Chapter Thirty-eight

“Hey, Seth,” Dallas greeted the ex-gambler upon locating Seth stretched out under a tree behind his tent. “How are you feeling?” He knew that unlike himself, his friend was fair-skinned and had to closely govern the amount of time he spent in the unrelenting heat of the day. Dallas only burned if he really over did it in the blazing sun.

“Better, thanks. It’s a bit cooler here and out of direct sunlight, so I’m fine now,” Seth answered, glancing up from the book he was reading.

“So what chores do you do when you have to stay out of the sun?” Dallas was frankly curious. “I found out the only thing worse than planting potatoes is peeling the damn things.” Dallas looked around anxiously and let out a sigh of relief when there was no sign of Kevin. His disgust with the mound of potatoes needing to be peeled that afternoon had been quickly thwarted. It was after Kevin pointed out how hard it would be to sit and peel on a freshly spanked bottom that Dallas had been able to swallow his revulsion and reluctantly completed the chore.

“Well I wasn’t allowed to do much of the planting, but I sure did more than my fair share of the peeling, not to mention dishes, cleaning the wool Thomas sheared from the sheep, and folding dry laundry,” Seth gripped at what he considered the unfairness of it all.

“Aha, all the best chores, right?” Dallas smirked at the other man’s grimace of chagrin. “You got time to play cards?” He casually produced an old pack of cards that Seth had given him a while back. Although artfulness was Dallas’ speciality, he enjoyed learning new tricks and games from his extremely talented, card-shark opponent. Seth never cheated but he did possess the uncanny ability to pick up on anyone else’s attempt to do so. This was a disadvantage Dallas had challenged himself to overcome.

“Sure,” was Seth’s easy-going response. “It beats studying this crappy assignment and supper isn’t for at least another hour.”

It was then Dallas noticed his partner’s return from the outhouse. “How about tonight instead of attending the campfire,” he suggested casually. “I know the twins are kinda interested in seeing the tricks. We’ve already made arrangements to meet up later.”

Seth thought of his nocturnal plans with Preston and a dreamy smile of anticipation lit up his face. “Not tonight, Dallas; my entire evening is accounted for.”

“Another time then,” Dallas suggested and went on his way. He hadn’t had many friends in the past and he was eager to be part of a group. He felt he and Seth were also developing an alliance, but sometimes he got confused over Seth’s attitude, especially when it came to Galen. Besides, for some reason or other, he was beginning to be more comfortable with the twins, not that they appeared to feel the same towards him. But still, he felt at ease and relaxed in the brothers’ presence; something he didn’t feel with many of the others. He’d also noticed Raythe forming friendships and thought anything that half-breed could do, he could do as well.

Throughout the evening meal, Raythe kept an eye on Seth, biding his time until he was free to approach Spyke and share his plans. Raythe knew if anyone would be willing to go along with him, it would be that little hot-head.

“Hey, Spyke; wait a minute!” Raythe hollered when he saw the other man leave the mess hall and head towards his tent. Catching up, he whispered furtively. “I’ve got something to discuss with you, preferably in private.”

“Okay, what’s up?” Spyke asked; his curiosity peeked. He led the way over to his pallet, sat down and invited Raythe to take a seat on Larry’s bed.

“I’ve been talking to a few of the guys about that switching some of us got last week. I realised that Seth was never made to pay for pushing Galen into the puddle and it still kinda pisses me off,” Raythe explained. “Wanna help me take care of things?” he conspired excitedly.

“Hell yeah, it was that shithead’s fault Galen got punished when he hadn’t done nothin’ wrong. Whatcha got in mind?” Spyke was rubbing his hands together, exhilarated by the thought of anything that was a break from their sometime mundane existence.

“I figure someone has to call him on it and it might as well be us.” Raythe pointed his finger back and forth between the two of them. “Ya see, Galen says to just forget about it and Kelby says revenge is wrong; so we can’t expect any help from either of them.”

“Hey then, I guess it’s up to you and me alright!” Spyke eagerly got to his feet. “What the fuck are we waiting for? Let’s go find Seth and take care of things.”

Learning the whereabouts of the object of their ire had not posed a problem. Raythe and Spyke marched purposefully down the path leading to the outhouse. Halfway there, they hid in some bushes off to one side and lay in wait.

“I hear him coming,” Spyke hissed.

“And he’ll hear you if you don’t hush up,” Raythe whispered back with a note of irritation.

As Seth drew closer, the anticipation grew. Spyke found remaining quiet almost impossible. At the most opportune moment and with a signal from Raythe, both men jumped up and intercepted a badly startled Seth. 

“What the hell are you trying to do; scare the life outta me or something?” Seth asked belligerently, his heart rate slowly returning to normal.

“We hold you responsible for us getting switched that first day of school. You started the trouble and you damn well know it.” Raythe gave emphasis to his point by repeatedly jabbing a finger into Seth’s chest.

“Yeah and we figure it’s only fair that you bloody well get what’s coming to ya,” Spyke informed him.

“And just who the hell is going to see to that, shorty?” Seth turned up his nose at Spyke, momentarily overlooking the fact that Raythe had a good three inches extra height on him.

“You are, ‘cause you’re gonna own up to Preston about exactly what took place, beginning with you shoving Galen into a puddle of muddy water.” Much to Seth’s annoyance, Rathye continued to punctuate his words with a painfully prodding finger.

“Fuck off!” Seth shouted and swatted at Raythe’s hand as he attempted to get around his two antagonists.

The noisy bickering attracted the attention of Aiden and Preston who had been conversing a short distance away.

“What is going on here, lads?” Aiden asked, his eyes sternly moving from one man to another and coming to rest on his young partner.

“Ah, we’re just trying to convince Seth to be upfront with his partner and tell Preston the whole story from last Monday,” Spyke responded, glaring at the man in question.

“And what truth would that be?” Preston stared fixedly at Seth, clearly expecting an answer.

Seth looked down at the ground and shuffled uncomfortably, unable to meet the older man’s eyes.

“Tell him!” Raythe demanded, giving Seth a slight shove. “Or I will,” he promised.

Deciding he’d fare better if Preston heard the sordid details from him rather than someone else, Seth reluctantly and hesitantly told all that had transpired during the field trip as well as indifferently admitting to the role he played. “And that’s when Troy switched the four of us,” he quietly finished while hanging his head in shame.

Preston stood with his hands on his hips and glowered at the now quiet wrongdoer. “Look at me, Seth,” he softly ordered. Searching Seth’s upturned face, Preston took in the mixture of sadness, uncertainty, embarrassment, dread and possibly a little reprieve. “I do believe we have to talk, don’t we?” he asked, not unkindly and received a brief nod of concurrence.

“I think ’twould be best if I took these two busy-bodies back to camp,” Aiden offered as he wrapped one heavy arm around Spyke’s shoulders and encircled Raythe’s with the other. He steered them firmly back to the compound and set them free with instructions to help prepare for the evening’s fireside.

The big Scot had no sooner turned his back, than Raythe made a beeline for the woods where he cunningly went in search of the two men they had left behind.

In the meantime, Preston resolutely marched Seth a short distance into the forest. He wanted to ensure privacy for their upcoming discussion.

“I am very disappointed in the fact that you chose not to tell the whole truth before now, Seth.” Preston waited patiently for his partner to respond but only silence prevailed. Letting out a loud sigh of frustration, he plucked Seth’s ear between his thumb and forefinger, and dragged him over to a fallen tree. He sat down, roughly pulled the younger man over his lap and rapidly delivered several slaps to his upturned rump.

“I expect some answers!” Preston told Seth, punctuating the statement with a series of stinging smacks.

“I don’t have any,” Seth hollered, taken by surprise at the speed in which he found himself facing the ground.

Preston flipped the slightly smaller man upright. “Do you mean to tell me you have no explanation as to why you repeatedly pick on Galen?” he questioned in disbelief.

“I just don’t like him,” Seth muttered as he rubbed furiously at the seat of his pants with one hand and at his ear with the other.

“That’s not good enough, Seth. You are fully aware of the rules we have established between us. Therefore, you recognise completely why your actions of this past week have been unacceptable, don’t you?”

“Yes, I understand,” Seth replied in a small voice, keeping his eyes lowered. Part of him was frightened by Preston now knowing all that he’d done, but another part felt an almost overwhelming sense of relief at no longer having to deal with the lump in his stomach caused by worrying about if and when the older man would find out.

“And you are in agreement of how we handle the breaking of our rules, right?” Preston asked as he reached up to efficiently undo his partner’s trousers.

“Yes, Preston,” Seth whispered and nodded his head. Moments later, he again found himself face down over the bigger man’s hard thighs with a calloused hand peppering his bare backside.

“What are the lessons you are learning here, Seth?”

“Not to act up and cause trouble for others,” Seth wailed.

“What else?” Preston demanded, his hand rising and falling steadily.

“Not to…to keep things hidden ... Ow!”

“Keep going,” Preston said encouraging, easily pinning the squirming body against his stomach.

“No more; I haven’t done anything else!” Seth cried out, the tears choking up his voice as his bottom throbbed.

Preston shook his head grimly at the reddening backside. He intended to make this lesson felt. “Nothing else? Think harder. I’ve been too easy with you, young man, and it ends here and now.” More swats unrelentingly rained down. “You are going to stop taunting Galen, do you hear me? From now on, I expect to see nothing but good behaviour from you. Do you think I like to hear of my partner being considered unkind or for him to be perceived as a troublemaker? I don’t, Seth! Not one bit! So, we are going to take care of this once and for all.”

Seth was kicking his legs out in earnest by now, his voice almost hoarse from yelling and crying. He continued to yelp and squirm in an effort to escape the painful swats until he finally accepted his due and sobbed out his remorse.

The spanking ended abruptly, and Preston turned his well-chastened lover face-up, being mindful of Seth’s very sore bottom.  

“Alright, baby, it’s done. All is forgiven,” Preston softly cooed, smoothing Seth’s hair and hugging the trembling body close to his own.

Seth looked up into his chastiser’s handsome face and was surprised to find the love and reassurance he craved. He had thought Preston would be too upset with him to offer any comfort. He blinked back tears and felt a sudden wave of serenity wash over him as Preston softly kissed his forehead.

“Does this mean our plans for tonight have been changed, Preston?” Seth whined mournfully, already suspecting what the answer would be.

Preston’s eyebrows shot up and he bit back a chuckle. “I’m afraid so, little one, but there is always tomorrow,” Preston lovingly promised. “By then, both of us will be much better able to meet the challenge you issued, don’t you think?” he purred in an intolerably sexy voice that caused Seth to momentarily forget his blazing bottom and shiver in anticipation.

Raythe observed the proceedings from his hiding place behind a large tree. Not close enough to hear the entire conversation, he did manage to get the gist of it and watched wide-eyed the first spanking he had ever witnessed. Try as he might, he was unable to maintain the feeling of satisfaction in seeing Seth justly disciplined.

Although surprised at the sympathy he felt toward the man who in his mind had been responsible for his and Galen’s unjustified punishment at Troy’s hands, Raythe hurriedly made his way back to the camp site to report all he had seen to Galen, Kelby and Spyke.

“So you see, everything’s been taken care of and Seth’s been made to answer for what he did, but we’ve got to keep quiet about it. I have to admit I felt kinda sorry for him and I hope it’s not too late to someday be his friends,” Raythe finished the tale-telling to what he thought was a like-minded audience of three. Unfortunately, so absorbed was he in relating Seth’s reprimand, he failed to notice Brock’s arrival until a beefy hand grabbed his upper arm and hauled him to his feet.

“Hey, what the hell…..” Raythe’s blustering cry of outrage quickly died as he gazed transfixed into his partner’s dark brown eyes. He wisely kept his mouth closed while he was unceremoniously dragged away from his friends and down to the beach area.

“Raythe, am I correct in assuming you have not only been eavesdropping on a very private situation, but you’ve also discussed it with others?” Brock asked in a dangerously low voice.

Raythe could hardly breathe as he stared up at the irate mountain-man’s face. He could almost visualise smoke coming out of the bigger man’s ears. “I-I…” he stammered and was unable to continue as he trembled at the changing expressions of Brock’s rugged features.

Picking up on the younger man’s fear and not wanting it to increase, Brock immediately softened his stance and pulled Raythe into his arms. “It’s alright, boy, we’ll converse in a more reasonable manner, okay?”

“Uh-huh,” Raythe whimpered, pressing his head into the muscular, naked shoulder of his lover. “I-I’m sorry.”

“Hmm, me too, boy, me too,” Brock tenderly assured him.

They stood quietly for several minutes, wrapped in a warm embrace, before Brock calmly stated, “these stunts are never to be repeated, Raythe; because if it ever happens again, I will soundly spank your bare bottom. Understood?” He interspersed the words with three very hefty whacks on Raythe’s backside.

“Ow!” Raythe cried. “I get it, Brock. Honest, I do!”

“Then this conversation is over, boy.” Brock gave his lover a firm squeeze, stepped back and gently wiped away the tears on Raythe’s cheeks before moving in close again, his large body overwhelming and his voice full of sexual promise as he huskily suggested they find some place a little more private.

This first group of exiles had been on the island for well on three months. The days had lengthened and were warmer as summer quickly followed on the heels of an unexpected mild spring. More of the island was being explored, most of it under the insisted guidance of the older men. The crops were planted and would soon be flourishing now that the unusual extensive drought that had greeted them upon their arrival was over. The trees needed for building had all been cut down and the construction of the lodge was finally underway. Busy days had fallen into an easy routine of sorts and as a result the men found themselves spending less time during their ritual evening gatherings, in endless conversations about who was doing what, where, when and why.

Today had been a long and tiring one for many, but the dust had settled in more ways than one. Almost everyone had eventually left the fireside, gratefully seeking their beds and a night of well-deserved rest. Only Walker and Quentin were up and moving about. Having pulled first watch, they were presently patrolling the perimeters of the camp.

Galen woke up to discover he was alone even though his head was resting on Thomas’ lap. They were the last ones remaining beside the fire that was slowly dying. Only the sounds of nature and the soft murmuring from the nearby tents were faintly discernible in the peaceful evening breeze. There had been many nights when Thomas would carry him to bed but those were outnumbered by the ones when the young man would awake to find his best friend, his mentor, his protector, lost in a world of his own.

Galen sat up and turned to study Thomas’ face; a strong, handsome face creased at the moment with grief and despair. The lad knew the older man was unaware of his surroundings, unaware of the others having said their good-nights, and unaware of once again leaving the younger man behind to worry about him. He sadly shook his head as he reached out and gently ran delicate fingertips along the lines on Thomas’ forehead, immediately drawing the man’s attention.

“Sorry, Galen, were you saying something? I’m afraid my mind was wandering.” Thomas smiled at the younger man.

Galen had seen this wonderful man reliving his past just once too often and decided the time had come to help him move on. “Tell m-me about him, p-please!” he softly demanded.

“About who?” Thomas asked, hoping Galen meant anyone other than who his mind had actually been on.

“The one you return to almost every night as the fireside is ending, the one whose m-memory causes you so m-much sadness and p-pain.” Galen straddled the bigger man’s thighs and wrapped his arms around Thomas’ neck. Soft grey eyes searching for understanding and offering hope gazed earnestly into sad brown ones clouded with doubt and guilt.

Thomas sighed. Maybe it was time to share his story with this young man who was becoming so important to him. “You are very intuitive, my friend.” He drew a bracing breath. “His name was Jacob and he was my lover, my partner, my life. We had been together for a year and a half. My father had hired him to work on the farm and it took little time for us to find we were falling in love. We had to be so careful for fear of anyone finding out about us. Even my father, who was a good and kind man, would not have understood our relationship.”

Thomas halted briefly to gain control of his emotions. “My father passed away almost a year later. I foolishly allowed the fact that I had the big house to myself, to make me careless. I insisted Jacob move in from the bunkhouse to share my bed permanently, not wanting anymore of the hurried trysts that had made up our lives to that point. He was such a kind, sweet-tempered man and he helped me get through the pain of my father’s death. I believed we’d be happy together forever.”

“W-what happened to him?” Galen whispered, almost afraid of the answer.

“My sister, Pauline, was married to a lazy good-for-nothing lout. I will be honest; I despised the man and tolerated him only for the sake of my sister.” Thomas expression turned bitter as the past unfolded. “George, my brother-in-law, was even worse a man than I had suspected. He wanted the family property which was mine by inheritance from my father. He and Pauline lived free and clear in a beautiful little cottage on the property. However, it seems he wanted more. He began, I think, to suspect that Jacob was more than just a hired hand. George watched the comings and goings at the big house and he, along with my sister, realised Jacob was staying there at nights. If I’d only known what was going on, I’d have done things differently. But I was blind.”

He paused momentarily to gather strength in order to continue.

“One night when we were in bed together, George sneaked into the house. Once he’d witnessed us together, he had his ammunition to use against us. He went and gathered a group of his so-called friends and they formed a lynch mob. Before I could move to protect us, they had taken hold of Jacob.” Thomas closed his eyes, trying to hold back the pain these memories brought.

Galen listened, his heart breaking as he tried to absorb some of the other man’s anguish. He tightened his embrace, encircling his friend’s shuddering shoulders in order to draw Thomas closer when the walls ultimately came crashing down, at long last allowing Thomas to finally shed silent, soul-retching tears of sorrow. Galen briefly wondered if the older man had ever permitted himself this necessary exorcism, before acknowledging to himself that it was unlikely.

“And you feel you are at fault,” Galen whispered. “But w-why?” he cautiously questioned, tenderly stroking the dampness from Thomas’ cheeks.

“I should have moved faster and fought harder. Four of them held me back while they took my Jacob and hanged him from a tree in the front yard. Two of the men in the lynch mob were the Sheriff’s deputies; yet they did nothing in response to my pleas for mercy. My poor Jacob; it was my fault. I failed him so badly.”  Thomas finally sobbed out his grief for the first time since the night Jacob died.Jacob deserved so much better than I gave him. I should have protected him.”

“You are m-mistaken in your b-belief that you are to b-blame, Thomas!” Galen quietly assured the older man. “Isn’t it true that over forty m-men were originally destined to be in the first exile? Isn’t it also true that there ended up b-being thirty-two on the ship, and only twenty-eight of those m-made it here?”

“Yes, I know that,” Thomas replied sadly.

“M-mitchell’s p-partner died in jail and Hendrik’s had an unexplained fatal accident while we w-were at sea. Are M-mitchell and Hendrik somehow at fault? Was Kelby at fault that his Jonathan had a weak constitution? M-maybe I should b-blame my p-parents for my b-being here. After all, they w-were still responsible for keeping m-me safe.” Galen patiently waited for his words to sink in. “Some things are just m-meant to be, Thomas. Let Jacob go to find his p-peace and you yours,” he softly pleaded. “Some p-people need p-permission to m-move on and they need it from the p-person they loved the m-most.”

Thomas looked in wonder at the young man before him. ‘Where did one so young, so inexperienced in life, gain such wisdom? He must have had a marvellous mentor in the past,’ he thought. “You are a very smart man, Galen. Even though it still hurts to think of Jacob, I know he is in a better place and though I will miss him always, I have to build a new life here.” Smiling at the beautiful face before him he added, “I am glad you are a part of that new life.”

“It’s time for b-bed, Thomas,” Galen firmly stated, seeing the exhaustion etched on the other man’s face. “I’d like to carry you like you sometimes carry m-me, but I’d have to m-make three or four trips.” The light-hearted suggestion lifted the melancholy mood as the men got to their feet and slowly headed hand-in-hand to their tent.

Galen efficiently stripped Thomas of his clothing and tucked blankets around the emotionally shattered man. He ran to the kitchen area and returned carrying a bowl of warm water and a soft cloth with which he soothingly washed his best friend’s face and smoothed the sweaty hair back from his forehead. When he thought the bigger man was asleep, Galen leaned in and lovingly kissed Thomas’ lips. Then dragging his pallet as close as possible, he settled for the night.

Thomas lay with his eyes closed. Having finally allowed himself to grieve, he was drained beyond the ability to speak. So he lay still, allowing Galen to tend to him while feeling a warmth and tenderness towards the younger man growing with each passing moment. He was surprised to suddenly feel soft warm lips press against his own, hold there for a second then move quietly away. 

Perhaps a door had closed with the loss of Jacob, but Thomas now realised another was opening to allow the bright light of this young man into his life. He only hoped he could be worthy of such a wonderful soul as Galen Manara.


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