Debts of Honor
by Pam and Del


SPOILERS: "Mutiny," "Retribution," "Lieutenant Hornblower," companion piece
to "Recalled to Life"

 

"I grieve for the death of Enkidu the companion,
he who has fought with lions and with wolves
Together we made the journey across the mountains
through the dangerous passes to the Cedar Forest;
he found the secret places where there was water;
together we slew the Huwawa the guardian demon;
we fought the Bull of Heaven together and killed him.
Enkidu, the companion, whom I loved,
who went together with me on the journey
no one has ever undergone before. . .
Enkidu, the companion, whom I loved . . . "

--"Gilgamesh", translated by David Ferry

 

PART ONE: "Winnings and Losses"

 

April 1802

 

Nothing today. Just as there had been nothing yesterday or the day before.
And, he feared, there would be nothing tomorrow.

Squaring his shoulders, Horatio Hornblower continued the trudge to his
lodgings, trying not to look as tired, hungry, or cold as he felt.

He had pawned his pea coat last week, reasoning that with spring and milder
weather just around the corner, he could manage tolerably well without it for
the time being. It seemed his usual misfortune that this should turn out to
be the coldest spring in recent years.

Unless the chill came from within. . .

He was alone--and it weighed on him. He had never minded so much before; his
own father had called him a solitary boy. But then . . . for the better part
of nine years, a warm, bright presence had stood at his back, hovered at his
shoulder, offering silent--and sometimes, *not* so silent--support.

Until Kingston.

Since then he had buried himself in work, taking refuge in old duties and new
responsibilities. Those too were gone. He wondered, morbidly, if the
pinholes left by the commander's epaulette he had worn so briefly were
visible to everyone on the street--like some mark of Cain.

Inevitably, his thoughts strayed to the money he had--and did not have--in
his pocket. One hundred pounds of prize money, most of it gone in two wild
days and nights, spent in Lieutenant Bush's company, that had been
half-carouse, half-wake for their fallen comrade. Then three months' of pay
as a commander, much of *that* spent on refitting Retribution--the ship to
which he was no longer entitled, just as he was no longer entitled to his
rank or the money it brought. Not since the peace . . .

The peace. Another black irony that something for which so many had
desperately longed should spell personal disaster for those serving in his
Majesty's Navy. Nine out of ten warships paid off, their officers set ashore
to eke out a living on half-pay. He, however, would not even have
*that*--not until he had paid back the salary he had drawn as a commander, be
fore learning that his promotion had not been confirmed. Would likely
*never* be confirmed now . . .

There were other ways, Horatio told himself sternly. He had his youth, his
health, and--he trusted--his wits; he would survive, somehow. Last night,
he'd engaged with some distant acquaintances in a chance game of whist--and
those who had lost to him had offered their vowels. Some money, then, would
be forthcoming. He could not deny, however, that his range of long-term
prospects was dwindling at an alarming rate. Should he continue to haunt the
Admiralty's doorstep, hoping for some scrap or other to be tossed to him?
Give it up and look for a post on a merchant ship? For a moment, he
considered writing to Commodore Pellew about his situation, then quickly
abandoned the idea. For all he knew, Pellew too might be stranded
ashore--and while common sense might insist that there was no shame in
seeking aid from a man who had always been willing to help his career
advance, Hornblower's pride still shrank from letting his former commanding
officer know of the desperate straits in which he now found himself.

The familiar bulk of the lodging-house loomed before him and he quickened his
step until he was at the front door. His current dwelling place was by no
means palatial, but there would be a fire, though not a large one, in the
common sitting-room, and a meagre supper, in an hour or two. And however
miserly the fire or sparse the fare, at least he had a roof over his head,
paid for until the end of the week.

Shutting the door behind him, he stood for a moment in the hallway--draughty
but still warmer than outdoors--and tried to rub some feeling back into his
arms.

The maid's mob-capped head poked out from a doorway, like a turtle's from its
shell. "Visitor fer you, sir. In the parlor--a Mrs. Trevanion or Trevelyan."

A woman? Hornblower blinked in surprise, but nodded at the maid, and
proceeded down the hall towards the parlor. Trevanion, Trevelyan . . .
neither name struck any chord in his memory. A member of his division,
perhaps? From the Indy, rather than the Renown? Or, less likely, but still
tempting to consider--another naval officer with whom he had crossed paths
over the years?

Still pondering, he approached the parlor and opened the door.

A woman was standing at the window, black-clad, hatless, the last rays of the
setting sun turning her hair to flame. She turned around as he entered . . .

. . . and the sight of her face struck him with the force of a blow to the
gut.

A pale, fine-featured face, cornflower-blue eyes nearly level with his, and a
gentle mouth with a hint of stubbornness lurking at the corners . . .

A ghost. A shade--left behind in Kingston, but never forgotten. Oh God . . .

Then she spoke, and the warm alto voice brought him back to reality. "Mr.
Hornblower?" She came towards him, extended a hand. "I am--Margaret
Tresilian. My maiden name was Kennedy."

Not Trevanion or Trevelyan, but Tresilian. He thought, dazedly, that there
was only one other woman he would have had more difficulty facing than the
one who stood before him now, but this was quite difficult enough. Archie's
Cornish sister--and so like him that it hurt his heart to look at her.

And yet . . . *not* like him, at the same time. With the desperation of a
drowning man clutching at a line, Horatio made himself note the differences:
the hair a few shades darker than that of his lost friend, closer to copper
than gold; the features more delicately drawn; the form that was
unmistakably a woman's under the heavy black gown. Her voice too was
entirely her own. Concentrating on those eased the painful constriction in
his chest--he found he could breathe again.

"Mrs. Tresilian." His voice sounded almost normal. "I am--pleased to make
your acquaintance at last, ma'am. Your brother," the words emerged without a
catch, "spoke of you often, and with great affection."

A brief flicker of pain crossed her face. "You--you may be assured, sir, that
his affection was . . . fully returned."

"To what do I owe the honor of this visit, ma'am?"

She hesitated, then looked up at him with frank blue eyes. "I came to thank
you, sir."

Thank him? For getting Archie killed? For letting Archie sacrifice
everything--life, honor, reputation--to save his worthless neck? Horatio bit
back the instinctive protest, managed a single querying syllable. "Ma'am?"

"For your kind letter--and for bringing his sea-chest to us."

Horatio swallowed. "No need, ma'am. It was the least I could do, under the
circumstances."

Her eyes widened in surprise. "I beg to differ, lieutenant. I know the task
cannot have been easy for you, but we are so very grateful," her voice
sounded slightly husky now, "to have . . . his personal effects."

Horatio repressed a shiver, remembering that visit to Langford House less
than a fortnight ago. The great house, looking chill and desolate in the
grey March weather, its knocker festooned with black bunting. None of the
family had been in residence but the Langfords' butler had admitted
Hornblower and the two seamen accompanying him, directing them to a small
parlor where they could deposit Mr. Kennedy's sea-chest. Horatio had wondered
briefly how the Langfords and their staff would receive the effects of a
young man who had died disgraced in the eyes of the Admiralty, but he saw
only sorrow on the butler's face.

Perhaps he had not known the circumstances, then? Possible. There had been
nothing in any of the newspapers, no mention of Archie's valor at Samana Bay
nor of Archie's confession to his assault upon Captain Sawyer. Good and evil
had *both* been interréd with his bones . . . and Horatio did not know
whether to be relieved or wretched at this development. He had come ashore
braced to turn aside any awkward questions that might arise about his
previous posting to the Renown, only to find that, in the wake of the peace,
no one had any attention or interest to spare for events that had taken place
half the world away, on an obscure West Indian station. Instead, most naval
officers were directing their energies towards finding postings or some other
form of gainful employment. Nine out of ten warships paid off in peacetime .
. .

Mrs. Tresilian's voice again roused him from his dark thoughts. "I regret
that no one was there to receive you, Mr. Hornblower. But we--Lord Langford,
my sister, and I--were out of London at the time. I thought you might still
be in town and sought your direction from the Admiralty. Then, by chance, I
met a mutual acquaintance, Captain MacLeod, who said he had played cards with
you last night and he very kindly escorted me here."

MacLeod. Horatio nodded acknowledgment, belatedly remembering the army
officer's friendship with the family, begun some four years previously, when
he and Archie had themselves been guests at Langford House. It
seemed--*had* been--a lifetime ago . . .

"My sister," Margaret Tresilian continued, "with whom you are better
acquainted, would have accompanied me today, but found herself indisposed."

Dismay gnawed at Horatio but he schooled his features to remain courteously
impassive. "She is not seriously ill, I hope?"

What looked like the ghost of a smile touched that familiar mouth. "No more
so than any woman who cherishes hopes for the future."

"*Oh.*" Enlightenment dawned. "I am -- relieved to hear that."

"It has been the one bright spot--in a *terrible* winter." She spoke with
unusual vehemence, then glanced at him apologetically. "Forgive me, sir, but
. . . we mourn two losses. Our father--Lord Kennedy--died last month."

Dear God. Horatio felt the bottom drop out of his stomach, closed his eyes as
waves of guilt and grief threatened to overpower him. One month ago--about
the time the news of Archie's death would have reached his family in England.
*What have I done to them all?*

"Mr. Hornblower!" A sharp, urgent note in Mrs. Tresilian's voice

Opening his eyes, Horatio saw that she was studying him intently, a slight
crease between her brows. "Mr. Hornblower." Her tone was gentler now. "Our
father suffered a stroke shortly after the new year, at Kennedy Manor. He
lingered for many weeks, but I do not think he ever fully regained his
faculties. Certainly he was in no state to comprehend the letters you and
Commodore Pellew sent." Another faint, sad smile. "Perhaps God granted him
that much mercy: to die without knowing that his youngest son had
predeceased him."

The dark tide of guilt diminished, receded--not entirely, never entirely, but
enough for him to frame a response. Horatio swallowed, cleared his throat,
"Ma'am, I am deeply sorry for your bereavement." He hesitated, not knowing
whether he should continue, but some impulse was driving him and he plunged
on, "Your brother was . . . the bravest man I have ever known, and my closest
friend for over seven years. It was an *honor* to serve with him--and a
privilege."

"Thank you." Her eyes were suddenly brilliant with unshed tears, her mouth
turning down at the corners in a way that was achingly reminiscent of Archie
at his most pensive or dejected. But like her brother, she had steel beneath
her seeming fragility. Even as Horatio watched, she straightened her spine
and met his gaze unflinchingly.

"Lieutenant Hornblower, I fear I have not discharged my entire purpose for
coming here--and I pray you will forgive me for causing you further pain. But
. . . I find I have several--unanswered questions, about my brother."

Horatio's stomach knotted. "I--do not know if I can provide you with any of
those answers, ma'am."

"Can't you?" The blue eyes were somber, holding just a hint of entreaty.

He could not resist that entreaty in *her*, any more than he could have
resisted it in her brother. Cursing himself for a fool, Horatio amended, "Of
course, I will . . . try to lend you whatever assistance I can, in this
matter."

"Thank you," she said again, gratitude brightening her tentative smile. "I
have not shared my concerns with Alice--in her present condition, it would be
the most ill-advised thing to do! Nor with anyone else in the family, thus
far. But for several weeks, I have been troubled by certain . . .
discrepancies."

"Such as, ma'am?" Horatio inquired, a leaden weight descending upon his
spirit.

Mrs. Tresilian tugged absently at a wisp of coppery hair, her brow furrowing.
"Well, in his letter, Commodore Pellew writes that Archie . . . died of
wounds received in battle, defending his ship. Your letter reports much the
same. But the account in the Naval Chronicle merely states that he succumbed
to fever--and makes no mention of him taking part in any sort of engagement."

Horatio swallowed. "*Both* reports are accurate, ma'am. Archie was mortally
wounded when some Spanish prisoners escaped from the hold and tried to take
control of the ship. F-fever and infection set in. Those were what claimed
his life, ultimately."

A tightening of the skin over the fine bones of her face as she absorbed this
painful revelation. "But those two reports . . . I cannot understand why
they are so different. I know my brother would have fought to his last
breath to defend his ship--*why* is there no mention of his service?' The
creases in her brow deepened as she continued. "As I've said, I was at the
Admiralty earlier today. The officers I spoke to there--behaved very
strangely, after I told them who I was and whom I was seeking." She paused
again, biting her lower lip in thought. "They were not precisely *uncivil*,
but . . . I had the impression they could not be rid of me fast enough."

The Kennedy persistence. Horatio remembered it well. If Mrs. Tresilian was
even half as tenacious as her brother . . .

Her next words took his breath away. "What I have begun to suspect--is that
there was some trouble aboard the ship, and Archie found himself in the thick
of it."

Horatio's blood turned to ice. He took a breath, another, then ventured
carefully, "What--makes you think that, ma'am?"

"Several things. The first being how he looked the last time I saw him, in
Cornwall. He seemed . . . strained, taut as a wire. I could not help being
anxious for him, though he made light of it, at first." A fleeting, rueful
upturn of the lips. "He said he was mainly upset because you had not been
permitted to accompany him. Archie . . . always wanted us to meet you."

That, Horatio could readily believe; indeed, his friend had said so, often
enough. He could also recall the occasion of which she spoke: early March of
'01, it had been, when storm damage had brought the Renown briefly into
Falmouth for repairs. Archie had requested and received a brief liberty;
Horatio's own petition had been refused. He recalled with a shiver the cold
suspicion in Captain Sawyer's eyes as the older man considered the possible
implications of his two junior lieutenants going ashore at the same time.
Had Sawyer been in the grip of madness, even then? Not until the ship was
almost ready to rejoin the Channel Fleet had Horatio received some liberty
days of his own.

For Mrs. Tresilian's sake, Horatio did his best to muster a small smile of
his own. "Yes. I remember."

For a moment they lapsed into silence, both suddenly struck by the contrast
between what was, and what might have been. Then, a little hesitantly, Mrs.
Tresilian resumed speaking.

"I--could not persuade him to say much about his situation that first night.
But the following morning, when we found ourselves alone together . . .
well," her mouth quirked in wry amusement, "not for nothing am I considered
'a managing woman!'"

"How much," Horatio cleared his throat, "how much did he tell you--about
Renown?"

"Some. Not everything. But I learnt just as much from what he did *not* say
as from what he did." Mrs. Tresilian gazed steadily into Hornblower's eyes.
"I *did* hear that his posting--and yours--on board the Renown was not quite
what either of you had hoped for. That the crew was often unruly and
discipline lax. And that Captain Sawyer . . . seemed of a somewhat *erratic*
disposition and not entirely pleased by competence or initiative in his
subordinates."

She paused, but Horatio could not have responded then even if he had wanted
to. The blood was hammering in his ears in slow, painful strokes, while his
tongue felt swollen to twice its normal size and firmly affixed to the roof
of his mouth.

"And then," Archie's sister continued softly, "in the next instant, he was
shrugging it off, even laughing a little. Saying that it was only . . .
missing his old life aboard the Indefatigable that made everything seem so
dire, that he was sure matters *would* resolve themselves in time, even if
that meant being transferred to another ship." A wry, self-deprecatory
pursing of her lips. "I did not believe him, of course."

That, too, came as no surprise to Horatio. Archie had never been very adept
at hiding his true feelings from the world . . . except on one notable
occasion.

"After he had returned to Renown, I found myself beset with so many anxieties
and apprehensions--which, I now fear, have borne fruit." The blue eyes held
a challenge now, as well as an appeal. "Mr. Hornblower, I am no better at
prevarication than Archie was. If you know something, anything, about the
circumstances of his death, that has been kept from his family,
please--*tell* me!"

//Tell *her*, Horatio.//

>From what seemed to be a very long way off, he heard himself replying, his
voice halting and hoarse, "Renown was . . . was difficult, ma'am. I do not
know--how else to describe it . . . " He broke off with a wordless shake of
his head, met again her eyes gazing into his and read the thoughts contained
there as surely as if she had spoken them aloud: then, *try.*

Horatio moistened his lips before continuing. "There *was* cause for
anxiety--about the captain's health and fitness for command. We, the
officers, feared that he was becoming a danger to himself *and* to the ship .
. . and we met, privately, to discuss the possibilities of," he swallowed but
forced himself to go on, "relieving him of his duties."

Her soft intake of breath revealed that she had registered *all* the
implications of what he had just said, but he could no longer stop the words
tumbling from his mouth. "One of the captain's men alerted him to our
meeting, told him we were conspiring against him. He roused the marines, went
in search of us. There was an accident, in the darkness," he drew a breath
and concluded in as level a voice as he could manage, "and Captain Sawyer
fell into the hold.

"He suffered a head injury--and the ship's surgeon *did* declare him unfit
for command." And not a moment too soon, Horatio thought bleakly, remembering
the hard pressure of Sawyer's pistol against his ribs while a battle raged
around them . . . but Archie's sister did not need to know that. "Af
terwards, we completed our mission and sailed for Kingston, but then, the
prisoners escaped and . . . " he shook his head, turned his hands palm up in
a brief, despairing gesture. A captain dead, comrades killed and
injured--there was no need to elaborate further. "After we made port, the
Admiralty felt that the circumstances were serious enough to warrant a trial,
on charges of mutiny. We--all of us--fell under suspicion, accused of
deliberately incapacitating the captain. We were facing the gallows and
Archie . . . I swear I did not know what he intended! But he was gravely
wounded and he--he--" Rising emotions choked the words into silence.

Mrs. Tresilian's eyes widened in comprehension. "He took the blame . . .
didn't he? Just before he died?"

No surprise in her tone; it was barely even a question, though uttered in a
bare whisper. Miserable, his eyes stinging, Horatio managed a nod.

Amazingly, her mouth curved in a tremulous smile, even as her eyes filled
anew. "How very . . . how very *like* him." Tears spilled over, but she
brushed them away with gloved fingers and again looked directly into
Horatio's eyes. "I beg your pardon, lieutenant. And I thank you for telling
me the truth. Can you--bring yourself to tell me . . . one thing more?"

Such as--who had really pushed Captain Sawyer? Hornblower braced himself,
dreading, anticipating, the question that was to come.

What she said, however, was the last thing he had expected to hear.

"Was my brother in pain--towards the end?"

//Blue eyes heavily lidded, barely open and hazed with opiates, the light
voice scarcely rising above a murmur . . . //

Horatio forced out a reply. "He--he said . . . it didn't hurt."

His voice broke on the last word. So, nearly, did Mrs. Tresilian's
composure; she turned away from him, momentarily, fumbling in her reticule
for a handkerchief. After several minutes, she sniffed fiercely, tucked her
handkerchief away, and faced him again, her eyes slightly reddened but
holding the same determined light he had seen so often in Archie's.
"Again--I thank you, Mr. Hornblower. I only wish you might have come to us
on your arrival in England."

It was the closest thing to a rebuke she had offered so far. "I feared--to
reopen healing wounds," Horatio confessed. "And I did not know how the family
would react, how they would receive the news."

"Because he died 'in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes'?" A sad,
bittersweet half-smile. "Did you think we would turn his portrait to the
wall, and strike his name from the family escutcheon?"

"Many families . . . might have done so, in similar circumstances."

Mrs. Tresilian shook her head. "I do not know how my father would have
reacted. And I confess I do not care how my eldest brother Malcolm would
react," she added with a touch of acerbity. "But Alice and I . . . we *knew*
Archie. Not as well or as long as we would have wished, but well and long
enough. Whatever he did or did not do--we believe he had good reason for it.
And he is our family, forever--or we were never worthy of him to begin with.
'Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.'"

The sonnet had been one of Archie's favorites; Horatio found himself reciting
back, a trifle uncertainly, "'An--an ever-fixéd mark, / That looks on
tempests and is never shaken . . . '"

"Just so, lieutenant." She raised her head, blue eyes kindling into fire.
"And whatever tempests the world's opinion may raise, *we* will not be
shaken."

They regarded each other a moment longer, in silence--then the chiming of the
mantel clock recalled them to the present. Mrs. Tresilian glanced towards it,
pulled a slight face when she observed the hour. "I must take my leave, sir.
I return to Cornwall tomorrow morning, at first light--and Archie's sea-chest
will accompany me. My sister and her husband mean to shut up Langford House
and return to their country estate." She paused, gazing thoughtfully around
the room; Horatio had the uncomfortable feeling that she was noting every
detail of the shabby little parlor. "Mr. Hornblower," she began, her tone
oddly hesitant, "forgive me if this is an intrusion, but . . . are you in any
need of funds?"

To beg for alms? From her? Unthinkable. "Pray do not concern yourself,
ma'am," Horatio said hastily. "I am managing well enough."

Her eyes were troubled. "Archie . . . would not want you to be in
difficulties."

But Archie was not here. Would never be here again. Because of *him.*
Hornblower heard his voice going faint and cold. "I've taken enough from the
Kennedy family already, ma'am."

She tilted her head. "But surely--you would not refuse your winnings, at
least?"

"My winnings?"

"Captain MacLeod mentioned that he still owed you twenty-five pounds from
that game of whist. So--" she reached into her reticule, brought out a wad
of notes.

"Oh!" Horatio accepted the wad with a wan smile. "Yes, of course. My
thanks--to him for remembering, and to you for bringing them."

"Debts of honor must be paid," Mrs. Tresilian said gently. "Farewell, Mr.
Hornblower."

A momentary clasp of her gloved fingers, then she had turned and exited the
parlor, her light footfalls fading away down the hall. Horatio heard the
front door open, letting in a gust of still-wintry wind, then bang shut
behind her.

Gone--but the disturbing memories she had brought still lingered. Horatio sat
down on the nearest chair, braced his forehead against his interlaced
fingers, the delayed shock of their encounter turning all his limbs to water.
There were other questions he should have asked, he knew, and other people
after whom he should have inquired . . . but then, as now, that had been
beyond him.

The maid, peering into the parlor some ten minutes later, had to call him
three times before he heeded her announcement that supper was ready.

*****

 

PART TWO: "The Reckoning"

 

The next night, Horatio was startled to receive MacLeod's card, just before
the captain himself strolled briskly into the parlor and stood warming his
hands by the hearth.

"Good evening, Mr. Hornblower."

"Good evening, sir," Horatio replied, somewhat tentatively. "I hadn't
thought to hear from you again so soon."

MacLeod glanced at him with quizzical hazel eyes. "I told you I would call
before the week was out to redeem my debt."

"Your . . . your debt?" Horatio echoed haltingly, suddenly uneasy.

"Indeed, sir. Twenty-five pounds, was it not? And perhaps on another
occasion you will give me the opportunity to even the score?" MacLeod took
the notes from his pocket, laid them on the table.

"Yes, but--" Horatio's thoughts whirled. "Didn't you--last night--Mrs.
Tresilian . . . " His voice stammered to a halt.

MacLeod raised inquiring brows. "I fear I do not take your meaning, sir."

"Mrs. Tresilian called on me last night." Horatio tried to collect himself.
"She said you had kindly offered your escort." Briefly, he summarized their
encounter and its conclusion. "She--implied that you had entrusted the
errand to her and gave me what she said was the balance of your debt."

The captain was shaking his head. "That first part is true. But as to the
second, I assure you, I should never impose such a task upon a lady,
especially of such a recent--if pleasant--acquaintance."

"But . . . then . . ." Horatio felt his face burning as the truth sank in.
Tricked, by God . . . and the knowledge deprived him of speech for several
minutes. Finally, with difficulty, he found his voice again. "*Why?*"

"It would seem," MacLeod ventured, carefully appearing not to notice the
squalor of Hornblower's lodging-house, "she wished to do you a kindness. For
her brother's sake, perhaps?"

Horatio flushed again, picked up the notes MacLeod had laid down. "Then you
must take this back, of course."

"Sir!" The captain's voice was suddenly cold and sharp with offense. "That
is the money *I* owe you from our game. A gentleman does not renege on such a
debt!"

"I --I beg your pardon, sir! Of course I did not mean--" Horatio
floundered. "But Mrs. Tresilian--the money she left--" He paused, shook his
head, before continuing doggedly, "I can't possibly accept it. I shall write
and send it back to her--" He broke off again, struck by another horrifying
realization.

"What is it?" MacLeod asked.

"She told me she was leaving for Cornwall this morning. And I do not have
her direction there." He looked up quickly at MacLeod. "Would *you* happen
to have it, sir?"

"No, I am afraid that I do not," MacLeod said regretfully.

Horatio continued to rack his brains, thinking out loud, distractedly. "She
said Lord and Lady Langford were shutting up the house. And that she would
take Archie's sea chest back with her, to Cornwall--I've no way of knowing
how to write to her!"

"Then perhaps," MacLeod interposed, "you should not." Looking directly into
the troubled dark eyes, he resumed, "Clearly Mrs. Tresilian meant this as a
gift. When I mentioned my debt, she took the opportunity to present the
balance to you in that manner. She seems a person of great generosity and
resourcefulness."

"Like her brother." Hornblower's voice was a hoarse murmur, his eyes
suddenly, suspiciously liquid.

"It would appear so," MacLeod agreed, a little more gently. "If you would be
advised by me, Mr. Hornblower: the lady went to great lengths to do you this
kindness. As a gentleman, I think you should simply accept this gift with a
becoming grace. Should you obtain her direction in the future, perhaps you
should merely write to her and offer her your thanks."

Still distracted by his memories, Horatio found himself assenting to
MacLeod's proposal, bidding a bemused goodnight as the army man took his
leave.

Once safely outside, MacLeod let the amusement he was feeling show on his
face. A lady of generosity and resource indeed! He was now intrigued enough
to wish to expand his acquaintance with Mrs. Tresilian, most definitely.

Though not wealthy, the captain knew he was in far better straits than poor
Hornblower. And he was enough in funds now to find some passage to Cornwall.
He looked forward to another meeting with a woman determined and skillful
enough to deceive one stubborn young man and keep the wolf from his door.

*****

Horatio slowly removed the folded money from his waistcoat pocket, laid it
beside the other small pile of banknotes on the table.

Fifty pounds.

He could redeem his pea coat.

Another month, or even six weeks, in London, if he was thrifty enough. Twice
as long as that, if he took lodgings in Portsmouth or Plymouth--somewhere
more accessible to the sea, even if less handy to the city. Though he was
beginning to despair of any offer of a post.

Fifty pounds was salvation of a sort. She, along with MacLeod, had provided
it.

She must have planned it, even as they talked, even as they both mourned
again. Standing there, looking so incredibly, unbearably like her
brother--and devising her own schemes. His throat was suddenly tight and
painful, his eyes stinging as a familiar voice spoke again in his memory.

//Poor Horatio. So quick to give. So slow to accept the simplest gift.//

They had rarely kept things from each other--but Archie had managed, once,
for just long enough. Another vivid memory surfaced.

//"I couldn't outrun them," Archie said, grimacing the way he always did when
he talked about his brothers. "And I couldn't outfight them, they were
bigger than I was--*everyone* was bigger than I was in those days. But I
*could* outthink them, sometimes.

"A gentleman isn't supposed to lie, Horatio. But if it becomes necessary,
there's a rule about it." He grinned unrepentantly. "Look them in the eye . .
. and make it a good one."//

He had been so distracted by Margaret Kennedy Tresilian's likeness to her
brother he had not thought to wonder if the resemblance went deeper than the
physical.

//Please take what I offer. Just take it--and say good-bye.//

Horatio sat down slowly, then leaned his head back as far as possible, an old
strategy remembered from childhood. If one's head was tilted back far enough,
the tears did not fall. And his vision was blurred with them, from the
simple, devastating truth.

*Archie Kennedy was my friend, my shipmate, and my brother. I loved
Archie--and he loved me.* And then he knew the raw, bleeding wound to his
spirit had not even begun to heal.

 

*****

PART THREE: "The Scottish Patient"

 

Kingston, Jamaica

(Three months earlier)

 

"I had hoped," Commodore Sir Edward Pellew said baldly, "for more significant
evidence of recovery."

"The fever broke two days ago. My physician believes that if he were going to
die he would have done so by now."

"That is hardly a comforting assurance." Pellew studied the young man on the
sickbed. He was propped quite upright with pillows; one might almost imagine
him waiting to take part in the conversation, but the soft, slow breathing
and the closed eyelids told a different story entirely.

A drugged sleep, the commodore suspected. There remained other disquieting
signs enough of the patient's true condition: the pallor of the skin, so
extreme that the many days' growth of fair stubble gave the face an ashy
coloration; the shockingly wasted appearance of the limbs and upper body.

"He has had the best possible care nonetheless," his host's cool voice
declared. "The doctor has hardly left his side for five days."

The aforementioned individual now appeared, scowling vigilantly. "My lord, I
really must insist that he remain undisturbed."

"The commodore wished to reassure himself as to Mr. Kennedy's continued
survival, Charles. There was no harm in allowing such confirmation."

The physician was still frowning as he met Pellew's eyes. "He is . . . as
you see. But I believe he is out of danger--if he is allowed to rest and heal
uninterrupted."

"I had hoped--" Pellew began tentatively, "that I might have some chance--to
speak with him, perhaps."

He was unsurprised by the physician's reaction; there had been previous
encounters during the last week, and the man appeared both fanatically
protective of his patient and thoroughly unintimidated by rank. It was
certainly to Kennedy's benefit, but Pellew found it--frustrating.

"That is exactly what I was referring to. I am sorry to deny you, but it is
out of the question. My lord," the doctor appealed to his employer, "it is
crucial that the patient not be wakened."

"I take your hint, Charles." The earl led his guest to the sickroom door.
"We can continue our conversation without further violating the good doctor's
sensibilities. I believe I owe you a debt of gratitude for your recent
assistance."

Pellew eyed the earl suspiciously. "I was not aware that I had rendered you
any further aid, sir."

"An issue of Naval law, I believe. The question of creating a rather --
morbid display as an example to others."

"Ah, yes. I take your meaning, now." And recalled the scene all too well.

Hammond had broached the subject; despite having received his sought-after
scapegoat, he had, a day later, turned peevish, almost dissatisfied, as if,
aiming at a pheasant on the hunt, he had merely succeeded in bringing down a
sparrow. Assured of Hornblower's safety, but still infuriated by the
Admiralty's insistence on expedience, Pellew had responded with unleashed
ferocity.

No grotesque exhibition was to be made of the young officer's remains. His
rank stripped from him, and his name expunged from the Naval record, yes,
that was unavoidable. But nothing further as public consequence. He had
confessed to assaulting a superior officer; he had already paid with his life
and faced divine justice. There had been no clear case of mutiny proven:
Renown had completed her mission and returned to the ranks of His Majesty's
Navy under the command of her designated subordinate officers, despite a mass
desertion among the ratings and a prisoner revolt that led to heavy
casualties--including her incapacitated captain. No more need be said. Any
ugly display of Kennedy's earthly relics would be a poor example indeed to
the common sailor, who must maintain respect for all superior officers.

Nor would the Admiralty's purpose be served by any further display of public
opprobrium towards the late lieutenant, not if they wished this entire
business to be forgotten . . . or conveniently swept under the rug.
Kennedy's family, aristocratic and well-connected, could raise awkward
questions back in England--not only about the events surrounding his
confession and death but about his possible motives for such a misdeed, not
to mention the *true* circumstances and conditions of Captain Sawyer's final
command. No--let discretion continue to shield not merely the deceased
lieutenant, but also Sawyer, his reputation, and the superiors who had
maintained him in his rank and given him his orders. A carefully edited
account of the Renown's most recent mission had already been sent to the
Kingston newspapers. What point was there in adding more fuel to the fire?

Confronted with these unpalatable truths, Hammond, in the end, had petulantly
conceded. Pellew himself had taken a rather savage satisfaction in that
conclusion.

"Something could have been arranged, of course," the earl resumed. "But it
was fortunate that you could prevent the necessity. And the funeral service
yesterday should remove any further difficulties."

"That thought had occurred to me." Pellew's face bore the ghost of a wintry
smile. "No one will be searching for a dead man, after all."

It had been a last-minute stroke of inspiration--inventing a "distant
connection" of Kennedy's who had already come forward in private to take
charge of the remains and see them properly, quietly interred. The commodore
had forestalled any opposition to this plan as well, arguing that, despite
his confession Kennedy had died of wounds received in the service of his
country. After conferring secretly with Kilcarron, Pellew had given out the
time and location of the funeral to Hornblower, letting him impart the news
to others as he saw fit. In the end, there had been a simple grave and a
brief, subdued service that was mostly prayer. The number of Renown's crew
who had managed to attend was almost surprising; the second wounded
lieutenant, Mr. Bush, had also been there. What had caused Pellew the most
anxiety, however, had been Hornblower's demeanor.

Even given the occasion, Hornblower had been withdrawn. Withdrawn, remote,
and *sullen*--not a word Pellew would have ever employed to describe
Hornblower before.

Even now he recalled that dark, gangling midshipman, still with an awkward
tendency to grow out of his clothes, who had boarded the Indy with a
reputation oddly clouded for one so young--falsely blamed for the misdeeds of
another, though he would say nothing of it at the time. He had guarded
himself with that determined silence, braced against contempt, and ridicule,
and Pellew's own initial disapproval of the rumors that had followed
Hornblower aboard his ship. But he had had no defense against warmth, or
kindness, or generosity of spirit. Kennedy had possessed all three. Small
wonder they had grown so close.

Since the funeral, the commodore had seen little enough of his former
protégé. Soon after, Bush had taken Hornblower off somewhere, probably in an
attempt at distraction. But the recollection of Hornblower's face, taut with
barely restrained grief and anger, stayed with Pellew day and night. Out of
that memory, he heard himself speaking.

"Commander Hornblower . . . has been in great distress of mind. Might it be
possible--"

"I fear it is out of the question." The earl's mild voice was nonetheless
implacable. "We have only just succeeded in allaying any suspicions by the
Admiralty. The commander himself may still be watched. I regret the
necessity for his grief, but for the safety of our -- patient, his true
condition must not be revealed."

Reluctantly, Pellew conceded the point, yet the temptation was still a sore
one. In the infirmary itself, seeing the depth of Hornblower's grief, he had
barely kept the words back; at that time, there had not even been any
certainty that Kennedy would live. So he had stopped himself, and only
delivered Hornblower's new orders. But now he could not help regretting the
shadows that lay ahead.

Pain. Hornblower's pain, now. And Kennedy's pain as well, if he survived to
awaken.

He strode back to the sickroom door, glanced in again. "Is there no
possibility at all that he might be roused?"

"I am afraid the doctor will insist he must not be disturbed."

"Then it seems," Pellew said heavily, "that I must entrust his care to you.
Please inform me in the event--" he paused, revised his statement. "I should
like to be informed of all outcomes, regardless."

"I give you my word--I shall see to it."

The lack of resolution to the situation chafed Pellew's spirit. It would
have been a relief to know that Kennedy had awakened, to hear him speak and
note his returning faculties. And there were things Pellew would have liked
to say to the young man. About loyalty, about honor, and--most of all--about
friendship.

He glanced again at the sleeping form, deathly pale and frighteningly
fragile. Hammond's sparrow--who had willingly taken the bullet meant for
larger game.

"A special providence in the fall of a sparrow." Kennedy had always been
fond of quoting Shakespeare.

Still reluctant, absorbed in his regrets, Pellew let himself be escorted to
the door and took his leave.

*****

Himself deeply absorbed in contemplation, the earl made his way gradually
back to the sickroom. The physician was there, with a basin of tepid water
and the sheets pulled aside, sponging his patient down for the third time
that day.

The earl watched with an air of mild perturbation. "I thought you said he was
no longer feverish."

"And I wish him to remain so. The heat is one of the most insalubrious
elements of this climate."

"Ah." The earl pinched his own chin between thumb and forefinger
reflectively. "Well, since you object so strongly to the risks of the
tropical climate, I have a proposal that might please you."

He was answered by a coldly suspicious glare. "My lord?"

"Do you think your patient might benefit from the far more healthy air of a
sea voyage?"

Another gimlet glare. "What you mean--is that this is your intended plan. I
cannot believe you are truly asking my opinion!"

"We-ell," the earl temporized, drawing the word out. "The move will be
expeditious, especially now. But if you find there would be a genuine risk
to him--"

"You would still embark," the physician finished dryly. "As to the
risks--they are higher than I like, but approximately equal. The shock of
being moved for traveling compared to continued and prolonged exposure to
tropical fevers and contagion. He has already weathered one infection--I
would not care to lay odds on his surviving a second."

The doctor frowned fiercely again, remembering the crisis of three nights
ago. Sponging his patient down, just as he was doing now, only the young
man's skin had been flushed and taut with fever, the heat detectable even
through the damp cloths. Minutes and hours had stretched out almost
interminably, while the patient turned and twisted in bed, restless despite
his wounds, moaning faintly in pain or muttering incomplete, agitated phrases
in his delirium. The physician himself had paid the words little heed,
considering them only as clues if his patient grew more perturbed; the earl,
conscripted into assistance at the sickbed and admittedly not flinching from
any necessary task, had listened far more attentively, his brow furrowed with
intense concentration.

At one point, for nearly twenty minutes, the murmurs had been in Spanish, a
language both men understood; the doctor looked at the earl with raised
eyebrows.

"He was a prisoner of war for two years," Kilcarron explained. "He may be
remembering that time."

"He certainly doesn't know where he is right now," the doctor remarked.
"Though that may be just as well."

The young man's eyes blinked open twice during the next hour, but without any
awareness behind them. His agitation growing, he had tried to tear at the
bandages; the physician had caught his hands, held them away from the wound,
and ordered the earl to pour out and administer a half-dose of the sedative
draught. He had sat holding his patient's hands, talking steadily--and, he
hoped, soothingly--waiting for the medicine to work and hoping that the
poultice of moldy bread on the wound would have its desired and customary
effect.

The fever had finally broken just before dawn; the patient sweating at last,
his body cooling. They had stripped away and replaced the sodden bed-linens,
washed him down one last time, and settled him back in a clean nightshirt,
under one light, warm blanket. Since then the young man's rest had been
peaceful and nearly uninterrupted.

"I won't forget the first time I saw him," the physician mused aloud. "I
feared you had committed us all to an exercise in futility."

"You underestimate my faith in your abilities, Charles. I was sure you could
devise a solution once you recovered from the shock."

The doctor shook his head. "The greater shock came an hour before--when I'd
reached that damned infirmary and discovered the man I needed wasn't there!"

He'd been sent to retrieve a badly injured, young, fair man in his twenties;
and had confronted instead a dark man, easily ten years older, showing signs
of recovery.

"What did you do?" the earl inquired, half-curious, half-amused

"Prescribed a salve for him to apply when the scar was further healed, and
warned him against any strenuous exertion or lifting of heavy objects for up
to a month after he was judged fit for duty. Quite soon afterward he was
removed from custody. Partly your doing, I believe."

And then the correct prisoner had arrived, with his grave wound aggravated by
nearly suicidal effort--timing had been crucial. Seeing to his care,
undertaking the cautious, subtle administration of the drug, evading the
notice of the attending surgeon, and promptly removing the patient once the
appearance of death had been achieved--under the nose of a close
companion--so that the revival measures could commence . . . even now the
doctor grimaced at the memory. "Too damned close," he muttered.

"I had, I assure you," the earl declared, amusement even more evident at his
listener's exasperation, "every faith in your abilities, Charles."

"Easy enough to say," the doctor retorted. "But these last few days--if his
constitution were not fundamentally sound, he could never have survived, no
matter how capable his physician. I am most relieved that the greatest
danger appears to be over."

"As am I." The earl studied the face on the pillow again; the physician
quizzically scrutinized the nobleman in his turn.

"Might I inquire as to the nature of your specific interest in him? It has
seemed quite--remarkable."

"Mere eccentricity, I assure you." The languid tone established an elegant,
insurmountable barrier the doctor could not mistake. "Or call it a family
connection, if you like. Because debts of honor must be paid."

*******
Leith, 1746

 

There was only a single lantern illuminating the dock as the four passengers
alighted from the closed carriage. Kennedy of Aylesford, his two sons, aged
fourteen and eight, and one more young man in a plain cloak, a dark hood
covering his bright hair.

"Here." Aylesford handed him a sheathed sword, well-made but devoid of any
crest or symbol. "You may yet need this."

"Then I leave this behind me." The young man unbuckled a shorter scabbard at
his belt, handed Aylesford a finely crafted dagger with a crest at its hilt.

"Very wise," Aylesford approved.

"Wise." The boy's mouth crooked slightly. "My father only ever said I was
pigheaded."

"You *are* pigheaded. And reckless and mistaken and idealistic. And
seventeen is too young to die."

"He had the right of it," the youth insisted stubbornly.

Aylesford caught him by the shoulder, stared into the determined blue eyes.
"Have you learned nothing with your neck at risk all these months? He may
have had the right once, but England wouldn't have him, or his father before
him, and there's an end to it!"

The blue eyes blazed defiance. Aylesford shook him, but gently, and spoke
before he could reply. "Enough now. Come, child--we may never meet in this
life again, and I would not have us part in anger."

"Nor would I," the young man said after a brief hesitation. "I don't know
how I can repay you--"

"Go quickly and safely," Aylesford said. "If Butcher Cumberland catches you,
he won't only hang *you*, but likely the rest of your family too. Your
father may be as pigheaded as you are but he is still my dear friend, and I
would not see that happen."

"And are you not at risk?" The boy's glance went to his foster brothers
waiting behind their father.

Aylesford gave him a wintry smile. "My people are loyal. And no one ever
thought to ask that you were my godson." Pushing the boy's hood back, he
rumpled the bright hair. "Make your farewells."

A hard, wordless hug for the fourteen-year-old; the two of them had run
together like puppies throughout their childhood. An elder brother's kiss on
the forehead and a brief ruffling of the eight-year-old's fair curls. The
youth turned back to Aylesford, dropped to his knees. "Will you give me your
blessing--as a kinsman--one last time? And tell my father?"

"Willingly," the baron said, and clasped his shoulders. "Philip Francis
Alastair Crawford, my blessing be upon you. Travel safely and in peace. And
stay away from politics." Aylesford raised the young man, kissed him
formally on both cheeks and the brow. "Remember the motto of our house, boy.
'Avise la fin'--consider the end. I'll send word to your father as soon as
it's safe."

"Tell him I said to repay you--" At Aylesford's sharp sign of negation, the
young man broke off. "You risked so much for me--let it be a debt then, from
my heirs to yours." For the first time, his eyes brimmed as he faced the
sundering from his home and clan; he flung himself at his godfather and
embraced him fiercely. Aylesford returned the embrace with no less feeling.

"Go now," the older man whispered, pulling the hood back into place over the
fair hair. "And Godspeed."

*****
Kingston, 1802

 

*A debt--from my heirs to yours.* Nicholas Crawford, Earl of Kilcarron and
son of Philip Crawford, watched in silence as the doctor finished his task
and withdrew to empty the basin. Only then, alone, did the earl address the
sleeping occupant of the bed.

"You thought you were finished with life, young man," he mused softly. "But
life has not finished with *you.* And I -- have yet to begin."

 

END