The Cochrane household is awash with pine needles and looks very bare now the twelfth day of Christmas has come and the tree/decorations have come down.
A couple of years back I had a seasonal story, What You Will
, inspired by the Shakespeare play Twelfth Night and one of Will's most obvious gay characters.
By the time we’d reached what passed for civilisation around there, he’d stopped trying to fob me off. He kept thanking me for my kindness—and I kept thanking my luck for having come across him. He asked me about my travels, and I was delighted to spin him a yarn or two, although I avoided tales of my privateering days. I was certain, given what family he came from, that he was no friend to the Count, but I couldn’t be sure I hadn’t fallen foul of his own kin at some point in my highly colourful career.
“You’ve seen so much of the world.” He stopped, looking about him as if seeing the landscape for the first time. “I feel like I’ve gone through life with my eyes closed. Viola was always the adventurous one. I had my nose stuck in a book, too often. I wish I’d had the nerve to go to sea or take to the air.”
“Keep moving. It’s not the weather for standing still and thinking philosophically,” I said, taking his arm and getting us walking again. “And take my word for it that being a young lad aboard a ship—sea or sky—isn’t all the fun it’s cracked up to be.” Shame, though. I’d have had him as one of my junior officers any time he wanted. It’d be a real pleasure to have that face to admire on the long journey along the Spice Trail, even though it would come with the disadvantage that I’d never get to bed him. ‘Don’t mess on your own doorstep.’ They’ve always been my watchwords. Not that I had any great hopes of getting him into my bed; that inkling I’d got about the lad notwithstanding. If he was that way inclined, Sebastian could have his pick of lads, with his looks and his breeding. What would he see—beyond companionship—in a frosty old air-dog, a good ten years, and the rest, his senior?
“Being at court isn’t all the fun they pretend it is.” He gave me one of his rare, dazzling smiles, all dark flashing eyes and rosy lips. No wonder they called his sister beautiful if she resembled him. “You’re expected to drink in the politics and protocol with your mother’s milk, but I’ve never grasped them. They think me naïve and inconstant.”
I had to hide my smile. He’d described himself perfectly. “We’ll be needing all our diplomacy skills if we fetch up at Count Orsino’s.” He’d favoured me with a secret, so I returned the compliment. “I’ve blotted my copybook here, and they’ll not welcome me with open arms. Anywhere other than the jail.” I told him the story of the Tiger as we walked.
“Then your coming with me is madness. My family is no friend to Orsino’s, but I don’t think I risk my neck by throwing myself on his mercy for my sister’s sake.” He stopped again, cheeks flushed with either high emotion or the raw wind. “I can’t repay your kindness by drawing you into danger. Why should you take such a risk?”
Aye, that was the question. Hadn’t I asked it of myself a dozen times a day since we’d set down to rescue him? And despite how many times I’d asked it, I’m not sure I had a proper answer; not one that made sense either in my head or out of it. Certainly not one I could tell Sebastian, not yet. “I’ve always had a fondness for looking after waifs and strays,” I said, hoping he’d just laugh and walk on.
“Ah, but there’s a world of difference between charity and recklessness.” He looked serious again. “I wouldn’t want you on my conscience. If anything happened.” He took my arm—I’d have followed him to the ends of the earth at that moment, just so long as we stayed linked like that.