by Sarah B.
Author's Note: This is an alternate universe to 'Retribution', and begins just after Horatio discovers that Archie has been shot. In this universe, among other changes, Archie and Wellard both survive. Yay!
The great ship Renown rolled and pitched her way toward Jamaica, slicing through the sun-brightened tropical waters as if she was made of the sleekest air. At a distance she was beautiful; large and strong, a ship of the line and a warrior in His Majesty's navy.
It was only if one looked closer, especially on this day, that she looked not beautiful, but horribly ugly. Her decks were washed with blood; her galleys were piled with wounded, English and Spanish alike; and the man in command, standing with rapidly shifting eyes on the quarter-deck...
"Let us have some order here!"
The icy, dispassionate gaze in his eyes was the most horrible sight of all.
One of the ship's crew, a burly man in a red-checked shirt, hurried by carrying an armful of blasted debris.
"You there!" The man in command barked.
The sailor turned, "Mr. Buckland, sir?"
"Fetch the doctor at once, I need to speak to him."
The sailor's eyes darted about. "I can ask after 'im, sir, but you know there's the wounded. 'e might not come right away. There's them two leftenants - "
"Dammit, I know who's wounded on my own ship!" Buckland snapped, pulling out a handkerchief and dabbing at his sweating face, "And I know what it means. All right then...Hobbs. Can you find gunner Hobbs? I need to speak with him."
The sailor blinked, then nodded slowly. "I c'n try, sir. Right away, sir."
"Do it," Buckland turned away and strode across the deck, his pale eyes seeing not the blasted deck or the men rushing to repair the damage and cart away the wounded. Instead he was looking across the water, toward Jamaica, toward what he knew awaited them all there.
What awaited *him* there.
An inquiry. Questions. A court-martial...
"Not if I can help it," he muttered, to no one; but the passion was there just the same. "No, by God. They won't break me. None of them will. In the captain's memory...I *will* strike first."
Horatio had seldom been so frightened in his entire life.
The sick berth on the Renown was cavernous compared to the cramped quarters on the Indefatigable, his second ship; nevertheless, in the aftermath of the Spanish prisoner revolt it was a blackened nightmare of pain and darkness, and he was in the middle of it, saturated with sweat and blood and tired, so tired, but he could not leave. Horatio was not wounded, but he was as bound to that place as if he'd been stabbed through the heart.
Because he had been. Archie was dying.
Dr. Clive, the Renown's taciturn and frequently drunk surgeon, was attending to Archie closely. Horatio hovered nearby, holding his friend's hand against the pain even though Archie had fallen unconscious long ago. Long ago, just after Horatio had seen him sitting on the deck and noticed the blood on his shirt; after he had torn open Archie's jacket and seen that terrible wound, too much blood, and in shock he had drawn Archie into his arms. He could still feel Archie shudder against him as he tried to stand, could still hear the small groan that had escaped Archie's lips as he slid to the deck, insensible.
Then Styles had appeared, as pale as paper; and together they had brought Archie here.
Clive was meticulous and careful, Horatio had to grant him that; for all his smugness and arrogance the man knew what he was doing. As he probed the ragged hole in Archie's middle, Horatio glanced up to see another product of his handiwork, meeting his eyes from just a few hammocks down: Renown's second lieutenant and his newest friend, William Bush, himself dreadfully wounded and stitched up just minutes ago, it seemed. And he was gazing at Horatio's face in a drowsy fear.
Horatio had no assurance to give; he shook his head slightly at Bush and returned his gaze to Dr. Clive.
"It's a clean wound," Clive was saying in his haughty way, peering into that bloody cavity as if it held all the riches in the world. "Very deep. I can dress it, but that's all."
Horatio could feel himself going numb, looked at Archie's sleeping face in mortal fear. No, he could not lose his friend now...not when the night was coming, and they all needed to be together...
"Will he die, Dr. Clive?" Horatio heard himself whisper.
The doctor paused; glancing around himself he muttered, "If he's fortunate."
Horatio felt a sudden flush of anger and gasped it out. "What do you - "
Dr. Clive looked up at him, quickly, and shook his head; motioning to a nearby loblolly boy he swiftly and expertly cleaned and bound Archie's wound, and through it all the unfortunate victim made no sound, but lay there still and pale. Horatio watched mutely; when he was done Dr. Clive wiped his hands on his bloodied apron, and motioned Horatio away from the hammock where Archie lay.
Horatio hesitated; but Archie's breathing was deep and even, and he did not seem to be dying yet. So Horatio gently released his friend's hand, and once more lifted his eyes to Bush, who was watching him and Archie with apprehension written clearly on his handsome face. Horatio smiled, a little, because he did not want Bush moving from that hammock to check on Archie himself; and Horatio knew he would do that in a heartbeat. Bush took the reassurance, hollow though it was, and closed his eyes to rest.
Clearly impatient, Clive took Horatio's arm and pulled him away from Archie's side. His small eyes held Horatio in warning, and stark reality. "Mr. Hornblower, you know the facts as well as I. Take this warning and have a care. We are all standing into danger, worse now than it ever was when the captain was alive."
Horatio blinked, slowly; he waited for more.
"We are all damned," Clive continued, in the same tight voice, "But now we are damned from within. The captain is dead; the prisoners, dead most of them as well; and Buckland in disgrace. Two of his leftenants wounded by HIS negligence. And no way to prove that the captain really was mad."
"But - we have your word," Horatio offered, "And all the evidence we need - "
Clive was shaking his head. "Buckland - you don't know him as I do. He will draw himself away from any hint of mutiny. He will protect himself, and curse the rest of us in the process. What happened this morning frightened him. It shamed him. *You* shamed him."
Horatio shuddered, remembering Buckland's almost-open hatred of him when he returned from blowing up the Spanish fort. He didn't want me to live, Horatio realized. He wanted me to die there...
"All of you shamed him," Clive hissed, "And he won't forget it. When we get to Kingston, there will be questions. Questions to him, first; us, later. How did the prisoners come to revolt? How did the captain meet his end? Why didn't Buckland help his captain?"
Horatio froze, remembering Buckland's tirade after being found tied to his bed by the Spaniards.
"Buckland is a fool, but worse, he's a coward," Clive whispered, "He will convict us all to save himself. Remember that, lieutenant. From one who knows him very well."
Horatio forced his fear down, faced Clive with even, steady eyes. "Noted, doctor. Thank you. But you still have not answered my question."
Clive sighed, and gazed at Archie's bandaged form lying in the filthy hammock. When he turned his eyes to Horatio again, his expression was grave.
"I have seen men die from that sort of wound; I have seen men live. But you don't want him to die disgraced behind prison walls, lieutenant. I know you don't."
Clive left then, turned on his heel and went to his next patient, leaving Horatio alone. For a long moment Horatio stood in the patchwork shadows, more lost and alone than he had ever been in his life. Archie was terribly injured, Bush was wounded as well, and he was sailing on a ship with a captain who hated him, toward a noose and an early death.
Then Horatio looked at Archie, and sighed. He walked slowly to the hammock and sat down in the chair beside it, leaning forward to settle his face in his hands.
"It looks hopeless, Archie," he whispered, and hoped his friend could hear his voice even in his weakened slumber; "But we've been down lower, haven't we? Only stay with me to Kingston. Then we shall find a way out of this, together."
Gunner Hobbs did not know how long he sat in the captain's cabin, beside the lifeless forms of Captain James Sawyer and midshipman Henry Wellard. And for the most part, he did not care.
Sawyer had been removed long ago, of course; as soon as it was known that he was dead, Buckland had Sergeant Whiting of the marines come and escort the captain's mortal remains from his day cabin with as much ceremony as possible. Whiting was rubbing his head and looked very upset; but Hobbs had scarcely noticed. His captain was dead.
Well - his captain - Hobbs shifted on the floor, where he waited next to Wellard's slender, pale body for someone to bear him away. Had that been his captain? Wellard said he had recovered, had told him who pushed him down the hold and rendered him unfit for command; but for along time before that, the captain had been a raving lunatic, one to inspire pity. Surely that was not his captain.
And - possibly - before...Hobbs' eyes wandered down to Wellard's bloodstained face, now slack with the sleep of death, and he felt a pang of conscience. Had Sawyer been his captain before? Yes, but...Hobbs remembered how the captain enjoyed beating Wellard, how he himself thought the boy deserved it, but why? He was jealous of Wellard, hated him even, but had never thought of why he did so. Except now.
Now when the boy lay in his own blood on the floor in the captain's cabin, his youth spent and his future gone. Wellard had been a quiet youth, withdrawn even, but it had been different when he was under Mr. Hornblower's command...he had sparked to life, done things he could never have done if Sawyer was upon him, and it made Hobbs think, made him remember -
*you were like that once, all freckle-faced and innocent. Then you turned. Sour bastard.*
Hobbs coughed, and looked away from Wellard's body. He hated the way he felt.
The door to the captain's cabin creaked open, and Hobbs looked up to see two marines enter, their uniforms stained with blood.
"'ere's another one," one of them groused, shaking his head. As he moved around Hobbs, his face twisted in recognition. "Cor, it's the whippin' boy."
Hobbs stood up, feeling an unaccountable sense of outrage. He opened his mouth to protest, but bit his tongue; he had no right to say anything.
"Right," the other marine sighed, and moved to Wellard's feet. "Up to the deck wi' 'im, then."
"Careful," Hobbs managed to rasp, and he was surprised; he did not sound like himself at all. "Careful with him."
The marines didn't even look at him, simply moved to their accustomed positions and roughly lifted Wellard off the bloodstained floor.
Hobbs gasped, his eyes opening wide. No - that couldn't be - all the blood, there had to be some -
Wellard's eyelids flickered. Barely, but - but -
"Careful!" Hobbs barked, "He's - "
"Right, sir," the marine said stupidly, looking at Hobbs as if he was unhinged, "To the surgery then, sir?"
Hobbs could not speak; he nodded dumbly, and watched as the marines carted Wellard out the door. For a moment he couldn't move, could only think, no - no, there was no such thing in his life as second chances.
But there were other lives -
At that moment one of the sailors appeared at the door. "Mr. Hobbs? Captain wants to see yer, sir."
Hobbs blinked; he could scarcely think. "Captain?"
"Mr. Buckland, sir. Now, if you please."
Hobbs hesitated, but he could not refuse. Buckland was his captain now, and he had his duty. What had happened - what might happen - he had to remind himself that he'd seen life, and it was bleak and hard. And whatever else there was -
**you saw them come out of the water, you bloody great fool. Everyone thought they were dead, and they weren't. And you thought Wellard was dead too. He's like them, he could make it if he wants. When have you ever seen that in your miserable life?**
Whatever else there was, it wasn't for him. Hobbs followed the sailor out of the bloodstained cabin.
Far away from the Renown sat the rocky island capitol of Kingston, Jamaica. The British flag flew proudly over its stuccoed buildings, and everywhere one looked colorful uniforms of Navy blue and bright marine red mixed in with the bright green native foliage.
And walking down the cracked and weathered steps of the port Admiralty building were two men whose uniforms were not only blue, but adorned with gold braid and ribbon as well.
"There will be questions, Commodore, you may be certain of it," said one of the men, a tall white-haired captain with black eyes and a florid tone. He regarded the dispatch fluttering in his hand and shook his head, "And I can promise you there will be answers as well."
"Let us not rush to judgment, Captain Hammond," The Commodore, Sir Edward Pellew, replied as they made their way down the steps, "Mr. Buckland's report only says that the captain was incapacitated and he was forced to take command. That could have been caused by any number of things."
"Aye, sir, and I know a few of 'em!" Hammond retorted, "The rolling shot, the hand in the dark. This smacks of mutiny, it's certainly not unheard of, especially this far from English waters."
"Most of the world is English waters, captain," Pellew replied smoothly as they stepped onto the light-colored sand of the Jamaican streets, "And the officers of the Renown must be aware that even here the reach of the Crown in not beyond them."
"And when they reach this port we'll remind them again," Hammond growled, squinting into the bright blue waters of the nearby harbor. "This Mr. Buckland, and his lieutenants. Including a few of your own,I see."
"Yes," Pellew admitted with a frown, taking the dispatch from Hammond and peering at it, "Mr. Hornblower, and Mr. Kennedy. They both served under me aboard Indefatigable, as I'm certain you remember."
"If you mean Mr. Hornblower, you may depend upon it I do, sir," Hammond's tone suggested what Pellew already knew: the memory was not a pleasant one. "A most brash young man, resourceful and ambitious. Dangerous talents on a ship with an 'incapacitated' captain."
"And what are you suggesting, sir?" Pellew snapped, his brown eyes glaring.
"Suggest? Nothing, Commodore," Hammond's face was blank with innocence, but behind his eyes there was endless guile. He leaned slightly toward Pellew and said in a low voice, "But Captain James Sawyer is a name to rank beside Nelson and Jervis. There are many young men who would put their name in place of it. I am suggesting nothing, but I have questions. And when the Renown comes to port those questions will be answered. You may depend on it."
With that, Hammond placed his hat on his head, gave a rapid salute and walked away, his captain's coat glinting in the strong Jamaican sun. Pellew watched him go, then looked down at the dispatch in his hands and slowly shook his head.
"Be careful, Mr. Hornblower," He whispered, and let the soft tropical breeze carry his words away, "Be very careful, sir. You and your men."
Hobbs did not realize how sore and stiff he was from the battle with the Spanish prisoners until he tried to move. He ached everywhere, and was still rubbing one shoulder when he came to the officer's wardroom where Acting Captain Buckland was sitting. He was staring straight ahead in a manner that seemed almost trancelike, and Hobbs hesitated to interrupt it. But the sooner he got this over with, the sooner he could get to the sick berth and find out how Wellard was doing, if he was still alive. He cleared his throat.
Buckland started, and looked up. His small eyes blinked. "Are you alone?"
Hobbs glanced behind him, and shrugged. "Yes, sir. You wanted to see me?"
In response, Buckland put one hand to his lips and quickly rose from his seat. Walking to the wardroom door, he shut it, then motioned Hobbs to take a seat. Somewhat confused, Hobbs obeyed.
"You know that Captain Sawyer is dead," Buckland said abruptly as he sat down next to Hobbs.
"Yes, sir," Hobbs replied quietly, wincing at the catch in his chest as he thought of that sad reality.
"And Lieutenants Bush and Kennedy are very badly wounded."
What? Hobbs felt another lurch, this one of surprise. "No, sir. I hadn't heard. I'm - "
"It's a damnable thing!" Buckland suddenly cried, shaking his head in helpless fury, "Less than a week to Kingston, before today we could have beat it. We had prisoners, a victory, and no one would have questioned us, he was on his knees babbling for God's sake. And now this."
For some reason, Hobbs realized he was not listening to Buckland; instead he was thinking, both of them? They jumped from the cliff, outran certain death and then - was Hornblower going to lose both of them?
Then he snapped out of his reverie, realized Buckland was waiting for him to say something. "I'm sorry, sir. It's a dreadful thing..."
"Dreadful! What do you know of it? With the captain alive there was a possibility his mind would be completely gone by the time we reached Kingston, and then no one would have questioned our actions, but now - now he's dead, a martyr, and we have nothing but our word. It's the noose for us all."
Hobbs looked at his captain - his *new* captain - in confusion. "I beg your pardon, sir, but shouldn't you talk to Mr. Hornblower about this? He's an officer and - "
Buckland's laugh was hard, almost cruel. "Hornblower? After he defied me, incited Bush and Kennedy to disobey me? No. No, I cannot trust him. There are few men on this ship I can trust. I've found that out."
Hobbs paused. "Me, sir?"
Buckland nodded, and leaned a little closer. "You remember, Mr. Hobbs. The captain, as he used to be. You carry his memory as I do, and I've seen it - those lieutenants, you find their manner as offensive as I do."
Hobbs almost started at this. But wasn't it true? He hated Hornblower, hated Kennedy and Bush as well, hated them because they suspected the captain of madness, had conspired and plotted against him. Along with Buckland.
But something was happening. Had happened, after Hornblower and the others returned from the fort. And it was still happening...
"I never wanted to displace the captain," Buckland said unhappily, "I only wanted to restore order, to make things safe until he was himself again. Now he is dead and when we reach Kingston they'll want to know why. They'll ask *me* why, and I know what I shall tell them." His pale eyes sought Hobbs, captured him in their icy stare. "I know what you shall tell them too."
Hobbs did not like the look in those eyes. It hinted of Sawyer, of madness. "Me, sir?"
"You are my witness, Mr. Hobbs," Buckland said, and his voice was almost a whisper, "My right arm. You know I was apart from this, I had nothing to do with the captain going down the hold. *They* did that. Them, not me. After that I could only do my best. You understand? Kingston will want to know. They'll want to know who pushed the captain down the hold."
*But Wellard told me that*, Hobbs thought suddenly, and almost said it. Almost, but checked himself; Buckland was not looking at him anymore but staring at the wardroom walls, a trapped and desperate look in his eyes.
"It could have been any of them," Buckland was muttering, almost in a daze, "Any of them, they were all down there that night. Kennedy, Bush...even young Wellard. But it's no good, they'll all be dead, and Kingston will want an example. They'll want to hang someone living."
Hobbs' heart began to beat very fast. He knew what Buckland's mind was racing toward; he also knew he did not like the way his captain was talking about the officers, about Wellard, as if they were sides of beef that had spoiled are were of no further use. Fighting to keep his voice even he said, "What are your orders for me, sir?"
Buckland's eyes snapped to him again. "You know what I'm saying, Mr. Hobbs. Be on the lookout. Look after your captain. And when we reach Kingston, follow my lead. Only a few of us are going to escape this disaster alive. And I will help whoever helps me."
Hobbs looked at Buckland with a despair he could not hope to conceal. But as he nodded mutely and accepted his captain's dismissal, he did not know which bothered him more: that Buckland had just asked him to condemn Hornblower and his friends for an act that he alone should have been held responsible for...
Or that Buckland considered him the sort of man who would think nothing of it.
Second Lieutenant William Bush awoke to terrible thirst.
It was a blazing ache, all over his body; he opened his eyes and saw only the murky darkness of the sick berth, and tried to turn his head to find a loblolly boy. Spying a jumbled mix of shadows he licked his dry lips and cried out, "Boy, here!"
The person who came was not a boy, but in fact a tall and unexpected figure.
"Mr. Hornblower!" Bush blinked weakly.
"Yes, sir," Horatio replied softly, and turning away briefly came back with a cool cup of water, "Water, sir?"
Bush nodded, marveling that Horatio would read his needs so quickly. Horatio gently lifted his head as he drained the glass, then just as gently set it back down again. "Better, sir?"
"Hm," Bush nodded, and tried to make out Horatio's features in the dark. He frowned. "You look exhausted, man. Surely the doctor hasn't pressed you - "
"No, sir," Horatio muttered, "I was - nearby anyway and heard you."
Bush felt a wrench in his gut as he remembered why Horatio was down there. He tried to lift his head again, to see the hammock a short distance away where Kennedy was lying. "How is he?"
Horatio's face went into shadow as he looked at the floor. "Poorly, I regret to say, sir. He - took a bullet in his - chest. Dr. Clive does not hold great odds for his survival."
Those words were whispered, so low Bush could hardly hear them. He could feel Horatio's helplessness, it was a live thing. Very softly he said, "I'm sorry. He's a brave man."
"If only you knew," Horatio muttered, almost to himself. Then he took a deep breath, as if composing himself, and raised his head with a struggling smile, "I am - glad to see you better, Mr. Bush. Dr. Clive tells me you will recover nicely."
"Just in time to hang," Bush replied dryly, regretting the joke when he saw Horatio pale. When the young man looked away again he said, "Courage, Mr. Hornblower. We'll be there to stand beside you whatever comes."
"I appreciate that, sir, but for you to face an inquiry - possibly a trial - in your condition is an injustice that I can scarcely tolerate. If there is a way...if any way can be found to spare you, I promise I shall do it."
The way Horatio said these words made Bush pause. "Me and Mr. Kennedy?"
Horatio nodded, "And Mr. Wellard, if he recovers at all. Dr. Clive is working on him now."
Bush considered this, and regarded Horatio steadily. "Your sense of honor touches me, lieutenant, but if I recall we did not jump off that clifftop one at a time. If you think I'm going to allow a junior officer to best me in martyrdom you're sadly mistaken."
Horatio's smile was almost mystical. "We shall see, sir. More water?"
Bush nodded, hating being bedridden and helpless. As Horatio helped him drink again he said quietly, "You have a physician's touch, Mr. Hornblower."
"My father is a doctor, sir," Horatio admitted as he put away the cup.
"Is that a fact," Bush smiled, and drowsily surrendered to the feeling of security that this remarkable young man conveyed, even as they were all sailing to their deaths. "He taught you well."
"He taught me my duty, sir," Horatio said, but Bush only caught the edges of his words, and could not reply. A moment later he was fast asleep.
Dr. Clive knew he was fighting a losing battle; but his pride would not let him quit.
Young Wellard should be dead; that should have been the end of it. He had been standing next to Captain Sawyer when they had both been shot, and Sawyer was certainly dead. Shot through the chest, many times, and if there was any mercy he was dead before he hit the floor.
Damn! Clive looked down at the young man bleeding beneath his hands and blinked the sweat out of his eyes. Wellard had been shot too, but only once; his bleeding had not been as severe, but still Clive was stunned to see the marines come in with Wellard strung between them. And for a moment he had thought not to intervene, and let the child die his natural death.
But something stopped him. What, he didn't know. Recklessness, surely; with Sawyer dead they were all hanged anyway, so what did it matter how he wasted his time? Curiosity, partly; he wanted to know why Wellard wasn't dead yet, wanted to see where and how badly he had been injured.
And pride. of course; his damned damaged pride.
Clive peered into Wellard's chest, at the small ragged hole there; he knew where the boy was bleeding, was trying to stitch the vein closed while there was still some life there. Thank God, Wellard was unconscious; any thrashing and he would be dead for sure...
There was a noise at Clive's elbow, and he glanced up to see Gunner Hobbs standing there, his round face pale against the bright lantern light.
Hobbs paused, then whispered, "Not dead, is he?"
"Which would you rather?" Clive replied tartly, resuming his close work.
Hobbs didn't reply for a moment; when he did, his voice was flat and strange. "It's bad, Dr. Clive. It's very bad."
"Another riddle," Clive observed, pausing to sponge some of the blood out of Wellard's chest before continuing his suturing. "I have a sick berth full of wounded men and a dead captain. So tell me something I do not know, Mr. Hobbs."
Hobbs didn't say anything; the next time Clive could afford to glance up, he noticed that Hobbs was looking not at him or Wellard, but across the sick berth where Hornblower was sitting with the two wounded officers.
"If you're wondering if any of them has confessed," he remarked dryly, "The answer is no."
"Are they going to die?" Hobbs wanted to know.
Clive laid the sponge aside and shook his head. "Not Mr. Bush, at any rate. He needs to lie still and mend more than anything else. Mr. Kennedy's wound is more severe, it could go either way."
There was no reaction from the gunner, and Clive gave a gallows smile as he finished suturing Wellard's damaged vitals. "You may relax, Mr. Hobbs; you were a faithful servant to the captain, so I doubt it will be your head upon the chopping block when we reach Kingston. And there is the very good chance that fate will intervene and leave only one lieutenant to hate you when we reach port."
Hobbs' voice came to Clive's ears sharply. "What do you mean by that?"
Clive looked up, surprised. "Oh - I thought that was what you were worried about. With Sawyer dead, perhaps you feared some - reprisal - from Hornblower and his crew for the way you treated them when the captain was incapacitated. You could hardly call them your friends."
"No," Hobbs said quickly, and swallowed hard, turning his pale blue eyes to Wellard, "No, they - they were against the captain from the start. That's plain."
"Suddenly you don't sound convinced," Clive observed as he cut a length of suture and began to stitch Wellard's chest closed. "Did something change your mind?"
Hobbs shook his head, but in a dazed way, as if he was dreaming. After a pause he said, "The captain didn't deserve what happened to him. But the jump off the cliff - he would have done that once."
"He did, as I recall," Clive said with a slight smile, "Off the coast of Cape St. Vincent."
"Yes," Hobbs whispered, "You remember. On the deck, when they came out of the water, it was as if - "
"As if Sawyer was back among us, the lion of his youth," Clive muttered, his eye on his work, "Yes, Mr. Hobbs, you're right. I felt it too."
Hobbs sighed, and behind them Clive could hear the choked sound of Kennedy trying to breathe. Hornblower's voice reached them both. low and soothing, and after a moment the choking ceased, replaced by desperate but more even breathing.
"When we reach Kingston," Hobbs said in a low voice, "It'll be the gallows for whichever of them is left. They can't escape it."
"No," Clive said in his emotionless way as he finished his stitching.
Hobbs paused again, and in the thick silence Clive wondered if he was listening to Hornblower's voice reassuring Kennedy that everything was going to be all right, that he would be well again soon and there was nothing to worry about.
Clive's curiosity was satisfied when Hobbs said, "It stinks, Dr. Clive. Like losing the captain twice."
Clive had no answer for that. He finished the last stitch and put a clean bandage over Wellard's wound. Then he leaned forward and gently checked the lad's skin, his eyes and his breathing.
He thought Hobbs had gone; so he was surprised when he heard the gunner ask, "Well?"
"He's still alive," Clive said in smug satisfaction, "And provided infection doesn't set in and he remains still there's a chance - a small one - that he won't die."
Hobbs accepted this with a blank stare, but the corners of his mouth twitched as if betraying some emotion.
Clive noticed this and added, "In which case, of course, he can testify in Kingston concerning who pushed the captain into the hold."
Hobbs blinked, as if that thought had not occurred to him. Then he nodded absently and said, "That's all I'm concerned about."
"Of course," Clive straightened and began to remove his bloody apron, "Now if you'll excuse me I can't let Hornblower do ALL the work," he motioned to two nearby marines, who took the still-unconscious Wellard from the table and dumped him in a nearby hammock. Hobbs followed their action, and stood there after they left, watching the pale youth with worried eyes.
Clive watched this for a moment, then said, "If he confesses, I will be certain to let you know."
Hobbs looked up at him, almost startled. Then he cleared his throat and jammed his hat back on his head. "Yeh. Do that."
And without another word walked out of the sick berth.
Styles was scrubbing the deck way too hard.
Matthews knew this, and made his way among the ratings cleaning up after the Spanish revolt to tell him so. It was understandable that Styles would volunteer to holystone the deck, even though he was bosun's mate and now above such things; Matthews knew the big man needed to strip off his shirt and get his anger out, needed something to do with the helplessness and frustration he was feeling at the day's events. But Matthews was unprepared for how angry Styles truly was.
Bush was injured. Styles had come to like Mr. Bush, perhaps because he showed him the same no-nonsense authority that Hornblower had, when he first came aboard. Now he was injured, and that made Styles angry. That was one thing.
But Mr. Kennedy was hurt too; and that had broken both their hearts. The lad had come up with them, knew them since his boyhood, and now this. Styles had looked out for him when he could, had felt some measure of pride in Kennedy's triumph over the demons that they all knew too well lived beneath his skin. He should die old in his bed, Styles had said once; that it might not happen was tearing him up inside. And so he attacked the deck.
Mr. Hornblower, though, that was the worst. Knowing that he was going through the pain of having Kennedy and Bush wounded, and Mr. Buckland hating him, and there was nothing they could do about it - that was why Styles was grinding his holystone into the deck, and why his arms were sweeping in such broad and furious strokes. Finally Matthews reached his mate and tapped him on the shoulder.
"Lay off there, Styles," he said quietly, "Or we'll be lookin' into the next deck before long."
Styles jerked a little, startled. He was sweating, and paused to wipe the perspiration from his forehead with a grimace. "Sorry, Matty. Thinkin'."
"Aye, I can see that," Matthews squatted down next to Styles and rubbed his chin.
Styles took a deep breath and stared out to where the sun was beginning to set against the azure sea. He let the breath out in a dispirited sigh and said, "Oh, Matty. I don't like the mornin' comin'. What might 'appen before that."
"Think on your work, mate," Matthews replied, patting Styles on the shoulder, "That's what you do."
"Can't," Styles said with an angry shake of his head; there was bitterness in his eyes. "Th' lad's dyin', and Mr. Bush too. And that bastard Buc - "
"Stow it, Styles!" Matthews barked sharply, his expression suddenly fearful as he glanced around to ensure that no one had heard. "Stow that mutinous talk right now! That's an order."
Styles glared, but Matthews could glare harder, and did. Finally he sighed again and looked at the deck.
"Yes, sir," he mumbled, and Matthews hated how defeated he sounded. "Sorry, sir."
"That's better," Matthews said, then leaned forward and whispered, "'e'll find a way out of this, 'e always does. Chin up, Styles."
"How?" Styles said helplessly, and looked Matthews with grief-stricken eyes, "Matty, how - "
His expression changed suddenly, and he turned away from Matthews and once again began to scrub the deck. Confused, Matthews looked back over his shoulder.
Hobbs was standing there.
Matthews rose to his feet, noting as he did so that the gunner looked disoriented, exhausted. He knuckled his forehead. "Sir."
Hobbs nodded at him in acknowledgement, then continued to stare at him as if waiting for something. Matthews thought of what it might be and said, "Dreadful sorry to hear about the captain, sir. 'e was - 'e was a good man, I'm sure."
Hobbs nodded again, but didn't seem to be listening to him. He blinked slowly, then said, "Matthews."
"How long have you served with Mr. Hornblower?"
Matthews frowned; why was Hobbs asking him this? Something about the mutiny, no doubt..."Almost seven years, sir."
Hobbs brought his head back a little, as if considering this. He was looking at them both keenly, although Styles was concentrating very hard on scrubbing the deck. Matthews waited.
But in vain, it seemed; after a long moment's silence Hobbs put his hands behind his back and walked away.
Styles stopped his scouring and looked after the gunner in puzzlement. "What the 'ell was that all about?"
Matthews shrugged; he couldn't even venture to guess. Hobbs was a bastard, through and through, Randall's vicious cohort and Sawyer's groveling toady. But the look in his eyes...
"'e's probably glad Mr. Bush and Mr. Kennedy are injured," Styles muttered darkly, and turned back to the deck. "Wants to rub our noses in it. Bastard."
"To your work, Styles," Matthews ordered, and got to his feet. Styles wouldn't hear it, of course, but Matthews had his own opinion of Hobbs' behavior. There was something in his eyes, perhaps - regret? Shame? It was imagination likely, exhaustion from worry and the day's events playing games with his aging brain, but Matthews watched the gunner walk slowly away, the setting sun crimson against his back, and thought about the look in his eyes. Matthews had seen that look before...
...in Styles' eyes, and dear old Oldroyd's. One afternoon in the cable tier, when they realized Mr. Hornblower was going to trust them despite their bad behavior. When they realized that they could be better men, but did not know how. That was the look. Regret. Shame. But there was something else in Hobbs' eyes as well, and Matthews didn't know what to make of that. Something else...
But there was no help for it now; there was work to do before they lost the light. Matthews sighed and walked to the quarter-deck, leaving Styles to wear a hole in the planking, scrubbing way too hard.
For Horatio, that night was a hazy blur of worry and exhaustion. It was difficult to remember what he was doing from one moment to the next; after a frustrating while of trying, he simply gave up.
He stayed in the sick berth for as long as he dared, until he was certain that Buckland - now captain - would be looking for him. It was terrible; he dared not leave Archie's side, was numb with worry over his friend's pallor and racking coughing spells - and yet he had to attend to his duties.
It was Clive, of all people, who finally tapped him on the shoulder and said in his acerbic way, "You are relieved, Mr. Hornblower. I've seen action on three ships, I think I can take it from here." It was an acid remark perhaps, but when Clive turned to Archie and offered him some water and a cool cloth for his brow, Horatio felt a strange measure of relief. Clive was an irritant and the most frustrating man on the face of the earth, but he was at the very least a competent doctor. Horatio stood wearily, gave Bush a parting smile and Archie a reassuring tap on the arm, and went abovedecks.
It was evening already, a starry night filled with cooling breezes. Horatio paused and breathed in the refreshing air, letting it wash his senses of the tension and worry he'd been feeling all day. He held it within himself, for a moment only; then he had to let it go, and went to find Buckland.
As it turned out, the former first lieutenant turned captain was not in the mood to talk to his only remaining lieutenant. Buckland was having dinner, alone thank you, and did not desire company. Horatio was told this, in slightly slurring tones, as soon as he presented himself at the captain's table.
"Your pardon, sir," Horatio said immediately afterward, keeping his eyes forward, "I merely present myself as ready for whatever orders you might have."
"Orders?" Buckland piped, as if the word was nonsense.
"Yes, sir. With Mr. Bush under the weather I am the most senior lieutenant, and after this morning - "
"After this morning I am your commanding officer!" Buckland cried, his tone a strange mix of triumph and self-mockery, "And you had best not forget it. I will be watching you, Mr. Hornblower, most closely. And your fellow lieutenants as well. Ha! Don't think I won't."
The similarity to Sawyer's words caused chills to go up Horatio's spine. Still, he held his nerve. "Mr. Bush and Mr. Kennedy are badly wounded, sir. Anything that bears watching in them you may safely look for in me, until they recover."
Buckland's bland eyes snapped to life at this, and out of the corner of his eye Horatio could see him turning his head in that peculiar stiff-necked way of his. "What do you mean by that?"
Horatio paused; it was clear Buckland was not altogether sober. "Only that we are of one mind, sir, to see this ship safely to Kingston. And to look after your interests until we do so."
"My interests, yes," Buckland groused, picking up the wine glass and taking a hearty gulp before setting it back down with a thud. "Well, Mr. Hornblower, I'm certain you know what my interests are. Have you sufficiently rested to stand watch?"
A flutter of horror coursed through Horatio, and he could not check it. It took a moment to find his voice, and he muttered, "Sir - "
"Lieutenant, look at me."
Stunned, Horatio did so.
Buckland stared at him, for a long time it seemed. Horatio's mind whirled, thinking he wouldn't do that, he disparaged Sawyer for putting me on 36-hour watches...
But Buckland's eyes were icy, distant. There was none of the sympathy that Horatio had seen in the hold during their whispered talks; there was only a cold and brittle authority that made Horatio shiver. He was already exhausted...oh, God...
Then, remarkably, Buckland smiled. "Thank you. lieutenant. I have seen in your eyes what I was looking for. Make your rounds, make certain the ship is secure. I will have work for you in the morning."
Horatio blinked, realized he wasn't breathing and let out a sigh. Buckland was cordial now, almost companionly. And what had been in his eyes that had caused this change?
Buckland took another drink of wine, and set the glass down gently. Without looking at Horatio again he said simply, "Dismissed, lieutenant."
Dismissed...Horatio walked out, confused, and only as he was making his way around the ship did he realize that Buckland had indeed seen what he was looking for, and reveled in it.
He had seen fear.
Horatio began to worry.
To occupy his mind, Horatio checked on the Spanish prisoners, what remained of them. They were a dispirited lot now that their colonel was dead; his wife was sobbing inconsolably but would not let Horatio say a word to her in any language. It would have been difficult in any other circumstance for Horatio to look on the disheveled, dirty women locked in the hold and think of them as the enemy; but he knew that the colonel's wife had engineered the escape, and it was that escape that led to the tragedy he faced. And so he had no pity for them.
After securing the prisoners for the night Horatio went back to the sick berth, and spent the rest of the evening alternately looking after Archie and Bush and dozing in a nearby empty hammock. If Clive objected he said nothing about it; he was occupied himself, with taking care of the many wounded, and only shook his head when Horatio removed his jacket and fell into the hammock as if dead. Horatio was grateful for his silence, if nothing else.
But it was a difficult night. Horatio was tormented by dreams, dreams of darkness and red, and for a few confused moments found himself back in Spain, back in prison. It was night, and there were noises, sounds that invaded his subconscious and he thought, a fit - Archie's having a fit -
Then there was a hand on his arm. "Hornblower!"
Horatio awoke; it was Bush's hand on his arm, Bush who was staring at him with frightened eyes. Horatio opened his mouth to ask what the matter was, when he heard the sound behind him.
He was coughing again, desperate to breathe. Frantically Horatio pulled himself out of the hammock and put his arm behind Archie's head, lifting him from the cot so he could draw a painless breath. Archie, half-conscious and covered with sweat, clutched at Horatio and fought to gain air.
"Easy, Archie," Horatio soothed, wrapping both arms around his friend and lifting him upright, "Relax, it's all right, just breathe - breathe - "
Archie was shaking his head, his blond hair whipping into his eyes.
"I know it hurts, but you must concentrate, Mr. Kennedy," Horatio whispered in his most commanding tone, "Slowly, and it will come without fail I promise you. Just one, breathe in, slowly - "
It was a struggle, but Archie tried, once, then again, and managed to draw one very shaky breath.
"Very good," Horatio encouraged, placing one hand on Archie's brow to steady him, "Now out again, slowly. Slowly and you will not choke."
Archie was trembling; still, he did as Horatio asked. He hiccoughed once, near the end.
"Now again," Horatio demanded, not letting go, "Easily, until you are better this is how you must do it, Archie."
Archie groaned a little, but complied. Once, then again, then a third time. Bending over, Horatio relinquished his hold on his friend long enough to snatch the pillow from his own hammock, and eased it under Archie's head. As he laid him back Horatio caught Archie's half-lidded gaze and asked, "Better?"
Archie nodded a little, and experimented with drawing as deep a breath as he could. Then he looked at Horatio with wearied eyes. "I'm sorry, Horatio."
"For what?" Horatio smiled back, "You did splendidly."
"No," Archie shook his head weakly, "I'm sorry it seems..." he faltered, licked his lips, tried again, "I'll try to make it to Kingston. You have my word on it."
"To Kingston?" Horatio raised his eyebrows in surprise, "I need your word beyond that, Archie, I need it to England, or I will not accept it at all. You must at least give me that."
Archie's face grimaced, "Damn you. You would do this to a dying man."
"I see no dying man before me," Horatio tried to hold Archie in his gaze, tried to give him some of his strength while he needed it, "Dr. Clive said you will recover, Archie."
"Dr. Clive is a fool."
"But he has seen your insides and you have not. So take his word for it."
Archie sighed and closed his eyes, "How is Mr. Bush?"
"He is well, Mr. Kennedy," came Bush's voice, soft and low, behind Horatio. Archie opened his eyes again, and Horatio moved so Archie could see the older officer, who was looking at Archie in open concern. As soon as their eyes met Bush continued, "But I'm afraid he must agree with his junior officer. You cannot break ranks on us now, lieutenant. It would go against orders."
"Oh, well, if you put it *that* way..." Archie muttered, drawing a very slow, studied breath, "Two against one. Bloody unfair odds if you ask me."
"Only get better, Mr. Kennedy," Bush whispered in his stable tone, "And then you and Mr. Hornblower can gang up on me again."
Archie smiled at that, a little, and Horatio looked at Bush in gratitude. Bush merely gazed at him steadily, then turned away and closed his eyes. When Horatio looked back at Archie again, he saw that his friend had done the same.
Feeling no need for sleep at the moment, Horatio stood and stretched his legs. He spied Wellard's hammock slung at the far end of the sick berth, and someone sitting next to it. Walking quietly over, he was surprised to see gunner Hobbs sitting next to that too-pale form, staring at Wellard thoughtfully.
Horatio thought that Hobbs did not know he was there, and so made his way quietly; he really only wanted to see how the boy was doing. Well, he was still alive at any rate; although Wellard was naturally so pale that even the tropical sun could not darken him. But his chest was rising and falling rhythmically, and there was color to his lips; that was a hopeful sign.
Satisfied, Horatio turned to go. Then he heard a whisper: "Sir."
He looked back. Hobbs was looking at him. Then he was standing up.
"My apologies, Mr. Hobbs," Horatio whispered back, unsure how to proceed. He had no idea why Hobbs was sitting by Wellard's hammock, except perhaps he was waiting for a confession of guilt. "How is Mr. Wellard faring?"
Hobbs paused. "He's not dead, sir."
"Ah. Well...good. Very good. We shall hope for the best."
"How are your men?"
Horatio was confused for a moment; then he realized who Hobbs meant, and wondered if there was some malevolence to the inquiry. "Better, Mr. Hobbs. Thank you for asking."
Hobbs looked across the sick berth, his face unreadable except for a peculiar torment behind his pale blue eyes. "We'll be in Kingston before two days is out."
Thinking that was some sort of threat, Horatio gave Hobbs a small glare. "Mr. Hobbs, please spare me your invective in the sick berth. We are all comrades in suffering here."
To Horatio's surprise, Hobbs looked momentarily stunned. Then he blinked rapidly and looked away. "I merely meant - we got to be careful, sir. All of us. We got to look after our own."
"Yes, I know very well what you meant," Horatio could not keep his voice from hissing; the thought of Hobbs goading him with Archie...with all of the men suffering around them made his blood run hot. "And I will not have you threatening any of the men, do you understand?"
Hobbs' eyes widened.
"Captain Sawyer was a great man," Horatio continued, hoping to persuade Hobbs to at least keep his mouth shut, "And you grieve for his loss no more than I. But this is not the time for accusation and betrayal, Mr. Hobbs. This is the time for binding up our wounds, and looking to our men's protection. I'm certain that in his prime, Captain Sawyer would say the same."
Horatio was expecting a surly response, an acrimonious glare; he had gotten that often enough in the past. He was completely unprepared, then, when Hobbs merely stared at him for a moment, then ducked his head down and muttered, "Aye aye, sir."
He's exhausted as well, Horatio thought in sudden sympathy, and said more softly, "My apologies, Mr. Hobbs, if I seem to be coming down hard on you. But I will not tolerate any badgering of my men while they recover, no matter how commendable the loyalty that lays behind it. What happens in Kingston...will not happen until we get there."
Hobbs nodded, still not meeting Horatio's gaze, and sat down heavily in the chair beside Wellard's hammock. Shaking his head at Hobbs' doggedness Horatio said, "Mr. Hobbs, I suggest you find your own hammock and get some rest. Whatever Mr. Wellard has to convey about the captain's fall into the hold will not come until he's conscious."
"I'm not waiting for a confession, damn you."
The words were so low and so strangled that Horatio was not certain he had even heard them right; as it was, they did not make much sense, so he let the remark pass. Hobbs was obviously tired, and not thinking about his words carefully.
"Go get some sleep, Mr. Hobbs," Horatio said with quiet authority, "That is an order."
Hobbs did not meet his gaze, but nodded. With that, Horatio turned away from Wellard's hammock and went back to his own surrogate home, where he slept for the rest of the night.
And when Clive shook him awake the next morning, Horatio noticed with some surprise that Hobbs was still beside Wellard's hammock, and his order had been disobeyed.
The morning sun was bright in Kingston, and even though it was still early Pellew could tell as he opened the shutters to his room that it would be hot that day. Already the dust in the street was moving in lazy, tired circles; already the locals were sitting in the shade rather than in the sun. Altogether it promised to be a bad day to spend in the full regalia of a commodore.
His suite of rooms at the Admiralty guesthouse was joined to those of the two captains by a large patio, where as he dressed Pellew could see breakfast being laid out. Fresh fruit, juice and coffee; a veritable paradise on earth if one did not have to share it with Captain Hammond.
As soon as he finished dressing - except for his dress coat, he would not put that beast on until he was forced to - Pellew walked out onto the stone patio and joined Captain Collins, who was sitting at a table in the shade slicing into a fresh mango.
"Good morning, Commodore," the florid Irishman said with a genial smile, "Looks like another sweltering day to wait."
"Aye, that it is," Pellew agreed, and seated himself at the other end of the table. He noticed an official-looking piece of paper on the table and asked, "What's that?"
"Oh - orders from the Admiralty," Collins replied as he lifted the fruit to his mouth, "We each received a copy, yours is probably still with your servant."
"Orders?" Pellew frowned, and picked the paper up as a servant appeared from nowhere with a steaming cup of coffee.
Collins nodded, and swallowed his fruit. "The crown is most anxious about the Sawyer affair. The man is a hero, an icon of British bravery and honor. Although it's been known for some time by the officers that he has been - not himself, the thought that he might be remembered as a man unfit for command is most disturbing to those highest up."
"I see," Pellew said softly, reading the letter.
"I'm certain you do. If there is even the hint of impropriety regarding his incapacity, we are to hold trial. If there is even the chance that Sawyer was forced from his command, for whatever reason, we are to find the guilty party and punish them. The crown is most adamant on that."
"As well they should be," Pellew said carefully, setting the letter down.
"Of course, it might have been an accident," Collins shrugged, looking out over the gently waving ferns to the great sea beyond, "Ships are tricky things after all, more than one officer has met an untimely end when there was a pitch instead of a yaw. But the - appearance of it, the way it looks. Either Sawyer was completely in control of himself and it was an accident..."
"Or he was mad, and someone must be held accountable," Pellew said miserably.
"Precisely. Only it must not be *him*."
Pellew took a drink of his coffee and wished it was much stronger. "Has Hammond read this?"
"I scarcely know. He takes his morning meals privately, thank goodness I might add. But you can be certain that he will stand behind the crown's wishes. He's too self-interested to want to do anything else."
Pellew sighed again and looked up at the rising sun. "They'll be in port by this time tomorrow."
"Yes, and halfway to the noose if the captain is fit to testify. If he's not, it will be even worse. In any case, I do not envy any of those officers their position. It can be no easy thing, watching your own death come slowly at you and know there is nothing you can do to prevent it."
"No," Pellew whispered as he peered thoughtfully out to the sea that would bring his children home. He thought of Muzillac, of other certain deaths, and suppressed a shiver. "No. I'm certain it's not."
At the same time, across the rolling water, Dr. Clive knocked on the door of the captain's cabin and waited for an answer. The door had been mended, at least partially, although the outside doors had been smashed by the Spanish and were no longer on their hinges. Clive noticed this, and frowned at the too-bright bareness he was standing in. It was out of place, unfamiliar, and he did not like unfamiliar things.
He knocked again; a cheerful voice said, "Come in."
Clive did so. As he expected, Buckland was sitting at the great mahogany table, eating a bountiful breakfast. Clearing his throat Clive said, "You wished to see me, sir."
"Yes," Buckland replied, again quite happily. He motioned to a nearby chair, "Have a seat doctor, have you had breakfast yet?"
"Er - no," Clive glanced uncomfortably at the bounty in front of him. "Sir, I beg your pardon but I have a sick berth full of wounded..."
"Well, I don't have enough food for *them*," Buckland said with a small, sickening smile. When the joke fell flat he cleared his throat and said, "Never mind. Ah - would you like some coffee?"
Clive sighed, and decided to be social, although he was not enjoying this. Didn't Buckland remember that he used to dine with Captain Sawyer? The memories were not helping. "I would be honored, sir."
Buckland smiled a little at that. "Yes. Yes, indeed." He motioned to a nearby steward, who poured the doctor some coffee. "Tell me, doctor, how goes it in the sick berth?"
Ah, a report. Those Clive had no problems with. "Sir. We've a dozen men injured, two amputations. Of those injured I expect three may leave the sick berth today, they are healing sufficient for the work ahead."
Buckland nodded. "Go on."
Clive nodded methodically. "Of the remaining, I can only think of two, perhaps three who will still be bedridden by the time we reach Kingston tomorrow. Those being Mr. Wellard, who took a bullet in his upper chest; Mr. Bush, who received a bad saber cut to his midsection, and Mr. Kennedy, who was hit just below his right lung."
Buckland seemed very interested in these words, but only in his eyes; the rest of him was a case of relaxed tension, as if he was trying for all the world to behave as if his interest was only casual. He was failing miserably. "And these men, the lieutenants especially... have they said anything?"
Clive blinked. "Only to Mr. Hornblower, sir. He visits them...regularly. It seems to be helping their morale."
Buckland paused, then put down the biscuit he had been chewing and gazed at Clive portentously. "Dr. Clive, you know as well as I do the Scylla and Charibdis we sail between. We are both victims of circumstance, you and I. The captain..." Buckland paused to shake his head, "He was the brightest star once, and very sadly fallen. But we are not responsible, you or I."
"Oh, come now, sir," Clive replied, reaching for the coffee, "We are very responsible. You were with the lieutenants, you bullied me just as much as they did."
"Yes, but - but that is not *known*," Buckland whispered, "Not by anyone except for you, and me, and those lieutenants. I did not like this, not from the first. You must believe me, doctor, I *never* wanted this command."
Clive's mouth twitched into a smile. "Not want a command? How long were you a commissioned lieutenant?"
"Yes, but not this way," Buckland frowned, shaking his head, "I was forced into it, just as you were. And they'll want to know that, at the inquiry, you see? They'll want to know why we declared the captain unfit."
"The answer to that is plain enough," Clive said with a shrug as he raised his coffee. "He fell down the hold."
"Or he was pushed."
"You said it yourself," Buckland continued, nodding to himself, "We should be concerned with the fact that the captain's injuries were not an accident. If he was pushed, we must be certain that the guilty man is found and punished. That is what the inquiry will say. That is what they will say at our courts-martial."
The last words were a paper-thin whisper. Clive put his cup down and said, "Well, I wouldn't worry, sir. The truth will out, eventually."
"Yes, but will it matter when they are handing me my head for what happened with the Spanish?" Buckland muttered, then looked at Clive with searching eyes. "Between us, doctor, which one of them did it do you think?"
Clive looked at the table. "I wouldn't dare speculate on that, sir. Best to leave it to the court-martial to decide."
Buckland sat in the silence, staring at the uneaten fruit on his plate.
Clive did not know how to end the conversation, so said, "Although they are so thick with each other, I would not be surprised if they all confessed it was them alone, just to save the others from hanging."
Buckland's eyes shot to him then, full of a sudden fear.
This action made Clive uneasy, so he stammered, "Forgive me, sir, I did not wish to offend - "
"No," Buckland shook his head wearily, "No, you're right of course, that's obvious. They disobeyed me together, didn't they?"
Clive had nothing to say to that. He began to rise. "Thank you for the coffee, sir, I must get back to my duties - "
"Your duties - yes - " Buckland nodded, and said, "Doctor, in your professional opinion, what are the odds of Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Bush surviving to Kingston?"
Clive frowned. "I will do my best, sir, you may depend on it. Mr. Bush's chances look quite good; Mr. Kennedy...well - "
Buckland looked down at the table and pursed his lips. Then he said, "I've made a decision, doctor. I need my only uninjured lieutenant above decks. From now on you will not allow Mr. Hornblower in your sick berth unless he himself is injured."
Clive caught his breath; but the look in Buckland's eyes was not to be argued with. "Yes, sir."
"And furthermore, I will not have my ship's surgeon wasting his time on men who are very likely bound for the grave anyway. Do you understand?"
Clive was hoping he didn't. "You want me to stop treating Mr. Bush and Mr. Kennedy."
Buckland didn't nod, but he didn't have to. "And Mr. Wellard too. Yes, it must be done; their fates are out of our hands in any case. Best to turn your attentions to the living."
"Sir, they *are* living. At least they were when I left the sick berth. And what would you have to gain by their deaths now?"
"A confession," Buckland said, his eyes narrowing, "One you want as much as I do. A confession. And a man to hang."
Clive straightened up. "Sir, your order goes against my Hippocratic oath."
"Oh?" Buckland's eyebrows went up, "Who controls your fate now, Hippocrates or the Admiralty? One of them pushed the captain; but while they stick together we will never know for certain."
Clive looked into his captain's colorless eyes and suppressed a shiver. "I am honor-bound to not let them die, sir."
"You are not letting them die, Dr. Clive," Buckland said evenly, picking up his knife, "You are simply letting God make the decision. Now you have your orders."
Clive stood there for a moment, uncertain what to do. "You know if they die, their deaths will be on your head."
"Better theirs than my own ," Buckland muttered to himself, but did not look at Clive again. "Dismissed, doctor."
Clive held his ground for a moment longer; he had known Lieutenant Buckland for years, knew him as a vague and timid, but ultimately kind and reasonable man. Certainly he was not the paranoid, vicious creature sitting there now...
While Clive was thinking these things, Buckland raised his head and widened his eyes in anger. "I said you are dismissed!"
Then the doctor knew that further talk was useless. Whatever and whoever Lieutenant Buckland had been, Captain Buckland had made short work of him. With a curt bow, Clive left his captain to eat his meal alone, and went back out through the battered doors, and the yawning portal beyond.
He was not certain, at first, that he was awake. He felt odd and disconnected, like he was floating above himself. There was no pain, no sound and no light; I must be dead, he thought, and was not at all surprised that the thought did not bother him.
Then in the gray nothingness edges emerged, rough ones that ached a little. Then they ached more, then hurt, and before he knew it Wellard felt as if his chest was on fire. It happened so fast that Wellard gasped, and opened his eyes to see not darkness but close dark timbers, glowing dully in an uncertain light. He tried to breathe and couldn't.
I'm not dead, he thought with the same flat detachment. Maybe I'm a prisoner...
His mind worked backwards, lazily. He couldn't think straight, not through the pain and the shock of being alive. Where had he last been? The captain's cabin. What had happened? Low words, fear, and smoke, the Spanish firing, killing the captain, a horrible pain and blood -
And then - someone holding him up, telling him he was brave, which was of course impossible. Wellard tried hard in his memory to see who that had been, but everything was hazy and indistinct. He still tasted blood in his mouth, and shivered a little.
Wellard froze. He knew that voice, and began to tremble again for a different reason. Hobbs was there, lying in wait for him. But how could he escape? If I don't look, maybe he'll go away, the boy thought quickly. He closed his eyes again, and tried to pull himself back into unconsciousness. It was better, so much better than all this pain... if only he had some of the doctor's laudanaum...
Wellard heard a sigh somewhere beside him, and hoped Hobbs didn't notice that he was still shaking. I wonder what happened, he mused gauzily, did we defeat the Spanish or are we their prisoners?
Voices now, not too far away from him. "Mr. Hobbs, you still here?"
Dr. Clive. Wellard tried to hold very still.
"He opened his eyes, just now." Hobbs replied, very quietly like he was tired.
Wellard felt hands on him, on his neck, firm but gentle, looking for something. Then on his chest, where the pain was. He bit the inside of his cheek so he wouldn't cry out.
"His pulse is strong," the doctor commented, "And his bandages don't show any infection. You are a most keen watchdog, Mr. Hobbs."
A pause. Wellard felt trapped. "How are they?"
'They' who? Wellard wondered.
"Both sleeping," Clive answered in his clipped tones, "Mr. Bush's incision is healing very well, with luck he should be up and about by week's end. Mr. Kennedy - well, let us say his recovery will be something more of a miracle. Especially with the orders I've been given."
Wellard felt his heart tighten. Mr. Kennedy was hurt? Oh, no. Oh, no.
"Orders?" Hobbs asked.
A pause. Then, "Captain Buckland wishes these gentlemen to receive no further treatment from me, demanding that...nature...be allowed to take her course. Judging from the look in his eye when he said it, I imagine defying him would invoke a reading of the Articles of War."
Another pause. Then Hobbs' voice, sounding a little thin. "You mean - "
"You know exactly what I mean, Mr. Hobbs. And don't look at me like that, dammit! I am no happier about it than you."
Another, longer pause. "You can't let 'em die, sir. Not when - "
"Not when we don't know who pushed the captain into the hold? I believe, Mr. Hobbs, that is the intention here. Now if you'll excuse me I must go find Mr. Hornblower and tell him that Captain Buckland has forbid him from visiting the sick berth."
"The captain has - "
"You heard me." Silence. "It almost makes one long for madness."
There was the sound of footsteps then, fading, then silence. Wellard sat in the dark confused, trying to make sense of what he had heard. Dr. Clive was leaving them to die? He didn't care for himself, but it sounded like Mr. Kennedy needed help. He wasn't going to get it? No, that wasn't right, why would Mr. Buckland do something like that? Why -
Suddenly there was a hand on his arm, and Wellard would have jumped if he had the strength. As it was, his heart began to beat painfully fast.
"Sodding bastard," Hobbs growled, and Wellard wondered who he was talking to. "He didn't give no orders to me, did he?"
Wellard had no idea what those words meant, and no strength left to try and puzzle it out. He heard water being sloshed somewhere, felt a few drops fall onto his parched lips, and a cool cloth being laid on his forehead. Then his spirit gave out, and he went to sleep.
The Renown was swiftly making her way through the water, and as he made his way along the deck Horatio had to hang onto various ratlines and cables to keep his footing on the rocking deck. The wind was up; already several men were aloft to take in a few of the sails. Horatio watched their work, and shuddered; watching men take in reefs held bad memories for him, now.
He walked a few more steps along the somewhat slippery deck, and looked up to see Lieutenant - now Captain - Buckland watching the proceedings with a pleased expression on his narrow face. Horatio quickly made his way over and saluted. "Good morning, sir."
"Good morning, lieutenant," Buckland rejoined cordially, squinting at the unfurled sails, "Taking in a reef, I see. No need to ask permission first,eh?"
Horatio allowed himself a small smile; he was yet learning how to read his captain's moods, and given Buckland's earlier resentment of him was inclined to be cautious. "The wind is picking up, sir. I thought it best."
"Of course," Buckland nodded, his eyes sweeping the sea ahead of them, "We don't want to appear in too much of a hurry to our own execution."
It was said jovially, lightly. Horatio frowned at this, remembering Buckland's worry earlier. "With fortune on our side, sir, we will all escape a bad end. After all, what we did was for the good of the service."
Buckland's eyebrows went up. "What we did, Mr. Hornblower? I'm not certain I follow your words."
Horatio felt his heart catch. "Removing the captain from command, sir. I am certain that after we give our testimony the court of inquiry will understand that we acted for the good of the ship."
"Oh," Buckland's smile was enigmatic, and he did not meet Horatio's eyes. "Yes, of course."
Suddenly wary, Horatio added, "And if I may say, sir, your command since that time has been of the highest order. You may count on me to speak only well of you at the inquiry."
Buckland's eyes went to Horatio, sharp and piercing, "May I indeed, Mr. Hornblower? That is reassuring to hear."
Horatio tried to smile his encouragement. "Certainly, sir. After all, we know your mind; it has always been on the good of the ship and her men. It was plain even during our conversations in the hold."
Buckland looked around quickly, as if to see if anyone heard. Then he looked at Horatio, and his expression was unreadable. "Mr. Hornblower, you'd best see to your duties. We must all look to our duties, now, and hold to them when we reach Kingston. You understand that, don't you?"
Unsure what to make of these words, Horatio nodded. "Aye aye, sir. What are your orders for me?"
Buckland looked past Horatio's shoulder, and his eyes narrowed. Smiling even more mysteriously he said, "Here is Dr. Clive, I believe he has some orders for you. After that..." Buckland's eyes went upward, to where the sails were flapping in the misted breeze, "Tend to those sails. We don't want to lose any of this wind."
Horatio looked behind him, and saw that Dr. Clive was standing some distance behind him, his expression one of uncertain dread. Frowning, he turned back to Buckland, but that man had already walked away, and was standing at the railing with his hands clasped behind his back, staring at the shifting sea.
Confused, Horatio walked over to Clive, who would not meet his eyes. "Dr. Clive, how is Mr. Kennedy?"
"He's - the same," Clive said swiftly, clearing his throat and looking at the deck.
Horatio peered at the doctor closely. Something was wrong. "And Mr. Bush? Mr. Wellard?"
"They are all just the same as when you left them an hour ago," Clive snapped, his color rising as he met Horatio's eyes briefly. He looked away again and sighed.
Horatio caught his strange demeanor and said, "Captain Buckland said you have some orders for me."
"Hmph," Clive snorted, glaring at Buckland's back, "He didn't have the nerve to tell you himself." With a great effort, it seemed, he met Horatio's eyes; Horatio saw something black and cold in Clive's eyes, not dead but wishing it were. "Under the captain's orders you're to stay out of the sick berth. Do not return unless you yourself are injured."
Horatio's eyebrows shot up. "What?"
"Those are the orders I was given," Clive said, almost apologetically, "And bear in mind that I know a self-inflicted wound when I see one. Don't give me a reason to hate this more than I already do."
Horatio could not believe what he was hearing. But - but... his eyes slid to Buckland and he whispered, "He has not forgotten, or forgiven."
Horatio's shoulders slumped in resignation. Given the precariousness of his position, to fight the order would be suicide; Buckland would seize upon any disagreement as insubordination. And they were less than a day out of Kingston... he would not let it be the triumph Buckland was looking for. Straightening his shoulders Horatio looked at the doctor with resolution in his eyes and said, "Thank you for telling me, sir. And - I'm sorry it was put upon you."
Clive's expression was still dark. "There's something else."
Horatio blinked. "Further orders?"
Clive nodded, his voice pitched low. "For me, not you. I am to discontinue treating the lieutenants and Mr. Wellard."
Horatio was shocked. He could only stare.
Clive's eyes darted to Buckland for a moment; then he tapped his hat and said, "I'm sorry, lieutenant, but I thought you should know - "
Not even thinking, Horatio caught his arm. When Clive started he let go, and fought with his own slipping control for a moment. Good God, leave Archie and Bush to suffer? Let Wellard's young life slip away untended? Horatio could not hide his disgust and surprise, and when he looked in the doctor's eyes saw an answer in them, a sad and knowing answer. But no help...
Clive tapped his hat again and whispered, "Good morning, Mr. Hornblower."
And he was gone.
Horatio stood there for a moment, feeling suddenly isolated and alone on a ship of seven hundred men. His eyes went slowly to Buckland, who turned around as if he could feel Horatio's eyes on his back. Buckland gave Horatio a cold smile, then turned his eyes upward.
"To your work, lieutenant," he said jauntily, "Those sails will tear if you're not careful, and we must make Kingston after all!"
Horatio blinked, and for a wild moment he was standing in the darkness and rain of six months before, staring into the eyes of a mad captain who threw his dead seamen overboard without a moment's thought. He could see the lightning flashing and a pleading, fearful voice: **for God's sake, Horatio...**
There will be a help for this, Archie, Horatio thought sadly. There has to be. Looking at Buckland he shook his head, and as if hypnotized touched his hat in obedience. "Aye, aye, sir," he said dully, and went to do as he was told.
The next time Bush awoke, he lay in his hammock and tried to determine what time it was. He felt as if he had been asleep for ages, but knew from experience that that would be deceiving. So he needed other clues.
Look around the sick berth first. With an effort, Bush lifted his head and looked around the long, low room. There were the same wounded men there, the same loblolly boys tending to them. No sign of Dr. Clive. A quick glance at Kennedy's hammock told him the young man was asleep, although judging by his pained expression that sleep was restless and light. But there was nothing to tell Bush how much time had passed.
With a sigh, he put his head back down and listened, taking stock of his own body as he did so. He was thirsty again, and weak; but he did not feel drained as he had the previous day; in fact, he felt sore and stiff, like he wanted to move. Perhaps he could get out of this blasted hammock...
While Bush was brooding over this, he heard the ship's bell tolling some distance above him. Captivated, he listened: one bell; nothing. Then he heard pipes shrilling and knew the hands were being called to supper. 4 o'clock, then. More than half the day gone.
Bush sighed and tried to stretch in the hammock; but it was an awkward business. Sighing with exasperation, he gave up and looked around for some water. Not seeing a pitcher nearby he called out, "Hey! Boy!"
There were several loblolly boys nearby, but at his call they all started and looked at each other, as if he'd frightened them. Then they looked down sheepishly, but did not move.
Bush frowned; this was damn peculiar. Fixing his eyes on the nearest one he tried again. "Hey, boy! You there!"
The boy looked over his shoulder at Bush, his eyes big as saucers. Wearing a look like a hare caught in a hound's teeth, the boy came over and said, "Sir?"
"Water, if you please," Bush said, more quietly. He was trying to keep his irritation in check.
The boy turned pale and stammered, "I can't, sir. Sorry, sir." And before Bush could argue, he scampered off.
It took Bush a moment to find his voice; once he did, however, he did not hesitate to use it. "What? Come back here, dammit, that's an order!"
But it was no use; all the loblolly boys were acting as if he didn't exist.
Bush plopped his head back in the hammock and thought about this. Now why on earth would the loblolly boys be told not to give him water? He'd had water before, and there was no shortage. Bush didn't understand it.
But this was not getting him any water. Looking up again, Bush cast his eyes about the sick berth until he saw a pitcher of water sitting on a table some distance away. Not close, but manageable. All bloody right then - if no one would get Bush the water, he'd have to get it himself.
He put one leg out, very slowly; the hammock tipped, and for a frantic moment Bush thought he would fall right out, and looked around for Dr. Clive; surely he would catch the wrong side of the doctor's temper if he tore out those stitches. He pulled his leg back a bit, and the hammock righted itself. He tried it again, slower, and after five minutes' work had one foot on the rough planking. So far, so good.
Lifting himself out of the hammock, however, was another matter. His stitches hurt terribly, and the exertion made Bush light-headed and dizzy. After trying for several more minutes, however, he managed to get himself upright, although he had no idea how long he could stay in that position. Concentrate, Bush, he ordered himself, and began to slowly move across the sick berth toward his objective.
He'd only gone about half a dozen steps when he realized that the loblolly boys were staring at him, open-mouthed and for some reason terrified. Bush wondered at this; well, perhaps they weren't used to seeing an officer stagger across the sick berth wearing only a bandage and his sweat-stained breeches. He would get his water, but he was fast losing his credibility -
Then, suddenly, Bush's legs went out from under him and he fell.
Or, he nearly did; someone caught him from behind and set him on the rough decking. Fighting to overcome the horrible bout of dizziness that was swarming through his brain, Bush squinted upward and saw, of all people, gunner Hobbs looking down at him.
"Careful, sir," Hobbs said simply.
Bush nodded, and ran a hand through his disheveled hair. "Thank you, Hobbs."
"You're out of your hammock, sir."
"Very observant of you," Bush replied dryly.
Hobbs looked around, then behind him. Bush felt rather than saw the gunner's hands go under his arms, and he felt himself being hoisted up and set on a low chair. Nodding his thanks, he squinted at the murky shadow that floated in front of him and said, "I need some water, Hobbs."
Was there hesitation? What the bloody hell was wrong with everyone? "Hobbs?"
Then the shadow smiled a little and said, "Why not? Here."
Then a cup was being pressed into his hands, and Bush drank. Drank, and felt much better. Hobbs came into focus, and as his wits came back to him Bush looked beyond Hobbs' shoulder, and saw Wellard lying pale and unconscious in a hammock beyond, a cloth lying on his brow. "How is Mr. Wellard?"
Hobbs' eyes flickered down for an instant, and he shrugged. "Can't say. Don't know yet."
Bush studied the gunner's face, and was somewhat surprised by what he saw there. "You've been staying with him?"
Hobbs looked at him, startled, and said quickly, "Just want to see him live till Kingston. That's all."
"Oh," Bush replied, and was going to say something else when something very strange happened.
There was a noise behind him, a noise Bush had learned to become alarmed at. He turned around to see Kennedy moving slightly in his hammock, gasping for air; he was having trouble breathing again.
Bush knew he could not move fast, and his eyes shot to the loblolly boys; certainly they would help, and get Dr. Clive before Kennedy had suffered too much. But what the hell? The boys weren't moving, any of them, and they were trading the same sheepish looks they had exchanged earlier.
Bush's anger boiled over. "You boys! Get Dr. Clive!" he barked, and was gratified when several of them jumped at the growling command; a few of them dashed away, almost in a panic.
But they weren't moving fast enough, dammit, and Bush could not listen to Kennedy's choking for another moment. He turned to Hobbs and muttered, "Help me up."
With a confounding smile on his face, Hobbs did so, and as soon as he was on his feet Bush hurried as fast as he could - which was not fast - to Kennedy's hammock. There was a chair there, usually occupied by Hornblower but now empty, and Bush sat down in it heavily. Kennedy's eyes were closed, and he was covered with sweat; his breathing was shallow but labored, and his face was tight with exertion.
Bush laid a hand on his shoulder and said, "Mr. Kennedy? Breathe slowly, easy now."
Kennedy opened his eyes, and Bush saw pain and confusion there. But Kennedy struggled to obey his command.
It wasn't working, however; a spot of blood appeared at the corner of his mouth. Growing afraid, but determined not to show it, Bush leaned a little closer and said, "Mr. Kennedy, listen to me, breathe slowly - in, come on, in! Just breathe in."
Kennedy's bright blue eyes locked on his, and with a tremendous effort he took one scattered, agonized breath in.
"Very good. Now out. Slowly."
Kennedy was trembling all over; he exhaled, his breath a ragged gasp.
"Excellent, Mr. Kennedy, again." As his order was obeyed, Bush winced at the blood on Archie's mouth and glanced over his shoulder. "Where the bloody hell is that doctor?"
"He's not coming."
Bush started at Hobbs' voice, and looked up to see him standing at the other side of Kennedy's hammock. But his words didn't make sense, unless..."Damn! He's drunk again?"
Hobbs looked down at Kennedy, whose eyes were open but unfocused; he was struggling to draw a full breath. Without another word, Hobbs walked away, then came back a moment later with a pitcher of water.
Bush took it, and as Kennedy continued his painful breathing poured some into a cup and held Kennedy's head up to receive it.
Kennedy drank some, then took another mouthful and spat it onto the deck. Bush leaned his head back again, grateful that Kennedy was looking a little more relaxed.
Kennedy coughed a little, then gave Bush a tired, wry look. "That is a most unfortunate vintage, Mr. Bush." he whispered.
Bush gave him a smile. "I'll inform the steward. Better?"
Kennedy took another very slow, labored breath and blinked, his eyelids fluttering briefly. "I'm afraid - if you ask for me tomorrow, you shall find me a grave man."
Bush shook his head, "Not if you've still enough wit to quote Shakespeare. More water?"
Kennedy swallowed, and shaking his head closed his eyes.
After watching him in concern for a moment, Bush remembered something and looked up. Hobbs was standing some distance away, watching them. With some effort, Bush rose and walked toward him; fortunately, Hobbs met him halfway.
"Thank you for your help, Mr. Hobbs," Bush said, breathlessly for the exertion tired him, "But kindly find Dr. Clive and tell him to get down here *now*. Tell him I will report him, along with these boys who aren't worth their - "
"It's not him. It's the captain's orders."
Bush stopped, confused; Hobbs' words did not make sense. "Hobbs?"
The gunner's face was a mask, but his eyes held peculiar anger in them. "You're not to be helped, sir. Nor Mr. Kennedy, nor Mr. Wellard. And Mr. Hornblower is not to be allowed in. Captain Buckland's orders."
Bush paused, weighing this. He thought of the possibilities of what Hobbs was saying, and felt himself go dizzy again. "Hobbs, if this is some twisted scheme to force a confession - "
Hobbs pursed his lips for an instant, and Bush thought he went a little pale; but he might have been mistaken. "It's captain's orders, sir, you shall have ask 'im. The doctor's not to help any of you, that's all I know."
Bush thought about this, then looked back at Kennedy. "The *doctor's* not to help us?"
"Nor the boys either, I suppose."
Bush glanced over at Wellard's hammock, where the boy was sleeping; obviously someone had been tending him since that morning...
Someone. Bush looked Hobbs up and down, and had a sudden thought. "Anyone else?"
Hobbs' eyes didn't move, and his expression didn't change. "Not the doctor or the loblolly boys, sir. Those are the orders."
A knowing grin tugged at the edge of Bush's mouth; he knew now what the stakes were, what the odds were, and what his duty was. "Kingston tomorrow morning, Hobbs?"
Bush turned to walk back to his hammock. As he walked he said quietly, "Mr. Hobbs, if you see Mr. Hornblower you will kindly tell him that I've been informed of the captain's orders, and will be - " he glanced at Kennedy and his smile faded. "I will be true to form, if nothing else. I believe he will understand."
He made it back to his hammock, and fell in. Hobbs was standing a few feet away, and when their eyes met Bush could swear he saw something beyond the blank mask of resentment the gunner always wore.
But there was no obvious sign of it now; Hobbs only nodded and said, "Aye aye, sir. If you'll excuse me, it's time to attend to see to the guns."
Bush wanted to think the gunner understood, and would return; but perhaps it was only the dizziness and a desire to believe they were not all helpless. He nodded Hobbs away, and tried to go back to sleep. But he knew as he dozed off that his slumber would be lighter, for he had to be vigilant. There was no one else who could help.
And they would not reach Kingston until tomorrow.
Commodore Pellew squinted as he stepped out of the coolness of the courthouse into the hot afternoon sun; he decided with a weary sigh that as long as he lived, he would never get used to this tropical heat.
He had thought at first to take a walk down to the seashore, and see what ships had come to port; it could be that one of them bore news of the Renown. Instead, something else caught his eye and he walked in that direction instead.
It was a gallows.
Or it would be; as Pellew neared the town square he saw it was only partially built. But there was no mistaking the raised platform, or the hinged-open door that hung in the middle of it. The living wood of this island was being used to create an instrument of death.
Nearby, Pellew spied Captain Hammond looking over some plans with a few of the native workers; squaring his shoulders, he approached and cleared his throat significantly.
Hammond looked up, and saluted in a tidy way. "Good afternoon, Commodore. I see you're out enjoying the tropical sunshine."
"Enjoying, my arse," Pellew growled, glaring at the gallows with his great dark eyes. "What is the meaning of this?"
Hammond frowned in an apologetic way, but waved one elegant hand as if the explanation was very simple. "It was merely decided to not waste time, sir. Justice must be dealt swiftly if it is to have any effect at all."
"The justice has not been decided upon yet," Pellew replied hotly, sliding his eyes to Hammond fiercely, "And will not be until we've heard every word said in defense. You know that, captain. How dare you place the onus of guilt upon these gentlemen before their case is even heard!"
Hammond glanced at the two workers at his elbow, who were looking from Pellew to Hammond in confusion. Hammond met their eyes and nodded at them, as if to say, 'I'll handle this.' Then he handed the plans to them and said, "Commodore, may I take the liberty of suggesting a walk in the shade?"
"You may do what you please," Pellew said, nevertheless allowing Hammond to turn him away from that loathesome device, "But you must know that I will convict no man on hearsay, nor will I pass judgment simply so the admirals can sleep soundly in their beds."
"No one is asking you to do that, sir," Hammond replied smoothly as they began to walk in Kingston's dappled shade, "But the evidence is plain: when Renown docks tomorrow, she will not have the captain she started with. Explanations will be demanded."
"But why assume mutiny?" Pellew asked, "Why assume treason? Would the admiralty rather believe her officers are disloyal than otherwise?"
"When it comes to the great James Sawyer, yes," Hammond replied in a low-pitched voice, "Because he is too famous to fall on his own accord, and too much of a god to be mortal. Nelson wouldn't die from falling down a hatchway, by God! And neither would his men."
"Yet if that is the case, the crown will simply have to deal with it," Pellew asserted, letting his eyes wander to the low stuccoed walls, the faraway church, the cotton dresses on the women. "We in the higher ranks know that Captain Sawyer is not the man he was."
"Precisely, and that's where it must stay," Hammond rumbled, "For all our sakes. Look around you, Commodore; we hold these islands by the sword of Damocles, its blade ready to slice us in two at any moment. Blacks in rebellion, America so close with her ideas of independence...England cannot look feeble, sir. England cannot carry a hint of infirmity. Our strength must be made clear."
"But at the cost of promising officers' lives?" Pellew stopped and regarded Hammond with unbelieving eyes. "Suppose the case is not as clear-cut as you make it seem? Suppose we find that the officers had a very good reason to declare their captain unfit to command?"
Hammond's eyes were flint, cold and hard. "No, sir. There can be no reason good enough to justify mutiny. The crown's decision has been made, and when Renown makes port tomorrow there will be only one question on everyone's lips, white and black, on this entire island: who is responsible for Captain Sawyer losing his command? And when we know the answer, whoever it is will be duly punished, out here where everyone can see it. And that'll keep the natives here from thinking about what they're doing over in Samana Bay."
Pellew's gaze involuntarily went to the gallows, and he swallowed his discomfort.
"Now if you'll excuse me," Hammond said lightly, adjusting his hat on his head, "I want to make certain those men get that thing put up right. It might need to carry the weight of more than one man."
And Hammond walked away, shimmering light and dark in the Jamaican foliage as he strode back to where the gallows stood. Pellew watched him go, then tilted his head up and looked at the sun. Little more than twelve hours; then Hornblower and the others would be in port, and he would have his answers. And then...
Pellew turned and walked down the street away from the ominous scene behind him, and wondered how it was possible to stand in the midst of tropical heat, yet suddenly feel as cold as the bottom of the sea.
Horatio had the afternoon watch, and he was glad of it; he needed to pace, and think.
The Renown was going about her busy life, now nearly back to normal following the previous day's attack. The deck was clean, the carpenter was making the necessary repairs; it was very easy to think that nothing remarkable had occured at all.
Except that every time he walked past the spot where Archie fell, Horatio felt chilled to the bone.
Horatio took a deep breath, shook his head; he had to consider what was happening, weigh his options. He walked to the railing, put his hands behind his back, and selected a spot far away, on the horizon. Kingston lay beyond it; best to concentrate there.
First thing to consider: the new captain, Buckland. Horatio shifted his footing and fought the anger that was welling within him; such wild emotions would accomplish nothing. Buckland had changed, that was a fact; he was no longer the fellow sufferer, the associate victim of Sawyer's madness looking for a way out. On him was the burden of command, and on top of that the knowledge that he was responsible for things that could get a man hanged, or at least disgraced; it was very human to fight against it.
But why this way, Horatio wondered in helpless frustration as he began to pace the deck again. What could be done, how could he make Buckland see that by his actions he was losing loyalty, not gaining it? He thinks of us as a threat, thinks that by separating us we are made weaker; and his orders that Clive is not to help...
Horatio paced faster, the anger returning with a vengeance. Buckland hated *him*, not Bush or Archie or Wellard. Every humiliation, every defiance, every shaming of Buckland had come from no one else's hands; yet others were suffering for it. Something had to be done. He himself could die and think nothing of it; but if Bush, if Wellard should be neglected on his account...if Archie should...
Without knowing it, Horatio slammed a fist onto the railing, grunting at the pain. Coming back to himself, he quickly withdrew his hand into his jacket and looked around; what hands there were on deck were not paying him mind. Good. But oh, how his hand hurt!
What can I do? Horatio thought dismally, casting his eyes on the unanswering sea. Buckland was suspicious, angry, and devious in a way that Sawyer had never been. In a way no one had been in Horatio's memory, ever, except once...a long time ago...
Horatio shook his head again, and folded his injured hand into his jacket. No, this was not like Justinian, it couldn't be. But he felt just as powerless.
His eyes turned to Kingston then, and Horatio considered what awaited them there, all of them. An inquiry, certainly; and Buckland was right to be fearful of that. What they had done was mutiny, plain and simple, and with Captain Sawyer dead there was now only words to defend them. Words, and everyone's word would be weighed against the others, by a tribunal determined to find the truth.
But what was the truth? Horatio closed his eyes briefly, saw a dim and shadowed hold, Sawyer walking slowly backwards, and hands - hands reaching out - his own, Archie's, Wellard's, but Horatio could not see what they were doing, not even his own - it happened so fast -
Dear God. What *had* happened that night in the hold?
Horatio opened his eyes and took a deep breath. That was where it all hinged, the fulcrum, to use a technical expression. Before Sawyer's fall he had been lucid, if tyrannical; afterwards he was borderline insane. Yet Dr. Clive had to be pressed into declaring him unfit, and even now Horatio was unsure whether the recalcitrant doctor wouldn't retract his declaration, just to save face and spite the men who plotted against his captain. Clive was a competent doctor, but Horatio held no illusions. He could still betray them all.
Horatio began to pace again. Anyone could betray them, and they all had their reasons for doing so. Clive seemed embarrassed that his medical skills could not save Sawyer; Buckland obviously would say and do anything to deflect the guilt of mutiny from himself. Many of the men aboard were still loyal to Sawyer's memory, and would not hesitate to speak out against Horatio and the others, who had forced them to endure discipline that Sawyer would not mete out. And then, of course, there was the gunner, Hobbs.
Horatio paused in his pacing and glanced up; Hobbs was some distance away, overseeing the repair of a gun carriage damaged in the previous day's fight. He seemed intent on his work, so Horatio felt at liberty to study the man, and thought: if any man could send us all to the gallows with a word...
Hobbs had Buckland's trust. He also knew the captain very well, and had spent a considerable amount of time trying to jog his ailing memory. Who knows what words Sawyer might have whispered to him? It was very possible that Hobbs was merely lying in wait, biding his time until they reached Kingston. He hated Horatio, hated Wellard and Styles, and had no great love for anyone else. If death came from anyone's lips, it would very likely be his.
And yet - what had Horatio seen in those often-resentful eyes, after they returned from the fort? It had almost been like respect...he had seen that look in another's eyes, years before, an obstinate midshipman named Hunter. He had hated Horatio as well, had resented his authority and fought it with an unrivalled bitterness...but in the end, he had accepted it. Distinguished himself, even. At the cost of his life...
Horatio began to pace again, and chided himself. There was no time to wallow in memories; Hobbs was not Hunter, and there was no reason to think that his attitude toward Horatio had changed with any permanence; so again, Horatio had to accept that of that entire ship of seven hundred men, he had exactly three allies. And they were all wounded and beyond his reach.
It was a desperate situation, and as he made his way up the deck Horatio had to admit to himself that he did not like the odds. Without medical treatment, Archie might die before they reached Kingston; and Wellard with him. And even if they all survived, it would not be a sympathetic audience waiting for them; it would be a group of men mourning their slain leader, and looking for blame. And where to find it...
Horatio straightened up, and squared his shoulders. You do not want your friend to die disgraced behind prison bars, Clive had said. No, he did not. What had been done needed to be done, to save all of them, but they did not all have to suffer for it. He would go to Captain Buckland, and ask for permission to let Clive treat his wounded friends. He would take the blame, shoulder whatever responsibility he had to, to see to their comfort. Likely they would be denounced once they reached Kingston, anyway; at least this way, only he would suffer for it.
With that resolution firmly set in his mind, Horatio flexed his aching hand and casting his eyes on the distant horizon one more time, turned towards the captain's cabin -
- and nearly ran over Hobbs, who was standing not two feet away from him.
"Oh, for goodness sake!" Horatio exclaimed, jumping back; he was in fact very rattled.
Hobbs, however, merely tapped his hat. "Sir."
Horatio blinked, then realized that the man was standing as if waiting for orders. Pulling himself up to his full height, he put on his officer's bearing and said, "Yes, Mr. Hobbs?"
"Only wanted to report that the gun carriage is repaired, sir," Hobbs said in his blank way; he was looking over Horatio's shoulder, as if eye contact was beneath him.
Horatio's eyes fluttered to where the repaired gun stood, being fussed over by Hobbs' gun crew. "Yes. Right. Very good,Mr. Hobbs. Carry on."
"Aye aye, sir," Hobbs replied, leaning forward slightly and once again touching the brim of his hat. As Horatio brought his hand up to return the salute, Hobbs continued in a lower tone. "Word from Mr. Bush, sir. He's been informed of the captain's orders and wishes you to know that he will be true to form."
Horatio stuttered to a halt in mid-salute. He mulled those words over, remembered the words he had overheard Buckland say to Bush once. *You three, you're so full of yourselves. And each other.*
Bush would be true to form. Horatio could not help but smile.
For his part, Hobbs looked as unreadable as ever, as if he had said nothing. "Will that be all, sir?"
Horatio found his voice. "Yes, thank you, Mr. Hobbs. See what else needs doing."
"Aye aye, sir," Hobbs repeated, and without another glance walked away, back toward the guns. Horatio watched him go, relieved and confused at once. Somehow - somehow Bush would make certain Archie and Wellard were all right, he would defy the captain's order as far as he could, provided Clive did not stop him. But it made no sense to Horatio that Hobbs would be a party to this, and would choose to inform him rather than betray Bush's intent to Buckland; certainly he had to know what punishments that would bring on the men he had so recently hated. This action was contrary to everything Horatio believed about the man's character.
But then, Horatio thought suddenly, he had seen contrary actions in men before. In his own men, in Styles and Matthews. In Hunter...
With that baffling thought, Horatio turned his eyes toward Kingston, feeling the burden on his shoulders ease ever so slightly. There was now no need to rush to the captain's cabin and beg for the lives of his friends. But there was still much to think about and consider. Horatio set his eyes on the horizon, and waited for the sun to set.
The next time Bush awoke, he guessed he had been sleeping for at least three hours. He listened to the sounds around him before opening his eyes, and did not hear much except for the normal coughing and groaning that went on in a sick berth full of wounded men. And, more importantly, he did not hear any sounds that suggested that Mr. Kennedy was having any trouble breathing.
With that reassurance, Bush opened his eyes and carefully turned his head to get a better look around. There were a few loblolly boys about, and at the far end of the sick berth stood Dr. Clive, changing the bandages of one of the wounded men. The doctor looked focused, intent, and as comfortable as Bush had ever seen him. But the doctor would not come over to look at them...
Bush turned his head in the other direction and looked at Kennedy. The young man was sleeping, not in any obvious pain or distress; satisfied, Bush lifted a hand and touched his own bandage, testing the soreness there; if he was going to die of an infection, he was bloody well going to know about it.
The stitches hurt like blazes; but Bush was used to pain and thought nothing of it. He was terribly thirsty, though, and now knew better than to waste his voice calling for one of the boys. The pitcher of water Hobbs had brought over earlier was still sitting on the deck, not too far out of Bush's grasp. With a painful heave, he slowly lifted himself upright, then carefully set one foot on the floor and shakily got to his feet.
The pain in his chest raced through his entire body, and Bush had only enough strength to reach for the pitcher before he was forced to sit down in the chair beside Kennedy's hammock. He sat down hard, and could feel sweat pouring down his face; but he ignored it and drank the stale water greedily.
Having drunk his fill, Bush lowered the pitcher and took another look at Kennedy. He seemed all right, although far too pale and gaunt; and the bandage around his middle showed bloodstains, so his wound had not closed yet. Or it was becoming infected...
Bush looked back over his shoulder at Dr. Clive; he was not surprised to see that the man was watching him sharply. Bush returned the gaze steadily, daring the doctor to stop him from looking after his junior officers. He knew very well what Clive was capable of; one smooth word to Buckland and they might all be punished. But damned if he was going to let any man's pride stand in his way...
Bush rose from the chair again, and made his way to Kennedy's hammock. Clive's eyes followed him, but to Bush's relief the doctor did nothing.
A hand quickly laid on Kennedy's cheek told Bush there was no fever; in fact, he seemed to be enjoying a peaceful rest, considering the circumstances. Exhausted by even this slight movement, Bush turned to make his way back to his own hammock when he thought of his other wounded officer, and looked toward the hammock where Wellard lay.
He thought - he didn't know why - that gunner Hobbs might be there; he wasn't. Wellard was lying alone, swallowed up in a sling of fabric that seemed far too large for him. As Bush looked more closely, he saw that the boy was awake.
Bush risked one more glance at Clive; but the doctor was busy cleaning another man's wound. Slowly - very slowly - he walked to Wellard's hammock, studying the youth's condition as he did so. Wellard's eyes were open, a little, and he seemed to be trying to move his head; one hand was at the bandage around his chest, the slender fingers grasping at it weakly. His breath was coming in rapid, shallow gasps.
"Mr. Wellard?" Bush said softly as soon as he came close enough.
Wellard started a little; then his barely-open eyes shifted in Bush's direction, and he squinted even though it was very dark in there to begin with. After a moment he whispered, "You as well, sir?"
It was a light voice, thin with fear and pain. Determined to raise the boy's spirits, Bush managed a smile as he took the chair beside the hammock. He hoped Wellard didn't see him wince as he sat down. "Only the bravest men are wounded, Mr. Wellard. It's a tradition."
"Aye, sir," Wellard replied automatically, although his glazed expression made Bush realize he really wasn't following what was being said.
Bush took quick stock of the midshipman's condition; he had a wound in his chest, one that was bleeding some; but on top of that he was excessively pale, and almost looked as if he was shaking. Bush took action at once. "Water, Mr. Wellard?"
Wellard blinked at him, but didn't respond. Bush took that as a 'yes' and hastily poured some of the brackish liquid into a cup; once that was done he slid one hand behind the youth's head and touched the cup to his lips. "Here, drink."
The boy obeyed, or seemed to. He drank only a few sips before pushing the cup away, and pulling his head out of Bush's grasp with an almost petulant motion. He turned his eyes away from Bush, and stared out into nothingness. "Thank you, sir." he said flatly.
Bush set the cup down. "You're welcome, Mr. Wellard. What else do you need?"
Wellard shook his head.
"Are you certain?" Bush persisted; he had no idea when or if Hobbs was coming back, and once back in his hammock he knew it would be many hours before he would leave it again. "Are you hungry, or do you need to use - "
"No, thank you, sir," Wellard replied, reddening.
Bush recognized the stubborn pride of youth and backed away from that question; he was certain that Wellard would rather injure himself trying than have anyone help him use the chamberpot.
Clive was moving about the sick berth now, and as he walked past Bush and Wellard he gave both of them a very stern look; Bush held his breath, thinking certainly he would be asked to return to his own hammock, and then he would have to injure Dr. Clive. But, remarkably, the doctor merely walked away, not helping certainly but not hindering either. Bush released his breath slowly; for whatever reason, they were not doomed today.
Wellard's head turned a little. "Was that the doctor?"
Bush nodded, even though the boy wasn't looking at him. He decided not to alarm Wellard with the truth, and said, "I'm assisting him tonight. Is there something you need?"
Wellard bit his lip; he was clearly thinking something over. He drew one ragged breath, two; then he whispered, "In my jacket. In the left pocket."
In his - ? Oh. Bush glanced around Wellard's hammock, finally spied a bundle of clothes that had been ripped off the boy and thrown to the floor in haste. Fortunately, they were not far away, and Bush only had to bend over to pluck the jacket from the floor. He found the left-hand jacket pocket and reached inside -
- and pulled out a small glass bottle. It was empty.
Wellard had turned toward him again, and the glassy look in his liquid brown eyes caused Bush to shudder.
"It hurts." Wellard said simply.
Bush knew exactly what the boy was asking for; he also knew that due to the captain's order he would not get it. Settling the bottle between his fingers he whispered, "The doctor's got none of this to give you, Mr. Wellard; you'll have to be brave till we get to Kingston."
"I'm not certain I shall live till Kingston," Wellard's voice was becoming dimmer by the moment, "I need to be gone."
Bush shuddered; the look in Wellard's eyes was desperate. Setting the bottle down slowly, he placed a hand on the boy's arm and looked straight into those pained depths, hoping to give Wellard some of his strength if nothing else. "Mr. Wellard, I'm sorry but I need you *here*. We'll be in Kingston soon, tomorrow morning; I'll need your help then, do you understand me?"
Wellard's eyes widened, and he grew a little paler. "The captain - before we were shot - "
Bush leaned forward; Wellard was struggling to remember something. "Yes, Mr. Wellard? What?"
Wellard's eyes glowed for a moment, as if he was on the verge of something; then the light retreated, and he shut his eyelids tight. "I can't remember. It hurts."
"I know, and I'm sorry," Bush said, and felt totally helpless; still, this boy wasn't going to suffer any more than he had to, not if there was anything to be done about it. "You'll be all right, but you need to stay strong until Kingston. We're all going to stand together, and we're all going to walk away free men. But I can't do it without your help. Do you hear me?"
Wellard turned his head away and said nothing.
Bush tightened his grip, just a little. "I said, do you hear me, Mr. Wellard? You're no good to me gone; nor to Mr. Hornblower or Mr. Kennedy either. We go together. Remember that."
Wellard's breath came in a hitching little gasp; he nodded slightly, and whispered, "I told him I'd do anything..."
He's drifting off, Bush realized with some relief, and smoothed Wellard's hair out of his eyes to speed the process along; his mother would help him to sleep that way, and it always worked. Better than the laudanaum, in any case.
A few moments later it was apparent that Wellard had gone to sleep; or simply fallen unconscious, Bush could not tell. Looking at the empty laudanaum bottle sadly, he slowly got to his feet and went back to his own hammock, being careful to leave the water pitcher with Wellard in case he needed it. After all, Bush considered, he was a veritable camel; he would always be all right. And looking after his own comfort was not part of his responsibilities.
With the weary hope that young Wellard had taken at least a few of his words to heart, Bush made a hasty use of the chamberpot and climbed back into his hammock, closing his eyes to sleep. It was true, what he'd said; they needed Wellard when they got to Kingston, needed his support and his testimony, if he could give any. But as he floated off toward sleep Bush wondered if mere words could pull any soul back; he wondered if his encouragement alone could make Wellard live till Kingston.
Then, just before he fell asleep, Bush heard a whisper from a short distance away:
"Well done, Mr. Bush. Very well done indeed."
It was Kennedy's voice, very weak but still quite distinct; his tone in those hushed words seemed to answer Bush's worries with a firm reassurance. But how does Kennedy know? Bush wondered sleepily. What I said to Wellard, that it would help...how does he *know*?...
But the answer would not come just then. Bush fell asleep.
The sun set in Kingston, another great fiery death to the day. Pellew watched the night come with gratitude, because that meant it would be cooler; it also meant that the tension that had been building inside of him since he was informed of the affair aboard Renown would break soon, and the truth would be known, one way or the other.
And the night would hide those blasted gallows Hammond was so proud of. Pellew was grateful most of all for that.
The patio in the guest house was lit with lanterns, and Pellew and Collins sat in the quiet evening drinking brandy in silence. The stars twinkled softly overhead; Pellew bent his head back and took a deep breath of the cool salt air.
"It's intoxicating, isn't it?" Collins said with a smile, casting his own pale eyes to the stars. "Makes one want to go to sea right this moment."
"Yes," Pellew agreed quietly, swirling the brandy in his glass.
There was silence for a few moments; then Collins said, "I am sorry you had to sit on this inquiry, Commodore. I've had to try my own men for crimes, and I know it isn't easy."
Pellew had no words for that condolence, only glanced at Collins for a moment before taking a drink. He set his glass down on the mosaic table with a soft clink.
Collins took this silence companionably; then he said, "And I've heard about these men, your Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Kennedy. Hornblower in particular; I was told he was one to watch."
Pellew nodded, and sighed sadly. "To see him mixed up in this affair nearly breaks my heart. He served on my ship for three years."
"And held a distinguished record, if I recall," Collins said fondly.
"Yes," Pellew's dark eyes gazed out at the indigo horizon, "He was one of the best. One of the very best. As dear to me as one of my..." he paused then, and the eyes flickered uncertainly toward Collins. Dropping his voice a bit, Pellew cleared his throat and said, "As one of my own."
Collins did not seem to take offense to this familiarity; indeed, there was a smile on his face as he met Pellew's eyes. "And Mr. Kennedy? What did you think of him?"
Pellew took another drink and considered this question for a long time. Sounds drifted by, people talking, music from some faraway celebration; the persistent hum of insect life. Finally Pellew said, "Mr. Kennedy is a man of great loyalty, Captain Collins. Loyalty to his king, to his captain, and to his fellow officers. He once followed Mr. Hornblower to prison in Spain not twenty-four hours after being released. And I know he would do so again, in a heartbeat, if it would satisfy Mr. Hornblower's honor."
"You don't say," Collins replied in admiration, "Remarkable."
"It is," Pellew nodded, picking up the brandy snifter again, "And I had no doubt that when he achieved his lieutenancy they would be transferred together, and they were. Just as I have no doubt that whatever happened on board Renown, I will find those two young men fighting harder to save each other's lives than to save their own. I only pray God that there is a way to spare both of them from what I'm certain the Admiralty wants."
"Agreed," Collins said softly into his brandy, "There should be a better reward for loyalty than the noose."
Pellew brought his head back again, considered the small points of light far above their heads. "Fidus Achates..."
Collins brought his head around sharply. "What's that?"
"Oh," Pellew muttered in a preoccupied way, watching the brandy in his glass catch the moonlight, "Fidus Achates...faithful Achates, loyal to the tomb. Surely you remember your Greek."
"Ah - ah, yes," Collins smiled at the familiarity, and sighed. "Virgil's 'Aeneid', wasn't it? "
Pellew nodded. "Achates and Aeneas, the loyal friend and the sire of the founders of Rome. Sharing adventures and danger and I'm certain risking their lives for each other. Came to my mind, just now, looking at the stars."
"Hm! Not much changes in eighteen hundred years, does it?" Collins commented wryly, and studied the tropical foliage gently waving in the night breeze. "Well, don't despair yet, Sir Edward. If your young officers are half the men their Greek counterparts were then we will find nothing in their character to convict them for."
"Hammond might," Pellew retorted.
Collins considered this; in answer, he picked up his brandy snifter and held it aloft. "Hammond isn't here. To your Aeneas and Achates, Sir Edward, and any other brave young Greeks in their company; may they win their war, and live to set sail another day."
Pellew picked up his glass, and tapped it to Collins' with a hopeful smile. "Hear, hear. And thank you."
End of Part One