Left over from the dv_squee Last Day/First Line ficathon back in July. (What happened to July by the way? And most of August for that matter....)
entropy_house wrote the prompt:
"Uhm," Leonard said, uncomfortably, twisting his hands until John Doughtie nudged him from behind, "Captain General, before you pronounce sentence on Master Doughtie, I believe there is some evidence that you had not taken into consideration," as he spread on the makeshift judicial table copies of love-poems Francis had written in Ireland, wherein Doughtie was made to rhyme with mountee.
Drake looked at the documents on the table and then at those that a grinning John Doughtie still held in his hand. He recognised the parchment and his own scrawling writing immediately and his face darkened.
“Blackmail, Master Vicarye?” Drake hissed vehemently as he drew Doughtie’s friend and advocate aside.
“Nay, Captain Drake, merely evidence of what I believe to be, well, uhm… mitigating circumstances that, in the name of justice, I would ask you to consider before the pronouncement you are about to make,” Vicarye answered with as much confidence as he could manage in the face of Drake’s burgeoning fury. He knew Drake held him to be of no consequence personally, and the Captain General had made quite clear his low opinion of lawyers in the course of the trial he had instigated against Doughtie.
The look on Drake’s face was black as pitch, but Leonard could see that was nothing compared to Thomas’ reaction. Leonard knew that Doughtie would be furious with him for seeking to influence Drake's decision with the poems but he was desperate to find a way to save Thomas. He looked pleadingly at his friend for forgiveness, but the gentleman’s face displayed only outrage.
Drake, at a loss as to as to what to do next, sent Doughtie back to his tent while he considered his position. John and Leonard were allowed to accompany the gentleman as Drake could not think clearly while confronted with Leonard's fidgeting and young John Doughtie’s triumphant, smug expression.
As soon as they were alone Vicarye tried to make his peace with his friend. “Please Thomas; he had your murder as his goal and I could not see you die so falsely accused, and I am now convinced by the discovery of these letters that this trial has more to do with his wounded feelings than any real fear of mutiny or treason.”
Thomas however was not to be assuaged. “Have I not suffered enough slights in these past weeks, Leonard? Could you not at least leave me my dignity? I was prepared to die as a gentleman but now you have condemned me to be forever known as a pirate’s whore,” he answered fervidly.
“No, no, Thomas, it be not so. Apart from Drake, none but we three know the contents of the letters, and his poesy be not the words writ to some common strumpet; ‘tis a declaration of love most ardent and sincere, albeit clumsy and lacking in style.” Leonard blushed as he recalled the passion expressed in Drake’s poor hand. John giggled and was about to make a ribald comment but Thomas’ searing glare stilled him.
When John had brought him the missives, Leonard had thought it a foolish, boyish prank. He could not believe they could be real. But there was no mistaking Drake’s handwriting, and there was no denying that Doughtie’s name was associated with some highly descriptive couplets that left very little to the imagination. Nevertheless, Leonard had almost convinced himself that it must have been a one sided, fanciful affair on Drake’s behalf, but then he recalled that Thomas had been uncharacteristically silent about his adventures in Ireland upon his return to London.
Ireland was half a world and what seemed like an entire lifetime away. His meeting with Francis Drake had been a life changing moment for Thomas Doughtie. He was quite simply infatuated with the daring sea captain. Thomas knew all the pretty games of seduction from his life at court, and had played them often, but this time he was playing with a man who did not know the rules. Or perhaps one who chose not to be bound by them.
It was one thing for Thomas to flirt and exchange intimate compliments, bat his long dark lashes and smile knowingly at the Captain, but what Drake wanted went well beyond such courtly dalliances. The man was a force of nature, used to taking what he wanted and he had left Thomas in no doubt of his ultimate goal. Drake’s intensity scared the gentleman. The poems had been the last straw. The man must be mad to commit such thoughts to paper; they could both be hanged for such salacious declarations.
Thomas had fled, returned to his comfortable courtier’s life in London, surrounded himself with elegant people of high social standing; married…. Was it God’s punishment for his indiscretions in Ireland that his pretty young wife had died within mere months of their wedding?
In Ireland, while in the fugue of his infatuation, Thomas had made promises to Drake to help him gain favour at court and also to personally provide finance for his long dreamed of expedition to the Pacific. Drake, upon his return to London, sort the gentleman out, confronted him with those promises and Doughtie, being a man of honour, could not refuse. Besides, Drake’s ardour seemed to have cooled; his demeanour was all business and camaraderie now, and the thought of escaping London and its painful memories was tempting for the dispirited gentleman. And, if he were to be honest, he had found those few months he had shared in Ireland with Drake to be the most exhilarating of his life. He just wished he could reconcile his feelings with his sense of duty, honour and his religious convictions.
Of course, he should have destroyed the letters; if Drake were mad to have written them then he was equally without sense to have kept them. But no, he had to keep them, and bring them with him on this ill fated voyage. Truly he was his own worst enemy.
And of course he should have known that once Drake had what he wanted from the royal court he would then pursue his other desires. Barely had they lost sight of The Lizard when Drake’s attentions were again centred on the gentleman. And Drake’s most loyal mariners knew it. They despised Doughtie, first because their Captain General was so besotted with him that it was embarrassing, and secondly because the gentleman would not bend to Drake’s will. They spread stories about Thomas to poison Drake’s mind and feed his innate paranoia. Doughtie was a witch, a conjurer, a traitor, a conspirator…..
“Thomas, I am sorry. Truly, I wished only to help…,” Leonard’s heartfelt lament stirred Thomas from his reverie.
“It’s alright, Leonard. I just need to think of what’s to be done,” Thomas replied and placed a gentle hand on his friend’s shoulder.
Several hours passed with still no recall from Drake who had gathered up all the trial papers and returned to the Pelikan. John was hungry and bored and complaining bitterly; he had long ago lost the warm glow of amusement at having seen Drake so flummoxed by his revelations and now wished only for some warm food and some congenial company.
Thomas had other worries. It occurred to him that Drake could just sail off and leave he and John and Leonard marooned on this desolate coast. There was certainly a precedent for such a punishment in this place. The other punishment meted out here by an earlier wronged commander was also well known to the gentleman.
As the voyage had progressed Doughtie had been so insulted and enraged by Drake’s treatment of him that he had thrown all caution to the wind and refused to give any ground to the burly Captain, preferring instead to cover his own carnal desires by challenging Drake in any way he could. He had been quite prepared to die to protect his own pride and honour, but now it appeared that his beloved, if foolish, younger brother and his most constant friend had all but put their heads on the block beside him. Thomas did not doubt that Drake, in his present intemperate mood, was capable of wreaking his vengeance on all three of them.
He would write to Drake, he decided; express his desires and fears honestly and openly, confess his sins and tell him why he had brought the poems with him. No doubt the Francis saw it as another betrayal by him.
Drake took the letter from Vicarye’s hand, eyeing the gentleman with suspicion. That Thomas had shown his poems to Vicarye and John had been like a knife to his heart. He could well imagine that they had all enjoyed much mirth at his expense, and what, he wondered, would the Doughtie demand knowing that he had the power to ruin him if and when they returned to England?
Vicarye left Drake to read Thomas’ words in solitude. They were a revelation. Drake had expected a vitriolic tirade and a list of demeaning demands from the gentleman; instead Thomas had set out in his fine, elegant hand all his most intimate desires and fears. He wrote of his deep love for the Captain General and of the yearning he had to be near him after he had left Ireland, but also of his restraints; of how he had kept the poems with him because he felt endeared by them, certainly not to have some dark power or advantage over the Captain. Thomas ended with a plea that if John and Leonard be allowed return to England unharmed he would gladly confess to any charge, short of treason, and willingly forgo his life if that was what Drake desired. For himself he asked only to be afforded a gentleman’s death. He signed the letter “Thy most loving friend, Thomas.”
Drake was never a sentimental man but those last words brought an unaccustomed glistening to his eye and a lump to his throat. He sat alone in his cabin through the long cold night with Thomas’ letter in his hands and the image of the proud beautiful gentleman, as he had first seen him in Ireland, in his mind, struggling to make sense of the predicament in which he now found himself.
In the morning, by trumpet and drum, the men of the fleet were called to once more assemble upon the windswept beach. Drake stood straight backed and stern faced and addressed the entire company.
“My masters, we have before us a most perilous but glorious adventure, but we have amongst us those who do not wish to continue the journey. And lo, we have already wasted too much energy on bickering and scheming. I have thought long and hard throughout the night on how best to save our venture, and I have come to a decision.
"We have for our use three good ships, and sufficient men to crew them. The Pelikan and the Elizabeth will continue the voyage and seek entry to the Pacific under my command. The Marigolde will return to England and give report of our great venture to Her Majesty.
"I call upon you all, mariners and gentlemen alike, to make your decision: accompany me or return home. There will be no malice towards any man who makes an honest decision.”
The men of the fleet were dumbfounded, they had assembled on the beach in anticipation of hearing Master Doughtie’s fate - some more keen than others to have an end to this annoying gentleman’s influence. Drake took several large strides and stood apart on the beach, his hands firmly planted on his hips.
“Let those who would continue with me step fo’ward.”
For a moment there was silence and total stillness as this most unexpected choice was considered. John and Thomas Drake were first to join with their kinsman. Ned Bright, Tom Moone and John Brewer moved next to stand beside Drake, and John Wynter, fearing he had no choice but to remain as Captain of his family’s ship, moved forward as well, but the Elizabeth’s master took the opposite direction. He had no desire to attempt the crossing into the Pacific; he had signed on with Drake to sail to Alexandria for trade, not to go wandering in unknown perilous seas for plunder and piracy.
In ones and twos the men made their choice until only Thomas, John and Vicarye were left standing apart. Thomas looked to Drake before directing his brother and his friend to join the crew of the Marigolde.
Thomas now stood alone on the beach awaiting Drake’s pronouncement of his fate.
“Master Doughtie,” Drake began with a voice that sounded like distant thunder, “I said all men should make their decision, each according to their own heart. Take your place with your brother and your gentlemen friends.”
Thomas looked to John and to Leonard and gave them a wistful smile, then stepped forward and stood between Drake and Wynter.
“Master Doughtie? Drake looked questioningly at the gentleman who now stood before him.
“It is my wish to continue the voyage for the glory of our Queen and for England. I would sail with thee, good Captain, if thou wilt have me, or with Captain Wynter if thou wish me not upon thy deck,” Thomas answered.
Drake looked searchingly into the gentleman’s eyes before replying, “Any man who wishes to serve Her Majesty is welcome ‘pon my ship, Master Doughtie, but be warned,” Drake paused and looked around at the entire company before continuing in a loud, fearful voice, “Be warned, I say, to all of you who wish to continue the voyage, I am the sole commander of this fleet; any man, be he gentleman or mariner, who crosses me and imperils the success of this venture, I will hang.”
That night, after a long tumultuous day wherein Thomas had battled to placate the fears of John and Leonard and convince them the rightness of his decision, Drake and Doughtie sat for hours by the camp fire and talked of Ireland and the yet to be explored Pacific. They spoke of dreams and hopes, of fears and doubts, and when all the others had retired to their beds Thomas brought forth Drake’s poems. Together they burnt them, one by one, watching the burning embers float like fragile dreams high into the dark winter sky, glowing momentarily before cooling and falling into the frigid waters of Port San Julian.
The two men then sat in silence, each still hearing in their minds the words Drake had written for his gentleman and contemplating the perils that lay before them - the sea, the Spanish, but perhaps most dangerous of all, each other. And each pondered, too, the unspoken question between them: could they overcome their own fiercely competitive natures and live and work together in love and harmony or, in the end, would their passion for one another be like those once burning embers of Drake’s now extinct love-poems…….