An American Encounter
by Skihee

AE2 Ch 25 Deception and Redemption

 

The seaside fort was a walled battlement. Jostling in the few wagons allowed, the gypsies drove through the gates, peering at the tall structures that bordered the oddly shaped close. The swarthy men shiftily eyed the French soldiers, lending to themselves the same suspicion and untrusting demeanor. As the band disembarked from the wagons, a few of the women greedily examined the officers and wondered how they might relieve them of their wages. One of the men pulled a brazen young female back, admonishing her to keep her place until the time was right.

Edrington pulled his hat low and murmured misgivings that only Pamela could hear.

"This is insane, Pamela, utterly insane!"

"We cannot leave now! It will be over soon. Think beyond it!" she whispered back.

"Over? God in heaven, I only pray we can get out of here! I feel as if I have opened the lions mouth and stuck in my head....and you have told me to release the jaws!" His eyes were large with apprehension. "I do not know how you remain so calm!"

"Calm?" Inhaling loudly, she stated. "I fear I may lose my lunch, sir!"

"More likely your head!"

Edrington assisted setting up the modicum of props and torches needed for the theatrics. At least the labor kept his mind off other things. A columnar walkway led northward to barred and guarded grounds. He could see that. It had to be where the prisoners were confined. Did they plan to spirit them out and into the wagons? That seemed a plan since the wagons were backed up to the walk. He understood they were to create a diversion, but when was enough enough? He wiped excessive sweat from his brow then pulled the hat low again, avoiding meeting the eyes of any Frog soldiers.

A French officer appeared and started shouting at the gypsies. Edrington stopped working and listened and observed. The officer was not happy. He was motioning to the man he spoke to broadly, waving his arms. Maria appeared and joined in the conversation. They had to move. The officer in charge insisted they go to the opposite end and after some unsuccessful arguments and much yelling between the gypsies, so it was. Maria glanced down the walk to the prison and then shifted her gaze to Edrington. With resignation, she motioned everyone to the south end. The entire set-up had to be turned around. The northern end was set as space for the audience. It would mean the backs of the French would be prisonward and far to close to Edrington's way of thinking for escaping prisoners.

Pamela emerged from the wagon draped with a shawl that covered all but her eyes.

"What are you doing?" whispered Edrington appearing at her elbow.

"I'm roasting in that wagon. I need some air. Where is Jose?"

"Stay here, I will get him."

Pamela stared at the interior of the close. The buildings, the soldiers, the long walkway to the prison, the gypsies whom she recognized. She knew there was a plan to help some men escape, British, but nothing more. She felt the trickle of sweat down her back. Jose and Edrington approached.

"Senora Maria would not like you venturing away from the wagons, Senora Pamela," Jose whispered.

"Please? Just a while, by the sea. Some air. Please?" She fainted.

Edrington caught her. With determination, he lifted her into his arms and carried her through the open gates of the close towards the sea wall. Jose hurried after.

"Eduardo!" he whispered.

"I'm taking her out of this infernal heat!" he whispered back.

Jose stared frantically about the lay of the town. He did not like being away from the others.

"There. There, senor, a church. It will be cool inside and we will be less conspicuous." Jose looked behind him to see French soldiers noting their departure.

Entering the large stone structure, the air was immediately a good ten degrees cooler if not more. It was an odd church. Nothing like the ones in England. This one had a dirt floor and no seating. A tall ceiling with a large round stained glass window was high at the back. There was no particular picture, only golden glass in a geometric figure. Several statues were off to the sides with candles lined before them, some lit, some not. He found a corner to set down his charge. Before he could speak, Jose placed fingers over Edrington's lips.

"Agua. Agua, Senor," stated Jose. He placed the shushing finger over his own lips for silence as even those few words seemed to carry around the chamber.

Edrington nodded and Jose departed. Giving his attention to Pamela, he removed his hat and began to fan her. Footsteps echoed. Shoving the hat back on, he ducked his head and peeked an eye under the brim, over his left shoulder.

Monks,... and quite a few, ...dressed in brown, rough, woolen robes. They stopped and observed the two low on the floor, the black holes created by the hoods gave an eerie appearance, eyes staring, unseen. One seemed to move his head as if listening. Then, they slowly moved towards him.

Seeking eyes, but finding it fruitless, Edrington kept his head down.

The lead monk spoke in Latin, softly. When Edrington said nothing, he stepped closer and repeated the phrase.

Jose entered the building and everyone seemed to freeze at his arrival. Jose stared at the monks, at Edrington, and then delivered the bucket of water. Edrington wetted a cloth and began to cool her face, neck, and chest, but kept an eye on the hooded men.

Jose spoke in Spanish.

"My brother, she fainted from the heat. We will not stay long."

"Take as long as you need, my son," the lead monk replied in clear, but unaccented, Spanish.

One of the brothers stepped around the one speaking and knelt beside Pamela. He gently turned her head and brushed the hair from her cheek, then lifted her hand and touched the wedding band. Raising his head, he looked into the face of Edrington. The clear blue eyes looked into familiar brown ones from an expression of incredulity. Recognition, startled recognition. The monk motioned for silence and Edrington obeyed. A large brother came up behind the kneeling one.

Edrington looked up and as the hooded head moved towards him, light entered to expose the face and he knew this man and saw puzzlement, not only for him, but for her. The blue-eyed monk felt the larger one rustle at his side, and put a hand on the brother's leg to stay. He stood and turned away from the prone figure, pushing the large monk with him.

The door of the church opened. French soldiers entered and spoke brusquely to the gypsies.

The lead monk replied in French to them, staying their advance. He translated into Spanish.

"The French soldiers do not want you in the church. I explained the lady fainted and that you do no harm. I will tell him you will return to the fort as soon as she recovers. Shall I?"

"Thank you, my brother," answered Jose.

The monk and the soldiers spoke for several moments. The monk seeming to use persuasion in his calm tone.

At last, the soldiers left. The lead monk knelt beside Pamela then looked over at the two monks who earlier examined her. He spoke in Spanish to Edrington. When Edrington did not reply, he gave a quizzical gaze.

"He is deaf, my brother," informed Jose.

"Deaf?" The monk sighed. "Do not take too much longer, my son, the French are watching for your return."

Pamela moaned and opened her eyes.

Edrington lay his fingers upon her lips softly and the freshly cooled cloth on her forehead. He smiled gently and shook his head lightly in warning. He assisted her to sit and then stand.

The smaller monk kept the larger one away and the lead monk seemed to hesitate and look back at the gypsies. They gathered to depart when the church door opened.

Maria hurried inside and stared at each grouping inside the church, catching her breath from the swift arrival. She whispered to Jose in their native tongue.

"What are you doing outside the compound?"

"She fainted! Eduardo carried her out for air!"

"But into the church?"

"I knew it would be cool, Senora!"

"Mother of God! Of all places!" She stared at Edrington, noting the perplexed expression. "What is wrong with him?"

Jose shrugged. "I told the monk he was deaf!"

The lead monk stepped nearer and spoke in Latin once again.

She could see the steady green eyes. Maria brushed lose hair from her forehead. It was early. It was too early, but he spoke the coded message! They must have observed Jose's early entrance into the church, thought something amiss, and appeared to learn if the mission was to be aborted. She spoke in Latin to reply.

The lead monk made the sign of the cross in blessing. They were ready. All was ready. Only nightfall delayed implementation.

The door of the church opened again. A man stood back lit in the doorway. As he paused, a riding crop tapped menacingly on the black high-top boots. Releasing the door, he swaggered in, followed by a squad of French soldiers. He spoke in French with an air of authority, accenting his words with a swish of the crop and a tap against his boot. The whoosh and the light slapping sound echoed around the chamber.

"What have we here?" he questioned triumphantly, gazing about. His hair was plastered and shone blue black upon his head. A thin mustache reached out to either side of the firm pudge face like a single cat whisker, only thicker. A fingernail width goatee rested on a generous chin and was as dark as the eyes beneath fuzzy black caterpillar eyebrows.

A priest stepped out from the dark recesses.

"Monsieur Descaine! Welcome to the house of God. I am imminently pleased to see you here. God bless you. God bless me, I am pleased!"

"Do not go on, Father de Cartes. It is not God that brings me here. What are these gypsies doing in the church? They are not permitted here." He met Jose and lifted his chin with the tip of the crop.

"As I understand it, the young lady fainted and they sought solace in the house of the Lord. He is no respector of persons, Monsieur."

"Hmph" The man advanced toward the bowed and silent brothers and eyed them suspiciously, tapping the backs and shoulders of several. "Who are these? Who are you?" he asked one specifically.

"They are of the Holy Order of Saint Dominque and have taken vows of silence, Monsieur. They may not speak. Forgive them."

"Why are they here? Why do they not stay and make wine or goat cheese as the other silent ones?" He wove his way among the bowed brothers.

"They are on a mission from God, Monsieur. In fact, they have requested that I speak to you or the commandant about blessing the fort. It is the hand of God that brings you to us. For now, we do not have to seek you out. God makes all things work together for good, you see."

"Blessing the fort?"

"Yes. They wish to pray...."

"Pray? They can pray all they damn well please! What is that to me?"

"They would like to physically pray over the fort, sir, walk its every hallway, every nook and cranny, and bless the soldiers of France. Praying safety over them and...."

"Bah! We do not need God! God is for the weak minded fools unable to make their own destiny! It is a waste of time! A practice for the simple minded!"

"But, Monsieur, they have more than the blessings of God, did not Captain Barouche tell you?"

"Barouche?"

"Yes, the wine, sir! Did he not tell you the gift from the vineyards they bring? Their only request is to be allowed to perform that errand which God has placed on their hearts."

Descaine squinted at the priest. Barouche had told him nothing of wine. Was he planning to keep it for himself? "How much wine?"

"A case of twelve each to count for each Apostle and an extra for the Lord. A baker's dozen, as it were, sir." The priest motioned to one of the brothers who slipped away quietly and returned with a bottle and a glass. The priest poured into the glass and handed it to the man better known as the Inquisitor.

He took it in a leather gloved hand. Holding it up to the light, he swirled it, observed the legs on the sides, sniffed the bouquet, swirled and examined it again. Turning to the lieutenant with him, he handed him the glass. The lieutenant hesitated, then drank some, and passed it back to Descaine. He observed the lieutenant for any signs of death, then held the glass to be filled and drank from it himself. Rolling the red liquid on his tongue, he sucked in air over the fluid, and finally swallowed.

"Hmph," he grunted grudgingly. "This is from their vineyards?"

"Indeed, Monsieur."

He swirled the wine, then finished it. "A fine vintage."

"Let me pour you another, sir." The priest held and filled the glass, but Descaine motioned it away with a gloved hand.

His attention turned to the gypsies. He stepped over to Pamela and took a lock of hair, rubbing it between his fingers. He stared at Maria.

"What is wrong with her?"

"She fainted."

"Why?"

"The heat. She is with child, sir."

He put the crop under Edrington's chin and stared at the lidded eyes. "Is this her husband?"

Maria waited. Descaine looked back to her.

"Yes."

Descaine lowered his riding crop to gather folds of Pamela's skirt and began to lift.

Edrington placed his arm in front of her and pulled her behind him.

Descaine heard a rustle and turned to see out the corner of his eye movement stop amongst some of the brothers. He smiled wryly and disengaged his crop from her skirt.

"Is she to ....perform tonight?"

"Yes, sir."

He looked Pamela up and down. "She does not look impregnated." He put the crop under her chin. "She has a pretty face though. A lovely entertainment for the men." He arched an eyebrow and stared at Edrington. "Does he speak French?"

"No, sir."

He snorted disdainfully, then, approached Maria, and stared at her for a time.

"But you... you speak French... and Spanish," he crooked a smile and lifted her chin. "Very talented. You lead these?"

She stared at him a moment too long. The crop landed forcefully upon her back and she cringed at the blow.

"I interpret, sir!"

"Answer me more quickly next time!"

"Yes, sir."

"Monsieur Descaine! Please! This is the house of God!"

"The house of God!" he spat. He frowned at the brothers. "Do these brothers know their antithesis perform in the close tonight?"

"I..."

Descaine chuckled. "Prayers to God as these perform for the devil! Ha ha ha! It is a pleasing mixture! Very well, they may come and pray, but only in the open spaces. No admittance to the buildings. Understood?"

"Yes, Monsieur."

"Bring the wine to my billet."

"Yes, Monsieur Descaine."

"And get this filth out of this ...house of God," he ordered Maria.

She lowered her eyes and bowed her head.

Descaine and the soldiers departed.

The brothers hesitated, but left the query to the priest.

"Are you all right, my dear?"

She reached a hand to touch the burning welt across her shoulder.

Pamela came quickly with the cloth previously used to cool her forehead and placed it on the stripe.

"Oh, Maria!"

"Shh shh!" She waved Pamela to silence, knowing she would not understand French or Spanish. She peered into the darkness and caught the gaze of the monk that had blessed her. She gave a short nod. Pamela looked that direction, seeing the backs of the robes disappear into the dark recesses.

Once outside the structure and near the water, Edrington whispered to Maria. "What the devil are you muttering about?"

"I should be shot. Don't let anyone see you speak to me without using your hands," she motioned.

"What?"

"Jose told them you were deaf. It is a good idea. Speak to me with hands."

He groaned and leaned over the sea wall.

Pamela leaned against it and stared at the lot of them. "What happened?" she asked.

"You fainted and I'm deaf."

"Who were all those people? What were you saying, Maria?"

Edrington cocked an eyebrow at Maria. What the Frenchman wanted was obvious, but it was the monks that most intrigued because he knew them, two of them anyway. He had a lot of questions but felt they should not be posed in front of Pamela. Like, for instance, what was the name of her husband's ship? He could not recall a Dandridge on the Indefatigable, but that did not mean he could not have joined it sometime in the last year. Or perhaps Kennedy and Styles were transferred to another ship. Was Styles his name or was it Mullins, Matthews, Marcus? Did not matter. Did not matter. It had been over a year since he and the ninety-fifth foot traveled aboard Indefatigable to a failed mission in Muzillac. *What the hell am I doing here?* He held his hatted head and shook it. He wanted to ask Pamela about the Indy, but he dare not. He and Maria already discussed this and she insisted Pamela not be told it was her husband they were rescuing, and now somehow, Kennedy was involved. He wondered if one of the other monks was Hornblower or, or, or ... Matthews? Was Pellew somewhere just off shore? He squinted seaward.

"Is anyone going to answer me?"

Edrington shook his head. "No," he said calmly.

Jose passed her a cup of water.

"Gracias, Jose." She drank. "When can we get this over with?"

"Not soon enough, my lady," whispered Maria. She took Pamela's chin gently. "Forgive me for bringing you on this escapade. It was not supposed to be this complicated."

Pamela tilted a consoling visage and held Maria's arm. "I wanted to come, Maria. It will be all right. Let's just get these men out and go home. But I think this one has cured me of spying. " She glanced toward Edrington with a lopsided smile. "Happy?"

He snorted and took her hand, pulling it to his lips for a kiss.

"What is it?"

He bowed his head and frowned.

"Come on. Tell me."

He inhaled slowly and met her gaze. "I've lost you."

She put a hand on his cheek. "Alexander....you can't lose something you never had."

Mild shock, then quiet laughter erupted from the British officer.

"I did not say that to be cruel ...or funny." She was feeling exasperated.

"Ahem. Actually, as far as our friend Descaine is concerned, Eduardo is your husband."

"I'm her husband?" He straightened, gripped her hand, and pulled her to him, fighting a grin.

"Don't get any ideas!"

"And do not forget you are deaf!" stated Maria.

In the church bell tower, a conversation was being hotly whispered.

"You say this woman is Hornblower's wife? Our agent says she is married to that man!" He motioned out the opening to the scene below by the sea wall.

Archie was pacing quickly. "She was lying to protect her. That was obvious."

"I do not understand why our field agent would bring along the wife of a naval leftenant. And an American one, at that. Does she speak French?"

"I don't know," moaned Archie.

"I didn't know YE spoke French, Mr. Kennedy, sir," tossed in Styles. "Floored me when I seen her layin' on the deck!" he commented, watching the group below.

Archie peered through his glass and saw why Brecon questioned. She was clearly touching Edrington. "Yes, damn it. This complicates things, Brecon. It complicates them to hell and back." He glanced at Styles and gave him the telescope.

"Oy! That's Miss Pamela all right. Poor Major E. What the hell is he doin' here? Sorry, sir." Styles arched an eyebrow and chuckled. "It's good Mr. Hornblower ain't seein' this."

"Major?"

Archie nodded.

"British Army?"

Archie nodded. "Yes! And he is a Lord!"

"What is he doing with gypsies? Or my contact for that matter?"

Archie shook his head. "Where Mrs. Hornblower is concerned, there is no telling!"

"Is she some sort of ....wanton female?"

"No. No. She just... I... She is blissfully ignorant of the effect she has on men! I do not think she does it on purpose. I..." Archie continued to shake his head until his eyes rattled. "Christ! This complicates things! We've got to get them ALL out!" He paced irritably. "What Styles?"

"She's got one in the oven." He grinned. "Mr. Hornblower'll be pleased."

"Pleased? Pleased? Oh, I do not even want to think about how he is going to take this. No, no, no, no. Oh, Jesus. Oh, Jesus." Archie wiped his face. "Oh, Jesus!" He sat down on the floor and held his head. "Oh, Christ!" This was not the kind of answer to prayer he wanted.

"Mr. Kennedy! It cannot be as bad as all that!" exclaimed Brecon.

Kennedy continued to bow and hold his head. Brecon looked at Styles who grinned and shrugged his shoulders.

 

 

 

 

About eight in the evening, the priest arrived with the brothers in tow. The music of the gypsies intruded occasionally and the shouts of the audience distracted. He and the officer of the guard spoke to each other in French.

"Father de Cartes. Who are these?"

"These are brothers of the Holy Order of Saint Dominique. They have the permission of M. Descaine to pray over the grounds."

"I was informed," answered the Sergeant, irritably.

"All over the post." The priest waved his arm to encompass the fort.

"So many?" There were at least a dozen or more monks. "And why have you come so late? The entertainment has already begun."

"I understood Monsieur Descaine wanted them to pray DURING the entertainments. Was I mistaken?"

"Damned if I know!" His eyes found the lighted second story window of the west building. Someone stood in the window. He could guess who. It was the room of the Inquisitor. He watched a bright glow appear. The little cigars the black devil smoked. An unwanted shiver claimed him as he recalled the man press such a cigar in the face of a prisoner.

"I distinctly recall him saying that while the gypsies served the devil, these could serve God."

Treville winced. It sounded like something the Inquisitor would suggest. "But Father de Cartes..."

"We HAVE permission...from Monsieur Descaine, himself."

Treville sighed. "Very well, but you will endear yourself to no one, especially me."

"We bear a gift..." the priest nodded and one of the brothers pulled a bottle of wine from the folds of his robes.

Treville cleared his throat and eyed the priest. Bribery. He recalled a dozen or more crates delivered to Descaine. If it was not beneath so ruthless a man, why should he not?

"We are on a mission from God, Sergeant Treville. He wishes to bless those who bless Him."

It was odd to hear of the blessings of God connected to such evil as Descaine was capable. Was this priest in league with the devil? "What is it you had in mind, Father?"

De Cartes smiled and discussed the plan of prayer. Soon monks in groupings of two were dispatched about the grounds, towards the gypsies, on the embrasures. Treville watched the monks stop here and there, bow their heads, lift their arms in blessing, some signing the cross.

"One more thing, Treville. I was hoping to minister to the prisoners while I am here." He pointed to two of the brothers holding the elements of communion.

"They are already locked in for the night, Father. It is quite impossible."

"Nothing is impossible with God, Sergeant. If they are already locked away, we would only require the time to visit each cell. Lock us in until my task is completed. It would save me coming back another time. Surely this is not too much to ask." Another bottle of wine was produced.

"I hesitate, Father." A third bottle appeared. "You have a persuasive argument, holy man." Treville swept the compound, noting the positions of the praying brothers. "Follow me." The stocky Frenchman bent forward in his gate, and the Christians obeyed his command.

The man with the dancing bear was putting the creature through its paces. The animal growled on cue to the amusement of the men. Laughter erupted and then the music began.

The walkway down to the prison yard was dark but for a torch spaced every fifteen feet or so. Arriving at the single guard on duty, Treville ordered the gate unlocked. He turned to de Cartes.

"Six attendants for this?"

"These will pray over the grounds as we minister. God commands that we pray for our enemies, Treville....and there is safety in numbers. Go on and watch your gypsies. I will unlock only one cell at a time. God will protect us."

Treville thought about the suggestion. He knew the prisoners were only British sailors. Not so important. The priest? He was trustworthy. Had he not been doing these sorts of things for years? Descaine, himself, authorized them being here.

"Very well." He handed the inside cell key to de Cartes, who passed it to one of the brothers. "Jules, lock them in until the Father tells you he is done," he ordered the guard. The audience was clapping and called Treville's attention. He smiled wryly. "It is nearly time for the women. I heard the lieutenants .... never mind, de Cartes. Be quick, sir."

The priest bowed with a nod. The monks passed through the gates into the prison courtyard, heard the gate close, and the key lock them in. De Cartes observed the guards on the walls above and motioned as if he were blessing them. "Come, my brothers."

One carried a lantern. The priest, the key carrier, and two monks approached the first cell. Two stood to pray and two more disappeared in the darkness towards the far end of the courtyard. With a final order to Jules, Treville stepped rapidly back towards the close.

Pamela stood next to Edrington watching a group of couples dancing. The dancers wove a way through the crowd, the women leading the men by holding gaily colored scarves.

"Are you all right?" he asked without taking his eyes from the scene.

"Yes," she breathed.

"I do not want you to do this," he stated. She said nothing. He waited. "If you were my wife, I would not let you." He heard her breathe in. His eyes trailed to a set of monks, quietly making a way towards the caravans. He saw them stop every now and then. He supposed they were praying or at least pretending to pray. The only thing he gleaned from Maria is that the monks had something to do with the rescue. No specifics. He watched them with curiosity. He grasped a deep breath. Her hand slipped into his and squeezed. "Are you frightened?" Both watched outwardly.

She nodded then replied, "Mm hm."

He squeezed her hand. "I will be here."

She squeezed back and released his hand.

Entering one of the wagons, she removed the cloak that hid her costume. She stared at the low cut of the blouse she wore. Gold threads woven in black lace accenting the fitted bodice, pointed folds laying past the waist of the blood red skirt. One thin black slip was all that lay beneath the copious fabric, its lace hem extended beyond the top skirt. She stared in the small mirror before her and saw the blushed cheeks. Placing her fingers over the flush, she closed her eyes, felt the cool tips, and whispered a prayer. She opened her eyes, lifted the gold chain of coins, and fastened it around her forehead. Maria stepped heavily into the wagon, startling her. She knelt before Pamela and studied her face.

"Here. Part your lips." Taking a brush, she painted them a bright red. "There."

Pamela looked in the mirror. Tears sprang. Maria squeezed her hand and dried the wet, finding no words.

Pamela smiled tentatively and whispered, "Thank God Horatio will never see me like this."

"No more tears. I am going to accent your eyes." Maria began to trace around them with what appeared to be charcoal. "You will look even more like an Egyptian goddess. Miss Pamela, listen. Watch the French officers. Keep their attention. No matter what you see. Focus on them. Make them want you. I know they already do without you trying."

"Am I so horrid?"

"You are not horrid. You are open and honest and ..."

"And what?"

Maria cupped her cheek. "Just be yourself....and a little more."

"Major Edrington does not approve of ...myself."

"Eduardo, poor man, is in love with you."

"I never ...I...."

"I know, Miss Pamela. Do not cry! You will ruin my artistry! It is nearly time. Remember! Keep the attention of the officers on you."

"I will do my best."

"I know you will."

The musical interlude of the classical guitar began. It was her introduction. Draping the gold threaded sheer black shawl over her head and shoulders and hiding all but her eyes, she stepped from the wagon. Edrington held her gaze with a pleading encouragement. He did not want her to do this, but yet agreed to its necessity. Freedom. Freedom for the captives. Turning to the circle of presentation, she stepped haltingly, accenting her movements with the strings of the guitar, onto the dirt stage.

Edrington felt a hand on his arm and breath on his neck. Looking down, he saw the sleeve of a monk's brown robe."

"Major Edrington, silence. Go into the caravan."

"Who are you?"

"Kennedy sent me. Is that the leftenant's wife?"

"Yes, I cannot leave her alone," he whispered.

"Do not fear. Go."

 

 

 

Standing in the doorway of the first prison cell, the priest spoke. "My son, I am here to offer you the sacraments of the body and blood of our savior, Jesus Christ. Confess your sin, repent, and partake." The monks crowded in behind him into the small cell.

In the unaccustomed light of the lantern, Hornblower blinked.

"Are you Lieutenant Hornblower?" whispered the priest.

"He is." Archie pushed back his hood and grinned.

"Archie!"

"Shhh!"

"How the devil...."

One of the monks pulled off his robe and stood in his underclothes. Styles began to gag and tie him up.

"Quickly, Horatio, put this on. We must hurry. Are you all in separate cells?"

"Matthews and Oldroyd are in the next and then, Barkley, Aderly, and Wiliams. How?" He grinned with pleasure.

"It is too long a story. This order does not speak. Keep your head low. We must act in haste!" He held Horatio's chin and turned his face to the light.

"It heals," stated Horatio.

The same scene played out in the next cell.

The monk disquised ratings approached the last two real monks in the courtyard and traded places. Entering the last cell with the priest, the three holy men gave up their garments. Father de Cartes stood in his underclothes.

"Watch out for Treville, Mr. Kennedy. He knows me well. He will be the most difficult to get by."

"I understand. Thank you, sir, for all your help. I do not know how we can ever repay you."

"Just do not get caught!" He studied Hornblower. "He is closer to my height. Do you speak French, Lieutenent Hornblower?"

"I do, and I know Treville."

"Excellent. I insist you strike me."

Archie stared for a moment then looked at Styles.

"Forgive me, Father?" asked Styles.

"I forgive you."

Styles slugged him with a right cross.

"Gag him, Styles. We must make it look as though he had nothing to do with this."

"What is the plan, Archie?"

"You hear the gypsies?"

"Yes, the guards spoke of them."

"They are our cover."

"Done, sir." Styles pulled the hood low on Wiliams.

"Good work, Styles. If all goes smoothly we will walk out of here, down to the beach, and meet up with Brecon's boat."

" Brecon? Archie..."

"He's a double agent, Horatio. Working for us." It was the barest whisper. "There will be more joining us."

"More? Who?"

"No time to explain. Just play your part and get us out of here."

"Right."

The group formed up outside the last cell, hoods low, and heads bowed.

Jules appeared at the gate and unlocked it, speaking in French.

"Done, Father?"

"Yes. The Lord thanks you." Hornblower imitated the priest as he was instructed.

"You sound a little hoarse, Father."

Hornblower cleared his throat. "It is the night air." Hornblower stood by the guard as the men filed out and waited for his lead. It was the merest change in expression that revealed it and following the guards gaze. Hornblower acted speedily, pushing the guard back and slugging him into silence.

"Horatio!" whispered Archie. "What happened?"

The ratings moved to block the view from the close.

"He saw our shoes," panted Hornblower, looking to check the wall guards. "Gag him. We'll pull him into the shadows! Quickly, man!"

"We will proceed to the gate. Brecon is to meet us there. Keep your head low and pray Treville lets us be," whispered Archie.

Hornblower took the lead. They approached the close and could see a woman performing a dance. He quailed at the sound of the guitar, but finding the noise intriguing as he noticed the dancer's movements accenting the beat. He noted the French soldiers watching and found the back of Treville. Brief glances, at the soldiers, at the dancer, but he moved along. He could see other monks waiting near the gate. Finding a place in shadow the group stopped. Hornblower reassured himself that Kennedy was really here, looked about, and noted two robed figures descending the incline from the walls. Another two were across the close, winding their way through the men observing the dance. Hornblower turned his attention to Treville whose gaze was fixed on the dancer. He shifted his eyes to her as well.

Matthews saw and Styles steadied him, giving a knowing nod. Matthews watched Hornblower.

Archie placed a hand on Horatio's sleeve. Hornblower turned a fearful face to his friend, then looked back at the dancer. Pamela. His heart skipped and he found it difficult to breathe. He felt Archie's grip tighten.

"Steady, Horatio," he whispered. "Don't let her see you."

"Does she know?"

"I don't know."

Hornblower looked back, then lowered his head, and turned into Archie. "Christ!" Allowing that one word revealed the torment of his soul. What was she doing? How did she come to be here?

"Steady, old man."

Archie took an accounting of the robed men. "Right. This is it. Let's go."

"I'm not leaving," stated Hornblower. "Go without me."

Kennedy held both his arms and stared stonily into his eyes. "Trust me."

Horatio held his gaze. Trust him? His wife was less than twenty feet away. The other half of his heart, that which would complete him, so close and yet so far. His features became pitiful and he closed his eyes. Trust him? He bit his lower lip and tightened the lids on his eyes. He opened them and found Archie's stare. *Don't ask this of me!* he thought. But he could not say it.

Pamela saw the monks gathering near the gate. A French officer near her, looked away. She used the music to bring her closer, reached to stoke his cheek, and turned his face back towards her, halting his departure. Twirling, she wrapped her shawl around his neck and pulled him seductively into the circle.

The crowd murmured.

Treville looked up into the lighted second story window. It was empty. Descaine. He was on duty, but this woman had him in her grip. The monks, he should see them out, but the woman grabbed his chin, turned and leaned against him so that he had to hold her. He looked into the audience. A man emerged, dark, eyes glinting in the torch light.

Descaine.

Pamela approached. Laying the shawl over his right shoulder, she stepped around him and wound the shawl about his arms. She shifted her eyes to the guitar player, and he bridged to continue into another strain. Pamela held both ends of the shawl and tugged Descaine out into the circle. She dropped an end, lifted the other high and twirled until he was no longer wrapped.

Archie gripped Horatio's arm, pulling back. Horatio looked into his face with agony. He knew of what Descaine was capable.

Another monk stepped next to them and exclaimed lowly. "Damn!"

Horatio and the monk looked at each other at the same moment. Hornblower's face twitched with amazed yet confused perception. "Edrington?"

"Shh!" said Archie.

Edrington stared at the monks surrounding and whispered as low as possible to Kennedy and Hornblower, "Did you get Dandridge?"

Hornblower's face went to another level of confusion.

Suddenly, a French officer stepped into the circle. A short cape was buttoned to his left shoulder. His dark blue and blood red uniform gleamed with gold braid. The hat, firmly attached under his chin, shone new in the flaming light. His boots glinted in a polished shine. He grabbed Pamela's hand and pulled, turning her hand so that she had to spin into his arms, thudding into his chest. He grinned triumphantly, then spun her back out at arms length. Turning his left shoulder to the side, he moved back towards her, letting her hand slip off his fingers, head lowered as a toreador to a bull. She panted, but mirrored his stance and stepped towards him. She could see all eyes were on them. Their backs touched as their shoulders slid across each other.

"You dance beautifully," he whispered in English, under the acclamation of the crowd.

She gasped.

"Refuse me for Descaine."

She stepped from the officer and ran to the Inquisitor, draping her arms across his shoulders, hanging her weight upon him, dipping her head over her right shoulder to stare at the officer.

"Archie!" Horatio whispered and took a step toward the circle.

Kennedy grabbed both arms from behind, holding him back, and leaning to his ear.

"It's Brecon! He'll take care of her!"

Horatio froze. His wife hanging on that fiend! A Frenchman....no, Brecon, the traitor, no, an agent?....with his wife!....in a dance more dangerous than ...

"Horatio!" pleaded Archie, pulling him around. "The men!"

He closed his eyes. *Damn you, Kennedy. Damn you!* he thought. Inhaling and frowning, he opened his eyes and glared at his friend. Glancing over his shoulder at the central scene of the close, he bowed his head, and pulled the hood down, but he could not make his feet move.

Archie tugged his arm and the monks moved off towards the gate.

Brecon advanced, grabbed her hand, and spun her back into his embrace. He grinned in triumph at Descaine, who glared at them but with a twinge of uncertainty. The officer spun her and himself back to center, and came to rest on one knee before her. "Descaine!" he whispered.

She threw down his hand with disdain, lowered her chin, and joined Descaine, draping her shawl over his chest, leaning against his back, looking over his shoulder to the French officer, breathless. The guitar strummed and accented the play.

Descaine tried to see her face but stared at the approaching French officer making halting dance steps toward him. He grinned wryly as the officer approached. *Who is this man?*

The dance partner took her hand and pulled her. Descaine grabbed the other and tugged back. The French officer let go and pulled his sword from its scabbard, the metal rasping out like the loud hiss of a snake.

The crowd gasped. The guitar halted. Only the heavy breathing of the performers sounded.

The French officer let his sword bounce menacingly toward Descaine.

The guitarist began again.

The crowd murmured. Treville looked on in confusion. Was this part of the planned amusement? Would Descaine so deport himself or was he an unwilling participant as he had been?

The officer took steps in time with the guitar. With his left hand extended, he pulled his fingers back and then his hand, motioning for her to come.

Descaine held her behind him and cocked an eyebrow.

The officer slashed his sword in an "X" through the air, spun, and stopped with the tip but an inch from Descaine's throat, standing at parry with his left arm arcing upward.

The audience gasped and several officers placed hands on sword hilts.

"Ha ha!" he laughed. He motioned again with his hand. Pamela pulled away from Descaine, letting her black wrap slip slowly away from his shoulders and chest.

With the vaguest shift of eye, the French officer watched as the last monk exited the gate. Grasping her hand, he spun her into his side, and held tightly about her waist. She was breathless and let her hand rest on his chest. She felt his arm lift and take her weight onto his side. He backed away from Descaine, spun, twirling the sword in the air and let it fly.

The crowd gasped as the sword impaled at the feet of Descaine. A last gasp from the crowd and then applause.

Pamela held onto the French officer's shoulders, looked up into the glinting green eyes and dared to speak.

"Who are you?"

He smiled brilliantly, panting with the effort of the dance. "A friend. You were magnificent!"

Descaine ripped the sword from the ground and stepped hotly over to the two.

With a flourish the French officer motioned to Descaine for the crowd. "Bow, Monsieur Descaine," he said in French.

"Who are you?"

"Bow, you silly fool! I have just come from Italy with reports!"

"Reports?"

"Yes. Bow!"

Descaine did and the crowd cheered louder.

"Excellent, Descaine! A fine amusement! I shall not forget it!" He picked her up in his arms, spun and bowed to the crowd, evoking more cheers and applause. "Ha ha! I will take my prize and speak to you on the morrow!" He inclined his head, and a man stepped into the ring with a horse. He sat Pamela on it and climbed up behind her. "Tomorrow, Descaine! Ha ha!" he saluted and spurred the horse. The audience pushed out of the way to allow exit to the gate. Another man followed on horseback. The hooves could be heard clattering on the cobbles.

A flourish of gypsies surrounded Descaine. The music began again and dancing men and women surrounded the Inquisitor, as the crowd murmured with exclamation.

"That was magnificent, Monsieur Descaine!"

"Shut up, Captain Barouche! Where is Treville?"

 

 

 

On the beach, a number of monks crept in the shadows, mindful of the guards on the fortress walls.

Archie motioned them into the water until only one brother remained, staring back at the fortress.

"Come on, Horatio."

"I cannot leave her." He took steps back the way they came.

Archie grabbed his arm. "She is not there!"

Horatio's agonized features turned to his friend.

"They will get her out. You must trust them." Archie waited, understanding the need of time to accept the circumstances. "Horatio. You must trust," he repeated, insistently, calmly. Archie took his arm and led him into the water.

Horatio gave a last look back as the cold water rose to his chest, then swam to the waiting long boat. Hands reached to pull them in.

"Hornblower! Kennedy! What about bloody Leftenant Dandridge? No one here seems to know who the devil I'm talking about!"

"Lord Edrington!" Kennedy spoke. "I am at a loss to see you, sir! Your appearance in the church this afternoon gave me such a start!"

"Where on earth DID you come from, my Lord?" asked Hornblower, wiping dripping water from his face. The signal lantern sitting in the floor of the longboat glinted off his hand.

Edrington grabbed and pulled it down to the light, twisting the gold band in the glow. "You?" he puzzled. He shared an exchange with Kennedy. "The 'H' on her ring."

"What?" asked Hornblower.

"She.... You're....." The rush of knowledge lined up all the puzzle pieces afresh in his memory. "Dash it all!" His eyes rested on Kennedy. "He was not one of the brothers....today...in the church." He saw Kennedy concur wryly. "He was one of the.... prisoners."

"Gentlemen, settle yourselves quietly, if you please," ordered the man at the tiller. "Oars! Quiet now!"

The cloth wrapped paddles moved rhythmically, silently, pulling them away from the shore.

 

 

 

The two horse riders reached open ground north of the gypsy encampment. Crossing a field then winding upwards to a cliff, they disappeared, suddenly, as if swallowed by the earth.

"Do you know where you are going, sir?" asked Pamela, eyes wide in the complete darkness. Her voice echoed off the cave walls, along with the careful steps of the horses hooves.

"I do, my lady. I spent a summer in Toulon with a cousin, years ago."

Turning a curve, low light appeared. She saw it was the merest piece of a candle whose flame could not last much longer. She looked into her captor's face.....or was he a rescuer?

"Where are you taking me?"

He grinned. "To your husband."

"My husband? You mean Eduardo?"

"Eduardo is an odd name for an Englishman."

"He is odd. I will grant you that, but he is not my husband."

"No?" He grinned in the last light of the candle as they turned another corner into darkness.

She felt gravity pull her forward as the incline became greater in the darkness. She gripped his shoulders and held on. A salty breeze seemed to sail past them.

"What about the others? Maria? How will they account for my ... disappearance?"

"You will see soon enough. Silence," he whispered. "Duck down."

She felt him spur the horse lightly and pull down on the reins. The animal snorted and lowered its head. The officer pressed forward, pushing them both low over the animal's neck. She heard a scraping sound and felt him push against her. In a few moments, she felt the horse raise his head. The ground beneath its feet became near level. The sounds of water entered along with a pale starlight revealing the narrow mouth of the cave.

"Give me your hand." He slipped her off the horse and dismounted.

She heard the man following come up next to them.

"Sh."

The two men advanced. The other man threw a cloak over the gleaming braid of the officer's uniform, then slipped out the opening. The silhouette of the officer turned and she could see the outstretched arm.

"Come."

The rocks pressed uncomfortably into her bare feet. "Ow!" she whispered. Next thing she knew she was back in his strong arms, being carried out onto a beach. He set her down in the soft sand. Figures moved silently near the shape of a small craft.

"Maria?"

"Yes, my dear!" The woman embraced her. "Thank God! Come. Rapido!"

The boat was shoved out by the French officer and the man with him. Pamela glanced about at her companions. Tom, Geoff, Carden, Manuel. All of them.

"Where is Jose?"

"With Eduardo."

"Where is he?"

Maria hesitated. "We will see."

"Maria. Where are we going?"

"To his ship..." she motioned to the rescuer, who was in the process of shifting places with Carden . "Or...to Indefatigable."

"Indefatigable!" She looked out to sea and saw nothing but black water reflecting a dotting of stars. Touching her low cut blouse, she exclaimed in a whisper, "Horatio? He cannot see me this way! Oh, Maria!"

She placed an arm around Pamela's shoulder, pulled her closer, and whispered. "Listen. Listen to what I say. I could not tell you before. Many reasons, but listen. He has already seen you." She felt Pamela's head shake in protest. "Listen! He ... he was one of the prisoners...but he is out....and, God willing, on his way, as we are. Do not cry. That charcoal will smudge your face. You do not want him to think Captain Brecon hit you, do you?"

"Captain Brecon?"

"And a very pretty face, too. Please. I fear I must make amends with Mr. Hornblower already. Do not make my task even more difficult," added Brecon, as he pulled back with an oar.

"I do not understand,"

"Listen to Captain Brecon. After listening, forget all he tells you, except that you have helped to rescue the man you love, and his crew."

Tom and Geoff, Brecon and his companion, oared them out to sea, with Carden guiding the tiller. Manuel sat in the bow, looking seaward, and the younger woman was embraced by the older, consoling, knowing the younger AND she would have much to answer for once the ship was gained. Could it be any worse than being in the clutches of the Inquisitor? Perhaps....but in different ways.