Ship of the Damned, part twenty-one
by Sue N.

Showell, too, saw Indefatigable slicing through the sea toward
Resolute, saw her big guns run through their ports, and knew his
cause was lost. But rage and frustration rose through him in a
searing, bitter wave, over-riding judgment and plunging him still
deeper into folly. Abandoning the gun he had trained on the
quarter-deck, he raced to one of the larboard nine-pounders and
ordered her loaded, determined to strike any blow he could.

The men about him were appalled, and shrank from him in fear,
horrified at the thought of opening fire upon the legendary Pellew.
But he would not be turned, and loaded the gun himself, so mired in
his hatred he cared not what it cost him. Even as his mates abandoned
the foc'sle, he grabbed the linstock and put it to the touch hole,
firing into the oncoming bow of Indefatigable.
**********

The shot, hastily and poorly aimed, did no damage and flew harmlessly
into the sea. Nonetheless, to have his ship fired upon, and by
another English ship, no less, enraged Pellew, brought his temper
surging to the fore.

"The devils!" he spat, his dark eyes alive with fury. "By God, I
shall see them all hanged for this! Mr. Bracegirdle, I will have a
shot across her, and if she does not strike, then, sir, I will have a
shot into that damned foc'sle!"

Bracegirdle acknowledged the order and, trying not to think of
Kennedy and the other Indefatigables in that beleaguered ship, gave
the order to the foc'sle gunners. Almost at once, the shot rang out,
carrying over Resolute amidships and dropping into the sea beyond.
She did not strike, but fired again, her shot tearing through the
forecourse and injuring two men.

Pellew's rage turned cold, then, its most dangerous pitch. "I want
her!" he hissed at Bracegirdle. "And I want her NOW! A double ration
of rum to the foc'sle gunners if they can silence that damned gun!"

Bracegirdle gave the order, knowing the rum would be won. It was said
the Indy gunners could hit a tick on the water a mile away, and he
half believed it himself. To them, a foc'sle at this close range
would be no challenge. Indeed, the greater trick would be not to sink
her.
**********

Styles vaguely heard the Indy firing, vaguely heard the shots strike
home. He wanted to look, but could not rouse himself from the heavy
lethargy overtaking him. He hurt everywhere, and let himself float
away upon the pain into the darkness that beckoned. Just before it
claimed him, however, a single thought flickered through his sluggish
mind.

Mr. Kennedy...
**********

Pellew was not to be trifled with. Resolute had fired on
Indefatigable, and so would be treated as an enemy ship. With rage
still burning, he ordered Bowles to bring the Indy alongside her, had
her grappled and sent boarding parties into her, led by Captain
Clarke and his Marines. He knew young Hornblower was seething with
impatience to go, but refused to send another officer into that
wretched ship until he knew it was safe.

With a smooth efficiency, the Marines from Indefatigable swarmed
through Resolute, scouring her for any sign of resistance. Belowdecks
they encountered pockets of opposition, but muskets and bayonets
easily put a ruthless end to that. Seeing such discipline and grim
purpose in action, the remaining mutineers were quick to surrender,
their fighting spirit broken.

Captain Clarke wasted no time, no effort. The surviving mutineers
were divided into groups, some locked in the hold, others broken into
smaller groups and held on deck under close guard, disarmed and
lashed together. Within fifteen minutes, Resolute was secured, and
quiet. Satisfied that all was now safe, he called to Captain Pellew
that the rest of the party could be received.

Nodding tersely, Pellew turned to Horatio, who was pale and tense,
his white face tight with unbearable strain. "Very well, Mr.
Hornblower," he said quietly, "you may take your men and go."

Horatio all but leapt off the quarter-deck at that, racing to the
side and scurrying hurriedly over and into Resolute, his mind and
soul in turmoil. A deep, desperate fear gnawed at him, made his blood
churn and caused his heart to pound like a cannon. But not even his
ugliest fears prepared him for the sight that met him on that deck.

Blood stood everywhere in pools, and bodies lay in mangled heaps.
Here and there, wounded men moaned and writhed in agony, mutineers
and loyalists alike, while over all hung the acrid pall of powder
smoke. The ruined masts lay where they had fallen, with men trapped
beneath them. Save for the cries of the wounded, Resolute was
horribly, hideously quiet.

"Merciful God!" Horatio breathed, his stomach heaving violently.
"Archie?" he called weakly, frozen in place, unable to move, his soul
shrinking within him. "God, Archie, where are you?"

Captain Clarke came up and saluted, his handsome face set along grim
lines, his grey eyes cold and hard. "Sir," he said quietly, "it was a
mutiny, a damned, stinking mutiny." He nodded toward the
quarter-deck. "One of the bastards said our lads made their stand up
there."

Horatio nodded dully. They would. Archie would instinctively head to
the quarter-deck, knowing it was an officer's place. "Survivors?" he
rasped, his voice thick and cracked.

Clarke swallowed and shrugged. "Don't know, sir. We've been rounding
up the mutineers, but we've not checked the quarter-deck yet." He
regarded Hornblower steadily, easily able to see the younger man's
anguish. "Sir, I'll go up--"

"No," Horatio whispered, though the thought sickened him. "I must go.
It is-- my duty. And--"

"And Lieutenant Kennedy is a friend," Clarke said gently when the
younger man's voice failed. "Shall I send a few men up with you, sir?
God knows what you'll find."

"Yes," Horatio murmured dazedly. "Thank you." He made an effort to
rouse himself, to think clearly. "Where is the surgeon? The
wounded--"

"He is dead," Clarke answered coldly. "My men found him below, in the
surgery. Apparently, some of these bastards carried a grudge. He had
been-- rather badly mauled."

"Good God!" Horatio breathed. "What of the officers? The petty
officers?"

Clarke sighed, his eyes hardening. "We have found two midshipmen, one
below, one up here. Both dead. The bosun--" He flinched at the memory
of that body, hacked almost to pieces, and with the cat wrapped
tightly about the throat. "It does not want describing, sir," he said
quietly.

"And the captain?"

Clarke grimaced and bowed his head. "Dead as well. It looks as if the
mutineers blew his head off."

Horatio's breath escaped in a strangled gasp as his stomach rose
sharply. Clapping a hand over his mouth, he closed his eyes tightly
and fought a desperate battle against his nausea. He had never seen a
mutiny before, and now could understand why they were so dreaded.

But, God, what could cause such madness?

When he had himself a bit more under control, he lifted his head and
nodded, then turned to the quarter-deck, his heart cold and heavy in
his breast. The silence up there was unbearable. He knew Archie would
have been up there, would have considered it his duty to hold it. He
also knew that, had he been able, Archie would have been down here by
now, eager to reassure his worried friend. That he was not here
terrified Horatio beyond measure.

He could stand it no more. With a sound very like a groan, he started
toward the ladderway, first at walk, then breaking into a run.
"Archie!" he shouted hoarsely, leaping onto the steps and taking them
two at a time. "Archie-- God in heaven!" he gasped, stopping short at
the edge of the deck and staring about in horror. "No!"

Men lay everywhere, awash in blood. Bodies were torn apart, some
mangled beyond recognition by the foc'sle nine-pounder, others
crushed beneath the fallen mast. But here and there some stirred,
others moaning or sobbing in agony. The sight, the stench, turned his
stomach, and he raced to the side and leaned over to be horribly,
violently sick.

"Sir? Mr. 'Ornblower? Thank the good Lord ye've come!"

The familiar voice broke through his torment, brought light and
warmth into his cold, dark mind, easing both his retching and his
sobs. When he could, he straightened and turned slowly about,
uttering a wordless cry of joy at the sight of Matthews and only
barely resisting the urge to throw his arms about the sailor.

"Matthews!" he gasped as fresh tears stung his eyes and slid down his
cheeks. "Oh, God, you're alive!"

Mtthews managed a feeble grin. "Aye, sir," he murmured. "Battered and
bruised, but alive."

Horatio stared at him, seeing the blood crusting a deep cut above one
eye, the darker blood soaking into the left side of his shirt and
that drenching his right leg at the thigh. Matthews was leaning
heavily upon a musket, using it as a crutch, but at least was
standing. Rarely had Horatio seen a more welcome sight.

"The others?" he asked hurriedly. If Matthews had survived, then
surely the rest had also. "Styles? Oldroyd? Arch-- Mr. Kennedy?"

Matthews was silent for long, long moments, his face ashen and
solemn. "Well, Oldroyd-- 'E's fine, sir. A bit nicked up, but-- 'E's
the Devil's own luck, 'e 'as. Ain't got more'n a scratch on 'im.
Roberts'll be fine, in time. Connor and Lewis are dead, and I don't
think Casey'll make it. I don't know about Hoskins or Casey; I ain't
seen 'em--"

"What about Lieutenant Kennedy?" Horatio rasped, his voice shaking
uncontrollably, his brown eyes wide and filled with terror.
"Someone-- said he was here--"

Matthews nodded slowly, his blue eyes grave. "Aye, sir, so 'e was. Ye
shoulda seen 'im, sir!" he breathed fiercely. "You would've been so
proud! 'E wouldn't quit, even wounded as he was-- 'E 'eld this deck,
sir, against all them bastards who rose up! 'Eld it until the Indy
could get 'ere--"

"Where is he?" Horatio whispered, colder than he had ever been
before.

Matthews swallowed and shook his head. "I don't rightly know, sir,"
he murmured gently. "The last I saw 'im, 'e was standin' near the
gun--"

"Gun?" Horatio looked past Matthews and shuddered at the sight of the
mangled wreckage. "But-- but there is no gun--"

"No, sir, not no more. But there was, an' 'e used it t' take down the
foremast-- There was an explosion, y'see, a hellish great blast--
That's the last I seen of anythin', until I woke and saw you, sir."

Horatio groaned and would have fallen had not the Marine private near
him suddenly reached out and caught him. He leaned into that strong,
comforting hold for long moments, until he could stand on his own,
then gently pushed the private away.

"We have to find him," he said in a shaking, hollow voice. He looked
again at the carnage about the deck, soul aching. "We-- we have to
get him back-- back home--"

"Aye, sir," Matthews breathed softly, holding out little hope. "Don't
you worry, sir, we'll find 'im. If we 'ave t' take this damned ship
apart plank by plank."
**********

They found Styles first, laying where he had fallen, unconscious but
alive. Calling upon the Marines to help, Horatio and Matthews began
the grim and grisly task of separating the living from the dead, and
of seeking Kennedy among either.

And, in the end, it was Stewart who stumbled upon him. The young
midshipman was himself mildly injured, but had shaken off all
attempts to help him that he might join the search for Kennedy. He
found him at the base of the wheel, half-buried beneath a section of
railing, one body and part of another. But his face, at least, was
clear, and the sight of it tore a great shout from Stewart.

"Sair! He's o'er here! You, there!" he shouted at a Marine, "help me
get this litter off him!"

Horatio raced over at once and flung himself to his knees, joining
the Marine in pulling railing and bodies off his friend. But harsh,
wrenching sobs tore from as he worked, for Archie never moved, never
uttered a sound, but lay horribly still and silent and pale, bathed
in a sea of blood.

"Oh, God!" Horatio moaned. "Oh, God! God! Archie! God--" He pressed a
shaking hand into the cool flesh at his friend's throat, but could
not be at all certain he felt anything there. "No, Archie, don't do
this! For the love of God, don't die!" He looked up at Matthews, his
eyes pleading, his face wet with tears. "We must rig a stretcher, get
him back to the Indy, to the surgery! Do it!" he shouted desperately.
"Now!"

"Aye aye, sir," Matthews answered, holding out little hope, but
hobbling off nonetheless to carry out the order.

"Archie?" With all the care and gentleness he could muster, Horatio
gathered his friend's body into his arms and cradled it against him,
heedless of the blood. "Archie, listen to me," he called, forcing
strength and evenness into his voice. "Listen to me. Do you remember
what I said to you in prison? I meant it then, and I mean it still.
You are one of us. You cannot die. You cannot expect me to go back to
England and tell your family you are dead. I will not do it, do you
hear? I refuse. You cannot make me do it!"

Stewart was watching with tears in his eyes, when suddenly
recognition dawned upon him. "Ye're his friend, aren't ye, sair?" he
asked softly. "The one he mentioned-- He called on ye, after the
fit-- He thought I was you."

Horatio raised a wet, white face to the midshipman. "Fit?" he
whispered dully. "He had a fit?"

Stewart winced and nodded. "Aye, sair. It was Thorne and this ship
that caused it." He spat contemptuously on the deck. "Now look what
they've done to him!"

"And where is Mr. Thorne?" asked a cold and deadly voice.

Startled, Horatio turned his head and found himself staring into the
grim visage of an obviously and deeply shaken Captain Pellew. "Sir--"

"Where is he?" Pellew rasped again, staring fixedly at the bleeding
form of Lieutenant Kennedy.

"Och, sair, I dinna ken!" Stewart gasped, rising hastily, shakily to
his feet. "I ne'er saw him, once it started-- Like as not the
bastards killed him, as they did the captain."

"It weren't the mutineers killed Captain Sidney," said Styles in a
slurred voice as he hobbled forward to join them. Terribly unsteady
on his feet, he lurched into the captain and started to fall, but was
quickly eased to the deck by Pellew. "Sorry, sir," he breathed.

"It's all right," Pellew assured him, kneeling at his side and gazing
into his face. "What do you mean the mutineers didn't kill Captain
Sidney? Is he alive, then?"

Styles swallowed and closed his eyes, his head swimming badly. "No,
sir, 'e's dead, all right," he breathed, "but by no 'and other than
'is own. Mr. Kennedy went to 'im, asked 'im t' stop it-- The captain
refused, said 'e was digraced-- 'E pulled out 'is pistol and killed
'imself, with Mr. Kennedy standin' there watchin'."

Pellew hung his head and closed his eyes as guilt assailed him. "Good
God, what have I done?" he whispered.

"It weren't you, sir," Styles said, forcing his eyes open and staring
as steadily at Pellew as he could. "It was that bastard Thorne. 'E
turned this crew, tortured 'em into what they done. Mr. Kennedy tried
t' warn 'im, but 'e wouldn't listen. 'E coulda stopped this," Styles
rasped bitterly, "but 'e wouldn't listen!"

"At your ease, there," Pellew said gently, resting a hand on Styles'
good shoulder. "Rest now, save your strength." Despite his soothing
tone, his dark eyes glittered with a dangerous fury. "We shall get to
the bottom of this, I promise you. I owe you that much, at least."

"Sir," Styles resisted the darkness pulling at him for a few moments
more and clutched at Pellew's jacket. "Mr. Kennedy-- 'E tried, sir.
'E tried to 'elp us, t' save us. Spoke up for a dead man when no one
else would. An' when this broke out-- Ah, God, sir, 'ow 'e fought!
Even after all that pig Thorne did to 'im, 'e still fought to 'old
this ship. 'E's the only officer worth the name in this stinkin'
'ulk!"

"Thank you, Styles," Pellew said quietly. "I shall make certain all
reports reflect what you have said. Now, rest. You've done enough for
one night, I think. Anything else can wait until tomorrow."

Styles nodded, and drifted off, unable any longer to fight the
darkness.

Pellew rose slowly, slowly to his feet and stared silently down the
length of Resolute, his face setting into hard lines. Then, turning
to the two Marines who stood nearby, he said coldly, "Find Lieutenant
Hugh Thorne and bring him to my cabin in Indefatigable. If he is
dead, bring his body. If he is alive--" He glanced down at Kennedy,
and his jaw tightened convulsively. "If he is alive," he spat through
clenched teeth, "then he had better have a damned good explanation
for it!"
**********