Master me. Or let me your master be.

He thought he would settle for mutual respect—and, for the first time since Hal had put this scheme in hand, began to look forward to Ireland.

SECTION III

Beast in View

15

The Return of Tobias Quinn

“IS HE ALL RIGHT, ME LORD?” TOM ASKED IN LOWERED VOICE, nodding toward the dock. Turning, Grey saw Fraser standing there like a great rock in the middle of a stream, obliging hands and passengers to flow around him. Despite his immobility, there was something in his face that reminded Grey irresistibly of a horse about to bolt, and by instinct he fought his way down the gangway and laid a hand on Fraser’s sleeve before he could think about it.

“It will be all right,” he said. “Come, it will be all right.”

Fraser glanced at him, torn from whatever dark thought had possessed him.

“I doubt it,” he said, but absently, as though to himself. He didn’t pull away from John’s hand on his arm, but rather walked out from under it without noticing and trudged up the gangway like a man going to his execution.

The one good thing, Grey reflected a few hours later, was that Tom had quite lost his fear of the big Scot. It wasn’t possible to be afraid of someone you had seen rendered so utterly helpless, so reduced by physical misery—and placed in so undignified a position.

“He did tell me once that he was prone to mal de mer,” Grey said to Tom, as they stood by the rail for a grateful moment of fresh air, despite the lashing of rain that stung their faces.

“I haven’t seen a cove that sick since me uncle Morris what was a sailor in a merchant man come down with the hocko-grockle,” said Tom, shaking his head. “And he died of it.”

“I am reliably informed that no one actually dies of seasickness,” Grey said, trying to sound authoritative and reassuring. The sea was rough, white froth flying from the tops of the surging billows, and the small craft lurched sickeningly from moment to moment, plunging nose down into troughs, only to be hurled abruptly upward by a rising wave. He was a good sailor himself—and smug about it—but if he thought about it for more than a few seconds …

“Wish I’d a-known,” Tom said, his round face creased with worry. “Me old gran says a sour pickle’s the thing for seasickness. She made me uncle Morris take a jar of ’em, put up special with dill weed, whenever he set to sea. And he never had seasickness, to start with.” He looked at Grey, his expression under the wet seeming to accuse his employer of gross negligence in the provisioning of pickles.

Grey felt himself falling under some kind of horrid trance, as he watched the surface of the ocean rise and fall, rise and fall …

“Yes,” he said faintly. “What a good idea. But perhaps …”

“Your pardon, your honor,” said a voice at his elbow. “Would ye be by way of being friends of the gentleman downstairs what’s sick as a dog, and a tremenjous big dog, too?”

Grateful for the distraction, Grey turned his back on the roiling sea and blinked water from his lashes. The Irishman was a few inches taller than himself, but painfully thin. Despite that, sailing seemed to agree with him; his face was ruddy with cold and wind, pale eyes sparkling, and water gleamed in his spray-soaked curls.

“Yes,” Grey said. “Is he worse?” He made to go past the man, but his new acquaintance put out a hand, reaching with the other into a capacious cloak that billowed round him like a cloud.

“If he was any the worse for it, he’d be dead,” the Irishman said, bringing out a small, square black bottle. “I only wondered, would ye maybe accept a bit o’ medicine for him? I offered it to him meself, only he was too far gone to answer.”

“I thank you, sir,” Grey said, accepting the bottle. “Er … what is it, if you please?”

“Mostly bad whisky,” the Irishman said frankly. “But with the ginger-root and a small little spoon of powdered opium stirred into it, as well.” He smiled, showing a missing eyetooth. “Works wonders, it does. But do shake it first.”

“What have we got to lose?” Tom said practically. He gestured at the deck, now thronged with passengers who had emerged from the companionway, driven upward by the insalubrious conditions in the cramped space below. Many of them were hanging over the rail themselves; the rest glared at Grey, plainly holding him responsible.

“If we don’t do something about him prompt-like, one of that lot’s a-going to knock him on the head. And us.”

JAMIE HEARD FOOTSTEPS approaching and hoped fervently that whoever it was intended to shoot him; he’d heard a few such intentions expressed within his hearing recently. He was all for it but lacked the strength to say so.

“A bit under the weather, are ye, now?” He cracked one eye open, to see Toby Quinn’s beaming face bending over him, surrounded by crazily fluttering shadows cast by the swinging lanterns. He closed the eye and curled himself into a tighter ball.

“Go away,” he managed, before the next wrench of nausea seized him. Quinn leapt nimbly back, just in time, but came forward again, cautiously skirting the fetid little pool surrounding Jamie.

“Now, then, good sir,” Quinn said soothingly. “I’ve a draught here will help.”

The word “draught,” with its implication of swallowing something, made Jamie’s stomach writhe afresh. He clapped a hand to his mouth and breathed through his nose, though it hurt to do so, as spewing bile had seared the sensitive membranes of his nasal passages. He closed his eyes against the horrible rhythmic sway of the shadows. Each one seemed to take his mind swinging with it, leaving his belly poised over some hideous sheer drop.

It won’t stop, itwonteverstopohGod …

“Mr. Fraser.” There was a hand on his shoulder. He twitched feebly, trying to get rid of it. If they wouldn’t have the decency to kill him, could they not just let him die in peace?

The sense of alarm at Quinn’s presence, which would in other circumstances have been pronounced, was so faint as barely to register on the blank slate of his mind. But it wasn’t Quinn touching him; it was John Grey. “Take your hand off me,” he wanted to say, but couldn’t. “Kill you. Take your hand … kill you …”

A general chorus of blasphemy greeted the results when he opened his mouth in an attempt to utter the threat. It was followed by more varied response, including a shocked female voice: “Dear bleedin’ heart o’ Mairy, the poor man’s spittin’ blood!”

He curled up again, knees clasped as tight to his belly as he could get them. He’d heard himself whimpering and, shocked at the sound, had bitten the inside of his cheek hard to stop it.

The chorus were saying something about the draught, all of them urging him to take it. An uncorked bottle of something hot-smelling and sickly-sweet was waved under his nose. Opium. The word flared a warning in his mind. He’d had opium before, in France. He still remembered the dreams, a nasty mix of lust and nightmare. And he remembered being told that he’d raved in the midst of them, too, talking wildly of the naked demons that he saw. Again, on the crossing to France: he’d been wounded then, and had suffered all those wounds again—and worse—in opium dreams. And what had happened later, at the abbey, when he’d fought the shade of Black Jack Randall in fire and shadow, had done something terrible to him against a stone wall … that was opium, too.

The whole cabin shot into the air and then fell with shocking violence, flinging people into the bulkheads like birds smashing into windowpanes. Jamie rolled off the bench on which he’d been lying, crashed into several bodies, and ended entangled with one of them, both wedged between the bulkhead and a large sliding crate of chickens that no one had thought to secure.

br />

Master me. Or let me your master be.

He thought he would settle for mutual respect—and, for the first time since Hal had put this scheme in hand, began to look forward to Ireland.

SECTION III

Beast in View

15

The Return of Tobias Quinn

“IS HE ALL RIGHT, ME LORD?” TOM ASKED IN LOWERED VOICE, nodding toward the dock. Turning, Grey saw Fraser standing there like a great rock in the middle of a stream, obliging hands and passengers to flow around him. Despite his immobility, there was something in his face that reminded Grey irresistibly of a horse about to bolt, and by instinct he fought his way down the gangway and laid a hand on Fraser’s sleeve before he could think about it.

“It will be all right,” he said. “Come, it will be all right.”

Fraser glanced at him, torn from whatever dark thought had possessed him.

“I doubt it,” he said, but absently, as though to himself. He didn’t pull away from John’s hand on his arm, but rather walked out from under it without noticing and trudged up the gangway like a man going to his execution.

The one good thing, Grey reflected a few hours later, was that Tom had quite lost his fear of the big Scot. It wasn’t possible to be afraid of someone you had seen rendered so utterly helpless, so reduced by physical misery—and placed in so undignified a position.

“He did tell me once that he was prone to mal de mer,” Grey said to Tom, as they stood by the rail for a grateful moment of fresh air, despite the lashing of rain that stung their faces.

“I haven’t seen a cove that sick since me uncle Morris what was a sailor in a merchant man come down with the hocko-grockle,” said Tom, shaking his head. “And he died of it.”

“I am reliably informed that no one actually dies of seasickness,” Grey said, trying to sound authoritative and reassuring. The sea was rough, white froth flying from the tops of the surging billows, and the small craft lurched sickeningly from moment to moment, plunging nose down into troughs, only to be hurled abruptly upward by a rising wave. He was a good sailor himself—and smug about it—but if he thought about it for more than a few seconds …

“Wish I’d a-known,” Tom said, his round face creased with worry. “Me old gran says a sour pickle’s the thing for seasickness. She made me uncle Morris take a jar of ’em, put up special with dill weed, whenever he set to sea. And he never had seasickness, to start with.” He looked at Grey, his expression under the wet seeming to accuse his employer of gross negligence in the provisioning of pickles.

Grey felt himself falling under some kind of horrid trance, as he watched the surface of the ocean rise and fall, rise and fall …

“Yes,” he said faintly. “What a good idea. But perhaps …”

“Your pardon, your honor,” said a voice at his elbow. “Would ye be by way of being friends of the gentleman downstairs what’s sick as a dog, and a tremenjous big dog, too?”

Grateful for the distraction, Grey turned his back on the roiling sea and blinked water from his lashes. The Irishman was a few inches taller than himself, but painfully thin. Despite that, sailing seemed to agree with him; his face was ruddy with cold and wind, pale eyes sparkling, and water gleamed in his spray-soaked curls.

“Yes,” Grey said. “Is he worse?” He made to go past the man, but his new acquaintance put out a hand, reaching with the other into a capacious cloak that billowed round him like a cloud.

“If he was any the worse for it, he’d be dead,” the Irishman said, bringing out a small, square black bottle. “I only wondered, would ye maybe accept a bit o’ medicine for him? I offered it to him meself, only he was too far gone to answer.”

“I thank you, sir,” Grey said, accepting the bottle. “Er … what is it, if you please?”

“Mostly bad whisky,” the Irishman said frankly. “But with the ginger-root and a small little spoon of powdered opium stirred into it, as well.” He smiled, showing a missing eyetooth. “Works wonders, it does. But do shake it first.”

“What have we got to lose?” Tom said practically. He gestured at the deck, now thronged with passengers who had emerged from the companionway, driven upward by the insalubrious conditions in the cramped space below. Many of them were hanging over the rail themselves; the rest glared at Grey, plainly holding him responsible.

“If we don’t do something about him prompt-like, one of that lot’s a-going to knock him on the head. And us.”

JAMIE HEARD FOOTSTEPS approaching and hoped fervently that whoever it was intended to shoot him; he’d heard a few such intentions expressed within his hearing recently. He was all for it but lacked the strength to say so.

“A bit under the weather, are ye, now?” He cracked one eye open, to see Toby Quinn’s beaming face bending over him, surrounded by crazily fluttering shadows cast by the swinging lanterns. He closed the eye and curled himself into a tighter ball.

“Go away,” he managed, before the next wrench of nausea seized him. Quinn leapt nimbly back, just in time, but came forward again, cautiously skirting the fetid little pool surrounding Jamie.

“Now, then, good sir,” Quinn said soothingly. “I’ve a draught here will help.”

The word “draught,” with its implication of swallowing something, made Jamie’s stomach writhe afresh. He clapped a hand to his mouth and breathed through his nose, though it hurt to do so, as spewing bile had seared the sensitive membranes of his nasal passages. He closed his eyes against the horrible rhythmic sway of the shadows. Each one seemed to take his mind swinging with it, leaving his belly poised over some hideous sheer drop.

It won’t stop, itwonteverstopohGod …

“Mr. Fraser.” There was a hand on his shoulder. He twitched feebly, trying to get rid of it. If they wouldn’t have the decency to kill him, could they not just let him die in peace?

The sense of alarm at Quinn’s presence, which would in other circumstances have been pronounced, was so faint as barely to register on the blank slate of his mind. But it wasn’t Quinn touching him; it was John Grey. “Take your hand off me,” he wanted to say, but couldn’t. “Kill you. Take your hand … kill you …”

A general chorus of blasphemy greeted the results when he opened his mouth in an attempt to utter the threat. It was followed by more varied response, including a shocked female voice: “Dear bleedin’ heart o’ Mairy, the poor man’s spittin’ blood!”

He curled up again, knees clasped as tight to his belly as he could get them. He’d heard himself whimpering and, shocked at the sound, had bitten the inside of his cheek hard to stop it.

The chorus were saying something about the draught, all of them urging him to take it. An uncorked bottle of something hot-smelling and sickly-sweet was waved under his nose. Opium. The word flared a warning in his mind. He’d had opium before, in France. He still remembered the dreams, a nasty mix of lust and nightmare. And he remembered being told that he’d raved in the midst of them, too, talking wildly of the naked demons that he saw. Again, on the crossing to France: he’d been wounded then, and had suffered all those wounds again—and worse—in opium dreams. And what had happened later, at the abbey, when he’d fought the shade of Black Jack Randall in fire and shadow, had done something terrible to him against a stone wall … that was opium, too.

The whole cabin shot into the air and then fell with shocking violence, flinging people into the bulkheads like birds smashing into windowpanes. Jamie rolled off the bench on which he’d been lying, crashed into several bodies, and ended entangled with one of them, both wedged between the bulkhead and a large sliding crate of chickens that no one had thought to secure.

“Bloody get off me!” A strangled English voice came from somewhere under him and, realizing that it was John Grey he lay on, he rose like a rocket, cracking his head on the low beam above. Clutching his head—obviously shattered—he sank to his knees and fell half upon the crate, to the great consternation of the chickens. Shrieks and squawks and an explosion of down feathers and bits of chicken shit erupted through the slats, in an ammoniac reek that stabbed right through his nose and into what was left of his brain.

He subsided slowly onto the floor, not caring what he lay in. More squawking, this human. Hands. They hauled him half sitting, though he hung like a bag of laundry, unable to help.

“Christ, he’s a heavy motherfucker!” said a rough voice in his ear.

“Open your mouth,” said another voice, breathless but determined.

Grey, he thought dimly.

Fingers seized his raw nose and squeezed and he yelped, only to choke as a cascade of vile liquid poured into his mouth. Someone cupped his chin and slammed his jaw shut.

“Swallow, for God’s sake!”

The whisky burned down his throat and into his chest and, for one brief moment, cleared his mind of the omnipresent nausea. He opened his eyes and caught sight of Quinn, staring at him with an expression of intense concern.

I mustn’t speak of him. Mustn’t risk it, being muddled. Mustn’t speak.

He worked his tongue, gasping for breath, gathering his strength. Then snatched the bottle from John Grey and drained it.

JAMIE WOKE IN A rather pleasant state of mind; he couldn’t remember who he was, let alone where, but it didn’t seem to matter. He was lying on a bed and it wasn’t moving. The light in the room flickered like sunlight on waves, but this was in fact the work of a large tree he could see, standing outside the window, fluttering its leaves in a lackadaisical manner. He thought there were not any trees in the ocean but couldn’t swear to it, what with the peculiar images still floating languidly now and then across the back of his eyes.

He closed his eyes, the better to examine one of these, which seemed to be a mermaid with three breasts, one of which she was pointing at him in an enticing sort of way.

“Will you be havin’ a pot of coffee, sir?” she said. Her breast began to stream black coffee, and her other hand held a dish beneath to catch it.

“Does one o’ the other ones squirt whisky?” he asked. There was a sudden gasp in his ear, and he managed to open one eye a crack, squeezing the other closed in order to keep the mermaid in sight, lest she swim off with his coffee.

He was looking at a spindly girl in a cap and apron, who was staring at him with her mouth open. She had a long, bony nose, red at the tip. She had a dish of coffee in her hand, too, that was strange. Nay teats at all, though.

“No hope o’ cream, then, I suppose,” he murmured, and shut the eye.

“You’d best leave him to us, miss,” said an English voice, sounding rather self-important.

“Yes,” said another, also English, but testy. “Leave the coffee, too, for God’s sake.”

There was a soft green light about the mermaid, and a small striped fish swam out of her hair, nosing its way down between her breasts. Lucky fish.

“What do you think, me lord?” said the first voice, now dubious. “Cold water down his neck, maybe?”

“Splendid idea,” said the second voice, now cordial. “You do it.”

“Oh, I shouldn’t want to presume, me lord.”

“I’m sure he isn’t violent, Tom.”

“Just as you say, me lord. But he might turn nasty, mightn’t he? Gentlemen do, sometimes, after a hard night.”

“I trust you do not speak from personal experience, Tom?”

“Certainly not, me lord!”

“Opium doesn’t take you like that, anyway,” said the second voice, coming nearer. It sounded distracted. “It does give you the most peculiar dreams, though.”

“Is he still asleep, do you think?” The first voice was coming nearer, too. He could feel someone’s breath on his face. The mermaid took offense at this familiarity and vanished. He opened his eyes, and Tom Byrd, who had been hovering over him with a wet sponge, let out a small shriek and dropped it on his chest.

With a detached sense of interest, he watched his own hand rise into the air and pluck the sponge off his shirt, where it was making a wet patch. He had no particular idea what to do with it next, though, and dropped it on the floor.

“Good morning.” John Grey’s face came into view behind Tom, wearing an expression of cautious amusement. “Are you feeling somewhat more human this morning?”

He wasn’t sure but nodded nonetheless and sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. He didn’t feel badly, but very strange. There was a wicked taste in his mouth, though, and he held out a hand to Tom Byrd, who was advancing on him slowly, coffee held before him like a flag of truce.

The cup Tom put in his hand was warm, and he sat for a moment, regaining his senses. The air smelled of peat smoke, cooking meat, and something vaguely nasty of a vegetable nature—scorched cabbage. His slow mind located the word.

He took a grateful mouthful of coffee and found a few more words.

“We’re in Ireland, then, are we?”

“Yes, thank God. Are you always—” Grey cut himself off.

“I am.”

“Jesus.” Grey shook his head in disbelief. “Rather fortunate that you were not transported after Culloden, then. I doubt you would have survived the voyage.”

Jamie gave him a narrow look—it was owing to Grey’s personal intervention that he had not been transported, and he hadn’t been at all pleased at the time—but evidently Grey meant nothing now beyond the obvious, and he merely nodded, sipping coffee.

A soft knock came at the door, which stood half open, and Quinn’s long face came poking round the jamb. Had Jamie’s reflexes been halfway normal, he might have dropped the coffee. As it was, he merely sat there, staring stupidly at the Irishman, whose existence he’d forgotten in the maze of opium dreams.

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