted him precious unconsciousness at last.


      Bartholomew woke again when the circle of sunlight that made its lazy way across the floor finally spilled into his eyes.

      For a moment, he remembered nothing. His limbs were filled with the most delicious lassitude, his skin already warmed by the sun, his bones cushioned from the hard wooden floor—it was only when he shifted that the dull ache in his hindquarters flared, bringing with it hazy memories of the night before and oh! such a headache! Bartholomew lurched from his bedding and scrambled across the length of his long, narrow cell on hands and knees, barely gaining the privy-hole before his roiling stomach succeeded in turning itself inside out. His belly was largely empty, at least, thank Heaven for such small favors.

      His body's demands seen to, Bartholomew became aware of himself as more than just a broken-down machine filled with vomit. He was still mother-naked, but his skin had been indifferently cleaned before he had been bedded down back in his cell, laid out on the length of his coarse homespun robe with his folded trousers serving as his makeshift pillow. A fresh bucket of water awaited him, as did the napkin containing his usual rations—just the thought of food made Bartholomew's stomach roil once more.

      Wincing away from both his aches and his memories Bartholomew wetted a scrap of his destroyed shirt and scrubbed himself clean with panting, gasping fervor, squeezing his eyes tightly shut when he must wash his violated backside. Afterwards the cloth went down the privy-hole without a second thought—Bartholomew could not have borne to look at it again—and Bartholomew hurried into his trousers, then hurried into his robe, then huddled in his accustomed corner and tried not to think of what he had done.

      In this, at least, he was lucky: the drugged vapors cast a pall of haze over the night entire, such that Bartholomew might almost dismiss it as a terrible dream. Here in the clean morning sunlight, on bare, tarred, smooth boards, Bartholomew might almost believe that—how different from the smoke, the unclean sybaritic excess of the Rajah's chamber! Only the ache deigned to call his bluff; the ache, and Bartholomew's lingering embarrassment, which warmed his cheeks and stained them pink.

      Eventually his stomach settled. Bartholomew dared a sip of water, then another. A bit of biscuit, he thought, might stay down, so he untied the napkin and broke off a small hunk of the bland and heavy stuff, nibbling at it so tentatively that he consumed only a few crumbs with every bite. The napkin held more biscuit, and a few pieces of jerked meat, and some brownish stuff that proved itself to be dried apple well-soaked in the juice of limes. This Bartholomew attempted next, snuffling anew at the fierce sourness.

      His breakfast seen to, Bartholomew made his customary mark on the wall, then once again fetched the borrowed book from its place and curled up with it. He attempted to read a few lines. In this, he failed, but running his eyes unseeingly over the clean, black text served to comfort him, in its way. How familiar, this action! How ordinary! It was the act of a past Bartholomew, an innocent and soft Bartholomew, a Bartholomew that knew nothing of pirates save what he read in books.

      The day passed, in its slow way. Bartholomew's assorted aches eased and his stomach settled, soon consenting to accept the jerked meat in his rations. The ship creaked and groaned about him, rolling underfoot, the distant shouts of sailors penetrating only dimly to where Bartholomew sat; if the Rajah was in his chambers, it suited him today to be silent, just as it suited Bartholomew to pretend that there existed no such fearsome creature as the Rajah.

      It was only when Bartholomew noted that the sky had grown orange outside the porthole that his fear flared anew. The sun was setting—soon it would be dark—soon the Rajah would return to his chambers for the night, and then he might decide that he cared for Bartholomew's company. Armored in his robe and trousers, Bartholomew said his prayers (such prayers he said, as to burn the ears of a horrified God!) and laid himself down, his narrow back pressed against the far wall. His eyes, weak as they were, peeked past the folds of his sleeve to watch the hidden door; his ears strained to catch even the faintest sound.

      In this manner, with nothing at hand to distract him and his attention fully captured by his fear, Bartholomew could not help but replay his foggy memories of the night before—they pressed in on him like an avalanche of stones. No sooner had he thrust one memory away than another crashed down to take its place, to show itself to the cringing Bartholomew, to taunt him with his failure and his need and his secret, twisted desires... even as he cringed back against the wall his witless prick nudged its head against the cloth of his trousers. It had no fear, at least. It welcomed the Rajah's casual depredations, relished the cruelty, dragged the rest of Bartholomew after it in its single-minded goal—how he hated it! Bartholomew drew himself up into a ball, trying not to weep, trying to ignore the slight swelling lest it become something less slight.

      He was still curled about himself when he fell asleep, half an hour later. The fear and the desire he carried with him into dreams, where they became something both more and less than what they truly were.


      The heavy door rumbled open at last. Bartholomew woke with a start and a single, strangled cry, flinging himself to his knees before he was even truly awake, scrubbing both hands through his hair. Oh, God, it was to happen now—it was all to happen now! "R... Rajah," Bartholomew whispered through cloth-dry lips, cringing upon his knees.

      "Creature," the Rajah said negligently. Leaning forward he swapped the bucket for one new—Bartholomew, startled, risked a stealthy glance at the porthole. The sky outside was pink, just now fading to a hallucinatory blue. Morning! Morning had come! Had he truly slept unmolested through the night?

      The usual napkin of foodstuffs fell next to the bucket. The Rajah lay his palm on Bartholomew's head for the space of a moment, his thumb tangling itself in Bartholomew's ragged hair—then he stepped back and shut the door, leaving Bartholomew alone.

      For a moment, Bartholomew dared not move. Then a tremor ran through his muscles and he collapsed onto one hip, gasping, aware of a rising tide of euphoria: safe! He had not been molested in the night! For one day more, he was safe, and whole, and alive! He laughed aloud before he knew he was going to do it, with real (if fevered) joy in the cracked and rasping sound; then he scrambled over to the bucket and breakfasted well.

      It was not until he stripped to clean himself that he discovered that his dreams had led him to foul his trousers in the night. One might think that Bartholomew would have noted the telltale dampness at the front of his trousers, but were they not often damp, these days? It is no wonder that Bartholomew did not mark it right away. Still, even Bartholomew could not mistake his own leavings for mere sea-water—he had fouled his night-clothes in such a way many times, after all—and it brought a fierce and raging blush to his cheeks once more. He scrubbed the remains of his erotic dreams from his skin and then spared a handful of water to wash the sticky stuff from the front of his trousers as best he might, spreading them carefully out on the floor when he was done. They would pick up more blackish shadows from the tar, but to Bartholomew's mind, that was more acceptable.

      If the Rajah had seen that—! The idea made Bartholomew come over quite faint. Oh, the taunting that would result, and the lewd conclusions that the Rajah would draw, and the vicious logic he would employ, that would twist Bartholomew's very impulses around themselves... but he had not been caught, he sternly reminded himself, and with Heaven's grace, he should not be caught in future. Bartholomew put his robe back on and endeavored to distract himself with those few tools he had at hand.

      In this, he succeeded almost too well. Bartholomew loved his books, after all. After a few false starts he sank once again into the familiar world of the fat book in his lap, the all-too-real world fading out around him; he twisted his bare feet in the rough hem of the robe and then lost himself entire. In this way, some hours passed. It was indeed a kindness.

      Bartholomew being who he was, he failed to notice when the ship heeled smartly about, rolling him up against the wall where he crouched. Too, he failed to mark the rising shouts of the seamen on deck, although his brow furrowed in distant thought. However, not even Bartholomew could innocently read through the stunning roar of the galleon's cannons firing, seemingly half a hundred of them, all at once.

      Had he thought them loud when they fired upon his town? Inside the ship they were twice as loud, three times as loud, loud enough to crack the world in two—Bartholomew's reflexive shriek of terror was entirely lost underneath the thunderous blast. The book flew from his hands to thump itself closed on the floor beside him, and Bartholomew clutched at his head, drawing himself up in a ball, deafened by the noise and unable to hear himself whimpering in terror. Were they fired upon? Was it the Navy? All Bartholomew could think was no, please God, no, he was helpless in this prison, he should be sent to the bottom of the ocean to drown with the pirates—in that moment he could picture it so clearly, his prison filling with water, his thrashing body pressed against the ceiling as the implacable wood bore him down, the room now his coffin as his agonized lungs burst—reflexively he caught and held his breath—

      A second cannonade fired. Bartholomew screamed.

      His ears rang with the sound, but in its aftermath he could suddenly hear the Rajah shouting, far away—half-deafened as he was, enclosed all in tarred wood, he could not make out the words, only the maddened, powerful bellowing of it. Without words to humanize it, it was the terrifying roar of an animal brought to bay. Bartholomew cringed. Oh, let the Rajah not be bellowing in defiance of his fate, for his fate was to be Bartholomew's as well!

      This particular one of Bartholomew's prayers was to be answered, it seems. The Rajah's voice rose in unmistakable triumph and Bartholomew grew still, a secret, mad hope growing in his breast. Perhaps he was not to die here, after all—perhaps the Rajah would prevail and keep him safe! Hope led to prayer, in its twisted way. It was not God of whom Bartholomew begged a victory—it was not God to whom Bartholomew entrusted his safety—it was the Rajah. Bartholomew huddled in his corner, head down, hands clasped, and softly begged the Rajah to be victorious, and to preserve him. Such was his state that he could not see the harm in it; such was his state that he did not cringe at the blasphemy of it.

      A final roar from the Rajah was followed by a tidal wave of shouting from his men, and the clatter and clash of weapons like barbaric applause. Bartholomew's heart stood still in his chest. Were they boarded? Invaded? Was he rescued, then? Had his father roused the Navy rather than pay—was this why he had stalled the Rajah's demands of ransom with his pretense? And what strange alchemy was this, that Bartholomew faced the possibility with dread of its failure rather than mad hope of its success? For, after all, Bartholomew knew the Rajah ten Rajah to be invulnerable, all-powerful, a dread and massive god who did not shy from violence—to attack him was surely only to lose and to rouse his ire in the process. And then he might exercise his rage upon the flesh of a cringing Bartholomew—Bartholomew's blasphemous prayers redoubled on the instant, praying that the Rajah might be merciful.

      In that instant Bartholomew hated both his father and the Royal Navy with a pain like poison in his guts, for thwarting the Rajah, for the pain which the angered Rajah in turn would then cause to Bartholomew. In the next instant he caught himself and sobbed. Surely his father knew what he did—surely—but a new figure burned white-hot in the ranks of Bartholomew's personal pantheon, eclipsing the cool and distant specter of Richard McKittrick, and Bartholomew could not find it in himself to have the faith that once he had.

      The clash of weapons died away. The shouting remained, redoubling, having to it the edge of celebration now. Above the vicious tumult of the pirates rose the voice of the Rajah, shouting in command—and below it came the occasional hopeless scream. The Rajah had triumphed, then, as Bartholomew knew he would, and his father had failed. In a sense Bartholomew was safe, saved, alive, his sacrilegious prayers all but answered—but now it remained to be seen only how the Rajah would punish Bartholomew for this trespass.

      An icy hand clutched at Bartholomew's poor heart, and he curled up on the floor, attending to the carousing above with only half an ear.


      The raucous festivities continued well into the night. Even Bartholomew could only fear for so long before exhaustion set in, despite his despairing knowledge that the Rajah would soon come for him, punish him, use his body cruelly and force Bartholomew to take some unwanted pleasure in it—Bartholomew squirmed at the thought, hating that he did not squirm entirely from discomfort. He fell into a light and uneasy sleep with the din echoing in his ears, his arms wrapped tightly about his head.

      Again he woke with a start as the wall rumbled open; again he flung himself to his knees before he woke properly. "Rajah," he choked, sparing a glance for the porthole. The sky was gray with cloud, but light. Even the knowledge that morning had come did not relieve his dread—surely it meant only that the Rajah had spent the night before in carousing, and would spend the night to come in punishment. Bartholomew bit back a sob.

      The Rajah said nothing, only swapped out the bucket and napkin as he was wont to do. Bartholomew waited, huddled upon his knees, his eyes cast down and his arms crossed protectively over his belly, anticipating the usual touch to his head, hoping for it—surely an angered Rajah would not grace him with such a benediction? Perhaps if it came—

      As if summoned by the force of Bartholomew's thoughts, the Rajah's hand fell to the top of his head. "We pray that yesterday's cannonade did not frighten you unduly, O creature," said the Rajah, tangling his heavy fingers in Bartholomew's unruly curls.

      "I..." How Bartholomew yearned into that touch, as if he might learn the Rajah's temper from it! "I was..."

      "You were frightened," the Rajah divined. His hand fell to cup Bartholomew's face, Bartholomew's burning cheek against his palm. "You may admit it. It will not anger Us."

      Bartholomew's next breath came in a shudder and a sigh; like a cat he pressed his cheek against the stroking hand. "I was very frightened, Your Majesty," he admitted, all in a low, embarrassed rush. "I didn't know what was going on—I was afraid that..." He paused, swallowed, and hurried on, already cringing in anticipation of the Rajah's scorn. "I was afraid that the ship might be sunk, and I might drown, trapped in here."

      "Hah!" The little laugh burst between them like an explosion. "Our nation has warred with ships of the line and bested them with hardly a scratch, O creature! We fear no English navy, spread thin as they are—and yesterday's treasure was but a merchant ship, lightly manned. They surrendered in fear of Us after a simple demonstration of Our power."

      "As well they might," Bartholomew offered, his head spinning. His relief was palpable, almost painful. It had had nothing to do with him—it had been piracy, nothing more!

      "As well they might," the Rajah agreed, tugging lightly at Bartholomew's ear. "O flattering creature."

      Bartholomew hesitated, then plunged on. "Was it... was it a rich ship, Rajah?"

      "Oh? What is this? It interests you?" The Rajah laughed his outsized laugh, making the walls ring. "We may make a buccaneer of you yet, O creature—as for your question, We confess Ourself pleased with the bounty. Indeed, amongst Our spoils there was something that might interest you—" and reaching into his heavy captain's coat the Rajah pulled forth a small, fat book with a worn leather cover.

      Bartholomew's heart leapt at the sight, and he clenched his fingers about a fold of his robe. His eyes fastened upon the book, as if he were a drowning man and the book was a floating spar—chuckling, the Rajah tossed the book negligently upon his palm. "Ah, so you do want it," he said, his fingers closing upon it. "Indeed, We thought of you when We took it from the captain's quarters—was that not kind of Us?"

      "Yes, Rajah!" Bartholomew breathed, in that moment utterly sincere. A book—another book! Another few hundred pages between himself and the grinding dullness of his imprisonment! A Bible, a personal journal, a collection of pressed flowers and ship's charts, it did not matter. Bartholomew would clutch it to his bosom and learn it by heart, grateful for it. When he thought of the tremendous waste that had gone before, book after book read once and put aside... Bartholomew dipped his head, his breath uneven, his voice scratchy. "I am grateful for your kindness, that... that you should spare a moment to think of me."

      "Of course you are," the Rajah said, studying the book's worn cover. "We are no effeminate daydreamer, to make a study of such things, but We have glanced through it and found it tolerably well-written. Surely it would help you to pass the time."

      "Yes, Rajah," Bartholomew said eagerly, nearly craning towards the book.

      The Rajah's fingers folded closed, the small book nearly vanishing inside the massive cage of his fist. "So the only question remains..." The Rajah's smile turned dark on the instant, quite nearly carnivorous. "What would you do, to earn this little book from Us?"

      Bartholomew twitched back and swallowed, his fear bursting upon him like a rain-squall—and yet, desperate for diversion, how quickly he gave in to it, how quickly he let himself go! The Rajah would take what he liked in any case, he told himself. With the ease of long practice he fell into the self of the other Bartholomew, the wicked boy—"A-Anything you want," he said, swallowing again. "Please, Rajah, just... just tell me what I must do."

      "Anything?" said the Rajah. "What a foolhardy choice of words. However, it does not please Us to direct you, in this. You must decide what this book is worth to you."

      Shrinking back, Bartholomew mustered the tatters of his courage, never great. He knew well enough what the Rajah wanted, if he could only compel himself to the shame. Surely a few minutes of abasement were not too much to sacrifice for such a talisman against the crushing, mind-breaking boredom—before he realized that he was going to do so he lunged forward, still on his knees, to scrabble at the Rajah's belt with both trembling hands.

      The Rajah let out a shout of laughter at that, catching the back of Bartholomew's head in one great hand. Bartholomew went red with shame and dropped his eyes, but never ceased to fumble at the buckle, cringing in anticipation every time that his thin wrist brushed against the heavy shape curled there, just below. Above him the Rajah stood, immovable as a stone statue, allowing Bartholomew to batter himself against him—all the strength in Bartholomew's body would not move the Rajah an inch. It was like a butterfly beating itself against a window. Bartholomew pulled the belt free and let it drop, sucking in a breath that was more than half a sob, then grabbed for the buttons of the Rajah's breeches.

      He had pulled the buttons free and dipped his hands into the Rajah's clothing, flushing scarlet at the soft and heavy thing that his hands found there, before the Rajah spoke again. "And what will you do with that?" he asked, his voice low and amused.

      "I will... I will put it in my mouth," Bartholomew said, squirming and abject. His cheeks colored.

      "Will you?" The Rajah's tone was no less than disappointed. "But We have already had that of you."

      Bartholomew cringed, his thoughts scattering in confusion. It seemed to him that the Rajah had already had everything from him, and in what was left of his innocence he could not think of anything more to offer—but that was not true, was it? There was one thing that had not yet been taken from him by the Rajah. In the great whirl of Bartholomew's mind, it seemed at that instant that it was better to trade what little he had left for his own benefit, rather than wait in fear for the Rajah to simply take it without recompense. Bartholomew rocked back on his heels, terrified, then rose unsteadily to his feet.

      His trousers still lay where he had spread them to dry, at the far end of the room. Underneath his robe he wore nothing—snuffling, shivering, Bartholomew caught two handfuls of the coarse robe and pulled it up, gathering the folds about his waist to reveal his spindly shanks. Abruptly he could not bear to look upon the Rajah; accordingly, he put his face to the wall, pressing his cheek to the tarred wood as he rucked up his robe to the waist. Tears fell freely onto his cheeks as he presented the Rajah with his bare buttocks. His cracked mind spun as he fought not to picture the violation which would surely follow—his mindless prick nonetheless stirred at the cascade of foggy images that his mind conjured. "Please, Rajah," Bartholomew choked, cringing backwards until his bare rump brushed against the Rajah's still-clothed leg. He froze. He could do nothing further.

      For a moment, all was still—then the Rajah's hand fell to cup one of Bartholomew's buttocks, a lone fingertip stroking up along the crease between to stroke at the opening there. "Please, what?" prompted the Rajah.

      Bartholomew shuddered and whined, his prick jumping halfway to attention on the moment. How oddly pleasant the squirming in his belly was! "Please... please..." His mind could not find the words. Indeed, how could it? "F-for the book," Bartholomew managed. "Please, for the book!"

      Again, the Rajah was silent, his hand toying lightly with Bartholomew. It kept Bartholomew all ajump, that hand, making him squirm and shiver, breathing in great, terrified gasps—"We had only thought to inspire you to beg prettily," said the Rajah, still disappointed. "We had no thoughts in this direction. And yet you have seized on this, your opportunity, with so little prompting—We must admit, We find it enlightening."

      Bartholomew choked on his next breath, shame crawling up his cheeks. The Rajah merely sighed. "To trade your virginity for something as paltry as a book—it is no trade for you, is it? It is only a pretense, an excuse. You wish for Us to fuck you with all your dirty little heart, and thus you grab for this, your first opportunity. As long as you can tell yourself that it is none of your doing!"

      "N—" Bartholomew could not even finish the protest, so great was his shame. Abruptly he collapsed into a puddle of weeping boy at the Rajah's feet, the folds of the oversized robe waterfalling about him. At the very least the robe hid him again. At least he was granted that.

      "You may have the book," said the Rajah, leaning down to place the book on the boards beside Bartholomew. "As for the rest, you may not have it, not yet. We are a ship's captain as well as a king, you must understand, and We have many duties which press upon Us. But We will consider if We might grant your request—" and the Rajah ten Rajah stepped backwards, brushing the wall to, closing Bartholomew away in his prison once more.


      The torrent of weeping slackened and ended eventually, as it must. No boy, no matter how ashamed, may cry forever, not even Bartholomew, who was gifted in that respect.

      His narrow prison was still gray and dim, the clouds outside preventing the sun from reaching so far. Bartholomew huddled in his robe and did not care to move—indeed, he thought he might lie just so until he died, so little did he care about anything. Even his prick had ceased to torment him, softening once more and curling in its place.

      Eventually it was that most prosaic of bodily needs that got him moving again. Bartholomew might believe (with the fervor of an adolescent) that he no longer cared for anything, but still he did not wish to piss himself. Rising unsteadily to his feet, he shuffled to his privy-hole and made use of it. His trousers, he ignored. What was the use? He might mummify himself in a thousand layers of clothing, only to have the Rajah snap his fingers and force them back off again. Bartholomew had no say in the matter; nothing that Bartholomew wanted was of any import, save his throttled and shameful lusts, which the Rajah had divined before even Bartholomew knew that they existed.

      Oh, Bartholomew tried to explain it away as the Rajah twisting what was real and forcing it upon Bartholomew as the truth—but always he came back to the actions of his reckless, idiot prick, which leapt despite Bartholomew's horror, which hungered for each touch and responded with single-minded fervor to the cruel blandishments. No, Bartholomew could only believe that the Rajah divined and spoke the truth, and that it was Bartholomew who believed wrongly, who denied the real. Here in his gray prison cell, alone with himself, truly brought low at last, Bartholomew gave in and accepted himself as being what the Rajah had believed him to be, all along.

      He grew calm at the instant that he believed himself resigned to his fate. The heaviness in his heart lightened; the discomforted squirming in his belly stilled. This new, low, despised thing, this Bartholomew, this creature that existed only to cringe before the Rajah—it was an odd sort of comfort that he found in this role, but find it, he did. A few minutes later he was able to sit up and take his breakfast, almost serene in his new abjectness.

      Once he had eaten, he threw off his robe and washed himself with another bit of his shirt; his hands moved slowly and Bartholomew paid them little attention. It was only when he drew the wet cloth over his backside that he woke from his daze. In latter days he had performed this task with his eyes shut and his lip caught between his teeth, forcing himself not to think of what he touched or what had gone on there before. Now he paused, crouched nude on the floor of his cell. Already blushing Bartholomew let his fingers quest back into that forbidden territory, first with the cloth, then without. Newly cleaned, still damp, those secret places woke as he explored them, far too exposed for their (and his) comfort. Bartholomew let his fingers skate over the rim of his puckered fundament, then pressed one lightly into the center; it could enter him only the slightest bit before his body tightened to force it back out, but even that bit was enough to shake him profoundly.

      His cheeks heated further, largely in embarrassment. Bartholomew believed that he had come to terms with his new status, but still, the sensation was more odd than erotic; he wiped his hand on the wet bit of shirt and then pulled on his trousers and robe.

      The new book lay where the Rajah had left it. Bartholomew barely spared it a nervous, superstitious glance before curling up with the other book, the old book, the book that he nearly had by heart. The price he'd paid for the book on the floor was too great for Bartholomew to face, just yet. Perhaps when he'd finished re-reading the book in his lap. Perhaps then.


      Whatever the Rajah might have threatened or promised, two days passed in which Bartholomew was left to his own limited devices.

      The Rajah appeared each morning, to bring water and food, and to touch Bartholomew's head in benediction as Bartholomew groveled in the manner that the Rajah found appropriate; that done, he withdrew. Bartholomew was left alone with his few possessions, to entertain himself as he might.

      For one day longer he contented himself with the first book, memorizing those passages which he liked best and declaiming them under his breath. Even in these straits, however, Bartholomew was still fundamentally Bartholomew, and he could not long leave a book unread beside him; on the next day he laid the first book in his lap (to prevent it from sliding about as the ship moved) and gingerly picked up the second, pressing it in his hands for a few breathless moments before gingerly lifting the cover.

      The book was battered and much-read, with tissue-thin pages and close-set type. Bartholomew attempted to ration it as he had the other, but oh! how it thwarted him, how the words drew his eye on, how the story excited him! 'Tolerably well-written' the Rajah might have deemed it, but Bartholomew, desperate for distraction, found it nothing short of genius. He could well see how a ship's captain might have chosen this book to while away the evenings. Bartholomew forced himself to read each chapter twice, and pause to stretch his limbs after each reading. He could not deny himself any more.

      That night, when Bartholomew laid himself down to sleep, he hugged both of his books to his chest, like a younger child might hug a doll or a stuffed toy. If he was not happy, still, he was momentarily content; more than that, he would fear to ask.


      On the evening of the second day, just as the sky outside the porthole grew dull with twilight, the wall between them rumbled open with little fuss and less warning. Bartholomew had just said his prayers and bedded down for the night, but he flung himself back onto his knees with alacrity. "Rajah?" he said, startlement making his voice squeak and crack.

      "We have decided that you may come out for a while," said the Rajah, his voice abrupt with something that might have been ill humor—but was it truly there, or did Bartholomew's mind merely insert it? "Phew! What a stench. Leave those rags behind."

      Bartholomew reddened. It was true that he had been wearing the same clothes for—he checked the marks on the wall—eleven of his twelve days now, but he had not thought himself so offensive. Still, the Rajah commanded, and perforce he must obey. Bartholomew drew the robe off over his head and dropped it in the corner, then fumbled with the buttons of his trousers. The Rajah watched, with a cool and appraising eye; once Bartholomew was naked, hugging his thin arms over his chest, the Rajah stepped back and gestured to the room beyond. "Be welcome," he said, his voice offhand. "There is a bit of sacking on the bed that you may wear, if you like."

      Faced with this largesse—this distinctly unerotic largesse—Bartholomew's heart leapt in his chest. The Rajah's chambers were still a hellish blur of red, although no smoke eddied about to complete the illusion; Bartholomew quickly groped his way towards the red-curtained cave at the far end of the chamber, stumbling back and forth on unsteady legs as the ship hove to and fro underneath him. The cloth on the bed had faded to a dull white from age and use, but it was still strong and soft, and long enough to lap generously about Bartholomew, who was, after all, a slender boy. Bartholomew arranged the worn material about his hips and tucked the leading corner underneath, leaving himself clad in something not unlike a skirt. Unflattering, to say the least, but a thousand times better than stumbling about the Rajah's chambers unclothed! Bartholomew dipped in as pretty a bow as he might, one hand clutching at the cloth to keep it from falling away. "Thank you, Your Majesty."

      "You are welcome," said the Rajah, dropping into the pile of cushions which Bartholomew remembered all too well. "We have finished with Our supper, if you hunger."

      "I..." Bartholomew hesitated. "I fear that I have little enough with which to repay such generosity, Rajah."

      The Rajah's eyes narrowed with momentary amusement at this scruple, this lesson so painfully learned. He waved a dismissive hand at Bartholomew. "We will require no recompense. Are We a mere merchant, to haggle so over every little thing?"

      "No, Rajah!" Bartholomew edged towards the table that lurked in the gloom, barely visible. His mouth was already watering. "Thank you, Rajah!"

      Once again the table nearly groaned under the remains of a meal fit for a king (or, Bartholomew could only suppose, a Rajah). Bartholomew perched on the edge of the massive chair and rearranged his towel as best he might before falling to with a moan and a will. He stuffed himself with roasted beef and onions and mopped the plate afterward with thick dark bread; he finished off half a browning apple before daring to help himself to two of the tiny, jewel-like oranges that tumbled extravagantly from the salver in the center of the table. Of the pastry, once a tiny crust remained, darkly stained with berry juice and drizzled with honey. Bartholomew ate it in two bites and savored the sweetness. It was like to make him cry.

      All the while the Rajah observed Bartholomew, sunk deep in some inward-turned contemplation. The silver goblet in his hand was enormous, yet still dwarfed by the Rajah's hand. From this he drank hugely, pausing twice to refill it from a bottle stashed somewhere in the nest of cushions. He made no move to speak, nor to interfere, much to Bartholomew's relief; indeed, the Rajah did not speak even when Bartholomew slumped back, replete. Aware of the Rajah's eyes upon him, Bartholomew cast about for the proper response, and could find none. And yet, the silence that stretched between them was discomforting, the Rajah's bulk in the corner a silent nightmare shape—"May I," Bartholomew said, startling himself, and then was forced to stop and swallow. "May I ask you a question, Rajah?"

      The Rajah was silent for a moment. "Ask," he finally said. An unspoken warning nevertheless rumbled underneath the word.

      "Would you..." Bartholomew hesitated. "I would know more about your nation," he finally said, his voice faltering.

      For a moment longer the Rajah was silent, his considering eyes heavy on Bartholomew—then he cracked the air with his laughter, for all that there was little amusement in it. "O, flattery, flattery," he said. "Very well, O creature—but it can be a long and thirsty tale, and We will require refreshment in order to tell it. Bring Us the bottle at your right hand."

      Bartholomew bobbed his head in agreement, groping for the bottle and catching its neck. Standing was momentarily awkward, as Bartholomew attempted to grapple with bottle and towel both, and nearly dropped the lot—still, eventually he was upright, clutching his makeshift loincloth in one hand and the wine in the other. The ship rocked about him as he stumbled towards the Rajah, the rugs underfoot as plush as he remembered. Bracing himself for anything, half anticipating an assault, Bartholomew dipped his head and held out the bottle.

      The Rajah snorted in sour amusement, as if he could read Bartholomew's very thoughts, and plucked the bottle from Bartholomew's hand. "Sit, if you like," he said, gesturing at a patch of soft carpet by his outstretched legs. If you like he had said, but Bartholomew quite clearly heard or else running underneath the kingly courtesy; Bartholomew's legs folded underneath him on the instant and he dropped to the rug at the Rajah's feet, tucking his feet awkwardly underneath himself to avoid disarranging the cloth wrapped tight about his hips.

      Catching the cork between his first two fingers, the Rajah drew it out and flicked it away. Once his goblet was refilled and the bottle had been safely tucked away, he settled back into the cushions, already deep in thought. "Tell Us what you know of Us," he commanded.

      "I... !" Startled, Bartholomew groped for the proper words. To have his question turned back on himself so—this he had not expected. Bartholomew knew a thrill of fear. So many rumors he had heard, and so many of them might anger the Rajah! "I know that your nation sails the seas, Your Majesty," he said, his voice faltering.

      "Do you know why?"

      "Because... because your... because your birthright was stolen from you," Bartholomew stammered.

      "Mm." The Rajah's eyebrows drew down. He took a long pull at his wine in lieu of answering. For a few moments Bartholomew feared that he had offended, and he drew in on himself, huddling at the Rajah's feet, preparing to grovel should it become necessary—"That is a polite way of putting it," said the Rajah. "But true enough, for all that."

      "Your father..." Bartholomew faltered again. Would that he had not asked—it felt like there were bear-traps, all around! "Your father was the first king?"

      "That is so." The Rajah threw back another goodly portion of wine, staring heavy-lidded off into the distance. "Our father founded his dynasty upon that paradise and named it after the rajahs of Indus, taking my mother's people as his subjects."

      "He was a Dutchman, wasn't he?" said Bartholomew. Even as he asked he thought better of asking, and hastily added a squeaked "Once!"

      "Once," the Rajah allowed, after a moment of ominous silence. "Once he ascended to his throne, however, he was no longer merely a Dutchman but the king of his own people."

      "Of course," a quivering Bartholomew said, dipping his head. "I... I meant no offense, Rajah." He squirmed a little. If only he could make the man tell the story instead of subjecting him to this quizzing—perhaps pretending to ignorance was the answer. "But... Rajah, what happened after that?"

      "You do not know?" The Rajah cocked an eyebrow. "We thought perhaps it was common currency, that gossip. We have taught many people the folly of repeating the story without respect."

      "I am... I am no one," Bartholomew said. "No one shares gossip with me."

      The Rajah chuckled, like thunder in the distance. There was no humor in it, none at all. "And yet you wish Us to do so," he said. "And will you, in your turn, repeat Our tale to mock Us, once you are safe at home once more?"

      "No, Rajah!" Bartholomew said, his eyes flying open wide. "I only wish to know!"

      The Rajah studied Bartholomew—like the boy was an insect impaled upon a pin, so remote and assessing was his gaze. Caught in that cool study, Bartholomew could almost forget that the man was mad. (Indeed, Bartholomew had on occasion found himself wondering whether the Rajah was insane at all... but who other than a madman would subject one like Bartholomew to these depredations? Surely there was prettier or more willing prey!) "You do not," the Rajah finally proclaimed, his brow lowering, his gaze thunderous. "You wish to ingratiate yourself."

      Horrified, Bartholomew clutched at the Rajah's leg. "No, Rajah!" he said again, desperately casting about for the correct words. "Had I only wished to ingratiate myself I would have asked about something safer! Or... or not asked about anything at all!"

      "So instead of cunning, you are foolish!"

      "Yes, Rajah!" Bartholomew's voice cracked as he fought not to cry. In this, he failed, as two welling tears broke free to track down his cheeks. "I have never been cunning! I... I know that I am foolish—so many people have told me so!"

      "Spare Us your tricks," said the Rajah, his own voice rich with disdain. Catching Bartholomew's face in one hand, he rubbed his thumb across Bartholomew's cheek, roughly smearing the wet tear-track away. "We will not be swayed by such manipulation."

      "Ih-ih-it's not—" Something fundamental cracked in Bartholomew then. He could protest no longer. Instead he collapsed into a frightened huddle and sobbed like a child, hiding his face in his arms; his terror of the humiliation to come only made him weep the louder. Once the dam had burst, the flood showed no signs of abating. Bartholomew wept, not only for the terror of his incarceration, but for every tiny depredation and neglect he had ever suffered, at Avery's hand, at his schoolmates' hands, at his father's—McKittrick men did not cry, as his father had told him a thousand times, but the Rajah had taught Bartholomew that he was something less than a man and something less than a McKittrick. Thus freed from all expectation, Bartholomew cried every tear that he had ever fought to keep back, sluicing his poor soul clean.

      Eventually one colossal hand fell to the top of his head. "Shh," said the Rajah.

      "Fuh-fuh-forgive me," Bartholomew hiccupped, still sniveling—then he collapsed again into a fresh torrent of weeping, scrubbing at his face with both hands as he sobbed. His nose ran, and the back of his throat became clogged with mucus, and still he could not stop.

      The Rajah stroked Bartholomew's hair for a moment longer. Huddled against the Rajah's leg Bartholomew yearned towards the slight touch like a starving man towards a feast—comfort was rare enough in Bartholomew's life—and after a moment the Rajah simply lifted Bartholomew bodily into his lap, wrapping both arms about him. Bartholomew curled into a ball against the man's massive chest, quixotically convinced of his safety inside the embrace of his captor, his tormentor (and if the Rajah wore the smallest of smiles, well, Bartholomew was in no condition to notice such things). Thus consoled, Bartholomew cried himself out in a few minutes, reducing himself to a snuffling, wet-eyed, coughing husk. "There," the Rajah said, as softly as he might.

      "I'm sorry," Bartholomew said, only dimly able to hear himself. His throat ached, and his nose was solid with mucus, and his eyes were sticky. The long day, the long captivity, his catharsis—these things combined to overwhelm him with exhaustion, and before he knew it he swooned against the Rajah's shoulder, his poor overwrought system falling into sleep to protect itself.


      How long he slept, he did not know. Sleep was a comfort to him, one of the few refuges that his life still boasted; however, Bartholomew could not sleep forever, and soon enough he slipped from deep, honest sleep into the dreamy lassitude of the last moments before arising. In this state he rose into a vague awareness of his surroundings; the rich, male scent of the Rajah was all around, insinuating itself into Bartholomew's limited awareness. It did not disturb him. Half-asleep as he was, he knew only that he rested in perfect comfort, with a great peace upon his soul.

      Still, memory eventually asserted itself, as inevitably it must. Bartholomew's consciousness rushed back to him. He jerked and lifted his head, opening his weak eyes onto the Rajah's fabulous chamber, now dim—the portholes showed only darkness, and all but one lantern had been extinguished, throwing the room into deep shadow. The Rajah himself was a hulking, brooding shape in the far corner, sunk deep in his nest of cushions, his eyes as heavy upon Bartholomew as the weight of his body might be; the weight of that gaze caused Bartholomew to realize that he lounged in the Rajah's own monstrous, curtained bed, and that he once again wore nothing at all. The length of sack-cloth lay folded up on the Rajah's sea-chest—the Rajah had stripped it from Bartholomew, had prettily arranged Bartholomew on the luxurious bed like a captive odalisque, and had retreated to his corner to bend his gaze upon the tableau in silence—Bartholomew made to snatch up the sacking and stopped himself from doing so in the same moment, his embarrassment far surpassed by his disconcertion. His fearful eyes sought the Rajah.

      "For a time thereafter Our father ruled over his kingdom, while Our mother grew fat with child," said the Rajah, as if no time had passed, as if their contention had never been. His voice was cool and distant, and Bartholomew grew still, as if to avert the Rajah's gaze. The Rajah took no heed. "Our father was a great man. Kingship was all along his destiny, as it is Ours. But so many fools feel that they know the will of God."

      Bartholomew found that he did not dare take up the cloth and cover himself again. Instead he hazarded only to sit up, folding a leg in front of himself as unobtrusively as he might, hugging himself with both arms. He did not speak. He did not dare. The Rajah in this black mood might choose to do anything—

      "Our subjects grew faithless, then, guided as they were by the whims of the mob," said the Rajah. He looked away at last; the weight of his gaze fell from Bartholomew like a stone, rolled aside. "They drove Our father the king and Our mother from their shores, to survive as they might in a single ship, with only their most faithful servants to tend them."

      The goose-flesh stood on Bartholomew's arms now. Without realizing what he did he rubbed it away, his hands making whispering sounds against his skin. For a long moment it was the only sound in the room, save for the lapping of waves against the sides of the galleon, and the faraway cries of sailors; the Rajah had fallen silent.

      "Our father was weak and ill from the cowardly attack, and Our mother was abed with Us," the Rajah finally went on. "The ship sailed as it might—Our people were not seafarers, then—and in those weeks Our kingdom was lost to Us, for Our father and Our mother could not find it again, no matter how they tried. They had neither charts nor tools, and even those that they later found were of no use."

      Bartholomew swallowed. Here in the depths of his fascination he forgot his fear; the Rajah's was a tale from one of the books that he loved, only it was real! The similarity induced in Bartholomew a feeling not unlike empathy for the Rajah's tragic struggle. Swept up in the moment, in the story, the bookish boy could easily enough forget what had passed before.

      The dark shape of the Rajah moved, one arm rising, one hand closing into a fist. "But We have inherited the throne as We were destined to do, and We have greatly strengthened the army of Our nation, and some day We shall find Our kingdom again," said the Rajah. His outsized voice grew as hushed as it might. "We shall return to this, the fabled isle of Rajah, and We shall punish the faithless, and We shall reclaim Our birthright and restore Our father's kingdom. It is no magical island, no figment of Our imagination. Some sea-chart, somewhere, will show the way; We need only plunder until the day when We find it."

      "Yes," Bartholomew breathed, startling himself.

      For a moment, all was still. Finally, with a great rumble of discontent, the Rajah tipped back his head to drain the dregs from his goblet. "But it grows late," he said, once that was done. "You may return to your berth, O thing. We will not require you further, this night."

      The spell upon Bartholomew broke upon the instant, with a wave of something which might have been relief. "Ah. Yes, Rajah," Bartholomew said, stumbling against the roll of the ship as he stood. The sacking he left where it was; naked and abject he picked his way past the brooding Rajah and took refuge in the narrow room. He wrinkled his nose: the room and his clothing did stink of him, for all that he could do to keep himself clean. He had little enough choice in these matters, however, and he pulled on the homespun robe before laying himself down in his customary corner, too aware of the man in the other room to relax into sleep.

      Eventually he heard the shifting sound as the Rajah pushed himself to his feet. The door to his prison rumbled shut, leaving Bartholomew in darkness, and in at least the pretense of safety. Bemused, Bartholomew drifted off to sleep.


      Whatever black mood had been upon the Rajah in the night, it had long since passed by the time that morning came. He chuckled as he provided Bartholomew with his morning's benediction, the touch upon his head that Bartholomew had come to crave (partially for its indication that all was well, but also much for its own sake). "And what will you do with your knowledge, O thing?" inquired the Rajah.

      "Nothing, Rajah," Bartholomew dared to say, lifting his head into the heavy touch. "I don't... I don't know anybody to tell."

      "No? Not even your father? Faithless child."

      Bartholomew hesitated, knotting his fingers together in his lap until the knuckles stood out white. "No," he said. "I might tell him, if I thought it would do any good... but he wouldn't listen to me."

      The Rajah let his hand drop away. "More fool he, then."

      For all that Bartholomew in his most secret of hearts could not disagree, still he could not bring himself to say it out loud. Some boundaries would not be overstepped so easily. "Begging your pardon, Rajah, but he's not," Bartholomew faltered.

      "No? In truth, it does not matter." The Rajah stepped back, placing one hand on the door to Bartholomew's cell. "Foolish or not, We care not at all, so long as your ransom is paid."

      "Yes, Rajah." Bartholomew directed his gaze towards his knees. He said nothing else; the Rajah waited most politely for a handful of seconds before chuckling again and sliding the door to.

      Bartholomew hesitated, then set about scratching another mark in the wooden wall with the buckle of his belt, as was his wont upon waking. Thirteen marks now: thirteen days, nearly a fortnight. How many more marks must he carve before his father sent for him? Surely it could not be many more. Surely not.

      Wishing with all his heart that he might believe that, Bartholomew turned his attention to breaking his fast.


      The thirteenth day passed, and the fourteenth, as well. Save for the Rajah's brief visits at each dawn, Bartholomew passed those days alone. His limited treasures he shepherded, using them to fill the endless hours as best he might: his two books, his cat's-cradle loop, his pebble and three coins tied in his handkerchief. These seemed like riches to him, that he might have something, no matter how little, to hoard and protect, like a dragon in its cave.

      His two books he read near to tatters, committing pages to memory now in a desperate attempt to while away the empty hours. And in his heart, a secret: the faltering beginnings of a story of his own. The story, perhaps, of a boy of Bartholomew's age, who secretly possessed the sorcerous power to be as intangible as the wind, who could go wherever he would, unnoted by mortal eyes. In Bartholomew's fevered mind the story spun freely out: the overlooked boy could go where he liked and see what he chose, and no one should ever catch him or even suspect that he was there. No door could exclude him, no lock could restrain him, and oh! the secrets that he should learn, all the while as safe as a mouse in its hole! No one could ever find him, unless he cared to be found; no one could so much as touch him save with his consent!

      The desperate longing lurking just under the surface of his story, Bartholomew refused to acknowledge. The boy's name was Tom, a short, stout name, and Tom was ever so brave and valiant, using his power to expose thieves and frauds and desperate villains, using his power to save the weak and the helpless—this wish Bartholomew also refused to see for what it was.


      On the morning of the fifteenth day, when the Rajah swapped out Bartholomew's bucket and napkin for ones new, he also dropped a folded pile of cloth onto the floor before Bartholomew. "The smell of those old rags contaminates Our quarters," he said, in a manner kindly enough.

      "Yes Rajah I'm sorry Rajah," Bartholomew said, all in a breath, yearning towards the clothes, whatever they might be. He feared to pick them up without permission—he ducked his head, knotting his hands in his lap. "I do not mean to offend, your Majesty."

      "It cannot be helped, We suppose." The Rajah leaned back, putting yesterday's empty bucket on the floor outside Bartholomew's cell. "Off with those old things, that We might have them taken away."

      Bartholomew was already scrambling to his feet, obediently tugging the filthy robe off over his head. "Yes, Rajah," he said, his voice muffled by the passing cloth. He discarded the robe at his feet and glanced up—the touch to his jaw was absurdly gentle, for hands of those size. An uncertain Bartholomew stilled on the instant, his eyes wide, his heart rabbitting along in his chest as the Rajah's hand dropped to his shoulder, then trailed from his shoulder to his chest, pausing only to roughly tweak one of Bartholomew's nipples—the not-quite-pain of it jolted Bartholomew so fiercely that he staggered back half a step. He tried to bite back his little breathless squeal and failed, as something not unlike a serpent uncoiled in the heart of his groin.

      "Well?" said the Rajah, not deigning to lift his hand away. His eyes had grown heavy, his little smile familiar.

      "Y-your pardon, Majesty," Bartholomew stammered, fumbling with the buttons of his battered trousers. His fingers faltered, growing clumsy, but the Rajah waited patiently enough, his fingers seemingly counting the rises of Bartholomew's ribs. Eventually—all too soon—Bartholomew forced the last button free of its hole, and then there was nothing for it but to push his trousers down over his hips, to let them puddle on the floor, to stumble free.

      The Rajah's hand trailed down to curl over Bartholomew's bare hip. Biting his lower lip, Bartholomew closed his eyes and stood passive, fighting not to rise to the heavy-handed touch—and failing, as he knew he would. His prick was as foolhardy as ever. Bartholomew could only pretend to ignore it.

      It felt like the caress went on for a thousand years. Even with his eyes shut Bartholomew could not fail to be aware of the Rajah closing in, to circle him as a predator might—the bulk of the man heated the air about Bartholomew, as if he stood too close to a fire. The Rajah let his hand trail down along Bartholomew's spine, then cupped both of Bartholomew's buttocks in his enormous palm, pressing one finger into the space where Bartholomew's thighs met—Bartholomew whimpered out a small sound at that and shuddered all over, but he did not dare to move otherwise. His prick bobbed stupidly before him. "Say 'please'," the Rajah rumbled, his breath a heated thing against Bartholomew's ear.

      "Please," Bartholomew echoed, his voice airless and small.

      For an eternity, all was still, save for the constant, slight rub of the Rajah's finger against the tender places between Bartholomew's thighs. "Good boy," the Rajah finally said. "Wash yourself well before you dress again—" and his hand fell away.

      Bartholomew stood frozen in place, trying not to gasp for breath while the Rajah collected the discarded rags. His skin stung where the Rajah had touched it, and tingled where the Rajah had not, and a pure, hungry throb beat like a second heart in the depths of his gut—the door rumbled shut and Bartholomew sagged to the floor, now panting like a terrified horse. Barely noticing what he did he caught himself in hand, seeking to gentle his aggravated prick by caressing it, a clever trick which never works. His crisis burst upon him, taking him unawares, and Bartholomew cried out a thin and thready sound as he came splattering across the boards, the white of his come pearly and bright against the dull black of the tarred wood.

      He came back to himself, then. "Oh!" he said, scrambling up onto his knees, shooting an anxious (and guilty) glance over his shoulder at the door. Snatching up a tatter of his former shirt Bartholomew scrubbed the floor as best he might, sparing a handful of water from his bucket for the task. The ruined scrap of cloth went down the privy-hole, and then Bartholomew selected another and washed himself as well. Best to dress before anything else could happen!

      The pile of cloth (which, it must be admitted, Bartholomew considered to be well worth the price that he had paid) proved to be a rough homespun shirt and a pair of worn but sturdy knee-breeches in some heavy dark blue fabric; the shirt was too large and the breeches just a bit too small, but still Bartholomew slid into them with something akin to reverence, leaving the topmost button of the breeches undone to compensate. The Rajah would misinterpret that, certainly—Bartholomew's cheeks pinkened—but there was no help for it. Bartholomew slid the attached braces over his shoulders, although the overtight breeches needed little enough help to stay up. Now if only he had hose, he might feel something close to dressed! Alas, his calves and feet remained bare.

      After his breakfast, Bartholomew went to make his fifteenth mark on the wall. Only then did he realize that the Rajah had absconded with his belt. He attempted to carve a mark with one of the coins in his handkerchief, but they were too small for him to grip properly; the mark he made was a faint shadow of itself, and it wiped away when he touched it. "I shall just have to remember that it is fifteen," Bartholomew told himself. His voice only shook a little.


      The day passed as they always did, these days: slowly. Bartholomew added another story or two to the saga of Tom (but Tom did not seem to interest him as much, today) and turned to the real stories when Tom's appeal palled. Outside the day trudged on, accompanied by the ever-present sounds of a galleon under sail, broken occasionally by the Rajah's booming voice. Finally the interchangeable day deigned to end, the light from the high porthole aging from blue to orange to black; Bartholomew reluctantly laid himself down in his new clothing (no longer having anything to change into, and not wishing to sleep in the nude!) and willed himself to sleep.

      But sleep, that fickle fairy, evaded him that night. Even the story of Tom could not lull Bartholomew to sleep; his mind simply seized on a sentence or a turn of phrase and turned it over and over, somnolently repeating the words to itself until Bartholomew pressed it onwards. He was tired—ah, God, he was tired—but for all that he lay in a stupor, he could not push himself to take the final step into unconsciousness.

      Bartholomew blinked his poor eyes open in the darkness, some hours or minutes later. There was little enough to see, save for the firefly line of lantern-light that shone underneath the well-fitted hidden door. It was not enough to read by (and Bartholomew was a past master of reading by whatever little light he could find!) but it was enough to conjure the spectre of the Rajah to mind. Doubtless the Rajah was in. No sailor, not even one so mad as the Rajah, would leave a lantern unattended. Bartholomew considered these facts for a long moment, then rolled up onto one hip and eased himself over to the door. Well-fitted the door was indeed: it made not a sound as Bartholomew gingerly pressed up against it, putting one ear to the wood.

      For all the the Rajah's voice was of the same absurd size as his body, he was as quiet as a cat in those moments in which he did not speak, shout, or laugh. Still, by holding his breath Bartholomew could discern movement as the Rajah stalked about his quarters. The creak of his footsteps on the boards, a cough, an outsized huff of breath, the rustle as the Rajah shed some item of clothing or other—all these things Bartholomew heard, and more. These sounds—these normal, everyday sounds—were a balm upon Bartholomew's lonely soul; he might almost pretend that he was not alone in this world, not abandoned amongst the pirates by those he had once held dear.

      Bartholomew did not move until the Rajah extinguished the lantern and flung himself heavily into his bed, with a muttered imprecation like thunder in the distance. Then Bartholomew came back to himself, blinking in the darkness like a mole. Outside the high porthole a pair of stars pricked the sky; up on deck a single, lonely sentry called the hour. What hour it was that he called, Bartholomew could not make out, immured under wood as he was. On the other side of the door the Rajah coughed, and cleared his throat, and subsided into sleep. Bartholomew attended to the man's occasional snort of breath for a few minutes before a great lassitude swept over him; rather than get caught in this most compromising of tender positions, Bartholomew crept back to his corner and curled up about his pathetic dragonish hoard. With his body and mind thus attuned to the Rajah's slumber, Bartholomew soon slept as well, and slept deeply.


      Addled by his late night, Bartholomew quite nearly slept through the next morning's ritual. Where generally he huddled in abject submission waiting for the customary touch upon the top of his head, now he huddled in exhaustion, half-asleep on his knees; fortunately both states produced a bowed head and a meek posture, and if the Rajah detected the change, well, he did not deign to call Bartholomew on it. Once the Rajah had withdrawn Bartholomew curled up in his corner once more and sank back into a fitful sleep.

      He did not wake again for some time, although how much time, he did not know. What he knew was that he went from sleep to terrified wakefulness in a single, echoing instant. He flattened himself against the floor, his eyes wide, his heart rabbitting along, and yet he did not know what had wakened him, what had frightened him so—a second roar burst upon him from above, like the very sky shattering, and then he knew. Oh, yes, Bartholomew knew.

      The storm of the Rajah's rage was terrifying, even here—in his fury, in his madness, the Rajah was nothing less than a force of nature. The bellowing of an animal mad with pain was punctuated by an appalling crash, as the Rajah tore through his office above, destroying whatever it was that he had just laid his hands upon. The boards above Bartholomew's head shuddered at the impact. And another crash, and another—Bartholomew flung both arms over his head and curled himself into as small a ball as possible, praying that the massive desk that he remembered would not break through the ceiling above and crush him, praying that the Rajah's rage had nothing to do with him—

      "FETCH HIM!" the Rajah thundered, setting the very planks a-tremble. "FETCH THE BOY!"

      Bartholomew quite nearly wet himself anew. His sudden terror galvanized him, riveted him to the boards in fear, drove his mind away—for all that the roaring filled Bartholomew's entire world, still a tiny, shocked part of his mind could detect the hurrying footsteps rushing down the stairs and crossing the Rajah's massive chamber, could hear the hands fumbling at the hidden wall—by the time the wall clicked and slid back Bartholomew was a gibbering, mindless thing, as broken by his fear as another man might be broken by weeks of torture. "No," he babbled, "no, no, no..."

      A scrawny hand snatched at his arm. "You'll come," the Rajah's silver-collared secretary panted. The old crow's hair was mussed, his spectacles askew. His thin fingers bit painfully into the soft flesh of Bartholomew's arm as he hauled Bartholomew to his feet. "Won't be the one to face this storm, I won't—"

      "No!" Bartholomew screamed, his own voice thin and lost under the Rajah's maddened howling. Desperate now, terrified, he fought against the cruel grip on his arm—"No!"—but still the Rajah's secretary lugged him bodily across the room, Bartholomew stumbling and falling and finding himself dragged to his feet once more—"No!"—he struck at the man in his panic, earning himself a stunning slap against the side of his head. Half-stunned he stumbled up the stairs after the old crow, barking his shins and stubbing his toes, sobbing all the way.

      The sunlight burst upon his eyes like a physical blow and Bartholomew cringed away from it with a squeal of pain. The Rajah's secretary dropped his arm, letting him fold in on himself upon the luxurious Oriental carpet. "GET OUT!" the Rajah thundered, and something made of glass shattered against the wall. The hurrying footsteps of the old crow were almost lost in the cacophony, and yet somehow the sound of the door closing was very loud. "No, no, no," Bartholomew whispered under his breath, cringing in anticipation of the terrible beating which surely must come now that he was alone with the Rajah ten Rajah.

      Something made of wood exploded against the wall over Bartholomew's head, showering him with splinters. He screamed out a thin sound and dared to look up, fearing what he might see with all his heart, but fearing even more that it might come upon him by surprise. The once-cluttered room was a shambles, the Rajah's stolen finery littering the rug like so much refuse. The Rajah himself was disheveled and red-eyed, his hands flexing into deadly claws—even as Bartholomew watched the Rajah seized the massive desk and wrenched it from its place. It must weigh as much as ten Bartholomews—twenty!—but still the Rajah hoisted it easily over his head with the terrible strength of rage. With a shriek of purest demoniac fury the Rajah heaved the desk at the broad windows that made up the back wall, the shoulder-seams of his captain's coat bursting asunder as his vast shoulders bunched. The desk exploded through the windows, filling the very world with the crash of shattering glass.

      The desk threw up a great spray as it hit the water, a boom to follow the crash. It settled to bobbing in their wake and became a rapidly-shrinking shape. The heavy salt air licked in to ruffle the Rajah's hair—he stood quiet now, staring out at the great hole that he had just created, his fingers flexing into their claws and falling out of them again. Indeed, all was quiet, save for the faint sounds of glass breaking away to fall onto the carpet. Bartholomew barely dared to breathe, let alone move or speak.

      Still, he made some noise, some inconsequential sound, and that was perforce enough. "We have heard from your lord father," the Rajah gritted out.

      Bartholomew's mouth worked soundlessly for several seconds. Fear had rendered him nearly mindless, to be sure, but all the same he was aware of a growing sense of dread, of the barest outlines of a truth so terrible that he should not be able to encompass it—"Yes, Rajah," he finally said, whimpering the words despite himself.

      "Would you like to know why We are so angry?" the Rajah inquired, his rage-choked voice deceptively soft—then he spun about and caught Bartholomew by the shirt collar, snapping Bartholomew to his feet with such insolent ease that he might just as easily have flung the boy out the broken windows after the desk. "By all means, you should know!"

      "I'm sorry!" Bartholomew screamed thinly, throwing up his arms to protect his head. A dampness at his groin informed him that he had wet himself again. "Rajah, please, I'm sorry!"

      The Rajah slapped Bartholomew across the face and upraised arms with a folded piece of parchment. The blow itself was not hard, but still it served to break Bartholomew's mounting hysteria; he cringed dumbly away, gasping. And still the Rajah brandished the paper at him, until Bartholomew calmed enough to take it. With trembling fingers he fought to unfold the paper, noting as he did his father's red wax seal, stamped onto the back and now broken. The Rajah stalked away, scooping the shattered remnants of a once-proud wooden globe from the carpet and flinging it out the broken windows after the desk; after a few moments which seemed like forever Bartholomew fumbled open the letter, exposing a few terse lines in his father's fine, tight hand.

By God you ask too much for the Boy, sir. Truly you are as mad as People say, to demand such an outrageous sum of me. I will not pay it—you may have this letter only, and may you choke on't. I will bow to no Pirate, self-styl'd King or no. Whatever you choose to do, on your own head be it—

-Richard McKittrick, Gov.

      For a single dumbfounded moment Bartholomew failed to comprehend that awful truth, now laid bare—in truth, to comprehend anything—and then his legs simply folded up beneath him, dropping him back to the rug. "No," he said, or tried to say. Some malign force had stolen the very breath from his lungs, and all he could do was mouth the word.

      For a moment Bartholomew held out hope that this letter could only be a forgery, but was not the seal his father's, was not the handwriting so painfully familiar? From this realization was birthed a whole host of others, as Bartholomew's world shifted in a great and silent rush: his father would not pay his ransom—his father did not care enough for him to pay his ransom—his father had abandoned him to the Rajah's tender mercies—Bartholomew was worthless to the Rajah now save as a toy, no longer a treasure of great worth but only a thing of limited utility—once the Rajah grew tired of tormenting him, of visiting horrors upon his cringing body, he would throw Bartholomew to his ravening crew as once he had done to the other townsfolk, an eternity ago—the remainder of Bartholomew's existence would be a short and tortured thing indeed. And his father... his father had... Bartholomew fixed wide and staring eyes upon the horizon, too ecstatic in his dumbfounded terror even to cry. If he could be brave for a single moment, if he could just will himself to move, he could fling himself through that howling hole and find a clean death in the bosom of the sea—

      —in the end, he was too much a coward to do so. He remained huddled where he was, staring off at nothing, his mind spinning like great and empty wheels as he sought for the miraculous words which might yet save his skin, and failed to find them. The Rajah snarled under his breath and hurled another broken thing through the hole, the remains of a chair tumbling off to meet its fate. His rage, his size, his—yes, his majesty—these things conspired to deform Bartholomew's very world—the dim and terrible visions of his immediate future caused Bartholomew to sob in his next breath, crumpling his father's awful missive in both hands. He could not even hope to be brave, for, as has been noted, he was only Bartholomew. "Father," he whispered, as the dim and distant specter of Richard McKittrick finally turned from him and vanished entirely.

      "This is your father?" the Rajah inquired, his voice choked with rage. He heaved a shattered book-shelf through the broken windows, to splash upon the sea. "This?"

      "I'm sorry," Bartholomew whimpered. Truly it was useless to say so, but he could think of nothing else to say.

      "What kind of man behaves thus?" the Rajah demanded, whirling upon Bartholomew and once again snatching him to his feet, paying no attention to Bartholomew's mewl of terror. "What kind of father—how could any man simply abandon his son?"

      Bartholomew swallowed, then grew still. For all that the Rajah's teeth were bared fit to tear out Bartholomew's naked throat, still there was something of horror in his eyes. Bartholomew did not understand it, and thus, he feared it—after a moment, the Rajah snarled out another sound and let Bartholomew drop back onto the rug. Bartholomew caught himself on hands and knees, his mind spinning and catching on an idea, a horrible idea, an implacable, evil idea that now seemed all too fitting—"My father," he said, his voice airless and small.

      "He is not fit to mention," said the Rajah, rolling one shoulder to the accompaniment of half a dozen popping stitches.

      "No, Rajah." Bartholomew closed his eyes. The enormity of what he was about to do—"Your Majesty," he said, already gasping for breath, "my father... my father owns a small collection of sea-charts."

      Suddenly all was still, as if the very earth held its breath. Bartholomew could not stand up under the guilt, and thus he collapsed onto his side on the carpet, staring blindly off at the Rajah's boots. And yet still he babbled on, compounding his sin. "It is a hobby, a small thing—he has many Navy charts, and whenever a pirate ship is taken near New Charleston, he asks for their charts as well..."

      "Faithless boy!" the Rajah exploded. Half a chair still sat on the rug beside him; he snatched it up and wrenched it apart with convulsive rage, thick wood splintering in his hands like so many match-sticks. "In God's name, what sort of family do you hail from, that you betray each other at every turn?!"

      "No!" Bartholomew squealed, curling into a ball to protect himself. "My father... I had faith! I thought sure that he'd ransom me, that he'd save me! He's..." Bartholomew caught his breath in a sob. "... he's supposed to be a hero..."

      "So this is how you intend to repay him for destroying your illusions," the Rajah said with scorn, tossing the splintered chunks of the chair out through the hole.

      "No, Your Majesty," said Bartholomew, groping for the right words—right or not, words he found, vomited out of the cringing portion of his brain that had grown so strong in these last two weeks. "This is... how I intend to repay you. For... for your kindness."

      "Pay Us, you mean." The Rajah brushed his hands together. "You intend to trade Us this information as your ransom?"


      "Or do you intend to turn pirate in your turn?" asked the Rajah, his voice mocking. "Take your revenge upon him?"

      "I don't..." Bartholomew shut his eyes. "I don't know."

      For a long moment, the Rajah was quiet. "We must think on this," he finally proclaimed. "Go back to your cage, O creature." He turned to face the gaping wound in the side of the ship, where the windows had once been. "And, pray you, make your peace with God. Just to be certain."


      Enormity piled upon enormity; Bartholomew's poor mind could not begin to encompass them. Benumbed and distant he curled about himself in the usual corner of his cell, staring blindly out at the Rajah's darkened bedchamber (for he could not close the door from this side). Make your peace with God, the Rajah had said, and Bartholomew tried bravely to do just that, begging God's pardon for his terrible sins, as well as for the terrible sins he was likely to commit in the near future. But: he had betrayed his father, and for all that his father had been the first to stoop to betrayal, it crushed Bartholomew like a stone upon his chest. Surely God could not forgive him that.

      Lost in his misery, wrung out from his ordeal, Bartholomew soon fell into a fitful doze, his arms curled about his head as if that would somehow protect him. His dreams were fragmented, awful things, but never quite so awful as to jerk him gasping from sleep; that privilege was reserved for the Rajah. Bartholomew's first hint that he was no longer alone was the hand that closed like a vise on his upper arm, jerking him upright. Bartholomew shrieked as his shoulder twisted agonizingly in its socket.

      His upper lip lifted in a magnificent madman's sneer, the Rajah dangled Bartholomew from one hand and tore his clothes from him with the other. The shirt split across its yoke and at both sleeves, the Rajah ripping it from Bartholomew in ragged pieces; Bartholomew's breeches followed, digging painfully into the tender flesh of his thighs before the sturdy fabric condescended to rip away. One brace snapped across his cheek like a whip, leaving a welt. Bartholomew's hapless wail of protest availed him nothing, neither with the Rajah nor with his own perversions. Despite the hints of pain, despite the loss of his new clothing, still his skin flushed with some complex emotion closer to desire than to embarrassment; still his prick swelled eagerly, half-hardening on the instant.

      Once Bartholomew was naked (or nearly so; one tattered cuff still clung to his wrist, like a bracelet) the Rajah dragged him from the cell. Bartholomew's bare feet only touched the ground once before the Rajah slung him at the heavy table, with little enough care for Bartholomew's comfort. Bartholomew's belly hit the table's edge with sufficient force to drive the air from his lungs; he fell onto the table, striking his forehead a glancing blow against the wood. Bartholomew's shriek of pain was so airless as to be merely a gasp. His heart thudded in (mostly) terror.

      One enormous hand slammed down upon Bartholomew's back, pinning him to the table. The Rajah's booted foot insinuated itself between Bartholomew's ankles and kicked them apart, until Bartholomew's legs were spread so wide that he must perforce either balance himself upon his toes or lose contact with the floor entire—after a breathless pause one of the Rajah's monstrous fingers twisted itself deep into Bartholomew's exposed ass, and Bartholomew suddenly found it within himself to scream.

      "Have We your attention?" the Rajah asked, flexing that finger deep within Bartholomew and making his body shake with it. The invading finger had been oiled; Bartholomew had been granted that slight concession, at least.

      "Y-yes! Yes, Rajah!" Bartholomew managed to gasp, even as he clutched at the edges of the table. His body instinctively fought to repel the invasion; it availed him naught.

      "Good," said the Rajah. For a moment it seemed that that would be all; then the Rajah crooked that finger deep within Bartholomew and pulled up, lifting his feet from the floor. "No matter what We take from your father, it will not pay your ransom," said the Rajah. "The matter of your ransom was a gentleman's understanding between your father and Us. You cannot pay it, not with your dirtied information."

      "Yes," Bartholomew sobbed, so concerned with raising his hips to spare himself from that pull that he little knew what he agreed to.

      "Yes... what?" prompted the Rajah. He used this newfound handle to arrange Bartholomew to his satisfaction, bent over the table with his ass thrust high in the air.

      "Yes, Rajah! Oh, God!"

      "Tell Us what you have just agreed to," the Rajah suggested, working that finger further in.

      Agonized, sobbing, Bartholomew could only tell the truth. "I don't know!"

      The Rajah's finger was now buried all the way to the knuckle, rolling about, forcing Bartholomew to open wider yet. "Your ransom will never be paid," the Rajah repeated. "You cannot pay it, no matter how many of your family members you betray."

      "Yes, Rajah," Bartholomew gasped, tears standing in the corners of his eyes. "My... my ransom cannot be paid."

      "Good." The Rajah pressed his finger down, as if he wished to rip Bartholomew's belly open; instead a second finger insinuated itself into the slight gap that was produced. Bartholomew threw back his head and choked on a scream as he stretched wider yet. Oh! how his tender skin burned as it stretched—his very bones creaked, as though the Rajah meant to crack his pelvis in two. Even his prick, usually a fool for any sensation, could not respond to this, falling soft again, overwhelmed. And yet... and yet... somewhere underneath the burning pain and the humiliation of it, Bartholomew could sense something in the offing, something terrible made more terrible yet by the hint that Bartholomew might take some pleasure from it... "Since no one will ransom you, your life belongs to Us," the Rajah stated, parting those fingers within Bartholomew and eliciting a yowl of shock. "You live on Our sufferance alone."

      "I-I-I—" Bartholomew stuttered, scrabbling at the wood of the table underneath him. Another nudge of those fingers forced it from him: "I live on your sufferance!" he wailed, running the words together until they were a single sound.

      "Good." For a long moment the Rajah was merciful then, or what passed for mercy in this, his madness: he worked those fingers inside Bartholomew until the burn of their passage eased somewhat, as Bartholomew's body stretched to accommodate them. How full he was—and yet a third finger forced itself in, proving to Bartholomew that he had known nothing about full. "Since you live on Our sufferance, you are therefore Our slave," the Rajah said. "Our whim is your law."

      "I-I am your slave," Bartholomew repeated. Tears broke from his eyes to draw wet lines across his cheeks.

      "You will do whatever We ask?" The Rajah's fingers flexed themselves apart.

      "Wh-whatever you aaah! ask, Majesty! Whatever you—oh God!"

      The Rajah bent over him, his face a mask of concern glimpsed from the corner of Bartholomew's watering eye. "Does it hurt?"

      "Ye-yes," Bartholomew sobbed.

      "Should We stop?"

      In the nick of time Bartholomew's besieged brain screamed a warning. "Oh-oh-only if it pleases you to!"

      The Rajah smiled. "Very good," he said. "Can you take another, do you think?" The question was cruel and idle; a barbed hook lay beneath its surface.

      No, every one of Bartholomew's senses screamed. But he knew better than to say so—oh, yes, Bartholomew knew better. "If that is what you desire!" he cried, the words borne on a single breath.

      "Yes," said the Rajah. A fourth finger insinuated itself into the space left by the other three. "That is what We desire."

      Bartholomew thrashed about on the table, his feet kicking helplessly, his body fighting to reject the Rajah's implacable hand—he might as well have tried to deflect a sword with the muscles of his belly alone. And still, as he fought through the pain, his body hitched to accommodate the Rajah, the burn subsiding as he grew... not accustomed to it, not precisely, but stretched taut, formed into a fitting new shape. "However," said the Rajah, "perhaps some day, if you prove deserving, We shall see fit to make of you not a slave, but one of Our subjects."

      "Wuh-wuh-one of your..." Bartholomew's voice failed him.

      "Subjects," the Rajah prompted.

      Bartholomew squeezed his eyes shut. "Subjects..."

      "You may forget the home that you once had," said the Rajah. "That home was lost to you when you betrayed your father to Us."


      "Shh," said the Rajah. His free hand pinned Bartholomew to the table while his other hand—oh, let us be blatant, it is not a subject which invites coyness—while his other hand quite simply fucked poor Bartholomew forward against the unyielding wood. The unstoppable force of those fingers lit Bartholomew on fire from his navel to his knees. The Rajah's power was held barely in check, as if, on the very next thrust, the Rajah's fist should force itself all the way into Bartholomew and close about his heart, crushing it... "We have made adequate subjects out of less promising material," said the Rajah, urging those fingers just a bit deeper and eliciting an escalating squeal. "But your affinity for betrayal concerns Us."

      "No," Bartholomew squeaked, and paused to swallow. His tongue was as dry as cloth. "I would n-never..."

      "Do not lie to Us." The Rajah's hand drove into Bartholomew nearly halfway to the base of his thumb. "You would, if it suited you."

      "Naaaah y-yes, Rajah!" Too overcome even to thrash, Bartholomew instead shuddered all over like a dying horse. His eyes rolled back into his head until only their whites showed. "I'm sorry, Rajah, I promise it aah! will never suit me well enough, I'll try to be good!"

      The Rajah's hand paused again, small mercy enough. "Yes, you will," he said. "You have learned well your initial lessons in obedience—We pray you, continue to do so."

      "Yes, Rajah! Whatever you wish, Rajah!" Bartholomew's cheeks burned, and he dared not open his eyes. The Rajah was silent, and ominously still, and Bartholomew fought to regain his scattered thoughts, to say whatever the Rajah was waiting for—"I-I-I am at your—" Command was what he intended to say, and yet a stray twitch of the Rajah's finger amended it to "—mercy!"

      "That you are," said the Rajah. A flip of his wrist rolled his fingers about inside Bartholomew, pressing him open a final, infinitesimal measure. "Shall We show you the quality of Our mercy?"

      Bartholomew swallowed. "If..." He swallowed again. "If it please y—" Here he paused to snuffle—and, although he did not expect it, still the sea-change that had been approaching Bartholomew for many days burst now upon him like a beaching wave. Bartholomew snuffled again, cleared his throat, and found his place. "If it please You, lord."

      There came a pause. "Ahh," the Rajah breathed, his little smile twisted with triumph. "Exactly," he said. "Yes. If it please Us." He twisted his fingers free with little further ado, the low, raw drag of their exit slow enough that Bartholomew could not help but find a way to appreciate it, his prick twitching once against his belly. For a moment Bartholomew was blessedly emptied, although he was intimately aware of how loosened he was, of how stretched out he had become, as if he had been hollowed out in order to accommodate the Rajah's whims. The rustle of shifting cloth was very faint, almost lost underneath Bartholomew's panting breaths, but still he heard it; the thing which touched him then was as hot as a bar of iron laid across his buttocks, and even Bartholomew could not mistake it for anything other than what it was. "Say 'please'," the Rajah prompted.

      "Please," Bartholomew echoed, faintly.

      "Ask Us to fuck you."

      "Please fuck me," a mortified Bartholomew whispered, without so much as a twitch. No, in truth that was a lie, for Bartholomew did give a twitch, of a specific sort. His prick lay trapped between his belly and the unyielding wood of the table, fighting for enough space in which to grow—even the varnished wood was a balm to the foolish thing.

      "As if you mean it."

      "Please!" It did not seem like enough—it would not be enough to please the Rajah. A moment of great daring—or of great foolishness—led Bartholomew to grope back behind himself with one hand, his fingers brushing against the Rajah's cock and attempting to catch at it.

      "Look how eager you are," the Rajah crooned. "You have wanted this for so long."

      His cracked mind a-spin, his prick chafing against the wood of the table, Bartholomew no longer had it within himself to deny it. "Yes, Rajah."

      The thing laid across Bartholomew's buttocks drew back to nudge at him. "Allow Us to give you what you desire, then," said the Rajah, as his prick entered where only his fingers had gone before.

      Shocked, Bartholomew cried out. The Rajah drove into him at a deliberate pace, at least—thank God for these smallest of favors—but still it spread a wailing Bartholomew wide in a way that the Rajah's fingers had not; it was a single, implacable thing, not four smaller things endeavoring to its status. It bulled aside everything in its path, forcing Bartholomew's body into a new shape as well—it forced itself deeper than mere fingers, even the Rajah's, could hope to go—Bartholomew fancied that he could not breathe properly once it was seated, as the size of it seemed to shoulder aside his lungs, to interfere with his diaphragm! His chest hitched in shallow gasps, leaving him panting for breath like a dog until the pain of the Rajah's entrance dulled somewhat. Eventually, Bartholomew coughed out a breath, swiped a hand over his eyes, and risked a single glance over his shoulder at the Rajah, looming overhead. "Is it everything that you had hoped for?" the Rajah inquired, amused.

      Bartholomew shut his eyes and fought not to sob. The awful intimacy of it, the degradation, the terrible pressure! "Y-yes... Rajah," he faltered.

      "Yes? That is all you wanted? You wish for no—" The Rajah rolled his hips in the slightest of circles, forcing his cock to rasp back and forth, deep within Bartholomew.

      It was like touching a door-knob and receiving a jolt, times a thousand—it drove Bartholomew's mind from him, for a single bright second. Dimly he heard himself cry out, felt himself arch from the table—when he came back to himself he was mortified to discover himself attempting both to press back against the Rajah and rub his aching prick against the table. "So you do want more," the Rajah said.

      "Y-yes," Bartholomew admitted. He let his head drop, pressing one overheated cheek against the warm wood. "No. Yes!"

      "Then you must say so."

      "I, I want—" Bartholomew shut his eyes "—I want more..."

      "And who are you, to order Us about?" The Rajah's prick slid back, dragging itself free of Bartholomew's ass with a sly wet sound that brought a raging flush to Bartholomew's cheeks.

      "Please... please, Rajah, I beg You... grant me more?"

      "Are you worthy?"

      "N-no..." Bartholomew shuddered all over, a fine coat of sweat starting from his skin. "I'm not... I'm not worthy..."

      The Rajah caught up Bartholomew's hips in both hands. "As long as you remember that," he said, impaling Bartholomew once more.

      Oh, how it hurt! Even Bartholomew's eager prick wilted before the onslaught, as he shuddered and tautened and instinctively fought against the wrongness of it. Fought, and failed; all the strength in his body should not be enough to gainsay the Rajah. For all that his body sought to close down, to force the Rajah forth, the Rajah simply bulled through his defenses and took whatever he pleased—indeed, the Rajah seemed amused at Bartholomew's struggle. Bartholomew had not the breath to scream, only to cry out in little shocked gasps. It seemed impossible that so huge a thing might fit inside him, and indeed, in his extremity, he fancied that he could feel himself being torn asunder by the enormous thing buried to the balls in his vitals, like to bleed to death—and yet the massive, blunted head of the Rajah's cock punched up against that spot and turned Bartholomew's slight muscles into electrified water. And when he relaxed (however involuntarily) the pain lessened—in this way Bartholomew learned to bear down, to push himself open before the invasion, to surrender and let himself be taken like the wanton that he was.

      Bartholomew bit his lips and clawed at the table's surface, leaving behind little scratches in the wooden surface. As the overwhelming burning ache subsided, another, sharper ache rose to take its place. No matter how much it hurt, his foolish prick could only beg for more—it was hard enough to throb underneath him, trapped uncomfortably between the sharp rise of Bartholomew's hipbone and the hardwood. Every time that the Rajah pressed into Bartholomew it lifted his hips from the table and his feet from the floor, and yet it did not quite free Bartholomew's prick, only nudged it against the wood's surface. And the Rajah's every movement was so deliberate, so very slow, that the moments of relief were few and far between. Somewhere in the depths of his mind, an overwhelmed Bartholomew knew that, perhaps, he might come to want something more—that he might eventually come to beg for it.

      He was still struggling with this realization when the onslaught slowed to nothing, the Rajah's prick growing still so very deep within Bartholomew. The Rajah leaned forward, his monstrous weight like to crush Bartholomew as it settled onto his back. Indeed, Bartholomew could barely breathe, and the world swam before his dimming eyes—"We will require your loyalty, O thing," the Rajah breathed, directly into Bartholomew's ear.

      "You... You have it," Bartholomew gasped.

      "Will you swear to it, O creature?" Another slight thrust stole what little breath Bartholomew had left, making him mewl with fright and desire. The Rajah grew still again. "Will you swear before God to be loyal to Us, first and foremost, putting Us before any other, putting Us before your own needs?"

      Bartholomew tried to writhe, to eke out even the faintest echo of that awful pleasure, but the Rajah's weight held him pinned and helpless. "I swear it," Bartholomew wheezed.

      "What is it that you swear?"

      "To... to be loyal—please, I can't breathe—"

      "Say it."

      "I swear to be loyal to You!" Bartholomew cried, his voice rising to a clogged and choking shout. "I will obey You, I'll do whatever You say, please, Rajah!"

      "You will put Us ahead of your father, even if he stands before you and begs your pardon for his intolerable actions?"

      "Y—" Bartholomew broke off there. Whether it was from shame, from realization, or simply from asphyxiation, he did not know. And yet, finally, the terrible repercussions of his actions were finally brought home to him—it had taken this to force him to step back and see the whole of it, to truly understand the consequences. What little of his old self was left to him spun away like flotsam in the current; at that moment Bartholomew truly let go of any hope that he had of somehow reclaiming his former life. But, being merely Bartholomew, he must perforce find another pillar of strength to which to cling—Bartholomew shut his eyes, squeezing out another pair of tears. "Yes, Rajah," he said, his voice small and airless.

      "Yes... what?"

      "I will put You ahead of... of the man who was once my father," Bartholomew whispered. "No matter what."

      This fawning turn of phrase won him another of those slow, shiver-inducing strokes. "We are your master now."

      "Yes, Your... Your Majesty."

      "You are Ours."

      "I... I am Yours."

      The pause that came then was lengthy, threatening Bartholomew with unconsciousness; eventually the Rajah rumbled out a low laugh and lifted himself a few precious inches, allowing Bartholomew to whoop in a breath. "You do not yet truly believe that," the Rajah proclaimed, wiping a tear-track from Bartholomew's cheek with his thumb. "You would still fling Us to the sharks if it might reconcile you with your father. But you will learn, O creature. In time you will come to see it Our way—you will have it engraved upon your very bones."

      "Yes, Rajah," Bartholomew said, endeavoring to sound as humble as he might.

      "Enough of this delay," said the Rajah. "You will call out to Us with every thrust."

      "Yes, Rajah—oh!" The sudden resumption of the onslaught stole Bartholomew's breath all over again.


      "Rajah," Bartholomew choked out, as the Rajah's prick rasped at him, deep inside.





      The Rajah ceased to prompt him. Instead he caught up Bartholomew's hips in both hands and moved beyond that deliberate pace, so that the assault became metronomic in its precision. "Rajah, Rajah, Rajah," Bartholomew wept, squirming as the Rajah fucked him down hard against the table, gasping as the sensations took hold. There was still pain but he was rapidly coming to anticipate it, to require it—"Rajah! Rajah, oh, Rajah, oh..."

      Before long he was crying the Rajah's name aloud, writhing in abandonment, no longer caring that the world could hear him, only caring about that force that shook him to his core. His cock took its own strangled pleasure from the tabletop, but even its foolish desires paled before the terrible wonder of being fucked—"Rajah!" Bartholomew shrieked, helpless not to. "Rajah, please, Rajah, please, please Rajah..."

      "You may come, if you like," the Rajah rumbled, his voice thick, and although it had not occurred to Bartholomew until this very moment that he might require that permission, still, its granting left him light-headed with relief. Unable to help himself in any other way Bartholomew squirmed against the table, desperately humping the wood (now sticky with his sweat and other things) until his ecstatic prick leaped beneath him and exploded. Bartholomew screamed the Rajah's name with joy and relief as he shot onto the table—and yet the Rajah did not stop, simply fucked him through it, until Bartholomew found himself sliding about in his own leavings until his skin stung of it—every strike to that secret spot was a bolt of something near pain in the aftermath, and yet, who was Bartholomew to protest?

      "Rajah, Rajah, Rajah," he mumbled under his breath, striving even in this extremity to mollify the Rajah. He was a limp rag by the time the Rajah's fingers dug into the skin over his hips. Not even the roar of the Rajah's pleasure could jar Bartholomew from his weariness, although he squealed a little at the bruising of his skin—the hectoring jump of the Rajah's prick deep within him sent one last stuttering explosion out along Bartholomew's nerves, stealing the last of the starch from his abused muscles.

      Dimly he noted the Rajah pulling free. Equally dimly he noted the unpleasant drip from his hindquarters, adding to the mess beneath him. It was all the same to the exhausted Bartholomew. He was half-conscious when the Rajah gathered him up, at his whim once again gentle; Bartholomew put his arms around the Rajah's neck and allowed himself to be cradled against that barrel chest, too far gone even to fret over how he must be staining the captain's coat.

      He came to, somewhat, when the Rajah sat down, providing the aching Bartholomew with a lap to inhabit, as well. "And how did you find it, O creature?" the Rajah asked, amused.

      "I... I found it overwhelming," Bartholomew said, wearily opting for the truth.

      The Rajah rumbled out a laugh. "As well you might," he said. "Be at peace, little creature, for your performance was adequate for a maiden voyage, and little enough trial to Us."

      Bartholomew shut his eyes and nestled against the Rajah's chest. In truth, though the reassurance was slight, still it was a relief to hear it. "Thank You, Rajah," he whispered, too overcome to speak louder. "I... I will try to do better, next time."

      "Look, here," the Rajah breathed, as quietly as he might. "A token of your new life—a gift, for you." Something brushed against Bartholomew's cheek with a feather-light caress.

      Bartholomew forced his heavy lids to rise. For a moment he was unable to comprehend the shape which the Rajah offered him—then he recognized it, and his heart leapt in his breast. "Oh," he said in wonder, reaching out to take the little spectacles in both hands—no token of his former life, these, but a stranger's glasses, two small round lenses in a delicate golden framework. Bartholomew put them on. For the first time in weeks the world leapt into something like focus, everything so clear and bright that it made his poor eyes water—or perhaps he merely wept for joy. He was still Bartholomew, after all. "Thank You, Rajah," he said, his voice hushed. "I... I don't deserve such kindness."

      "Be still," said the Rajah, with an encouraging little squeeze. "It is not for you to say what you do and do not deserve."

      "Yes, Rajah," said Bartholomew, bowing his head.


      Two weeks later (and what weeks they were) Bartholomew found himself huddled in a ship's boat, returning to New Charleston at last.

      Half a dozen sturdy men heaved at the oars as the boat quietly slipped closer and closer to land. Two people alone did not labor over the oars: the Rajah, by dint of kingship, and Bartholomew, whom the Rajah kept close at hand indeed. The pirates did not protest Bartholomew's leisure, although their lascivious eyes raked across him whenever they believed that the Rajah's eyes were elsewhere—it is a sign of how much Bartholomew had changed that he took some nervous pleasure from the leering, grateful to know that he was still by some twisted measure desirable, trusting to that odd desirability to help him keep the Rajah's fickle favor, knowing as he did that the Rajah's favor kept him safe (from such as those, at least).

      The boat rounded a little spit of land and the town finally came into view, only a few lights still burning against the depths of the night. New Charleston had not been a well-lit town even at its best, and now it huddled in its bay, only half restored from the earlier raid, if that. In contrast, the governor's mansion glowed like a banked fire, halfway up the hillside, all by itself—Bartholomew bit back a sob at the sight, so long familiar, so long forgotten.

      "Remember where your loyalties must lie," the Rajah rumbled in his ear. A heavy hand curled over the back of Bartholomew's neck. "For We will."

      "Yes, Rajah," Bartholomew murmured. "It... it doesn't feel like it means much any more." Although he intended to speak only courtier's words, still he recognized some truth to them: the town and his former home were like the artifacts of a dream he had once had. Bartholomew knew himself changed, too different from his former self to ever think of going home again. No creature who had done the things he had done could ever hope to sit at the governor's table—oh, those things he had done, and had done to him! For all that they would disgust his father, those foul memories served largely to titillate a discomfited Bartholomew, such that he squirmed helplessly upon the boat's wooden bench. In truth, he would rather be back aboard ship, spitting himself upon the Rajah's cock, than sallying forth to strike at New Charleston—although, it must be granted, this was less from a desire to be spitted and more from a desire to stay far, far away from the mansion on the hill.

      Or so he thought, at any rate. But as the town's dim outline slowly grew in the distance, the stronger the odd feeling that came over Bartholomew, until he found himself yearning towards the land with an intensity that surprised him—a yearning not for his home, no, but for the hour to come. For all that he remembered his father's betrayal, still there was a subconscious part of Bartholomew that could not bring itself to believe it—the ghost of the six-year-old boy that once he had been, perhaps. Perhaps if he closed this distance, if he returned to his father's home, he could prove that boy right, or prove him wrong—either way, he would find some little peace in it, he thought. Perhaps.


      They did not announce themselves boldly at the rebuilt docks, this time. Instead they beached the boat upon a little spit of land that would allow them to bypass the town and its tiny garrison entire; it would avail them little to raise the alarm in port, when their goal was the mansion, instead. The Rajah gathered them on the beach, his hand firmly upon the back of Bartholomew's neck. "The first man among you to cause the alarm to be raised shall feel Our displeasure," the Rajah said, as softly as he might. "Stealth is the order of the day, until such time as the household is subdued."

      His subjects indicated their agreement, in such ways as they had—some communicated largely in grunts—and then they dragged the boat into a nearby shadow and melted into the night.

      The beach gave way to scrubland, treacherous and overgrown, forcing them to pick their way through with care and muffled cursing. The Rajah took the lead, propelling Bartholomew along with a hand upon his back. The Rajah's men spread out behind them, squat lurching creatures more suited to sea than to land, but still quiet enough for all that; every man among them was armed to the very teeth, save Bartholomew. For all that Bartholomew wore a buccaneer's tattered finery with a landsman's sturdy shoes, he wore no sword, carried no knife.

      To Bartholomew's mind they made their way through the scrub for hours. It was hot, dull, tedious work, the silence broken only by the stealthy crunching of their footsteps and the occasional profanity. A soldier from the garrison called the hour; it was a mournful and faraway sound, like the hooting of an owl. Still, Bartholomew jumped to hear it. His nerves were ever on edge. What would become of him if they were discovered? What then, indeed?

      Thus preoccupied with his own nerves and fears, Bartholomew nearly fell straight over the first familiar sign of home: the low wall that demarcated the edge of the governor's own property. Beyond it the scrubland gave way to neatly-scythed grassland. The Rajah rumbled his distant-thunder laugh and stepped over the wall, as easily as another man might step over a rope laid on the ground; Bartholomew scrambled over, followed closely by the other pirates.

      Now they were exposed, with little enough to cover them, such that a sharp eye might discern their coming—but the moon was new and the clouds were heavy, and surely they could not be expected from this direction, at this time. They broke across the fields, now more or less following Bartholomew, although the Rajah stayed ever close, just in case. The governor's fields were largely free of both rocks and vermin. Passage was swift.

      Bartholomew did not falter until the mown grass gave way to the hard-packed dirt of the winding road. Then, all at once, he choked on a sob, staggering for a step. Oh, the road—Bartholomew's feet well knew every inch of that path, from the governor's doorstep to the leading edge of the docks—the Rajah caught him by his arm, steadying him. "You will not fail Us now," the Rajah breathed.

      "No, Rajah, I swear it," Bartholomew whispered, his heart in his throat. He clutched at his throat, then at his chest, as if to return his reckless coward's heart to its place. "I swear upon my life that I will not fail You, this night."

      The Rajah considered this proclamation, then let his hand fall away. "That is well," he said—and Bartholomew sprang away from him like a startled deer, bolting away up the road towards his father's house.

      After a startled moment a tigerish snarl behind him swept the others in pursuit, but Bartholomew was young and long-legged and he knew this road like no one else. Even so the pounding footsteps were very close on Bartholomew's heels—a hand snatched at the back of his shirt, only narrowly failing to catch it. Terror lent Bartholomew's feet wings. One by one the pirates fell behind, hampered by their sea-legs, slowed by their arsenals, foiled by the myriad twists and turns of the road and the rougher ground beyond. Bartholomew did not dare to look back, only ran as he had never run before. By the time he burst into the mansion's forecourt, he was alone, if only just.

      Terrified, barely thinking, Bartholomew did not shout or raise the alarm. He swallowed one heavy, panting breath, then broke for the front door, letting himself in with all the adolescent stealth that he possessed. In the front hall (oh, God, how the memories pressed in upon him) Bartholomew paused long enough to drop the siege-bar across the doors, then gulped a prayer begging forgiveness (from whom—or Whom—he did not precisely stop to decide) and kicked off his shoes. He did not have long—oh, God, he barely had seconds!

      Bartholomew could not precisely creep up the front stairs, with the pirates so hard on his heels—indeed, he thought he heard a stealthy hand try the front door—but he ascended as quietly as he might, trusting to his bare feet to keep him quiet. His breath sounded tremendously loud in his ears, and he tried to stifle it in vain. Everything looked so strange, and yet so familiar...

      By the time Bartholomew reached the landing, he was certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that the pirates had arrived, even though the alarm had not yet been raised. Flickering shadows darted past the first-floor windows, seeking entrance. With luck they would not gain it for a few moments yet—but Bartholomew had never been a lucky boy, and he did not dare to hope.

      Bartholomew picked his way down the hall, pressed against one wall to avoid the creaking floorboards that he remembered. His father's room lay at the back of the house, and that was his goal, but Bartholomew slowed as he came abreast of his own little room. Across the hall Avery's door was shut, only partially muting the deafening rasp of Avery's snores. Bartholomew had no time to spare, and yet... in an agony of nerves Bartholomew twisted the knob as slowly as he dared, gasping in relief when the latch disengaged without a clunk. The door creaked open and Bartholomew let himself into the bedroom which had once been his own.

      For a moment all seemed unchanged, and nostalgia threatened to overwhelm Bartholomew. There was his bed by the balcony door, and his dresser beside it, and over there his wardrobe and his book-shelves—oh, his books—but all too soon Bartholomew's eyes adjusted to the low light, and his vague phantasies of home were destroyed. The box in which he'd kept his insect collection, it was gone, as was his globe and his inexpertly-stuffed goshawk (he had stuffed the little body himself when he was fourteen, and if it had come out resembling a cross-eyed ball of feathers, well, it was still a goodish effort). The covers on his bed were clean and new, his second pillow was gone, and—Bartholomew crossed to his wardrobe and flung it open—so was his clothing. And his book-shelves! It was the unkindest cut of all. Not a single beloved book remained on the shelves, and as for the pile of books that he had not yet read? That was gone, as well. What remained of his room was sterile and anonymous, a place in which to house guests, a room with no reason to exist at all.

      Stifling a sob, Bartholomew flung himself back out of his room and down the hall, no longer caring to muffle his footsteps, no longer caring if anyone heard him coming. Stealthy or not, the Rajah and his cohorts would disrupt the peace here soon enough in any case. The door to his father's room gaped halfway open, as it was wont to do, and Bartholomew flung himself into the darkness, hands groping for the familiar dimmed lamp.

      Clumsy Bartholomew had always been, yet at this moment luck was with him. Somehow he managed not to knock over the lamp. His shaking fingers caught at the knob and raised the wick—the lamp's flame leapt into full being on the instant, throwing shadows against the far wall, illuminating his father's chambers with a rich orange light.

      For a moment it seemed that Richard McKittrick slept on—then he lifted his head from the pillows and glanced at the door, and at Bartholomew. "Hm," Bartholomew's father said, sitting up in bed, his covers falling away to his waist; he scowled at the tattered figure in the doorway as if trying to make sense of it.

      Bartholomew's mouth opened and closed and opened once more. "Father," he finally managed to say, his voice an unlovely croak.

      His father's eyes narrowed. Bartholomew blushed, all too aware of what his father was seeing: this barefooted scarecrow creature in the rags of stolen finery, its overlong black hair hanging in its bespectacled eyes—"Bartholomew," Richard McKittrick said, his voice rough with sleep but otherwise even. "I was not expecting you."

      "I... I know you weren't," Bartholomew said. "H-how could you be?" The next sound from his throat was a sob, full-throated and awful, and he could not even swallow it back in time; the room before him wavered as his eyes filled with tears. "How could you?" Bartholomew asked, his voice high with panic, like a child's. "How could you surrender me to... to that?"

      "Would you have me act as a treasure-chest to every jumped-up criminal that sails the seas?" Richard McKittrick asked, his voice severe. "It is a line that I never will cross. None of these animals must ever get the idea that ransom is an option that is open to them—"

      "But it was me!" Bartholomew cried. "I am your son! You chose to value some... some ideal over your own flesh and blood? Is that it?"

      His father nodded once, sharply. "I did," he said. "It is. To remain faithful to one's moral compass is the action of a man—of a McKittrick. ... I will not say that it did not pain me, Bartholomew. I delayed as best I might, while I tasked the Navy most severely with your rescue—"

      Bartholomew wished with all his heart to believe in his father, as he had done for all the years of his life. There was some cold comfort to be had there, if he wished, in his father's reassurance that he had done all he could to rescue Bartholomew, save pay the ransom. Indeed, the old Bartholomew would have seen the wisdom in his father's words, and striven to take them to heart, and to learn from them—but Richard McKittrick's place in Bartholomew's world had been most thoroughly usurped, and Bartholomew had learned a thing or two about lies, as well. "You would have paid f-for Avery's safe return," Bartholomew said, now crying in earnest. "I don't think it was about morals at all! I think it was about money! You didn't think I was worth saving—you never did! I saw the letter!"

      Richard McKittrick did not respond to this charge right away, only inspected his younger son, his eyes narrowed and his mouth set in some attitude which might have been dislike. It was a wonder to the exercised Bartholomew that he had never recognized it before, for surely he had seen it on many occasions. "You may believe what you like," his father finally said, pronouncing the words with distaste. "I will not argue this with you."

      "No, you never would!" Bartholomew pulled off his spectacles long enough to dash his sleeve across his watering eyes. "You never cared for me overmuch—I-I know that I am a disappointment to you—" This clogged confession ended, abruptly, with a thick hiccupping sound.

      Again his father said nothing, but after a moment, his head tilted in what might have been interest, or the tiniest of acknowledging nods.

      "I suppose you were very glad to be rid of me!" Bartholomew cried. "You didn't wait very long at all to empty my room—after all, I was supposed to be dead, wasn't I? You knew that they would kill me—you knew that! And you let them! You let them!" His voice spiraled up into a thin and anguished scream; his hands knotted into small and ineffectual fists.

      "Bartholomew, you are being ridiculous," his father snapped, his cold voice effectively muting the sobbing Bartholomew. "Obviously you are not dead, and these hysterics are not becoming of you. You ought to be grateful to have been rescued, not flinging about these wild accusations—now, then, who has brought you home? I suppose I must go receive them. You have had Lucy show them to the drawing-room, I hope."

      As if in answer, a thin scream pierced the night, and suddenly, all was hubbub below. "No," Bartholomew said, his voice very small, almost lost under the noise. "I expect they will find the drawing-room in time, though."

      For the first time in his (admittedly short) life Bartholomew saw his father at a loss for words, his mouth opening and closing like that of a fish. His father's discomfiture first appalled Bartholomew, then exalted him—yes, let this man also be brought low! said that part of Bartholomew which was still savage. Richard McKittrick rose from his bed like a man in a dream. "What have you done?" he asked, his own voice hushed in disbelief. "What madness is this—how dare you bring this plague to me—"

      "I suppose that you should have been faithful to me, instead," said Bartholomew—he had intended to speak with ringing triumph. Instead his voice was still, and small, and sad.

      Bartholomew and his father stared at each other for a moment longer, while below them the servants' quarters became a small outpost of Hell; then, almost as one, they both dove for Richard McKittrick's saber, which he always kept close at hand. Bartholomew's face was a rictus of panic; his father's was a taut and resolute mask. They grappled for the blade in its leather scabbard, and if Richard McKittrick was yet stronger than Bartholomew, Bartholomew's strength was desperate and fueled by his youth; the blade jounced halfway out of its sheath as they wrested it back and forth, and out of purest self-preservation Bartholomew snatched at the pommel with his left hand and wrenched the grip from his father's hand.

      The blade caught on the lip of the scabbard for a heartbeat of time, then sprang free with an awful vengeance, gashing Richard McKittrick's cheek so deeply that his teeth showed through the hole thus made; he reeled backwards, blood starting from his face with an unseemly enthusiasm. Frantic, terrified, Bartholomew pressed after him, recalling as best he could the fencing lessons which he had so despised as a child. In the end, however, said lessons availed him little, as this was no swordfight, but rather, a butchering; in self-defense of a sort, it is true, but butchering nonetheless. It is always the coward who is most dangerous when pushed into a corner, for he is too terrified to evaluate his actions with a cool head. The saber in Bartholomew's hand slashed awkwardly across his father's chest, jarring on his ribs. The return stroke neatly opened Richard McKittrick's throat.

      Richard McKittrick fell against his bed, his opened windpipe producing a horrible burbling sound and what seemed a torrent of blood. His weakening hands groped at his body, as if they could not believe what had just occurred; his staring eyes fixed on Bartholomew, wide and white. Whatever he intended to say, it was lost in the awful noise from his windpipe, a noise like a small boy blowing bubbles in the water. Then he fell, sparing Bartholomew both the amazed stare and, shortly afterwards, the sound.

      Bartholomew barely had time to catch his breath (in preparation to scream for his father like the traumatized child that he was) before someone yelped in shock behind him; Bartholomew whipped about like a startled hare, still clutching the bloodied saber in the wrong hand. Avery stood frozen in the doorway, a sturdy figure incongruously soft in his white night-shirt, both hands held stupidly up to ward off the bloodied and tattered spectre of Bartholomew. His eyes were huge in incomprehension (although, it must be said, comprehension was not something that came easily to Avery even at the best of times). "What's happened to Father?" Avery asked, blinking foolishly. "What's happening downstairs? I came to get Father—Bart? Is that you?"

      To say that Bartholomew had no idea what to do would be to gravely understate the case. His father's death had been the work of a frenzied moment—had been largely an accident!—and Bartholomew would not have chosen to do it had he had any choice in the matter at all; he was no longer trapped in that terrified panic, and thus did not have its resources to call upon. For all that he despised the overgrown and bullying Avery, Bartholomew did not have it in him to give his brother the same murderous treatment—but what else could he do, caught as he was? Bartholomew swallowed and switched his father's bloody sword into the proper hand, knowing only that it felt better that way.

      The choice was abruptly taken from him, much to his strangled relief. A hand the size of a Christmas ham shot past the ajar door and clamped about the back of Avery's neck, snatching him into the air like an overgrown puppy. The door flew back to knock against the wall and the Rajah ten Rajah stalked into Richard McKittrick's bedroom, dangling the yelling and kicking Avery from one hand like it was of no moment. He paused in the center of the room (and oh, how the room seemed to revolve about him at that very second—how he occupied every last inch of its psychic space, evicting its former owner) and took in the sight before him. "Well, now," said the Rajah, amused as ever. "They will hang you for that, you realize, O thing."

      The saber fell from Bartholomew's hand to clatter brightly on the floor beside him, drops of blood jarring from the blade to splatter in a pattern on the boards. All of a sudden, shocked beyond measure, he felt nothing but his exhaustion. "Rajah," he said, his voice dull with resignation. "I... please forgive me."

      "We will think on it," the Rajah said, lazy in his triumph. He shook the squealing Avery like a doll, grandly ignoring the awkward kicks and blows which Avery sought to rain down upon him. "What is this?"

      "That's just Avery," Bartholomew said tiredly. "He's not important."

      The Rajah turned Avery to face him, studying Avery's broad, stupid, fear-creased face. "Indeed, he is not," said the Rajah, and he flung Avery away forthwith; Avery flew from the room to land in a crashing heap at the far edge of the hallway, where he fell into a huddle. "Now, then, O thing. It seems that now you must come with Us, if you intend to live to see manhood—or did you intend to turn yourself in and be hanged properly for your crimes?"

      "I don't want to be hanged, Rajah," Bartholomew said, still unable to summon up much fear. "I... I always intended to come with You... I just wanted... I wanted to be the one to-to settle this."

      "And so you were." The Rajah studied Richard McKittrick's bloodied corpse with the detached air of a master butcher judging the work of a journeyman. "Still, We confess Ourself displeased with you. Running away in that manner! It seems that you cannot be trusted with your freedom, O creature. Must We tie you up? Break you to the leash? It seems We must."

      Bartholomew bowed his head, too tired to keep it up any longer. "I... I'll accept my punishment, Rajah."

      "Yes, you will." The Rajah tilted his head to the side, then caught Bartholomew's chin in one hand and raised it. "But first, you will bring Us the sea-charts that you have so disloyally promised to Us, O traitor. We will become most wroth if We are cheated of Our primary purpose here—you would do well to purchase Our leniency, now."

      Like a man in a dream Bartholomew curled one hand about the Rajah's wrist, as thick as a hickory cudgel, and found strength there. "Yes, Majesty," he said, obediently. "They will be in my father's study. Through there." He indicated a door in the far wall.

      "It is well," proclaimed the Rajah. "Let us hurry—this night's work has left Us with many hungers that We desire to sate."

      It aped both a threat and a promise without quite being either, and it rippled through Bartholomew and woke him from his shock. Even in this, his extremity, Bartholomew could not help but respond, his heart in his throat with nervous anticipation—"As You wish, Rajah," said Bartholomew, and turning his back on both his father and his brother, he led the way.






I'm actually not completely happy with this story, but it is what it is. I've been working on this, off and on, for something like two and a half years, during which it did its level best to defeat me. It took me outside of my comfort zone and left me there; while I consider the occasional step outside my comfort zone to be a good thing, it also left me uniquely unable to evaluate this story on its merits or lack thereof.

Things That Do Not Work That Way: the royal 'we', circumcision practices amongst the English, the Dutch language, the Dutch East India Company, opium, Spanish galleons, pirate fleets, England, the Caribbean, physics, human beings, life. As a picture of history, it's closer to Pirates of the Caribbean than the actual pirates of the Caribbean. Oh, well.

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