Title In the Quiet of the Morning
Disclaimer: More movie than books.
Not mine, either way.
In the Quiet of the Morning
Killick shuffled away. Stephen watched over his coffee cup.
“Has Killick always had that twist to his lumbar spine?” He mused aloud.
“What?” Jack rubbed his ear. The tinnitus had not subsided, Stephen observed. It seemed to trouble Jack more in the mornings. Could it be positional? He had a text somewhere that described...
“What did you say, brother?” Jack asked again.
“I must get Kilick in the nude sometime soon. I want to see his natural gait.” Stephen amplified. “Has he ever complained of--”
Here Stephen came to a stop, realizing the futility of the question. Jack was looking at him in stunned silence.
“A hero for the ages.” Jack Aubrey muttered.
Breakfast concluded, he went in search of the ear book. He had attended a lecture on the labyrinthine process of reptiles... Antonio Scarpa...
He had dislodged a stack of papers, and was on his knees on the deck, when the knock came.
“Come in.” Stephen barked.
The child was howling. His mouth a dark oval of misery. Tiny. This one was no bigger than a six year old-- though Stephen knew him to be older. Lofty. That was his name. God knows why, the poor thing was always below decks.
White faced, and worried, Midshipman Blakeney, stood behind him. Stephen stayed on his knees.
“Where are you hurt, child?” He drew the little one close.
“Said-- I –h-h-he said I had them!” The last word was an uncontrolled wail. Stephen passed his hands over the boy. Dirt, ribs. The protruding belly of the young. He raised his eyes to Blakeney.
“I tried to tell him Sir. I found him weeping in the sail locker. They've been teasing him.”
The boy was lifting up his shirt, exposing a belly, remarkable only for its need of washing.
Stephen let his hands speak, and his eyes, as he would do with a dog, as he did with his sloth. He let the calm come from himself, into the boy, listened as the ragged breathing eased.
“What is it that troubles you?” He asked again.
“They said they eat you to pieces. Until nothings left.” The child gulped. “I don't want to have them-- I don't. I don't, want the aphids!”