Ship of the Damned, part eleven
by Sue N.

It was a beautiful night, exactly the sort that Archie
most loved -- soft, warm, deeply peaceful, with silver
stars gleaming like jewels in the vast black bosom of
a cloudless sky and the half moon so clear and so
close he swore he could almost touch it. Resolute was
sailing easily under reefed topsails and furled
courses, and he balanced himself effortlessly upon her
gently rolling deck, allowing the beauty and quiet of
the night to soothe his frayed nerves. He forgot about
Thorne, forgot about the troubled crew, forgot even
the por, tormented soul in the cabin below him. For a
brief, blessed time he was alone in all the world,
just him and this ship, who now seemed to want so
badly to be more than she had become.

What a tragedy, that so fine a ship should have been
so badly treated...

Before his watch, he had asked Stewart to lead him on
a tour of Resolute, had explored her from bow to stern
and inspected every corner, every curve, wanting to be
as familiar with her as he could. And what he had
found had astonished him. She was, in her own way, as
stout and solid as the Indy, yet with a feisty spirit
that reverberated through her rigging and decks. With
better handling, she would have been fast, nimble,
graceful; with better care, she would have been truly
beautiful.

He would have loved to have seen her in her glory and
prime...

"Beg pardon, sir." It was Mr. Trent, the sailing
master, intruding upon his solitude. "Wind's
freshening a bit, and come ëround by a point. Should
we mebbe take another reef in the topsails?"

Archie shifted his gaze to Trent -- a lean, wiry man
no taller than himself -- then raised it to the
rigging, studying the play of her sails, the set set
of her rigging. More than that, he was listening to
the rigging and gauging the feel of the ship beneath
his feet. Mr. Bowles had once told him the ship would
tell him what she wanted, what she would needed, if
only he would heed her. So he had begun listening, and
had been amazed to discover the man was right.

And Resolute was telling him she did not want another
reef.

"No, I don't believe so, Mr. Trent," he answered at
last, still gazing aloft. "She wants to run a bit,
test herself and this wind. No point slowing her down
just yet."

Trent stared at the lieutenant in frank surprise; no
other officer in Resolute ever spoke of her in this
manner. "If I may say, sir," he put in hesitantly,
"Mr. Thorne says we're not to o'er-tax her. She's been
through a fair bit, sir."

Archie regarded the man evenly. "I do not believe she
is being over-taxed, Mr. Trent," he said quietly,
firmly. "Indeed, she is not being taxed at all. There
is no strain upon her. And as for having been through
a fair bit," he clasped his hands loosely behind his
back and gazed about the ship, smiling slightly,
"perhaps she has, but she still seems to have a good
deal of spirit in her."

Trent laughed and nodded his greying head. "Aye, sir,
that she does! She likes a good, fresh wind, always
has, particularly on her starboard quarter. Ah, ye
should see her then, sir," he breathed, "under a full
spread of canvas, with the wind just so--" He broke
off abruptly and sighed sadly, his face falling.
"Well, she was a sight, sir, before she was let go to
ruin."

Archie felt for the man, clearly able to see how he
loved Resolute, and how deeply it hurt him to see what
had befallen her. "But tomorrow we shall begin setting
her to rights, Mr. Trent," he said firmly, his light,
clear voice filled with conviction. "She is battered,
yes, but not broken. She will come back, I am sure of
it. And perhaps, before we reach Gibraltar, I shall
see her fly under that spread."

Trent stared at the young man in silent amazement,
both startled by and grateful for his words. He had
grown accustomed to officers despising Resolute,
showing only scorn and contempt for her fallen state
and blaming her for their own failings. Yet now to
hear this lad speaking of her as if she still
mattered--

"Mr. Thorne calls her a lost cause, sir," he murmured
without thinking.

Archie smiled slightly. "Every lost cause must have a
champion, Mr. Trent," he said gently, "and every
champion must have a cause. Believe me, I know a thing
or two about that. What good are we if we cannot joust
with the occasional windmill?"

Trent frowned in confusion. "Windmill, sir?" he asked,
puzzled.

Archie laughed softly. "Never mind, Mr. Trent. It was
a book I read once..." He shook his head to clear it,
then smiled at the master. "Who knows? With a bit of
hard work, we may prove Mr. Thorne wrong."

Trent straightened and squared his shoulders, feeling
as if a lead weight had been lifted from them. "She's
a fine ship, sir," he said with a quiet pride. "Oh, I
know she don't look like much now, but ye'll see. When
she's at her best, there's not a finer ship in the
fleet!"

Archie lifted two slender blond brows in wry humour.
"Be careful not to let Mr. Bowles on the Indy hear you
say that. He would challenge you to a duel for it,
certain sure!" His gaze drifted past Trent and over
the sea, to the horizon where he thought Indefatigable
might be. "There is no ship like the Indy," he said
softly. "She is a queen upon the seas..."

Trent heard the love -- and the longing -- in that
voice, and smiled slightly at the young man. "Don't
worry, sir," he said consolingly, "ye'll get home
again. Gibraltar's not so far away."

Archie started, then blushed and smiled sheepishly,
ashamed at having been caught in his homesickness.
"Well," he said briskly, "I suppose I should take
another walk about." He hesitated and stared earnestly
at Trent. "You do understand, don't you?" he asked
softly. "I mean no disrespect, but Resolute is--"

"Aye, sir," the sailing master assured him with a
knowing smile. "Resolute is what she is, but she is
not home. No more'n your fine Indefatigable would be
home to me."

"Yes, exactly!" Archie breathed with great relief.
"Oh, I know an officer should be willing to serve
wherever he is needed and should never grow too
attached to any single ship--"

"If ye'll pardon my saying so, sir," Trent interrupted
with a crooked grin, "horse shit! Any officer who
don't love his ship ain't worth his commission, if ye
ask me. I'll wager your captain would rather take a
pistol ball himself than see any harm come to his
ship, and I'll wager you feel the same." He cocked his
grizzled head slightly to one side and studying the
young lieutenant thoughtfully. "If ye don't mind me
askin', sir, how come ye to be here?"

Archie shrugged. "Mr. Thorne said you were
short-handed, and Captain Pellew offered some men to
help. He could not very well send them over without an
officer, and as the junior lieutenant, it seemed my
place to come. The captain asked if I would be
willing, and I agreed."

"Just like that," Trent murmured quietly, staring
intently at the young man. "Even after Mr. Thorne told
ye the way of it over here?"

Archie swallowed, suddenly uncomfortable. "It was
clear you-- you needed help-- I considered it my duty
to come," he finished softly.

Trent laughed and shook his head, then sobered as the
lieutenant shot a startled, affronted glance at him.
"I'm sorry, sir," he apologized quietly. "I didn't
mean no offense. But it-- well, it's been a while
since I've heard any officer in Resolute talk that
way. Not since..."

Archie frowned as the man's voice trailed away into
silence. "Not since Captain Sidney?" he guessed, his
blue gaze fixed upon Trent.

The master's head came up sharply, and his dark eyes
narrowed. "He's not a bad man!" he said defensively.
"And he was never a bad captain! I can well imagine
what you've heard, sir, but you'll hear none of it
from me! I've sailed with the man for nigh on ten
years now, since before he was made post. And I tell
ye frankly, sir, it was always an honour to serve with
him! He loved this ship, sir, and he loved this crew!
And for a while they loved him, until the rot set
in--" He drew himself up to his full height and stared
at the lieutenant, his dark eyes ablaze, his face
twisted into a mask of sorrow and anger. "That's what
broke him, sir!" he said harshly, his voice shaking.
"Seeing his men treated like dogs, worse than dogs,
knowing they blamed him for it and watching them turn
against him-- You'll likely have heard he was a weak
man, sir," he rasped. "Well, it's not true! Though I
don't expect a youngster like yourself to
understand--"

"What, that men may be bent and broken by
circumstances beyond their control?" Archie murmured.
"That a man may be so beset by forces stronger than he
that his will, his spirit, and his mind are worn down,
or worn away?" He swallowed hard and lifted his head,
regarding Trent with a gaze far sadder and far more
knowing than it should have been. "I told you, Mr.
Trent," he said softly, "that I know about lost causes
and champions. But not because I was the champion.
Believe me, sir, I am-- intimately familiar with the
demons that plague men's souls."

Trent sighed softly and shook his head, his face
contorting into a mask of sorrow. "Ah, sir, ye
shouldn't have come here!" he breathed fervently,
finding himself liking the young man and feeling a
deep and sudden pity for him. "You have stepped into
hell's own black heart, sir, and the Devil himself
walks among us!"
**********

At a quarter to four in the morning, Archie was roused
from sleep by the quartermaster.

"Dawn stations, sir," the man said.

From long habit, and with less than four hours of
sleep behind him, he was instantly awake and rolled
out of his cot. "Thank you," he said, rising to his
feet and going at once to the uniform he had laid out
over the back of the chair. "Weather still holding
fair?"

"Aye aye, sir. Wind from the sou'east and steady, the
sea is calm, an' there's not a cloud in sight."

Archie began unbuttoning his nightshirt. "And
sunrise?"

The man frowned in thought. "Shortly after five, I
believe, sir."

Archie sighed. An hour at dawn stations... "Very good,
thank you. Go on and wake the others."

"Ah, beggin' yer pardon, sir," the quartermaster said
softly, "there ain't no others. You're the only
leftenant we got. Well, aside from Mr. Thorne, o'
course, but, well--"

"Oh, that's right." That meant he would report to the
quarter-deck then, and not the guns. "Sorry."

The man stiffened, startled. He was not accustomed to
hearing officers apologizing. "O' course, sir!" He
cleared his throat. "Well, I'll go on out, then. Good
morning, sir." He saluted briskly, then turned and
left.

Archie dressed hurriedly, then quickly combed and tied
his hair. When certain he presented an acceptable
appearance, he grabbed his hat and left his cabin for
his duty station.

What a way to greet the morning, with Mr. Thorne
glowering at his side...
**********

The shrill call of the bosun's pipe whistled through
the forward space where the ratings lived and reached
even into minds fogged with asleep, beginning another
day in Resolute.

"Larboard watch, ahoy!" Hale bellowed, stalking
through the rows of hammocks and swinging his starter
to roust out the men. "Out or down, there! Out or
down! Rouse out, you lazy bastards! Dawn stations! Out
or down, there! Out or down!"

Immediately, the men were awake and stumbling out of
their hammocks, grumbling, though none protested too
loudly. With the ease of long practice, they dressed
quickly and began making their way up top for the
early morning muster.

Instinctively, Styles found himself looking about for
Matthews, then remembered his shipmate was now part of
the starboard watch and so would be retiring. For long
moments, he felt disoriented -- in a strange ship,
with men he did not know, separated from his mates --
but tried to shake himself out of it. One ship was
fairly like another, he told himself, and he would
settle in quickly enough.

Except that this ship was nothing like the Indy...

Once on deck he hesitated, trying to remember in whose
division he would be working. But in the dark, all the
faces looked alike, and he quickly found himself
lagging behind.

"You there!" Hale shouted, pushing his way through the
men to Styles, a deep frown contorting his broad face.
"Why ain't ye wiv yer division?"

Styles stopped and tensed, trying to remember all the
warnings Matthews had given him last night. "Beg
pardon, sir," he said with a forced calm. "But I don't
rightly know--"

"You don't know?" Hale spat, stepping closer to the
man and raising his starter menacingly. "Oh, yeah,
ye're one o' them Indefats, ain't ye?" He narrowed his
eyes and scowled blackly. "Wot's yer name, then?"

"Styles, sir," he answered quietly.

"Styles," Hale repeated harshly. "Ye're in Mr.
George's division; ye'll be on the foc'sle. Now,
get--"

"And which one would Mr. George be?" Styles asked
evenly.

Hale grinned evilly, showing a row of brown and
crooked teeth. "D'ye recall the lad wot was hangin' in
the riggin' when ye came aboard? Well, ëat's yer Mr.
George." His leer deepened. "'e'll be the one wiv rope
marks on his wrists!"

Styles inhaled deeply and let the breath out slowly.
Such talk would never have been allowed on the Indy.
Not even about a midshipman.

"Now, get to yer division!" Hale hissed, jabbing
Styles with the handle of his starter. "I told ye, I
run a tight ship. I don't allow no dawdlin'!"

Styles clenched his jaws and his hands as a surge of
anger swept through him. Biting back the angry words
that sprang to his tongue, he bobbed his head tightly
and started past Hale, only to have his arm taken in a
tight, vise-like grip. "What--"

"You listen to me," Hale ground out, his hard eyes
boring into Styles. "I know you, mate, I've seen yer
like a thousand times! You mind yer ways an' yer
tongue, or I'll have you at the gratings! Now, get to
yer division. And, remember -- I've got me eye on
you!"

Styles glared at Hale, but said nothing, though curses
boiled in his throat for release. He stared down at
his arm, where the bosun's fat fingers bit into his
flesh, then raised his gaze back to that broad, ugly
face, his own eyes aflame. "I'll remember it, sir!" he
hissed through gritted teeth. His fingers ached to pry
the man's hand from his arm, but reason assured him it
would mean a floging -- or worse -- to do so.

Hale laughed quietly, harshly, and squeezed Styles'
arm hard before releasing it. "See that ye do, then."
He laid his started against Styles' chest, laughed
again, then pushed roughly past him.

Styles exhaled slowly and stared unseeingly at the
deck for long moments, trying to control his fury.
Then, swearing foully under his breath, he made his
way to his new division, pushing past men and ignoring
their angry reactions.

Gibraltar. He only had to make it to Gibraltar...