The White Rat – Chapter Twenty-Six

Okay, normal life is continuing back in Gloucestershire, and later in this chapter we’ll see how Jordan spends part of his half term holiday, and we’ll be popping in to the hospital to see if there is any sign of Brahim waking up. But first we need to get back to David, who has a very unpleasant experience looming over him – though some of what follows it may turn out better than he might have expected…

Note: obviously David's Arabic is still very basic at this point, but it would be extremely tedious for the reader to have to go through several simplifications, re-statements, questions and 'I don't understand' remarks every time someone opens his mouth. The reader should take those as read!


Over the course of Monday David found that nothing had changed, at least as far as the other slaves were concerned: they still hated him. Now that they had been forbidden from whipping him – at least, not hard enough to break the skin – they had to find other ways to make their feelings plain, and they found that the evening meal, which David had to take in their quarters, gave them their best opportunity. They didn't actually interfere with his food, because they were afraid that the twins would object if David became too weak to work, but they found other ways to make mealtimes unpleasant for him.

First they forced him to take his bowl and eat his meal in the toilet instead of in their dining area. Although there was a flush mechanism that ran automatically now and again, it tended to be quite smelly in the toilet, and there were usually flies, and it made meals quite unpleasant: he had to bolt down his food really quickly in order to escape from the flies' attention.

Then they started holding his food back, both so that it would be cold and so that they could finish theirs and then come to watch him eating with the flies buzzing round him. And they forced him to eat slowly, too, so that he couldn't just stuff his food into his mouth and run.

Next Samir forced him to eat sitting on one of the toilet holes – not squatting over it, but actually with his bum against the hole. There were always flies inside the holes, and these came and crawled over David's bum while he was eating, adding to his discomfort. And finally, when he had just about learned to cope with this, the slaves started to urinate on him while he was eating, and if occasionally some of it splashed into his bowl, well, that was just too bad, wasn't it?

The only good thing about this was that during Ramadan the evening meal took place after sunset, which meant that he had to return to the twins' room for the night straight after the meal. After the twins had complained about the smell the slaves started taking him out into the small yard behind their quarters and chucking a couple of buckets of cold water over him before he went back to the twins' room, and that at least meant that he was reasonably clean at the end of the day. But the constant hatred, the kicks and punches during the day and the ordeal of every evening's meal meant that David was slowly breaking down: most nights he cried himself to sleep. If it hadn't been for the relative decency of the twins he thought he would have tried to kill himself by now.

As the date set for his circumcision drew closer he got more and more scared, and of course the slaves added to his fear by explaining graphically what was going to be done to him and how much it would hurt. The twins tried to cheer him up a little.

There is cutting and blood and pain,” said Kuyo. “But even if they cut slow, it will end. And after you will be a man. You must be strong.”

David supposed that was true – his foreskin wasn't very big, after all, and so however much they tried to drag it out the business would be over relatively quickly.

I will be strong,” he told Kuyo, but in his own heart he was a lot less convinced.

Ramadan ended, and David was given Eid off, and he spent that and the following day trying to get himself ready for what lay ahead.

We will come to watch,” said Yeyne on the Saturday morning. “Be strong, Kikem – make us proud.”

So David led the twins to Ali's day room, where he found all the servants and slaves waiting for him – and the A frame from the punishment room was there, too, set up on one side of the room. He looked at and his courage failed for a moment.

Please,” he begged Ali, in French. “Haven't I been a good slave?”

You have. But that was your duty and so you should not expect reward for it. And in any case I promised Brahim that you would suffer, and so now you are going to suffer. Still... in view of the twins' good report, I will allow you five days free from duties. Although I don't think you'd be able to do much, anyway...”

Thank you,” said David, gathering his last shreds of courage and trying to stop himself from falling on the floor and starting to gibber. Somehow he forced himself to walk to the frame, where he allowed two of the servants to strap him into position, the reverse way round from usual, so that the bar was against the small of his back and he was facing the room. A further long strap was fixed around his hips to prevent him from moving forwards.

A large bowl was placed between his feet – to catch the blood, he realised, and he had to bite his lip to stop himself from crying out at the thought of it. Rafik, who had been to visit the imam in order to learn how this should be done, set down next to the frame a small table on which were an assortment of knives, scissors and various other bits of metal that David assumed were clamps and such.

But first Rafik took something that David immediately realised was an ice-pack – immediately upon it making contact with his genitals, that is – and wrapped it around David’s penis.

It will contract the blood vessels and help to prevent bleeding,” he said in French, so that David could understand. “Otherwise there will be too much blood and the cutters won’t be able to see where to cut.”

He left the ice-pack in place for around five minutes and then took a hypodermic from the tray and injected something into the base of David’s penis, in two places. And David wasn’t alone in wondering what it was.

What is that?” asked Ali.

It is to help constrict the blood vessels,” Rafik replied.

He waited a few more minutes and then took the ice-pack away and applied a clamp around the base of the penis, tightening it, and David assumed that this was also supposed to stop too much blood escaping. And then Rafik took the tip of David’s foreskin between his finger and thumb and pinched it hard with his fingernail – and David felt no more than a sense of pressure. Satisfied, Rafik took a thin spatula, inserted it into David’s foreskin and used it to lift the skin clear of the head of the penis. David had expected this to hurt really badly, but it didn’t: it was a little uncomfortable, but nothing more.

And then Rafik picked up a pair of thin-nosed scissors and opened them, pushing the lower half inside the foreskin – and then he began to cut, vertically from the tip of the foreskin towards the base of the knob. The bleeding started, and David, who had expected to be screaming in agony at this point, instead felt only a distant tugging – and he realised that Rafik had actually injected him with anaesthetic. He stared at the older boy, and Rafik stared back intently, apparently trying to convey something – and David realised that Ali didn’t know about the anaesthetic.

So he yelled, loudly, doing his best to sound as if he was in absolute agony, and the grins and laughter around him suggested that he wasn’t doing a bad job – and Rafik had relaxed a little, too.

The scissors cut down as far as they could go and Rafik pushed a metal rod with a small curved metal head – a bit like a miniature drain-plunger - inside, pressing the curved end against the knob to push it back and keep it clear of the scissors. Then he got Samir to hold the rod and the tip of the foreskin in place while he used a felt-tipped pen to mark a circle round the penis from the bottom end of the cut he had made.

He took the rod and the tip of the foreskin from Samir and said something that David didn’t catch, and Samir took the scissors eagerly and began to cut along the dotted line that Rafik had drawn. But instead of doing it in one steady cut he took a number of little snips, changing the angle of the blades with every snip to make the line much less straight than it had been drawn.

There was only so much pain that the anaesthetic could block, and by now this was genuinely starting to hurt quite a lot – and seeing the blood seeping from his flesh didn’t make David feel any better, either. His cries were now becoming genuine, and he could only imagine how appalling this would have felt without the anaesthetic.

Samir got about halfway round and handed the scissors over to Madjid, a smaller, sly-looking boy who was currently wearing a nasty grin. Samir poured some water over the penis to get rid of the blood and Madjid started to snip away, an eighth of an inch at a time, taking his time over it, and just grinning at David when he begged him to get it over with. After a bit Rafik told him to get a move on – too much blood was being lost, he said, though in fact the clamp seemed to be doing a fairly good job. But Madjid speeded up a bit, almost completing the circle and then using a scalpel to cut through the last eighth of an inch or so. And the foreskin came away in Rafik’s hand.

Rafik put it and the rod on the tray, pushed Madjid out of the way and started to apply a dressing over the wound, and only when he was satisfied that it was properly in place did he remove the clamp at the base of David’s penis.

The dressing needs to stay on overnight,” he said. “And you need to rest. Our master has generously allowed you five days to recover, so make sure that you use it.”

He unstrapped David from the frame and caught him as he sagged forwards.

With your permission,” he said to Ali, “I’ll take him back to his room.”

Of course,” said Ali. He’d been quite impressed with the Cockroach’s behaviour – okay, he’d cried out a few times, and there were tears on his face now, but still, there hadn’t been as much screaming and begging as he had expected. So perhaps allowing him to recover for five days was not excessively generous.

Rafik helped him back to the twins’ room and put him down on his mattress.

Don’t do anything with the dressing,” Rafik said. “I’ll come and change it for you tomorrow. And once the dressing is off you’re going to be uncomfortable for a few days – try to avoid touching it any more than you have to. And you mustn’t have sex – not that that’s likely! – or rub yourself for at least a month, and six weeks would be better. And wash it in clean water every day. Do that and you should heal properly.”

Okay… why did you do that for me, Rafik?”

Because I’ve been watching you, and I don’t think you’re what Ali’s cousin said you were. To me you seem to be a decent boy who is trying to be a good slave. And in any case nobody should have to have that done like that. But don’t misunderstand me – I’m loyal to my master, and I won’t do anything like that again, okay? I just think that maybe when he is a little older he’ll see for himself that doing that to you without anaesthetic would have been crossing a line of decency. And he is decent: usually he’s fair in everything he does. He’s a good master, Cockroach. Keep serving him well, and I’m sure he’ll treat you fairly from now on.”

And he left the room, and David tried to relax. It had been a horrible experience, but without Rafik’s help it would have been unbearable, whereas now it was over and he was still alive and sane…. Well, it probably wasn’t over: the anaesthetic was beginning to wear off now and his penis was starting to hurt a fair bit more – but at least he now had five days to look forward to when nobody was going to be trying to beat him or punch him or anything else like that.

He got up and walked out into the twins’ room, just wanting to make sure that he could actually still walk. He tried not to look at his penis, but he couldn’t help himself, even though the sight of the white dressings with red stains on was scary, and the sight of his uncovered tip showing beyond the dressings was also somehow distressing. He knew it would heal, but this, like the brand on his bottom, was something that would be with him for ever, marking out how completely his life had changed.

The twins came back shortly afterwards.

You did well,” Kuyo told him. “Of course, we did not cry when it was done to us... but it was done swiftly for us. You can be proud, I think.”

Thank you,” said David. “Shall I fetch the midday meal?”

Today you do not work,” said Yeyne. “Today you rest. Today you are a man.”

David wasn't sure that he shared the twins' definition of adulthood, but he managed to smile all the same, and when Yeyne pulled him into a careful hug, which his brother then joined, David was able to return the hug as he had in the twins' village.

Tomorrow you are Kikem, the slave,” said Kuyo. “But today we are all men.”

Thank you,” said David again. “I am proud to be a man with you.”

Kuyo broke the hug and said he would go and fetch their food, and Yeyne helped David to sit on the floor, trying to avoid letting his penis touch his legs or his groin.

Enjoy your man status,” he said. “Tomorrow you are a slave again. But – we will not fuck you, even when we are free to do so, until you are healed.”

Why are you not free? I am yours.”

It is not yet six weeks since we were cut. Our hogon said we could have no sex for six weeks, lest we bleed again.”

David didn't know the word 'hogon', but he assumed it was their teacher in the village. So that meant he would be unable to masturbate for six weeks. Right now that didn't bother him a lot – he thought he'd be grateful if he was ever capable of masturbation again. But in four or five weeks' time he hoped he would feel differently about it...

Kuyo came back with their food, and the twins squatted on their mattresses and ate it. David wasn't very hungry, and even though he had not had any breakfast – the twins had said he should fast before his operation – he still couldn't swallow more than a couple of mouthfuls of his food. Once he'd eaten all he could he passed the rest to the twins, who divided it up between them.

The afternoon dragged on by, and the pain grew worse, and by evening it was seriously uncomfortable. He managed to pass water a couple of times, and was pleased to find that he could do so without additional pain, and that the water was free from blood, so it seemed that no damage had been done below skin level, but it still hurt, and when he tried to settle down for the night it just ached so badly that he knew he would be unable to sleep. He lay on his mattress crying and moaning, and after half an hour or so the twins opened his door and told him to come out.

I'm sorry,” he said. “I'll try to keep quiet.”

It is hard to be quiet in pain,” said Kuyo. “You should not try to sleep lying. Sit on the mattress with your knees up. Like this.”

And he demonstrated, and when David tried it he found that it left his penis sticking out into the gap between his legs, where it would not rub against his body.

Drink this,” said Yeyne, handing him a bowl. “Rafik says it has...” David didn't understand what it had, but Yeyne continued “...and it will make you sleep.”

So David drank it. It didn't taste very good, but he supposed that most medicine doesn't. While he was drinking Yeyne moved the second mattress so that it was covering David's toes, and then he removed his kilt and lay down on it ready to sleep. And Kuyo took off his kilt and came and sat beside him, wrapping a blanket around them both in the same way that Tahnu had done.

Now you can sleep,” he said, pulling David close against him. And David realised that with Kuyo holding him he couldn't fall over, and with Yeyne's mattress across his feet his legs couldn't slide forward and so rub against his penis. And whatever had been in the bowl seemed to be having an effect, too...

He woke up next morning feeling a lot better. His penis was still aching, but it didn't seem quite as bad as it had been the previous evening, and getting plenty of sleep did seem to have helped.

Kuyo was still asleep beside him, so he kept still until the other boy woke up.

Did you sleep, Kikem?” asked Kuyo, pulling the blanket off and standing up.

I slept well, Master,” said David, trying not to stare but finding it difficult: Kuyo had a very solid erection, and it was right in front of his eyes.

Yeyne stirred and stood up, and he too was in a similar condition.

You are lucky that our six weeks are not yet over,” said Kuyo. “You can see that we are ready to fuck.”

I will try to be ready for you after the six weeks,” David promised.

Good. It is hard for us not to have sex or to rub. Our tools are hard all the time, but we can do nothing.”

David thought about it. Although he had been doing it almost every day he had spent in the palace, he still didn’t like having to suck, and he was very grateful that this was one thing the twins had never made him do… but… there was no denying that they had been kind to him, especially since his operation, and so maybe he owed them something…

I will suck if you want,” he offered. “That will not rub the scar, so it will not damage it. And it is more than five weeks – I think it will be safe.”

Kikem will do that for us?”

You are kind, and good masters. I will do this to make you feel good.”

We do not ask you to do this – we know that you hate to do it to the slaves. It is worse than to be fucked: to be fucked you have to do nothing, but to suck you must work like a woman. And Kikem is not a woman, he is a man. But… if you are willing, we would be happy for you to suck.”

I will do it this time because you are kind and because you cared for me last night.”

Kikem is a good slave,” said Kuyo, and he perched on the edge of the table and spread his legs, so that David could get at him without having to lie on the floor, which would have hurt his sore penis.

This was really David’s last taboo: he’d sucked the North African boys, but their skin was not so very much darker than his – in fact, now that he had been running naked in the sun for nearly ten weeks his skin was darker than some of theirs. And, as Kuyo had pointed out, being fucked had simply called for him to lie there, and since he couldn’t see what was going into him he didn’t have to think about what colour it was. But now he was preparing to take the active role in a sexual activity with a black African boy for the first time.

He looked at Kuyo’s hard, twitching, five-and-a-half-inch member, its circumcision scar now looking far less sore and its uncovered head now less sensitive than just after the operation, and he hoped he would be able to deal with it the way he had with Benedict’s – if the twins just let him do it the way he was used to he thought he could cope. If they started ramming it deep into his throat, however, he was sure he would puke.

So he stroked around the base of the penis and then took hold of it, closing his eyes and slowly slipping his lips over the tip, until he had as much of it in his mouth as he could comfortably accommodate. Then he started to lick it slowly, running the tip of his tongue across the scar and making Kuyo gasp; and then he began to slide his lips slowly up and down the shaft, maintaining his grip on the base of the penis with his right hand and using the left to stroke Kuyo’s balls, groin and bottom.

That is good, Kikem,” said Kuyo, starting to move a little against him. “Do it faster.”

So he did it a little faster, still licking quite hard, and Kuyo began to thrust properly against him, his hands on David’s head, until he gave a gasp and an extra big thrust – and David was sure he could taste something. That should have sent him off into a coughing fit, or even made him puke, but somehow it didn’t, and when Kuyo finally let go of his head, allowing him to slip the big penis out of his mouth, he was able to spit discreetly into his hand and wipe it on his leg – he thought spitting on the twins’ floor would not be a good thing to do.

That was very good, Kikem,” said Kuyo, reaching for his kilt. “You are a very good slave.”

Yeyne took his place at the table and David did it again, and once more it took very little time before Yeyne also reached orgasm – and this time there was no doubt at all in David’s mind: his masters definitely were mature enough to have some sperm. Again he spat it into his hand and wiped it on his body.

Yeyne helped him to his feet.

They said that you are evil, that you hate African boys,” he said. “Now we know that was a lie. You have been a true slave, and you have done this thing, which for you was bad but for us was very good, even though we did not order it. You are a man.”

I am happy to be your slave,” said David. “I will suck again if you wish it, until your six weeks are done and you can fuck again. You have been kind and good to me and I want you to be happy.”

And he realised that he meant it, too: without these two he doubted if he could have survived this far. He would have called the twins his friends, were it possible for a slave and his masters to be friends as well. He hoped it was possible, or that it would be one day, because the twins had treated him far better than most white boys would have done in the same circumstances. And that, of course, meant that he had no choice but to question his upbringing and his belief that white people were innately superior to those of other races. And if he’d been wrong about that – as now looked almost certain – then it was no wonder that Dhif had reacted as he had done.

Of course, the North African boys were still treating him extremely badly… well, except for Rafik, of course… so perhaps he shouldn’t make any judgement there, either, at least not just yet.

Rafik came back in mid-morning and changed the dressing, washing the damaged area carefully in something that stung painfully before applying a fresh, clean dressing.

Soon we will leave the dressings off so that it can begin to heal properly,” he said. “You must try hard not to damage it, especially in the first week.”

I will… but I think some of the other slaves might want to damage it for me.”

They will be told that if anyone makes you bleed he will be whipped. You cannot do your duties until you have healed.”

Thanks, Rafik. That will help a lot if you tell them that.”

The following morning he took the dressing off and left it off, and now David could see properly what had been done to him. The scar looked red and sore (which was how it felt, too), and it didn’t follow a neat line: instead, because of the way Samir and Madjid had taken small snips, it was uneven and rough, and there was a small triangular flap of skin just left of centre on the top, about an eighth of an inch at the base and three-sixteenths to a quarter of an inch long, where Madjid had used the scalpel to cut through the last piece of the foreskin at an angle instead of straight across. He thought it looked horrible, and he found himself on the brink of tears.

It will look a lot better in a couple of weeks,” Rafik assured him, correctly judging his reaction. “And we might be able to get rid of that last little bit of skin later, too – though it would be better to leave it until everything is properly healed.”

Thanks, Rafik,” said David, getting himself a little better under control. “You’ve been really good about this, and I appreciate it.”

David spent most of the next day in the twins' room. He was still very sore, and spent the next couple of nights sleeping sitting up in the corner of his room, and that was the only way to stop the sore tip of his penis waking him up every time it came into contact with anything. And then on the fourth day he started walking about the palace, trying to get used to moving about again. Some of the slaves laughed at him when they saw him, though one or two didn't, which he supposed was a slight improvement to his situation. But when he went back to work on the Thursday he found that little had changed since his circumcision: he still had to eat his evening meal in the toilet, sitting on one of the holes and occasionally being urinated on.

The other slaves couldn't whip him, at least not very hard, or do anything to risk making his penis bleed, but they found other ways to get at him: kicks and punches, urinating on him whenever they could, and generally harassing him at every opportunity, until he was feeling suicidal again: he really didn't think he could survive much more of this.

The twins continued to treat him fairly, though always as a slave. They refrained from fucking him for the first two weeks after his circumcision, to give him a chance to heal a bit, and even after that they were careful to position him in such a way that his penis didn't rub against the table while they were doing it. They never ordered him to suck, but he volunteered a few times during the last week of their abstinence and the last part of his own fortnight's grace period, and they accepted happily every time. And although being fucked still made him feel bad, in every other way the twins were his one anchor against total despair. But even with them there, providing him with a refuge for the night, he was still slowly losing his will to live.

Of course, he wasn't the only slave to be punished: from time to time he was called to witness one or other of the slaves being beaten for some misdeed. But somehow watching his tormentors being whipped didn't make him feel any better about his situation.

Just under five weeks after his circumcision, on a Wednesday at midday, he was in the room with the hatch through to the kitchen: he had just returned the bowls the twins had used for their midday meal. He wasn't greatly looking forward to the afternoon, as he was due to spend it 'helping' Madjid to clean Ali's day room: Madjid treated him worse than any of the other slaves, constantly mocking him about what he had done to David's penis (he had rescued David's foreskin after the operation and had it cleaned and cured, and now carried it about in a small box so that he could taunt him with it). And when he made David suck he always urinated in his mouth afterwards, and then forced David to clean up the puddle that inevitably resulted when David spat it out.

He was thinking unhappily about this when Djamel, one of the younger slaves, entered the room carrying the tray which held the remains of Ali's meal – and as he came into the room he slipped on a date that someone had dropped on the floor. His foot flew from under him and he fell, dropping the tray, and there was a crash of shattering crockery as Ali's fine china plates smashed against the floor tiles.

Djamel looked at the mess on the floor and curled into a ball, sobbing in terror: he'd been beaten only two days previously for making a bad job of cleaning this very room, and two failings in less than five days guaranteed a double whipping – and because of the seriousness of this piece of carelessness, it could well be more than a double, and almost certainly with a heavy whip, too.

David had watched Djamel's whipping on the Monday evening, and he knew that Djamel was a small, skinny kid with no flesh on him: eighteen strokes with a heavy whip might easily kill him. He himself hadn't been whipped seriously for weeks...

He knew this was going to be bad, but he didn't think he could just stand by and watch Djamel being whipped to death, so he grabbed the tray and dropped to one knee beside the debris – and just in time, because Mansour, one of the overseer servants, arrived to investigate the noise five seconds later.

Master, I am at fault,” David said, before either Mansour or Djamel could speak. “I was running too fast, and I ran into Djamel. I knocked the tray from his hands. I am sorry.”

If you are at fault, why is he crying?” asked Mansour, looking at Djamel suspiciously.

He feared I would lie and blame him for my fault.”

Indeed? He must truly distrust you, then.”

Master, you know the slaves hate me. He has reason to fear that I would lie.”

So why did you not?”

Because it would be an offence before God to seek to escape just punishment by a lie,” said David, hoping that if there was a god up there somewhere he wouldn't be offended by this particular lie.

So you say that you alone are at fault?”

Master, I am. I alone should be punished.”

Well... if you are certain... come, then. To the punishment room.”

Should I not clear this...” David couldn't think of a word for 'mess', so he just pointed at the floor.

Djamel can do that. This is his room to clean, is it not? Come.”

And Mansour marched David straight to the punishment room, strapped him to the frame and selected a mid-range whip.

This is your first beating in...” Mansour consulted the book in which a record was kept of all whippings. “...more than two months. So it should be a standard nine. But Ali will wish a greater penalty for the destruction of his china. Let us say twelve. Are you certain that you do not wish to change your story?”

Master, I am certain,” said David, trying to keep his voice steady.

So be it,” said Mansour, and he started to whip him, back and buttocks, and it hurt like hell: by the fourth blow David was crying out, and by the eighth he was screaming, and how he survived the last two or three was beyond him: he was sure he was about to die. But he didn't, and Mansour unstrapped him and supported him so that he didn't fall.

I see from the book that Djamel was whipped only two days ago," commented Mansour, looking at him. “He is truly fortunate that you chose not to lie, is he not?”

Master,” David managed to stammer, between sobs, “how could I lie and let him face that?”

How indeed? Come, I will help you to your room. You are excused duties until the evening meal.”

So Mansour helped David back to his closet and put him down on his mattress, giving him another searching look before walking away.

David lay on his stomach, his back and bum feeling as if they were on fire, and wondered why he had done that – after all, it wasn't as though he owed any of the other slaves anything. On the contrary, they all treated him like dirt. But... even if they didn't accept him as their equal, he was still one of them: he had the same status as they did, and he'd been whipped enough to know what it felt like. Okay, if it had been Samir or Madjid he'd have just stood there and watched the punishment descend upon them, but Djamel was just a skinny kid, the same age as Joe Devlin, and he didn't think he could have just stood by and let a kid like that get whipped to death without doing something.

The afternoon went by slowly, and gradually the pain ebbed a little, though he still found it hard to walk when it was time for the evening meal. Somehow he made it downstairs to the slaves' quarters, though he didn't feel much like eating.

As soon as he stepped into the room Samir grabbed him. “Why did you do that?” he asked.


Djamel says you took his whipping. Why?”

Because it would have killed him – he'd have got a double punishment because he was beaten two days ago.”

But why do you care?”

Because he is a slave, as I am. I could not let him die.”

But... I do not understand. He is nothing to you – and last night he pissed on you while you ate.”

You all do that. It does not change anything. Samir, I am fifteen and I am strong. He is... nine? Ten? And he has no...” He didn't know the word 'flesh' or 'fat', so he gestured to his own arm muscles.

Cockroach, I do not understand you. But... you are a man of...” David didn't understand that word, either, but it must have been good, because Samir went on, “From how on you eat on the bench with us. You will be allowed to carry out your duties unhindered, and we will treat you as one of us.”

But...” argued Madjid, but Samir glared at him, and Madjid shut up.

Your duties are to assist us in our work, and to provide sexual release for us,” Samir went on. “That will not change, but we will not demand it too often, and when you work with us we will work alongside you. And... I am sorry for beating you, and for...” and he gestured at David's penis. “We were told that you deserved to be treated harshly, but I believe now that we were told falsely. You will not be treated harshly again.”

And he sat David on the bench, collected David's food and brought it to him, and for the first time in weeks David had a hot evening meal eaten in comparative comfort. And afterwards Djamel took him to one side and thanked him whole-heartedly, hugging him and swearing that he owed him a massive debt that he would almost certainly be unable to repay.

And when David got back to his room he found that the twins had heard what had happened, too: Mansour had spoken to them and apologised for beating David without telling them first, and he had also told them that he was virtually certain that David had taken the beating to protect Djamel. And when the twins demanded on David's oath of obedience that he tell them the truth, he was forced to admit it, explaining his reasons.

You show more honour than the other slaves deserve,” Kuyo told him. “I think you were foolish. But it was the action of a man. We are proud of you.”

And that commendation made David feel a lot better.

Back in Cheltenham the autumn half-term holiday arrived. Jordan had a standing invitation to go and visit John and Nigel later in the week, and they had again told him that he was welcome to bring Jeremy with him if he wanted, and he thought that maybe this time he would do that. He'd be seeing Jeremy before that, though, because he had invited Jeremy to come over on the Sunday and sleep over. He'd invited Charlie, too, but Charlie's mum had said that would be impossible as there was an evening service at church Charlie had to go to. However, Charlie did have permission to stay out on Monday night, and so they had arranged that all three of them would sleep at Jeremy's house. They would have to use sleeping bags on the floor, but they would have to do that whichever house they stayed at – they no longer had the tent, and in any case the weather was turning a little colder now, which made camping out less attractive.

Jeremy was in his usual bouncy form when he arrived at Jordan’s house, starting the insults about Jordan’s glasses almost before he was inside the door.

Someone obviously wants to spend the rest of the day getting beaten up,” commented Jordan, taking him up to his room.

That’s not going to happen unless you have an army lined up to help you.”

Jeremy dropped his bag on the floor the moment the bedroom door closed and threw himself at Jordan, and they rolled about happily on the floor for a bit. As usual Jordan ended up on top, and as usual Jeremy ended up naked, and once his pants were off Jordan dragged him to the bed, pulled him down across his lap and spanked him, hard enough to sting but not hard enough to hurt too badly. Of course, by now he’d spanked Jeremy several times, and he knew exactly how hard to do it.

Once Jeremy had apologised – and he waited until his bottom was nicely red before doing it – Jordan let him go, and Jeremy promptly plonked himself down on his back on the bed without bothering to put any clothes on first. And, of course, he still had a nice solid erection.

Jordan lay down on his side next to him and began idly playing with Jeremy’s erection. “So,” he said, “what are we going to do for the next couple of days?”

Well, I think we ought to make sure that Charlie hasn’t forgotten everything we’ve taught him about sex. We’ll probably have to do plenty of revision with him to make sure, though.”

I expect I’ll be able to force myself to do that. And probably I ought to check that you haven’t forgotten anything, too.”

That’ll be fun,” said Jeremy, grinning. “Don’t you think it might be more fun if you took your clothes off, though – and those stupid glasses as well, of course.”

Someone’s going to get spanked again.”

You won’t be able to get me in here,” said Jeremy, wriggling into the bed the moment Jordan stood up to get undressed.

Want to bet?” asked Jordan, finishing undressing and then taking his glasses off and getting into bed next to him. Jeremy tried to keep him out for a few seconds, but then he capitulated and allowed Jordan to wriggle in next to him.

There isn’t really room to spank you here, so it’ll have to wait,” said Jordan. “So perhaps we should just pretend you’re a nice, polite little brother for a change.” And he rolled onto his side facing Jeremy and put an arm round him.

This is what’s best about having a brother,” said Jeremy, snuggling up close. “Okay, it’s fun fighting and playing games and stuff, but I like this bit best, having nothing on and cuddling. It’s like I can relax completely and feel safe because you’re here… I wish we really were brothers and could live together for always.”

I think we’d fight – for real, I mean. You’d get cheeky when I wasn’t in the mood, or I’d shout at you just because I had a headache, or something, and… well, I’d really hate it if we stopped being best friends.”

Me, too. But I don’t think we would, not really. I like you far too much to be angry with you for long, and I’d never really want to make you angry with me.”

You would if I spanked you every night.”

Yes, but you wouldn’t do that, not unless I deserved it.”

True. But maybe it works best like this, where we can see each other at school every day and get together at weekends and so on, but not actually have to be with each other all the time. That way we’ll never get fed up with each other.”

I don’t think I could get fed up with you, Jordan. Look… Do you think it’s okay for brothers – even pretend brothers – to… well… to say they love each other?”

Probably. Why?”

Well, Charlie said it to me last time I was at his house. And it felt a bit weird at the time, but after I got home I thought about it, and I didn’t see why he couldn’t say that, because it’s obvious that he really, really likes me – and you, too. And there isn’t that much difference between really, really liking someone and loving them, is there?”

I suppose not. And maybe it’s easier for the three of us, because we haven’t got any real brothers and sisters… well, you’ve got your sister, but she’s away at university now, and anyway I’m not sure that sisters are the same. Anyway, I reckon it’s okay if we love each other.”

Good. Does that mean I can do this?” said Jeremy, and he kissed Jordan gently on the cheek.

Jordan was still for a moment. Okay, he’d kissed Nigel, but only when he was trying to make him feel good. And Nigel was gay, so it wasn’t the same, somehow: with him it was sort of like kissing a girl. But that raised quite a lot of questions that Jordan hadn’t really thought about: after all, by now he’d done quite a lot of sex stuff with quite a lot of boys, and nothing at all with girls – and nor did he really want to, because he couldn’t imagine that doing stuff with girls could possibly feel better than doing stuff with Jeremy. So did that mean he was gay, too?

Do you think I’m gay?” he asked Jeremy, before he could stop himself.

Jeremy shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “If you are, I suppose I must be, too, but to be honest I don’t care. I know you’re my best friend, and that having sex with you is amazing, and that I trust you completely. And… and I love you, too. And I can’t see anything wrong with any of that, so who cares if we’re gay or not?”

Well, I don’t think I’d want the other kids at school finding out.”

Well, obviously, but they’re not going to, are they? Anyway, I bet quite a lot of them are doing sex stuff, too. I saw Harwood and Gardner coming out of the same toilet cubicle last week, but I’m not going to say anything about it, except to you. And I saw Jimmy Marks with his arm round a girl at the bus station a couple of weeks ago, so maybe he’s doing stuff with her. But it’s not our business, just like what we do isn’t theirs.”

Wow, Jeremy, sometimes you sound really grown up.”

Well, I am older than you, remember? I mean, now I’ve had the official sex talk from my dad I must be grown up, mustn’t I?”

You didn’t tell me about that.”

Well, it was pretty embarrassing, to be honest, and it didn’t tell me much that I hadn’t already learned from you, either. But Dad obviously thinks I’m grown up enough for it, even though I haven’t got any hair or anything yet. But there is one thing he told me that might be interesting: he asked if my balls were hanging down properly, because apparently sometimes they can get sort of stuck inside the body, and then you can’t develop properly – you can’t have puberty normally. So I thought that maybe we could do something to Charlie – if we make him wear really tight pants so that his balls don’t get a chance to develop normally, maybe it’ll stop him getting puberty.”

That’d be a bit unkind, wouldn’t it? I mean, it’s bad enough him being thirteen now and still looking about six, but it would be a whole lot worse if he still looked the same at fifteen.”

Like your friend the Rat, you mean? Well, I don’t think it would be unkind because Charlie said himself that he doesn’t want to grow up, and his mum sure as hell doesn’t want him to. I wouldn’t do it unless it’s what he wants, you know that. But if he really does want to stay small and have a tiny willy and a high voice, maybe if we push his balls up inside his body and then make him wear pants that are too small for him – or girls’ knickers, even – it would keep him small for much longer than normal.”

Wouldn’t it be dangerous, pushing his balls up inside him? Wouldn’t he need an operation to get them out again if he changes his mind?”

No, they come out again easily – I’ve tried doing it to myself. Look,” and he pushed the covers back, rolled onto his back and demonstrated that his testicles could be pushed up inside his body, and pushed back out again easily by pressing on his groin. Jordan was fascinated and tried doing it himself, and found that they stayed up until he wanted them to come down again, when a little pressure on his groin did the job.

See?” said Jeremy. “Anyway, I’m going to tell him about it tomorrow, just to see what he thinks.”

He pulled the covers back over them and snuggled up again. “So, what are we going to do today?” he asked. “Can we try fucking again? I like it best when you put yours in me. And maybe later on we could suck again, too, ‘cos that was fun.”

Okay,” agreed Jordan, feeling himself stiffening up at the mere thought of it. “Let’s do all of that. And perhaps we can see how many times we can get the nice feeling, and in how many different ways, in one day.”

So Jordan’s half term was off to a good start, but not everyone was enjoying that Sunday afternoon. Paul Southgate was at the hospital again, sitting beside Brahim’s bed and crying quietly, because he was sure now that Brahim was never going to wake up. And by now he was convinced that it was all his fault, too. It had been almost four months since the accident, and in the whole of that time he’d never seen the remotest sign that Brahim was actually hearing him, or anyone else who visited, and even putting the headphones on him and playing Queen to him didn’t elicit any response. And now he was fairly sure he knew why, too.

One more visit,” he said to Brahim, as he stood up to go. “I’ll come again tomorrow, and if you don’t wake up then, I’ll know I’m right.”

So the following afternoon he packed everything he would need into his bag and went to the hospital, sitting with Brahim for an hour, playing the Queen cassette to him and watching vainly for the remotest spark of a reaction. And when it was over he put the cassette in his bag, stood up, leaned over the bed and kissed Brahim on the lips.

It’s going to be okay,” he told him. “I know what’s wrong with you now, and I know how to fix it. You’re going to be fine, I promise. I’m a bit scared, but I love you so much, and there’s nothing else I can do. Goodbye, Brahim – I love you…”

He stumbled out of the room, tears rolling down his cheeks, and somehow managed to find his way out of the hospital and back to his bus stop. By the time the bus arrived he had managed to calm down a bit, and when he got off the bus close to his home he was in control of himself once more.

He walked down a lane and took a footpath that angled off into the wood. This wasn’t a very large piece of woodland, but he knew it was far enough out of the way to be suitable for what he needed to do. He’d already chosen his spot, and he’d left the other item he needed there the previous afternoon.

He took the cassette player out of his bag and set it down at the base of the tree he had chosen, and then he knelt down beside it.

I don’t know much about this sort of thing,” he said, aloud, “but I’m talking to Brahim’s god – I think you’re called Allah. Well, as I suppose you know, Brahim’s in a coma, and I think it’s probably because you’re angry with him about what him and me did together back in July. But you have to understand that it wasn’t his fault – I was the one who said I wanted to do it again, not him. And in the end I talked him into it, so really it should be me who got punished, not him.

So I want you to let him wake up, okay? I want you to punish me instead, because… well, okay, I already said that bit. So, anyway, I want you to take me and do whatever you think I deserve, and in exchange I want you to let Brahim wake up and go back to his family, so he can be a good Muslim, like he would have been if I hadn’t messed him up. Is that okay? I think it should be, because gods are supposed to be fair and stuff.

So, I’m just going to get ready, and then I’m going to listen to our song once more, and then… then it’ll be up to you, okay? Okay, thank you for listening… and Amen, if I have to say that.”

He stood up, took the rope from his bag, climbed up into the tree and tied it carefully round a branch about ten feet above the ground. He’d searched in an old encyclopaedia and had eventually found how to tie the proper sort of knot, and once he was sure the noose was in the right place he tied off the rope and climbed back down to the ground. He put the old kitchen chair he had scavenged from a fly-tip underneath the rope and found that he had judged the height right. Next he went and peed against another tree, because he was feeling scared and didn’t want to be found with wet trousers. And then he went and turned the cassette player on. He’d rewound the tape a little too far, because he found that it started playing close to the start of “The Prophet’s Song”, but he decided to let it run.

He went and sat on the chair under the noose and listened. Actually, this was rather unsettling: this is a song all about death, destruction and hell. But close to the end came the reminders ‘Peace all around shall be your fortune’ and ‘Love is still the answer’. And then it segued into ‘Love of my Life’, and he started to sing along for the last time.

By the time he reached the middle section he was crying again, but he managed to keep singing:

When I get older, I will be there at your side to remind you how I still love you – I still love you…”

And that was as far as he could manage, because he knew that now it wasn’t true: he wasn’t going to get any older, and now he wouldn’t be there when Brahim woke up.

Back, hurry back, please bring it back home to me, because you don’t know what it means to me,” the band continued without him, and he sat there sobbing his heart out.

Finally the song ended, and he hit rewind and then, after half a minute or so, play, so that this would be the last thing he heard. The song started again about a minute in, and Paul stood up and climbed up onto the chair.

Jordan had been to visit Jeremy before, but never with Charlie there as well and never overnight, because Jeremy had warned him that his sister had a habit of just marching into his room without knocking. But now his sister was off at university (and in Norwich, too, which meant there was no danger of her suddenly reappearing unannounced), and that meant that it was safe to misbehave in Jeremy’s room – at least, it was safe during the week, when both his parents were out at work.

Charlie, of course, had arrived dressed smartly in his pressed khaki shorts and a collar and tie, but as he was staying overnight he also had a large bag with him that held his sleeping bag, his washing kit, his pyjamas, and a change of socks and underwear. It also contained his school rugby shorts and one of the rugby shirts, and those his mother didn’t know about: he had slipped them into the bag when she was looking the other way.

So as soon as he arrived the other two took him up to Jeremy’s bedroom so that he could get changed, though for some reason he found it a lot easier to remove his smart clothes than to put on his rugby kit: as soon as he was in just his pants and socks the other two grabbed him, pulled him onto the bed and tickled him into submission.

I was talking to Jordan yesterday,” Jeremy told him. “When you told us last term about not wanting to grow up – how serious were you?”

I don’t know. Fairly serious, I think,” replied Charlie. “Like I keep telling you, I like being your little brother.”

And it doesn’t bother you, being thirteen and looking about eight?”

Nope. I like being me, and I don’t really want to get all spotty and argumentative.”

Well, then, I might have found a way to help you.” And Jeremy expounded his theory about delaying puberty by preventing the testicles from developing normally.

Apparently they have to be a little cooler than the rest of the body or they won’t work properly,” he concluded. “That’s why they hang outside. If they were stuck inside, they’d get too warm and wouldn’t grow properly.”

Charlie looked uncertain. “Well… would it be safe? I mean, I don’t want to grow up just yet, but I think I might change my mind eventually. If they get stuck, I’d be in trouble, wouldn’t I?”

I don’t think they’d get stuck. Both Jordan and I can move ours into the body and out again easily. I just think that maybe if yours spend most of their time in it might slow down your development. If that’s really what you want, of course.”

Well… I think perhaps if you two both show me what you mean I’d understand it better.”

Jordan and Jeremy didn’t really need an excuse to get undressed, but this obviously gave them one. They threw their clothes off and demonstrated to Charlie that it was indeed possible to push their balls up inside their bodies.

At first I was thinking of tight underwear to keep them there,” said Jeremy, “but I was thinking about it again last night, and I reckon tape would be better. You get some surgical tape, like this, and you stick a couple of bits diagonally across the ball-bag, like this – and then everything stays put, see?”

Oh, right,” said Charlie. “Well… maybe I’ll think about it. Perhaps I’ll do it when things start to happen – you know, getting bigger, and that? Only I really don’t think I need to do it yet, because nothing’s changed at all since I was little.”

You’re still little,” said Jeremy, grinning. He took hold of the tape and pulled the first piece off, but when he pulled the second one he gave a yelp of pain. He pushed his balls back into their bag and fondled himself for a moment.

Flipping heck, that hurt!” he said. “Maybe tight pants are a better idea after all.”

Jordan pushed him onto the bed and examined him for damage, and he soon found the cause of the problem.

You’re getting hairs,” he reported. “Just little ones so far, and they’re only on the bottom of your balls, but there are a few. Look, Charlie.”

So he has,” agreed Charlie. “Maybe you ought to put the tape on yourself, Jeremy.”

No, thanks, I want to grow up,” said Jeremy, looking pleased. “Hah! I’m more mature than you, corkscrew-hair!”

The fight was fairly short and ended with Jeremy apologising, but only after he’d been spanked.

You watch it,” growled Jordan. “Remember what happened to Larkin? It could happen to you, too – I’ll keep shaving your hair off until you leave school.”

Jealous!” said Jeremy. “Just because you’re still bald, granny-glasses!”

But the second spanking hurt a bit too much, and he subsided a bit afterwards.

They got dressed and played in the garden for a bit, then came in and ate the lunch that Jeremy’s mother had prepared for them. Charlie needed a pee after lunch, which gave them a chance to see that he really hadn’t started to develop yet, even though his thirteenth birthday had been back in September.

I don’t mind if it takes another year or two to start growing,” he said, pulling up his rugby shorts. “I’ll get half fare on the buses for ages after you two have to start paying full fare.”

Later they locked the house and went out for a walk – it was a decent day for the last day of October, clear skies and not too cold, and they thought it would be nice to stay outdoors for a bit, even though they wouldn’t be able to do anything too naughty: the woods round here were smaller than the ones on Jordan’s side of town, and Jeremy hadn’t spent enough time in them to know whether other people used them or not.

Would you actually let me shave your balls?” Jordan asked Jeremy as they walked. “I mean, if I’m supposed to be older than you, probably I shouldn’t let you have hair until I’ve got some.”

Well… I suppose, if you really wanted to. But sometimes younger brothers develop faster than older ones – I mean, look at McGregor: he’s three or four inches taller than his big brother, even though he’s two years younger.”

Yes, but I think the older one has some sort of medical problem. Well, okay then: maybe I’ll let you keep your hair for now. But if you start getting mouthy about it, I’ll come after you with the razor, okay?”

That’s okay, ‘cos you couldn’t catch me to use it anyway.”

Hey, shut up for a minute,” said Charlie. “Can’t you hear music?”

They shut up, and there was indeed the sound of music.

I think that’s Queen,” said Jordan. “Where’s it coming from?”

That way, I think,” said Charlie, pointing. “Shall we go and see who’s playing it?”

I don’t know… maybe they don’t want to be disturbed,” said Jordan.

Then they’d put headphones on, wouldn’t they?” said Jeremy. “Come on – let’s go and see.”

They headed in the direction of the music, which was still some way off, and the undergrowth in the wood made it hard for them to walk in a straight line. But as they got closer they could hear that someone was singing along, and the voice, which was a boy’s voice like theirs, didn’t sound happy.

I think I know who that is,” said Jordan. “And I think he’d probably prefer to be left alone.”

But he sounds really unhappy,” said Charlie. “I think we ought to make sure he’s okay.” And in an entirely uncharacteristic way he took the lead and kept heading for the music.

The song ended, but a minute or so later it started again, part way through, and then they got a clear view of what was happening and they started to run.

Southgate! Stop!” shouted Jordan, as Paul put the noose over his head.

Leave me alone!” cried Paul. “I’ve got to do this!”

No, you haven’t! God, Southgate, it won’t… oh, shit!

Paul had stepped off the chair and was now dangling from the rope. Fortunately he hadn’t left himself a very long drop, so the rope just started to choke him instead of breaking his neck as is supposed to happen with a hanging. Jordan ran to him, picked the chair back up and stood on it, grabbing Paul round the waist and trying to take his weight, while Paul struggled to repel him.

Charlie, support the chair,” gasped Jordan. “Jeremy, get into the tree and cut the rope!”

Somehow Jordan kept the struggling boy from choking until Jeremy managed to cut the rope, at which point they both fell to the ground. Charlie switched the cassette player off while Jordan released the rope.

Why couldn’t you leave me alone?” sobbed Paul. “Now he’s going to die…”

Slowly they got the story out of him, how he believed that only sacrificing himself could persuade God to bring Brahim back.

It was a test,” said Charlie, firmly. He’d been going to Sunday School every week without fail since he was old enough to understand what it was about, and as such he knew most Bible stories better than the average clergyman. “God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, and even though Isaac was the only son he had Abraham was prepared to do what God told him to, right up to the point that an angel appeared to stop him. He’d proved to God that he trusted him and was prepared to obey him, no matter what. God didn’t need him to kill the boy, just prove that he was prepared to.

And it’s the same with you: if God wanted you to prove you were ready to die to save Brahim, then you’ve done that. There weren’t any angels about, so I suppose he had to send us instead, but it worked.”

Are you sure?” asked Paul. “I mean, do you really think God didn’t want me to die after all?”

Why else would we have turned up? God has seen what a true friend you are, and I suppose he thought you’d be far more use to Brahim alive than dead. So I reckon it proves God heard you, and that he’ll take notice of you, too.”

Oh, God…” Reaction had begun to set in and Paul burst into tears again, so they gathered round him, holding him and hugging him until he finally got himself back under control.

Thanks,” he said. “For saving me, I mean, and for explaining it to me. Look, I must go – I want to get back to the hospital so I can tell Brahim it’s going to be okay.”

Do you want us to come with you?” asked Jordan.

No, I’ll be fine. But if you want to come to the hospital later on in the week so you can talk to Brahim some more, that would be really good.”

He packed the cassette player into his bag and walked away purposefully, and they watched him go.

Charlie, that was amazing,” said Jeremy, once Paul had disappeared into the trees. “You sounded so… well, grown up. I don’t think I’ve ever heard you sounding older than me before.”

Charlie shrugged. “Just because I like being your little brother, and because I’m in no hurry to grow up, it doesn’t mean I’m a total baby,” he said. “I must have sat through a million hours of Sunday School classes, and it’s nice to be able to use some of it.”

What’ll happen if Dhif doesn’t wake up, though?” asked Jordan.

He will. It may take a while yet, but most coma patients wake up in the end, I think. Besides, if there is a God, he’d have to be impressed by what Southgate just tried to do, and that ought to persuade him to sort things out.”

“’If there is a God’?” queried Jordan. “After all those years at church, aren’t you sure?”

Not really, no. Some of it just seems silly, somehow… but some of it is pretty impressive. Maybe there is a God, maybe not. I sort of think there probably is, though he might not be quite the way we think he is. Anyway… let’s not worry about it. Shall we go back to Jeremy’s place? I’m sure there’s some more stuff I need to learn about sex.” And he skipped off into the wood.

The other two stared after him and then looked at each other.

I thought I knew everything there was to know about him,” said Jeremy. “I was dead wrong, though. I reckon our baby brother knows a lot more about stuff than I thought he did.”

Yes, but he still doesn’t know enough about sex yet, does he?” said Jordan. “I think he’s right: we ought to go back to your place and have another sex lesson. Come on – I fancy another Charlie sandwich.” And he ran off to catch Charlie up, and Jeremy ran after him, thinking that he was right: theology was maybe interesting, but sex was a lot more fun.


So Paul survived to return to Brahim’s bedside, which can only be a good thing, and Jeremy and Jordan have learned that Charlie has more depth than that they previously thought. And back in Africa, it looks as if David might have turned a corner, at least as far as his dealings with his fellow slaves are concerned. And in the next chapter we’ll find out what happened after he showed them he wasn’t quite the bastard they’d been led to believe.

So come on: there has to be something in that chapter you want to comment on! If so, then is the address you need.

Copyright 2009: all rights reserved. Please do not reprint, repost or otherwise reproduce this or any part of it anywhere without my written permission.

David Clarke