No Rest for the Wicked – Lauren Smith

“HİT ’EM HARDER!” Fourteen-year-old Dominic Greyville swung a fist at the large lout of a boy and snarled like a badger as he bared his teeth. There was nothing more exciting than fighting on a dirt road with a bastard who deserved a good punch or two. “Look out, Dom!” Another warning sent Dominic diving out of the way. The lad he was fighting struggled and staggered back after his looming fist just missed Dominic’s face. Dominic kept his eyes on the boy but listened for his best friend, Nicholas Flynn, to warn him of another tricky move. “You bastard!” His opponent lunged for Dominic, and the pair of them hit the dirt with a heavy thud. His ribs ached beneath the weight of the bigger boy. Dominic swung wildly, catching the other boy’s jaw, and he grunted as pain shot up his hand and into his arm. The boy slumped over onto his side, and Dominic rolled up onto the balls of his feet. His ears rang from the blows he’d already taken, and blood coated his split lip, but Dominic laughed in delight. Perhaps it was his mother’s wild Spanish blood, but he couldn’t resist a good fight, especially when a boy like this had been slapping a pretty young tavern girl around. Dominic had taken one look at her tear-stained face and launched himself at the wrongdoer. The lad had to be sixteen or seventeen, and his meaty fists were capable of great damage, but it was worth the risk to do what was right. “Oi!” A deep bellow sent the small crowd of boys who had been watching the fight scattering away. Only his friend Nicholas dared to remain behind.

A burly man with gray-black hair marched up the lane toward them. “What’d I tell you about fighting, eh?” Judging by the looks of his apron and the overpowering stench of mead rolling off him, he had come from the tavern down the road. Dominic’s opponent got to his feet, one hand clamped over his gushing nose. “Little shitter hit me, Pa!” The lad pointed at Dominic with a bloody hand. The lad’s father slapped a paw of a fist on his chest. “I said, if you fight, you better finish it. Go on! Kill the little rat.” The man pointed to Dominic, urging his son to kill him. For a second Dominic was shocked that a man would urge his son to kill another boy, but the hateful look in the man’s eyes warned him that he meant it. There was no way around it—Dominic would have to win the fight because the stakes were suddenly higher.

The lad eyed Dominic with open hatred that mirrored his father’s. He lunged for him. Dominic danced sideways and swept one foot out, tripping the boy. He fell face first so hard into the ground that he groaned and went limp. “Bloody useless fool.” The rotund man spat on the boy’s prone body and glowered at Dominic and Nicholas. “Off with ye, brats!” Dominic didn’t need any further urging. He and Nicholas took off running down the road and only stopped when their lungs were burning for air. Pressing his palms to his thighs, he bent over double and let loose a surprising laugh, and Nicholas did the same. In that moment he felt invincible, as though he could conquer the world.

His eyes caught his friend’s, and Nick grinned through his panting, as though he too sensed the magic of the moment. There was something about this time of day when the sun was not quite set and the world glowed a soft burnished gold. It was Dominic’s favorite time of day, when he felt anything was possible, and yet a hint of the evening’s melancholy floated in the air, making the moment almost bittersweet. “That was a close one,” Nicholas said once they caught their breath. “I thought he had you for a minute there. I was about to jump in and help.” “I was doing just fine,” Dominic replied. Nicholas snorted in clear disagreement. Nicholas was the better behaved of the two and rarely fought, unless it was clear Dominic was about to have his arse beaten. As the son of the Earl of Camden, Dominic’s behavior ought to be above reproach, but he had a knack for getting him into scrapes.

Those scrapes had the tendency to drag his best friend into the problem. Nick was a squire’s son and legitimately tried his best to be properly behaved, but Dominic often lured him into temptation. “You and your pretty skirts, Dom. Always ready to throw a punch for a dainty ankle or a sparkling smile.” Nicholas shook his head, his sandy-blond hair tousled by the wind as he climbed the short stone wall near where they stood. Dominic joined him, and they studied the fields and distant woods. The roof of a manor house, built when Henry Tudor ruled England, was barely visible above the tops of the trees. Camden House. Home. He adored it and yet wanted to escape it at all costs.

Whenever he was home, his father constantly reminded him of his duties as the future earl. Home was a short distance away, beckoning him, but Dominic couldn’t help but cast his gaze back toward the tavern and beyond, toward the dockyards and the sea. The clouds towered above the distant water, promising storms, but it didn’t scare Dominic. His hands itched to curl around the rigging of a vast frigate or a sleek sloop. For as long as he could remember, he’d listened to stories of pirates braving the wild seas. It was even rumored that back in the fifteenth century, the Earl of Wolverhampton, whose estate was not too far from Camden House, had been a great and fierce pirate. “Nick, you ever think of going to sea? Buying a commission, I mean?” The thought of going to sea had always intrigued Dominic, and on more than one occasion he’d threatened to run away and board a ship whenever he and his father fought. Nicholas’s gaze moved toward the ocean behind them. “Out there? Not unless you went. I’d go anywhere with you.

Even the farthest horizon.” Nicholas’s words made Dominic flush. They’d grown up side by side, getting into mischief all their lives. They’d become blood brothers long ago, having spit upon their cut palms and clasped them together, swearing undying loyalty to each other under the harvest moon. He couldn’t imagine going anywhere without Nicholas either. “You’d truly go to sea with me?” he asked, watching Nicholas’s face closely. “Of course. Someone would have to keep you out of trouble, or else you might become a pirate. Your father wouldn’t like that one bit.” “Well, there’s pirates and there’s pirates.

Some pirates have a letter of marque giving them permission to harass the enemies of England, you know.” Dominic had always liked the idea of being a noble pirate like Sir Francis Drake. “Those are called privateers.” “Still, a privateer is just a pirate with a license,” Dominic replied with a wicked grin. “And that still wouldn’t sit well with your father. God help us if we ever have to go to sea.” They both laughed and then fell into a pleasant silence. The wind whistled through the trees ahead of them, and Dominic dropped down into the meadow with a heavy sigh. “Time to go home?” Nicholas asked, and Dominic answered with a sad nod. He shoved his hands into his trousers, trying to tuck his shirt back in.

He knew he looked a fright. His mother would be furious at his ripped pants and bloodied shirt as well as his dirt-covered waistcoat. “See you tomorrow?” Nicholas asked. “Definitely.” Dominic watched his friend head down the road before he crossed the field into the woods. He took his time getting to the house, knowing full well he would pay for getting into a fight. When he reached the front gates, one of the servants saw him and rushed over to speak to the tall dark-haired woman in a gold sack-back gown as she examined a row of English rosebushes. His mother lived for her gardens, especially the roses. “Dom!” His mother called his name, and he quickened his pace until he stood before her. Lucia Greyville was still every bit the Spanish beauty she’d been as a girl of eighteen when she married his father.

Now, at two and thirty years, she’d become an excellent countess and a fiercely protective mother. “Come. Let me see you,” Lucia demanded as she cupped his face, examining his bruises and split lip. “What happened to you?” “Just a tussle, that’s all, I swear,” he promised. His mother’s cinnamon-brown eyes narrowed. “A tussle? That’s the third one in a week. Your papa will—” “Please don’t tell him, Mother.” He grasped one of her hands. They were of an equal height now, both five foot seven inches, and it made him feel more protective of his mother than ever. Soon he would be taller than her if his father’s height of six foot four was any indication.

“Even if I keep my silence, dear boy, he will see the bruises himself.” “Please, Mother. It will be our secret.” Lucia sighed, though her lips twitched as she fought off a smile. “Run along. Wash up and change for dinner.” She kissed his cheek and nudged him toward the door. Dominic raced up the steps and into the house. He caught the lingering scent of cigar smoke, which meant his father must still be in his study. There might yet be time to hide the worst of the damage.

Dashing up the grand staircase, he reached his room without being discovered. He washed and changed, pausing only a moment to examine the purpling bruises on his cheek and jaw. His father would notice those, but what could he do? He’d tried clever lies in the past, and his father never believed them. He could always read Dominic’s face too easily. By the time he came down for dinner, his mother was kissing the twins good night. Josephine and Adrian, his little sister and little brother, were only two years old and spent much of the day in or near the nursery. Adrian favored their father in looks, with lighter brown hair and gray eyes, unlike Dominic, who looked more like his mother. Josephine— or Josie, as Dominic liked to call her—favored their mother, but everyone could see their father in her eyes. Dominic smoothed a hand over his dark hair as he watched his mother give each child a tiny hug before the nurse carried them upstairs. A moment later, his father strode into the hall.

Aaron Greyville went straight to Lucia, embracing her with a passionate kiss that made Dominic blush and turn away in embarrassment. His parents were forever kissing and whispering in alcoves when they thought they were alone. It was unsettling. People like his parents should never be kissing. He turned away, but his single step to leave caused a floorboard to creak, which caught his father’s attention. “Dominic.” The tone made it clear he was in trouble. “Yes, Father?” “Come here, please.” Dominic reluctantly trudged over, keeping his head down. Aaron frowned, his mustache wilting as he studied his son.

“Fighting again?” “Yes, but—” “Dominic, you know how I feel about that. Good men need not resolve disputes with their fists. It isn’t civilized to beat another man like that.” “But this bloody oaf was hitting a sweet little wench, and—” “Wench?” his mother cut in sharply. “A young lady,” he corrected quickly. “She was crying, Father. You taught me never to strike a woman.” “I did,” Aaron agreed. “But I also expect you to act with honor. Striking some foolish boy from the dockyards is cowardly.

I won’t have a coward for a son. Do you understand?” His father’s eyes were hard. “I think a night without supper will give you a chance to think upon your actions. Off to bed with you.” His father’s order made him grit his teeth. He hadn’t been there—he hadn’t seen the girl crying. Any honorable man would have fought the other lad. “Perhaps you are the coward,” he snapped. Aaron stared at him with a heavy sigh of frustration that hit Dominic deep in the chest. “Someday you will understand that choosing not to fight in certain circumstances is the right course.

A noble-hearted man cannot face difficult situations by raising his fists at every turn.” “Not fighting still makes you a coward,” Dominic retorted. His father’s scowl deepened. “If you truly think that, you haven’t grown up like I thought you had. I never once said don’t fight—I merely said you don’t always have to fight with physical violence.” His black look only infuriated Dominic, but he didn’t respond. Instead, he rushed upstairs, desperate to get away from his father and the disappointment in his eyes. Dominic passed by the nursery and froze as he heard the nursemaid, Mary, singing a soft lullaby to the twins. Bitter tears stung his eyes, which only brought more shame upon him. He wiped the back of his hand across his face, trying to rid himself of the evidence of his crying.

No one understood him, except his mother. She used to whisper tales of her life aboard a ship on the Spanish Main. Her father had been a Spanish naval captain and had spent many years fighting off pirates. Dominic loved to hear his mother spin yarns of her carefree childhood on the high seas. It had often been his only escape from his boring life in Cornwall. Far too often, he was locked up here in this stuffy manor house, studying tedious lessons on history, mathematics, and sciences under the guidance of a tutor. It was no fun at all. As he stepped into his room, anger and shame still warred inside him, making his stomach knot and his head pound. The thought of spending time in his bedchamber alone and hungry sounded dreadful. He kicked the heavy trunk at the foot of his bed and threw himself down in the chair beside it.

He grinned as an idea flashed across his mind. He went to his armoire and retrieved a rope ladder that he had made a few months ago. He carried it to the wide bay windows of his bedchamber, secured the rope at the base of his bed, and opened the window. Then he carefully scaled down the makeshift ladder and dropped into the flowerbeds. Dusk stretched along the ground from the topiaries in the gardens, casting unsettling shadows on the usually cheery shrubbery. Dominic ducked between the shadows until he reached the woods. As he ran in the direction of the small dockyards at the end of Boscastle’s main port, he hummed a colorful tune. His pockets jingled with a few coins, and he knew that lovely girl from the tavern would see his hunger and take care of him with a meat pie, a pint of ale, and perhaps even a kiss for protecting her honor. Dominic was still smiling as he reached the street that led to the tavern. A few streetlamps offered no real light against the now heavy gloom.

The hairs on the back of Dominic’s neck rose as he had the eerie sense of being watched. Perhaps this hadn’t been the best idea after all… He spun to face the darkness behind him but saw nothing. The shadows seemed to thicken as the fog rolled in from the sea. Dominic shivered and straightened his shoulders. He wasn’t a child. He shouldn’t be afraid of a little fog. He took a step toward the tavern, and just then a hand clamped over his mouth. He was hauled back into the alley, his screams muffled by his captor. He kicked his legs and rammed an elbow back into whoever held him. “Little bastard!” a man snarled.

Something hard struck his temple, and he knew no more. A LONG WHİLE later, Dominic awoke to the rocking of a ship. He blinked, trying to focus in the dim light. A lantern swayed above him, casting a flickering light on the room. The sensation of the ship pitching and rolling made his stomach churn. He tried to move, but pain cut into his wrists and ankles. He stared down in horror at the iron manacles that restrained him. A dozen other boys his age or close to it were shackled beside him. Many had faces the shade of puce. Some had recently vomited.

Several wept for their mothers. A bitter taste filled Dominic’s mouth as he too wanted to cry out for his mother. But she wasn’t here and wouldn’t be able to save him. Dominic looked to one of the boys sitting close to him. “Where are we?” The boy had a distant, almost dead look in his eyes. After a moment, he responded. “We’re being taken to the West Indies…to work as servants.” “What? But they can’t do that. We’re not slaves. We…” Dominic looked around, seeing that he was indeed bound next to several healthy-looking dark-skinned men.

They gave him a pitying look as he seemed to realize he was in the same helpless position as them. “We won’t survive. Most likely we’ll die during the voyage,” the first boy said. “And from what I hear, that will be a blessing. The captain of this ship…they say he has unnatural tastes.” The boy nodded toward the other young boys beside them. “Before you were here, another boy died, and before he did, he told me to pray for death.” Fear filled Dominic’s mouth with a strange taste, almost like blood, and his ears started to ring. In that moment, he realized that he would never see home again. He would never see the little twins or his mother and father ever again.

All because he was a hotheaded fool, just like his father had said.

.

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