by Sarah B.
"Well, gentlemen," Commodore Pellew sighed as the two captains took their seats again at the table, "I think we are all agreed that we are no closer now to obtaining a satisfactory conclusion to this matter then when we begun."
"Indeed not," Collins nodded as he peered blearily at the papers spread before him, "I've never seen a man take longer to say nothing then Acting Captain Buckland."
"I'm not so sure of that," Hammond declared, setting down his small glass of claret. "To me it seemed he revealed some very telling things. Things about his officers that I would suggest we pay heed to."
"Oh?" Pellew's eyes snapped up.
"Indeed, sir," Hammond said in his slight brogue, picking up a page of notes and glancing at it, "The officers present in the hold when Captain Sawyer fell catches my attention, as does the fact that one of them later declared the captain unfit, when it was Captain Buckland's responsibility to do so. Highly remarkable, in my opinion."
"Are you speaking of young Hornblower?" Collins asked.
"None other. His name came to Captain Buckland's lips often, and it intrigues me enough to want to find out why. He took quite a bit on for himself for a third leftenant."
"Oh, come now, Hammond," Pellew chided, leaning forward on the table, "I heard nothing in Captain Buckland's report that would condemn any of his officers, and Mr. Hornblower took what initiatives were necessary to complete the mission they were set on."
"That is your interpretation, sir," Hammond replied, his small eyes crackling with accusation, "But where you see initiative, I see ambition."
"Since when is ambition undesirable in an officer?" Collins asked, his expression perplexed.
"When it overreaches itself," Hammond turned in his seat to glare at his fellow captain, "When it preys on the weak and unwatched. When it attains before its years."
Pellew shook his head and looked down at the table.
"There are those who look at a talented - a 'precocious' young man like Hornblower and see only the glittering light of potential," Hammond said pointedly, "But others look beyond the surface. We have all read Captain Sawyer's personal journal; his fear and distrust of Mr. Hornblower is obvious."
"He feared and distrusted everyone," Collins pointed out, "he even accused the midshipmen of plotting against him - "
"And do we know that is without merit? Captain Sawyer was a great man, a hero of the highest order, and one of Nelson's men. I merely put forth the possibility that, even though he was wanting for lucid moments, a concentrated effort to remove him from command was *not* a product of his imagination! And Captain Buckland's testimony bears that out."
There was an awkward silence in the room for a moment. Then Pellew said, "That is a very serious accusation, Captain Hammond. I believe it is too early in our inquiry to come to such a conclusion."
"It is not a conclusion, Commodore. But it is - and will continue to be - a suspicion. Mr. Hornblower is and has always been a highly aggressive individual."
"Yes," Pellew responded with an arched brow, "And I am well aware of your dislike for him, Captain, but I will not allow a man to be tried and condemned based on a superior commander's prejudice."
Hammond's head came back indignantly, "And I put to you,sir, that he should not be held blameless based on a prejudice *either*!"
Pellew turned crimson. "Have a care, sir - "
"I say," Collins interjected lightly, "Shouldn't we call Dr. Clive in before we end up with pistols at twenty paces? I would hate to be the one to decide this matter all by myself."
Pellew blinked, and his expression suggested that he remembered himself. Clearing his throat he glanced up at the marine standing forgotten by the door and said, "I beg your pardon, Captain Collins. Mr. Russell, show Dr. Clive in, if you please."
The marine nodded, opened the tall, imposing door and stepped outside. A moment later he returned with the Renown's doctor at his elbow, and in the few short seconds it took for Dr. Clive to walk to the table, remove his hat, and present himself, Pellew took a quick and complete assessment of the man's character.
He was not tall, but looked smug. His wig was shabby, declaring the lack of attention to appearance that usually plagued ships' doctors. His face was set in a blank expression, and there was no hint of fear in his eyes; only a sort of quiet superiority. That, too, was common among doctors. He also looked quite unbendable.
"Dr. Clive," Pellew intoned, picking up his papers, "We have heard a report on the tactical adventures of the Renown from Captain Buckland, now we look to you to present its medical side. You have been with Captain Sawyer for quite a long time, is that correct?"
"Yes, sir," Clive responded with even self-assurance. "Three ships, over ten years."
"So you consider yourself an authority on his physical condition?"
"Was he fit to command the Renown?"
A slight pause. "With standard medical precautions, yes, sir."
Collins tilted his head. "Precautions?"
Clive blinked, but it was a slow, thought-gathering blink. "Commanding a ship of the line is hard work, taxing and trying to the most youthful of souls. Captain Sawyer, like so many of our best captains, required a certain - bolstering - to keep him on an even keel."
This time it was Pellew who cocked his head. "By bolstering you refer to his medication?"
"The 'damned infernal drug' he mentions in his journal?"
Clive shifted where he stood. "Well, that could refer to anything - "
"What does it most likely refer to?"
Clive paused again. "Laudanaum."
Clive leveled his gaze at Pellew in a way that was not disrespectful, but would also brook no argument. "Since Cape St. Vincent Captain Sawyer became increasingly agitated in his manner, and I diagnosed a disturbance in the nerves that affected his thinking and judgment. Laudanaum has a very calming effect on such afflictions and it was the same case with him."
"Was he dosed often with this drug?"
"No," Clive replied, "Only when he needed it, which was not often."
"Not until the mission to Samana Bay," Hammond interjected, leaning forward and folding his hands on the table. "In his journal he spoke of a fear of mutiny, of his lieutenants rising against him. That made him more 'agitated', did it not, doctor?"
Pellew saw Clive's eyes go hooded for the first time, and marked it. After another pause Clive said, "The captain did become increasingly unwell during our sail to Samana Bay, and I adjusted his treatment accordingly. The lieutenants you mention did not understand his condition and may have aggravated it. It's difficult to say."
"Aggravated it how?" Hammond persisted.
Clive colored a bit, and raised his chin. "Captain Sawyer was very proud and did not take contradiction well. Or insubordination. His discipline was somewhat - harsher than some of the newer men are used to - "
"You must be referring to the midshipman Wellard," Hammond surmised, glancing down at his notes, "Sawyer mentioned that he deliberately rigged a tackle to tear the sheets. Kissed the gunner's daughter for it. Certainly you don't call a dozen slaps of a cane harsh?"
Clive was not meeting Hammond's eyes. "No, sir."
"I would hope not," Hammond harrumphed, "In my days as a midshipman you would have thrown overboard for such chicanery. But you're saying the lieutenants objected to this discipline?"
Clive hesitated again, and Pellew watched an unnamed struggle going on behind the reticent man's eyes. "Not overtly, sir. And even covertly, not enough to mention."
"You say that, do you?" Hammond retorted, "Yet your own medical logs mention your treatment for Mr. Wellard's scratches, and that he was visited in the sick berth by one of the lieutenants, Mr. Hornblower. Is that true?"
The mask dropped over Clive's face again. "Yes, that was after Mr. Wellard received another dozen from the cane."
"Quite a discipline problem, our young Mr. Wellard," Hammond commented, leaning back in the leather chair. "So tell me, doctor, what was Mr. Hornblower's temperament when he visited your sick berth?"
Collins glanced over with a frown. "What on earth does that have to do with Captain Sawyer's condition?"
"It has everything to do with it!" Hammond snapped. "Disrespectful midshipmen, scheming lieutenants - I am trying to determine how much of Captain Sawyer's illness was natural, and how much of it was brought on by - " his eyes narrowed at Clive - "- outside influences. Now your answer, doctor."
Clive had been watching Hammond with what Pellew thought was a calculated wariness, as if judging by the man's words how to phrase his answer. He's no fool, Pellew thought, even if he does seem to be mostly intellect and little emotion.
Clive took a breath and said, "Mr. Hornblower came to my sick berth to see after Mr. Wellard's welfare. He was - concerned, I imagine because Mr. Wellard was on his watch when the initial incident occured and he felt...responsible. He is also the progeny of a country doctor, and I did wonder if he questioned my methods."
"Questioned them?" Hammond repeated. "He challenged you?"
The slightest pause, and Pellew thought, *of course he did* - but thankfully the doctor did not say so. "He expressed concern for Mr. Wellard, but frankly there is no one in the sick berth who can challenge me. My word is law there."
"And what about on the bridge?" Hammond continued, picking up one of the sheets of paper. "Does your supreme authority reign there as well?"
Pellew decided it was time to take control of the conversation and said, "Yes, Dr. Clive, you submitted a report after docking which stated that you declared Captain Sawyer unfit for command during the action at Samana Bay. Can you tell us more about it?"
Clive squared his shoulders and straightened slightly; Pellew suspected he was preparing to orate. "Captain Sawyer had suffered an accident which resulted in a head injury that rendered his behaviour somewhat more - erratic. Perfectly normal under the circumstances, and a slight increase in his medicine intake seemed to solve the problem. However, during the action he became increasingly...unwell, and suffered a collapse that rendered him a danger to himself. For his own good I was forced to declare him unfit for command."
Clive seemed to slump as he said this, and there was emotion in his eyes, the first emotion Pellew could detect. It was not pain or discomfort Pellew saw in those small eyes; it was shame. Clearing his throat, Pellew asked, "What happened then?"
Clive took a deep breath and straightened up again. "I had the captain confined to his quarters and set Mr. Whiting to guard him. He remained there until his death at the hands of the Spanish."
There was a brief silence; then Hammond leaned forward noisily in his chair. "A tidy story, Dr. Clive, but you seem to be leaving out a few very important particulars. It was Mr. Hornblower, was it not, who asked you to have the captain declared unfit?"
Clive paused again. "Yes, sir, it was."
"Why him, and not Acting Captain Buckland?"
The hood dropped again, and Clive seemed to retreat behind an icy curtain. "With all respect, sir, I believe that is a question for Captain Buckland."
"We did ask him that question. He claims that Mr. Hornblower saw an opportunity and took it. Is that your opinion as well?"
The slightest pause there. Pellew held his breath.
Hammond made an impatient noise. "Dr. Clive, it has been noted by members of the Renown crew and by Captain Sawyer's personal journal that Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Kennedy did little to ingratiate themselves with either the captain or the men who had served with him. You, for example. Is that true?"
The corners of Clive's mouth jerked down a little. "Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Kennedy certainly had their own opinions, sir."
"I thought so. Mr. Hornblower and especially Mr. Kennedy were very vocal concerning their dislike for Sawyer, is that not so?"
Another pause, and for the first time Clive's composure seemed to slip a bit. "I was not privy to any conversations with the officers until after the captain's accident - "
"Accident!" Hammond snapped, "Yes, another line of questioning to be followed. Your report states that Sawyer fell down an open hatchway, a mistake not even a powder monkey would make. This following the discipline of young Wellard and subsequent punishments to Mr. Hornblower. And after his fall it was Mr. Hornblower and his party who brought Captain Sawyer to your table. Did that not strike you as suspicious?"
Clive blinked a little more quickly. "I cannot answer that question, sir, I was too intent on saving the captain to have time for suspicions. I would shudder to think any man would do such a thing. To strike one's captain down is - "
"Mutiny!" Hammond almost shouted the word. "Yes, Dr. Clive, it is. You were Captain Sawyer's personal physician, you knew him better than anyone with the exception of his wife. I believe you also must have listened to his talk, and I would be very interested to know what that talk contained."
Clive stood even straighter and glared at Hammond indignantly. "That is a confidence, sir. I will not share that with any man."
Hammonds' disappointment was temporary. "You may please yourself, doctor, but we are trying to understand what happened on board that ship. In your opinion, was the captain justified in his fear that his officers were seeking his downfall?"
Pellew shifted angrily in his seat, but knew he could say nothing. Hammond's earlier accusation of favoritism still rang in his ears, and it was after all a fair question. If the inquiry went to a court martial, it would be one of the first questions asked. Then Clive would be forced to answer it under oath.
And what would he say? Pellew watched Clive closely, looked for any of the resentment or animosity that he knew Hornblower's ability awakened in some people. Like Hammond, for instance. What words had Hornblower exchanged with this proud and haughty man? A wounded midshipman, a caning possibly undeserved...Pellew almost winced as he thought of what Hornblower might say. No doubt the doctor remembered it. Was he Hornblower's enemy now?
After a very long pause Clive said quietly, "It was my job and my responsibility to see that the captain had no fears. If I did my job well, and I believe I did, then there is no way I can answer that question."
Hammond went ruddy.
"To answer your earlier question," Clive continued, in the same calm and emotionless tone he had used before, "Mr. Hornblower asked me to declare the captain unfit for the captain's own safety. Captain Buckland was himself suffering from a laceration to his scalp which rendered him temporarily unable to think clearly. He bears the scar still."
Collins glanced at the reports. "He never mentioned that."
"I am not certain he even remembers it."
Pellew lept forward and grasped at this thin straw of hope. "Dr. Clive, is it your opinion that had Mr. Hornblower not acted, the Renown might have lost its captain then?"
Clive looked at Pellew with a strange sort of stern sincerity. "I am not a prognosicator, Commodore. I only report the facts. Captain Sawyer was not himself and the actions that were taken were - were necessary. I do wish to God they had not been."
There it was, the shame again. Pellew squinted a bit at Dr. Clive, wondered what part of the man was still trying to save Sawyer, long after his death. Leaning back in his chair Pellew looked at the men who flanked him. Collins was looking thoughtfully down at his notes, and Hammond was glaring at Clive openly, but did not look about to speak.
Pellew decided to play the diplomat anyway. "Gentlemen, do you have any further questions for Dr. Clive?"
"Not now," Hammond growled, "But may I remind you, doctor, that we may call you back at any time, and if there is a court martial you will not be allowed the leniency you enjoyed here today."
Clive almost yawned. Pellew remembered that a man who sawed off legs and arms for a living was difficult to intimidate. "Thank you, sir. I shall keep that in mind."
Pellew paused, then nodded in satisfaction at the silence in the room. "Very well, doctor, you are dismissed until we call you again. Thank you for your candor."
"Yes, sir," Clive nodded, and turned to go. After a pause he turned back and locking eyes with Pellew said, "Captain Sawyer was a remarkable man. It was my privilege and my honor to sail with him. You know as well as I do, Commodore, how rare heroes like Captain Sawyer are. When such a man comes along, it is only reasonable to do everything in one's power to ensure that he continues to exist."
Pellew caught something in Clive's tone, and acknowledged it with a nod. "Very true, Dr. Clive. Very true indeed."
"...The poor condemned English,
Like sacrifices, by their watchful fires
Sit patiently, and inly ruminate
The morning's danger; and their gesture sad,
Investing lank-lean cheeks, and war-worn coats,
Presenteth them unto the gazing moon
So many horrid ghosts."
Bush's words carried softly in the bustle of the hospital room as he read from the small book, his deep even tones mixing with the coughs and groans of the men around him. He paused to clear his throat, and as he did so glanced to his side.
Kennedy was lying still in the newly-resheeted bed, his freshly changed bandage glistening white in the afternoon sun. His eyes were closed, and Bush wondered if his young friend was at last succumbing to the warmth of the day and the fatigue of his injury. He leaned over and peered a little closer, the bed creaking noisily as he moved.
At that sound, Kennedy's eyelids jerked a little and the blue eyes came open blearily. "Mr. Bush?"
"Sorry." Bush said softly, although the din of the hospital room made hushed tones unnecessary. "I didn't mean to wake you."
Kennedy shook his head a little and blinked at the ceiling drowsily. The flush of sleep shone on his cheeks, and Bush knew he would not stay awake long."What time is it?"
Bush looked at the patch of sunlight on the floor. "About two, I'd say. Maybe a bit later."
Kennedy made an acknowledging noise and his eyelids fluttered closed again. "I wonder when Horatio's coming with...with those books."
"Hard to say." Bush responded, and marked Kennedy's condition more closely. His color was definitely better, and there was no blood on the changed bandage. But he still looked very weak, and had not moved much all morning. "Do you want anything? Water?"
"I want back on the ship."
"You don't mean the Renown?"
"*Any* ship. I'm tired - " Kennedy's eyes came open again and he tilted his head to look across the room. "Tired of being here, tired of being wounded, damn it. How's Wellard?"
Bush sat up a little more but could not see Wellard's bed through all the attendants and officers milling about the room. Shaking his head in frustration he said, "I'll go see. I'll get you some water as well."
Kennedy managed a feeble grin. "You're simply looking to quit the Shakespeare. Coward."
"Performing the part of Catherine is damaging my voice," Bush replied, and set the book down on the bed readied himself to rise.
The truth was, he'd been aching to move about since daybreak, but until now had no excuse. He could feel himself getting stronger, and that fact combined with his natural frustration at helplessness was combining to give him the strength to grasp the iron railing at the head of his bed and slowly, painfully, drag himself to his feet.
Rising was a dizzying ordeal, and standing was worse. The room swam around him, and Bush put both hands on the bedstead to prevent himself from falling. The stitches where he'd been shot burned and itched, and breathing felt like he was dragging thick porridge into his lungs. But still he was upright, and after gathering his wits for a moment Bush took quick stock of the room, and left the prison of his bed.
Moving was marginally easier than it had been the night before. Bush found that his legs were stiff and sore, but the feeling of blood coursing through his veins was exhilerating and Bush tried to walk a little faster, pressing himself as far as he dared.
Of course, he knew he wouldn't get far without someone noticing he was about. After a few moments' precious freedom he heard Dr. Sankey over his shoulder. "Lieutenant Bush! Do you need something, sir?"
"Only a change of air," Bush replied, not turning around. Wellard's bed was in full view now, and Bush was relieved to see that the boy looked calm and relaxed. Both hands were on the thin covers, lax and quiet in their rest, and Wellard's face was flushed with the rosy hue of sleep.
"You're worried about Mr. Wellard?" Sankey guessed cheerfully, drawing next to Bush quickly. "You needn't be, sir, he's in the best of hands."
"He was very agitated last night," Bush remarked, taking a few laborious steps closer. Wellard stirred a bit, turned his head, then settled back into sleep without opening his eyes. *Very agitated*, Bush thought, *Because the captain told him who pushed him...*
"Yes," Sankey admitted, "But he was taken care of this morning, and now as you can see he's right on his way to healing, courtesy of the Crown. Speaking of which, I believe it's time to take a look at *your* bandage - "
"In a minute," Bush growled softly, and gently pushed Sankey's probing hands away. He came to stand next to Wellard's bed just as the youth turned his head again and slowly opened his eyes.
The anxiety of the previous night was gone; Wellard was looking at Bush with eyes that radiated peace and rest, and Bush was relieved to see it. As he watched those great brown eyes blinked dreamily and Wellard whispered, "Good morning, sir."
"It's afternoon, Mr. Wellard," Bush said with a smile. "How are you feeling?"
"Better, sir," Wellard breathed. He did not return the smile, and when he blinked again Bush realized his gaze had a strange detachment to it. "Is the inquiry over?"
"Over? No, Mr. Wellard, it's scarcely begun."
"Oh." Wellard said flatly. He turned his eyes to the ceiling and stared at it.
"See?" Sankey chirped, "As I told you, all the tremors are gone."
"Yes, remarkable," Bush agreed. "How did you do it?"
"He was in quite a lot of pain this morning, so I had the attendant give him a little laudanaum. Just a little, to take the edge off and help him sleep."
"Ah," Sankey said suddenly, looking over Bush's shoulder, "I'm being called away. If you'll excuse me, lieutenant."
As Sankey walked away Wellard turned his head a bit and looked at Bush with detached curiosity. "Are they sending you home, sir?"
Bush had to smile at the boy's optimism. "Not quite, Mr. Wellard. I'm merely getting my strength back. You'll be on your feet soon as well, I'm certain of it."
A little smile then. "Thank you, sir."
Bush thought of their conversation the previous evening and added, "Then if your home is not to your liking, we'll see if we can find somewhere else pleasant for you to retire to."
Wellard frowned. "Sir?"
"Your home, Mr. Wellard. You weren't so keen to return to it last evening, if you'll recall our conversation."
The frown deepened. "We talked last evening, sir?"
Hm, Bush thought. "Yes, but - don't worry if you can't remember. You were half-asleep at the time."
Wellard's eyes slid to the ceiling again and he tilted his head in thought. "What did I say?"
Bush hesitated, remembering Wellard's frantic words and frenzied manner. And what he had said... sitting down in the chair by Wellard's bed Bush wiped the sweat from his forehead, leaned close and whispered, "You said something about Hobbs knowing who pushed the captain, that the captain had told you.before he died. Do you remember that?"
Wellard nodded; but where there had been near panic over that reality the night before, now there was only a blank stare.
"Last night you couldn't remember what the captain had said," Bush pressed. "Do you remember now, Mr. Wellard?"
Wellard pursed his lips and brought his eyebrows together. After a few moments' concentration he shook his head. "I don't think it truly happened."
"It feels like a dream," Wellard continued lazily, "I'm sorry, sir, but - I must not have been myself last night. Forgive me."
"No need, Mr. Wellard, but - are you saying the captain *didn't* tell you who pushed him?"
Wellard seemed to try to think again, and once more shook his head. "I may have dreamed that he did. That would be an urgent thing, wouldn't it? I would want someone to know."
"You did. Last night you were frantic about it."
"Now it doesn't seem important in the slightest." Wellard shrugged a little, and winced. "I'm sorry, sir, please disregard what I said. I was fevered, I'm sure of it."
"You didn't want to go home either. Do you remember that?"
Wellard smiled again in a bland and oddly expressionless way. "No. But why wouldn't I want to go home?"
"Mr. Hornblower told us once you had no friends or family. I forgot that, perhaps it was unpleas - "
Wellard was shaking his head. "I have no fears about going home, sir, I promise you. Mr. Hornblower is mistaken."
Bush gave in to his confusion, and sighed his defeat. "Very well, Mr. Wellard, I am - glad to hear it. Can I have the doctor get you anything?"
"No," Wellard replied as his eyelids drooped, "No, I am fine, sir, thank you. I think I shall sleep a little."
"How is Mr. Kennedy?"
"Better," Bush said hopefully, looking over to where he knew Kennedy lay, "Anxious to be free of this place, as we all are."
Wellard nodded, and closed his eyes. After a moment he opened them again and asked, "Is the inquiry over?"
A bit startled, Bush was about to reply when he felt a tap on his arm and turned to see a young marine standing next to him. After a moment Bush realized it was the same marine who had accompanied Hornblower that morning.
"Beggin' your pardon, sir," the marine said politely, "Don't mean to disturb you. I've come from the Admiralty, sir."
"Not at all," Bush replied, and looked at Wellard again. The boy's eyes had closed once more and his head had tilted away. Carefully, Bush rose and walked a few steps away. After a moment, the marine put his hand on Bush's arm and helped him.
"Thank you," Bush said as they stopped a short distance from Wellard's bed. "Now what news do you bring from the Admiralty, private - ?"
"Russell. News enough," came the reply, "But first, Mr. 'ornblower wants to know how you're all getting on, sir. I'm lookin' out for 'im, takin' 'im news and such, and he told me if I saw you to be sure I found out your condition."
"Of course," Bush muttered, a little surprised at this turn of events but suddenly appreciative of how helpful a marine could be, in certain circumstances. "Tell Mr. Hornblower that we are all resting and comfortable and want to get back to sea."
Russell blinked as if memorizing every word. Finally he nodded. "Right, sir."
"Now tell me, how is Mr. Hornblower faring?"
"Oh - " Russell's eyes widened. " - when I left him, sir, he was pacing all over the room, and like as not 'e'll still be pacing when I get back. 'e's a very restless man, I think."
"But he's well, that is he's not injured or sick or anything."
"Right." Russell looked around the room. "I'm supposed to find the doctor - "
"You mean Dr. Sankey," Bush winced, and pointed across the room. "That's him. Could you help me to my bed, please, private? I think I've stood enough for a while."
Without replying Russell put his around Bush's shoulder, and Bush was surprised at the strength of the lad; he was almost lifting Bush off the floor without seeming to try very hard. The short journey back to bed was suddenly made much easier.
As soon as Bush laid himself back down on the ticking Dr. Sankey appeared at his side and said, "Private Russell, I was told you were looking for me."
"Yes, sir," Russell replied quietly, "Admiralty wants to know when Lieutenant Bush can testify, sir. At the inquiry."
Testify! Every nerve in Bush's body jolted at the word, and he stared at Russell in shock. A sudden fear gripped him and he felt his throat tighten.
"Well," Dr. Sankey ran his hand over his chin and looked at Bush appraisingly, "He's still very weak as you can see, and not nearly recovered enough to be outside yet. But provided precautions are taken and he isn't overtaxed, I think the day after tomorrow would be the soonest he could be called."
Russell nodded blandly. "Thank you, sir."
Sankey grinned. "Of course." and walked away again.
As soon as he was gone Russell leaned closer to Bush and said, "Sorry, sir. I know this ain't pleasant for you."
"It's all right, Mr. Russell," Bush replied, ashamed of his trepidation, "I am ready to do whatever is required of me."
Russell's expression changed, and his voice dropped a bit. "I'm speaking out of turn I'm sure, but anything you could say at the inquiry that would make this be over with would be much appreciated. If it goes to trial I don't like the way it looks."
"What do you mean?" Bush asked, careful to pitch his voice low as well.
"Can't say too much," Russell whispered, "But from what I've heard it could go either way. Mr. 'ornblower, I think we all agree is the kind of man we'd all follow, after you sir of course; and I don't want to see it go bad for any of you. We got too many Hammonds and Bucklands already."
Bush blinked, nodded. "I'll do my best, private. Give Mr. Hornblower my regards."
Russell straightened and squared his shoulders. "I will sir. Thank you sir."
Russell walked away, leaving Bush with a whirlwind of thoughts racing through his mind. He would testify in two days. What he knew - what he might have to say - could do them very little good and possibly get the lot of them hanged. He helped conspire against the captain, disobeyed orders given by Buckland, and did not know what had happened in the hold...
...and it did not seem that the inquiry was going well for any of them.
Reluctantly, Bush settled back in the bed and picked up the slim volume of Shakespeare from the covers. Frowning at his own uneasiness, he opened up the book and tried to find his place.
Suddenly, to his left, a quiet ragged voice whispered:
"And so our scene must to the battle fly,
Where, O for pity! we shall much disgrace -
With four or five most vile and ragged foils,
Right ill dispos'd, in brawl ridiculous,
- The name of Agincourt. Yet, sit and see,
Minding true things, by what their mockeries be."
Bush listened to those words numbly, then turned to see Kennedy gazing at him evenly through blue eyes dimmed with pain.
Bush smiled at his shipmate and friend. "So the mockery begins, Mr. Kennedy. I only hope a bit of your King Henry comes with me."
Kennedy gave a ghost of a smile and said softly, "I have every faith in you, sir, but if I may only say: better him than your Catherine."
Bush returned the weary smile with one of his own, and quietly told Kennedy what had happened with Wellard and Russell, then read aloud until his wounded friend fell asleep.
The sea birds cried overhead as Hobbs made his way from the bustling Kingston streets to the dock where the Renown sat bobbing gently in the harbor waves. He walked slowly, tiredly, and hardly looked up at the ship as he boarded her and made his way belowdecks.
It wasn't the same ship anymore. Likely it would never be again.
His life had been so simple, already Hobbs missed it. Get up, do your job, eat, go to sleep. Get up again to do it all over. In the meantime, make sure you're respected and that no one questions your place. Every day, over and over, like a clock regularly tolling the hours. Simple.
Hobbs made his way down the companionway stairs and thought of when the clocks had stopped, or rather started to wind down on the greatness of the Renown and her captain. When had he noticed it first? Two years ago, when he noticed that Captain Sawyer was repeating commands and forgetting names. Made sense, after all the man was nearly sixty-five. He'd shrugged it off. Randall had made a joke of it, but not publicly because you didn't do that back then. You didn't even talk about such things as your captain losing his mind.
And of course, Captain Sawyer *wasn't* losing his mind. Hobbs was firmly convinced of this each Sunday, when everyone would gather on the deck and listen to the captain read the Articles of War in his clear and ringing tones. Every back stood straight, every eye gleamed proudly, even the ensign at the taffrail seemed to snap more proudly as Captain Sawyer read those words that every sailor knew by heart. The Renown was a grand ship, and every man was honored to be aboard her. It did not seem to matter then that there were times when the captain was not at his best.
That changed, a little at a time. Sawyer began getting angrier more often, and at trivial things. Morale started to slip, the crew became agitated. Hobbs saw Dr. Clive dosing the captain with laudanaum, but no one thought anything of it; laudanaum was common enough, and no one could argue that Clive knew what he was doing. The sailors began to whisper, and Randall told Hobbs that soon it would be every man for himself.
Hobbs hoped his shipmate was wrong, but things only got worse. The captain began issuing bizarre orders, then punishing the seamen when they couldn't carry them out. Fights broke out, the wrong people were disciplined, Sawyer ordered floggings, too many of them. The whispers turned to murmurs, and Hobbs heard for the first time someone say, maybe he shouldn't be captain anymore. Maybe he's lost his wits.
To Hobbs such words were heresy. He told the man to hush, but someone alerted the captain and the man was hanged for mutiny. And that was the start of it.
It wouldn't last long, Hobbs assured himself as the captain began to sleep more and eat less. A temporary illness due to age, great men like Captain Sawyer don't turn into batty old fools like the ones that littered the docks, shaking with auge and talking to themselves. Sawyer was the terror of the French, the mighty leader they were all proud of. Shining stars like him didn't fall to the earth with the dull thud of mortality; they blazed until the end, and their compatriots blazed with them.
Sawyer's greatness was the greatness of them all. That it would end with a whimper did not bear thinking about.
In the end Randall was right, and at the time Hobbs thanked whatever God there was that he'd formed an odd sort of friendship with the bullying rating. There were more fights, threats, 'accidents' among the officers that could not be explained, and Captain Sawyer did not seem to be punishing the right people anymore. Theft and gambling ran riot; anyone who reported the misbehaviour risked a beating, or worse. A thick feeling of fear began to permeate the Renown.
When it began Randall pulled Hobbs aside and leaned right into his face. "Watch yerself, mate," he'd growled in a drunken whisper. "Just watch yerself, and don't say nothin'. Rats are runnin' about and the cat's got no teeth."
Hobbs thought Randall was drunk at first, but when Dr. Clive confined the captain to his bed for a time and First Lieutenant Buckland took over his duties, Hobbs saw just what Randall meant. Hobbs barely knew Buckland, never looked at him standing in Sawyer's shadow, but in the full light of day the man appeared bewildered, uncertain, and weak. Exactly the wrong kind of man to bring order to a ship of eight hundred nervous, angry, and in some cases predatory men.
From there it slid downhill rapidly. Gangs formed, and Hobbs was aware of a dangerous sense of lawlessness among the men, never stated but nevertheless present. Randall and his friends bullied the others, took what they wanted and ignored the weak commands of order coming from Buckland. When Sawyer was about and himself the antics ceased, but Hobbs noticed with each progressive Sunday that the men were looking more ragged, their shoulders stooped more, and the youngest among them were beginning to lose whatever innocence they had ever had and look like lean young wolves. And Captain Sawyer began emphasizing the articles of war that dealt with mutiny...
Hobbs shivered as he ascended into the lower decks. There was no law on the Renown then, except what the marines could enforce and what the captain could attend to when he was lucid. Hobbs remembered distinctly the first time he had been attacked belowdecks, the pain of his lip being split and someone kicking him in the back, and then the thrill he had felt when he fought back. It was against discipline, against regulations, against everything he knew about being a proper British officer, but it was kill or be killed and Hobbs struck out with everything he had. Then Randall had come along and finished the job, and as the attackers skulked off to lick their wounds put an arm around the gunner's shoulder and said, "Feels good, don't it, mate?"
Hobbs had to admit it did feel good. He also knew that on Renown it was only justice to be had. That was how he had fallen in with Randall.
Things had changed some, after the new lieutenants arrived. They were sharp, those two. Hornblower and Kennedy. They knew the captain was sick, sensed that Buckland was useless, and took it upon themselves to put the tigers back in their cages. Hobbs had resented it - just when he was getting along all right in the world those two upstarts came along to upset it. They had no right, and Randall had just laughed at them. When Midshipman Wellard arrived Randall sneered at how young and awkward he was, and made no secret of his contempt for the boy. When it became clear that Wellard was under the lieutenants' protection Randall wisely kept his distance, like a jackal that doesn't attack before it sizes up its prey. Still he laughed at them when he and Hobbs drank together and said, "Just wait, 'obbs. We'll get 'em with the rolling shot. Just wait."
It had not worked out that way. And Hobbs was still not certain just why.
Randall was dead, damned as a deserter. Captain Sawyer was dead, and being hailed as a hero. Lieutenants Bush and Kennedy were badly wounded, and Lieutenant Hornblower was awaiting word on whether he would be tried - and perhaps executed - for mutiny. And Wellard, the pale, frightened midshipman who had fallen by the captain's side and who Hobbs had hated for his youth and the lack of corruption and shame in his soul...
Wellard might die, and with him the only living words of James Sawyer speaking the truth of how he fell down the hatchway.
Hobb went lower into the ship, sinking further into his gloom. He still remembered the blood on Wellard's lips, the shaking whisper in which the boy told him what Sawyer had said. The words were locked in Hobbs' heart now as well, but what would he do with them? What was there to do when his world was over, and the one dawning had little place for him? The sun would set and rise again like clockwork, but it would not bring Captain Sawyer back, or the glory days of the Renown. No one knew what Hobbs had hidden inside his mind; he only needed to decide how he wished to use it.
The powder stores were just ahead, and Hobbs walked down the passageway towards them. Some distance ahead he spied a rating with two brightly dressed women; his 'sea wives' no doubt, prostitutes taken aboard ship to relieve the mens' needs so they didn't kill each other. As Hobbs tried to hide his tired disgust, he drew near and saw them all bending down over an open hatchway -
- *the* open hatchway. Dear God.
"Right down there 'e went!" The rating pointed as the women squealed in amazement. "Right down on his 'ead, bang! I swear there's still blood."
"Can you see it?" One girl got down on all fours to look, her cheap jewelry clattering.
"Naw, it's too dark!" The other groused, and straightened up. "Half a crown we paid to see this and it's just a hole in the ship. 'ow do we even know ye're tellin' the truth?"
"I am!" the rating insisted, "This is the 'atchway, swear to God. It's - " he saw Hobbs and stopped.
The women looked up too, although they were more surprised than frightened.
"Let's ask 'im," the blonde one said, "'ere luv, is this the 'atchway that captain fell down?" she pointed with one split-nailed finger.
Hobbs felt himself go numb in a very angry way. "Captain?"
"Yer. The loony one, you know."
Hobbs slid his eyes over to the rating, who knew enough to be very pale. In an even, quiet voice he said, "My apologies, but this is a fighting ship. It is not a carnival or a tour of the pyramids." he leaned closer to the rating. "Might I suggest you get these doxies abovedecks before they fall down the hatchway themselves?"
"Y-yes, sir," the rating babbled, and hustled the protesting women away without comment. Hobbs watched them go with a growing feeling of despair and disgust.
After they had gone, he found his gaze drawn to the yawing hole beneath his feet, and for a few moments Hobbs stared into the space and what lay beyond it. He had not been there since bringing the captain down that fateful evening, before the Spanish attacked. There had been women in the hold then, Captain Sawyer had even remarked on them in his detached delusions, but now it was dark and quiet.
Hobbs sighed and gazed into the blackness. He'd wanted Sawyer to remember what had happened to him, but what did he really want? It wasn't a memory. He wanted Sawyer to look at him, *really* look at him and remember who he was, what the Renown was, what James Sawyer was. He wanted his life back...
...and now it was a sideshow attraction.
There was a noise behind him, and Hobbs turned to see Dr. Clive walking through the door that led to the companionway stairs. As usual, the doctor had no expression on his face.
"I thought I saw you come down here," Clive remarked, "I have some news you need to know about."
Hobbs kept his eyes on the hatchway. "Did you give your statement to the inquiry?"
"Well? What do you think?"
"It does not matter what I think," Clive replied sourly, "Or what any of us thinks, it seems. I told what I know, and it's up to them whether to pursue the matter. I can only do my duty, and I think I have done it."
"Is it going to go against the lieutenants, you think?"
Clive shrugged. "Who can say? If asked one might say that it could go either way, as it seems that at least one of them has both an advocate and an adversary. But it will effect our lives little either way."
Hobbs raised his eyes. "You sayin' you don't care which way it goes, then?"
Clive's eyes became hard. "I'm saying, Mr. Hobbs, that we do what we can and then let Providence direct. I'm saying that having loyalties in this case is quite futile. The man I was loyal to is unfortunately - "
" - dead." Hobbs finished, looking back down at the hole. "I believe we think alike, doctor."
"Yes. Well," Clive cleared his throat, and when Hobbs glanced at him he noticed that the doctor was looking at the hatchway too, very uneasily. "Whatever the past was, we must put it behind us. When I returned from the inquiry, I found this paper on my desk." He pulled a folded piece of parchment from his jacket and handed it to Hobbs. "I'm sharing it with you so you can prepare yourself."
"For what?" Hobbs asked as he took the paper and squinted at it.
"For tomorrow morning," Clive replied, and his tones rang out like a crisp and final eulogy over the hatchway, the grave of Captain Sawyer's spiritual demise. "To have your guns - and yourself - cleaned, polished, and ready for presentation. At approximately one bell on the forenoon watch, we will be welcoming Captain Lyman James."
Hobbs grimaced as his tired eyes struggled to focus on the paper. "Who's he, then? Some gawker from the Admiralty?"
Clive didn't answer for a moment, and Hobbs looked up to see him half-turned into the shadows. As he watched, Clive turned the rest of the way and said softly, "No. He is the new captain of the Renown."
Then he walked away, and left Hobbs standing uncertainly and alone in the darkness.
The afternoon wore into twilight, then evening. Across the island shopkeepers closed their doors, mothers gathered their children in for the night meal, and young couples came into the cooling night air to enjoy the respite from the scorching heat of the day.
At his post outside the big oaken doors of the Admiralty chambers, Tyler Russell shifted his feet and coughed. It had been a long day, and when he reported back to the Commodore he had hoped the inquiry committee would dismiss him for the day; he knew Lieutenant Hornblower would want to know about his men, and was anxious to see him.
But that was not to be, at least not right away. The committee wanted to talk to the men of the Renown, so for the rest of that day Tyler had found himself standing guard over a hallway full of scowling, brooding deck hands who whispered among themselves and paced the polished floors with their arms folded and their heads down.
And he listened. Above all, Tyler listened.
Marines didn't, as a rule, think much beyond the current threat or the latest crisis. Tyler had learned this quickly, mostly from watching his older brother. They didn't mingle with the hands or the officers, didn't make friends or small talk, didn't seem to pay any attention to the wooden world around them. As a class, they simply cleaned their guns and when the time came did their job. That was that.
That suited Tyler's brother; it seemed to suit most of the Marines, who didn't mind being told what to do. It didn't suit Tyler, who was born poor and raised largely in ignorance; he had never seen the world beyond the grimy stone walls of his Yorkshire home, and now that he knew there actually was one he wanted to learn all about it. Going on the open sea was like travelling to another world; being in Jamaica, with its strange-looking trees and unearthly culture, defied his imagination.
On the ship, he'd tried talking to people, but his brother would tell him to shut up before he got himself knifed. Not being a fool, Tyler shut up, but soon found that he learned a lot more by not talking then he ever could have by striking up a conversation. Learned that the captain wasn't making sense the way he used to; learned that some of the men muttered under their breaths about him, and about the lieutenants; learned that really, no one was safe on that ship, no matter how harmless the prisoners looked.
Tyler listened. He heard. And he tried to tell his brother, but wasn't surprised when he was cuffed and told to get out of the way. His brother never listened to him. Now his brother was dead.
Dead...and the hallway full of unwashed, angry sailors wished the same fate on Tyler, he could tell. He knew how to handle such men - herd them in when they were called, keep the firearm where they could see it, and give them the stoniest face possible. He did these things, and the afternoon wore on uneventfully.
Except...except as he listened through the door, pretending not to hear a word of course, Tyler didn't like what he was hearing. It was just like it had been that morning, with the doctor. Commodore Pellew - he had the deepest voice, it could go through rock Tyler imagined - would start the questioning, calm as you please, everything even and measured like he was reading from a Bible. What were your duties on the ship? What happened at this time? And this time? How did Captain Sawyer strike you, as an officer? Did you hear any utterances of mutiny? And so on.
Sometimes it would stop there, if the sailor being questioned was particularly thick. No more time would be wasted, and Tyler would be called in to usher that man out and the next man in.
But there were times when an answer would be given and one of the captains - always the same one, he had a higher voice and had a strange accent - would begin to question the man further. The queries would be faster, angrier - what do you mean, sir? Can you be more specific? Are you saying the captain did this? When you say the officers, to whom are you refering? Kennedy? Bush? Hornblower?
That last name came up a lot. Tyler heard it mentioned often, the same way it had been that morning. It was almost as if that captain - whichever it was - wanted to find Lieutenant Hornblower guilty, and was trying to get someone to say so. Trying very hard.
It wasn't easy, most of the time. Tyler could tell that many of the sailors had a loyalty to Hornblower - he knew by listening to them talk that they thought he saved the ship - and they didn't want to get him in trouble. So the loud voice would question and they would go quiet, or start stammering. Sometimes they would insistently claim the opposite of what the loud captain wanted them to say. Then the Commodore would quietly steer the questioning somewhere else.
Tyler was not a fool. He knew that the Lieutenant Hornblower once served on the Commodore's ship, and so the Commodore was trying to keep the inquiry from turning into a court martial. But every time the Commodore steered the questioning one way, the other captain would try to steer it back. Tyler thought of two dogs wrestling over a choice piece of bone, and that image stuck in his head for quite a while; then he thought of two ships firing at one another over a beautiful island. From what Tyler had heard, the doctor didn't want to see Hornblower and the others hang; but Acting Captain Buckland didn't fight the loud captain's questioning quite so hard. And the ratings had gone about half each way. In any case, it was quite a battle.
It was very wearying having to watch the men, listen at the door, and absorb everything that was heard, so Tyler was very glad when at length the oaken door was opened and the last man walked out, grunting to clear his throat and stalking past Tyler without a second glance. Tyler relaxed, because he knew that meant his duty was over, and he could go see Mr. Hornblower and tell him how his friends were doing. As soon as the sailor was out of sight, he turned toward the open door and waited for his dismissal.
The day had been long and hot, and an unpleasant smell emanated from beyond that door; already the Commodore was gathering his dress coat and holding a handkerchief to his nose. Eager to be out of there, Tyler guessed, and did not blame him in the least. The other captains were following suit, and Tyler read their faces with interest; the short captain looked tired and slumped, but the other captain - the loud one - looked almost angry, and Tyler knew he was frustrated that he could not get what he wanted. As he thought this, the loud captain looked straight at him and Tyler looked away. He did not like what was in that captain's eyes.
There was the squeak of moving chairs, the flutter of gathered papers. Tyler looked back up to see the Commodore coming toward him, and straightened into a salute as he had been taught.
The Commodore walked quickly past him, and the shorter captain followed. Tyler kept his eyes straight ahead and waited for the other captain to walk past, and his duty to be over.
A few moments went by, and the loud captain did not walk past. Curious, Tyler turned his head a bit and saw the captain was still standing in the dark-panelled room, looking at some spot on the wall with his eyes almost squinted shut. He seemed to be concentrating on something very hard.
As Tyler watched him, the captain pursed his lips, sighed a little and put on his dress coat. The coat was a little flashier than the others, Tyler noticed, with a great deal of gold braid and very wide shoulders. As soon as his coat was on the captain walked out of the room. Tyler straightened immediately.
The captain didn't walk past him; instead, he stopped before him and said, "Am I to understand you act as an escort on these grounds?"
Tyler kept his eyes ahead. "Aye, sir."
"That no one is to see the lieutenants without being accompanied by one of you?"
Tyler swallowed. "Aye, sir."
The captain leaned back and nodded. "In that case, come with me. We might as well follow the damned rules of protocol."
Blast, Tyler thought; he really wanted to be gone from that place. Blast -
Then he thought, shut and do your job. And listen. It might come in handy. "Aye, sir. Where do you want me to take you?"
The captain squared his shoulders proudly. "You'll *take* me nowhere, damn it!"
Tyler's eyes widened, and he blinked.
"But you will *accompany* me to whereever on this pestilential hellhole one may find Acting Captain Buckland."
Buckland! Tyler felt his stomach drop in dread.
But he knew enough to do what he was told. "Aye, sir."
And he knew, from experience, that it was time to be quiet and listen.
Horatio sat at the small wrought-iron table on the balcony of his quarters, staring morosely at the blank sheet of paper before him. In one hand he held a pen, and every so often it would hover near the surface of the paper; then it would dart back again like a frightened hummingbird. Hover near, dart back; hover near, dart back.
Horatio sighed with frustration. He had been doing this since before the sun set, and now it was almost too dark to even see what he was doing. Finally he gave a little grunt of determination and with a deep breath wrote:
He stopped there, and gazed at those two words with sadness. It had been hours since he had come back from the infirmary bursting with helpless anger, hours since he had decided that he must find something to occupy his mind or go mad. It had been two hours, at least, since he had realized that he had not written his father for weeks and that he might not get many more chances. With that alarming thought, he had brought his writing set to the balcony and began to compose.
Two words in two hours. *At this rate you will die of old age before your letter is finished.* Horatio thought, then smiled grimly. It had been Archie's voice, and not his own, that he had heard in his head.
That realization coupled together with some other thoughts that suddenly wanted to come out, and in a flash of inspiration Horatio began writing.
"If you receive this letter it will be by the hand of another, for upon its completion I will seal it and place it among my possessions, unsent. I write it only so that you may know how I passed these hours, what your son's final thoughts were, and how your influence has shaped him into the man that finds this sacrifice the highest obligation of his soul.
"Father, you will no doubt be told that I conspired to commit mutiny on board the H.M.S. Renown. Perhaps you will even be told that I confessed to such an act; if that occurs rest assured I did no treasonous thing. If I did I would not have the heart to write to you.
"Do you remember the cobbler, Mr. Branson, from when I was very young? He took a blow to the head, and afterwards kept insisting he was fit to practice his trade, even after burning himself several times and attacking Mrs. Kent in a fit of unprovoked rage? Do you remember what finally happened - what had to happen, so that he would not further harm himself or others?
"Please think on that, father. I will say no more, believing that no further explanation is necessary.
"You will probably never find out but by my hand, but Archie has been wounded, severely I fear, taking a bullet in the abdomen during an uprising of Spanish prisoners aboard Renown. His color is good, and he does not seem to be slipping, although I have seen too many wounds like his to breathe easily. How I wish I had his strength sometimes! He makes jests and smiles when I know the fear of death must be upon him; he still pledges himself to me even though I was not swift enough in the boarding of the Renown to prevent his fate. He will remain steadfast, keeping loyalty to England even as the Admiralty seeks a way to keep its own sins hidden by condemning his innocence to the flames. I cannot pray for his recovery; but I can say that if the road he has travelled is allowed to end here I will have little use for my own life. No just God would permit such an atrocity.
"If another's hand carries this letter to you, father, it will very likely be Mr. William Bush, the second lieutenant aboard the Renown. He was wounded in the boarding also, though less severely than Archie. I confess I hardly know the man, but if I were to trust my soul to anyone on earth besides Archie it would be to him. In our short acquaintance he has proven himself wise, deliberate, and in every way the pinnacle of what an English officer should be. Look after him kindly, father, and if there is anything of mine that he should need provide it for him.
"If whatever Providence exists knows anything of justice Archie will be with him, and will need lodging as he will most likely not want to go home to Kennedy Manor. There may be another young man as well, a midshipman from Renown named Henry Wellard, who will likely need special care. I know that I need not entreat you to shelter them, but I fear you may feel some guilt at lending them my room and my furnishings. Please don't; if I have no further need of them, there are no two people on earth I would rather see make good use of them."
A noise interrupted Horatio's thoughts, and he looked up from his writing to see two figures walking across the courtyard below him. The light was dim, but by squinting he could make out the dark red of a marine's uniform; walking next to the marine was the unmistakable square shoulders and strident gait of Captain Charlie Hammond.
Troubled, Horatio watched them walk away from him and tried to guess where they were headed. Hammond would not need an escort unless he was going to visit one of those under suspicion, but the hospital was in the other direction, and he was clearly not headed to see Horatio. That only left one possible option.
Horatio felt his heart sink. He did not know why Hammond was going to see his former Acting Captain, but remembered that Hammond did not think well of him. The situation was rapidly spinning out of Horatio's control, and there was nothing he could do about it.
Nothing...Horatio stared down at his half-finished letter and felt tears sting his eyes. He immediately felt ashamed; such emotion was beneath him as an officer and an adult. But it pained him to think that he might never see his father again, and that his friends and fellow officers were wounded and beyond his help. His heart tore to think that he had once been full of hope and enthusiasm to serve under James Sawyer, and it might all come to this end, a lonely death on a far-flung island an eternity from his father's home. And it destroyed him to think that, after all the lofty ambitions he had once entertained, and all the grudging pride he suspected his father harbored for him, that it might all end with the delivery of this terse, unredeeming piece of paper and the news that his son was dead and a thousand miles away.
Horatio sighed heavily, and leaned back in his chair. The night was falling fast; already the stars were out. Rounding his shoulders to ease the stiffness from them Horatio arched his head back and looked up at the sky. At first it was only to ease his sore neck, but after a moment Horatio blinked, and really looked at the canopy of diamond slivers that twinkled over his head. Swiftly his eyes sought out the stars he knew, Orion, Cassiopea, Ursus Major...then one star...
His mother's star.
Horatio smiled despite his melancholy. His mother's star, the North star, picked from all the stars in the heavens one night when she realized she was dying. It had been Horatio's beacon in times of distress, his only hope that something survived of one's time on earth when the physical part was gone. He looked at that star, shining brightly now just as it had over England, over Spain, over the darkest nights on Justinian and Renown. He looked at it and thought for a moment; then he bent his hand back to his writing.
"Father, I do not know where the current path I tread is going. But if you will remember I once told you that I had selected a star for you to remember me by. Remember me now and turn your healing hands to those I have ransomed, for in them lies all that is worth sacrificing for. What I have done was done for the good of the service, and for the men. When men ask what became of me, only say that I have done my duty. It will be the highest remembrance I can ever ask for.
Horatio wrote his name very carefully, and when he was done sat back slowly and looked at his handiwork, perhaps the last evidence of his existence his father would ever see. Perhaps...
...but perhaps it would not come to that. Horatio lifted his eyes to the stars, and felt upon seeing his mother's star that the worst might not happen, and he might not be required to sacrifice his honor to protect his men. There was a time - a long time ago - when such naive hopes were possible.
They might be again. With his mother's light shining upon him Horatio thought he could dare to hope so.
Very slowly he rose, carried the letter inside, and when it was dry carefully folded and sealed it and tucked it away. Then he returned to the little wrought-iron table, and spent some time looking at the stars.
Buckland sighed and poured himself another glass of wine.
Night was falling; another long night of idleness. He set the decanter down - harder than necessary - next to the crumpled letter that had arrived from the Admiralty that afternoon, informing him that the Renown would have a new captain - and it would not be him. With a sour frown he lifted the glass to his lips and drank deep. The elation he had felt after the inquiry was gone and he felt trapped, like a butterfly in a spider's web, while other men decide his fate and the command he had waited over twenty years to obtain was scattered to the four winds on a whim. It made him want to get very drunk.
A soft breeze was blowing off the balcony, but the feel of it on his skin only made Buckland wince. It reminded him of being on board ship, which reminded him of commanding the Renown, which reminded him of everything that had been taken away: his pride, his reputation, his standing as an officer. He'd never get that back now, never. And it was all by chance...
Buckland took another drink and began to walk slowly about the room. Chance, that he had been far from any port or help when Captain Sawyer first showed signs of mental decay. Chance, that his junior lieutenants had not been loyal servants of the Crown but backstabbing upstarts who sneered at his authority. And chance, that when the moment came where his true leadership abilities could be known he had been taken unawares and tied to his bed.
He had tried to amend his misfortunes where he could, but even there fickle chance had betrayed him. If only Hornblower had been killed in the fighting - then the men would have ceased their idol worship, and followed him instead. If only Captain Sawyer had survived - then the inquiry would have words from his own lips, irrefutable by legend alone, and Hornblower and his confederates would surely hang. Sawyer had said it himself: one of them pushed him.
Of course, Buckland had been belowdecks on that fateful night as well, but he hoped that fact would not be brought up. He had hoped - secretly - that the fate that had been so cruel to him would turn about, and all those who might incriminate him would not survive to Kingston, but that had not happened. He had not gone to the hospital, but surely if any of the other officers had died from their wounds he would have been told. That would have meant at least one fewer set of treasonous lips as far as he was concerned, but as of yet it had not gone his way.
And it probably wouldn't. With a disgusted grunt Buckland took another drink of wine and kept walking.
Buckland's hand jerked, and a dollop of wine splatted to the polished floor.
"Dammit," he cursed softly. Swiftly setting the glass down and shaking the remaining drops from his hand he cast nervous eyes to the door and asked, "Who is it?"
"Private Russell, sir," a young voice piped, "And Captain Hammond to see you, if you can spare the time."
Captain Hammond! Good God! Buckland's stomach immediately tied itself into knots, and he went cold all over. Had someone betrayed him? Yes, obviously - probably Hornblower - there would be no further inquiry, only a court-martial, his! His, of course, he was the acting captain and they blamed him - they blamed him and he could not refute it, damn damn DAMN -
"Mr. Buckland," A Scottish voice asked, "Are you all right in there?"
Buckland wanted to hide. But he couldn't - he had already answered the summons - but oddly, Hammond's voice did not sound angry or threatening, so perhaps...a social call? No, impossible, but...
Every nerve stretched to the breaking point, Buckland hastily smoothed his hair, closed his eyes for a moment to check his steadiness - not badly intoxicated yet - and with as much dignity as he could muster, walked to the door and opened it.
"Well, at last!" Hammond snapped, pushing his way inside, "The customs of hospitality are unique in your part of England, Mr. Buckland."
"My apologies, sir," Buckland did his best not to stammer, but could not let go of the doorlatch to save his life, "I was not expecting company this evening."
Hammond strode into the main room of the suite and turned around slowly, observing the sparse interior. "Hm." His eyes darted past Buckland. "Wait outside."
"Aye sir," the marine answered, and Buckland was startled; he had forgotten the youth was there.
With a great amount of spiritual effort Buckland closed the door, and watched as Hammond walked to one of the old leather chairs and sat down in it. Clearing his throat Buckland said, "I have little enough to offer you, captain, but I do have some wine and fruit if you would care to indulge."
"I would not," Hammond replied crisply, and bringing his great eyebrows down scowled at Buckland severely. "Have a seat, Mr. Buckland, you and I have something to discuss."
Oh, Christ! Buckland went cold again. Someone did talk, Hornblower or Bush or Kennedy, or - no, it was Clive! Clive, damn him, he told Hammond about what happened at the fort, about Hornblower almost being killed - damn -
Without knowing quite how he did it, Buckland moved to another chair opposite Hammond's and took his place. He forced himself to look the imposing man straight in the eye and asked, "What can there be to discuss? I gave my inquiry yesterday."
"So you did," Hammond nodded, lacing his hands, "And men have given their testimony since then, and will continue to do so. But I am not satisfied with it."
Buckland swallowed thickly. What was the best answer? "I - regret that any inquiry at all is necessary."
"Hmph! Yes, I'm sure you do," Abruptly, Hammond rose and began to pace. "Not what you bargained for, is it?"
"No. No, certainly not."
"Did you even want to be a captain?"
The question sounded almost like an insult. As evenly as he could Buckland said, "I was willing to take whatever post was offered me."
Hammond frowned slightly. "What you were 'offered' some men struggle their whole lives without achieving. And in circumstances worse than yours lesser men have shined. But you - not to be too blunt about it, mind you - didn't." Hammond had walked behind the chair, and now leaned forward to rest his elbows on its back and clasp his hands together. "I have been trying to decipher just why that is."
Buckland blinked. He was not prepared for this.
"I don't doubt your ability," Hammond continued, standing again slowly, "And you've certainly been at sea long enough. Yet in your first real command you are disobeyed, abandoned and humiliated. Have you ever thought of how that happened, sir?"
Buckland opened his mouth, but it was a few seconds before his brain could send syllables to it. "I - I can only say I did my best, sir. The ship was...unstable, the captain was unhealthy, and the men... I did what I thought was right. Even though seems to have netted me only discouragement and defeat." Buckland paused, knowing that sounded pathetic, but it was out now. But perhaps there was a way to salvage it. Cagily he added, "I have heard of your reputation, it was not much below Captain Sawyer's. If I am not intruding, I would like to know how you would have handled the situation."
"Ha!" Hammond snorted again, and resumed his liesurely walk around the chair, "I'm certain you would. I'm not even convinced of what the situation is, Mr. Buckland, but the more I'm hearing from the men the more I'm convinced that the guilty party might never be punished. Some men are frightened, some have stardust in their eyes, but we're not getting at the truth. Tell me, sir," Hammond walked to the front of the chair again and sat down, "What do you think of Mr. Hornblower and his men?"
Buckland was thrown. The question was casual, almost friendly, but surely the intent could not be. Uncertain, he said, "Mr. Hornblower...? I - I stated at the inquiry, he was a capable and intelligent officer."
"And he never got under your skin? Never undermined your authority on your ship?"
"No, not - not that I - "
"Come, now, sir, don't mince. Did you not say your two junior lieutenants disobeyed orders to go rescue Hornblower from the Spanish fort?"
Where was this going? "Yes, they did, but he did not ask them to. At least...I don't believe he did."
"I thought so." Hammond leaned back in the chair and sighed slowly. "Mr. Buckland, what passes between us must never leave this room, but I have a grave fear that the Crown's best interests are not being served by this inquiry. It is biased, sir, very heavily in Hornblower's favor."
Buckland's jaw dropped. To hear a member of the inquiry say this was nearly scandalous. "Sir, should you be telling me this? Inform the Admiralty, they would..."
"They would tell me I was full of nonsense," Hammond snapped, leaping to his feet again. "The Admiralty set up this inquiry, selected us to head it, and they will not be contradicted. But I tell you that I have suspicions and fears that are going unaddressed at present, because someone wishes to ensure that Mr. Hornblower will not face the noose. Even if he is the guilty party."
"Do you think he's guilty?"
Hammond's black eyes shot holes through him. "Don't *you*?"
Buckland had no answer. He gaped blankly.
"Hornblower has been full of audacity ever since he was a midshipman," Hammond insisted, clasping his hands behind his back, "When he was young he was content to use it to his captain's advantage, but now - now I fear he has much darker purposes in mind. And what I've heard at the inquiry - and what *hasn't* been said - proves it to me. But no one has the courage to say it. Not yet."
Buckland's heart began beating very hard. He shrugged helplessly. "With all due respect, sir, what can I do? I am one of the accused, I have no authority over anyone."
"No, that's plain," Hammond growled, pacing again like a caged tiger. "Whatever authority you had has been taken away, and I think we both know by whom."
Buckland decided the best defence was total surrender. "I don't know what you mean."
Hammond stopped and narrowed his eyes. "Mr. Buckland, you have worn a captain's mantle. Cowardice is no longer seemly on you."
Buckland tried very hard not to cringe.
Hammond took a deep breath. "We know - you and I - who the real traitor on board that ship was. Who robbed you of your authority? Who challenged your command? Who grasped for vainglory with both hands and left you helpless belowdecks?"
Buckland cast his eyes to the floor, stung with humiliation.
"We both know who. And if nothing is done the guilty man will walk away scot-free, because he has influence on the board. Your reputation will be ruined, your commission will come to nothing, and your name will be spoken with scorn and derision. Is that justice, Mr. Buckland? After twenty-two years, is that what you would call fair and impartial judgment?"
For a moment Buckland could not answer. Then, quietly, he asked, "What would you have me do?"
When he looked at Hammond again, the older man had a sort of smile on his face. "I knew it. I knew I was right about Hornblower and his band. All I need is a man brave enough to tell the truth."
"I 've already told the inquiry all I know."
Hammond nodded as he sat down once more. "Yes. But we are interviewing other men, men whose statements will mean the difference between Hornblower hanging - and walking away to spread his contagion to other ships in the fleet. What I need from you is names."
Buckland blinked. "Names?"
"Other men who recognized Hornblower as you did, who won't be afraid to expose him. He couldn't have charmed all the men on that ship."
"No sir, he did not. Sadly, many of the men who opposed him are..." Buckland stopped himself, horrified at what he was about to say.
Hammond caught it anyway. "Dead? I might have thought so. But he couldn't have gotten all of them."
"N-no, that is, I cannot say that he got *any* of them, it was - "
Hammond sighed and stood. "Mr. Buckland, give me the names of a few men on Renown who might help me to get some justice for Captain Sawyer. I can arrange leave for you to visit the ship. Together I think we can help each other."
Buckland blinked again. "Sir?"
Hammond waved a hand at the crumpled letter from the Admiralty. "There's more than one ship in the fleet, Mr. Buckland. And once the proper villains are exposed, rewards for the men who bring them in."
Buckland understood. "Ah! Um, quite so. Um. Thank you."
"Thank me when this is over," Hammond grunted, and made his way to the door. "And now good night, Mr. Buckland. Send me word when you've thought through my proposal."
"I will," Buckland answered numbly. "Good night."
Hammond opened the door and walked out with little more than a grunt in response. The marine came out of the shadows to meet him, and together they walked away into the starlit dark. The door still hung open; Buckland rose and closed it.
For a long time after he shut the door, Buckland stood with one hand on the knob thinking. He was terrified - was what he was doing tampering? What the penalty for such a thing? Most importantly, would he be caught?
But no - no - surely all he was doing was finding the truth. It was true, the inquiry was slanted against him, and in Hornblower's favor. Really, there was no way a conviction could be found with Pellew on the court. Hammond had names no names, but there was no one else he could mean. Certainly Pellew would dismiss - HAD dismissed - every shred of evidence, every iota of guilt on Hornblower's part. Why, a blind man could see it!
And where would that guilt go? Buckland walked away from the door, his mental capacities returning with a vengeance. The inquiry would have to indict someone, Sawyer's reputation demanded it. Who would they attack? Not the lieutenants with their dash and fire, not Hornblower with his mantle of protection. Like a pack of wolves they would bring down the old and infirm, as they had with Sawyer. Buckland's face twisted in a grimace of disgust; they would likely think him easy prey.
But here was a chance to strike first! Buckland picked up his wine glass and drank the remainder quickly. Hammond knew the truth as he did, and if a corroborating witness was found - if someone could be found who knew Hornblower for the conniving, back-stabbing mutineer he was, who had known Sawyer for as long as Buckland had, that man would be invaluable. His damning testimony could not be ignored.
Buckland poured himself another glass of wine and walked slowly out onto the balcony, thinking as he went. By the time he reached the cool night air the name had come, and the more Buckland thought about that name the more convinced he was that there was a way to turn his misfortunes around. The rest of the night would be spent in careful planning, of course, but tomorrow - tomorrow he would pay a visit to his old home, the Renown.
And to his former gunner, Mr. Hobbs.
End of Part Six