Dancing in the Darkness, A Hornblower Halloween Story
by Skihee :)

 

The mast head lookout shouted the call of "Sail to windward!" nearly an hour ago. The Indefatigable had no difficulties approaching the French vessel for though its sails were unfurled they were luffing in the breezes. No hands could be seen on deck. She was drifting upon the deep blue sea, pitching easily with the waves as they hit her sides and rolled her keel.

On the quarter-deck a group of officers stood silently peering though assorted spyglass sizes, in wonder as to the dispensation of the vessel.

"Kaliakra. What kind of name is that, sir?" questioned Hornblower.

"That's no standard French ship, Captain. She must be a prize," said Bowles.

Pellew exhaled heavily. The large craft before them seemed devoid of human life. She was a fine looking ship, but as Bowles said her lines were not French. And, as Hornblower commented, the name Kaliakra was strange, also not French. It had more of a middle European sound to it.

"Ease in, Mr. Bowles."

"Where could the crew be, sir? Do you think it is a plague ship?" questioned Bracegirdle.

Kennedy joined the group on the command deck. He moved to stand beside Horatio.

"What's going on, Horatio?" he whispered.

"Your guess is as good as mine, Archie. We have a pristine ship before us, seeming crewless," he replied softly.

The Indy's crewmen looked westward at Kaliakra. None made a sound. Only the lapping of waves against the Indy's hull sounded.

"Mr. Hornblower, ready a boarding crew. Go with him Mr. Kennedy. Take a squad of marines with you."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Aye, sir."

The launch was ordered and filled with the boarding crew in a matter of minutes. The oars dipped rhythmically down and up, pulling them closer and closer to the silent ship.
Hornblower went up the side as Styles tied onto the ship side rungs. Kennedy followed, and the marines and hands after.

Hornblower stepped onto the vacant deck. "Ahoy!" he called. "I order you to surrender in the name of His Britannic Majesty King George!" His only answer was the creak of rope against wood, the slap of canvas against canvas. Looking around him, brow furrowed, he had an uneasy feeling.

"Is she a ghost ship, Mr. Hornblower?" asked Oldroyd.

"Of course not! Sergeant Blaine disperse your marines by twos to search the lower decks. Styles, haul down her colors and run up the ensign. You men, aloft! Reef in those sail. Matthews! You're in charge of the deck. Get those sail ordered quickly there! Come, Mr. Kennedy."

The two made their way to the aft cabin that would have been used by the Captain. Pushing open the door the two entered. Within was a brightly lit room from the stern windows. The room was neat. Nothing amiss. The desk, table, chairs, window seat cushions, everything, even down to filled liquor decanters and clean glasses, stood arranged as if awaiting the return of the occupants.

Hornblower and Kennedy looked at each other.

"Well. It seems whoever the captain of this ship was he had the means to kit her out properly," remarked Kennedy. He ran his hand over the tops of the smoothly varnished furnishings. "Not much dust."

Hornblower walked over to the desk. Picking up the log, he scanned the pages. The early entries were in a language he did not recognize. He found a familiar scrawl, French. The entry was dated 15 October. His eyebrow elevated as he translated the French to English. "Listen to this, Archie. We took this fine ship without a fight. She seemed to be drifting...ai... aimlessly on the sea. There is no...sign of her crew or ...passengers. We will take her to Brest as a prize of the French Republic." His French still served. He flipped to several days later. 18 October Our steward, Jacque Rouseau, has disappeared. I have assigned our oldest seaman to the task of feeding the men. We are still unable to get the raving man out of the lower hold." Hornblower looked up at Archie. He turned back several pages. Scanning the entry for 16 October, he moved on to the next date. Archie was peering over Hornblower's shoulder. 17 October After being on this eerie, is that the word for eerie, Archie?"

"My language skills in French are lacking, Horatio, but I believe so."

"After being on this eerie ship for two days, we discovered a lunatic in the hold. He laughs in a strange nasal? nasal t... tone. We tried speaking to him in French, English, Dutch, and Italian, but he just laughs his strange laugh through the bolted door. One of the men tried latin with the idiot. The resulting effect was he silenced." Hornblower stopped reading to think about the words and look to Kennedy for impact. He continued reading the entry. "It is dark early today. We have given up on the laughing one. The sound of him makes our skins creep. We will be glad to arrive in port." Hornblower stopped reading again. "Do you suppose the man is still down there?"

"Read on," encouraged Kennedy.

20 October Another of our crew has disappeared. We have lost nearly one a night since we boarded this damned ship. No one will go near the laughing one. Our attempts to break in the door with the ax were to...to no avail. The wood is like ...iron. Fear grips those of us who remain. I have tried to be brave for the men, but even I fear the coming darkness."

Dancing in the Darkness Pt 2

 

Hornblower continued the spotty translation of the ship's log written by her French captors.

"22 October I cannot believe it! Another crewman has disappeared. After our numbers remained in tact yesterday, I thought that whatever besets us had passed. The men are near mutiny. What is worse, we lost our wind today. We are becalmed. The men are... nervous. Several were fighting amongst themselves, blaming each other for...ridiculous things. We are loosing our ...rationality. No amount of song or ...jesting will relieve the terror that grows with the setting of the sun. We have resolved to... huddle in the officer's quarters. The night watch keeps ... a tab on each other. So far, it seems the men that disappear have been ...isolated. I have not let my fellow officers know but I am keeping a count of our numbers.

23 October I am deeply distressed. I was aroused by the morning watch to be informed my midnight watch officers had been clubbed ...senseless." Horatio looked at Archie.

A rap came at the door. Archie and Horatio startled turning to the door. It was Matthews.

"Begging your pardon, sir, but Captain Pellew wants you on deck."

Captain Pellew. A tug back to reality. They did serve on a British ship. Their Captain was a logical, sensible man. They followed Matthews back out and up to the quarter-deck. The Indy was about forty yards off.

"Captain Pellew, sir!" shouted Hornblower.

"Mr. Hornblower. We have sighted another sail and intend to give chase. Is anyone on board?"

"We are still searching the lower decks, sir. The ship appears deserted!"

"Do you need more men?"

Hornblower swallowed. "No, sir, unless you want us to follow!"

"No. Stay here. We will find you. Have you supplies?"

Hornblower looked to Matthews.

"Aye, sir, there be plenty of food and water on board," whispered Matthews.

Hornblower started to respond, Archie grabbed his arm.

"Horatio..."

Hornblower knew what Archie wanted. How could he tell his captain they were afraid to be on board? That was ridiculous. They were not children. He could not. He shook his head, no, at Archie.

"Mr. Hornblower?" called Pellew.

"Sir! Yes, sir, we have supplies to last."

Pellew was sensing something untold. "Is there something you need to tell me?"

"No, sir. We will be all right." He heard Archie sigh beside him. Had he done the right thing in keeping quiet? Or, would he be responsible for mysterious deaths upon this ship, that he was now captain. Archie was clearly uneasy.

"Damn! Why did that sail have to appear now?" muttered Archie. "We should tell him."

"What am I going to do, Archie, shout everything we know across the water in the hearing of the men?" he whispered.

"When will they return?" asked Archie through tightened lips.

"Captain, sir, when should we expect you back?"

Pellew had seen his two officers speaking to one another. He looked in the distance at the sail on the leeward horizon. Each passing moment gave the ship a larger lead. Even with the wind at their backs it would be hours before they came in firing distance.

"Day after tomorrow evening. We should return by then. If not, sir, then make sail for England!" ordered Pellew.

Bracegirdle commented. "They do not have enough men to sail her properly, sir."

"Off load another boat, send them enough for a *skeleton* crew." Why had he used THAT word? It seemed to jump at him! He placed his hand on the back of his neck smoothing down the raised hairs there.

"Mr. Hornblower, I am sending you more crew in case something should detain our return."

More crew. More men liable to whatever killed the French, OR, men to sail them to England?

"Aye, aye, sir. Thank you, sir!" shouted Hornblower for the last time.

They could see the helmsman spin the wheel bringing the Indy to her new course. Hearing Bowles shout the orders, they watched as the topmen adjusted halyard and sail to see them on their way. They had the back of Indefatigable. Both officers saw her go. An empty feeling came over each officer. Thoughts pressed in of what they had learned from the log of the French officer.

A commotion on deck drew their attention. A marine had come on deck. Some of the crew made sounds of disgust. Sergeant Blaine and Styles were conversing.

Making his way down the stairs to the waist, Hornblower asked, "What's going on here?"

"Mr. Hornblower, one of my men saw someone in the hold," answered the stocky marine sergeant.

"Who? Who did he see?" Hornblower looked at the red-coated marine. Could it possibly be one of the missing Frenchmen or would it be someone else? Someone he hoped was not real, was not what was described in the log he held in his hand. He realized the private was holding something. The man's face was aghast.

"Och he were weird, sir!" said the red haired freckle faced youth. "He were crouchin' and scurryin' like the wretched thing he pitched at me! Then, he run in a room and bolted the door! He were laughin' strange just afore he slammed the door! He took me by surprise, sir. I didna get him, sir. Sorry, capt'n."

"What did he throw at you?" asked Hornblower.

The marine held up a disgusting sight. "Oooo, it were horrible, what he were doin'!" The man squinted at his sergeant. "It were the shock of it what made me freeze, sir! Sorry, sir!

"Tell him, Riley," ordered the sergeant.

Riley scrunched his face like he had been given a fresh lemon to eat.

Dancing in the Darkness pt. 3

"He were holdin' it up to his mouth suckin' on it, sir! It be disgustin'!"

Hornblower looked at what the man held in his hand. It was a common everyday ship's rat. Only it's throat was cut and a small remaining trickle of blood seeped from the wound. Hornblower felt the blood drain from his features. Archie gulped audibly behind him.

"Gad!" said Archie squeamishly. "Throw it over the side!"

Riley looked to Hornblower for confirmation to dispose of the corpse. He nodded his ascent.

"Riley, what did the man look like that you saw?" asked Hornblower.

The marine returned wiping his hand on his trouser leg. "Ooo he were small. Kind o wirey like Matty, I mean, Matthews, sir. It were too dark fer me to see his age, but he weren't too old. Spry,... he was, ... quick."

"How was he dressed?"

"Dirty white shirt, black breeches. It be dark down there, sir. I only had the lantern wi' me."

Hornblower breathed out. "Thank you, Riley."

"What now, Mr. Hornblower?" asked Archie.

With an intake of breath and a raised brow he said, "Down to the hold. What else, Mr. Kennedy?"

"Fine. Fine. If we must do it, let it be done in daylight."

"You need not come if you wish."

"After what we read in that log? I will be stuck to you like glue!"

"Matthews, Sergeant Blaine. I want you to form the men up in groups of four. Make a list. Include the new men Captain Pellew has sent." He nodded towards them as they were just making their way over the side. "Get the boats in and secure. Mr. Kennedy and I are going below to try to speak to our passenger."

"Or our host," said Kennedy darkly.

"Mr. Hornblower?"

"Yes, Styles. What is it?"

"Well, ...shouldn't I go with ye, sir? Me an'...me an...Oldroyd...so's ye be in a group of four, sir."

Glancing at the wry half smile on Kennedy, he responded, "Yes, Styles. You and Oldroyd come with us."

Oldroyd's mouth fell open. As soon as Hornblower descended the stairs. He leaned in towards Styles and whispered, "Why'd ye have to include me, eh? What do I want with some bloody rat-sucker!"

Dancing in the Darkness pt 4

The lowest deck was dark and dank. Each man procured a lantern while descending the several flights of stairs. With the added illumination, more rat carcasses could be seen littering the floor. They added to the noisome odor surrounding them. A large ax lay on the deck as well. Styles picked it up to examine it.

"Dull as a stump, I'd say, sir," he commented unasked.

The men took in the surroundings of the hold. Nothing really unusual, other than the dead rats, the dull ax, and the marks it had made against a door to what would have been used as a fruit cellar. Behind them stood the huge casks used for holding water, grog, and other food supplies for a ship this size. They were cradled in the pebbled floor to keep them from rolling around on the high seas. Planks were lain atop them to make traversing the low spaces easier.

Hornblower swallowed trying to keep his naturally queasy stomach in check. The odors were not helping. He hoped his olfactory nerves would customize themselves quickly that he might be able to remain with his dignity in tact. Glancing at Kennedy and Oldroyd he realized they might have been similarly occupied. Oldroyd was staying so close to Styles the larger man was turning, giving him a light shove, seeking to hold his own personal space.

Styles seemed to be the least perturbed of the four, but of course, he had not read the log, and, lacked the youthful trepidity that Oldroyd still possessed.

Hornblower looked down at his hand. He was still clutching the ship's log. With a frown, he thought he should have finished it to see if more were said about the man he was about to confront. Well, he was not going to go all the way back topside to read now!

Kennedy watched him waiting for him to make his move.

Hornblower wanted to take a deep breath, but the stench of the place made the air seem filthy entering his lungs. A shallow breath would have to do. He hoped his throat would not catch with the fetid, malodorous, mephitic reek. Another short breath.

"Hello in there!" No reply. A swallow. Another short breath. "I am Leftenant Horatio Hornblower of His Britannic Majesty's Frigate Indefatigable."

"Hee, hee, hee!" came a quiet, knowing, nasal laugh from behind the door. The Frenchman had described it aptly!

Oldroyd clutched Styles strong forearm. Styles knee-jerk reaction was to push him back. Kennedy took a step closer to Hornblower.

"He is happy, isn't he?" stated Kennedy.

Hornblower thought a moment. How does one respond to a laugh as a reply? He blinked a few times, wishing he could take a deep breath. He set his jaw, dipped his chin, and said, "I would like to speak to you, sir. We mean you no harm. I promise no one will harm you."

"Hee, hee hee."

Hornblower tried again. "The crew of your ship is gone missing. Were you captured by the French?" He and Kennedy gave each other a look, having read the log.

The creature within snorted and laughed once more. "Hee hee hee." The final *hee* was long, drawn-out, and fading.

"We mean you no harm. Will you not come out and speak with us?"

The metal mechanism on the door rattled. Then, a boom! Had the man thrown himself against the door? The evil, low, nasal, vocal grimacing started again.

Hornblower felt a shudder pass through him and on to his men, like the swell of a wave. He swallowed. Eyes wide in the dim and shadowed light, he stood his ground. A surge of anger echoed within. He did not like playing games.

Then, he recalled what the Frenchman had written. Lunatic. Idiot. Raving. He sighed letting the anger go. It was clear the man behind the door had to be out of his mind. What other explanation was there? Why would a man lock himself in this reeking hold when a finely appointed captain's cabin was available? Why would a man be sustaining himself with the blood of filthy vermin when surrounded by viable ship's stores? The only answer was insanity. How could one be angry with someone who was insane? He was to be pitied.

The best path to follow was prudence. They would leave him to himself as he obviously wished.

Kennedy watched as the gears whirred in Hornblower's head. What would his friend decide? All he knew was that he hoped Pellew would come back tomorrow instead of the day after. He hoped the ship they were chasing would outrun him. That Pellew would give up the chase and come back for them. Then, he remembered Pellew's final words. *I am sending you more men in case something should detain our return.* **Damn!** he thought. **What if Pellew did not come back? Impossible! Captain Pellew have his ship blown from under him? Never! Never in this world! Horatio, let's get out of here!** he thought finally.

"Mr. Kennedy, Styles, Oldroyd, we are going."

**Saints be praised!** thought Kennedy.

"Oh! God bless ye, Mr. Hornblower!" sighed Oldroyd.

Dancing in the Darkness pt 5

On the way back topside, loud clanging noises were echoing on the next deck. The four froze in midstep. Then, closer by, a clacking sound began.

"What's at?" questioned Styles.

"I don't know, but it sounds near," answered Kennedy.

Hornblower looked around holding up his lantern, light falling on the faces of his men. The chattering stopped as Hornblower's eyes fell on Oldroyd. Kennedy and Styles stared at the seaman.

"Sorry, sir," said Oldroyd meekly.

The clanging resounded catching each man afright. Oldroyd latched on to Styles once more.

"Damn it, Oldroyd! Stop that! I ain't yer bleedin' mum!"

Styles retort broke the tension. Hornblower and Kennedy let go the intake of breath caused by the clanging. The four crept forward on the deck. Hammocks still swung from the beams untouched by human hands.

"Douse your lights!" whispered Hornblower. Hanging his on a beam hook, he extinguished the flame, Kennedy and Styles doing the same.

"Aw, captain!" pleaded Oldroyd under his breath.

Styles stopped, stood straight, and grabbed Oldroyd's lantern. "What are you? Afraid of the dark?" he taunted quietly.

"On this ship? Damn right, I am!" Oldroyd whispered in reply. Styles gave him a look, then, blew out his lantern. The four were in complete darkness except for the meager light falling from the upper deck stairs behind them.

They crouched low under the remaining hammocks. A scraping sound could be heard. Metal against metal? No. It was duller. Oldroyd grabbed onto Styles belt, dragging on him, turning aft in the dark, wondering what might come up behind him. Why was he always last?

"Off!" whisper shouted Styles.

"Quiet!" ordered Hornblower. The next sound was Hornblower drawing his sword. Kennedy did the same.

"Why ain't we got weapons?" queried Oldroyd of Styles nervously.

"Shut up, Oldroyd. Besides you can't kill a ghost!" he whispered. Styles grinned in the dark.

The noises grew louder. A faint glow appeared ahead of them. A storage room obstructed the view. They crept closer. Hornblower in the fore stealthily drew near the light. He was almost around the corner of the small wall when a figure loomed before him. He gasped raising his sword.

"What are ye doin', sir?" asked an astonished crewman.

"Damn it, Hardy, I nearly split you in two! What are you doing down here? And why are you alone? I gave express orders to Matthews that all men were to be in groups of four!" he said in startled anger defensively.
The three men behind him sighed out relief. Kennedy sheathed his sword.

"I...I was told to prepare meals. The men what's with me has gone fer stores, sir," answered Hardy humbly.

Hornblower, calmer, regretted shouting at the sailor. He closed his eyes and sighed, regaining his equilibrium. "You are to remain in a group of four, TOGETHER, Hardy. You are not to be alone. Is that understood?"

Hardy blinked at him. At once, it hit Hornblower how this must be sounding to his men. He was getting a headache. He pressed his temple. He needed to inform his men. But how would he express his concerns? His conscience railed that no man under his command would die on this ship! No matter how foolish he might look. He would not lose a man!

"Where are the other three?"

"They're gettin' supplies, sir."

"Are the three of them together?"

"Aye, sir."

"Very well. Styles, Oldroyd stay here with Hardy until the others return. When they do, tell them, Hardy, you four are to be together AT ALL TIMES. Is that clear?"

"Aye, sir."

Oldroyd's countenance sank. He wanted nothing more than to go topside. Now he was stuck down here with Hardy and Styles. At least there was a light. He looked around and picked up a huge frying griddle, testing its weight with his wrist.

 

"And, Hardy, pass the word, no one will be sleeping below decks."

Hardy blinked at this information thinking about the cool October nights in the open waist.

"We will meet together for meals on the gun deck. I will explain it all at that time," he said tiredly. "Come, Mr. Kennedy we have some unfinished reading to do."

 

Dancing in the Darkness pt 6

 

Hornblower plodded up the stairs. Since leaving Hardy below working on dinner for the men, he recalled the writings of the Frenchman, *Our steward, Jacque Rouseau, has disappeared* Hardy was acting as their *steward*. Was the steward the first to go because of the proximity of the galley to the orlop? Did the raving laugher kill the steward? And, if so, what did he do with his body? Throw it over the side? The pain pooling in his left temple brought his fine, long fingers once again to press against his head.

"Headache, Horatio?"

"Yes, Archie."

Neither spoke. Kennedy thought about the stench in the hold, the fright of the galley deck holding the four of them, the captain sailing away to the east, the emptiness of this brooding ship, and the mystery of the missing French. A lot to ponder. But more, for Horatio. His friend once again, thrown into an uneasy command. The weight of so many lives on his shoulders. And, this adventure, with an unknown, unseen enemy. The French had apparently lost this battle. How would the British fare? He looked at his friend still kneading his temple as they made their way to climb the last stairs into the coming darkness. He clamped his hand on his shoulder. Hornblower turned. Kennedy did what he could for his captain. He gave him a smile of confidence.

At first, Hornblower's return visage was a query, but seeing the smile on the face of his long time friend, his features relaxed and he returned the amiable stare.

"We'll make it, Horatio." Kennedy's hand still rested on his shoulder. He nodded his head for Horatio to step aside before ascending.

"What?"

"Turn around." With Hornblower's back to him he began to massage his shoulders and neck. Kennedy could feel the tightness of his muscles.

Hornblower almost chuckled. "What are you doing, Archie?"

"What I can for my captain. You have a headache. Probably brought on by stress. I want you to relax. Loosen up, now."

The massage felt good. Indeed it did. What had Kennedy said? *He called me his *captain*!* A warmth spread through Hornblower. He sighed, hanging his head to better feel the fingers of his friend. "Is this what you have learned from all those spells in sick berth?"

Kennedy grinned, continuing the massage deeper into the taught scapula and neck muscles. "Of course! I am considering taking up the profession. I have been there so often I should have my own LICENSE by now."

"Ah. Good. Then, I shall have you as my personal physician and gunnery officer."

"Dr. Kennedy at your service, sir. Be it bedside or broadside, I aim to deliver." He gave a parting rub across his shoulders. "Better?"

"Somewhat....doctor. Thank you."

"I know you won't, Horatio, but try to relax."

"Aye, aye, sir."

The two began their final ascent topside.

The men had the main sails furled. The top gallants were reefed but still unfurled. The helm was hard over putting the ship hove to.

"Matthews!"

The old sailor came near. "Sir?"

"Have the men gather blankets for sleeping and bring them to the captain's quarters. We will all be sleeping there. The watch will be increased. I want eight men on the quarter-deck tonight. I just found Hardy alone in the galley. Remind them all they are to be WITH their group of four at all times."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Matthews took in his words without question. Hornblower was his captain once again. The order was strange, but if Hornblower thought it were necessary there must be a valid reason behind it. Sleeping in the captain's quarters? That WOULD be a new experience!

"I want all men on the gun deck for dinner, except the doubled watch. I will speak to them before we go below. I will be in the captain's quarters, Matthews, should you need me."

"Aye, aye, capt'n."

He and Kennedy entered the aft cabin once more. Lighting every available lantern and candle, the two sat to peer over the journal once more. Even with so much illumination, the room was strangely dark, like some hovering unseen guest soaking up the light rays.

Hornblower located the date they were reading before called by Pellew. "23 October I am deeply distressed. I was aroused by the morning watch to be informed my midnight watch officers had been clubbed senseless. In the night, a number of our men lowered one of the ship's boats and deserted. Our crew is drastically reduced. I fear having enough men to sail this great ship. We may have to go in under mizzen sail alone. This will ...impede our progress greatly if and when the wind returns. I have resolved to place a guard on the remaining ship's boat. I cannot help but ...wonder how many men are in the boat and how many may have ...left this world as those...previous."

"There was no ship's boat when we boarded, Horatio. Perhaps they decided to abandon ship."

"All of them? But why, Archie? Why abandon such a fine ship as this? What could have happened to the men?"

Hornblower looked back to the pages of the log. "25 October We are gripped with fear. But above all that, our remaining ship's boat is gone. More of the men, and the guards, gone!" Hornblower stopped.

"There goes that theory," commented Kennedy.

Hornblower continued. "There is but a handful of us remaining. The wind, thank God, has returned. We sail nor' nor'east for Brest. The coasts of our beloved country cannot appear too soon. Pray God will see us safely home." He turned to the last page of writing. "The last date of entry is October 27th, two days ago."

"What does he say?"

"27 October I am alone. I thought I heard the laughing one outside my cabin," Horatio glanced at Archie, "but I think my mind plays tricks. I have my door bolted as I watch the last rays of the setting sun light the cabin. The report by Lieutenant Renault ...chills me. I thought him to be my friend. Where he has gone, I do not know. What he reported, cannot be true, but if it is, I fear I may not live through the night. He woke me last night, engulfed in an...unreasonable fright. He told of a thing I resist putting on paper. If I am found and this report lives my... rescuers may think I am as mad as the idiot in the hold. So, I keep this near me, it is my life...line to the world. If I live to be rescued I will rip these pages from the book. I am not mad, am I? I shall write what Lieutenant Renault saw, not me. I did not see it. I only report what HE saw. It is not I, believe me, who witnessed this strange site. This is a record of what Renault saw, not me." Horatio stopped again to look at Archie. "He and Midshipman Blanc held the watch. Only the three of us remained of all our crew. God what has happened to us! But ... what Renault saw. The two of them had stayed close to one another and close to the lantern, he said. In the early morning, before the sun began its trek across the heavens, when it is darkest, he said a ...these are his words not my words. I do not say I saw it! Renault saw it. He said a dancing darkness ...pa...paralyzed?" Hornblower looked at Archie.

"Paralyzed, yes, go on."

"Paralyzed him. He said his ...muscles would not obey his mind and his eyes were fixed on, something, ...I did not see this. RENAULT saw it, not me! He said his eyes fixed on two ...seething? red points of light in the dancing darkness." Hornblower stopped again, closing the log.

"Archie, this man must be as raving mad as the one in the hold! This is ridiculous! A dancing darkness?"

"Read on, Horatio!" urged Archie.

Hornblower exhaled heavily. Opening the book once again, he found the place. "He said they captured him. Would not let him look away, then a blackness lowered over his eyes. He said he could not move, paralyzed as he said, but he could hear. Blanc was moving. He could hear his footsteps moving away from him. He heard Blanc shout 'NO!" and then sounds, strange sounds, moans, and other sounds, like... I did not hear this, it is what Renault heard, not me. Not me! He said he heard sounds like ...like...Oh God, I cannot write it. I cannot!" The paper was smudged. The writer moved down some space. "I must write it. I do not want to write it. But for the sakes of those who may find this, may find this cursed ship, I must write it. The sounds he heard were...my stomach turns to write this...they were eating, slurping sounds and when they stopped he heard evil, gentle laughter, and a splash. Renault said he remained paralyzed until the suns rays touched his frozen body. When he looked around the quarter-deck, Blanc was no where to be seen! I did not see this. This is the report of Renault. And, I do not know what has become of him. I am alone."

Horatio closed the book, placing it on the table. Archie watched him as he stood to pace the cabin. He stopped, stared at his friend.

"That's insane, Archie! Is this some sort of joke?"

Archie stood. "There is the man in the hold, Horatio."

Hornblower exhaled shaking his head.

Archie turned to the table, picked up the book and began to translate the last words. "Whoever finds this,... beware! There is evil upon this ship! I leave these writings as a... warning! Have nothing to do with this vessel! And, above all do not stay on her after dark! If you do, may God have mercy on your soul!"

He stepped to stand next to his friend and his captain. They stared out the aft windows, into the gathering darkness.

"Now he tells us," sighed Archie.

 

 

 

Dancing in the Darkness pt 7

Dinner was served on a gloomy gun deck. The cannon stood as hushed guests amongst the tables of men silently taking nourishment. Hornblower and Kennedy ate wordless as well. Both with their own thoughts about what the Frenchman revealed in the ship's log.

Kennedy wondered how Hornblower would tell the men what was going on, why they were all sleeping in the captain's cabin, why the watch was held by eight men, why he was insisting they stay in groups of four. He glanced at the downcast eyes of the men. First, Riley's report of the man below, and then, that of Oldroyd and Styles, what they heard, what littered the floor of the hold. He supposed that previous information might make what Hornblower had to add a little less shocking, a little less incredible. He held himself in check from asking his captain what he would say, looking up to see him chewing his food slowly, staring at the table, resuming his meal.

He looked more closely at the faces of the men. Some had been with Horatio before under his command, some had not. Would any of these bolt with one of the Indy's boats? He sharpened his eye on each one, thinking about who they were. Men do strange things when frightened. Battle was one thing, the unknown was another. His eyes traced over to Horatio, finding his stare.

Hornblower took a deep breath. Pulling his long legs over the bench, he turned. The men facing him looked up from their meals. The others followed by turning in their seats. He rose to his feet.

"Men, we find ourselves in a...an odd situation. We boarded this ship prepared to fight Frenchmen if necessary. There are none. But, there were. And, strange as it may seem, the French may prove to be our ally. I know you are aware of the man in the hold. I do not know what illness possesses him. I could see no benefit in forcing ourselves upon him, but the Captain of the French left a message in the ship's log that it would be well not to trust him. Therefore, we will stay together. Not only in our groups, but as we sleep, also. We will stay within the aft cabins together. I know you are aware the watch has been increased. It will be for the duration we are aboard Kaliakra. I wish to state once more that you are NEVER to be without your mates. Especially at night. If for some reason you find you must venture into the darkness, then you must take them with you. Any man caught without his companions will answer to me. Do I make myself clear?"

"Aye, aye, sir," answered some.

"Aye, aye, cap'n," answered others.

"Matthews, assign a group to accompany Hardy's galley group until he is ready to shut down the fires. At night, if you find it necessary to be below decks you will go as groups of eight."

The men looked at each other. Kennedy wondered what their thoughts could be. Did they think Hornblower feared one laughing idiot could harm them?

**********

The first night aboard Kaliakra began. As Hornblower had instructed, eight men saw to the clearing up for dinner. When they were finished, a group of them stood about the waist talking lowly. The night air was crisp. Not a cloud blocked the pinpoint stars. The sky was full of them.

Hornblower was speaking to the watch, the group of men huddled around him.

"Listen men. I am about to tell you something that I find hard to believe. But for your own safety and that you might be on the alert, I say this to you." He closed his eyes and took a breath, steeling himself for what he was about to share. "Listen closely and take my words to heart. The Frenchman here before us says in his log some strange occurrences happened on board at night. I relate what he says not because I necessarily believe it, but circumstances require I do so for our mutual safe keeping."

It was hard for Hornblower to find the words. He did not want to believe what the Frenchman wrote, but he did not want to lose a man because he did not heed a warning. Would he look as foolish as he felt when this was all over? When the Indy returned and nothing happened to threaten their safety would they all feel foolish? When the crew of the Indy discovered he had them all huddled in the aft cabins, would they laugh at him behind his back? Would his captain consider him weak and fearful? Would what he was about to say frighten his men?

"Now, listen men, and listen well, the Frenchman speaks of a dancing darkness. I do not know what he is talking about, but it brought fear and...and death. Be on the alert. Stay together. If you should see such a thing, raise the alarm. Ring the ship's bell. Shout. Do whatever is necessary. If you see it...do not look into its eyes. Cover your own if necessary and yell your head off. Do not hesitate. Sound the alarm. Do you understand?"

The men looked at one another. Had they heard right? Hornblower's words were incredible! It was amazing that he took enough stock in the reports of the French to relate such an unbelievable scenario. But they knew Hornblower. He was as steady an officer as there was. Did he not always bring his crew back with him? Was he not the apple of Pellew's eye? Was not his own division devoutly loyal to him? They knew his history, and it was not a history of extremism, and especially not of fearful apprehension. They muttered affirmatively.

***

Hornblower joined Matthews in the captain's quarters. The rooms took the width of the stern of Kaliakra. The men were already laying out blankets and pillows on the deck. Some were grumbling lightly about spaces. Some wished they had brought a hammock from below to string here. Some were already snoring lightly. The rooms looked like a grand sleep over for a child's party.

Oldroyd had mimicked the laugh of the man below for some of the crew. Now one of them was taunting him with it, pretending to come at him with claws raised.

"Give me all your rats, or forfeit your life! Hee hee hee!"

"Knock it off, McCavity!" said Oldroyd.

McCavity was laughing until he saw the face of Hornblower gazing upon him. He silenced immediately, nodding to his superior officer.

Hornblower made his way over to the captain's desk. Plopping himself heavily in the chair, he pulled the Frenchman's log over. Opening to the last page, he wrote today's date, 29 October, then, began his own entry. His men watched him silently writing in the book, listening to his quill scratching across the parchment. Their faces were solemn, yet trusting, like children, depending on a parent to guard them.

The writing took him nearly an hour. When he finished he sighed, laying down his quill, resting his face in his hands. After a few moments, he leaned back in his chair. A tap on his arm surprised him. He jerked himself alert. Archie was standing at his elbow.

"Sorry, Horatio," he whispered. "I did not mean to startle you. Here." He held a glass to him. "I've poured you a glass of brandy."

Hornblower looked beyond him to the men.

"Don't worry, the men have already had their preferred drink. Matthews and I saw to it while you were on the quarter-deck. Under the circumstances, I didn't think you would mind."

Hornblower sighed taking the glass. He took a sip staring into nothingness.

"You should get some sleep."

Hornblower shook his head, no, tiredly staring, still.

"Horatio. You have done what you felt best for your men."

Hornblower let his eyes meet those of his friend. "Archie..." he sighed. Placing his elbow on the table he rubbed his forehead with his hand.

"Finish your drink, and get some sleep."

Hornblower slowly shook his head. "I cannot sleep."

"Cannot or will not?"

Hornblower sighed at his friend. "Does it matter?"

"Yes. You need to rest."

"No. I am going on deck. The watch will change in another hour. YOU get some rest."

Kennedy stared at his obstinate friend knowing further urgings would be fruitless. He sighed, sat back in his chair, sipping his brandy.

Little did they know, two eyes were watching them from the darkness of the cabin.

 

Dancing in the Darkness pt 8

 

 

In the depths of the ship, a bolt slid slowly across its metal fastener. The door opened gradually with a long, whining creak. A dim light from a single taper shed light in the abyss of the orlop. Encrusted fingernails on long, thin, soiled fingers crept upon the floor boards. Dark hair, whether from color or dirt, shown first, followed by a sallow face with huge bulging eyes, the whites more yellow to match the skin tone. The figure was low next to the deck. The creature, who once was a man, but now exhibited traits more beast-like, sniffed the dank, malodorous air.

Within the room, another creak could be heard, then a thump as something large and heavy hit the wall, or maybe the floor. A hissing intake of air echoed in the dead reaches of the putrid hold.

The creature craned his neck to look behind him. The dim taper seemed to be sucked in by the movement behind it, nearly disappearing as a source of light.

The creature moved quickly along the planks to the stairs leading upwards, stopping to listen, peering into the darkness. A scurry of tiny feet caught his attention, but the looming darkness from his lair secured all thought of seeking prey. His mouth opened letting his tongue hang in a pant as his companion moved large and effortless behind him. The darkness focused red, pinpoint eyes on his minion, squinting even smaller to penetrate his command to his slave. The creature crawl-walked up the stairs, taking a deck at a time, always stopping, listening, sniffing, peering. His bare feet made not a sound, as a cat, with soft pads and retracted claws.

***

Hornblower sat with his eyes closed wondering if the night held any unknown terror. Here amongst his men, with his best friend dozing across from him, it was difficult to feel fear. Mainly he felt foolish. He reminded himself that he was not foolish but prudent. If tonight's fears proved unfounded, perhaps he could redeem himself with the next night.

But should he? What had happened with the French? Had they lost a man the first night or the second? He gently pulled the log to him, seeing Archie's eyes closed and his chest rising in even breaths. Thumbing to the French entries, he scanned the pages. Three nights! Damn! It was the third night they lost the first man! He frowned at the information. Closing the book, he thought. Pellew would be back before the third night, but what was to say whatever happened with the French would take as long with them?

Inclining his ear, he listened as the watch rang out the half hour. Seven bells, eleven thirty. He looked back over at Archie. The sound had not awakened him. Standing carefully, he kept his eyes on his friend as he made his way to the door to exit the cabin. Some of the men of the next watch were stirring. Bailey saw Hornblower standing in the door. Hornblower put his finger over his lips to quiet him. He did not want Bailey or the other seven men of the next watch waking the others unnecessarily. Opening the door carefully, he slipped out into the cold October night.

The pair of eyes in the darkness watched him leave. The hulking form moved quietly to follow him. No one took notice as the door eased open. Light fell upon the scraggy headed Styles, and another slipped into the dark evening.

Standing in the star light shadow of the quarter-deck, Hornblower hugged himself. He should have thought to grab his cloak. Pulling his coat close about him, shoulders hunched he walked out into the waist near the main mast. He looked up at the stars. They were brilliant, seeming like a never ending shower of fireworks that would settle upon him. He listened to the ship. The small amount of top gallant, left unfurled, flapped gently. The lines and wood creaked with each swell that made the grand ship move upon the water. He looked towards the quarter-deck, mentally counting each man. One - two - three- four, five - six.....he moved towards the side...seven...eight! He released the breath he had been holding, a cloud of steam billowing before his eyes in the star shine.

Walking to the rail, he looked into the distance where last Indefatigable had been seen. Should he have delayed his captain from warping out in pursuit of the enemy? What would Pellew have thought of the strange entries in the ship's log? Had he made the right decision in saying he had nothing to tell his captain? He breathed out slow and steady looking into the dark waters surrounding the ship.

As he stood there, a shadow from the star shine loomed across the deck, falling at his heels. As the figure moved closer, the shadow crept up the back of his legs, to his waist, up his back. At the last moment, he turned gasping in a breath of air.

"Styles! What the devil are you doing out here?"

"I might be askin' you the same damn THING, sir, beggin' your pardon!"

The testiness in Styles voice caught him unaware.

"What do you mean?" he sputtered.

"Ye've got the whole lot of us paling around in groups and what are you doin'? ...SIR?"

In better light, Hornblower could have passed for one of the redmen associated with the continent of North America. He swallowed and sputtered again, "I...I ...," he saw some of the next watch come into the waist. "I knew the next watch would be out right behind me!"

Styles turned to look behind him at two men exiting the cabin. "Uh huh...," he turned back to Hornblower with a raised eyebrow, "...sir!" Styles stood close to him, his large frame hulking over his captain. He held up his arm. "I've brought ye your cloak, sir. Right cold out here tonight."

"Tha, thank you, Styles. As Hornblower took the cloak, the large sailor took a step back from him to give him room to put it on. Hornblower cleared his throat stepping around his subordinant. He did not see his burly sailor shake his shaggy head in dismay.

A belaying pin fell to the deck. Styles and Hornblower turned immediately to the sound behind them, towards the bow. The watch on the command deck ran noisily to the rail to look in the waist. A black and white figure disappeared over the side. Styles and Hornblower ran forward to look over.

"Who was that? Where did he go?"

"Didn't hear no splash, sir! Look! One of the gun ports is open! He must've gone in there!"

Hornblower ran over to the stairs.

"What are ye doin', sir?"

He hesitated. He looked back at Styles. The determined look on Styles' face might have made him laugh except for the seriousness of their situation. Styles was right, he had no business being out alone and no business going below without a group.

He nodded at the sailor. "Damn! He'll be back down in the hold before we can catch him!"

"Want me to get more men, sir?"

Hornblower thought. If they chased the man, like as not he would head for the hold. If they did not chase him, then he might amble about decks all night long causing untold amounts of mischief. But, if by chance, he was not headed for the hold, then they might make it to the orlop cellar and disable the door, thereby preventing him from locking himself away there. Catching him might be a possibility. What would they do with him if they did? He shook his head. He would worry about that if and when they caught him. They would need Starns, the ship's carpenter. He would know how to deal with the door quickly.

"Yes. Tell Starns to join us and bring his kit with him. What became of that ax you found below?"

"It's still there, sir, but I know where there be a sharp one."

"Good. Get it. We may need it."

While Hornblower and Styles were talking, the midnight watch had emerged from the cabin talking in a hushed excitment wanting to know what had happened. Every man in the cabin was wakened by the rush of footsteps overhead. Some stood shivering in sparse clothing in the night air looking up towards the quarter-deck questioning the first watch.

Kennedy had rushed out the door, hearing all the hubbub. "Where is Mr. Hornblower?" he asked Livermore. The topman nodded over his shoulder. Turning, he watched as Hornblower strode towards him. Looking beyond him to Styles, he caught the sailor's eye. He shook his head at Kennedy. Kennedy frowned. He could guess why the look on Styles disgruntled face.

"What's going on, Mr. Hornblower?"

"A visitor. I intend to give chase." He looked around at the mass of milling men. Everyone was awake. "I want you to stay here, Mr. Kennedy. Mind the men."

"Matthews can mind them, he and Sergeant Blaine," he said lowly.

Hornblower turned to glare at him. His eyes flashed fire at his friend. He jerked his head over to the side away from the men. "I need you to stay here. You are the only other officer on board."

"No. I am coming with you. I am in your group and I go with you."

"Mr. Kennedy," he whispered through pinched teeth, "You will obey my order!"

"Don't pull rank on me, Horatio! I know the details of that log! I am going with you!"

"I could have you placed under arrest!"

"Oh? And what shall we do with you for disobeying your OWN order!"

Hornblower felt the burn in his cheeks.

"And, don't deny it! I could see it written all over Styles face!"

Hornblower turned away from him taking a cleansing breath, calming himself. He turned to Kennedy.

"Archie. Listen. If we both go below, and, and something happens to us, there will be no one to lead the men. One of us must stay."

"You're right, Horatio."

Hornblower sighed, glad that logic had prevailed with his friend.

"I'll go. You stay. After all, you are the captain. Pellew would delegate and send one of us." said Kennedy flatly.

"No!"

"Then, we both go!"

"All right! All right! Damn it! And, when Pellew finds out about this he'll have us both on watch on watch!" He turned around looking for the six that would join them, frustration marring his visage. "Styles!" He told him whom to round up for the foray below decks.

"Matthews!" shouted Hornblower. He could be seen explaining the situation to the wizened seaman, gesturing towards Kennedy and frowning.

Oldroyd felt a strong hand grab the back of his neck.

"Where d'ya think your goin'?" asked Styles.

"Back to bed?" he asked nervously.

Styles shook his head slowly at him.

"We ain't goin' down there again, are we Styles?"

"Get a lantern, Oldroyd," Styles ordered.

Oh, no," said the frightened sailor. "Bailey. Wanna trade groups wi' me? I'll...I'll give ye me spirit ration for a week!"

Bailey shook his head at him.

"For a month! Ye can have it for a month!"

"No way this side o' hell, Oldroyd!"

"Jimmy boy, don't cha wanna trade wi'me?"

He could find no takers. Moaning, he found a lantern and joined Hornblower, Kennedy, Styles, Crabbe, Starns, and two marines, Riley and Crawford. Oldroyd pranced where he stood.

"What's a matter wi' you, Oldroyd? Need to go to the head?" laughed Crabbe.

"Laugh! Laugh! We'll see who's laughin' when we get below decks, we will!"

Ding-ding, ding-ding, ding-ding, ding-ding. Midnight.

Oldroyd listened to the last toll of the ship's bell. "Oh, crikey!"

Hornblower descended the forward stairs, followed closely by his men. The lantern light seemed to be sucked in by the darkness as Matthews and Sergeant Blaine watched from the quarter-deck.

"I don't suppose anybody will be sleepin' till they get back," commented Blaine.

"You're right there, mate!" said Matthews turning to oversee the changing watch.

Things were once again quiet in the waist of Kaliakra. Very quiet. The timbers creaked. The lines rubbed affectionately against the masts, yards, spars, and pins. The waves kissed Kaliakra's sides with a familiar lap.

But one tap, one click, sounded as a great black wing retracted revealing the cowering creature it was shielding. The pinpoint red eyes, looked down affectionately at the wide eyed stare of its minion, moving its head to say, go. The creature stealthily moved from shadow to shadow making his way to the main mast. He climbed silently upwards to the first yard. Easing his way out, he slipped his toes underneath the line attaching the sail to the spar. Grasping the other line with his hands he let himself slip upside down, knees tucked into his chest. He looked at the men on watch. He looked to his master. He blinked at the waiting red eyes.

With a silent move of his outstretched black wings, he floated to the yard above his minion. The creature watched him alight there, then returned his gaze to the watch.

Blaine stared up at the stars, marveling at the apparent closeness. Looking forward out over the bow, the curious blackness that blocked the sparkling nighttime diamonds did not register. Like a black hole, it seemed to vacuum the stars rather than hide them. If it had moved to the right or to the left, Blaine might have realized the impenetrable nature of the perched entity.

Its black leathery wings wrapped cocoon-like around the tall lithe figure. A long forked tongue slipped through the purple orifice that would pass for lips, darting over them in anticipation. The red eyes studied the men that would be sustenance. The thought of fresh blood excited the dark fiend. He spread his wings and began to gyrate his winged limbs in an enticing dance. A hiss of expectancy escaped it, grinning its macabre mouth full of fangs. What would he eat tonight? A red one or a blue one?

Dancing in the Darkness pt 9

Once below decks, Hornblower gathered the men around him. Though out of the cool night air, the deck was cold and the air seemed hard in its unseemly frigidity.
A shiver ran through him as he readied himself to speak.

"Listen, men, I must tell you the same thing I told the night watches, should you see this dancing thing, do not look into its eyes. If you see anything remotely suspicious, shout. The thing apparently has red eyes that can paralyze. Do not look into them. Cover your eyes! Yell! And, above all, stay with your group."

"Ye mean we're splittin' up down *ere, sir?" asked Oldroyd shakily.

Hornblower rested his hand on Oldroyd's shoulder, giving him a reassuring smile. "Only briefly, Oldroyd, we shall be within shouting distance." Turning his attention to Kennedy he said, "Mr. Kennedy, you take Styles, Oldroyd and Crabbe with you. Riley, Crawford, Starns, come with me."

"Aye, sir." replied Kennedy.

Hornblower walked the short distance to the front larboard gun port. All the ports had been closed when they boarded. From the water, an open port would have been very obvious. Someone had opened it. He felt the press of men behind him. "Any of you men know if one of us opened this tonight?"

The general answer was negative. Who was the figure slipping over the side? Styles was right. Whoever it was must have re-entered the ship through this port. He held his lantern high closer to the opening. He squinted at what he saw on the oaken frame. Reaching, he tugged at it with his fingers. It pulled free. Holding it up to his eyes in the lantern light he rubbed it between his fingers. Blue wool. "Riley, how did you say the man was dressed that you saw in the hold?"

"He were wearin' a dirty white shirt and dark trousers, sir."

"Styles..." After saying his name, Hornblower paused thinking. "Styles, how do you recall the man's clothing we saw slip over the side?"

"White trousers, sir. Dark coat or shirt."

"Hm. That is as I remember, as well."

"What is it, Mr. Hornblower?" asked Kennedy.

"Riley describes the man in the hold dressed opposite in color from the one Styles and I saw on deck. That means either, the man in the hold has changed clothes, at least his breeches, and is wearing a coat. Or..."

"Or?" asked Kennedy.

"There is more than one man in the hold."

The band of men exchanged looks amongst themselves.

"Oy! I don't know *ow a man would want ta stay down in the stench of that hold," said Riley. "It be the worst I ever smelt on a ship. Like rotten eggs, it are. Reminds me..." he stopped speaking abruptly.

The men stared at Riley.

"Reminds you of what, Riley?" asked Hornblower.

"Nothin', sir, nothin'."

Hornblower stared at the young, Irish marine. "Riley, if you have anything to add to this mystery, do not be afraid to speak up." Hornblower watched him mull over his words.

Riley looked into Hornblower's eyes, then smiled and uneasy smile. "Ye wouldna want to know THIS, sir." He shook his head as he spoke. Oldroyd stared at him wild eyed.

"Wha', Riley, wha'? asked Oldroyd visibly trembling.

Sucking a breath, Riley added, "Me gran...she be delvin' inta things,... things...I were with her onest." Riley looked away from them recalling the past event. "Anyway, there were a smell like that un in the *old, that she come upon, that's all. That's all I was gonna say." He shifted his weight uneasily remembering the events with his grandmother, feeling beads of sweat pop onto his brow.

He could not relate what he knew to these men. They would think him as looney as the mad laugher. Even though he had the experience first hand, he could say no more. He felt a shiver run down his spine, like a confirmation that what he knew, and had witnessed with his grandmother, could be happening again. Happening here, on the decks of a ship at sea. An unknown ship, in the deep, dark, dank deck of the orlop.

 

 

Dancing in the Darkness Pt 10

 

Atop the yard arm, the fiend ceased his happy gyrations with a satisfied
smirk. Its eyebrows twitched with gleeful plottings. Men were so feeble,
easy prey. It would be fun to play with them for a while. He had no mother
to tell him not to play with his food. And, indeed, if he had, she would
have encouraged it! He laughed within himself at his own joke. He glanced
over at his little minion, his pet. The pet that helped him. He snorted at
the remembrance of past hunts, Goren as the decoy, him free with the one or
two that always stayed behind.

It was the usual. He frowned and sighed. Was there not some new game he
could play with these? He had finished the last Frenchman for dinner
tonight. He burped. French food did not sit well with him. Too rich. He
felt lucky these new edibles had arrived. He did not want to feast on Goren
unless he had to. He actually liked the little scrawny beast, in his own
way.

He turned his attention to the men on the quarter-deck. With an effortless
leap, he sailed silently to the middle yard arm of the mizzen mast.
Stretching his long body out along the spar, he rested his head on one
taloned hand, and drummed his other talons on the wood. In deep thought, he
peered down at his future meals.

He glanced back over to the main mast seeing Goren still hanging upside down
watching him, waiting for his signal. Fool! Scowling, he motioned for Goren
to right himself. The last time he had hung so, he had passed out, bouncing
on the deck. He slapped his pet silly for nearly giving them away. It was
fortunate the men, that time, were already petrified. The bump of Goren just
made them cower in fear. A smile seeped over his orifice at the thought of
the trembling sailors.

He tapped a talon against one of his fangs. What game might he play with
these? He inhaled deeply and exhaled out his malodorous breath. It was such
a dull life with these addle pated creatures God called men. He let his eyes
look heaven ward at the Name, then, returned to thinking, drumming, and
tapping.

*****

Hornblower fingered the material in the lamp light. Something was not right.
He held the lamp higher, looking into the darkness of the deck. "Spread
out, but stay close, men. Search between the cannon and tables. Let us
sweep from forward to aft."

Each squad took a side, Hornblower's the larboard, Kennedy's the starboard.
Starns paired with Hornblower, leaving the two marines to share a light.
Oldroyd was as close to Styles as he thought Styles would let him, and Crabbe
held the light with Kennedy.

As to weapons, Hornblower and Kennedy had their side swords and two pistols
each shoved in the waist of their trousers. Starns carried his carpenter's
kit and a pike, Styles, a gun and the sharpened ax. The marines carried
muskets. Oldroyd and Crabbe each had a sword to hand.

The men could see the lantern light opposite them swinging in between the
inanimate objects on the deck. They moved silently towards the aft stairs.

"Oy! Mr. Kennedy!" yelled Oldroyd trying to climb into Styles arms. "Look
at that!"

Hornblower's band ran to Kennedy's.

"What? What is it?" asked Hornblower.

"Look! It's them! It's them red eyes!"

Hornblower bobbed his head to look where Oldroyd was frantically gesturing.

He let out a disappointed sigh. "That's a rat, Oldroyd!"

Starns kicked towards it. The rat scampered off with a squeak.

Styles pushed Oldroyd away from him, knocking him brusquely on the head.

The men split to the respective sides once more, continuing the search.
Checking the aft areas of the officers quarters and ward rooms, the two
groups convened at the head of the aft stairs.

Taking a breath Kennedy asked, "Ready, Mr. Hornblower?"

Horatio nodded at his friend. Their eyes met, holding one another's gaze,
momentarily, in the yellow lamp light. Hornblower smiled slightly. Despite
knowing one of them should have stayed above decks, Horatio was glad to have
Archie along.

One side of Kennedy's mouth rose, knowing his officer and friend had ceased
his anger over his insistence to accompany him in the search. And, Horatio
was right, he knew. One of them should have stayed above decks. But Kennedy
knew from past experience he did not want to sit and worry over the exploits
of his friend. He had to be here. If there were trouble, trouble as
described in the Frenchman's log, he HAD to be here. He followed him down
the stairs.

Starting aft, they worked their way forward. The odor from the orlop seeped
up the two sets of stairs at either end of this level. One of the men
commented on the stench. Several glanced toward Riley. Would he say more?
Then, all was silent.

The bobbing lamps in and out the obstructions on this
deck were reminiscent of fireflies on a summer night. But this was not a
summer night. It was an October night, in the early hours of October 30th,
to be exact. It was an autumn night, a dark autumn night, and they were in
the dark reaches of an unfamiliar ship.

Hornblower stood still in the gangway, towards the bow end of the third deck.
He had an uneasy feeling they were being watched, and not by the red-eyed
rats he had seen peering at their strange, nocturnal, human visitors. He did
not hear anything from his crew. Even the proximity of Starns brought no
sound to his ears. The loudest thing he could hear was his own heart beating
rapidly within his chest. Trying to block it from his hearing with a force
of his will, he listened to the immense silence. It was like the ship was
holding her breath.

It was time to descend to the lowest level. The orlop.

The eight crossed the wooden floor to the stairs. The odor climbed the steps
to assault their senses. Hornblower felt his stomach turn. The difficulty
in breathing he experienced the afternoon previous, returned. He pulled a
portion of his cape over his nose and mouth attempting to block the putrid
stench. Someone behind him voiced his olfactory discomfort. Hornblower felt
his throat constrict at the reek. Descending.

Standing on the planking of the pebbled orlop, a few of the men coughed
quietly trying to maintain the contents of their stomachs. Hornblower lifted
his lamp, followed by the lamps of the others. The scene had not changed,
though the smell seemed more overpowering. Turning the lamps toward the
cellar, the door hung wide. Kennedy and Hornblower exchanged glances, then,
moved towards the opening. The odor was horrific.

Kennedy reached the doorway first, coughed, then, moved to the side in a dry
heave. It was all Hornblower could do to keep from doing the same. The men
stood back watching the reactions of the officers. Styles pushed his way
through the other men, stepping between the young leaders to peer into the
cellar.

"Och!" said Styles. "Let's get out o' here, sirs!"

Hornblower could not move, the scene inside the fruit cellar...horrible.
What kind of fiend could dwell with such corruption and filth? Was it the
missing Renault? Was he dead? Hornblower felt himself atremble. He knew he
had to find out. To find out, he would have to enter and check the body.
He commanded himself to enter the room. Styles saw him move towards it. He
grabbed his shoulders.

"Ye ain't goin' in there, sir?" said Styles in disbelief.

"I...I must be sure he is dead, Styles. We cannot leave him if he is not
dead." Hornblower's throat pinched closed, from the stench, from the sight.

Styles held Hornblower's shoulders tightly. "He's dead, sir! He's dead!
Look at his throat! His skin! There ain't a drop o' blood in him! He's
stinkin' dead! Out! Let's get out o'here!" He pulled Hornblower around
giving him a slight push. Grabbing Kennedy's arm, he pulled him along.
"Go!" commanded Styles to the other men. They turned, walking quickly back
to the stairs. Up, up, up. Styles kept a hand on the two officers until
they regained themselves, recovering from the shock assaulting their minds
and senses.

The stench hung in their nostrils, on their uniforms. Climbing, climbing,
one foot in front of the other. Out, out into the cleansing cold. The ship
vomited the men onto the deck.

Their return to the surface was an unwelcome surprise.

 

They coughed, snorted. Crabbe ran to the side, no longer able to contain his
turning innards. Several flapped their apparel, trying to rid themselves of
the stench in their clothes, knowing it would be harder to rid it from their
memory.

Goren and the fiend jumped at the noisy arrival of the band of men. The
fiend snarled and hissed. What was this? He and Goren were about to spring
their first trap! Who dares to interfere? His red eyes glared at the men
stumbling on the deck, gasping in the clean air. His view darted to Goren
ever intent upon him for command. He gave him a nod to retreat to a hiding
place. The fiend pulled himself up to his full height, containing his fury,
giving the new arrivals his attention. Where had these been? He turned his
head towards his leathery right shoulder, moving his head slowly up and down,
narrowing his red stare, taking the measure of the men on the deck.

The rush of men on the quarter-deck to the rail to view the risen comrades,
brought a snort from the fiend. All his planning. What a waste of time. He
should have done the usual. He would have had one by now. Running his
tongue over one fang, he clicked it in annoyance.

He turned his head quickly to the east. Exhaling a sulfurous breath, he knew
his time outside was limited. Soon the sun would rise and he must needs
return to his lair. He was going to be extra hungry by the coming night.

With a lift of his wings, he floated over to the main mast, landing low upon
it. He hugged the mast with his wings. Head pressed against it, one eye was
turned to stare at the men in the waist. Maybe he would choose one, a
certain one, that would make his game tomorrow more interesting.

He watched them. He listened. Had they been down to visit him and he not
there to greet them? An evil grimace formed on his fiendish features. He
held back a chuckle. Had they seen the remains of his meal? His grin grew
wider. Frightening them was almost as much fun as having them, though he did
want his "table" cleared. He glared over at Goren. He should have had him
remove the leftovers.

Goren watched him AND the men.

Hornblower stood still, feeling the shake in his body. In all his years of
war, he had never seen a more loathsome sight than what he saw this night.
He closed his eyes hard, trying to press away the vision. He opened them to
roam his men. They were all here. They were all alright, physically,
anyway. He found Archie in the dark shadow of the quarter-deck, bent over.
Was he still sick? Hornblower sucked in the clean air, recalling the turn of
his own stomach.

What had he accomplished? Nothing. He did not find the intruder, or the
laugher. He did not have the door of the cellar disabled. He did not bring
up the body for proper burial. He was angry with himself. Failed again. He
was a weakling! His eyes fell on Styles. Damn! He had brought them up!
And why? Because he had frozen. Their leader, frozen and trembling. He
quickly turned away from his men.

Styles approached him, speaking in a whisper. "Sir. I'm sorry, sir."
Hornblower said nothing. Styles spoke again. "It were *orrible, sir. I
could not stay there." He waited for his captain to speak. He did not. "I
could not leave ye there, sir, and ...I could not stay." He paused. He
bowed his head to the deck, barely audible, he said once more, "Sorry, sir."
He slowly moved from his captain.

Hornblower stood absorbing the words, looking into nothingness. *It was not
your fault, Styles,* he thought. *I froze. You did what is natural. You chose survival. I should have had control of myself. Given a logical order. You have nothing with which to condemn yourself. I, on the other hand...*

Matthews climbed down from the command post. Reaching Kennedy first, he
placed his hand on his bent back. "Are ye all right, sir?" he asked
anxiously.

"Aye, Matthews. Just trying to catch my breath." Kennedy half raised,
looking for Hornblower. He blinked and shook his head at the sight of his
friend's stony stare.

The fiend stood watching the movement of the men on the deck. He saw the one
in the shadows emerge to approach the tall one, the one the other man had
just left. Was he their leader? Men all looked alike to him. He canted his
leathery, bald head.

Kennedy and Matthews joined Hornblower in silence.

Kennedy glanced nervously at Matthews. He wanted to use Horatio's Christian
name, but could not with the rating so near. "Mr. Hornblower," he said
quietly. "We are all here."

"Yes."

"He was right... you know."

Hornblower let his head hang, then returned back to the nothing he stared at.

Kennedy glanced at Matthews. Eyes meeting, Matthews saluted him and moved
away.

"Mr. Hornblower?" Archie moved closer that Hornblower might hear his words.
"Horatio. There was nothing to be done. The reek of the place...the
darkness...the ghastly sight of.... Styles did what you or I would have
done." Why did he not speak? Was he traumatized? "We were in ... shock, Horatio.
Do not reproach yourself. You, I, and Styles are the only ones that saw. You nor I were prepared for that. No man could be. Our reactions prepared Styles. He knew something
horrendous was in there. He could face it, because he knew it was coming.
Horatio!" He waited for a word, some one word to tell him he was alright.
"It was the obscenity, Horatio ... what kind of fiend would do such a thing?"

At last Hornblower looked at his friend. "I know, Archie, Styles was right."
He looked over his men. The ones that had gone below. The ones that had
remained on deck. The ones sleeping in the cabin,...or not. "Archie," he
said tiredly. "Count the men for me, will you? Tell me none are missing."

Archie gave him a half smile and a salute, saying softly, "Aye, aye,
Captain."

The fiend's eyebrow darted upward. He recognized that! The tall one was
their leader! He formed an evil grin. *I will look for you tonight,* he
said mentally to Hornblower.

Hornblower let his eyes trace upwards sweeping the main mast and yards. It
was a strangely dark night, with strange shadows, but he did not perceive.
Inhaling, he went to order his men, not on watch, to rest. Soon, it would be
daylight. How he wished they had been ready to follow Pellew when he left
yesterday.

The fiend and Goren slipped amongst the shadows, escaping the coming light by
whisking silently down the forward stairs. Once on the first deck, the fiend
slapped Goren down.

"Get that thing out of my room before I get back there!"

Goren cowered and ducked away quickly back to the orlop.

The fiend stood a moment listening. Was someone here with him? He turned in
the darkness one way and then another, his tiny pointed ears perking up to
listen in the silence. At last he moved away silently, lurking down the deck
to the stairs.

The ship shifted, allowing the faint beams of starlight to fall on the first
deck through the stair opening. The light reflected off a pair of buckles,
attached to a pair of shoes, shoes of someone hiding in the shadows, someone
easing out, slowly, a long held breath.

**********

Dancing in the Darkness pt. 11

Hornblower was seated once more at the desk in the captain's quarters. The morning watch commanded the quarter-deck. Those coming off watch were settled into blankets on the floor, as well as the men that had traveled with him below decks. He let his eyes roam over the men, like a mother inspecting each child tucked into bed.

Archie had given him what he requested. All men accounted for. He let himself sigh a sigh of relief. Opening the log, he began to write again, filling in the events transpiring below decks, along with Matthews' reports.

Almost as an aside, Matthews had told him of a strange odor that had wafted across the quarter-deck, during the watch. Hornblower went with him, but no odor was apparent. Could it have come from below decks? But if that were the case, why would it not still remain? With ocean breezes what they were, it was difficult to know the answer. He wrote what Matthews had told him, feeling he should leave nothing unsaid that occurred, no matter how small.

Leaving Granby as the *officer* of the watch, he reminded him that the men were to remain in their group, at all times, even during daylight. And, that any group going below went with another, no man was to be alone.

He knew Hardy would be returning to the galley stove on the third deck in a few hours. He, personally, had pulled him and his group aside reminding them to take another with them, and to always remain together.

He instructed the men to take the time to open all the gun ports. The smell down there was enough to gag a maggot. Perhaps fresh air would alleviate the stench until he could get some men down there to clean up the orlop. Would the door be locked once more? No doubt, but at least they could clear the carcasses of dead rats. He felt remorse at not removing the Frenchman for burial. When they went down tonight, he would be prepared. If the door were open, he would see his remains were brought up.

Archie was sitting across from him dozing once more, refusing to rest properly as long as he did not. He smiled at him. He was glad Pellew had sent him with him. Then, his smile faded. What would he do if ever something happened to the man? They were at war. Men died around him every time he entered battle. Had he let himself form too close a relationship? Now, he was responsible for his friend's life, as well as these. Styles, sleeping there, Matthews, and Oldroyd. His face cracked a grin when he saw the frying pan laying on the floor next to Oldroyd, his hand resting on the handle. Starns, Bailey, Billings, the marines, whose names he was trying to learn. Crabbe, Johnson, Blaine, Riley. He counted them. Was he becoming like the Frenchman? Ever in need of reassurance that ALL his men were there? That all his men were safe?

 

He returned, scratching his quill across the log. At least, this night, he could report all men safe and sound. He was tired, but he wanted to return outside, once again to check on the watch, on Hardy's group, on the men, now awake and doing minimal duties, overseen by Smith. He would rest his eyes for a moment. Laying his head across his arm, his muscles relaxed as sleep took him. The quill went loose in his slack hand. It was pulled gently from his fingers. A blanket was draped over his shoulders. He slept.
Riley stood looking at him. He was not sure what he should do, what he should say. He needed to think. Think, before he spoke to Hornblower.

The nights activities had brought many things to mind, not the least of which, his grandmother. She had not wanted him to enter the marines. She felt there was a loftier plan for his life. But he insisted. He wanted a life of adventure. Not the everyday work about world of a farm, and what she thought might be a plan for his life, was not a plan he would make. So, here he was. One of the last things she had said to him, resigned to his choice was, "It is well. Perhaps this is the road you are to travel. Only he knows. And, if this is what you feel led to do, then, he will use it where ever you are."

He shuddered, recalling those words in light of the situation. He needed to think, to remember all his grandmother had shown him, taught him. Things he had decided he did not want to know, things he wanted to forget. Why would anyone want to partake in what he had experienced with his gran? Even if it was for good. It was creepy, and most definitely, unnatural. Carefully, stepping over the sleeping men, he took his musket and exited the cabin, closing the door noiselessly.

Earlier, deep in the orlop, Goren was struggling with the body of the Frenchman. The body was hardly lighter for loss of blood. It was a dead weight. The fiend had come below, sucking on a rat, throwing it against the wall when he finished it. It was the fourth one. He eyed Goren's struggles with amusement. Moving the corpse would have been a light feat with his strong winged arms, but he was not in a mood to be helpful. He brushed passed Goren entering the cellar and slamming the door.

Goren looked at the closed door sullenly, tugging the corpse behind him. Getting it to the base of the stairs he tried to lift it up with him. It slipped from his hands, thumping down the few stairs he had drug it. He sighed. Leaving it there, he went for a rope.

He was hungry. The fiend had not given him a moment for sustenance. He pulled a strap from his pocket. It had a gleaming pointed end attached to a leather finger. He stuck his right index finger inside and tied the straps around his wrist. If he got a rat, he was ready.

Returning to the body with a rope and a rat, he squatted, finishing his rat. Securing the body, he began his long hard pull to the surface, banging the man against a stair, a support, and whatever other obstruction he came against. It was fortunate for him, the men had not yet regrouped to begin morning meal preparations.

Goren could tell the sun was rising by the beams that fell onto the deck from the stair openings. He squinted his eyes. He hated coming into the sunlight. He drug the corpse behind him along the first deck to the forward stairs. Leaving the body, he crept up the ladder, peering to see where the men were. Should he leave the body for them to take care of? But if they did not, and the fiend found out... he shuddered. Better to take a chance with the men than his master.

Letting his head barely above the level of the deck, he took note of the lay. The boats the men had brought with them obscured his exit. He grinned and laughed quietly. "Hee, hee, hee." He returned below to drag the body up. With much grunting and tugging, the body catching on the stairs, with a final heave he and the body fell onto the deck.

Goren froze. Slowly he moved so he could peer around the boats. No movement from the men. They had not heard him. Now, all he had to do was get the body over to the side. He watched the men until he could dodge over to the cannon nearest and opposite him. He peered around its truck to the men. No notice.

He took up the slack on the rope, pulling till the weight at the other end took hold, bracing himself against the rail and the cannon wheel, he pulled the body over. With much pushing and shoving he stuffed the body through the gun port. It went over with a splash! He popped his head up over the cannon just enough to see the men on the quarter-deck still no notice. He grinned, laughing softly. "Hee, hee, hee."

He lowered himself to creep back over to the stairs. Then, he saw him. Blazing red in the morning sun like fresh blood. His gun aimed squarely. It was the man he had pitched the rat at yesterday.

Dancing in the darkness pt 11B

 

Riley stared at the squinting, squatting man before him. The pallor of his yellow skin could be seen beneath the filth that covered him and smudged his clothing. The stench from the hold hovered around him like flies on a dung pile. He watched the man put his arm over his eyes. Realizing the sun was affecting him, Riley shifted his stance so his shadow gave shade to the frozen man.

"Don't move. Who are ye?"

Lowering his arm, the man had begun to pant, shifting his eyes one way and then another.

"Do ye speak English? What ye doin' in the hold? Anybody else with ye?"

Riley gave him a moment to answer. Then, opened his mouth to call for help, but too late. Goren leaped upon him. The gun fell to the deck. The filthy creature had his full weight on his chest. For so slight a man, he had amazing strength. He pulled back his right hand slashing across Riley's neck with his finger weapon. It tore through his uniform. Riley struggled to free himself. The man lashed at him again, another rip. They wrestled, but the wiry creature got the best of him once more. He grinned at Riley revealing black and yellow teeth and a noisome breath. He readied his arm once more hoping to find skin with his finger knife.

At last, the words came from Riley, words his grandmother had taught him. The creature fell back from him as though he were hit with a cannonball. He stared at Riley, dazed for a moment. Then, with a look of fear, he scrambled down the stairs. Riley raised himself, listening to the man's feet running across the planking on the next deck. He would never catch him. He lay flat on the deck looking up at the blue sky above him. He closed his eyes. "Thank ye, Lord."

After laying prone on the deck for some time, Riley stood, still shaky from the attack. He looked at the rips in his uniform, felt the one on his collar. How was he going to explain this? He had disobeyed Hornblower's orders. He was alone on deck. He should have called for help immediately seeing the mad laugher, but he thought he could handle it. After all, the man was squatting, unarmed, well, he seemed to be unarmed. He thought about his finger weapon, shuddering at what use he must put it to. He looked at his rips again. Thank God, he had not made contact with his flesh. Yes, thank God, indeed.

He looked up again into the bright sun, closing his eyes, looking at the red behind his lids. Suddenly, he was incredibly tired. He had given thought to his youthful schooling by his gran. Now, it appeared she was right. He had been given the knowledge, he was a soldier of the King, and he was expected to do battle. He hung his head and hunched his shoulders, shivering in the morning air. Rubbing his neck, he wondered how he was going to tell the Captain. Picking up his gun, he uncocked it.

He looked back at the quarter-deck men. They were still oblivious to what had transpired. Maybe he could get back into the cabin unnoticed. They would think he was raving.

It was one of the things that had convinced him the plan his gran saw for him was not his plan. Now, it was firmly thrown back in his face, and he heard her words again. "...Perhaps this is the road you are to travel. ... He will use it where ever you are." Was he going according to plan after all? He shook his head. They will think I am daft, he thought again. He slowly walked back to the cabin.

At that moment, Hardy and his group appeared on their way to fix breakfast for the crew. He startled them.

Looking at his uniform, Hardy asked, "What the hell happened to you?" Hardy put his hands on his hips. "And, where's your group, Riley?"

"Don't ask, Hardy. I'm goin' to sleep." He pushed passed them and entered the captain's quarters. Hornblower was still sleeping at his desk. He found another blanket left by the galley crews and curled up on the floor. He was too tired to deal with his insubordination, or to wake his tired captain to turn himself in There was time for that later. He was exhausted. He wanted sleep.

***

Goren reached the orlop, panting, wild and wide-eyed with fear. He clutched the railing of the stairs, looking up and listening. Was that man following him? He swallowed, looking at the closed door of his master. He shook his head no. He could not tell him. He would be furious. He might...hurt him. He began to shake his head no again. He whispered in the darkness. "No hurt Goren. No hurt Goren." He crawled over into a corner, hugged his knees into his chest, staring at the door, then at the stairs. "No hurt Goren. No." He began to whimper and cry. "No hurt Goren."

Dancing in the darkness pt 11C

 

 

Hardy and the others did as ordered. Starting with the first deck, he and the other seven opened every gun port on the way to the third level. He put the others to work helping to prepare the breakfast as he wanted to return above decks as soon as possible.

Goren could hear them banging about on the deck above him. He stopped his crying and listened. He could smell the cooking food. It was strange, but after so long on a diet of rat's blood, he found the food smells oddly appealing. In fact, he felt different, and he did not understand why. It frightened him. The fiend frightened him. He had to go back in there. He had to. It was where he belonged, was it not? He lifted his nostrils to smell the cooking food. Climbing up the ladder carefully, he entered the galley deck. Creeping stealthily along he came near the working men.

He listened to them chattering away. Sometimes laughing. Goren scrunched his brow at their voices and laughter. "Hee." He listened to his own laugh. Clamping his hand over his mouth, he gazed down at the knife covering his finger as if he had never seen it before. He untied it from his wrist. Moving closer, he could see the men working. One of them placed a plate of something on a ledge near him. He sniffed. Walking with bent legs, he came close. Reaching up, he grabbed the food off the plate. Taking it over away from the men, he sat greedily devouring the pan fried pork meat. He licked his fingers. Looking back towards the men, he drew near once more. He reached up to grab whatever was on the plate. It was round. He wrapped his fingers around it. Then, someone grabbed his wrist.

"Caught ye!"

Goren rose screaming in fear. When Hardy saw him, he screamed equally as loud and released him. Goren ran for the orlop. Hardy's screams brought his mates from the other side of the stove. The men followed after the retreating form until they saw him slip down the ladder.

"No way, Johnson. I ain't goin' down there. Not without Mr. Hornblower or Mr. Kennedy. No way."

"Mr. Ornblower said we was ta stay together. If he ain't goin', I ain't goin'," said Bridges.

"Aye, me, too."

The men looked at each other. "Oughten we ta tell him?"

"Mr. Ornblower be sleepin'."

"Then, oughten we ta tell Granby?"

"Aye, we ought to tell Granby."

"Well, that loon ain't goin' no wheres. Let's finish the breakfast."

"I gotta fry another whole pan of pork. That idiot must have ate the lot of it! Had me thinkin' I was mad, he did. I knew I'd already cooked a pan full," said Hardy scratching his head.

The little band of men walked back to the galley. Johnson and Bridges stationed themselves to watch the aft stairs.

Goren stood outside the fiend's lair, panting from his escape from the men. He looked down at what he held in his hand. He sniffed it, then, took a small bite. The taste was strangely familiar. He ate it quickly letting crumbs fall at his feet. His hand was on the door handle. He pushed it open. He was met with a rush of malodorous air. Was this not where he belonged? He forced himself to go in.

Once inside, he sat on the floor as far as he could from the sleeping fiend. His form repulsed him. The filth on the floor repulsed him. What was he doing here? But, was this not where he belonged?

**********

The men were called to breakfast. Granby was informed of the theft of food. Entering the sleeping quarters, he saw the two officers still sleeping where they sat. He disliked waking them and decided to wake Kennedy first. Seeing Hornblower sleeping, Kennedy motioned for Granby to be silent. They moved outside the cabin.

Granby told Kennedy of what had transpired below.

"Thank you, Granby. I will inform Mr. Hornblower."

Kennedy walked further into the waist taking in the sights of the ship. Everything seemed as it was the day previous. It was just a ship. But, there was something more, something unsettling about her. The feeling of uneasiness pervaded his senses.

Mounting the quarter-deck stairs, he saluted Hoskins, now in charge of the watch. The extra men stood about the deck staring out to sea, feeling the warmth of the early morning sun warm them in the cool October air.

Kennedy breathed deeply, grateful for the fresh sea air, thinking about the previous night and the stench in the hold, thinking about the Frenchman's log entries. He sighed. How did they fight such an enemy? Who was he? What was he? Feeding on the blood of men? He shuddered. That is what Styles had said, *There isn't a drop of blood left in him!* The sight of the crumpled French officer was in his mind's eye. His throat was mangled. A growth of beard on his face made Kennedy wonder how long he had been captive to whatever horror inhabited the orlop. What must the man have suffered? He let his head hang, feeling the shiver throughout his body once again. It was more than the October morning making him quiver.

A rating went to toll the bell. The morning was wearing on. He decided to return to Hornblower. How long had he been sleeping? He would decide when he saw him whether to wake him or let him sleep.

Wiggins met him as he was about to re-enter the cabin.

"Sir, Mr. Hardy wants to know if ye want your breakfast now?"

"Yes, I will come."

Treading down the stairs, the view of the first deck was different from last night. Light entered through the open gun ports, but the shade of the deck blocked the warmth of the sun. The October breezes passing from one side of the ship and out the other gave an added coolness and, also, cleansing fresh air. The familiar odor of breakfast food surpassed that of the orlop.

He sat where Hardy indicated. The rating sat a plate of food before him.

"Coffee, sir?"

"Yes."

Hardy returned in a moment with the cup.

Kennedy looked at him. "Sit down, Hardy."

Hardy looked around at his mates, then did as ordered with some uneasiness. Ratings did not sit with officers.

"Tell me what happened on the galley deck." Kennedy proceeded to eat his meal, looking away from Hardy, to give the man ease at sitting with him. He looked back as he chewed.
After Hardy related the events, he asked. "How was he dressed?"

"Ooo, well, his clothes was dirty. But he had on what once woulda been a white shirt, and black breeches."

"You are sure they were black?"

"Pretty sure, sir."

The rest of the galley group were standing listening. Kennedy looked around at them. "You men have anything to add?"

They answered in the negative.

"Thank you, Hardy."

Hardy rose from the seat. "What about Mr. Ornblower, sir? Will he be wantin' breakfast?"

"Prepare a tray, Hardy, I will take it to him."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Kennedy sat mulling over what information was had. Resting his elbows on the table, he sipped his coffee. Holding the mug between both hands, it rested long on his lips to warm his nose from the steam. Another eyewitness report on the man in the hold. Same clothes as Riley had reported. Who was it Hornblower and Styles saw? To whom did the scrap of blue cloth belong that Hornblower removed from the gun port? How long might the scrap have been there? Was it indeed from the man they saw go over the side? Were there TWO men on board this ship, successfully hidden?

Entering the cabin, with Hornblower's tray of food, Kennedy could see his friend and his captain still sleeping at the desk. He looked at the blanket over his shoulders. Moving the log, he carefully sat the tray on the desktop. He eased himself into the chair, rested his elbow on the desk and his head in his hand. How long had he been sleeping? He sat watching his friend. He hoped the smell of food would waken him so he would not have to.

He sighed, looking about the room. The men that had gone below with them, and the late watch, were still sleeping, as well. Pulling his watch from his pocket, the time was nearly nine o'clock. He wondered where the Indefatigable was and thought about the routine that would be taking place on his ship.

This crew had been through a sleepless night, or a fitfull one at best. They were not going anywhere. Orders were to wait another day before sailing for England.

England. Fall in the midlands. He thought about the rows of pumpkins, round and orange, growing in the fields, wheat, barley, squash. Harvest time. He remembered the celebrations the people of his father's estate would have, to thank God for a bountiful harvest.

God. Pellew. His captain was a praying man. Nelson was a praying man by all reports. Indeed, Admiral Nelson was the son of a minister! He looked at Horatio. He did not remember his friend ever mentioning God, unless it was in conjunction with some amazement. The Admiralty was God-fearing, ordaining Sunday services for ships at sea.

Heavens! What had lead him down this path of thought? He thought back. Oh yes, the harvest.

Interesting how the mind works, he thought. *They say we have God on our side.* The phrase echoed through his mind. Who said that? He pondered checking his memory. Horatio! It was Horatio! He smiled wryly at his friend, remembering the context.

It was one of those long nights in Spain when neither he nor Hornblower could sleep. He asked his friend to tell him about what had happened while he was away in prison, and he had told him the story of when Spain joined France in the war, of the Spanish officer boarding the Indy with letters to warn them to up anchor, or be fired upon. He wondered why Horatio had chosen to tell him of that embarrassing moment. He was always so careful not to appear lacking or foolish in any way, shape, or form. Was it because of what he said when he was ... when he wanted death? When in the depths of despair, he let the jealousy and bitterness out against Hornblower, saying he would never be in a situation as he was?

Though it was a small thing for Horatio to relate to him from Archie's viewpoint, just an off-handed remark he made to Pellew, but he knew that for Horatio, it was not a small thing. To admit to him his feelings, HIS FEELINGS, of being foolish at what he had said to Pellew. To Pellew, who WAS god on his ship, the man they all looked up to. And, Pellew's unaccustomed sarcastic response, *Really. Well let us hope the Almlighty never chooses to become neutral.* Archie snorted imagining how the captain might have said it, and the look on Horatio's face. Pellew must have still been peeved at the Spanish, forcing him to leave or face the consequences. Poor Horatio!

His friend moved, sitting up to see Kennedy smirking at him. "What is funny, Archie?" He blinked at his surroundings. He had hoped he had been having a nightmare, but no, he WAS on a strange ship. "Have you been sitting there all this time?"

"No, Mr. Hornblower, I have brought you breakfast."

"Oh, I feel like I've been rolled up in a sail, bent, and tied to a yardarm." He rubbed his neck, then his forehead.

"Don't tell me you still have a headache."

Hornblower looked at him pointedly. "Ask me no questions; I'll tell you no lies."

"I suppose that is what comes of being obstinate."

"Archie, please, don't rail against me this morning." He looked around the room, seeing a few men still sleeping. "What time is it?"

"After nine."

"What? Why didn't you wake me?" He stood, reeling at the quickness of his movement.

Archie matched his stance, reaching to hold him steady. "What for, Horatio? We aren't going anywhere. Sit down before you fall down."

"Are the men alright? Did you, did you...?"

"All present and counted. None lost. Eat your food." Kennedy slid the tray towards him.

"I don't feel like eating."

Archie uncovered the tray. "Ah, thank you, Hardy." He smiled seeing the rating had included an extra cup of coffee. Archie picked up Horatio's hand and pushed the mug into it. "Drink. Hardy could make some captain a happy man one day. He's not a bad cook."
Picking up a piece of bacon he munched on it himself. Hornblower watched him eating his food. He reached for another piece. Hornblower slapped his hand.

"Stop that!"

"Sorry, I thought you weren't hungry," grinned Archie.

Dancing in the Darkness pt 11D

 

By noon, the men were nearly done clearing the orlop of rat bodies. They had begun swabbing the planks. The dull ax, retrieved, had been taken by Starns for sharpening. The odor in the hold was much reduced and seemed centered around the fruit cellar. Hornblower approached the door and knocked.

"Sir. Sir, I must insist that you open the door. I need to ask you some questions." There was no response. He knocked again. "I know you have the body of a man in there. It is not healthy to ... to be around corpses. Please, open the door. We will not harm you. We wish only to take the man for burial and ask you some questions." He sighed looking around at Styles ready with the sharp ax he had carried the night before. "If you do not open the door, we shall have to use force." He gave time for a response. "Very well. Styles."

The burly man moved closer to the door. He swung the ax back, brought it forward, letting his hand slip down the handle. THUD! Styles felt the reverberation through his hands, up his arms, to his shoulders. He hit it again.

"Bloody hell!" he exclaimed. "That wood is like iron!"

"Let me try it," said Bailey. He swung with all his force. "OY!" Not a mark.

"Gimme that, Bailey." Styles tried once more. The shock reverberated up his arms.
Shaking them, he lifted the ax to look at its edge. Flat. The edge was flat as if it had not been sharpened. He felt the door. There was barely a mark where the metal met the wood.

"Damn," said Hornblower under his breath. It was just as the Frenchman had said in the log. The ax Starns was sharpening did not fail because it was dull. Something must have been done to the wood to strengthen it. He ran his hand over it. But what?

"We could set a charge, Mr. Hornblower. Blow the bastard to kingdom come!" spat Styles.

"And, what will we do, Styles, until Captain Pellew returns? Sit about in two open boats hoping for the best? I am not ready to do that! I'll be topside, Mr. Kennedy. See things are taken care of here."

"Aye, aye, Mr. Hornblower."

Coming above decks, he proceeded to the quarter-deck. He began pacing. He thought better when he paced. He clasped and unclasped his hands behind him. This problem was getting the upper hand and he did not like it. He needed to approach it logically, examine the evidence, devise a plan. The men on watch noted his demeanor, moving away from him over to one side of the deck.

*Damn!* he thought. *Why couldn't Pellew have given this job to Rampling? Why couldn't I be on the Indy chasing a NORMAL enemy!* He turned at the end of each pace. He stopped. Clasped his hands behind him, twisting one with the other tightly. His jaw clamped. The veins along his head throbbed with each twitch of his tightened teeth. He closed his eyes. His chest rose with each calming breath of air he inhaled, each coming more slowly than the last.

"Mr. Hornblower."

Who dared to approach him? Could they not see he was not to be disturbed? He glanced at the intruder briefly. It was one of the marines. "What do you want?" he asked curtly.

"I think the smell in the hold be less, sir."

"Yes, yes, what of it?" He turned to look at the man at last. It was Riley. His uniform looked as if someone had come at him with a butcher knife. His face registered his surprise. "What happened to your uniform, Riley?"

"Er, well, that is what I need to talk to ye about, sir." He hesitated, glanced over at Sergeant Blaine, who gave him a nod of assurance, then blurted quickly. "I disobeyed your orders, sir."

Hornblower looked over at Blaine, then, at Riley. "Yes? How?"

"I..." Riley hung his head, "I were on deck...alone, sir."

Hornblower felt a shiver. "When, Riley?"

"Early this mornin', sir. Not long after we all bedded down. I couldna sleep, Mr. Hornblower. I needed ta think. So, I went out on deck."

This sounded familiar. Had he not done the same last night?
"What has this ...what happened to your uniform?"

Riley took a breath, glanced at Blaine, shifted his weight. "It were the loony, sir. I heared him come on deck." Riley winced.

"He came on deck and attacked you?"

"Well, not exactly, sir."

"Well, WHAT, exactly?"

He took a deep breath. "It were like this. That smell down there. It brought back memories of me gran." He looked at Hornblower, but knew that was not enough information. "My gran, she...well."

"Riley," said Hornblower calmly. "Don't tell me about your grandmother. Tell me what happened on deck. How your uniform became...slashed."

"Yes, sir. But, sir, at some point I should tell ye about me gran."

"Go on, man!"

"I was leanin' on the rail, lookin' out ta sea, and I heared this thump. I thinks at first, it is just a wave hit the side o the ship. But then, I thought I heared the loony laugher, only he were real quiet. I looks around me. I thinks, oh Lord, I shouldna be out here alone, Mr. Hornblower won't like it. Then, I hears this slidin' noise like somethin' is bein' drug across the deck. I get me gun, an' cock 'er real easy." He performed the motion of cocking his gun, then crouched as he told the next bit. "Then, I snuck real quiet like, on the deck towards the bow. And, there he was, stuffin' that man's body through the gun port. It were too late ta stop him, sir. I know ye wanted to bury him proper." Riley stood straight shaking his head.

Though he was sorry the man did not get a proper burial, something in him was relieved not to have to look on the sight of the mangled body once again. "Go on, Riley, then what?"

"Well, the scrawny thing was about ta make his way back down the forward stair, sir, when I took a bead on him. The sun seemed ta get in his eyes. I asked him a couple a questions, but he don't answer. He just takes ta pantin' and shiftin' his eyes like. Anyway next thing I know, before I can call for help, he's jumped me." Riley jumped toward Hornblower for effect. "He knocks me to the deck, takes his finger and rakes me throat! We wrestle and he rakes me coat here." He held out the torso of his uniform. "I get him off me, but he gets the upper hand again, and he's about to rake me throat again, when...when....I said somethin' and he fell back off a me. He were dazed like, looked scared, and runs away. I'm real thankful he only got me coat, sir."

"His finger did this damage to your uniform?" Hornblower said in disbelief.

"Well, sir, he had this like knife attached to his finger." Riley held up his index finger pretending to shove the instrument on it.

Hornblower blinked at the description of the weapon. "What did you say to him?"

Riley scrunched up his face, looking around at the men nearby. He shook his head. "Oh, sir, ye'll think I'm daft," he whispered.

"Tell me, Riley. I will not think you are daft."

"I ... I can't. Unless ye let me explain about me gran," he whispered again.

At this rate it would be midnight before the man got his story out, thought Hornblower in exageration. Perhaps if they were away from prying ears, the story would more readily come. He had a feeling it might be best if only he heard what Riley had to say anyway. Hornblower exhaled forcefully. "Very well. Come with me."

 

Dancing in the Darkness pt 12

Hornblower sat at the desk with a list before him. Going through the
Frenchman's log he had isolated a number of points for consideration. Next
to it, was a list of his own, compiled since boarding Kaliakra. And, next to
it a few phrases, containing the words that Riley had told him. His eyebrows
elevated as he glanced over the phrases. Riley was correct to be concerned
about the men thinking he was daft. How could words possibly be weapons of
force? Hornblower was trying desperately to have an open mind. After all,
was not Riley's uniform in shreds? Was he not trustworthy, as Blaine had
vouched? Would the man make up such a tale? And, if so, to what purpose?
Hornblower thought not, but what he related as having preserved him from the
laugher, was quite fantastic. He had never heard of such a thing.

Archie entered the cabin, joining Hornblower at the desk. "How now, Captain
Hornblower? You look deep in thought. Have we a plan?"

Sighing, he answered. "Yes, but I do not like it. However, I see no other
way to ... to trap him."

"Trap? Are you raving?"

"Archie, if the man is insane, how could I justify out and out killing him?"

"You think it is a man that has done these things?"

Hornblower held his bowed forehead with both hands, shaking it no. "Don't
start, Archie."

"Horatio, the Frenchman describes it as a *dancing darkness*." Pointing at
Hornblower's list as he read those very words. "You've written it yourself!
I know of no MAN that fits that description."

"Maybe the Frenchman was out of his head when he wrote it. He sounds quite
unHINGED, in his writing, going on about how he is NOT Renault. That is
enough to make me believe they were both raving!"

"But everything else he said has been spot on, Horatio. We must believe him
in this, too."

"Why? Why must we?"

"Because if we do not, we will not be prepared."

Horatio stared long at his friend, hearing the logic, but not wanting to
accept it. To accept it was to admit there was something inhuman on board
this ship. And, something inhuman was quite fantastic, the stuff of fairy
tales, children's ghost stories, things that went bump in the night.

"All Hallows Eve is tomorrow night, Horatio."

That tore it! He rose from his chair. "Archie! I do not believe in ghosts
and goblins, demons, witches, or warlocks! It is all a bunch of mumbo jumbo
gibberish!"

"They don't NEED you to believe in them for them to exist. Some say they
don't WANT you to believe in them. That way they can go about their evil
deeds unhampered."

"Have you been talking to Riley?"

"I heard a bit of what went on with him. What did he tell you?"

Hornblower sighed, shaking his head. "It is too fantastic! But, he said the
same thing about ... about... Satan." Hornblower felt a shiver go up his
spine at his own words, but mentally, he denied the feeling.

"What? That Satan doesn't want you to believe he exists?"

Hornblower breathed deeply, shaking his head, looking everywhere but at
Archie. "Yes."
He gestured in the air. "I feel ridiculous discussing this, absolutely
ridiculous. It is like we are frightened children wanting to hide neath the
bed!"

"You don't believe Satan exists?"

"Do you?"

Archie steadied himself, thinking about his answer. His lips parted. He
looked deep into the eyes of his friend. "There are forces in this world
that we may never understand. Never understand their reasons, their motives.
But that they are evil, can contain such a malevolence of thought, cannot
be denied. That they influence men? Think back to Justinian, Horatio. The
heart of man is deep. Without the light of goodness, many dark things can
dwell there" Archie's eyes moved to stare at the deck. "Cruelty, jealousy,
envy, malice." He looked back at his friend. "We make a choice, Horatio.
Some of us choose good. Some of us choose evil. And, I think sometimes evil
chooses us. Just as sometimes, good does."

Riley came to mind immediately. According to what he said, that was his
current state. Good had chosen him. From what Hornblower understood of the
make of the man, there could be no other choice. He had to respond in the
affirmative to its urging. If Riley had not, he might not be alive. The
surety of that knowledge made him bold to speak to Hornblower, albeit
clandestinely, and on a subject Riley knew Hornblower maintained doubts.

Archie continued. "If we are not strong enough to refuse it, to combat it,
we may be lost, as that pathetic creature below. Is it logical for a man to
subsist on the blood of rats?"

"He is insane, Archie!"

"But what made him insane? And, are you sure it is insanity? Could it not
be oppression, or....or even, possession?"

Archie was sounding like Riley, again.

Hornblower shook his head, turning his back to Archie, staring out the stern
windows.

"Now it's your turn to answer, Horatio." Archie paused before asking him
this final question. "Do you believe Satan exists?"

Hornblower was unable to understand the dark feelings that had coloured his
mood of late, nor the headaches that were oppressing him. But, as a
military man, he did know, he had to know, his enemy, or else he would not
know, who to combat. Fingertips pressing his temple, he voiced his answer.
"I did not...not before I boarded this ship.

**********

The sun began to dip into the far western sea. Golden, melting into its own reflection, lower,....... lower,........ lower, until nothing remained to be seen of the heavenly body but its receding light. Receding before the darkness creeping from the east.

Archie tapped the rail nervously. In command of the first dog watch, he had been pacing the quarter-deck. He was convinced of a conclusion. As soon as his watch ended, he would find Horatio. He shook his head, thinking about the plan Hornblower devised. He had said he did not like it and neither did Archie when it was told him. There had to be an alternative, but what it was, Archie did not know. With the impending darkness came another night. What would it bring? Death? Life? Horror? Success? He would be glad when it was over, when the sun would return, bringing light and life.

Half the crew was having dinner on the gun deck. The next half would go soon. Archie stared at the binnacle, looked at the luffing sail. It would not matter whether they were under sail or not, but somehow he wished they were going somewhere. Somewhere not where they were going this night. This black night, the night before All Hallow's Eve.

Thinking back to his childhood, he remembered the pumpkins some villagers would place outside their homes. A candle inside lighting the carved visage meant to frighten away evil spirits. He could not imagine that a cut vegetable marrow would have any effect to dissuade the evil intent of such beings, if indeed such beings existed. But had he not put forth such a scenario for their existence to Hornblower this afternoon? He did not want to believe in such, but as he himself had stated, preparedness could never be folly.

Riley's words rested on Hornblower's paper. Archie had read them. Then, Hornblower told him, according to Riley, they would do them no good, unless they believed as he did.

Archie sighed out his nervousness. Would this dark night never end? But, it had barely begun. Could they not just hide in the captain's quarters as they had last night? He recalled Hornblower's answer to that submission. The Indefatigable would return the next night. He could not in good conscience waste an opportunity to discover and defeat whatever might have assailed the French, no matter what it was. He would not see their own ship and company endangered. If they could capture or destroy the unseen enemy before the Indy's return, that was his goal. Damn Hornblower and his duty. But he was right, Archie knew. He was right.

"Shall I ring the bell, now, sir?"

Kennedy checked his pocket watch. "Yes, it is time."

The door into the captain's sleeping quarters opened noiselessly. Light from the candles and lanterns in the large day cabin fell into the room. Archie stood looking at his sleeping friend. He backed to close the door.

"What is it, Archie?" asked Hornblower softly.

"I thought you were asleep."

"I was, thanks to you. But I am awake now. I see it is getting dark." He swung his legs over the side of the bunk. Is it time for dinner?"

"Yes. Is your head better?"

"Yes, thank you, Archie. Let me throw a bit of water on my face."

"I'll wait for you outside."

Kennedy leaned against the rail. Hornblower had slept. That was good. Of course, it was probably the concoction he had mixed up from the surgeon's stores. He was not exactly sure what he was doing with the different powders. Herbal names rattling his memory, he had thrown together some of this and some of that, sort of a reverse witch's brew. Hornblower had looked at him askance when he said those words insisting he drink it. Horatio's headaches must have been quite serious for him to have finally given in. To drink it and get some rest, those were "Dr. Kennedy's" orders. And, they both knew, Hornblower would need to be rested and keen for the all night vigil he would be pulling.

At last Hornblower emerged.

"You look much better, Horatio. Those headaches had me worried."

"Thanks to you, Mr. Kennedy. I do feel better, and I'm hungry."

Styles and Oldroyd stood nearby giving the officers their privacy. Seeing the two headed for the gun deck, they followed.

Kennedy and Hornblower sat at a table alone.

Other men were already seated and eating. Styles and Oldroyd nodded as they sat with Riley and Matthews. Riley was wearing a dark blue topcoat found in the Captain's cabinet. It was large on him and bunched around his ears as he sat. His captain did not want him wearing the torn marine redcoat, fearing it might upset the men.

In speaking with Blaine, Hornblower had Riley temporarily assigned with his navy men. Knowing Matthews as he did, Hornblower had Riley become his companion, telling the two men to find a place to discuss what had occurred between Riley and the laugher, and for Riley to share whatever he felt able, about the subject, with Matthews.

Hornblower stared at Riley and Matthews. The older man looked back at him, giving him a gentle smile and a nod of his head.

Hornblower felt the tightness in his chest cease with that one look. He had not realized the knot in his bosom until it left him. He never felt more right in assigning those two men together.

Kennedy followed his gaze to the ratings. "Matthews and Riley. A good pairing for the kind of fight we might face. I think you take our conversation of the afternoon more seriously than I thought."

"Yes, well, I remember something you told me once, Archie, that your father said to you."

"Indeed? What might that be?"

"Prior planning prevents piss poor performance."

Archie guffawed hearing his best friend expound the words of the elder Mr. Kennedy, and Hornblower could not help laughing with him.

**********

Darkness enveloped the ship. Deep in her belly, two men sat on the aft stair watching the door of the fruit cellar. Another two sat nearby on the galley deck. Neither of the men on the stair spoke, feeling the darkness of the dank deck surrounding them. At the first sign of movement of the door, they had instructions to come topside and inform the captain.
They waited.

Hornblower had analyzed the situation and decided having an armed camp waiting for the door to open could produce several outcomes. One, if it were an unnatural being with the powers described in the log, it might somehow paralyze the men down there and have its way with them. Two, the entity within might see them and shut himself in again, leaving them back where they started. He knew the body had been removed, so he no longer had that worry, though he did wonder why the odor still emitted from the wooden room and wondered what was in there to cause it. So, plan three, had emerged from his calculating mind, and held far more dangers in one way, but they were dangers that could lead to success.

His plan was to station the four men there who would inform him when the creature or creatures opened the door. Once he knew he, or they, were out and making his, or their, way towards them, he would have Starns and his crew return below to disable the door. He intended to bait the thing, whatever it was. And, when the thing came for the bait, to have his men either capture or destroy it, whatever seemed most feasible under the unknown circumstances. Preferring capture, especially if it resulted in being simply a man with a finger knife. He was not a blood thirsty man, though his enemy might prove to be.

**********

The atmosphere was one of anticipation. They waited uneasily for the combat to come. Eight men on watch, four in the belly, the rest in the cabin, or in the waist.

Hornblower stood next to the rail, letting the cool evening breezes tug at his curls.

"This waiting is maddening, Horatio," Kennedy whispered. "What are you thinking?"

"I am wondering if I should have had eight men below. If anything happens to those four men, Archie..."

"They will be all right. They are good men, with good heads on their shoulders. They will not do anything foolish. And, you yourself said more might give us away."

Hornblower sighed, hearing all the thoughts he had just been mulling over, spoken by his officer. "I know, I know." He walked away from Archie, beginning to pace.

***********

The two men on the stair shared a glance in the low light of the taper. They saw their two companions sitting nearby on the galley deck.

CLANK!

"What was that?" Bailey asked.

"Sh!" Johnson stood. Looking back at his three companions, he motioned for them to stay. Bailey shook his head.

"Go after him, Bailey!" whispered Crawford from the stair.

Bailey followed in the direction Johnson had gone. The two on the stair watched him disappear in the darkness. Both turned to watch the cellar door.

Minutes passed, seeming more like hours. Bailey returned.

"Where's Johnson?"

"I couldna find him!"

"Oh, bleedin' hell!" whispered Crawford.

"What'll we do?" asked Billings.

"What we were told to do, wait here."

Bailey gulped sitting on the floor near his remaining companions. "Hornblower ain't gonna like this!"

"Sh!"

Silence returned to the ship's belly.

Not far from the trio, Johnson stood with a hand over his mouth and a pistol to his head.

"You will say nothing," whispered a strange voice. "Do you understand?"

Johnson nodded his head.

"You must be absolutely silent. When the thing comes forth, do not make a sound, or it may be the end of us both."

He backed Johnson further into the darkness.

Back on deck, Hornblower continued his pace.

"Mr. Hornblower, you will wear yourself out. Let us retire to the cabin," suggested Kennedy.

"No."

"Then, at least, come and sit."

"I cannot."

"Try, sir."

Hornblower sighed. He did as requested, sitting on the cannon truck, with much fidgeting.

"How is it you are so calm, Mr. Kennedy?"

"Watching you relieves my anxiety over our situation and makes me anxious over you!"

Hornblower cracked a smile. "All right, all right. Let's go get a drink."

*****

Crawford and Billings heard the metal mechanism of the cellar door. Standing silently, they took a step upward, ready to flee topside as soon as it opened. The door creaked on its hinges, allowing the outflow of stench into the vast hold. The three ratings began a quick and stealthy climb topside.

Johnson and his captor saw them leave. The man holding the gun tensed his hand over his mouth and whispered in his ear. "No matter what you see, you must be silent!" Johnson nodded.

It was not long when the crouching Goren peeked his head above the stairs. He moved silently onto the galley deck, looking forward into the blackness, wondering if there were any man's food still available. The thing behind him soon regained his attention. It moved closer to him, backhanding him out of the way. It stopped, sniffing. The scent of men was everywhere. He could smell them. He could smell their food. He snorted at the food odor with disgust. He would not go that direction, smelling the stench of it.

Johnson and his captor could see them in the dim light of the taper left by his fellows. Johnson felt himself shudder at the sight. The captor clutched him closer, a warning for silence. The two moved off towards the stairs leading to the second deck.
They remained frozen and silent listening to the almost imperceptible movements of Goren and the fiend.

Only when he was sure they had arrived on the first deck did he speak, again, to Johnson. "You must remain silent!" He said it so quietly, though his mouth were next to his ear, Johnson barely heard him. "Understand?" Johnson nodded. "I am not going to hurt you. You are English, no?" Johnson nodded. "I need your help. I have a plan to destroy this thing. Then, I will let you go. Do you understand?" Johnson nodded again.

The three ratings reached topside. "Where's Mr. Hornblower?" asked Crawford of the first man he saw. He pointed to the cabin.

Crawford and the others entered the cabin noisily. Hornblower and Kennedy stood.

"Where is Johnson?" demanded Hornblower before they could speak.

Crawford stood mouth agape, blinking. He had to ask? Before he could even tell him the door had opened, he had to ask? "I don't know, sir."

"Hell!" Hornblower pushed passed them. Kennedy followed fast after him.

"You're not going down there?" stated Kennedy.

Hornblower stood outside the cabin, frozen. Finally, he answered. "No, damn it! Get all the men in the cabin. Granby!" he called up to the quarter-deck. Faces appeared looking down at him. Hornblower motioned with his arm for them to come.

"Horatio."

Some of the watch walked up to them. Hornblower grabbed their arms pushing them inside the cabin.

"Horatio!"

"What Mr. Kennedy?"

His voice and address told Archie he was using his Christian name.

"You can not do this."

"Yes, I can. Get inside."

"I'm not leaving you out here alone."

Anger flashed across Hornblower's face. He closed his eyes, taking control, speaking calmly. "You will do as I have ordered you, Mr. Kennedy."

"No!"

The last of the watch were in. "Go see to your men, Mr. Kennedy."

"No!"

Hornblower stood looking at him tight lipped. "Very well." He walked into the cabin. Kennedy followed.

"Now, you are being reasonable," stated Kennedy.

"Sergeant Blaine," called Hornblower.

"Sir?"

"Mr. Kennedy is under arrest."

"Sir?"

Kennedy blanched and turned to run.

"Stop him!" yelled Hornblower.

Styles and Oldroyd grabbed Kennedy's arms. He struggled in their clutches.
"Place Mr. Kennedy under arrest until I return, or... until daylight. Whichever comes first. Do I make myself clear?"

"Aye, sir. Where do ye suggest we lock him up?"

"Put him in the captain's room. There is only one way in there. Post a guard outside the door."

"Aye, aye, captain."

Kennedy struggled again in Styles and Oldroyd's grip. "Styles, Oldroyd, let me go. Don't let him go out there alone." He looked at his friend steadily, shaking his head. "Do not do this." He struggled again but to no avail. "All right, I will stay."

"I KNOW you will stay, Mr. Kennedy. Take him, Sergeant Blaine."

Hornblower watched them push his reluctant friend into the captain's sleeping room. All eyes were on him.

Blaine wondered if he had locked up the right man. He was at a loss to know how this would turn out, but Hornblower was the ranking officer in charge. He had to obey him until he was no longer there to obey.

Hornblower took a last look at his men. The room was silent. "I will be all right. Do not worry. Captain Pellew will return tomorrow and...we will be all right." He hoped his voice did not betray the trepidation he felt deep inside. Striding to the cabin door, he exited into the cool darkness, shutting the door behind him.

The men looked at Blaine.

Hornblower shivered in the darkness, hearing the canvas flap. At least, it sounded like canvas.

Dancing in the darkness pt 13

Goren played the part with which he was intimately familiar, but in his heart, he did not desire it. Fear kept him obedient. As the two had eased into the shadows of the forecastle, he could not help but look for the man in the red coat. He avoided the fiend's eyes and the fiend seemed uneasy. Goren wondered why, and he wondered why he felt so at odds with his current state of affairs.

They heard a door close. The fiend lifted his wings propelling him high above the main mast. Goren watched him spread his wings and drift slowly down in a spiraling circle, his bat-like shape blocking the star shine.

Goren eased the tense muscles of his legs and sat on the deck. From the shadows nearby, four men emerged. They looked at him, and he at them. He blinked moving back, but they did not come for him. They went down the stairs. Each man watched him until the last one descended, giving him a signal to be quiet. Goren blinked quickly several times, and then put his own finger over his lips. He crawled over to the stairs wondering if they were going for food. He decided to follow them, padding silently behind.

The fiend looked over his ship. Something was wrong. Expanding his spiral he inspected the entire ship. Where were his men? Last night there had been a multitude of them out on the back deck. There! He spotted one! One lone man. He grinned. Easy pickin's. Too easy. He frowned. He canted his head one way, and then another, watching the man as he climbed to the quarter-deck. He let himself lower silently onto the main mast main sail yard, eyes locked on his soon to be meal. Then, he realized... it was the tall one.

**********

Archie kicked the door. "Blaine! Let me out! Don't let him go out there alone!"

"Be quiet, Mr. Kennedy. I cannot let you out. Captain's orders."

Styles stood listening to Kennedy and Blaine. He stepped to the broad area of the cabin near the door. No one had set out their sleeping blankets. The men sat around the edges of the room, leaning against the wall, watching him, now, as he began to pace.

He did not like what was happening, even though Hornblower had warned him. He reflected on the events of the afternoon.

Riley and Matthews were taking their leave from Hornblower at the door of the cabin. He had been coiling some line from the mainsail they had just furled from drying. Stopping to stare at his captain, he noticed the strange look of his face. Hornblower had always appeared determined, if not sure of his next move, but this look held one of bafflement, as if he had just been told he was no longer an officer in his majesty's navy. Hornblower had looked up at him then, bringing a color to his face, to be caught staring at his officer. But Hornblower did not seem to notice and called him over.

"Sir?" He watched Hornblower gather his thoughts, boring a hole into the deck in his intensity.

"Styles," Hornblower's eyes moved to his. "We confront this thing tonight. I know it," then, his eyes left Styles and he said more to himself, "I think, I know it." He took Styles' gaze again. Hornblower sighed. "Mr. Kennedy will oppose me."

He was surprised Hornblower shared this with him, he fumbled an answer. "Mr. Kennedy is yer friend, sir."

Hornblower blinked at him, as if he suddenly realized what he had said to the rating. "Whatever I tell you to do this night, do. Even if it seems contrary to what...to what you know." Hornblower's jaw tightened giving Styles the stare previously given the deck.

He answered the way he knew to answer. "Aye, aye, sir."

Hornblower stared at the deck again, and again, at Styles. "Styles."

"Yes, sir?"

"If....if Riley...if Riley should tell you to do something ... and I am not there to...." Hornblower stopped and placed his hand firmly around Styles upper left arm, startling him with his touch. "Whatever Riley tells you to do this night, if I am not there to tell you differently, do it. Whatever it is, Styles. No matter how strange or foolish you might think it, do as he says."

"Private Riley, sir?"

"Yes. Yes. Do you understand me?"

"Aye, sir. I understand."

Hornblower released his arm, licked his lips, nodded, and said. "Good. Good. Back to your duties, Styles."

Styles turned again in his pace in the cabin, thinking about Hornblower's command to obey Riley, looking at the situation in the main cabin where Mr. Kennedy was now a prisoner. Styles felt he was on a downhill slide, unable to stop his forward motion. And, he had just let his officer go into the darkness... without him... alone.

 

 

 

 

Crawford joined Styles in his pacing, whispering. "Styles, should we let Mr. Hornblower face this alone?"

Styles glanced at him, turning in his pace.

"Kennedy is right. He should not be there alone," stated Crawford.

Styles stopped and grabbed him by his collar. "Don't do nothin', mate. Not nothin'."

Crawford stared at him in disbelief. He knew Styles had been with Hornblower since he was a midshipman, that he was fiercely loyal to him. Could he stay here in safety while his officer risked his life?

Styles released him and paced. What had he just said to Crawford? No, Hornblower should not be out there alone. But it was what his captain ordered. Orders. What was he doing following orders? The same thing he had always done. But this was not so easy.

**********

"Damn it, man!" Archie pulled on the door handle. Blaine had the bolt ring of the door extended with a musket muzzle run through it resting on one of the door posts and the butt on the other. He gave up pulling on the door with a final kick.

*Damn you, Horatio, don't do this!* he thought. He knew WHY his friend was doing it. It was all written out in the Frenchman's log. Renault and Blanc on the quarter-deck, accosted by the thing. One left paralyzed to do nothing but listen to the death of his fellow officer. Hornblower had decided not to play into that scenario the only way he knew how, and that was locking him up. He would give the dancing darkness only one choice. Himself.

*Stupid! Stupid, Archie! You should have played along with him and then gone after him. Damn it, Horatio!* He was near tears in his anger, when something caught his eye.

He reached for a handle on the stern window. Pushing it, it opened. He stuck his head out, seeing the black water below him. Ducking back in the cabin he saw what he needed. Taking the sashes from the curtains that would have enclosed the bed, he tied them together, tugging hard to test the knot. Lashing one end to the window frame, he wrapped the other end around his wrist as a safety line. Turning, he backed out of the window, clinging to the window frame. Hanging by the sash gripped in his left hand, he searched the ship's stern for foot holds.

 

**********

Johnson grunted under the weight of the powder keg. It was the third one he had ferried to the orlop. The man, he now knew to be the last French officer left aboard Kaliakra, intended to destroy the ship. He had been muttering at him incessantly, in French, then in English, saying over and over, the only way to kill the thing, or stop it, was to blow up its home.

As he sat the keg down with the others, Starns and his carpentry crew arrived. They startled each other equally. The Frenchman grabbed Johnson again, putting the cocked pistol to his head.

"Do not try to stop me! I will destroy this ship! I will!"

Starns and his men stared at Johnson, stared at the Frenchman, stared at the kegs of gunpowder piled together next to the fruit cellar.

Goren arrived behind them to stick his filthy head down into the orlop to see the confrontation. He frowned. These men were not down here for food.

"Jesus!" exclaimed Starns. He turned his head to whisper over his shoulder. "Go get Mr. Kennedy." The word passed back to the last man of the crew. He ran up the stairs, tripping over Goren, but kept going. Goren followed him.

"Now, hold on there, sir. Could we talk about this? You don't want to hurt Johnson there. He's a good lad," reassured Starns.

**********

Hornblower stood in the midst of the quarter-deck, shivering in the night air. He had left his cloak again. Rubbing his hands together, he brought them up to his mouth, breathing on them to warm them. He thought about Kennedy, just below him in the captain's cabin. Sticking his hands under his armpits he whispered. "Sorry, Archie. I could not let you stop me. One more protest and I would not have had the nerve to do this." He began to pace the perimeter. Looking down, he noted where each gun lay, the hammer pulled and ready to fire.

He looked up at the stars, remembering his mother. He located hers. So long ago, she had told him, *when you see the star, think of me. It is true north* she had said, *ever constant* How odd that his mother had chosen that star of all stars, when he was but eight years of age. It was the one used in celestial navigation, one he often consulted in plotting a course, when he found himself a captain.

He was a captain, now, but they were not going anywhere with this ship. Not yet, anyway. He smiled. A positive thought. If he saw it as *not yet*, then he must conclude something within him knew he would go somewhere with this ship, which would mean Captain Pellew had returned ...or...not...and they were going to England. He sighed, then said aloud. "He will return."

Riley came to mind. All the incredible things he had revealed to him. Things he no longer accepted. Why did he not accept them? A vision of his mother came, again, to his mind. He could see her standing before him. Young, alive, smiling at him. Loving him. Yes. That was it. Her death had killed any liason he would desire with ... with God. How could he let his mother die? Or did he take her to punish him? What had he done that God would punish him, only a boy of ten? He remembered questioning himself on all those counts until he reached an age where he realized, if there were a God, he was only a creator, and had left men to fend for themselves. Yes, that was it. It was foolish for him to blame God. He was not there anymore. Or, if he was, it was only to watch what his creation would do, unable to assist, OR punish. It was just life. Life and...death. Even Pellew had admonished him to think that God would be on their side. What a foolish thing for him to say? What could have possessed him?

But, now, this Riley, Private Riley. His conversation with him and his fantastic revelation left him more confused than ever. It had been hard for Riley to tell him what he knew. He did his best to be open to what Riley had to share, even though it made him uncomfortable.

But,one thing that Riley said had brought another memory of his mother to mind. He did what his mother had done. He had blocked it from his memory and Riley had come to tear down the wall, admonishing him to do the same. Pray. His mother used to pray. He could see her kneeling beside him at his bed, praying with him and for him. But, now, even though he read prayers written by other men, he did not DO or SAY, his own. They were rote. A required duty of an officer. And, the only one he said, was for the dead. The dead. Would his body remain to be prayed over? Would he lie beneath the Union Jack to slip into the depths? Would anyone mourn his loss?

The fiend gave Hornblower his full attention, concentrating on his walk around the deck. He grinned, licking his fangs. He looked over his shoulder for Goren. He was gone! Where had the fool gone off to?

"Yes, he's gone! Gone after those men!"

"Why aren't you with him, Fear?" growled the fiend.

"He wasn't LISTENING to me! But YOU had better, Soochar!"

"Get off my back!" The fiend pulled the small black creature from his back throwing him onto the yard. "If the men are chasing him, it is according to plans, but I don't need him. I"ve already got a lone one!" He huffed a sulfurous breath at the little demon.

"Did you hear what I said, you great lurking oaf?" He hit his foot as hard as he could with his fist. "He has gone after THEM! Not they after HIM!"

Rubbing his foot he replied, "You're daft! I'll deal with Goren later!"

The demon jumped onto his shoulder. "You had better think NOW! And, listen..." the little demon looked one way and then another, saying in a whisper, "Someone has been doing the *P* word."

Soochar pulled him off his shoulder again throwing him onto the yard. Bending towards him he whispered, "I'M NOT the one you are supposed to be making fearful, idiot!"

The little demon pounded his small fist onto his leathery head. "This THING you have found for us to inhabit is making you foolish! I said the *P* word! Did you hear me? You know what that means, don't you? Or have you forgotten. Living here on this ship having your way with men. Do you think He has not noticed?" The demon dodged, looking upwards, and began to whisper again. "The *P* word may bring the *H* word. Then you will have a real fight on your hands!"

The fiend stood looking over his ship. It was quiet. Only the lone, tall one was visible. He saw no *H* around, but they could be sneaky. He gazed with tight, red eyes upon Fear, then shifted his view to his prey. "I will be careful." Lifting his wings, he rose and floated down onto the mizzen mast yard.

Hornblower smelled it. The smell in the orlop. It filled the quarter-deck. He stepped closer to the pistol on the deck. He felt something, a presence, behind him. Facing out to sea, he spoke, "I don't want to hurt you." Bending his knees, he lowered himself to take up the gun, hiding it by his leg as he stood straight once again. He turned raising the gun as he went. For a moment, he saw a huge bat-like form, undulating in the darkness, red eyes, and felt a searing pain in his head. He fired.

There it was, the warning shot. Matthews and Riley emerged from the shadows of the launch. They began their way to the quarter-deck, when Bridges and Goren came running on deck. Bridges saw them, but continued on into the cabin, calling for Mr. Kennedy.

Goren and Riley locked eyes. Goren walked up to him. Riley looked at him, smiled, laid his hand upon his shoulder and spoke. "In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth, and by His most precious shed blood of Calvary, I ask you, Almighty God to come in Your power and deliver this man from evil."

Goren's knees weakened. He dropped to the deck as a mournful scream emitted from his throat. Goren gasped, feeling himself collapse into a slump. He raised to look up at Riley. "Thank you, sir." His own voice startled him. He had not put words into coherent sentences since he could remember. "I'm...I'm hungry."

Several men had emerged from the cabin after Bridges entry. Coming into the waist, they could smell the foul odor of the orlop. But the reek did not come from below. It came from above, slipping down from the quarter-deck.

Riley saw Hardy standing there and spoke to him. "Get him some food, and some clean clothes," ordered Riley.

Styles stood taking in the scene. Hardy hesitated. Styles pushed him. "You heard him, mate! Get the boogar some food!"

Blaine came out into the waist. "Mr. Kennedy is gone!" He stood for a moment. Should he look for Kennedy? The men were outside against Hornblower's orders. There was a Frenchman....A FRENCHMAN... in the hold, threatening to blow the ship!

"Riley, I've got to go to the orlop." stated Blaine. "What do you want the men to do?" Now that things were stirring, would Riley want the men behind him, or would he carry on, as he and Hornblower had planned.

Riley looked at him steadily, not fearing what he was about to ask of these military men. Men in a struggle they could not understand. A struggle, that only he understood. Understood because he had been at his grandmother's side to witness it. A struggle unknown to most men, but he knew it. Perhaps he WAS called here. He thought he had been escaping something he looked upon with dread, when in all actuality he had been led here, for this time, for this moment. "Pray, Sergeant. Have the men pray."

"Aye, aye." Blaine herded the men back into the cabin, giving them the order. He re-emerged headed for the orlop.

Styles looked at Riley saying only two words. "Mr. Hornblower."

************

Hornblower felt his arm drop with the weight of the pistol, releasing it to drop to the deck. The bat creature was gone. It was his mother standing before him. She was smiling and moved towards him. "Darling. I am so glad to see you."

He sucked in a breath watching her come nearer to him. Her mouth seemed to change. Something dark came out of it, and then another, and another. He watched the black creatures grow larger on the deck beside his mother. It was hard for him to move, to breathe. Was he paralyzed as the Frenchman had said? But he could still see. A brightness appeared to his right. He forced his head to turn to it. It was like a man, all white and golden. Huge white wings were tucked at the back. His face was peaceful, containing two bright, blue eyes. Hornblower new he was an officer in an army. He held a golden sword that sparkled and glowed. The bright being fixed his clear blue eyes upon his, and spoke without speaking, *Pray* Hornblower returned the thought *I don't know how* The being looked at him steadily, repeating himself. *Pray*.

The black group of creatures brandished red, glowing swords of their own. The fight began. Hornblower could hear the metal of swords hitting against each other with great force. Pray. He tried to think. He looked at his mother. Something black was on her shoulder. He began, barely whispering to human ears, but for the spiritual ones, he was shouting from the rooftops. From the recesses of his mind it came. "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name."

"Stop him!" shouted Fear into Soochar's ear. "I told you! I told you! The *P* word! And now, he is doing it!" Fear looked at the battle, holding his demon hands over his demon ears, seeing the Host of Heaven gaining strength with each word muttered by Soochar's dinner. "Stop him!"

 

***********

No longer dangling from the sash in his hand, Kennedy found the footholds he sought. Finding finger holds on the ship's stern he began to climb up the larboard side. He thought he heard Hornblower's voice speaking, but he could not make out the words. Searching the side with the palm of his hand, he found another finger hold, a toehold. It seemed like eternity making his way up.

The stench fell over the side to convulse his throat.

Someone was speaking. He could hear it just barely. At last, his hands gripped the rail. He pulled himself up freezing at the sight before him. Hornblower was laying on the deck. An incredible thing hunched over him. All blackness. Small points of red, white, and gold light seemed to be dancing around them. Kennedy shook his head to break himself out of inaction. He swung his feet over onto the deck. He could make out Hornblower's words now.

"Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."

The fiend glared at his immobile meal. Hissing, he looked into his mind again. With the sweet voice and appearance of Hornblower's mother he said, "Raysho. Raysho, darling."

And lead us not into temptation, but..."

"Look at me, dear. Raysho."

"Mother? Is it you?" Riley jumped to his thoughts. What had he said to him that afternoon, when he was telling him about what he might confront? He said, *Do not let it engage you in conversation. Speak only the word of God to it.*

"Yes, darling." She bent over him, lifting him in her arms. He felt her lips on his neck.

Matthews and Riley trotted to the stairs, climbing quickly.

With a force of his will, Hornblower spoke the next line, "But, deliver us from evil."

"STOP!" screamed Kennedy. Finding the pre-set musket, he lifted it to the level of his eye.

The fiend turned, fangs bare, about to sink into the soft skin of Hornblower's neck. He tasted the salt of his skin on his forked tongue, licking his lips for the same saltiness. He released Hornblower, standing to face the mere human with a gun.

Once he knew Horatio was in the clear, Archie hesitated no more. He fired the musket. He saw the fiend reel as it struck him. The fiend stood motionless, looking into his torso where the musket ball had entered. A boiling red fire appeared at the wound, then it solidified back into blackness. He looked up at Kennedy, grinning, beginning his undulation once more. Kennedy felt the sharp pain in his head, and then before him stood a young girl he had seen in Gibraltar. Her hair was pinned up about her head. Blonde curls hung lightly rimming her face. She wore a cream white bonnet and dress to match, covering her small frame and petite figure. She spoke to him in a sweet light voice.

"Darling, it is so good to see you."

Darling? He did not know her. He only wanted to know her. How could she call him darling?

The fiend was walking slowly towards Archie, when an incredible brightness emerged onto the quarter-deck. His arm rose to block his eyes.

Kennedy watched the girl shielding her eyes with her arm, then she faded away revealing the thing that had bent over Horatio. Someone was speaking next to him. It was Riley.

"In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth, I BIND YOU with His precious shed blood of Calvary! And I COMMAND you to go where HE would send you!

The creature clamped his hands over his ears, letting out the most horrendous, fiendish shriek! The ship seemed to pitch and roll. The deck was awash in a glowing shimmering sparkle of light! ..................silence........................The ship was still.

Only these words could be heard in a whisper coming from Hornblower.
"For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, amen and amen."

Archie stood, panting. Frozen where he stood. He looked around to see Riley and Matthews next to him. Hornblower lay on the deck, silent. The three of them ran to him. Archie gathered his shoulders in his arms. His head fell to the side, revealing his neck. Archie ran his hand over it, not believing his eyes.

"Thank God!" He held Horatio's chin with his hand. "Horatio! Horatio!"

Hornblower took control of his neck muscles, turning to look at who held him. Was it his mother? He squinted and blinked. No, it was Archie. He tried to look past him to where he had seen the bright, winged man. "Where did he go? Is he all right? Did I help him? Did the prayer help him?"

Riley knelt beside the two officers. He placed his hand on Hornblower's shoulder. "Mr. Hornblower, sir."

"Riley. Is it all right?"

Riley smiled at him nodding his head.

"Archie. Why aren't you locked up?"

Archie grinned wryly at his friend. "I should drop you on this deck where you lay! What do you mean having me arrested?"

Hornblower tensed to sit up, the other men helping him. He sighed. "I am exhausted. What happened? No, just tell me, is it gone?" He shivered in the night air.

"Aye, sir. It be gone," said Riley.

"Thank...God," said Hornblower faintly with awe. And, Hornblower knew, as many times before in his life when he had said those two words, he truly meant them now.

Styles walked up to the group huddled on the deck. He breathed a sigh of relief. Hornblower AND Kennedy. He had gone in Kennedy's prison and found the dangling curtain sashes. The thought of Kennedy flailing about in the dark waters had crossed his mind, but here he was, safe and sound with Hornblower. He spoke.

"I hate ta mention this, sirs, but there is a Frenchman in the hold threatening ta blow up the ship."

"What?" Hornblower found the strength to rise. He teetered, but Archie stood to steady him.

"Sergeant Blaine went below ta speak with him, sir," he added.

"Blaine? He couldn't keep one of our own men locked up! How is he going to stop a Frenchman?"

Hornblower took long strides to the stairs, yelling back to Styles close behind. "It's the man we saw, Styles! There WERE two of them."

Entering the waist, he did a double take on the man sitting on the deck, eating a plate of food, with Hardy standing nearby.

The group from the quarter-deck were hard on his heels. He turned again, questioning. "Is that,...a... is that...?
"Aye, sir, it is," answered Styles.

He gave him a last look, descending the stairs to the orlop.

Reaching the lowest deck, he was met with a well lit room, and a number of men sitting around in quiet conversation. A man lay on the deck, his hands tied behind his back.

"Starns, what goes on here?" asked Hornblower.

"Well, sir, when we got down *ere, this *ere Frog were holdin' Johnson there, captive."

Hornblower looked over at Johnson feeling his heart leap in his chest! He had thought the man dead! He grinned, "Johnson!"

The man blushed at his recognition, saluting his captain.

"Anyway, ta make a long story short, Oldroyd there shows up when we're tryin' ta oblige the Frog by gettin' gun powder kegs, and beans him with a frying griddle."

Oldroyd stood, all grins, holding up the weapon for all to see. "Aye, cap'n! I was with Hardy gettin' the rat-sucker some food, when I hears *em trampin' around!"

"But, that thing is gone, ain't it, sir?" stated Starns.

Hornblower looked at him calmly, "Yes, Starns, it is gone."

"I knew it. Ship feels different. Don't have to take that door off now, right, Mr. Hornblower?"

"No. Indeed, not. Come on men. Let's get some sleep."

"Mr. Kennedy, I am glad to see you well," commented Blaine.

"Aye, thank you, sergeant."

"Am I to place him back under arrest, Mr. Hornblower?"

"Yes, I think you should, Sergeant Blaine. We have many accusations to lay at his door. Disobeying orders, insubordiantion, escape from prison. What else have you done, Mr. Kennedy?" The two walked up the stairs together.

"You ungrateful, lout, you! I should have let that thing bite your head off!"

Hornblower grinned at him. "Thank you, Mr. Kennedy."

"It's about time! I could have fallen in the ocean, you know!" He looked down at his finger. "I think I've got a splinter!"

Styles, Matthews, Riley, Oldroyd, Blaine and all the rest stumped up the stairs behind them.

"Ah, well, Sergeant Blaine, I suppose in light of that information we shall at least let him sleep in his own bed. I shall sort this all out tomorrow.....before Captain Pellew returns."

"What bed?" asked Archie.

 

The End!

 

Epilog

Riley stood on the quarter-deck, letting the morning sun hit him square on his face and chest.

Hornblower, emerging from the captain's quarters on his way to breakfast, looked up to see him there, leaning against the rail. Hornblower sighed, biting his lower lip, he decided to join him.

He walked up quietly, seeing Riley's eyes closed and his lips moving. He looked out to sea, softly resting his forearms on the ship's rail.

"Good morning, Mr. Hornblower, sir."

Hornblower's brow furrowed. "How did you know it was me, Riley?"

"I recognize your footsteps, sir." smiled the young man.

"You're very observant, Riley."

"Thank ye, sir."

Hornblower gazed steadily seaward. It was quiet. Only the sound of the gentle sea lapping against the ship. He sighed, but said nothing. Even though Riley had been a major player in the events of last night, he could not bring the questions. But, why should that surprise him, he had not let his mind formulate them. Was he so closed minded? He had been through it. Had seen things. Had he not? Was it all a dream? Could Riley know what he had seen? And, why had he seen it? He had tried to ask Archie, once everyone was bedded down last night....sort of tried.

"Is somethin' on yer mind, sir?" asked Riley, keeping his eyes out to sea.

"I..." Hornblower struggled.

Riley turned, staring into Hornblower's brown, questioning eyes. "It's all right to ask questions, sir. I'll answer them if I can."

"I don't pretend to understand all you have told me, Riley. I..." he licked his lips and began again. "I saw something. Something other than that creature. It made itself look ...look like....my mother." It hurt him to say it. For that thing to have used the image of his mother, intending to do him harm, made an anger, and a resentment rise within him.

Riley nodded his head, gazing at the deck. "Aye. I'm sorry that happened to ye, sir. It's their way o gettin' to ye. It weren't really yer mum, sir. I'm sure yer mum loves ye."

Hornblower exhaled, biting his bottom lip. "And,....and...there was more." Hornblower looked at him tentatively. Would he have to say what else he saw? Did Riley see it? And, why? Why did HE see it? He did not have the faith of Riley.

Riley's mouth stretched into a wide grin. "Do ye want ta tell me, sir, or would ye rather I told ye?"

Hornblower blinked at him, thinking. He opened his mouth to speak but then let it close. He gave Riley one nod. If Riley could tell him what he saw, then maybe he was not...daft. He understood Riley better, now, than at the first.

"All right, sir. I'll tell ye what ye saw. Soldiers. Soldiers in another army, is what ye saw. The fight they're in has been goin' on fer longer than we been fightin' the Frogs fer all our wars. The Host of Heaven is what ye saw, sir. Angelic beings, all white and golden. Did one of *em speak to ye?"

Hornblower nodded. "He told me to pray."

Riley grinned. "Aye, he would do that. Prayer is where the power is, ye see. When men pray, God's power comes down. Prayer changes things. So, ye see, sir, ye were as much a part o that fight as anybody."

Hornblower was in silent reflection.

"Anythin' else, sir?"

"No. No, Riley. But thank you, again."

"It weren't my idea to be here, sir, but He works things out the way they're supposed to be. You just have to have faith. If ye've no further questions, I'll be goin' ta breakfast now, sir."

"Yes, go, Riley. Go." Exhaling, he watched Riley descend the stairs, saluting Archie as he passed him.

Kennedy joined him, seeing the pensive look on his captain. Leaning against the rail, he sighed. Hornblower remained quiet.

Kennedy leaned out over the side, looking at where he had clung to the ship's side last night. He shook his head, thinking how he could have ended up in the water. He gave Hornblower another quick glance.

"You are very quiet this morning, Mr. Hornblower."

Hornblower covered his eyes with his hand and shook his head.

"What is it? Headaches returned?" queried Archie with concern.

Hornblower took a huge breath into his lungs and blew it out through puffed cheeks, shaking his head. He frowned at Archie. "How am I going to write this in the log, Archie?"

Archie grinned and chuckled. "That IS a quandary, sir."

The End, again. :)