He knew what folks back home would have thought. A full-grown man cuddling a boy up to his front. Him lying against the lad naked. They’d have run him out of town .. at the very least. Probably decorate him first with tar and feathers. The least God-fearing people could come up with for an act so obscene.
Tom lay dead-still. Aware Mitchell had collapsed into sleep. His breathing slow, deep but ragged. His hard chest pressed to his back. Free at last .. for a while .. from the burning torments that crippled his flesh.
He was scorching hot .. if not feverish. Pressed against Tom’s back .. the heat off Mitchell was intense. That strong muscular body .. what it had taken that day! How much it had suffered. Tom wasn’t ready to sleep, too much whirring in his head. But he dared not move. Lying tight clutched against Mitchell .. it was the least he could do.
Mitchell pretended he needed a hug. Tom was not so daft. For all he was going through, Mitchell still made out it was him needed a hug from young Tom. This guy, his idol .. he was the best. Who cared what folks back home might think? A pair of men .. half-naked .. pressed together. Let them suffer one bit of what Mitchell had gone through this day .. then they could talk.
Incredible. And Mitchell could still find the grit to wrap his strength around Tom. He had his back. How many of those phoneys back home could say the same thing?
“On your feet, fuckhead!”
The harsh growl coincided with a hard kick against Mitchell’s leg. The sudden awakening mingled with an insistent shaking on his shoulder. And young Tom’s anxious tones.
“Mitchell. Wake up.”
He had collapsed into the deepest sleep. Exhausted. His body still burning from that thrashing. His muscles shattered from hours of being ground into the dust by unrelenting hard labour. His nerves dog-tied after hours of being got at by that pair of guards.
It took moments to shake himself back to a pained reality. Another booted kick into his leg didn’t help. But when he rolled onto his back .. grimacing as tortured muscles moved .. looking up into the glare of the dying light .. he didn’t need telling twice. That pair of shoulders outlined against the orange sky .. he recognised them. That same pair of thugs had come hunting again.
The third kick was harder still.
Mitchell hadn’t used to blaspheme. And in front of Tom he’d have held himself back. But every muscle in his body ached. He was dog-tired. He just needed some rest .. like hell!. And there stood his pair of tormentors. Back for some more fun.
“UP! Shift your arse, pig.”
Mitchell was suddenly aware of a murmuring around. From his crewmates. Like the gathering of mosquitoes at dusk. Threatening. Worrying. Mitchell recalled Tom’s remarks. The others were just waiting. Looking for him to give a lead.
It’d be a massacre. They might get in a few deadly blows. This pair of heathen bastards would end up trampled to death. But there were the rest of the guards. Armed with swords. And more besides. There’d be muskets, firearms around. There’d be a bloodbath if his mates leapt to his defence.
Mitchell grimaced to himself as painfully he crawled his naked body back to his feet. Turning his face away so his thuggish handlers could not enjoy the sight. He wasn’t going to be responsible for slaughter. He looked about him .. at his mates that looked prepared to come to his help. His arms gestured. Warning them to calm down. Then he took a step towards his handlers. Conciliatory. Submitting. Saving his mates from carnage.
“Move your fucking arse, infidel pig.”
Mitchell took a deep breath. Fearing what they might have come for. He was still naked. They’d talked about him begging them .. more threats to his bare arse. Wondering where he’d find the strength. Then Mitchell got a grip on himself. NO! Damn-it! He WOULD find the fucking strength!
“Rais is asking for your fucking hide.”