Dark Harbor, Part Two
by Lori

Three bells. 5:30 A.M.
Archie Kennedy brought his cloak tighter around himself as the soft
clang of the bell drifted away on the breeze.
The lights along the street came on one by one as the home owners and
shop keepers opened up for the day.
Kennedy watched for any sign of his friend as he looked out over the
harbor. He turned suddenly. "Horatio!" He exhaled in relief to find his
shipmate back on board finally, after who knew how many hours. "Where have
you been?"
Hornblower stared at Kennedy, straight faced.
"Horatio?" Archie took a step forward but stopped suddenly when
Hornblower moved swiftly past, making sure to tip his hat to conceal his pale
features. He hurried down the companion to his cabin.
Kennedy glanced around at the other men who had been witnesses to this
odd behavior.
"Wot's wrong wit' 'im?" one murmured to another sailor.
Taking a deep breath, Kennedy bowed his head slightly and marched
after his friend. He reached Hornblower's cabin and knocked on the door.
"Horatio?" He called through the wood.
"Go away!" was the reply.
"Just open the door and let me come in."
"No! Go away!"
Archie, without hesitation, pushed open the door and entered, slamming
it shut behind him.
Horatio sat on his bunk, hugging his knees.
"I'm not leaving until you tell me what happened."
"Archie, please, for your own sake, leave! Now!"
"No!"
Hornblower shot up from his bed and stood tall a few paces from his
friend. "Go! For God's sake, go!"
"No! Tell me!"
Now enraged by Archie's stubbornness, Horatio moved forward, taking
him by the collar and slamming him against the wall. "Why do you have to do
this?! Why do you have to pry into my business?!"
"Horatio, are you ill? Let me help you!" He put all the strength he
had into shouting.
Hornblower's gaze became fixed on the vein that strained from the
younger man's emotion. His brown eyes moved back to look into the blue ones
staring back at him. "Archie, you have no idea what you've done."

***

Archie Kennedy scrambled out of Horatio Hornblower's cabin, terrified
and breathing hard. He reached a corner of the corridor and leaned against
the wall for support.
"Archie! Wait!" came Hornblower's cry.
Mr. Bracegirdle, who had been making the rounds below decks, heard the
commotion and crossed over to Archie. "Mr. Kennedy? Is everything all right?"
Without saying a word, Archie pushed past Bracegirdle and frantically
climbed the companion to the main deck.
Hornblower followed him.
Once he was on deck. Kennedy went to the railing and leaned against
it, gasping gulps of sea air, hoping it would calm him. He stared up at the
moon, wondering why there was a red ring circling it. He had heard stories
about such a ring. It meant that someone was going to die, or already had.
Such tales confused him.
"Archie," came a familiar voice.
Kennedy turned around slowly to face the person.
Horatio was standing there, washed in a shower of silver moon light.
His puffy shirt, unbuttoned at the collar and gently moving with the breeze
coming in off the sea.
Kennedy swallowed hard and backed up against the rail, his hands
gripping the wood tightly.
Hornblower approached Kennedy slowly and silently, holding his friend
in his powerful gaze. He stopped only when he was nose to nose with Archie.
Archie, made uneasy by the closeness, moved his head back. He wished
someone would come and intervene, but, at this early hour while in port,
everyone was asleep.
At this range he could make out a brilliant, gold ring circling the
pupils of Hornblower's dark eyes. His breath caught in his throat when he
felt Hornblower slowly bow his head. He shut his eyes tight and waited for
the inevitable pain.
Hornblower moved away suddenly.
Archie opened his eyes and looked up to see his friend turning away
and retreating quickly down below. He turned to look out over the water to
see what had drawn Horatio attention.
Pale shades of blue, red, and gold dotted the horizon, announcing the
approaching dawn.
Hornblower rushed back towards his cabin, careful to step only in the
shadows.
"Mr. Hornblower! Mr. Hornblower, please, tell me what the problem is!
What is going on?"
"Mr. Bracegirdle" he hesitated for a moment. "Please, have someone
relieve me of my duties today. Inform the captain if you must, but I am not
in the best of health at present and wish to be left alone!" He backed into
his cabin, slammed the door, and locked it.
The small room began to fill with warm light as the day poured in from
the small port window. He snatched his jacket from the bed, and with a few
nails that had come loose from various furnishings, covered up the window
with the article of clothing. He backed away from it, cradling his hand,
which had gotten caught in the light. He looked down and was surprised to see
that the large, red, stinging wound was already beginning to disappear before
his eyes. He watched until it was completely gone and his normal skin
returned. His hand looked like nothing had happened to it. He flexed it a few
times, noting that there was no pain.
He was finally surrounded in darkness and comfort, which made him
smile. He went to his bunk, slipped off his shoes, and stretched out upon the
mattress. He closed his eyes, and after a moment, sleep easily and quickly
overtook him.