Free Hosting

Free Web Hosting with PHP, MySQL, Apache, FTP and more.
Get your Free SubDOMAIN you.6te.net or you.eu5.org or...
Create your account NOW at http://www.freewebhostingarea.com.

Cheap Domains

Cheap Domains
starting at $2.99/year

check

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

Horatio attended his duties as best he could, with all the
concentration and energy they demanded, working with Bracegirdle and
Pellew to fashion some sort of crew for Resolute. Those of her men
who could be trusted were dispatched back into her to begin the
needed repairs, though a full complement of stern, red-coated Marines
was a constant and visible presence in her. And to ease the crowding
in Indefatigable's surgery, some of the wounded Resolutes were
removed into her, with a surgeon's mate and loblolly boys.

Yet the mutineers were kept in Indefatigable, in the hold under close
guard. One by one, Pellew had the surviving leaders brought up to him
in shackles and began his interrogation, with Captain Clarke himself
and four Marines present and ready to fire at the least provocation.

And, one by one, the stories he heard only deepened his hatred of
Thorne and contempt for Sidney. Tales of brutality beyond imagining,
of deprivation, of neglect and abuse that sickened him, and that led
him to understand how Kennedy could have urged him in that letter to
take pity upon these men. Yet while he could understand what they had
done, he could not condone it. Mutiny was, in his eyes, an
unpardonable crime, and leniency a quality the Navy could not afford.

Not after the Nore and Hermione...

Every word was scrupulously taken down by three clerks, and these
testimonies he would give to the Admiralty, and to the court-martial
board that would assemble at Gibraltar. Some of these men would
inevitably hang: the leaders, and those convicted of the worst
violence. But some might escape with only imprisonment...

Pray God there was a Solomon to be had in Gibraltar!

And while the harrowing story of the mutiny -- and all that had led
up to it -- unfolded, the man now considered almost wholly
responsible for it sat brooding in the cabin that had become his
prison, nursing his hatred, bitterness and anger into festering
wounds that poisoned what once had been his soul. Thorne cursed
Pellew foully and longed to have revenge against him, but knew it
would never be. He could not challenge Pellew -- he chose to view his
inability to face down the man as prudence rather than cowardice --
could never stand against a man who wielded his god-like power with
such ease and assurance. No, Pellew was no Reginald Sidney.

Yet there was one in Indefatigable whom, even more than Pellew,
Thorne held responsible for his downfall. Lieutenant Archie Kennedy
had been sent to help him, and he had taken the lad in eagerly,
gratefully, had entrusted duties to him in the certainty they would
be carried out in accordance with his wishes. But Kennedy, damn him,
had proved unworthy from the start, undermining him at every turn,
questioning him, insulting him, showing himself to be willful and
insubordinate, an impertinent whelp who sought to curry the
affections of the men and turn them against their rightful leaders.

And all the while, he had been a Judas, betraying his commander not
with a kiss, but with a pen...

Hours passed, and Thorne steeped himself in his hatred, tending it,
nurturing it, fueling it as one did a fire, allowing it to grow into
a blaze that consumed his whole being. Kennedy was his foe, his
curse, the architect of his undoing. He had lost everything because
of that boy, had seen all his hopes, his ambitions, dashed to ruin by
him, had been disgraced by a child too soft and too blind to
recognize his betters. But the boy would pay.

Pellew was untouchable, but Kennedy was not. Kennedy was weak,
vulnerable; no one expected him to live. And if he died, so would his
accusations, his lies, any testimony that he might give. Without
Kennedy, Pellew had nothing, save the writings of a dead man. And no
Navy court would take the uncorroborated, hysterical scratchings of a
corpse over the word of a living officer, who knew his accuser to
have been subversive of his command from the start. Kennedy's death
would solve all his problems.

Gradually, his hatred took form and shape, was given direction by his
mind. Nothing stood between him and Kennedy save the Marine outside
his door. But even Marines were flesh and blood, mere mortals, and
thus no true obstacle to a man with a purpose.

For he had a purpose now, a single, overriding aim that could not be
denied. Lieutenant Archie Kennedy would die. And Lieutenant Hugh
Thorne would kill him.
**********

Evening fell at last, and exhausted men sought refuge from the day's
horrors and grim toil in the welcome oblivion of sleep. All save
Horatio, who went below once more to sit vigil by his friend.

Hepplewhite tended Kennedy only grudgingly, for he was certain the
lad would die, and saw no reason to exert himself for nothing. He
made no effort to change bloodied bandages, to clean wounds, to ease
his patient's increasingly agitated sleep. And so all this Horatio
did, with a tenderness and care Hepplewhite could never manage.

Yet not even such devotion could lessen a suffering that ran so deep.
Archie was not yet awake, but was no longer so deeply unconscious
that he could not feel pain, or dream. In his mind, he was still
aboard Resolute, still mired in that horror, and the agony of his
wounds only heightened that in his mind. Anguished cries and broken
pleas tore from him as he thrashed and writhed in ceaseless torment
in his hammock.

Horatio sought frantically to soothe him, to quiet him, to no avail,
even shouted for Hepplewhite to bring laudanum while he tried to hold
his friend still. And all at once, his darkest fear was realized when
Archie suffered a terrible fit.

The violence of the seizure tore open his wounds and brought blood
pouring from them in a heavy flow. At last galvanized into action,
though more from fear of Pellew than from concern for Kennedy,
Hepplewhite brought laudanum and bandages, and did what he could to
stem the flow while Horatio held Archie as tightly as he dared,
heedless of the blood that covered them both. It was a long and
brutal fit, unlike any he had suffered since leaving Justinian, and
it terrified Horatio beyond measure. But he swallowed his sobs and
spoke to Archie as calmly and clearly as he could, wanting -- needing
-- Archie to hear him and know that he was here.

And at long last, after what seemed an eternity, when the fit
subsided and Archie sank into the void that always claimed him in the
aftermath, Horatio collapsed weakly, numbly, onto his stool and
surrendered to his sobs, too exhausted to hold them back any longer.
Hepplewhite worked to close what had come open, muttering darkly at
seeing his handiwork undone, and Horatio snapped that if he had done
right the first time, a second would not now be needed. And in the
end, it was Horatio who administered the laudanum, who gently lifted
and cradled Archie's head and pressed the cup with the drugged drink
to his lips and got him carefully to swallow.

Then, with Hepplewhite gone off, still grumbling, to drown his anger
in brandy, Horatio settled himself once more at Archie's side to
watch over him, until finally banished by Styles, himself only just
risen from his sick-bed, but needing, for some reason that defied his
understanding, to keep his own close and anxious watch over Mr.
Kennedy.
**********

"Resolute." The word escaped Archie in a faint, whispered moan as he
sank once more beneath the dark waters of oblivion.

But, at his side, even that near soundless sigh sent a vicious jolt
through Styles while his every muscle clenched hard in a shudder. He
had thought speaking with the captain, answering his questions, would
rid him of the horror, but he had been wrong. It still gnawed at him,
like the pain of his wounds, and he feared it always would.

And if it were so for him, with his thick hide, how much worse must
it be for Mr. Kennedy, who, though deeply scarred himself, was still
so vulnerable? Styles leaned over and studied the young man in the
lantern's light, seeing not the officer who had led them with such
fierce purpose in the fight, but a boy, badly wounded, and dreadfully
fragile-looking.

Where had the strength he had shown come from? Styles wondered,
searching the battered face of the young man who could not be much
more than twenty, and looked far, far younger. He had fought like a
lion on that ship, a lion defending its pride, defying his own wounds
to do so. How? Why? Each time it had seemed he must finally let go,
let himself fall, he had managed to hold on, clinging to something
inside himself. But what? And where had it come from? He had never
had it back in Justinian.

"We've come a long way, haven't we?" he had asked on the
quarter-deck, when he had collapsed for what Styles, then, had
thought must surely be the last time. "From Justinian..."

He frowned deeply, confused. Had they? Had they truly come such a
long way? Sometimes he felt he had, and Matty assured him he had, but
there were times he was not so sure. Like in Resolute. It had all
come back, then, the bitterness, the helpless rage, the hatred for
the officers--

No, not all the officers. Not this one; not Mr. Kennedy. The boy he
had scorned and despised in Justinian, the weakling who had cowered
and cringed in terror before Jack Simpson, who whimpered in his sleep
like a child and had fits--

He had been a better man than them all. Nearly helpless himself,
hated and punished by Thorne, still he had tried to help them, to
protect them, had given his own blood to fight for them--

Sweet Jesus, where did such a fragile boy get such towering strength?

He was tempted to believe it had come from Mr. Hornblower, from
Captain Pellew, but he knew better. Such strength was not something
to be got from others, was not caught like a fever or the pox, was
not learned like tying knots or rigging sails. You had it, or you
didn't.

"An' ye've got it, sir," he heard himself saying to Kennedy. "More'n
any of us ever knew, ye've got it. An' ye've got to find it again,
now, to get ye through this. Like ye got us all through on Resolute.
We wouldn't 'ave made it without ye, I know that now. And I told
Cap'n Pellew as much. Without you, we would've let the bastards take
that ship, an' they would've killed us all." He grinned slightly,
crookedly, and shook his shaggy head. "But ye were a sight, sir!
Bleedin' like ye were, an' so damned stubborn--" He swallowed hard
and nodded. "It was a true honour t' follow you, and I was damned
proud t' be one o' yer men!"

"How touching!" declared a cold voice from the shadows.

Startled, Styles looked up, then lurched to his feet in alarm as the
familiar figure stepped into the light. "You!" he gasped hoarsely.
"You're s'posed t' be under arrest! What the bloody 'ell are ye doin'
'ere?"

Thorne stepped nearer and smiled evilly. "Isn't it obvious?" he asked
with a chilling casualness. "Even to an ignorant sailor like
yourself? I've come to kill your precious Mr. Kennedy."

**********

Stewart rose from his hammock after long, blessed hours of
uninterrupted sleep and dressed quietly in the dark, not wanting to
awaken his new berthmates. But a glance at the adjacent hammock told
him Hardy was gone, most likely standing watch.

Well, mebbe he'd like a bit of company...

Already feeling more at ease in Indefatigable than he ever had in
Resolute, he made his way silently out of the berth, intent upon
going up top. But somewhere -- God, was he still that tired? -- he
got turned around and ended up near the officers' cabins, then
shrugged and decided simply to use the companionway there.

But as he came closer, something strange niggled at his brain. All
the doors save one were closed--

Abruptly, he stopped, and looked about in alarm. Where was the
Marine? He had heard Mr. Thorne was under arrest, with a Marine to be
posted outside his door at all times--

Bloody hell, there were no Marines here!

With his heart hurling itself into his throat, he raced forward
toward the open door and flung himself through it, stopping short at
the sight before him. A Marine private lay on the floor, the face
above his red coat purple, a strip of cloth still wound about his
throat. He had been strangled to death.

"Christ, no!" With a harsh cry, he turned and fled the cabin, racing
across the wardroom to the companionway and taking it three steps at
a time. Bursting onto the deck, he ran still further up to the
quarter-deck, to the tall lieutenant there. "Sair!" he gasped
frantically. "Mr. Hornblower! Och, sair, ye've got tae come! He's
loose! Mr. Thorne killed his guard, and now he's loose in the ship!"

Hornblower swore harshly and pushed past the boy. "Find Captain
Clarke of the Marines!" he shouted. "Tell him what's happened, and
have him roust out his men! Tell him to search the ship!"

Gripped by a terror whose force gave added speed to his long legs,
Horatio raced down the ladder to the captain's cabin. Ignoring the
startled Marine on guard, he flung open the door and ran within,
shouting wildly.

"Captain Pellew, sir, Thorne's escaped! He's murdered his guard and
is loose in the ship!"

Mere moments later, Pellew emerged, immediately awake and alert, his
face a cold mask of fury and fear. "What? Escaped? How? Where?"

"I don't know, sir," Horatio gasped, breathing heavily, his face
flushed. "Mr. Stewart came running up on deck shouting Thorne had
killed his guard and escaped. I sent him to rouse Captain Clarke and
his men. I've ordered a search of the ship."

"Bloody hell!" Pellew spat. "Where could he-- My God!" he gasped
strickenly as realization hit him with a staggering force. "Kennedy!"
Racing across the cabin to his desk, he yanked open a drawer and
pulled out his pistols. "The bastard's gone after Kennedy!" he
barked. "Send Clarke and his men to the surgery! God damn it, do it
NOW!"

With that, still in his dressing robe and caring not at all, he
rushed past the stricken Horatio and out of his cabin, snarling for
his sentry to follow.
**********