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Ship of the Damned, part sixteen
by Sue N.

With the memory of two other floggings -- and the cries of their
victims -- seared into his brain, Archie stood in his cabin and
tried, despite horribly shaking hands, to mix the remedy for his
headache. He could barely see, the pain was so bad; even the meagre
light of the lantern was unbearable. He had already been sick once
from it, and feared he might be so again, though he could not imagine
having anything left in him to bring up.

Even a fit would be almost preferable to this...

At last he had it, a murky liquid that promised relief. Tincture of
willow bark, its power first shown him by a kindly old doctor that
Christmas after Muzillac. Bitter as gall, he had said...

But what aboard this ship was not?

Steeling himself, he drank the concoction down, and very nearly
gagged upon it. But, as if sensing his need for the medicine, his
unruly stomach tolerated it, kept it down. He extinguished the
lantern and moved carefully to his cot, then settled himself upon it
and lay back with an anguished groan, grateful for the blessed
darkness that engulfed him. He dared not sleep; Thorne had
"requested" his presence in the day cabin in half an hour. But if
nothing else, he could at least rest, and let the medicine ease the
headache.

Migraines. Fits and migraines. God in heaven, of what possible good
to the men was an officer who had fits and migraines?

Yet he was all they had. And he had promised Captain Pellew...

Captain Pellew. Good Lord, how would he ever explain any of this to
Captain Pellew? He had been trying to keep a clear record of it all
in the log he had promised the captain he would write, but he just
wasn't sure he had the words -- the strength -- to enter what had
happened on deck. He knew he should try, but--

Later. Not now. Not if it meant he would have to light that damned
lantern. Later he would, when he could tolerate the light.

He heard that splash again, and flinched. He owed it to Willie
Dudley. Hell, he owed it to all of them! Nothing that happened here
should ever be forgotten.

And perhaps, if there were any justice in the Navy, he could use it
to end the career -- and the tyranny -- of Hugh Thorne. Unbidden, the
lines from Shakespeare came to his mind:

There's letters seal'd, and my two schoolfellows,
Whom I will trust as I will adders fang'd--
They bear the mandate, they must sweep my way
And marshal me to knavery. Let it work;
For 'tis sport to have the enginer
Hoist with his own petard, an't shall go hard
But I will delve one yard below their mines
And blow them at the moon.**
**********

** Hamlet, Act 3, scene 4

And, of course, a nod goes to Joan and her "kindly old doctor" with
his tincture of willow bark ;)
**********

Matthews' blood ran cold at the muttering rising like a heavy wave
about him. He had heard mutinous talk before, had heard malcontents
spewing angry, bitter words to any who would lend an ear. But this--
this was more. It was not isolated; like a fever, it ran all through
the ship, through every division, through each watch, poisoning every
soul it touched. It was not loose talk, it was not idle talk. This
talk had a purpose, a very grim and deadly purpose.

And it terrified him beyond measure.

"The bastard didn't 'ave no right doin' what 'e done to poor Willie!"
Showell declared in a low, taut voice throbbing with anger, his eyes
hard in his grim face. "It's bad enough 'e killed 'im. Then to just
throw 'im o'er the side-- E'en a dead man deserves some respect!"

"Willie won't never rest now," a young sailor murmured in a thin,
quivering voice. "Wi'out the words to send 'im off proper, 'e's bound
to us. 'E'll 'aunt us certain sure!"

"It ain't Willie that 'aunts us," Showell grunted. "It's that bastard
Thorne, an' that God damned 'Ale. Willie makes five -- five! -- they
killed in the past month alone! And they won't stop." He leaned over
the table, impaling his mates with burning eyes. "Unless we stops
them first!"

Matthews' stomach turned over at that, yet he forced himself to keep
listening, to store the words -- and their speakers -- in his mind.
He, too, was haunted by the memory of what had happened to Willie
Dudley, but in his heart of hearts he could not see how mutiny could
possibly make up for murder.

Showell glanced at every face about him, measuring the men, their
resolve, their loyalty. Satisfied by what he saw, he went on. "Me an'
Finney, we figure we've all taken enough o' this. We're sailors, not
animals! We're men, dammit, an' we deserve to be treated as men!
There ain't a one among us who don't carry scars on 'is back left by
a floggin' ëe didn't deserve. An' I knows what 'Ale does wi' the
ship's boys... We ain't takin' no more. It's time we stood up fer
ourselves!"

"Ye're talkin' mutiny!" Nash whispered harshly.

Showell's mouth twisted into a grim smile. "Aye, that I am. An' I
ain't the only one. Finney's talkin' it, too, as is every other man
wi' sense. The way they treat us, the things they do-- It ain't
right! But ain't nobody gonna 'elp us, exceptin' ourselves!"

"Showell--"

"You seen what they done t' poor Willie!" he spat, his eyes burning.
"D'ye think they'll stop there? Who wants t' be next? You, Nash? It
ain't enough now they can beat us t' death. Now, they don't even 'ave
t' give us a decent Christian burial! Now they can kill us and damn
us at once! Well, I'm sayin' they can't. I'm sayin' I'll see 'em all
dead first before I allow another poor lad t' be tossed o'er the side
like a sack o' shit!" He studied again the faces about him, then said
slowly, deliberately, "This ship is ours, lads, an' I say it't time
we took what's ours."

There it was. Matthews swallowed hard as the words went through him
in a cold wave. Yet worse even than the words themselves was the
reaction to them. There were no horrified outbursts, no immediate
refusals. Instead, there were nods, grunts of approval, of agreement.
Mutiny had just been born in Resolute.

"Finney's plannin' it," Showell said. "'E'll get weapons for us,
muskets an' pistols. An' we all got knives. There's but two officers
-- Thorne an' that Kennedy -- the mids, the master, an' 'Ale an' 'is
bunch. We'll take them first. Finney an' 'is lads will take the
Marines--"

"We'll need Trent," Owens put in with a cool practicality. "'E knows
these waters, an' ëe knows the charts. We'll need 'im t' keep us
clear o' Gibraltar."

"We'll see," Showell said. "If 'e don't oppose us, 'e'll live. We'll
give ev'ry man 'is choice. Them that sides wi' us is welcome. Them
that don't..."

"What about that Leftenant Kennedy?" Nash asked softly. "'E ain't
never done us no 'arm, an' he spoke up for Willie--"

"'E's one o' them, ain't 'e?" Showell growled.

"'E's from Indefatigable," Lawson said. "If we kill one o' theirs,
they'll 'unt us to the ends o' the earth. I've 'eard all about that
Captain Pellew. You kill one of 'is, and God 'Imself couldn't protect
you from that man."

"We'll see," Showell said again. "We'll offer 'im the chance to save
'isself. 'E don't 'ave t' join us; all 'e 'as t' do is not oppose
us." He grinned. "An' if 'e's like any o' the other spineless
bastards who call themselves ëofficers' in this miserable ship, 'e'll
'ide quietly under 'is bed until it's all been done."
**********

Thorne stared at Kennedy with raging hatred, his pale eyes aflame,
his face darkly flushed, his frame taut with a barely-leashed fury.
"You dared speak against me before the men!" he hissed through
clenched teeth. "You flagrantly, publicly opposed me, questioning my
orders and undermining my authority! I could have had you shot for
mutiny!"

Archie was too tired to care, too sick to argue. The headache was
nearly gone, but its long duration and ferocity had exhausted him.
Emptied of all strength, all emotion, he simply stared back at Thorne
with a calm that sprang from numbness.

"Yes, sir, I suppose you could have," he agreed.

The answer only heightened Thorne's anger. He wanted the young man to
challenge him, to argue with him, to give him a reason either to
shoot him or clap him in irons. But the boy just stood there!

"How dare you!" he seethed in a low, shaking voice. "How dare you pit
yourself against me! I am in command of this ship, and I will not be
opposed by anyone! What the bloody hell did you think you were
doing?"

Archie sighed, his blue eyes, drained of light and dulled by fatigue,
meeting Thorne's gaze unwaveringly. "I thought I was trying to give a
dead man a proper Christian burial, sir," he sighed. "I thought I was
trying to give him some dignity--"

"Dignity!" Thorne spat contemptuously. "You and I have dignity, Mr.
Kennedy! That piece of filth--"

"That piece of filth, sir, was a man," Archie said softly. "Whatever
his crimes in life, whatever his station in life, he was a man, and
deserved to be treated as such. Particularly in the hour of his
death."

Thorne turned away in disgust and began to pace, livid with building
rage. "These ëmen'," he rasped, "are not men at all, but animals! The
lowest sort of beasts! Filthy brutes, stupid--"

"They keep this ship afloat, sir; they do the work that makes it
possible for us to be here. They fight and die at our command, they
toil, they laugh, they grieve-- Whatever the capacity of their minds,
sir, they have souls, and we are foolish if we do not take those
souls into our consideration--"

"Foolish, am I?" Thorne cried, spinning about and fixing his
glittering grey gaze upon Kennedy. "You choose your words badly, sir!
To insult a superior officer--"

"I meant no insult, sir," Archie sighed, "only warning. Men will
endure many things, but mistreatment of the dead is not one of them.
It makes them question how they will be treated when they themselves
have died."

Thorne drew himself up to his full height and stared venomously at
the younger man. "They are mine to treat as I will," he declared
icily, "in life or in death. As are you, Mr. Kennedy." He moved
closer to the young man and studied him intently, seeing the
exhaustion in his face, his bearing, and seizing upon it like a
weapon. "I have told you before," he said quietly, "you are no longer
in Indefatigable, but in Resolute. Yet you seem not to have grasped
what that means. You need time, I think, to reflect on your current
situation. So that you may have that time, from now until I say
otherwise, you are on watch and watch."

Archie's eyes widened and he reeled slightly as the words hit him.
Watch and watch... four hours on, four hours off, day and night,
until Thorne saw fit to release him. And exhaustion was almost
guaranteed to bring on a fit...

"You are mine, Mr. Kennedy," Thorne said very softly and with a
terrible gentleness, almost whispering the words in Archie's ear.
"Body and soul, with every breath you draw, you are mine. And I will
show you what that means if it kills us both!"
**********

Rogers, overseeing the work that had resumed on the guns, looked up
at Lieutenant Kennedy's approach, then frowned sharply. God, the lad
looked like hell! He was deathly pale, the dark circles beneath his
eyes standing out like bruises against his bloodless flesh, and lines
of exhaustion were etched deeply into his fine features. For a few
moments he seemed slightly unsteady upon his feet and appeared
bewildered, disoriented, putting the gunner suddenly in mind of a
lost child.

It could only be Thorne's doing...

As if sensing the gunner's eyes upon him, Archie struggled to pull
himself together, calling upon his fast-dwindling inner reserves of
strength. He managed to stand up straight and at least try to square
his shoulders, lifting his chin and swallowing against the bitter
churning of his stomach. Gradually, an air of calm descended upon
him, giving him at least the outward appearance of command.

"Mr. Rogers," he called quietly, "a word, if you please."

Rogers went immediately forward, knuckling his forehead in salute.
"Yes, sir?"

Archie swallowed again, then let his gaze wander about the deck.
"You-- you will have to oversee the work here without me," he said.

Rogers frowned worriedly. "Sir?"

Archie sighed, and made another effort to compose himself. "I fear I
shall be unavailable for-- a while." He smiled weakly. "I have been
assigned watch and watch, pending further notice."

Rogers' eyes widened, and his face fell. He had been anticipating
something like this since Kennedy's outburst at the flogging, had
known Thorne would never countenance such public defiance. The young
man was obviously exhausted, and Rogers suspected that was why Thorne
had chosen this form of punishment.

No doubt he was hoping Kennedy would break under the strain...

"Don't ye worry, sir," he assured the young man quietly, "we'll get
the work done. I'll drive the lads meself--"

"You do not have to drive them!" Archie barked, his control snapping.
"My God, can no one on this ship understand the difference between
driving and leading? Have I been driving you, Rogers?" he asked
pointedly, his tired blue eyes boring into the man. "Have I?"

Rogers was taken aback, and his face showed it. "N-- no, sir!" he
stammered quickly. "Not at all--"

"I'm sorry," Archie breathed, bowing his head and closing his eyes
momentarily, once more fighting to bring himself under control. "I
did not mean to shout--" He lifted his head and glanced about,
ashamed to realize the men were staring at him. Returning his
attention to the gunner, he said softly, "They are good men, for the
most part, and do not require driving. Merely let them know what you
want from them, what you expect of them, and they will do their
best."

Rogers nodded slowly. "Aye aye, sir. I'll do MY best, sir."

Archie smiled slightly. "That's all anyone can ask, Rogers. Now, go
on, get back to work. If I get a chance--"

"If ye get a chance, ye should rest, sir," Rogers said firmly. "We'll
do all right down here, I promise. Ye should be more concerned about
yerself, if ye don't mind me sayin' so."

Archie's smile broadened. "I don't, Rogers. Thank you. I shall-- do
my best." He glanced about again. "Go on, now, get back to work. And
please send Styles to me."

Rogers saluted again. "Aye aye, sir." He turned and made his way
across the deck to where the big sailor worked, tapping him on the
shoulder and gesturing toward Kennedy.

Archie exhaled slowly, deeply, and bowed his head, rubbing a thumb
and forefinger against the bridge of his nose. But however tired he
was, at least the bloody headache was gone...

"Sir?" Styles called quietly, stopping just before the lieutenant.
"Mr. Kennedy?" When Archie raised his head and blinked, Styles gaped
and gasped at his appearance. "Bloody 'ell, sir, what's the bastard
done to you?"

Archie frowned in confusion. "What? What are you talking about?"

Anxiety made Styles even more blunt than usual. "Ye look like 'ell,
sir!" he rasped. "It's that bastard Thorne's doin', ain't it?"

Archie smiled wryly. "Really, Styles, you must learn to say what you
think!"

Styles grinned ruefully. "Sorry, sir, But-- well, ye don't look at
all well, sir."

"Yes, everyone keeps telling me that. Unfortunately, there is nothing
to be done about it." He gazed up at Styles, searching the scarred
face intently. "I've been put on watch and watch. AND," he added
sharply, cutting off Styles' protest, "before you say anything, I
urge you to be careful. Watch yourself! Watch that mouth of yours,
and that temper." He sighed and shook his fair head slightly,
knowledge of his own failure sinking through him with a leaden
weight. "I thought I could keep you away from Hale, I thought I could
protect you, but I can't. Not now. So you will have to take care of
yourself. Will you do that for me?"

Styles was stunned. Kennedy had almost gotten himself shot or
arrested on deck earlier, and now he was concerned about HIM? And had
come down here to tell him that?

"Please, Styles, promise me you will try!" Archie pleaded urgently.
"I don't know what I can do, how much good -- if any -- I shall be--
Good Lord, I don't even know how long I shall be standing watch! But
I do know Hale is dangerous, and that if he truly desires to have you
at the gratings, he will stop at nothing to see it done. So, please,
promise me you will watch yourself and not let him goad you into
doing or saying something rash!"

Styles, still deeply astonished, nodded slowly. "Aye, sir," he
murmured, his dark eyes fixed upon Kennedy, "I promise. I'll watch
meself."

"Thank you," Archie breathed in relief. "And tell Matthews and the
others to do the same. Thorne wants to break me, and Hale intends to
break all of you. You must not let him."

"We won't, sir," Styles pledged solemnly. "Don't you worry about us,
we'll be all right. You just worry about yourself. A tired man makes
mistakes, and like as not the bast-- Mr. Thorne is countin' on that.
You rest when ye can, y'hear? Else--" A sudden thought, a sudden
fear, occurred to him, sending a slow wave of dread through him.
"Sir, I know it ain't my place, an' I know I got no right, an' I know
ye'd rather no one spoke of it, but-- well--"

Archie steeled himself for what he knew was coming, tried to ignore
the sinking of his stomach, the dull pain of shame in his soul.
"Yes?" he whispered, gone whiter than ever.

Styles tried desperately to think of a way to ask without actually
asking. "Well, sir, y'know-- I mean, we all know-- well, not all of
us, but-- It 'appens when ye're most tired, don't it, sir?" he asked
softly, and with a rare gentleness.

Archie swallowed hard and nodded, grateful Styles had avoided menting
the fits directly. "It does," he whispered.

"Mr. Thorne-- 'e don't know, does 'e?"

"No."

Styles drew a deep breath, made his decision, and plunged onward. "I
don't know a thing in the world about it, sir," he said quietly,
quickly, "but I do know it would not go at all well with ye if that
bastard found out. If-- if it starts to 'appen, and if ye need--
someone, and if ye can, call on me, sir. And if I'm not on watch,
call on Matthews. Ye'll do that, won't ye?"

Archie stared at him in shock. "What?"

"I don't know what we could do," Styles went on, "but if we could
'elp ye, even if it were just to keep Thorne from knowin'-- You asked
somethin' of me, now I'm askin' this of you. Will ye call on us for
'elp?"

Archie nodded slowly, dazedly. "Y-- yes, I-- I will-- Thank you!" he
whispered.

For once, Styles did not grin, had no glib answer. "We ain't got
nobody else in this damned ship but us, sir," he said quietly. "You
done what ye could t' take care of us. Now, I reckon it's our turn t'
do the same for you. There ain't so many good officers about that we
can lose the one we got."

"Styles--"

"You go on now, sir, an' get what rest ye can. And if ever ye need
us, any of us, we'll be there. I swear it." He stared intently into
Kennedy's eyes. "I swear it!"
**********