Chapter Thirty-three



Galen stirred and slowly woke up. He lay on his pallet and listened carefully to the muted sounds that had disturbed his slumber. Excitedly, he nudged Thomas and pulled on the sleeping man’s arm.

Thomas glared as sternly as possible through one partially opened eye at the young man who had so rudely awakened him this early in the morning.

“Can you hear it, Thomas?” Galen loudly whispered. Before the older man could order him to go back to sleep, he had thrown back the blankets. Within moments he was up and running out of the tent, clad only in his nightshirt.

Thomas sighed and got out of his warm bed to follow Galen. He stood at the entrance of the tent and stared at the spectacle that greeted him. It was raining and barely light enough to see Galen standing in the middle of the compound, his arms spread wide and face turned upward to be gently washed by the very first rain to fall since their arrival on the island. He seemed completely oblivious to the flimsy cotton nightshirt plastered to his slim body. Thomas watched as Spyke ran over to Galen and together they merrily began splashing in the puddles.

“Galen, get back here!” Thomas hollered at the same time Aiden’s voice boomed across the clearing.

“Spyke Ty Lambert, get that wee butt of yers o’er here right now!” Spyke acknowledged the command with a cheeky wave and continued with what he was doing. He was wearing what looked to be an old shirt of Aiden’s with the sleeves torn off. It now clung to his body as the rain drenched him.

Realizing Galen probably hadn’t heard him, Thomas quickly dressed and reluctantly left his waterless sanctuary. He had almost reached Galen’s side when the two young men jumped together into a large puddle, splashing water in every direction. Thomas was speechless as he stood there looking like a drowned rat, muddy liquid running in rivulets down his unshaved face.

Gathering as much dignity as he could in the situation, Thomas wiped the mess from his face with the sleeve of his shirt and gave a disgusted glower at the dripping wet cause of his predicament.

Galen spun around and his eyes widened when he took in the angry stance of his mentor. They widened even further when he saw Aiden bearing down on them and he instinctively moved closer to Thomas. His eyes grew unbelievably bigger yet when he took in the sight of the big Scot in all his glory, totally unconcerned with being stark naked.

Tossing Spyke over one beefy shoulder, Aiden landed two heavy swats on the vulnerable rump and stomped back towards his tent. He fully ignored the cursing young man’s fists thumping on his back.

“Ye have no business frolicking in puddles when ye should still be in yer bed!” Aiden quietly scolded as he stripped the sodden shirt off the smaller man and briskly toweled him down. “And ye certainly dinna continue doing so after I’ve summoned ye.” Satisfied his partner was as dry as possible, he turned Spyke around and with a resounding smack to his bare bottom, ordered, “To bed with ye and dinna get off yer pallet ‘til I say ye can.”

Within a very few minutes, Spyke was softly snoring and Aiden lay back with a smile on his face.

“Aiden,” Larry whispered, from the big man’s other side. “Isn’t it just about time to get up?”

“Shhhhh…I want the lad to sleep a wee bit longer. I need the rest.” Aiden rolled over, drew his older partner into his arms and murmured, “We best be taking advantage of his quiet moments as ‘tis few and far between they are.” He grinned when he heard Walker’s muttered ‘Humph, and don’t we all know it!’ along with Thad and Jordan’s muffled snickering.

In the meantime, Thomas took hold of Galen’s arm and looked him in the eye. He opened his mouth prepared to deliver a lecture on foolish young men not knowing enough to come in out of the rain when he saw the joyful expression on Galen’s face and the naked delight shining from large gray eyes which spoke of the simple pleasure of a warm early summer rain. A smile spread across his own face as he stopped long enough to realize what was occurring. He was a farmer and it was raining! It was raining and his fears of a prolonged drought were washing away as each drop fell. Taking the younger man’s hands in his own, Thomas spun him around. “It’s raining, Galen! Isn’t it wonderful?” he shouted. 

“Yes, it is w-wonderful, Thomas!” Galen responded with glee.

There wasn’t a man left sleeping by the time Thomas and Galen finished their impromptu rain dance.

Wayne stretched slightly as he woke trying to work the kinks out without disturbing the large man next to him. The work-callused hands that began to massage his neck and shoulders a moment later told him he’d been unsuccessful.

“Morning, Samuel. Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.”

A warm chuckle emerged from Samuel as he moved into a more comfortable position and continued to work the stiffness from Wayne’s body. “Good morning, my pet. You didn’t wake me. I doubt anyone slept through the racket going on out there.” Samuel smiled as he kneaded his hands into the slender back. “A little stiff this morning, I see.”

Grinning, Wayne bit back what he was going to say and nodded instead.

Samuel quirked an eyebrow at the grin. “Something you’d like to say, Wayne?”

“Actually there is. School is starting today but I’m not going and neither is Wes. You’re alright with that, aren’t you?”

Samuel nodded. “Yes, I am.”

“Okay, just wanted to be sure we are in agreement.”  Wayne twisted his head and body slightly to look at Samuel to judge the man’s reaction to what he said.

Samuel leaned in and kissed Wayne’s cheek.  “Good boy!”

Wayne smiled. “I am glad I attended the survival lessons though, although at one time it looked like they’d never take place. It seemed like one situation after another interfered with them getting underway.”

“Did Wesley also enjoy the survival lessons?” Samuel asked as he patted Wayne’s back lightly signaling that the massage was done.

“Yes, he did but we’d already figured we would. Thank you for the massage, Samuel.” Wayne turned around and snuggled into his partner’s arms.

Wrapping his arm around the smaller man, Samuel smiled and said, “You’re welcome, my pet.”

“I hope just because Preston and Seth are getting up, we don’t have to as well,” Wayne muttered, pulling the blanket over their heads. “At least, Wes and Nathan have enough sense to stay put even with all the racket going on out there.”

As many chores as possible were done indoors throughout the morning. Although everyone was pleased to see the badly-needed rain, few ventured out unless absolutely necessary; the mud being a great deterrent. Although originally planned to start after lunch, school began ahead of schedule and those who had signed up sat in a corner of the  mess hall dutifully listening to their tutor as the rain pelted down outside. Soon Troy’s students were working on mini-assignments he had handed out to keep them occupied.

“I’d rather be doing the fuckin’ laundry than this,” Spyke grumbled to anyone within hearing distance. He snorted derisively when he was ignored.

Galen looked up and grinned mischievously. “And I rather b-be out dancing in the p-puddles with Thomas.”

Spyke chuckled at his friend’s wishful thinking. “What was he so damn happy about? It was only rain for shit’s sake,” the young man scoffed.

“We desperately n-needed it, Spyke. The river feeding the irrigation ditches in the fields was running too low. We w-were in danger of losing our crops and all that hard w-work would have b-been in vain. Thomas w-was also concerned about our w-winter food supply and n-next year’s seed.”

“Hell, how would I know anything about that when I’m only a city boy?” Spyke smirked as he reminded the other man of this fact.

The last of the showers eventually drizzled to a halt shortly before the noon meal and steam began to rise from the canvas structures as the sun shone brighter and hotter.

“Okay everyone, pay attention!” Troy ordered that afternoon. He stood with his hands on his hips facing the group of young men who were accompanying him on a spur-of-the-moment field trip. “We are going to put into practice some of the things you’ve learned over the past two weeks in the survival course. But first we are going to do a quick review to see just what you do or do not remember. Anyone want to start?”

“W-we learned from Brock that this p-place is a lot b-bigger than at first thought and that m-many of the w-wild animals here are not ind...dee ...genius to the island.”  Galen stumbled slightly over the big word. 

“Indigenous,” Troy corrected softly, pleased at the effort.

Galen smiled sweetly. “Yes, correct. He b-believes at some time in the p-past a ship carrying animals for a zoo or something, m-must have capsized or run aground.”

At the mention of the sunken ship, several of the listeners looked meaningfully at one another. The possibility of a shipwreck had fanned the young men’s imagination for days now and already ambitious plans were afoot to start hunting for sunken treasure.

Troy sighed, having fervently hoped the subject would not be mentioned again today, but accepted responsibility for having thrown out an open question in the first place. “I trust some of you can tell us of things taught by the other instructors,” he strongly hinted, looking pointedly at Spyke and Jordan as they continued whispering to one another.

“Sure, we learned to read animal tracks from Brock,” Spyke answered. “And how to imitate bird calls.” He proceeded to demonstrate what he’d learned, causing many of the others to laugh and mimic him.

‘For a man of few words, Brock certainly made an impression on this group,’ Troy silently acknowledged. “Alright, men, settle down.” The tutor knew he had to maintain order or he’d end up with a major problem on his hands. The young men were wound-up after spending the morning indoor. “Can you tell me anything else you were taught?”

“Lakota showed us some plants and berries to avoid because they’re poisonous,” Gille piped up.

“Yes, and Larry instructed us on how to get directions and time from the sun,” Kelby added

Deciding little more was to be gained from questioning them further; Troy started issuing instructions for the upcoming excursion.

“You are all to stay together in a group. I will not tolerate any wandering,” Troy glared meaningfully at Galen, “lagging behind,” he transferred his glare to Jordan and Spyke, “or any type of disturbance, particularly any bickering among you.” His firm gaze expanded to include the remaining six participants.

Levi, Gille and Kelby looked on, mildly interested while Galen, Jordan, Raythe and Spyke shuffled impatiently. Seth and Dallas rolled their eyes in absolute boredom as Troy continued his mini-lecture. Both were quite determined to detest the whole experience.

Troy clapped his hands to regain their full attention. “Mark my words, any of you who insist in behaving as unruly school boys will be treated as such. I am not at all inclined to tolerate insubordination. I will accept nothing less than complete compliance to my instructions.”
.
“Sounds like a grand time is going to be had by all,” Seth muttered under his breath for Dallas’ ears only.

“We can only hope it will prove to be slightly better than doing chores,” Dallas grumbled.

“Yeah, well I wouldn’t count on it,” Seth disagreed.

Fifteen minutes from camp, Galen spotted a large frog sitting in a small pool of water just off the beaten path they were following.

“What the fuck is that?” Dallas impatiently pushed his hair out if his eyes and studied the object clutched in Galen’s hands. He hated this survival crap. He was a city boy and had no intention of exploring the island. He would not be here now if Kevin hadn’t insisted.

“It’s a frog,” Galen answered, holding out his arms for Dallas to get a better look.

“What are you planning to do with it?” Dallas asked. “Some of my friends used to have small green frogs they scared the girls with.” He grinned slyly. “I guess it would be funny if you released it at an appropriate moment, or inappropriate as the case may be.”

“He damn well better get rid of it,” Seth insisted, eying both the slimy green creature and Galen with some misgivings. “God knows what the simpleton intends to do with it.”

Suddenly the frog jumped free and disappeared under a bush.

Dallas was startled and jerked back. “Fuck!” he cried when he tripped and landed on his butt in the mud.

“No falling behind, men!” Troy called out warningly.

Seth offered his hand and helped Dallas to his feet. “And the fun continues…” he snidely remarked.

“Oh yeah,” Dallas concurred. He grimaced as he felt the seat of his wet, soiled trousers and accepted there was nothing he could do about it. “Stupid fucking frog!” he mumbled as they ran to catch up with the others.

The field trip proved to be entertaining for everyone with the exception of the two who had been disgruntled right from the start. Gille pointed out various herbs and gave further details about some of their uses according to the lessons he’d learned from Lakota. Spyke shared a couple of navigating hints he had picked up from Larry, like telling direction from which side of the tree moss was growing on. Kelby and Jordan easily recognized and mimicked several more bird calls. Galen and Levi between them were able to name almost all the trees, especially the fruit bearing varieties. Raythe helped his fellow classmates distinguish several sets of animal tracks.

All and all, Troy had been duly impressed. It had only been necessary for him to break up the odd scuffle or two as small disagreements occurred; generally involving Seth and Galen. Troy was unaware that Seth was the instigator behind these minor disturbances.

It was a couple of hours later on the way back to camp when more pressing problems arose. Most of the group were dirty, hot and tired; the ability to reign in their tempers steadily declining. Troy allowed them to spread out a bit more as long as they stuck to the beaten path leading back to the camp.

“This is w-where I found the frog.” Galen pointed to the pool. “M-maybe I can find it again w-while we w-wait for the slowpokes.” He dropped the boots he had hanging around his neck and started searching around the immediate area.

“They’ll be here any minute, Galen. I can hear Troy urging them on,” Jordan announced.

“If it has the brains God gave dirt, Galen, it’ll be long gone,” Spyke teased.

“Now what do you guys think you’re doing?” Seth belligerently inquired as he came around the bend in the path with Dallas right behind him.

“Galen’s looking for the frog that got away earlier,” Jordan explained.

“Forget about it. You’re only planning to cause trouble,” Seth accused, sneering at the younger man who was bent over to search under a low-hanging branch. The ex-gambler lifted his foot, placed it squarely on Galen’s backside and shoved him face-first into some muddy water.

“What the hell did you do that for?” Raythe demanded. His and Kelby’s arrival had coincided with Seth’s spiteful act. He glared at Seth, waiting for an answer while helping a sputtering Galen to pick himself up.

Jordan, Kelby and Spyke backed off to one side but Dallas stepped up to defend Seth’s actions. “The kid’s been looking for it off and on all afternoon,” he lied. Dallas suspected Seth was in the wrong but took advantage of the situation to get in Raythe’s face.

The shouting match between Seth, Dallas and Raythe quickly escalated out of control. A shoving match was in play by the time Troy, Levi and Gille put in an appearance. Galen seemed caught in the middle of it, though he had yet to utter a word.

“What’s going on here?” Troy sternly demanded.

“He was asking for trouble,” Seth accused, pointing at Galen.

“Not true; you shoved him!” Raythe loudly protested and stepped closer to jab Seth in the chest.

“Fuck off, Raythe!” Dallas shouted as he tried to separate the two.

“Enough!” Troy commanded above the din when Seth, Dallas and Raythe all began offering their interpretation of events at once.

Galen didn’t respond at all as he glanced from one to the other in an effort to make out what was being said, but he was unable to keep up in the clamor caused by the loud rapidly-fired statements.

“You bunch have been pushing the limits for the last hour or more,” Troy scolded as he walked over a cut a branch from the nearest tree. “I told you I had little tolerance for students who disturb my classes and you are about to find out exactly how serious I take this matter. The four of you are getting three strokes each.” As he spoke, the tutor systematically stripped the branch of leaves and bark. “Dallas, get over here!”

“You have got to be fucking kidding,” Dallas spat. “There is no way I’m bending over so you can hit me with that thing.” He hatefully eyed the switch Troy held.

“You will do as you are told!” Troy’s voice was hard and cold.

“You can’t make me,” Dallas countered. “Kevin is the only one who has any right ...” He was cut off by Troy.

“I seriously doubt your partner would approve of appalling and disrespectful behavior during a class outing,” Troy commented dryly.

“Kevin would back me up.” Dallas insisted even though his voice lacked conviction. Kevin had recently recounted some of his memories of school and quite a few of those ended with the comment ‘and then I got the cane.’ Apparently school and caning went hand in hand in Kevin’s world. Dallas felt that Kevin would probably tell him he got what he deserved.

Troy’s voice made him jump. “Dallas! Now!”

“I can’t believe I’m actually doing this,” Dallas muttered as he found himself bending over. A line of fire lit up his bottom. “Jesus, fuck that hurt!” The pain caused a tear to slide down Dallas’ face, but he stayed down. He’d be damned if he’d give Troy an excuse to increase the number of strokes he was getting. He certainly didn’t stay silent during the rest of the switching as each new stroke added another line of fire.

Once Dallas caved, it seemed pointless for the rest to resist. Seth was next. He couldn’t remember anything hurting more but managed to get through it with only a yelped ‘Ow’ for each of the three strokes.

Raythe was not quite so cooperative, thereby earning himself an extra stroke. He gritted his teeth and grunted each time the switch landed, groaning out loud with the fourth. He was off and running as soon as Troy released him.

“Raythe! Where do you think you’re going?” Troy shouted to the fleeing figure. “Get back here!”

“He’s probably going to look for Brock,” was Levi’s quietly spoken guess. “I’m sure he’ll be alright because he’s knows this area fairly well.”

“Then we will finish up here and head for the encampment.” With that, Troy took Galen by the arm and turned him to one side.

“Hey!” Spyke called to get Troy’s attention. “Galen didn’t do nothin’!”

“Unless you want the same, young man, I’d advise you to keep quiet,” Troy sternly suggested.

Gille, Kelby, Spyke and Jordan watched the proceedings in a state of uncertainty and apprehension. Spyke wanted desperately to step in but the fear of making a bad situation worse stopped him from doing so. Jordan became more upset with every passing moment and Kelby was fighting back tears of sympathy for his friend.

The switch was raised and brought down with a resounding whack across the seat of Galen’s wet overalls. Galen didn’t understand why he was being punished. By the time it was over, the young man hadn’t made a sound but had bitten his bottom lip hard enough to taste blood.

Troy snapped the switch in half and threw it down on the ground. He then rounded up his eight remaining students and herded them back to camp. The last leg of the trip was completed in tight-lipped silence.

“Brock!” Raythe called the moment he spotted the big man he had been searching for.

The mountain man instinctively picked up on his partner’s distress and caught the younger man to him.

“I-I thought it was different here, but it isn’t!” Raythe wailed. He clung tightly to the bare torso as tears streamed down his face.

“What happened, boy?” Brock gently questioned, trying to keep his emotions in check. He had never seen his lover in such a state.

“He-he…It’s the same as it always has been; people with a little authority abusing those who have none.” Rathye sobbed out his disappointment and disillusionment.

“I don’t understand, my love. Can you explain please?” Brock patiently pressed for more information.

“Troy took a switch to me…and to Seth and Dallas. He said he was going to do the same to Galen. I just wanted to take Galen’s side,” Raythe whimpered. “Seth shouldn’t have shoved the kid like he did.”

“What!” Brock felt his blood pressure rising as he processed the information. “Troy switched you?”

Raythe buried his face in Brock’s shoulder and choked back tears. “I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I was just trying to help Galen.”

Brock cursed, his heart thumping in his chest. How dare anyone harm what was his! The thought of anyone mishandling this damaged young man whom he had been so patiently nurturing back to emotional health, made him ready to explode with rage.

Aside from an infrequent swat on the seat of Raythe’s trousers, Brock had deliberately avoided physically disciplining his skittish partner. He had established his role as leader in their relationship and had slowly been helping Raythe break some old habits, but they still had a long way to go. He had been content to see the improvement they had made. Raythe no longer stayed awake throughout the night or purposely kept himself on the outskirts of the community as if he preferred to be an outcast. Having come this far, Brock did not want something of this nature to undo their progress. Brock himself had gradually started becoming more involved with the newly-formed society and he had steadily worked at not spooking the other man. He wasn’t about to see his painful efforts destroyed by some callous action from a thoughtless instructor.

“Come!” was all he said, taking Raythe’s hand in his and tugging him homeward. The flames of the huge mountain man’s fury burned hotter with every step.

As Troy’s class got closer to home, some of the younger men began to separate from the main group and go in search of their partners.

Spyke headed for the construction site and met up with several men on their way back to camp. Aiden and Larry saw him barrelling down the hill. They glanced at one another and exchanged silent expressions of query.

“Aiden, you-you’re nev-never gonna …” Spyke skidded to a halt and breathlessly tried to tell the big Scotsman what had happened.

“Calm yerself, laddie.” Aiden advised as he led Spyke and Larry over to a large tree where they could take advantage of the shade. Seated on the ground, the two older men listened with growing trepidation to the tale Spyke had to tell.

In the meantime, Jordan made a beeline straight for the mess tent and his partners, where he immediately embarked on a narration of all that had taken place. Walker and Thad were not the only ones to hear Jordan’s story. Thomas was also present.

“And Galen didn’t even do anything wrong!” Jordan finished off with a strong support for his friend who, in his opinion, had been ill-treated.

Walker cast a worried glance in Thomas’ direction as the man got up and left the tent, obviously intent on getting to Galen without any further delay.

TBC…. 

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