An American Encounter
by Skihee

Ch 24 Dances and Diversions

Edrington stepped away from the gypsy wagon. Rubbing the seat of his pants, he put his hands on the middle of his back and leaned as far backwards as he could. A clatter caused him to turn. Pamela stumbled out of the wooden torture wagon and over to a near by tree, wiping her brow.

The heat of the day was oppressive, even with the slight breeze the seaside lane afforded.

Edrington scowled....not at anything in particular, just things in general. Pamela lifted her hair onto the top of her head and stuck it in place haphazardly with a comb. In the tousled condition, she looked even more alluring, though she was clearly fatigued. The men were seeing to the beasts, water, food. Consuella, dear that she was, prepared a lunch of sorts for the people. Maria sat jotting in a book, a leather case nestled between her legs. Did it contain her orders? Or, something else? Certainly it was not female things! He accidentally lifted it two days ago and thought the woman would take his head off! It was incredibly heavy. What was in it? Gold bricks?

It was time he had a parle with the leader of this merry band. Bending, he snatched a weed and stuck it in his mouth to chew on. He needed to be tactful, or he might never learn what he wanted to know.

He lay out nonchalantly on the grass in front of her, propping himself on his right elbow. He tried to see what she was writing but ...not a good angle.

She sighed and returned his gaze.

"You have been very patient, Eduardo."

He nodded.

"You want to know what it is that we do."

Eyebrows rising, he nodded again.

She glanced around for listening ears. No one near. She glanced at the leather box, then at him. "Have you guessed its contents? It is why we are here. You know what I am. Yes?"

"I think I do, but I don't understand how SHE became involved."

A wry lip appeared. "Totally accidental, Eduardo."

"You've gotten good ...calling me that."

"It is a lesson learned quickly." She raised her head haughtily.

"You put her in danger." A twinge of anger etched the words.

"Do not criticize. She is head strong. I needed a replacement. She is very persistent and very ...intuitive, let us say."

"Stiff brained, more like it."

Maria's eyes cast to the paper, then back to Edrington. "Like you."

"Yes. Very well." He dismissed. "We all seem to suffer from a certain amount of thick headedness."

She smiled with a light chuckle. "I think I like you, you Englishman."

"Enough small talk. What are we doing, Senora?"

She paused and chose the words carefully. "There was a ....break....in our lines of communication."

*Death,* translated Edrington.

"Our ..." she heaved a sigh, "...machinery needs repair." Her eyes darted to the leather valise.

*Gold bricks was NOT a far off guess,* he thought.

"The cogs and gears work better when they are greased, do they not?"

"Most cogs and gears, yes."

"To repair the break, a....professional delivery was necessary. I am here to accomplish it. You,... and her,... and the rest, are window dressing. Once we get there the task will be completed with ... as you English say...dispatch. Then, home. It should be a mere walk in the park."

"I hardly call traipsing through the countryside of a country with which we are at war a walk in the park. We have been fortunate thus far."

"Indeed. We have. The most difficult is yet to come, but it will be soon."

"How soon?"

"Two, maybe three days."

"It is a dangerous thing, you do. Does anyone know the ...caliber... of your grease?"

"Only the most trusted, Eduardo."

He did a double take and she grinned.

"I am honored, Senora."

"Think nothing of it, ...my Lord."

He stared hard. "Picard?"

She nodded.

"You didn't..." he looked towards Pamela.

"No. No. Your secret is safe...as is hers."

"What do you mean?"

She smiled. "I am not who I am without credentials, Eduardo."

"So, we are to be conveyed in that infernal chit of a cart for another two or three days?" He stood and yanked down, straightening his clothing. "I don't suppose there is a decent bit of horse flesh to be found?"

Maria glanced about the far flung resting caravans and back to him.

"I have my answer."

*********

The prison walls cracked as they cooled from the heat of the day. It was like the sigh of some rock monster. Hornblower startled from restless sleep, taking a quick breath. Could he breath, or was the heated air still surrounding him, burning him, roasting him,... alive,.... slowly? Wakefulness brought realization. The heat was bearable in comparison. Trying to sit up, he moaned. He fell back onto the straw covered wooden slats.
His head throbbed and he ran a hand over his hair. Was he alone? He listened. The room was pitch black. Looking high up the wall, a slit of an opening revealed some sort of twilight. Was it evening or dawn?

He rested his hand on his chest. Where was his shirt? Lips parting, his tongue smacked off the roof of his mouth. How long had he been out of the oven? He was out. He was REALLY out. He could stretch his legs. Extending his hand, he felt the rough hewn stone. It felt cool on his palm. Carefully, he extended his tongue to touch his lips. They were raw, like the worst winter chapping, but it wasn't winter.

He felt his bare chest, then his leg. Was he completely naked? Turning on his side, he decided if he could swing his legs over, he might be able to cantilever himself into an upright position. As his feet went down, they struck onto something soft. A grunt sounded. It startled him, and he lost the precarious balance, but the onrush of adrenaline let him prevent the fall back onto the slats. A cascade of heat ran through the nerves of his body. He was extending a massive amount of energy to maintain the position, and slowly slipped his upper torso back onto the slats, leaving his waist and hips in an uncomfortable stretched incline.

"Sir! Mr. Hornblower, sir! You're awake! Thank the Lord for that!"

"Matthews?" His voice rasped. Its sound surprised, and his throat burned.

The sound of a slosh of water met his ears. A hand touched lightly on his body until it found his face.

"Here, sir. Drink." Fingers touched his mouth and then a cup. Water splashing over his lips, onto his tongue, down his throat, onto his neck. He grasped the hand that held the container, gulping the liquid. Empty. He closed his eyes and wetted the sore lips, listening, as what he desired was filled and came again.

"Take it easy, sir."

He gulped down the next dish of water. "How long?" he rasped.

"We been here five days, sir." Matthews hesitated. "They let ye out yesterday afternoon, sir. I...."

"What?"

"Let...let me get ye some more water, sir."

The liquid seemed to revive and he attempted to sit up, groaning with the effort. Matthews sat beside him, acting as prop. Hornblower downed more water.

"My clothes?"

"Here, sir. We washed them out as best we could. Let me help ye, sir."

Fumbling in the dark, Horatio donned his shirt and trousers. Slipping his hand under the shirt he felt the healing welt on his side. Wincing he recalled the riding crop landing across his back repeatedly and with vicious force. The older French officer had stopped the inquisitor from further assault, but not before a number of blows were delivered. Then, the oven.

What kind of men were these? Desperate ones, could be the only answer, to treat him, an officer, in such a manner.

Word was the Directorie was desperate. Things were falling apart. No clear leadership. Bonaparte was requested back from Egypt, to come and be the savior of the revolution. Was that not why they watched, not only the port, but the approach as well? Keith revealed intelligence reports that Napoleon had escaped from Egypt. Every British ship was on the alert for his return. Any vessel was searched for possible dispatches that might uncover the landing spot.

The underworld of spies worked the territory like shipworm on a hull in the Indies. Sooner or later something would break. High hopes were to intercept the brilliant French warrior and weaken the command of the French. What a coup that would be! To capture Bonaparte!

"Why did they let me out?" His voice was a little less raspy.

Water sounded. "Here, sir, drink."

Hornblower complied. When Matthews took the dish from him, he held the back of the sailor's hand. "Matthews?"

"I couldn't, sir. I couldn't let ye cook in there."

Hornblower placed his hand on Matthews close shoulder and gave a squeeze. "Thank you, Matthews."

"I didn't tell em about Emerald though, sir," he whispered.

"Good man."

"I disobeyed yer order, sir."

"You saved my life. Though if I make it out of this, they may court-marshal me for losing my ship." It struck him funny, and he chuckled hoarsely.

"Aye, sir, but ye won't die at the hands o the Frogs."

"That is yet to be seen....but at least not in some new experiment of French cuisine."

"Sir?"

"Never mind, Matthews. Tell me about our situation."

**********

The rolling beat to quarters called every man to his post. From guns to t'gallants, Indefatigables crew was primed and ready. Pellew stalked the quarter-deck observing the ever closing distance between this frigate and Emerald.

Little thought was needed about how to approach the sister vessel. If she were a French spy ship, and God only knows how such an exploit accomple could be achieved, he would blow her out of the water. Strike his frigates stern, foul her mizzen, prevent the capture of a French dispatch vessel? Who the hell did they think they were? Signaling the French coast AND ships at sea? Giving free entry into a French port? Bonaparte himself could have been on the schooner! He would be damned before another hour would go by without an answer for these crimes and felonies. Treason! It was high treason! Anger boiled beneath the surface. Nothing was more despicable than a traitor to one's own country, and apparently this was a ship full of them! If he could reclaim Emerald without damage, he would do so,....but if push came to shove, Indefatigable was ready to oblige and send the lot of them to deep six.

Bracegirdle scanned the ship with the glass. Something odd was happening at the stern. He glanced toward the French coast. Somehow the coming confrontation so near the enemy made him uneasy. It was like airing dirty laundry to admit one of his majesty's ships could come under French domination. He regretted the possibility of anyone observing what was about to take place. Firing on a fellow fighter. It was inconceivable.

"Sir? Captain Pellew, sir?"

"Yes. What is it?" he clipped.

"Look, sir." He passed the long scope.

With pinched and frowning lips and expecting the worst, Pellew raised the glass. What was it? Were they running out their guns for a fight? Did they know the game was up? He was ready. Come hell or high water, he was ready to give the bloody bastards a drubbing.

He ceased to move. "What....? Blast and damnation!" He collapsed the scope and paced angrily. "Damn them to hell! Mr. Bowles! Take us in shouting distance!"

Bracegirdle lifted his portable telescope, sighted the expanse, and raised an eyebrow. Emerald reefed sail and hove to. The white flag of truce flapped at the stern. Were they expecting them? Was this some further ruse? Bracegirdle caught the audible huff of inhaled and exhaled air. Pellew was bordering furor and they wanted to talk? God help them.

With Emerald dead in the water, Indefatigables approach was all the more rapid. Bowles called to reef to slow them and come apace. Drawing nearer, Captain Brecon was spotted.

Bracegirdle eyed the men aloft. What was it? Something strange. It was the way they held themselves...uncanny. He glanced at Pellew. Did he see it? Odd. Very odd. The ratings of Emerald acted like no other he had ever witnessed. Brecon lifted the speaking trumpet.

"Captain Pellew! Captain Pellew, sir. I request you come aboard."

"Sir!" Bracegirdle could not believe the brazen suggestion.

"Quiet, Mr. Bracegirdle!" Pellew squinted and drew a deep breath. "Captain Brecon! I believe we are at odds, sir!"

"I have information, Captain. I strongly suggest you come aboard without further ado."

"There is nothing you can tell me that I am not already KEENLY aware, sir!"

He could see Brecon respond to his first leftenant, then lift the trumpet.

"Not even about a certain boat's crew, Captain?"

The adrenaline rush washed Pellew's body from head to foot. Hornblower? Did they know something of Hornblower?

"Sir! They are lowering the flag of truce!" advised Bracegirdle.

Everyone seemed to move in slow motion as what transpired next came in anxious snippets of time. Another flag was being hoisted. Had they sailed into a trap? Bracegirdle looked down at the gun ports of Emerald, fully expecting to see them open and guns run out....but no. The flag hoisted and unfurled on the rising currents of air from the oceans surface. The British ensign rose majestically back to her place. The men aloft on Emerald were descending and assembling on her deck.

Pellew resisted giving way to the edge that kept him battle ready. He snorted like a fiery stallion approached by those that would tame him. He clamped his hands behind his back and paced purposely. "Damn, damn, damn, damn."

"Sir! You're not going?" asked his first.

"Damn it! Yes. I must! If I am not back, Mr. Bracegirdle, within the hour, your orders are to blow them out of the water!"

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Call away a boat." Pellew faced the ... enemy. "As you suggest, Captain. I am on my way." His brow pinched down toward the bridge of his nose. What was this with the men? Assembled on deck at attention, not moving to the guns. Standing, like soldiers. What was all this? Breathing deeply, he descended the stairs and then the ship's side. Kennedy stood in the stern sheets. Hornblower's man, Styles, nodded to him when he caught his eye. "Go, Mr. Kennedy," he ordered calmly.

Piping honors met his ears as his head reached the level of the deck. Pellew stepped into the waist and was saluted by Brecon.

"I am honored, Sir Edward to have you on my deck." Brecon was a half a head taller than Pellew and bowed slightly.

Pellew retained the frown and eyed the youngish captain he strongly suspected of being a traitorous dog. Hearing normal speech from the man, he caught the faintest French accent in his tone.

"What do you want?"

"I expect you have ordered Indefatigable to blow us to kingdom come if you do not return soon. Please, sir. Join me in the after cabin for a glass of wine. I will acquaint you with Emerald."

As Pellew made his way along the deck, the assembled men saluted. The act startled, and he stopped and considered the crew.

Brecon could not help but grin at the sea captain's amazed response, though Pellew attempted to hide the reaction.

"They wish to honor you, sir. Your reputation for harassing and defeating the French goes before you. We all appreciate the part you have played on this deployment and are heartily sorry that we have .....used your reputation.... to our own devices. Nevertheless, we hold you in high esteem."

"What do you mean, *used my reputation*?" he growled.

"You have been a perfect cover. Reacting as you do. Just being ....the professional man of war that you are, sir. You have shielded us, and enticed the enemy. We apologize for damaging your magnificent Indefatigable. I would be happy to answer your questions and concerns." He bowed and extended an arm for Pellew to advance aft.

Once inside the day cabin, Pellew sternly faced his opponent. "You're French."

"Half true, Captain. Half French. My father was French, my mother English. I am French Canadian, but my allegiance is to King George, as is yours."

"Ha!" disdained Pellew. "The devil you say!"

"I understand why you might doubt me, Sir Edward, but it is true." He completed decanting a glass of wine and passed it to the stiff guest. Green eyes met his boldly, with assurance and a quirk of apology. The muscles of the smooth rounded jaw twitched beneath a remarkably smooth complexion for a man. The blonde hair was thick with a slight wave and the bangs that fell across his forehead gave a boyish quality to the Canadian Captain. At his nape, a volume of the same thick hair was neatly tied with an almost black navy blue ribbon. "I am as loyal to his majesty as you. The difference is that I ..... have a special purpose, .....because of my heritage, you see. Specially suited for a special task."

"And just what might that be, besides damaging my ship and allowing French despatch vessels to come and go out of the port of Toulon with impunity?" Pellew sipped the wine, keeping a steady gaze to all reactions by his host. The wine vintage, fine, with a medium body and fully rounded taste of the fermented grape. It went down more smoothly than he would have wished.

Brecon was chuckling.

"I am glad I amuse you, Captain."

"Forgive me, Captain Pellew. When you hear what I have to say, all will be put to rights. Will you not sit down?"

"I prefer to stand. Stop beating about the bush, man! Out with it! Explain yourself or stop wasting my time!"

"Very well, sir." Brecon let a smile dance across his lips, increasing the amiable qualities of his manly appearance, honored to have the legendary Captain in his presence. "You know, I had hoped I would meet you face to face."

"Captain..." He was getting annoyed with the parlor games the man employed.

"Yes. Yes. You are anxious for me to complete my story. We are a ship of......special forces, as I said. You see, I have certain connections with our enemy which allows me to .... access ....certain..... plausible.....relationships. I will not bore you with the details. It is quite complicated, but rest assured, my loyalties are with King George."

"This is naught but double talk, man! Get on with it! I am in no mood for bandying words! Speak plainly!"

"Ah! Captain! You have said the key word! Double! Yes. I am what might be called a double agent. I work for King George against the French, but the French think I work for them against the English."

Pellew let his jaw drop, then closed it tightly. "Balderdash!"

"No, no! Captain! It is truth. And, I have something with which to convince you, which is fortunate for me ... but not so fortunate for your young leftenant." He cocked his head sympathetically.

Pellew's eyes narrowed. "Of whom do you speak?"

"Hornblower, is his name, I believe?"

The temptation to grab this half-breed by the neck was almost overwhelming. If the man intended to assuage his anger, he failed.

Brecon laughed. "Captain, you look as thought you would like to wring my neck like the proverbial chicken. I take it this man, Hornblower, is of some value to you. Rest assured, he lives. Though a little worse for wear, he will survive."

The Canadian was more savvy than first suspected. Did he want to wring his neck? Yes. Was Hornblower valuable? He did not know the half of it. "What have they done to him?"

"He was interrogated by a man known as the Inquisitor. Not a very nice man. Not a man of honor. Rank means nothing to him. Nothing whatsoever."

"How do you know this?"

The wry smile appeared. "It is my business to know. Your man, ...Hornblower. He is astute, is he not?"

Pellew's features answered the question.

"Of course, he would be, if he is one of your picked men. It was insightful that he deigned not to implicate Emerald during his ....interrogations. While I do not have the complete story, I know that he nor his crew revealed whether they knew of MY part in this scenario. He has preserved our anonymity.....and you, sir, were on your way to destroy it. I cannot blame you. I do not know whether to be surprised it took you this long to discover us, or that the discovery was actually quick. I suppose it is one of those decisions that would be made from the point of view of the beholder. At any rate, I could see I would have to take you into my confidence, or you were about to open fire on us, were you not?"

"With all the power at my command, Captain."

"But, tell me. How did you know? With your crew in prison ashore, how did you discover the truth?"

"One of Hornblower's men was picked up....alive. They saw you signaling the French schooner."

"But ... how?"

"They were in a small boat, a small black boat."

"Ah. That explains it. Why do you have a black boat, Captain?"

"A prize of sorts," he said quickly. "Now, what about my men. I want them back."

"Admirable, Captain, but not so easy."

Pellew lost it. He threw the glass to the deck and pushed Brecon against the bulkhead, spitting his ire within two inches of the man's nose.

"I've had enough of you, sir. Whether you are for us or against us, I know not, but I want my men returned, easy or no, I will have them....and if that means your bloody cover is blown, I don't give a damn. It is because of you they are in this situation in the first place. Do not play at being a naval vessel, sir. Either you are or you are not. My men should never have felt compelled to right your wrong."

Brecon enjoyed the anger of this honored man, pressing him brusquely against the wall. "Bravo, Captain Pellew! You more than meet your legendary reputation! I cannot tell you how I admire the loyalty you dispense to your men! Bravo!"

"You're an ass, Brecon!" His brown eyes burned into the pine green ones.

"Simmer down, Sir Edward. I did not say it was impossible. I said it would not be easy. If you will release me, I have a map we might consider.... together."

**********

The gypsy band camped on the outskirts of Toulon. Edrington was abashed at the ultimate destination. What in God's name had he gotten himself into? This affair could not be completed too quickly to his way of thinking, nor night come fast enough. Only in the blackness of the night did he feel somewhat secure. He and the other English speaking members of the band communicated with looks, nods, and motions.

A squad of French soldiers came calling earlier in the day, checking out the wagons and people. Maria surprised the Major by speaking French and quelling the inquisitive nature of one lieutenant.

Another man found Pamela unpacking the wagon. Though his language was not understood, his actions spoke plainly enough. She did not know a lot of Spanish, but used what she did know with a moderately convincing accent. Eventually, Jose came between them. Edrington did not understand the Spaniard's language either, but it was clear he was telling the Frenchman to back off and fussed at Pamela as if she were his wife.

The man grabbed Pamela's left hand, peered at the ring on it, and pulled it off her finger. She screamed "NO!" and attacked him. Thank God Jose had his wits about him, shouted in Spanish what was occurring, and pulled Pamela back.

Hearing the hullabaloo, Maria intervened along with the Frenchman with which she conversed. Using some fast talk, she persuaded the officers not to arrest Pamela, who collapsed in tears.

The French lieutenant took the ring from the soldier. He knelt beside her, lifted her chin, and smiled and spoke in French, then, he placed the ring in her palm. And in her own inimitable way, Pamela hugged the man and kissed him repeatedly on the cheek, saying "Gracias, gracias, senor."

Could she not leave well enough alone? Edrington rolled his eyes with the recollection.
He patted the donkey he was brushing. "I am beginning to feel quite an affinity with you, old chap."

"Eduardo," Maria whispered. "There will be French soldiers coming to the camp tonight."

"Oh. Peachy."

"Pamela is going to dance for them."

"What!?!"

"It is how I convinced them to let her stay. They would have arrested her and done....they are men, you know. I should not have brought her."

"Well, now is a fine time for that realization!"

"I must meet my contact tonight. The signal has already been given. I cannot fail to rendezvous. Do not do anything foolish, Eduardo. We will leave this place before dawn."

"Can I not take her away from here?"

"No! No! They might suspect something! If you two were arrested it would go badly for us all. We must behave normally."

"Normally? I have not behaved normally since I left Gibraltar! Maybe even before."

"I am only saying to stay out of whatever might happen...but I pray God nothing will. Eduardo, take care."

He was not convinced about remaining. Locating Pamela, he pulled her away to a secluded spot.

"This is not good."

"What?"

"This dance you plan to perform."

"It will not be hard."

"Pamela.....The difficulty of the dance is not my concern. It will only heighten their desire for you. You must escape."

"No! It would ruin it for the others. It would put them in danger."

"You are in danger."

"It will be all right, Alexander. I am touched by your concern."

"You are not a spy."

"But ... I am....now."

"Pamela!" He hugged her tightly. "If anything happens to you, I will feel responsible. I should have kept you out of that boat. I should have kept you on Picard's ship. I should have...."

She covered his mouth. "You should not have come. That is the only should. I knew what I was getting involved in, but you did not. I should have let them hit you on the head."

He snorted with a wry smile. "You're impossible. I am afraid for you."

"Alexander. You are a really sweet man. You must trust me. I will be prepared this time. We all will. Listen,...keep my ring for me." She slipped it off her finger. "Here." She tried his right little finger, but the digit was too big. Taking the left one, it slid on easily. "Guard it with your life."

He stared at the ring, then looked into her eyes.

"You hold my heart," she said sincerely.

"You are a little fool to put your life in such jeopardy. Why do you? England is not your country."

"I want to help. I want this war to end. I want my husband ...safe...with me....with us."

"He would not want this."

Her face reddened with the advent of tears. "I can do nothing else right now! Please!"

"Then you know this is folly."

"Yes. Yes, Alexander. Does it make you happy I admit you were right?"

"It does give some satisfaction. Then, listen to me further and do not do this thing tonight!"

"I must. I must!"

"No!"

"I cannot be the cause of a further breach. It will be one dance. Jose will take me when it is over."

He huffed a sigh. "Pray God he is the only one that ... takes you."

*****

Espionage. Pellew drummed his fingers and pursed his lips in thought. Indefatigable was not supposed to be here. She was to accompany Foudroyant to Palermo, then return to her normal station in the Atlantic. But no. Admiral Keith refused to let her go, and now, Hornblower was lost once again. Pellew rubbed his forehead.

Emerald was supposed to be patrolling here alone, according to Brecon. When Indefatigable was thrown into the mix, Brecon continued to carry out his orders as best he could without involving Indy, but Hornblower's damn observations caught the land/sea signals and brought Indefatigable, and the leftenant, into the thick of plots hatched by those at Admiralty who came up with such schemes. Ergo, Pellew was a player, too. He disliked this cloak and dagger nonsense. Ship against ship, broadside against broadside, that was the way to fight a war. Not this skulking daring do that risked lives willy nilly. It seemed to him Hornblower and his men were the victims in this case.

He sighed recalling Kennedy's offer to join Brecon's men. It was logical. If they should locate Hornblower, they would recognize one another. Hornblower's man, Styles, who was left behind that night nearly a week ago, spoke up wishing to attend Kennedy. He was the wild card to be used if necessary. Rampling wanted to go, but no, then Pellew would be down three leftenants instead of two. Indefatigable was already used to functioning without these two men who were fast friends. It was logical to choose Kennedy. Yes, these two would be Indefatigable's representatives in the rescue operation.

Brecon was in contact with the people in Toulon, the people that advised of Hornblower's situation. There was a plan and the components were being put in place at this very moment. Only confirmation of times was lacking. All of it seemed to take so blasted long as only night could be used for signaling messages and these only at certain times and days on some odd rotating basis. Brecon did not elaborate.

The greatest fear was the French might decide to send the prisoners further inland, to Paris possibly, or some other prison where they might not be seen again until the war was over, whenever fate saw fit to end the bloody confrontation.

Prisoner exchange was a possibility, but when? Involving anyone that had to do with Admiralty seemed a poor choice of solutions. How valuable was the son of a doctor? Or a captain, for that matter? Pellew stood, twisted not knowing why he stood, then sat down again, holding his head. Children. Can they possibly be worth this worry?

So here he sat, waiting.....waiting.....waiting.

**********

With nightfall, the French army contingent arrived for the entertainment provided by the gypsies. A man swallowed swords, another had a dancing bear, several played instruments, a gymnastic group of four performed, and Pamela, lovely, alluring, pregnant Pamela, danced.

Though the little mound of her tummy was barely noticeable, Edrington knew and shook his head at the thought, shook his head at the possibility that any wife of his would be cavorting before Frenchmen. He should have stopped her. He should have forbade it. He cursed himself for the situation he was in, for the situation they all were in.

Edrington watched discreetly in the shadows. He could see the French and he could see the performances. Keeping his hat low, he tucked the weapon he held within the folds of his cape. He was ready should any Frenchman attempt to take her.

Turning his attention to the dance, he soon forgot anything but the vision before his eyes. Even with the stress of the performance, and the situation, she seemed to shine with a light from within. All his thought rested upon her,... if she were his,.... to dance this dance for him,... him alone. Everyone else disappeared from view. He sought her eyes and held them. She was dancing for her husband, he could see it within the depths of her soul. Fight for England, fight for him, whoever the lucky son of a gun was. If only he had met her first. If only she were his. The core of his being lit with desire as the performance stimulated his libido. He forced himself to note the Frenchmen.

The Frogs devoured her with their eyes, unclean thoughts, ravenous thoughts full of lust and desire. Edrington's own throat felt thick as he swallowed, and his hand tightened around the hilt of the sword. His body tensed for battle while dots of perspiration covered his brow and upper lip. As the music and her movements reached a climax, the air heated with the rising temperatures emanating from aroused men, adrenaline coursing through the blood streams, for mostly one reason....

The music was faster. She spun, whirling the broad skirts up and around as she twirled. Her long hair caressed the bare shoulders and she completed the sensuous dance with a casting tilt of her chin, a bare shoulder thrown forward, and a bare calf, ankle, and foot, pointing toe to ground as she hiked the skirt up to her knee. The bracelets, necklaces, and anklets came to a jingling halt. Cheeks reddened, her chest, silken with perspiration, rose with each panting breath from the exertion of the rhythmic gyrations. The torch flames accentuated her appearance with the cast of a shadow, the glow of golden light. The stance of the dark beauty haughtily challenged.

Edrington realized the quickness of his own breath. *Stop it!* he thought. *Stop it, you little fool!* One of the Frenchmen was advancing. Edrington raised the sword to waist level. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a hand rested upon his forcing the sword down to his side. Maria! She sheltered the view of the gleaming steel and called out in French. Edrington ducked his head as he saw the Frenchmen turn their gaze to the woman shouting in front of him. What was she saying? She definitely had the attention of the French officers. Edrington turned into the darkness and cursed himself for refusing French lessons for Greek. Once in shadow, he turned to watch the unfolding play.

Whatever Maria said, deflated the officers rapidly. She spoke a quick aside to Jose, who advanced and spirited Pamela away. Maria continued to speak in the tongue of the land, and the men listened attentively. The leader advanced, bowed slightly, spoke to her in conciliating tones, turned, gathered his men, and departed.

Maria watched until the last Frenchman mounted a horse and galloped away. Edrington stepped into the center ring.

"What was that about?"

Maria stared into his face, shook her head, and started to walk away. He grabbed her wrist, with more force than he intended.

"Answer me!"

She rounded on him and yanked it out of his grip, angrily. "Never touch me like that again!"

The two blazed. Eyes afire, anger flooding in each one in its own way, for its own reasons.

Edrington took stock of himself and the situation. He did not treat women so. What was he doing grabbing her that way? What was wrong? Pamela? He was at odds within. He knew she belonged to another but he wanted her all the same. He felt himself shuddering down from the peak of confused arousal and anger.

"I apologize. Forgive me, madam," he clipped. The burning of his body came into his awareness. Heat of the atmosphere? Yes. Heat of the moment? The coolness of a breeze was welcome over fiery cheeks.

She stared....for moments. Finally, she stated, "You will not like it."

Were Maria's eyes filling?

He softened. This woman was carrying a heavy load of responsibility. He recognized it. Did he not do the same? These past days going into weeks had felt strange not being in command,... relying on her for every step. It gave him an uneasy knowledge of how much trust his own men, the men he commanded, depended on his choices, his decisions, his leading. Maria was a woman, even if she were a spy, and subject to the foibles of her sex.

A tear escaped and ran down her cheek. She wiped it away forcefully, her expression revealing hatred for the weakness. She gave a toss of her head. "There will be another performance." She watched storm clouds cross his features, but he remained silent and waiting. "There are some prisoners...in Toulon. A ....diversion is needed."

"NO."

"They are your own people...British sailors."

"I do not care! Let them find another diversion. You will not put her before those men again. It cannot be allowed!"

"Do not interfere!"

"I will speak to her. She will not! I will MAKE her understand what danger she taunts!"

"Leave her be. Leave her be, Major!"

"You ask too much!"

"No. You do! She will want to do this. I know her. She will want to do this with all her heart. Do not make me ...."

"Do not make you what?"

"Tell her," she whispered.

"Tell her what?" He grasped her wrist once again, but she did not pull away. "Tell her what, damn you?"

"It is her husband."

"Dandridge?" The information burst in his blood veins like cold steel. A metallic taste rested on his tongue. Her husband? Husband? He felt himself reel. No. No. The husband was a fantasy, an unreality. No. He released Maria and stumbled away. He was a figment. A ploy to hold him at bay...to make him want her more....not a real person. He was merely a point of argument. Not a flesh and blood male that desired her, held her, possessed her, impregnated her?

"Eduardo!" she whispered. "Major!"

What was she saying? He closed his eyes and inhaled. "What? What did you say?" He focused on her words.

"You will not tell her?"

His brow knit in confusion. Was there something more he did not comprehend?

"You must not tell her. The less she knows the easier it will be. She would worry. It would show in her face,... in her dance. You must not tell her. Promise me. Promise me, Eduardo."

"I will not tell her. I ....will ....not...." Maria was right. She could not be told. Worry.... yes,.... she would. Where was she? Weaving his way amongst the caravans, he found Jose. "Where is she?"

"She went down to the river, senor."

Edrington grabbed his arm. "You let her go alone?"

"Manuel is with her."

"He is but a boy!"

"She did not wish more than a boy."

Brow wrinkling, realization dawned. "Damn. Damn, damn."

Edrington hurried towards the water. The camp was not more than fifty yards from the riverbank. He stopped as he exited the campgrounds and let his eyes adjust to the darkness. Seeing the dark shape of trees at the water's edge, he felt that would be a logical place. As he neared, he saw a shortened form laying in the grass. He bent down and lifted it with its belt.

"Senor Eduardo!" whispered the startled Manuel.

"What are you doing, young man?"

"I guard Senora Ho...Pamela! She asked me to come!"

"And did she ask you to watch?" Edrington let him stand.

"No, senor. She told me not to watch." He was shaking his head.

"Did you disobey?"

The boy cast his eyes to his feet and frowned. He looked back up into the Major's face, which did not seem angry. "I looked just a little bit, senor."

"Well. I suppose that proves you're a man like the rest of us."

The boy grinned broadly. "Just a little bit, senor. Senora Pamela ...is...." and he motioned curves with both hands.

Edrington pulled the boys hands down and cleared his throat. "Ahem, yes. That will do, Manuel. Go on back to camp now. I will guard her."

"But..."

"Go. Or I shall tell her you peeked."

"Si, senor." The boy frowned and moved away slowly.

Edrington craned his head around the tree limbs and spotted her in the water. Her clothes lay in a heap. She was about to stand up. He cleared his throat in warning.

"Oh!" She ducked down to shoulder level. "Eduardo, is that you?" she whispered.

"It is."

"Where is Manuel?"

"I sent him back to camp."

"Why did you do that? Oh, never mind. What do you want?"

He sat down and assessed the situation, resting one arm over a bent knee. What did he want? He wanted to see she was safe. He clicked his tongue and shook his head.

"What? What now? Oh, I don't want to know. Just leave. I was about to get out anyway."

He sat staring.

"Go!"

"I've just sat down, madam! I am tired."

She exhaled. "Fine." Taking a breath she ducked under the water.

In the starshine, he watched the expanding circles until the water was still. "Pamela! Pamela!" He pulled off a boot with haste, then the other, and removed his coat.

She surfaced, wiping her hair back from her forehead. "What do you think you are doing? You cannot come in here!"

His mouth dropped but briefly, then closed with a wry smile. "Why not? Do you own the river?"

"Major!"

"Shh! No titles! How is the water?" He began to undo his shirt. It was not a bad idea, though it was not his original intention. He pulled his shirt off carefully as the muscles in his left shoulder were still delicate.

"Major!" Sloshing around, she faced the other bank.

"Ah. Good idea. Do not turn around until I tell you." He pulled off the remaining clothing and stepped in.

"Major Alexander Edrington you are not getting in this water!"

"Keep speaking like that and you will force me to come cover that mouth of yours. You can turn around now." He came near, fanning underneath the water to maintain his position.

She faced him, aghast! "I....I....I...."

"You're speechless, I see!"

"Ooo!" She headed towards the bank. Looking back, she ordered, "Turn around!"

"Why?"

"Oh! I have never in all my life....!"

"Shh! Lower your voice! You will have the whole camp down here!"

"I wish to exit the river," she informed, nose tilted.

"Then, do so."

"If you were a real gentleman you would turn around." She waited. He did not move and continued to smirk. "Oh! You're insufferable! I would never in my entire life be able to put up with you! Are you going to face the other bank?"

"Say, please."

"Oh!" She huffed. "Please!"

"As you wish."

He listened as a splash told him of her exit. "Hm. You are as round as Manuel reports."
"OW!" The sailing shoe landed in the water next to him after bouncing off his head. "These are expensive leathers, you minx!"

"Ha!" She stood triumphantly wrapped in a rough blanket. "You, sir, are NO gentleman! I have suspected as much!"

"I suppose you are right." He made his way to the bank.

"What....what are you doing?" He kept coming towards her. "You don't frighten me. I have been married three times. I know what a man looks like."

"Do you?"

'Yes....but.... Stop!"

"Why?"

She hastily picked up her clothes. "Oh! Oh! You make me so angry." She waddled off in her blanket towards another set of trees. "Ow! Ow! Oh, my foot! You're a beast! I wish we had never picked you up from those...those kidnappers! A dozen times over, I've wished it! But never as much as tonight!"

She slipped into the trees and hastily dressed. When she emerged, he was standing dressed in his britches and boots. His white chest shone in the starlight as he used his shirt to dry his loosened hair.

She stepped nearer to his position.

"Are you over your little tirade?"

"I am not speaking to you."

"Really?" he drolled.

"Ever! Ever again!"

He grabbed her, holding both arms in his hands. He leaned closer to her face. "This anger you display is very attractive."

"I..."

"Do not speak!" He studied her features. "How can you be so damned attractive? How can you dance that way? You made every man there desire you. If Maria had not come when she did.....I...." He stared at the darkness of her lips accentuated by the night, then released her.

She froze. What was he saying? She stared at the scar on his left breast and touched it lightly with her fingertips, then looked into his eyes. She gave her head a slight shake.

He slid the ring off his little finger, took her hand, and slipped it back onto hers. A wry grimace shaded his mouth. "Go on back to camp. I will watch until you are safely among the wagons."

He gave her rump a swat as she passed him.

She turned. "I am not a horse."

"I know."

She turned to leave, then stopped and looked back. "Alexander?"

He completed pulling his shirt down over his head. "Yes?"

"I did not mean that.... about you and the ....you made me angry."

"I know. I bring out the worst in you."

She smiled. "You do....sometimes." She resumed the walk back into camp.

*I love you.* he thought, and then whispered it so lightly, not even a June bug could have heard it. "I love you, you little hellion. I hope your husband appreciates that I am very MUCH a gentleman." He sighed as he watched the swaying figure disappear among the caravans.

 

*******

Hornblower paced the courtyard. Once recovered from the heating he had taken, his analytical mind worked over time. They all saw Hardy jump ship and watched as the French fired into the water. Had he survived? The black jolly boat caught a slip stream and surged away from the schooner. Did he make it? Or was he dead? And, if dead, it was his, Hornblower's, fault for trying such an adventure. He failed. He failed miserably.

A French prison. Archie did not speak much about specifics of his imprisonment at the hands of the Frogs, but he had seen his back. Rounding his shoulder, he thought about the itching scab across his.

But what if Hardy survived? Did the Indy find him or did faithless Emerald? How would he warn Pellew? Was he wrong to try to take Normandie? *Stop second guessing!* he commanded. *Concentrate on the task at hand!* he scolded. The task at hand. Yes. They must get out of here. Escape. All the men were able bodied.

They were the only prisoners here in this battlement. The sea was just beyond the wall. He could hear it, taste it. Near the guarded gate, one of the iron rungs of the fence was rusted, a poor casting by some armory and the effects of salt air. Whether the Frogs knew of the weakened bar was unknown, or perhaps they did know, but felt its proximity to the guard made it a nonsequitur, or, maybe the disuse of the prison made it a low priority. Whatever the reason, it was a piece of information he tucked away for later use.

The corporal in charge of the guards was speaking. Hornblower paced near to listen, stepped next to the wall, and pressed flat against it.

Matthews, Oldroyd, and Barkley were spreading the blankets from the bunks in the sun. The bed clothes were damp and musty, and the trio was given the task to air them. As Hornblower eaves dropped on the French soldiers, Oldroyd was pointing at one of the blankets, then stepped onto one and began to stomp on the blanket. The raised rating's voice said something about bed bugs and overwhelmed Hornblower's hearing of exactly what the French were saying. He frowned at the sailor's wild capering and wished for silence.

The soldier's face peered through the rungs and he began to chuckle over the scene in the courtyard. Hornblower pressed against the wall and prayed the man would not see him.

"What are you doing there? Get away from the wall!" said the soldier in French.

Hornblower pretended not to comprehend.

"Get away from the wall!" he repeated.

Hornblower looked at the man as blankly as possible. "I do not understand."

The soldier was angry and repeated the command.

"I do not speak French," lied the leftenant as he stepped from the wall and shrugged. "I do not understand."

"Get away!" shouted and motioned the man.

Hornblower stumbled out into the courtyard and joined his men.

Matthews could see the officer was not pleased, and looking at Oldroyd, he could see the rating knew it as well.

"Sorry, Mr. Hornblower," offered Oldroyd. "I got him though." He held up a huge slightly flattened bug.

Hornblower winced.

"Any luck, sir?" asked Matthews.

Heaving a sigh, Hornblower answered. "They mean to move us, apparently. The corporal says they won't be guarding us much longer. It may be our opportunity for escape."

"When, sir?"

"I could not make it out. Also, something is going on this evening, some sort of entertainment. If I knew more, it might be our opportunity."

"No moon tonight either, sir," added Matthews.

Hornblower looked slowly around the compound. "I'll try again at the next changing of guard." He bowed his head to the bright sun and began to pace again. They would need a boat and ....luck....if they were going to get out of this one. Thoughts attempted to concentrate on his wife, but he denied them. He spent several nights entertaining what ifs....French prison and no possibility of seeing her again. It was too emotionally painful. He could not allow himself to think on it, not now, not until he was free, and then such thoughts would no longer be necessary.

*******

The hooded figure stood in the shadows of the bell tower's inner wall, holding the spyglass and steadily viewing the harbour fort.

"Not a great many men on guard," he commented.

"No, the last batch of prisoners were removed about a month ago," said the man dressed similarly. "The greater force of the army has marched towards Italy. But I suppose you know that having just come back from Nelson. The French are rather complacent. I am sure they view these few men as light duty....and will, hopefully, be off their guard."

A breeze wafted through the openings in the tall edifice, blowing the hood away from the cheek of the blue-eyed monk. Archie sank to the floor with a sigh. "I hate waiting."

"Nightfall will come soon enough."

Archie could see the blonde hair emerging over the high forehead underneath the hood. The man moved away from the tower opening and pushed it off his head.

"But... Brecon....can you be sure the gate will be left unguarded and open?"

"It is the plan. I am assured by our agents it will be done." He nodded towards a sight from the tower. "Ah. It begins."

Archie stood and traced Brecon's gaze. A line of clattering wagons was entering the field to the northwest of the fort.

"The diversion?" queried Archie.

Styles stood beside the officer. "Rum lookin' lot, gypsies are. Don't trust em, meself."

"We have the best of inducements for aid,..." Brecon held up his hand and rubbed his fingers together, "...and it so happens one of our field agents already attends."

"Hm," grunted Archie. "Interesting to see Horatio's luck unfold," and he grinned broadly. "Right, Styles?"

"It's a luck to be reckoned with, sir. Though I don't think there's any fellow officers ta be found that needs rescuin' with him." Styles cocked an eyebrow, looking askance.

Archie smiled thoughtfully. "An opportunity for pay back, though I fear I will never completely be able to do that."

"You have served with Hornblower for some time?"

"Yes, sir. He's done the same for me and others beside."

"I ....think your Captain counts him a valuable man, does he not?"

"Captain Pellew will tell you he is concerned for all his men....but I think Horatio ....well, let us say the similarities between the two men grows day by day, though Horatio would tell you he is not half the man our Captain is."

"Aye, Hornblower's another one ye won't like yellin' at ye. Nigh on fiery as Pellew. Just give him a bit longer." Styles remembered with whom he spoke and added, "Sorry, sir."

"Hm. A protégé, but more than one as well," assessed Brecon.

Archie nodded.

"I could tell by the way Captain Pellew let me know he was not happy at our first meeting." Brecon lay his hand lightly at the base of his neck.

Archie smirked. "You met our Captain ..." he chuckled "...in one of his ...broods... It took a lot of nerve to intentionally ram the Indy and then claim stupidity, Brecon."

"Oh, I hated doing it. Indeed, I did. But, I had to stop him. That ship was marked for release. I could not let Indefatigable take her."

"Get Hornblower back. That will be a sop for your conscience...and a balm for Captain Pellew."

"I shall endeavor not to disappoint, Mr. Kennedy....with your help."