Archie's Journal, The Wrong War (The Frogs
Special Edition with Dedication
[Dedicated to a dear friend of mine who works in NY, whom I
sure had been involved (and was just about frantic for hours till I
heard from her), to all of you who were also there and about whom I
had the same fear, to all who were affected by the horrible tragedy
of 11 September, 2001, and to the brave, unselfish men and women who
have been working untiringly in rescue and relief efforts. I cannot
sufficiently express my thankfulness for all who are safe, nor my
grief and fervent prayers for those who were taken home... I hope
that no one thinks I am taking any of this lightly by posting this
now: anyone who knows me well, knows that many of the character posts
I have written over the past two years have been my way of dealing
with whatever was happening in my *real* life, and of expressing how
I feel about it.. So please bear with me; I needed to get this out..
I only hope that it may help someone else half as much as it helped
me to write it.. Thank you all for being here, for looking after me
and after each other, and for helping me to keep the faith -- God
bless you all, and God Bless America...]
At last... back in Indefatigable. Safe and sound. I still cannot
believe it; greater still is my difficulty in believing what we have
just been through...
I look across the wardroom, into Horatio's cabin, and I see
end of his hammock swinging gently with the comforting motion of the
ship. From here I can just see his shoulders and his face. In his
sleep, he looks so young, and so weary. This is not the Horatio I
have come to know -- the Horatio who has, by his innate strength and
sheer force of will, helped me survive El Ferrol, and who emerged
from our ordeal there stronger than ever. The Horatio who, so proud
of his new rank and new uniform, only recently led us all into a
place and a mission which, I admit, frightened me more than an
officer in his majesty's Navy has a right to BE frightened. But I
bore it, because I knew he was there. I thought it would be he who
would look after ME. But things have turned out so very differently
than either of us could ever have imagined...
The day dawned bright, and we were all performing our duties
best of our abilities. I admit that when things began to happen, I
lost control for a time, overtaken by panic and fear; and for a while
I was quite ashamed, especially when Horatio could not reach me until
he addressed me in an official manner, as superior officer to
subordinate. What the men must have thought! Not to mention Lord
But when I was able to calm myself, I looked into Matthews's
knowing, concerned eyes, saw the strength in Styles's rough but
features, and, most striking, the fear in Oldroyd's eyes. That
struck me so deeply because it was the same paralysing fear I myself
have known so many times. I knew right then that I must be strong,
for he and the others were depending upon me. I am an Acting
Lieutenant now, and I must act as such.
Even though, deep down, I was still filled with self-doubt,
a strange, nameless dread...
That is why, now that it is all over and we are safe aboard
I still have so much difficulty in believing it all. ALL of it. When
first we landed on the beach, and Horatio had asked me how it felt to
be back on that side of the Channel again, I had to answer him with a
jest. It was the only way I could deal with it, for the memories of
El Ferrol, and all my endless days and nights of despair there, are
still so very strong. Even now. I never dreamed that anything else
could frighten me more, or so fill me with dread and anxiety.
But there WAS something else. Standing on that side of the
Lord Edrington (more patient and understanding than I had a right to
expect; he is a good man indeed) waiting for us to complete our
mission, the men looking to me for hope and guidance, was the hardest
thing I have ever had to do. Harder still than being taken by the
Spaniards, harder even than a month in the hole in the earth, for at
that long, dreadful moment, I did not know whether Horatio was alive
or dead. Truly, I was beginning to fear the worst. I kept looking
back across the bridge, hoping against hope that I would see the top
of his curly head coming up over that hill, telling me that he was
all right, and that he would make it across before... before I would
have to destroy his only means of reaching safety, and of survival...
We waited as long as we could, longer even. Bless Lord Edrington
he understood! He did not know us for very long, but he is a
discerning, intelligent man who could see, perhaps in the knowing way
Horatio and I would meet each other's gaze, that together we had
been to Hades itself and back. He allowed me longer than any other
commander, with the possible exception of Captain Pellew himself,
But still no Horatio...
Bless Matthews too, for, when waiting was no longer an option,
offered to -- to take the destruction of the bridge upon himself. I
fear that, had I been required to do it, I would never have been able
to live with myself. But fate and Providence were kind, and gave me a
Finally I saw Horatio, but he was moving rather strangely.
have been running, but he was not. Then I saw a second figure,
smaller... a woman! What on earth..? No matter. It was him, and he
was in danger.
His Lordship gave the order to hold fire, but had to relent
covering fire, as the enemy rained a hail of death upon us. And in
the midst of it all, a shot echoed. One terrible, single shot. For
one horrible moment I thought it had taken Horatio. No. No, not after
all this. But it was not he who went down. It was the woman, and he
followed, but not of an injury of his own.
Through all the din and chaos of battle, I could hear him
scream, "NOOOOOO!" The pain in his voice hurt me to the
depths of my soul. I didn't have time to think. I didn't have
consider the danger, or to change my mind, or even to wait for
orders. And I didn't even care.
I ran back across that bridge, despite the fact that it was
condemned, and there were only moments remaining before there would
no longer BE a bridge. It did not matter. A man who was as a brother
to me sat slumped over the body of a woman I didn't even know, in
terrible anguish, and quite probably unable -- or perhaps even
unwilling -- to help himself. He had to get out of that
conflagration, that destruction, that mortal danger, or he would not
survive. And there was only one way out.
"It's no good, Horatio, she's gone," I told him,
gently as I
could. She was lovely, though I did not know who she was, or why my
friend was so deeply devastated over her loss. Again, it did not
matter. The fact remained that he WAS in pain, and he was in danger,
and we had to make it back across that bridge, before it was engulfed
and finally destroyed.
He looked up at me as I patted his shoulder, and I could feel
strong young man trembling with grief and despair. All in the space
of the same long moment, I pulled him to his feet, and together we
made a desperate run across the dying bridge, all the while feeling
the intense heat at our backs, that heat and then force of the blast
pushing us forward.
How we made it, I do not know. I will NEVER know, and now it
seems somewhat hazy for detail. I only know that Providence was
guiding us, and further, that there is a reason we survived...
And now there he lies, quietly asleep at last. When he first
into his hammock, he had great difficulty in getting to sleep,
despite his unimaginable exhaustion; and when finally sleep DID claim
him, it was not long before he awakened, breathless and damp-eyed,
from some unknown terror of a nightmare. I can only imagine it must
have been akin to the ones that haunted me in Justinian, and later in
El Ferrol -- the ones from which Horatio had so patiently and kindly
It was my honour to at last be able to return the favour.
Enjoy the honey-heavy dew of slumber. I wish you sweet dreams,