Ship of the Damned, part eight
by Sue N.

Kennedy retired to his cabin to re-pack his
belongings, adding writing materials that he might
keep the journal the captain had requested, and
discarding the white trousers he favoured for the
knee-britches he preferred to keep only for more
formal attire.

Unkempt, indeed...

Horatio joined him after seeing Thorne off the ship,
and Archie found himself in the unfamiliar position of
trying to soothe his friend's worries and lift his
spirits. He even joked that the transfer was a
promotion of sorts, raising him from lowly third
lieutenant to second. Horatio's answering smile was
weak at best.

When his re-packing was done they went up on deck
together, Kennedy trying to see events in a positive
light, Hornblower plagued by an anxiety that would not
leave him. For his friend's sake, however, he
swallowed his concerns and managed to return Archie's
quips with those of his own, though even he could tell
the humour was forced.

He found some relief, however, in the knowledge that,
while the captain had not changed -- and would not
change -- his mind about sending men into Resolute, he
had made some concession to her wretched state. Rather
than the ten he had promised, he and Horatio had
scratched and found five more Indefatigable could
spare, if only barely. Instead of ten, he would be
sending fifteen.

And would have sent twice that number, had he had them
to give...

Matthews approached Kennedy, saluted, and took his
chest, saying he would see it stowed in the boat.
Archie smiled and thanked him, then turned and looked
up to the quarter-deck, where Pellew stood waiting.
And in that moment, all his reluctance came surging to
the fore. In that single, imposing figure was all he
loved about Indefatigable -- the safety, the security,
the certainty that no harm, no ill, could befall him
while he remained here, in the comfortable shadow of
the rock-like Pellew.

But, sooner or later, didn't everyone have to step out
of the shadow of another and into his own light?

He swallowed and mounted the steps, his blue gaze
seeking and finding Pellew's dark one as he stepped
onto the quarter-deck. Breathing slowly, deeply, he
forced calm upon himself, willed his doubts and fears
into the farthest corners of his mind, and steeled
himself to do his duty. The captain trusted him to be
of some use and good in Resolute; he would not
disappoint him.

Pellew watched the young man intently, saw the
determination filling the blue eyes and giving a firm
set to the fair features, and felt a strong rush of
pride. This one had come far, and while he still had
some way to go, he had made a very good start, indeed.

"Well, Mr. Kennedy," he greeted in his crisp, clear
voice, his dark eyes as keen as a hawk's, "I take it
you are ready to depart?"

"Yes, sir," he answered quietly, evenly. "I merely
wondered if-- if you had any last-minute
instructions?"

Pellew lifted his chin slightly, still studying the
young man, then smiled slightly. "Merely do your duty,
sir," he instructed. "Do your duty in Resolute as you
have in Indefatigable, and you will do well, I have no
doubt."

Archie blinked and stiffened, startled by the words.
And pleased. "Yes, sir," he breathed. "I shall
certainly try, sir!"

Pellew nodded curtly. "Of that I am certain, sir. And
remember, Mr. Kennedy -- a good officer always looks
to and after his men. Do that, and they will do the
same for you."

"Aye aye, sir." He straightened and saluted. "Goodbye,
sir. I look forward to our reunion in Gibraltar."

Pellew returned the salute. "As do I, Mr. Kennedy. God
go with you, sir."

"Thank you, sir." He smiled slightly, then turned and
went to the companionway, going with a firm stride
down the stairs and toward Resolute.

Pellew, however, was not yet ready to see him go. "Mr.
Kennedy!" he called sharply, hurrying to the steps and
down them, and to the young officer.

Archie turned, his eyes wide with expectation. "Sir?"

Again, Pellew was struck -- painfully so -- by his
youth. Forcing himself to meet those blue eyes, he
cleared his throat and clasped his hands behind his
back. "I would-- remind you, sir, to be ever vigilant,
ever on your guard. You will be in an unfamiliar ship,
with an unfamiliar crew and unfamiliar ways. Simply--
mind yourself, and your men, and-- trust to your wits
and your instincts. Let them be the star by which you
sail, and you will come safely home. And should you
ever -- ever! -- need us, sir, we are but a
cannon-hail away."

Archie stared at the man for long moments in silence,
wanting desperately not to leave, wanting to turn his
back upon Resolute and close his eyes and his mind to
her need, wanting to flee below until she and her need
were gone forever from his life. This, Indefatigable,
was home, was where he belonged, where his heart lay,
while she... she was...

...she was where his duty lay...

"Thank you, sir," he said softly. "I shall keep it in
mind." He stared at Pellew a moment longer, then
turned and glanced at Matthews. "Are the men ready?"

The grizzled seaman nodded. "Aye, sir, all ready."

Archie swallowed, intensely grateful Matthews was
coming with him. "Into the boat, then," he ordered.

"Aye aye, sir," he answered, knuckling his forehead in
salute.

As the men climbed over the side and down into the
waiting boat, Archie turned and looked up into
Horatio's eyes, smiling slightly. "Well," he said
quietly, extending his hand, "I suppose this is it,
then. Until Gibraltar."

Horatio forced a smile and nodded, then took his
friend's hand and shook it firmly. "Until Gibraltar.
Only-- take care, will you?"

"I will, I promise." His smile broadened as the
familiar jibe rose again in his mind. "I trust you'll
not let her sink in my absence?"

Horatio's eyes warmed. "Of course not, Lieutenant
Kennedy," he answered. "I shall leave that honour for
you!"
**********

Archie came aboard Resolute through the entry port and
touched his hat to the quarter-deck, then gazed
curiously about the ship. Thorne stood still and
coolly detached as ever, waiting to receive him, along
with two men he could only assume were the sailing
master and bosun, a Marine officer and two midshipmen.
All save Thorne regarded him with wary, appraising
eyes, eyes without a trace of welcome in them. Archie
felt a sharp twinge of apprehension, then banished it
with an effort and made his way toward the group,
praying he appeared more confident than he appeared.

Saluting Thorne, he said firmly, "Lieutenant Archie
Kennedy of Indefatigable reporting, sir."

Thorne returned the salute, then let his gaze travel
to the men gathered at the side. "I thought we were
expecting only ten men, Mr. Kennedy," he said in that
cold, cultured voice.

Archie smiled slightly. "Well, sir, Captain Pellew
found he could spare a few more than he had originally
thought. So I bring you fifteen, rather than ten."

"Hm," Thorne grunted non-committally. "We shall make
room for them of course." He stared at Archie a few
moments more, then lifted a hand to indicate the men
about him. "Lieutenant Kennedy, allow me to introduce
Mr. Trent, our sailing master, Mr. Hale, our bosun,
Captain Rawlins of Marines, and Midshipmen Stewart and
Adams. We have two more midshipmen, Mr. Dalton and Mr.
George. Mr. Dalton is in the surgery, recovering from
injuries suffered in our recent engagement with the
Dons. Mr. George is undergoing a bit of correction for
his mishandling of our signals earlier."

Archie stiffened, but managed to keep his expression
neutral. "Correction, sir?" he asked quietly.

Thorne gestured forward, and, as Archie followed the
gesture, saw the lonely figure in the rigging, his
arms and legs spread and lashed. As his stomach turned
over, Thorne said coldly, "He has an hour of
punishment remaining. He has, I trust, had ample time
to consider the possible consequences of his
ineptitude."

Archie stared at the midshipman, unable to disguise
his horror. Good God, how long had he been up there?
He remembered a midshipman in Indefatigable who had
made a mistake with the signals. Yet rather than
having him lashed to the rigging and humiliating him,
Pellew had confined him to the midshipmen's berth for
two watches, the whole time to be spent studying the
signal book. A stern lecture had then been followed by
a test administered by Pellew himself. The boy was now
an expert on signals, and a lesson had been learned by
his fellows.

Pellew was not at all averse to punishment, but his
punishments always had a purpose. This hanging a boy
in the riggings that he might be an object of pity and
ridicule to his shipmates harked back to those dark
days in Justinian...

Thorne saw Kennedyís reaction to George's situation,
and his lip curled in a contemptuous scowl. He had
suspected Indefatigable was a lax, soft ship, and the
shock and horror in Kennedy's eyes confirmed it. Well,
he would have a talk with him, let him know how
matters stood in Resolute...

"Mr. Stewart will show you to your cabin, Lieutenant,"
he said tersely. "When you have stowed your chest, you
will report to me on the quarter-deck, and we shall
proceed from there."

"Aye aye, sir," Archie answered quietly. "What of my
men?"

Thorne stiffened at the question, his eyes narrowing
slightly. "Mr. Hale will see to them," he said coldly.
"That will be all."

Archie nodded, and started to turn away.

"Mr. Kennedy."

Thorne's voice called him back, and he turned to meet
icy grey eyes. "Sir?" he breathed as a chill swept
through him.

Thorne stood tall and stiff and stared hard at the
younger man. "Mr. Kennedy," he said in a taut, cold
voice, "I do not know how things are done in
Indefatigable, but in Resolute it is customary to
salute a superior officer when given an order,
including a dismissal. Is that understood?"

Archie felt the deck shifting beneath his feet, felt
his stomach turning in a series of slow, queasy rolls.
Swallowing hard, suddenly understanding what Horatio's
sea-sickness must be like, he drew himself up to his
full height and forced himself to meet that frosty
grey gaze. "Aye aye, sir," he answered quietly,
raising a hand to his hat in a precise salute.

Thorne smiled thinly and returned the salute, then
turned and walked away, leaving Kennedy, his cheeks
tinged with a flush of shame and anger, in his wake.

Still at the railing, Matthews watched grimly, his
jaws clamped tightly, and felt Styles stirring at his
side. "Easy," he cautioned under his breath, closing a
hand about his mateís arm. "No trouble now, 'ear?"

"Arrogant bastard!" Styles hissed through clenched
teeth, his dark eyes filled with fury. "'e's got no
call to treat Mr. Kennedy like that-- "

"You be still!" Matthews warned urgently, turning to
stare up at the taller man. "You listen to me, Styles.
Any trouble you make will fall on Mr. Kennedy's 'ead,
you know that as well as I. So you watch yourself, and
mind your tongue. We promised Mr. 'ornblower,
remember?"

Before Styles could answer, a tall, thick-set man with
thinning grey hair and flat black eyes set in a hard,
scarred face joined them. "Good ev'nin', lads," he
greeted in a harsh, deep voice. "I'm Mister 'ale,
bosun in Resolute. Come wi' me, an' I'll show ye where
t' sling yer 'ammocks. I'll also take a few moments to
acquaint ye wiv 'ow we do things 'ere in Resolute." An
unpleasant, wolfish smile split his broad face.
"Believe me, things'll go a lot easier on ye once ye
know wot's wot."
**********

Archie followed Midshipman Stewart -- a slender,
red-haired youth with faint traces of Scotland in his
speech -- below, taking in his surroundings as he
went. The dank odour of mildew and worse assailed him
and he wrinkled his nose and grimaced in distaste,
wondering when last the decks had been cleaned. He saw
badly-patched shot holes, open seams in need of
caulking, frayed and improperly coiled cables.

Clearly, the quality of an officer's dress and salute
were considered more important than the ship's
condition...

The wardroom was small, dimly-lit and as unkempt as
the rest of the ship. Facing the cramped space were
the tiny cabins arranged rather haphazardly between
the guns. One of those, Archie realized with a sigh,
would be his home for the next several weeks.

"Lieutenant Thorne says you're t' hae this one, sair,"
Stewart said, leading Archie to the cabin at the end
of the row. He directed a guarded side glance at his
companion and said in a cautious tone, "I suppose
Resolute must be vastly different than Indefatigable."

Archie was tempted to laugh, but smothered the urge,
doubting any but him would appreciate the bizarre
humour of so profound an understatement. "Well," he
answered carefully, "every ship, I would imagine, has
its own-- character. But I shall try to fit in here as
best I can." He opened the cabin door and went within,
reassured to find it almost identical in size to his
back on Indefatigable.

Back home...

There was the cot, the box-like bed suspended by
cables from the deck beams above, along with the small
table and single chair, and above the table a lamp
hanging from its hook. Well, this small space, at
least, he could arrange to his tastes, and re-create
his own little bit of the Indy...

"I'll hae yer chest brought here," Stewart said. "I
reckon ye can find yer way to the quarter-deck?"

"I believe so," Archie sighed tiredly. "And Mr. Thorne
will be expecting me."

Stewart nodded. "Well, if that's all, sair, I shall be
going, then." He grimaced slightly and shook his head.
"I've a bit o' studyin' t' do. Mr. Thorne says my
mathematical skills need work."

Archie laughed ruefully. "Believe me, I sympathize! I
thought mathematics would be the death of me." He
wrinkled his nose. "If navigation didn't kill me
first!"

Stewart looked at him with new interest. "You-- you
struggled a bit, sair?" he asked softly.

Archie laughed again, his blue eyes bright. "A bit?
No, Mr. Stewart, I did not struggle 'a bit'. I fought
it tooth and claw, and still it damned near whipped
me! I spent more hours studying than sleeping, eating
or standing watch, and required more tutoring than
probably any other three midshipmen in the Navy
combined. But," he smiled and winked, "as you can see,
either the studying paid off, or God took pity on me
and my legion of tutors, for I passed my examination
on the first round." He cocked his fair head slightly
to one side and gazed amiably at the midshipman. "If
ever you should need help -- and provided I remember
what was drilled into me -- feel free to ask, and I
shall be glad to do what I can."

Stewart's green eyes grew wide, his expression one of
outright disbelief. "Ye'd do that-- for me? Help me, I
mean? Och, sair, I'd ne'er wish to trouble ye-- "

"Why not? I certainly troubled everyone around me!
Besides," he smiled again, "you are a Scot, and a
Stewart. My family are from Scotland -- Aylesford --
and, somewhere, somehow, the Kennedys are related to
Stewarts. So, who knows? We might be kin. And, in
Scotland anyway, blood may not refuse blood."

"Thank ye, sair!" Stewart, his brogue thickening with
emotion. "Ye've saved me-- "

"Yes, well, don't thank me yet." Archie grimaced
deeply, his blue eyes gleaming. "You've not seen my
calculations!" Stewart laughed, and, all at once,
Archie felt a bit less alone. "So, I suppose I should
put on a suitable uniform, then go to the quarter-deck
and present myself to Mr. Thorne."

"Aye, he's not a man who likes to be kept waiting,"
Stewart said quietly. "Thank ye, sair, I'll remember
your offer to help."

"One more thing before you go," Archie put in quickly.
"So far, I have seen only Mr. Thorne. Where is Captain
Sidney?"

Stewart stiffened, his expression freezing, his green
eyes growing guarded at once. "I'll leave it to Mr.
Thorne to explain about the captain," he said in a
flat, expressionless tone. "Good evening, sair. And
thank you again."

Before Archie could say another word, the midshipman
saluted, and hurriedly left the cabin. Archie watched
him in confusion, badly startled by the change in his
demeanor.

All he had done was to ask about the captain...
**********

Matthews, Styles and the others followed the bosun
down belowdecks to the space, forward of the mainmast,
where the ratings were quartered, and felt as if they
had entered a world whose darkness had nothing to do
with a lack of illumination. As they hung their
hammocks and stowed their belongings, they could feel
the sullen, mistrustful stares of the men not on watch
following their every movement and heard conversation
give way to a thick, taut silence that set their
nerves on edge. Even Oldroyd, naturally ebullient and
blissfully oblivious, read the signs and knew all was
far from well.

"All right, then, lads," Hale spoke up, his harsh,
carrying voice commanding the attention of all men
present, including those from Resolute, "allow me to
acquaint you wiv 'ow things are done 'ere. This is
Resolute; you lads ain't on Indefatigable no more, so
I don't expect to 'ear 'ow ye done things there, all
right? Mr. Thorne, 'e runs a tight ship. 'e gives an
order, 'e excpecís it ta be followed at once. 'e don't
tolerate no dawdlin' or no questions. You ain't 'ere
ta think, you ain't 'ere ta show us 'ow much you know
or 'ow it's done in yere old ship." His flat serpent's
eyes swept coldly over his new men, and a leering,
wolfish grin spread over his scarred face. "Ye belong
to us now," he said with a fearsome relish. "Ye'll be
treated no different, no better, than our own dear
lads."

Matthews, his stomach painfully tight, glanced
anxiously at Styles and felt his uneasiness growing.
His mate was glaring at the bosun with a deep, dark
scowl, his powerful frame taut with anger, his large,
strong hands clenched tightly at his sides. Matthews
knew Styles' history of impressment, knew he had
served in brutal conditions before and still carried
the scars. He himself had served under men like Hale
before -- and that Mr. Thorne -- but, during his time
in Indefatigable, had almost forgotten that such
hell-holes existed.

Gibraltar had never seemed so far away...


**********