Horatio and Archie: Conversations

Part 5, D&D: Good News

[Scene 1: A rocky beach near the Spanish prison. Horatio stands
looking out to sea, the waves bathed in the first hints of a
spectacular sunset, and for the first time in far too long breathes
in free air. Unable to contain his joy, he talks to himself.]

"Liberty... We are free to go...I cannot believe it. For so
long, those words were but a distant dream whose realisation might
not come for years... Made all the worse by my bringing everyone back
here, after our brief moments of freedom aboard our old ship... I had
begun to fear we might not see it again, certainly not before
war's end...

"Archie... I must tell Archie...I cannot keep him waiting one
moment more; he has already waited so long..."

He started to walk, then broke into a run, like a joyous young boy,
toward the gates of the prison...and as he did so realised what an
irony that was...

**************************************

[Scene 2: The cell in the Spanish prison.]

Archie had been peacefully napping on his bunk, with "Measure For
Measure" lying open, pages down, on his chest, but awakened and
looked up in surprise, and puzzlement, as he heard the door opening.
The guard had opened the door for Horatio, but this time.. he had not
closed it?? What on earth? How long had he been sleeping? It
couldn't be time for his walk... No, it was getting onto
evening...

While a sleepy Kennedy was pondering this, Horatio fairly bounded
into the cell, his eyes bright and his smile unabashed, and stopped
at the foot of Archie's bunk.

"Horatio?? Are you all right? What's going on?"

"Archie, I am very much all right, and so are you!"

Archie arose from his bunk, dropping his forgotten book onto the
floor as he did so. He looked concerned as he took the few steps
toward his friend, dividing his attention between Horatio's
cat-that-ate-the-canary face and the open door. *Finally,* he
worried to himself, *this place has finally gotten to him...*

"Let's go for a walk, Archie..." Hornblower clapped his
friend on the back and began ushering him toward the doorway, but
Kennedy stopped short.

"Horatio.. it's not time for my walk yet... Remember? I was
too tired, so you had yours alone today -- if we're to go
together, we have to wait until tomorrow, the rules..."

"The rules do not apply to us any longer, Mr Kennedy...."

"You're raving." Archie reached up and felt his
friend's forehead. "Do you want me to ask Don Massaredo to
call Dr. Villa-Lobos?"

"The rules, Midshipman Kennedy," Horatio continued, his smile
slightly mischievous and his eyes bright, and brushing Archie's
hand away, "do not apply to free men..."

Hornblower again started to push his friend toward the door, but
Archie stopped once more, his mouth open, his blue eyes full, but not
quite to the brim, with hope. He half-feared disappointment at the
hands of his possibly fevered friend.

"Horatio... What are you saying?"

"In recognition of our courage in saving lives at the peril of
our own," the Acting Lieutenant quoted, "my ship's crew
and I are to be set at liberty."

"Liberty? You mean... we're free to go..?"

"That, if I may quote a very recent conversation, whose content I
must say, I shall NEVER forget, is what I usually understand liberty
to mean..."

The doubt vanished from Archie's blue eyes, and his expression
progressed rapidly to unqualified elation, to momentary disbelief,
and finally, to damp-eyed joy. Archie thought to himself how he had
forgotten what that felt like, and apparently his body could only
handle the newfound emotion in an old and familiar way: With tears.

Horatio saw his friend's reaction and was deeply moved, but did
not wish for Archie to feel embarrassed. His voice taking on a tone
of mock authority, he gestured invitationally toward the doorway.

"Mr Kennedy, do I have to ORDER you out of this cell??"

"N-no, Mr Hornblower. I am always willing to do my duty,
sir." Archie recovered himself, and as he broke into a smile so
wide it almost hurt, all that was left of the beginnings of those
tears was a shine that made his eyes look like cool blue pools.

*************************************

[Scene 3: The courtyard in the prison. Shadows are lengthening, and
sunset is at its glorious peak. The early evening air feels cool,
but not as cold as it should have felt at that time of year...]

 

"Don Massaredo just told me, Archie -- just a few minutes ago. I
could not believe it at first. He's sending a despatch to
Captain Pellew. We can leave as soon as the Indy can return here.
How I wished you had decided to take your walk with me today, of all
days... The only regret I could possibly have had at hearing those
words was that you were not there to hear them right away..."

Archie knew what his friend was thinking. *Horatio,* he wanted to
say, *I wish you would stop berating yourself over all my time here,
and for bringing me back here. Especially now it's over...*

"I was tired today, Horatio," he said aloud, and with a
reassuring, and somewhat playful smile, he added, "and besides,
the Duke had just decided to disguise himself as a Friar..."

"All right, Archie." Horatio smiled. He knew what Archie was
thinking, and the words did not need to be spoken.

The two officers walked a few more steps in the small, enclosed area
that was once the pinnacle of freedom for them, silent for a few
moments. In turn they looked up at the fading sunset above them, and
the glance they exchanged said that they were both thinking the same
thing: That they had never seen the sky look so vast, not even when
standing on their ship's deck, far out to sea. And...that they
were both so relieved that it was finally over, and grateful they had
been able to see each other through it. It was time to go home.

Finally Archie broke the reverie. "Do the men know yet?"

"Not yet, Archie. I'm going to tell them now. I -- I wanted
to -- well, you know...I wanted to tell you first... I mean, I
thought..."

Kennedy gave his friend a smile of quiet contentment, and there was a
peace in his eyes that Horatio had not seen there since their
transfer to Indefatigable.

"I know, Horatio... And, thank you..."

Hornblower returned the smile, and his was full of anticipation and
optimism. And then the mischief was back. Freedom did that to a man.

"Now, Mr Kennedy, we have an opportunity here... What say we have
a little fun with this?"

"What do you mean?"

"Let us call the men to assemble here, quite seriously, and make
them wonder what's going on, being assembled in the evening thus..
How's your play-acting?"

Archie suppressed a giggle. "Very good indeed, Mr Hornblower,
and I do believe confinement has brought out your mean streak."

"I do believe it has, Mr Kennedy. Now let us repair to the
stage. We cannot keep the men waiting now, can we?"

Horatio gave his friend an encouraging pat on the back of his arm, as
if to say, `come on now.' And for the first time in all
their time in what was only recently a dark and foreboding place, the
two young officers walked toward the cells with their shoulders back
and their hearts light.