The Crisis, Part Three
by Nereus

The cellar was utterly dark.

He was in pain, of a kind he had only known once before in his life.
They had beaten him in the attempt to get information. Not very
original, it certainly hurt though. But he was sure he hadn't told
them anything. Not yet.

He knew it had been only the first step. De Vergesse had told him
so, quite clinically, making it plain the process of breaking
captives was not new to him. He was prepared to take his time.

They had given him no food and very little water, just a small amount
to revive him during the questioning. He was very thirsty now, and
that, more than anything else, was a source of fear. He knew
shortage of water very often deprived a man of reason. Who knew what
he might be letting out in another day?

Perhaps, if the others moved quickly enough... but try as he might,
he could feel no firm confidence in that. They could not intercept a
courier until a courier came.

He wished he could stop thinking about water.

They were going to kill him. No doubt of that. They were going to
choke the life out of him slowly and horribly, and he was terrified
his courage would not hold up when it came to the point. More than
anything he was afraid of dying badly. Of collapsing with fear,
perhaps even begging at the last.

At least it would be - no, might be - just his own death. De
Vergesse had told him of his 'desertion' by his fellow spy. A
mistake of de Vergesse, for that knowledge was a consolation he clung
to through the hours, if they were hours. How could he tell with no
light?

He could not stop thinking about water, thinking of the feel of it in
mouth and throat, the cool smell so seldom noticed, the touch of it
on hands and face. Great casks of drinking water on ship-board, the
cool, clear water drawn from the well of his childhood home, water
running in a clear stream, water falling in a downpour, gushing
through the metal grill above his head....

At least this wasn't as bad as the oubliette. Was it? He could move
freely, at least. But he could not see, he could not see at all, and
the dark was starting to undermine his sense of who he was. It was
as if his intrinsic self was somehow leaking away into the darkness,
leaving - what? He did not know.

They were going to kill him. And de Vergesse was quite capable of
making sure that England learned how and why he had died. A
deliberately shameful end, a failure, perhaps a coward. Pellew who
had done so much for him; Bush, who had willingly accepted the
leadership of a man formerly his junior; Matthews, Styles and the
other men who had followed him loyally.... What would they think of
such an end?

Would Archie and the others be safe? He did not know. Unless the
couriers came very soon the chances of the mission succeeding were
now slim indeed. He found himself hoping they would have the sense
to abandon, and then cursed himself. This mission might be the only
hope of averting invasion. The only hope for England....

'What do you think of when you speak of England?....' Words he had
not understood at the time returned to him now with haunting force.
He tried to block them but could not. He ought to have an answer, a
certainty to lean on, a conviction to sustain him with the knowledge
that his death, however unpleasant, was for England. Yet there was
no answer for him. 'What do you think of when you speak of
England?....' Here in the dark he knew he did not know. He thought
of invasion, and he did not know what to picture, what to fear, what
to hate. He knew only what he should feel, not how to feel it.

But he did not think he could bear to die with Archie's death on his
conscience.

They were haunting him. D'Atigny and Levallier and all the deaths
further in the past, and the ones that might lie in the future that
he had helped to shape. So much blood and there was no escape from
it here.

He ought to pray, he knew. He should be able to find support in
praying, for Archie, for England, even for himself, that he should
have the strength to die well. He had tried to be religious in the
past, not vocally pious but a sincere worshipper at service, because
he knew it was expected of him. That it was part of what a naval
officer ought to be. Yet he knew his piety to be essentially a thing
of convention, of outward form and not of inner conviction. More and
more as the years passed he had known himself to be going through the
motions of religion, with no belief behind the words. Prayer would
be no help to him now.

The deeper shock was that his patriotism had been like his piety. He
had spoken the words of dedication to king and country because he
knew they were expected of him. That was all. They were no use to
him now, they held no meaning.

His soul was bleeding away into the dark. What would there be left
when de Vergesse came back?

He must not betray the others. He must not. He had conceived the
mission, he had failed to spot the traitor in their midst, he had not
learned what was troubling Levallier, and now one man was dead for
his mistakes, and his only hope was to protect the others who were
left. Faith to Kennedy and those troublesome South Americans was all
that remained to him now. And the hope of keeping it.

And perhaps... of not disgracing his old shipmates in his death. But
he had little confidence there, and greater dread of their knowing
how he died. As a spy.

He was so very thirsty and he could not stop thinking of water. And
he could not tell if it were in truth cold or if the shivering he
could not stop were from some other cause. And de Vergesse would be
coming back.... If he stayed still it was not so painful, but if he
moved, then it was bad. Had it been as bad as this that time on
Justinian? He could not stop being afraid of what would happen when
de Vergesse came back and he hated himself for it.

He had always dreaded physical pain. A terrible weakness in a naval
officer. How humiliating to have others think him brave, when he had
always known he was a secret coward.

He had thought of taking his own life before he could break, but
there were no means here. He had thought of provoking de Vergesse
into killing him, but thought it unlikely that would work. He could
only wait now.

They were going to kill him. And he was desperately afraid.

~~#~~

There was enough remaining of the lover of good things Etienne de
Vergesse had been before he grew to love ambition more for him to
relish a good meal, and the meals here were always good for he saw to
it they should be. Good company was welcome also, whether expected
or not, and for a variety of reasons de Vergesse's company was
usually not expected.

Today's visitor had been no exception, but de Vergesse had had no
hesitation in inviting him to dine. Social occasions could be a rich
source of information, and information was one of the reasons he was
here. A Spaniard from South America, with pretensions at least to
nobility, returned to Spain due to the extremely unsettled state of
affairs overseas and looking to settle down there; this man was
something new in de Vergesse's experience, and he would not pass up
chance of increasing knowledge, any knowledge. It did not surprise
him that the man should have chosen to visit and pay his respects
after hearing of the presence of General de Vergesse in the area.
Quite a lot of people found it politic to do exactly that.

Of course he did not speak to his guest of the prisoner confined
downstairs. They passed a very pleasant meal.

In the meantime de Vergesse's servants were quite unsuspicious of the
general factotum (Escudero had found it politic to play down his
status). He seemed a pleasant man, and willing to gossip in a mild
way. A couple of de Vergesse's servants were themselves professional
gatherers of information, and their suspicions might have been
aroused if Escudero had shown any marked curiosity; however he did
not.

Neither de Vergesse nor anyone else had suspected any involvement of
South Americans in the spying mission they had uncovered.

~~#~~

Sound. Someone approaching.

He still could not see, but the knowledge of some other presence
seemed to jerk him back, into some sort of proper awareness. He was
still afraid, a hideous, shameful fear that clutched him like
disease, but he was conscious also that he was a post-captain in the
British Navy, and it was up to him to act like one. No-one would
ever know the effort it cost him to stand, but he succeeded and,
though he could not quite stop the shaking, he managed to keep his
head up. He would do what he could to hold out, for as long as he
could.

To his anger he flinched as the door opened, not through fear, but
from the pain of even a dim torchlight striking weakened eyes. He
had to turn his head away and almost close his eyes. But he managed,
he just managed, to stand still, as the footsteps crossed the room
and he waited for the voice of his captor.

"Here, drink this." Not de Vergesse, he only recognised that it was
not the voice of de Vergesse. He took the drink, hoping it was
water, and choked on spirit.

"You look bad," he still did not recognise the voice.

"Water?" It was weakness to ask, but he was so very thirsty.

"Outside," the voice said. "Can you walk?"

Walk? An odd question for one of de Vergesse's minions. His eyes
had grown a little more used to the light now. He squinted, and made
out the features of Escudero.

Afterwards he would wonder that he had not felt joy or relief. He
must have clamped down on emotion too successfully, for he merely
felt puzzled. Escudero should not be here. That made no sense. But
he allowed the man to take his arm and help him out of the dark
prison, up a flight of steps, and through a doorway into the cool air
of the night outside.

Only then did realisation dawn. "You should not have," he
managed, "the mission...."

"Has not been forgotten," Escudero said.

"But this is too risky," Hornblower insisted dazedly, "It will give
you away."

"Not so risky as leaving you in the hands of that man." Escudero
said bluntly. "Try trusting us for a little. Now can you ride?"

Hornblower considered. In his current state he very much doubted he
could board a horse, let alone stay on one. Escudero must have read
that in his silence, for he said, "Well, can you cling on? I am
certainly not prepared to take you back and lock you in again."

Hornblower was in too much pain, and if he was honest, too much
dread, to put up much resistance. "I will do what I must," he said
grimly.

 

From: "nereus1010" <nereus101@hotmail.com>
Date: Tue Jan 10, 2006 4:10:40 PM US/Eastern
To: hhfic@yahoogroups.com
Subject: [hhfic] FIC: The Crisis Part Three [AU, PG-13] 2/6
Reply-To: hhfic@yahoogroups.com

[Once again the usual disclaimers]

~~#~~

Torrellos would not have been Kennedy's choice to share this vigil.

He knew perfectly well that he was far too nervy. A great effort
kept him from jumping up and pacing, but the desperate anxiety kept
on bursting out.

"Suppose de Vergesse sees through the trick? How can we know..."

"We cannot," the valet said placidly. "But there is no reason to
think that he will."

Calm good sense should have helped, in fact it just irritated.

"But if he does? If they don't come?"

"We have agreed what must be done." Yes, they had agreed, but that
wasn't making it any easier. Pragmatism told him the mission must
come first, Horatio had told him that the mission must come first,
but he did not see how he could bring himself to leave here with
Horatio's fate still unknown to him.

"If they don't come...."

"Calm yourself." Torellos said, "There is nothing to be done but
wait." Kennedy suppressed the urge to hit him.

At last, sounds. Someone on horseback, riding slowly. Then a slow
whistle, that unoriginal but useful signal. Torellos had to respond,
Kennedy's lips were too dry.

Then they were there.

"Horatio!" Barely remembering to keep his voice low, he helped to
lift the swaying figure from the saddle. Hornblower collapsed
against him and he swore. "What has he done to you?"

"I don't think there's any serious damage." It was Escudero who had
answered, in a low voice. "It is a pity he had to be moved. But he
will survive."

Still, Kennedy had a hard time reigning in his fury. He would have
liked to go back to the place and - but he got a check on his
thoughts at this point. That wasn't going to help.

A short rest and a drink of water and Hornblower had managed to
recover enough to start taking notice again.

"How...? What did you do?"

"You need to rest," Kennedy said. "We'll have to be off again soon,
I'm afraid."

"I need to *know*. This is *my* mission."

Typical Horatio. That, at least, was reassuring. "Well, it was
actually Miranda's idea. He thought that, since de Vergesse didn't
know about him, he could call on the man without arousing any
suspicions, just pretend that he was passing through the
neighbourhood and angle for a dinner invitation. And since you are
here, I suppose it worked."

"Yes, it worked," Escudero said.

"Miranda sent Torrellos back to town to purchase a certain medicine
that isn't good taken in large doses," Kennedy went on. He grinned
openly. "The idea was that Escudero should visit the kitchen and
look for an opportunity to dose the food."

"You *poisoned* them?"

"Just a little. They will not die, but they will not enjoy
themselves for the next few days." Escudero said.

"Meanwhile the couriers chose this night of all nights to arrive at
Burgos," Kennedy went on. "Luckily Torrellos had had the
intelligence to keep up with the friends he'd made in town. So it's
all on one throw of the dice." He grinned again, the same reckless
smile Hornblower remembered seeing sometimes in the thick of action.
He didn't feel much like smiling himself, even aside from the pain.

"Who will substitute?"

"We will," said Kennedy. "I'm afraid you'll have to change your
clothes."

There had been some thought given before leaving England as to how
the matter of uniforms should be dealt with. Luckily most items of
uniform clothing were not so different from civilian dress. The
coats had been the main difficulty, the solution in the end had been
to take coats of the right shade for French uniforms but with
different cut and buttons, just in case the baggage should be
searched. Miranda had assured the others that his valet had
sufficient skill to provide the necessary alterations at very short
notice. It seemed he had done the party proud, not only making the
needed changes, but also altering coats originally intended for
d'Atigny and Levallier to provide a reasonable fit for the British.

"I can't come with you," Hornblower objected. "How can we
explain...."

"We'll have to say it's an illness," Kennedy said, "Luckily he
hasn't marked your face." The last words were spoken with a
sharpness that barely covered a hard struggle to keep control. "We
need to get you away in any case."

"Wait, what about the rest of - you," he just remembered the
Spaniards were there in time to say 'you' not 'them'. "When de
Vergesse recovers..."

"I do not think he will suspect," Escudero said, "Such things do
happen naturally, and since the General will have been taken ill
also...." he let the sentence trail off in explanation.

"He will?" Hornblower said, "That was...."

"Well-advised," said Escudero.

Changing was painful, but he managed it. It was a humiliation that
at the end his hands were shaking too much to comb his own hair, and
he had to let Archie do it, whilst he took steady breaths in an
effort to regain some control. Ready at last, he just wanted to sink
down and close his eyes, but stubbornly refused. This was *his*
mission, and he needed to keep an eye on it.

Nor would his thoughts let him rest. Things that had faded when he
believed he was about to die suddenly assumed much more
importance. "Who would have thought," he said aloud, "D'Atigny, I
mean."

Kennedy gave him a considering look, then decided it would be better
to play along than to try and convince Hornblower to keep quiet and
rest.

"You couldn't have known, Horatio. He had us all fooled."

Except Levallier, Hornblower thought, but did not say. "But a man of
his birth and background turning spy, and for that upstart
Bonaparte. That's what I can't understand."

"Does it matter?" Escudero asked. He moved briefly a little way
forward, peering down at the road which ran between high banks below
the place where they waited, before, apparently satisfied, returning
to his place.

From a practical point of view the answer was 'no', but after
another look at his friend's face, Kennedy said slowly, "I can see
his point of view, in a way. The French royalists aren't exactly an
inspiring bunch. And if *I* was French, well, what would there be to
say against Bonaparte, except that his surname isn't Bourbon?"

"The man's a tyrant!" said Hornblower, rather too sharply for
safety, he must remember to keep his voice down. Or did he just want
to think that, to believe in the war that he was fighting? How much
did he really *know*? "Isn't he?" He cursed the doubt in the words
the instant they were spoken.

"Is he any more so than the French kings were?" Kennedy
shrugged. "I can see why d'Atigny would think he was being
patriotic. But he could have gone over to France openly, instead of
betraying his allies. That's what sticks in my caw."

"We're hardly in a position to complain about spying," Hornblower
said grimly. Patriotism... he thought. What did he fight for, when
he fought for England? The dawn light was gradually gathering around
them, sun-up could not be far away, nor could the crucial moment for
which they were waiting.

"What do you consider your country?" he asked Escudero
abruptly. "What do *you* fight for?"

"Country?" Escudero made a dismissive gesture. "How can one fight
for a country? A country is a thing of rocks and earth and grass.
How can one fight for that? One can fight for people or for a
principle or for a way of life. Not for a country."

Hornblower frankly stared. "What else do you think men fight for?"
he asked blankly.

"I could not say. M. Levallier fought to put a certain group of
people back in power. You two gentlemen..." Escudero shrugged
again, "What you call a fight for country may be in fact a fight to
keep a form of government unchallenged, to bring renewed power and
glory to those who rule. I do not know you well enough to say."
Again he raised himself, Torrellos, ignoring the conversation, was
keeping a keen eye on the road, but some nervousness seemed to be
affecting even the usually imperturbable secretary.

"Years ago," Kennedy said, partly, but only partly, to keep the talk
going, "I saw in France what happens in a country rent by invasion
and conflict. I would do much to keep that from happening in my
homeland. Do you not call that fighting for a country?"

"I call that fighting for people," said Escudero, "Fighting to
prevent suffering. It's a good reason."

"And what of honour?" Hornblower asked uneasily. He felt sure there
must be a flaw in Escudero's argument somewhere, but he could not,
for the moment, see where it was. He wished he could get some
understanding of these South Americans. Although their worth to the
mission was now beyond doubt, he still could not feel at ease with
them.

"Honour? That can mean so many things. To fight from loyalty to
one's comrades, that is a good reason. To fight for fame and
reputation... why not? Fight for glory if you will, fight for rank,
fight for money. But be honest about it, don't be what you English
call a 'mawworm.'"

"A *what*?" Hornblower was not familiar with that bit of slang.

"A hypocrite, Horatio," Kennedy told him. He eyed Escudero
thoughtfully, a corner of his mind alive to the peculiarity of
conducting this talk in such a time and place. "Does the General
know of your opinions on patriotism?"

"We have not discussed it," Escudero replied. "However I believe the
General often becomes impatient with what passes for patriotism in
your own country. He believes that your governments should put the
cause of liberty for their fellow men before their own self-
interest."

"He is an optimist then," said Kennedy dryly.

Hornblower considered. "Perhaps not that exactly. You remember what
you said, Archie, about Miranda seeing himself as a god in the
machine. That's dangerous. Dangerous to him. He looks down on what
he sees as lesser mortals. He doesn't really think about them,
doesn't consider what they may do."

Kennedy looked at him in surprise. "I think you're right." It was
an unusually acute piece of insight for Horatio.

"I think so too," Escudero sighed, and there was a worn look upon
his face. "He is a great man, but I fear for him."

"But you stay," said Kennedy.

"If he cannot guard himself, others must try. But I fear, one day,
it will not be enough."

"You must thank him for me, when you return," Hornblower said,
trying to lighten the conversation a little. "We would most
certainly have been lost without him."

Escudero smiled, "I will thank him."

He might have been about to say more, but at that moment Torrellos
made a sound like "Hisst!" and the whole party stiffened. Hornblower
realised with a jolt that the real reason for their presence here had
nearly faded from his mind in his absorption. He must not allow
himself to be so careless again.

 

From: "nereus1010" <nereus101@hotmail.com>
Date: Tue Jan 24, 2006 3:04:35 PM US/Eastern
To: hhfic@yahoogroups.com
Subject: [hhfic] FIC: The Crisis Part Three [AU, PG-13] 3/6
Reply-To: hhfic@yahoogroups.com

[Usual Disclaimers]

~~#~~

"Stay here!" Kennedy whispered. Hornblower was about to refuse, but
the act of movement as he half-rose sent pain spurting through him
and common sense won out. This must be left to the able-bodied, much
though he loathed to do so.

One of the oldest tricks in the book. The cord stretched over the
road, then pulled tight as the horses came abreast. Kennedy had
fastened one end round a tree, the other had been looped carefully
about a trunk, knotted in such a way that once pulled tight it should
be able to take the strain of two riders galloping. After that, they
would be easy prey.

He was ashamed of himself for being glad that he was out of this
part. It had been his idea, he should bear his share of the guilt.
Guilt? Yes, it did feel that way. They were enemies of war, yet
this felt uncommonly like cold-blooded murder.

D'Atigny's body lay before him, with blood spurting from the throat
wound. He had never had a chance. And Hornblower had not had a
choice. But he would dream of it, he knew he would dream of it. A
better end than execution as a spy, which British law would have
demanded. But he was not the law.

And it was *different*, killing a man that you knew, someone that you
had talked and eaten and shared jests with, even when that person had
been lying with every second word he spoke. Far different from
killing the stranger who sought your life in impersonal battle.

Not that he had ever found the act of killing easy to bear. He'd
been physically sick, after the first time he had run a man through.
There were times when a reputation for seasickness covered a
multitude of sins. He'd never understood how Archie could take
killing men so blithely.

Except that Kennedy was what he was not. A born fighting man. He'd
often envied that.

Silence. The hoofbeats he had heard moments earlier had stopped.
Two Frenchmen he might have respected, even liked, if he had met them
face to face were either dead or would be very shortly. For
England. But - what do you think of when you think of England?

They were back. Kennedy and Escudero had been the ones who slipped
down into the road. The secretary seemed quite unperturbed, and
Hornblower wondered if he had killed before. Had Escudero seen
action, in the course of his long pursuit of Miranda's dream? He
would likely never know now.

A limp body with a knife wound was dumped carelessly beside him, the
two men vanished again and returned with a second. By the time they
were back Hornblower had fought down his nausea.

"What do we do with them? If they are found...."

"There a bit of a gully, just over that way," Kennedy told
him. "With luck it should delay discovery a few days at least."

"And we will dispose of the uniforms," Escudero said. "That way,
even if found, they may not be identified."

Kennedy gave an exclamation of satisfaction as he produced a sealed
packet. "The dispatches!" He looked at Hornblower. "Should we take
these back?"

"No. Too risky." He looked at Escudero. "Get rid of them." The
Spaniard nodded. For all his unorthodox views, he'd make a good
officer.

"We'll need the hats," Kennedy said. "I think that's everything -
best not lose time."

Hornblower drew a deep breath. "I can't come with you. It's too
risky. I'll stay and take my chance.

"Oh no, you will not," Kennedy said roundly. "I'm not leaving you
here."

"As a matter of duty to the mission -"

"There are other kinds of responsibility, Horatio. What about your
wife and child?"

Hornblower felt as though in a calm sea he had just felt the ship
beneath him strike a rock. In all the hours that had passed he had
not given a single thought to Maria and the small Horatio. Faced
with his own death, he had forgotten his wife and son completely.
The knowledge was horrifying.

"You owe it to them to preserve your own life," Kennedy was saying,
but Hornblower was too shaken to properly hear the words. How could
he have forgotten. How *could* he? Had he not *wanted* to
remember? Yet he had remembered those others who mattered to him.

A hand gripped his shoulder firmly. "I'm not going to stand here
arguing," Kennedy told him flatly. "Now, are you coming, or do I
have to knock you out and haul you along as extra baggage?"

"That would be mutiny," Hornblower said mechanically, his mind still
reeling from the words just spoken.

"Charge me when we get back. Now, can you ride alone?"

Hornblower confronted the question with as much detachment as he
could muster, and was bound to admit that he did not think he could.

"Then we'll have to share. Lucky you're so thin. You came down ill,
on the road and I don't trust Spanish inns enough to leave you
there. That should serve. Now..." With a bit of help from Escudero
and Torrellos he managed to get Hornblower in front of him on the
sturdier looking of the two horses and took the bridle of the other.

"Good luck," Escudero told them seriously.

"You too." Kennedy kicked his heels into the horse's sides, and they
were away.

 

From: "nereus1010" <nereus101@hotmail.com>
Date: Tue Jan 24, 2006 3:20:09 PM US/Eastern
To: hhfic@yahoogroups.com
Subject: [hhfic] FIC: The Crisis Part Three [AU, PG-13] 4/6
Reply-To: hhfic@yahoogroups.com

[Same disclaimers as ever]

~~#~~

At first Hornblower was only conscious that he was in pain. Dull
pain, that must be an old hurt, not a recent one.

"Horatio." He knew the voice, and for a few moments he knew very
well that he was in the sick-berth on Justinian, and that he did not
want to have to wake up fully and face what had been done to him.

"Horatio." Urgent but low, there was a hand gripping his
shoulder, "I'm sorry, but you have to wake up." Reluctantly he
opened his eyes.

And the world adjusted with a jolt. This wasn't a ship, and the man
in front of him wasn't seventeen. As remembrance came he had to
close his eyes, fighting against his body's dread of the day that lay
ahead.

"Horatio!" Sharp concern in his friend's voice now. "Are you with
me at all?"

"Yes!" Truth was it was taking slightly longer than he wanted for
Captain Hornblower to replace Midshipman Hornblower. "I can
manage." He actually felt worse than he had yesterday, and that too
was something he remembered, the stiffening of the limbs. What he
couldn't remember was how long it had lasted before. But he
recalled, more vividly than he had for years, why he had been
prepared to throw away his life, rather than risk another such
beating. Because he dreaded pain. Because Simpson would have broken
him, and he could not bear the prospect.... And de Vergesse.... He
forced away the fear of what he might have done.

He managed to sit up unaided, despite the protests of his body. He
had some dim remembrance now of arriving at an inn and being helped
upstairs. He must have fallen unconscious directly. Observation
informed him that only coat, boots and neckcloth had been discarded,
and he couldn't remember removing those.

"Do we need to be on the road straight away?" He hoped, but hardly
believed, that the dread of future journeying had been expelled from
his voice. He hated to show physical weakness, even in front of
Kennedy. Perhaps especially in front of Archie, who could hide such
weakness better than anyone he'd ever known. (Practice, murmured a
voice in his head. It didn't help.)

"There's time for breakfast. What can you manage?" He hated to say
it, but there was only one sensible reply,

"Nothing. Coffee, perhaps, if they have it. But if I try food it'll
just... come back. On the road."

"Horatio, you haven't eaten since we were taken."

"I'll last!" he snapped. Then, realising that had not sounded very
controlled, "I'll eat tonight." Thanks to his seasickness, it would
not be the first time he had gone without food for days.

~~#~~

To his own annoyance, Hornblower was not capable even of protesting
the discovery that Kennedy had hired a chaise rather than horses for
this day's journey. He was sure it would be slower, but he also knew
he could not making a convincing job of arguing for horseback travel.

"Settle down." He'd forgotten that Kennedy's ability to read his
thoughts could occasionally be quite annoying. "I've been assured
we'll be at Ferrol by nightfall. That's as much as we could aim
for." To his further infuriation the prospect of the mission's
successful completion loomed less large for him than the prospect of
a day's extreme discomfort. There seemed to be something
fundamentally wrong about his inability to detach himself from his
body's complaints. He felt that he ought to possess more willpower.

"Talk to me," he said abruptly, a few minutes after departure.
Anything to distract his mind, and give him a chance of concealing
the weakness of his body.

"What about?"

"Anything," Hornblower grated.

Kennedy cast around for a few moments. "I wonder what old
Massaredo's doing these days?"

"Just as long as he's not still at Ferrol!" said Hornblower, struck
by a worry that hadn't even occurred to him until now.

"Unlikely, I should say. Wonder what he thinks of Bonaparte?"
Getting no reply Kennedy answered his own question. "Probably that
the man's a vulgar upstart. Come to think, he didn't seem the type
of man to be pleased by Spain having allied itself with Republicans
in the first place. Although that's just a guess, I never knew him."

"Neither did I."

"The two of you seemed to hit it off well enough."

"Well, there was no point in being rude to the man was there? But I
wouldn't have wanted him for my commanding officer."

"Neither would I," Kennedy agreed. "Be rather like serving under old
Keene, I'd imagine. He's probably sidelined back to his estates by
now, depending on how much influence Bonaparte and his cohorts have
in Spain. Whatever one may say against Bonaparte, he's efficient, I
doubt he'd want to leave a key position in Massaredo's hands."

Hornblower leaned his head back against the squabs, and briefly
closed his eyes, concentrating rigidly on the present line of
thought. "Makes me wonder," he said, "how many of the Spaniards *do*
like being allied with Bonaparte? I would think there'd be quite a
lot of Don Massaredo's in a country like Spain."

"That's an interesting question," Kennedy said. "But not really our
concern."

Hornblower, however, was not about to let the distraction go so
easily. "It might be one day. Any division among our opponents
might lead to something useful."

"We'd need more than the two simply rubbing each other the wrong
way," Kennedy was prepared to keep the discussion going for as long
as Hornblower wanted. "Do you think there's any chance of that?"

The topic of whether the alliance between French and Spanish would
hold soon grew repetitive, but nonetheless lasted them quite nicely,
until pain and exhaustion finally forced Hornblower into silence.
Deprived of distraction, there was nothing to be done then, but grit
his teeth, and feel ashamed of his own weakness in hoping he could
faint soon.

Kennedy slipped an arm beneath his friend to support him, slightly
worried that Horatio made no kind of protest. He still felt the same
boiling, pointless fury, coupled with a painful sense of just how
Horatio must be feeling. At least there had been no lasting damage.

The sooner they were through with this business the better pleased
he'd be. He'd never expected to enjoy this mission but it was
getting worse with every passing day. Success, not to mention
survival, now rested on the chance of whether he could convincingly
impersonate a French officer, and he was by no means confident of
that.

He wasn't sorry he'd come though. How could he have let Horatio face
this alone? He'd needed someone to stop him making a sacrifice of
himself, just as Kennedy had anticipated. And if he was any judge of
his old friend, Hornblower would shortly be tormenting himself - if
he wasn't already - for having failed to spot d'Atigny's treachery,
and thereby holding himself responsible for Levallier's death. Being
Horatio he might even be feeling guilty about d'Atigny. No, he was
not sorry he had come.

The coach jolted with particular violence, and he steadied his friend
as best he could, but Hornblower seemed quite unconscious now.
Kennedy sighed a little, and wished for both their sakes that Horatio
had been able to keep up the conversation. The company of his own
thoughts was not something he wanted just at the moment. El Ferrol
was not exactly high on the list of places he would have chosen to
revisit. He wasn't proud of having tried to starve himself to
death. And if he failed to pull this off he might yet die in Ferrol
after all, which was an ironic thought but not a comforting one.

He'd hold together. He had to. Falling apart now was simply not
acceptable.

 

From: "nereus1010" <nereus101@hotmail.com>
Date: Tue Feb 14, 2006 3:50:51 PM US/Eastern
To: hhfic@yahoogroups.com
Subject: [hhfic] FIC: The Crisis Part Three [AU, PG-13] 5/6
Reply-To: hhfic@yahoogroups.com

[Same disclaimers, etc, etc]

~~#~~

El Ferrol in evening sun. It should have looked familiar, but he'd
not been used to see it from this angle. Not even in the last weeks
of captivity, when Massaredo had been pleased enough by their return
to allow *all* the men limited parole on the basis of Lt Hornblower's
word. His mental picture of the place was still extremely limited.
Confined might be a better word.

Horatio, summoning reserves of stubbornness, had managed to make it
to a bedchamber on his own feet, although not without assistance.
The landlord appeared to have swallowed their cover story quite
satisfactorily, which was one good thing. The next couple of hours
were going to be stand or fall time with a vengeance.

"I wish I could go with you," Hornblower said in tones of
considerable annoyance. Kennedy knew him well enough not to take
that as a reflection on his own competence, it was simply a dislike
of being left out of things.

"If it's any consolation to you, Horatio, if I get arrested you won't
be far behind."

"You are not going to get arrested," Hornblower said firmly. "You
can do this, Archie. Think of it as Drury Lane."

He recognised the deliberate attempt at reassurance, but felt a
little lifted, less by the words than by the thought behind
them. "Better waste no time then." He attempted a smile, but it
came out crooked. In battle he had long since learned the trick of
riding his sense of danger as a well-handled ship could ride a
troubled sea, to use it as a source of strength and energy, not of
crippling terror. But this was not a battle, and there was too much
riding on the outcome for him to feel any trace of the familiar
thrill. He would have to rely on control. "Wish me luck."

"I do - but you won't need it." Kennedy could not forbear from a
slight shake of the head. Neither of them believed that.

~~#~~

Some might have thought the town of Ferrol picturesque, but Kennedy
preferred more familiar views. The dirty-green waters of the
southern English ports, the cool, stark hillsides of his childhood
country, or any of the varied streets of London... he dared not let
his thoughts dwell upon those places. The steep streets he strode
through were far too hot, but it was not just the heat that was
soaking the roots of his hair and making his shirt stick to him
beneath his uniform coat. The place was uncomfortably busy, also.
Mostly Spanish citizens, a few French seamen, no officers in sight at
least. El Ferrol was crowded, and not very good tempered about it,
although Kennedy was too preoccupied to give much thought to that, or
to pay attention to the fact that the locals and the outsiders were
not mixing much.

A small bothy did catch his eye. The trader was selling odds and
ends of clothing, most prominently displayed amongst them a number of
French red caps of liberty. A hopeful ploy to attract the custom of
French sailors, perhaps. Although no expert, he was aware that
Spanish sentiment was far from Republican. Still, there would most
likely be a few who desired to pay court to the stronger party. At
almost any other time, he might have been amused, but not at this
moment. The trader caught his eye, and made an odd motion, halfway
between a bow and a salute. He strode on hastily, wishing he did not
feel so visible. No matter how much he told himself others would see
only a French officer, he felt as though somehow the fact of his
imposture would be plain to any who looked closely.

So much riding on this - and he had never been an actor by
temperament. The most he could do was clamp down on emotion, lock it
away. He could not fake things that he did not feel. Yet perhaps
rigid formality would be enough. There must be stiffly correct
officers in the French armies. He twitched his jacket, trying to
pull it straighter, and was glad it had not been stripped from the
dead man's corpse. The knowledge of having cut a man's throat in
cold blood, however good the cause, was chilling. In battle it was
kill or be killed and he had had no trouble with it from the first,
but *that* killing had been a lot harder to justify in his own mind.

Well, it was done and he was prepared to live with it, but he did not
intend to simply push the doubt aside. That would be too easy and
dangerous a course. Yet for the moment he had to concentrate on the
present and that was not easy, for uncertainty over his next move was
threatening to rouse something close to panic.

Where would Villeneuve be? In all the preparations he had never
given thought to that. *Where?* He could not just run around the
town like an errand-boy, lost and uncertain. Hands clenching, he
mastered his thoughts with something of an effort. Where would a
British Admiral in Villeneuve's place be found? Either on ship-board
or at the shore headquarters, and one thing he did know about Ferrol
was where those were. And if he picked wrong at first guess, well a
French courier might do that also, particularly a courier who was a
man of the army, not the sea.

The fortress, then. An army man would likely go there to the
fortress first. If Villeneuve was not there, then they would know
where he was.

But Villeneuve was there.

The man looked ill, was Kennedy's first reaction. Or perhaps not ill
so much as worn down to the point of physical collapse. Villeneuve
was a big man, who should have exuded solid reassurance; instead he
was haggard, the flesh on his body seeming to sag inwards from his
powerful frame. That was understandable, if Kennedy had had Nelson
on his tail for months then he'd be feeling ill as well. More to the
point: that was useful.

Not all his time on shipboard during the voyage here had been devoted
to simple conversation. Both he and Hornblower had had long sessions
with the two French officers, trying to work up their language skills
in case it should be needed. Tone-deaf Horatio had made no real
improvement in accent, but Kennedy believed he had, at least
Levallier had been wincing less by the voyage's end. It had occurred
to him since that, whatever his other faults, Levallier must have
been quite a good teacher. Appropriate, then, that his lessons might
posthumously frustrate his murderer.

On the other hand, after two minutes in Villeneuve's company he
concluded that a Chinaman might conceivably have delivered the
message without the exhausted French admiral noticing the slightest
thing amiss. All Villeneuve cared for was the contents, which seemed
to rouse him to an indiscreet despair.

"Sail out to Cadiz!" he protested in French. "He has no idea, no
idea at all. Does he think it so easy to slip a blockade?" Kennedy
maintained a stolid demeanour whilst Villeneuve distractedly pushed a
hand into his own hair. "And what should I do there? Why should he
want me in Cadiz? He has no idea at all of the Navy, of commanding a
sea-fleet. No idea."

Now that was interesting. Villeneuve must be in a bad way indeed to
so openly criticise the Emperor. The man was not far off breaking
point. Kennedy wondered what morale was like among the fleet, and
how far down the commanding admiral's despair had penetrated.

In some respects it would have been interesting to pursue that, but
in fact he was relieved to find the interview was not to be
prolonged. Villeneuve, seeming almost to recall his presence,
uttered a hasty, "Very well, Captain, that will be all. You may go
now."

"Sir," he saluted formally, lost no time at all in quitting the room,
and once outside, actually found himself sagging for a second against
the wall, whilst breathing came hard from sheer relief.

So easy. All that worry and - so *easy*. It was almost frightening,
for after everything that had happened he could not believe the
actual hand-over had really been as easy as that. He had been
somehow expecting the climax of the mission to have the impact of a
battle, but instead it had been no more than a few exchanged words
with a man too exhausted to even look at him properly. What a
business this spying was! Could it really all be over as easily as
that?

His instincts distrusted easy solutions, he refused to let himself
relax. That proved as well, for he had been right to doubt. As he
left the anteroom to Villeneuve's chambers a discreetly dressed man
moved smoothly forward to greet him.

"Captain Vignon?" he remembered the alias taken from the dead
courier's papers in time to produce a suitable reaction. "I am Don
Garcia Espinoza y Perez, secretary to his Excellency Don Carlos
Zacosta y Vasconcellos, Governor of El Ferrol. His Excellency wishes
to invite you to dine with him tonight."

Not what he needed. "That is most generous of his Excellency, but I
am tired from my journey and would, I fear, prove a most dismal
guest."

"His Excellency," the secretary insisted, "will make allowances for
your weariness. It is the usual custom for the couriers to dine with
him as a gesture of goodwill between our peoples." Despite the soft
tone there was a definite warning in the latter words. Refusal would
cause offence. Well, there was no reason for him to care if he
disrupted relations between Frogs and Dons - but Captain Vignon would
care, wouldn't he? No good arousing suspicion with a refusal.

"In that case," he said carefully, "I will be honoured. Do I have
time to return to my lodgings and clean myself up?" Evening must be
well advanced by now, but it seemed a reasonable request from a man
as dishevelled and road-stained as he knew himself to be.

The secretary was regretful, but definite. The dinner would commence
very shortly.

"In that case, would it be possible to have someone deliver a note to
my fellow officer, who was too ill to accompany me here, which will
explain my continued absence?"

That, fortunately, was quite possible. He only hoped Hornblower
wouldn't fret too much. And that there were no French at the
dinner. He felt reasonably confident that he could sustain the
deception before Spaniards, but too much time spent with genuine
Frenchmen might well be disastrous.

He was not expecting to encounter other nationalities at the dining
table, which, as he realised later, was undoubtedly a blind spot.

 

From: "nereus1010" <nereus101@hotmail.com>
Date: Tue Feb 14, 2006 3:57:46 PM US/Eastern
To: hhfic@yahoogroups.com
Subject: [hhfic] FIC: The Crisis Part Three [AU, PG-13] 6/6
Reply-To: hhfic@yahoogroups.com

[OK, I can't seem to figure out if yahoo is double posting me or not
posting me at all. Apologies for whichever. Same disclaimers as in
previous parts]

~~#~~

Hornblower folded the note over and over, until it formed the
smallest of wedges within his hand, then rolled it back and forth
between his fingers. The bruises were still too painful for him to
rise easily and attempt to work out his frustration by pacing. He
could only lie on his back, and stare at the dirty ceiling of their
plain inn room. For all the years that had passed, the memory of the
Governor's dining room in El Ferrol was still sharp and clear. How
young he'd been then.... He couldn't understand why anybody envied
youth. He would not choose to be that young again.

Part of the disorientation of this mission was that it stripped away
years of experience and authority, leaving him uncertain and
vulnerable in situations he had never been trained to cope with. He
had heard people describe certain situations as making them feel
young once more. He felt young now, and he was not enjoying it at
all. The sooner this was over the better.

He wished he could be at the dinner - probably the first time in his
life he had ever felt like attending a formal occasion. Any kind of
activity would be better than lying here and doing nothing.
Reflecting on D'Atigny's young, surprised face as he sprawled on the
ground, on the stiff, loyal Levallier, on the dead bodies of the two
French couriers. All for England.

Worse still were the reflections on the wife and child he had
forgotten in his hour of darkness. He had known he was not a good
family man, but had not realised he failed as far as that.

He sighed, shifted, and then wished he had not. He wished that
Archie would return.

~~#~~

Afterwards Kennedy reflected that he must have been more homesick
than he had realised to find the sight of a British naval
lieutenant's uniform welcome. It ought to have rung alarm bells.

It had been short-sighted of him also not to realise this might
happen. Massaredo had invited prisoners to dine with him
occasionally, why should not the present governor of El Ferrol do the
same?

The present governor had proved to be a much younger man than
Massaredo, with a sharp, dissatisfied face. After receiving polite
but uninterested greeting from the man Kennedy decided that for him
formal dinners were an unwelcome necessity rather than a pleasure,
which was probably just as well.

The British lieutenant gave him much more to worry about. He was a
lean, pallid man, with receding blond hair, not handsome, but not
ugly either. Kennedy was not quite sure at first sight if the man
was familiar, a very unwelcome prospect, or just a familiar type.

"This is Lt Swenson, recently taken prisoner aboard the British ship,
Ruby," the secretary introduced, "He does not speak our language."

"I regret that I have no command of English." Kennedy was not about
to risk appearing suspiciously fluent. Swenson? Did he remember a
Swenson? There was no time to cudgel his memory, for Swenson was
responding to the introduction in halting, very British, French.

What he said was little more than formality, but Kennedy continued to
be troubled by an elusive sense that he knew the man. If so, it was
to be hoped that Swenson's memory was no better than his own.

He took his seat, and, when it came, made a pretence of being very
thoroughly absorbed in his dinner. Captain Vignon would be hungry,
wouldn't he? Swenson seemed to be wolfing down his food as well, and
Kennedy speculated that prison rations probably hadn't improved of
late. The Governor ate in an absent minded way, looking as if he was
itching to get back to his paperwork, and did not attempt to talk.
It was left to a perky looking little man, who bore the marks of a
local civilian, to try and make conversation, which he mostly did by
questioning Swenson in what Kennedy rather thought was very Spanish
French about exactly how he had been captured. They seemed to
understand each other surprisingly well.

The tale, however, was not amusing, the tale of the taking of a ship
and the death of a captain. He kept his eyes firmly on the plate,
and, somewhat to his own dismay, felt a sudden rush of feeling for
the man. Lieutenant on what sounded like a smallish, unregarded
ship, an ageing man - Swenson must be about ten years his elder -
with little hope of promotion, and now only long years of captivity
to look forward to. He knew, oh yes, he knew. He wished the memory
felt more distant.

*Swenson.* Remembrance came from nowhere.

Swenson. One of the midshipmen on Justinian. Not strong enough
physically to be one of Simpson's bully-boys, not a man who could be
trusted not to carry tales to make his own life easier. Swenson.
Kept himself to himself, and attracted as little attention as
possible and how wise of him that had been.

It was the same man all right. Thinner of hair, his face more lined,
but otherwise not very much changed. Swenson... must have been one
of those transferred to Arethusa. Well, well, well. Half-Danish
he'd been - and no doubt still was. Simpson, of course, had managed
to make that seem like a shame of the first order. Yes, surprising
how much he remembered, now that he did remember.

The real question - was there any chance of Swenson knowing him?

He thought not. Perhaps that was mere hopefulness, but he'd been
such a boy then. The two had only just known each other, and Swenson
would hardly be expecting to meet an old shipmate in a French courier.

And if he did (surely he wouldn't) what would he do? He realised
that, even apart from the passage of time, he'd never known Swenson
well enough to have any idea what he would do in such a situation as
this. Had he the brains to keep quiet? But surely he wouldn't
realise?

Justinian. Shouldn't meeting someone from Justinian have been a
shock? He'd pushed the memories of that ship away for a very long
time. Ever since, yes, ever since his last visit to El Ferrol, when
in the long hours of confinement there had been no way to keep the
memories at bay. But it wasn't a shock. It was not a shock at all.
It might have been quite entertaining, if he hadn't had the one great
fear.

With an inward start he realised he was being questioned. The
irritating civilian was asking questions again. "I- I apologise,
Monsieur, I fear I was not paying attention." Get a grip. No good
falling at the final hurdle. No good at all.

"I had been saying, you might be pleased of your countrymen's
successful capture," the Spaniard said.

"I- indeed, Monsieur." Think. What would he say if he were a French
army officer? Ah. "If the French Navy is finally approaching the
same standard as the French Army the war will not be prolonged much
longer." He tilted back his wine glass, pleased with the
remark. "And with a great fleet in this very harbour at this moment,
the day of triumph may not be long delayed."

"Let us drink to that indeed!" the civilian said eagerly, rising
from his seat, and earning a glower from the Governor, who plainly
had not followed the conversation, and did not wish to. However he
could not refuse the toast.

Nor, unfortunately, could Kennedy. Well, that ought to teach him not
to get too clever. Except that it wouldn't. Touched by a whisper of
superstition, he put the glass to his lips without tasting. Swenson,
he noted had refrained. Good for Swenson.

"And to the triumph of the Emperor's armies!" the civilian declared,
inspired.

It seemed this might last for some time.

~~#~~

It was late when he got back.

"Well, Mr Kennedy?" This was not the question of a friend but the
voice of a superior demanding a report.

"Well indeed. Villeneuve took it like a lamb. No doubts at all.
The meal was a bit of an ordeal, but then it would have been that
even if I'd been exactly what I claimed. The only consolation was
that almost everyone else seemed to be enjoying it no more than I
was. If Massaredo's dinners were anything like that, than I plainly
never appreciated what you were enduring in the line of duty."

"Are you drunk?" Hornblower demanded suspiciously, a certain light-
headed insouciance being unmistakable in the last sentences.

"Not at all," Kennedy replied with truth, the light-headedness was in
fact pure relief. "Although it required resource to keep from being
drunk. I didn't think there could be so many ways of toasting the
French cause. There was this little man who would not stop. You
should have seen the Governor's face. As well for him there were no
real French around, he was hardly attempting to disguise how bored he
was."

Hornblower was exhausted, strained and irritated by what seemed to
him completely trivial chatter. "I don't think you should be
drinking to our enemies," he snapped.

"What would you advise? A toast to King George?"

Hornblower opened his mouth to utter a sharply worded rebuke, but it
actually came out as, "Oh, be quiet and go to sleep!"

Kennedy smirked. "Aye, aye, sir!"

Hornblower gave up.