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El Ferrol
by Hillary Stevens

Part Two

 

Archie awoke with a start. He had not planned to sleep and had not thought he would in the suffocating heat. He tried to focus. What was that sound?

"Horatio?" Heaving himself out of the bunk, he repeated, "Horatio, are you all right?"

Horatio lay tightly curled up, his teeth chattering and mumbling incoherently. Archie put a hand on his forehead and swore at its heat. Turning, he grabbed all three uniform jackets and piled them on top of him. It was absurd -- he could barely draw a breath in the heat, and Horatio shook with violent chills. Archie tucked the jackets around him as tightly as he could and rubbed his limbs where they did not cover.

Hunter dropped to the ground with a painful gasp and grabbed one of the metal cups from the windowsill. Going to the door, he ran it across the iron bars and shouted at the top of his lungs for the guard posted outside the cellblock.

A moment later, Archie heard Matthews yell, "What is it, Mr. Hunter?"

"Mr. Hornblower's come down ill. I've got to wake the bloody guard."

The ratings immediately added their own cacophony of yelling and the din of metal on iron. It seemed like an eternity before Archie heard another voice yelling as well, this time in Spanish.

The guard arrived with rifle primed and bayonet fixed, demanding an explanation. Archie managed to stumble through an answer in Spanish to his infinite relief. Holding up a lantern, the guard peered at Horatio through the window in the door, then disappeared, leaving them in darkness again.

"Do you think he understood?" Hunter asked.

Archie shook his head. "I don't know."

Hunter limped to the window and peered out. "There he goes," he reported. "He just left the yard."

They waited in silence, Archie tending to Horatio and Hunter keeping watch at the window. A murmur of voices carried from the other cell, but otherwise the night was quiet.

The first signs of activity were the sounds of gates opening and the rattle of rifles as the guards crossed the yard. When the cell door was finally unlocked, the head of the guard, a corporal whom Archie had never seen before, came into the cell with four men, two carrying lanterns. Their light was dazzling after the darkness.

"Cual es el significado de esto?" he demanded.

Archie straightened and glared at the man. Pointing at Horatio, he snapped, "El es enfermo."

As the corporal snorted and waved a dismissive hand, Don Massaredo appeared behind him. His arrival startled Archie who could only stare as His Excellency curtly dismissed the man.

"I was reading and heard the uproar, as you would call it," he explained as he crossed the cell. "I will send a man for Doctor Montoya." Turning, he barked out a command to the corporal who dispatched a man to do the Don's bidding. Leaning down, he put a hand on Horatio's forehead. "He shakes with chills, yet he is so hot. We must move him from this place." He looked at Archie as if he expected an argument.

"Perhaps the room you allowed me use of when I was ill?" Archie suggested.

"Precisely what I thought. Who is that man in your crew? The tall one."

"Styles?"

"Yes, he looks strong. Could he perhaps carry Mr. Hornblower?"

"Of -- of course," Archie stammered.

Don Massaredo smiled. "Despite the urgency of the moment, the guards still must perform their duties, Mr. Kennedy." He issued another command and a moment later, Styles was brought into the cell. Archie was reminded how big a man he was as he towered over most of the guards.

"Mr. Kennedy?"

"Don Massaredo requires you to take Mr. Hornblower out of here. Can you do that, Styles?"

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Do not look so worried, Mr. Styles," His Excellency said. "We are taking Mr. Hornblower somewhere cleaner and cooler. When he recovers, he will return."

"Aye," and Archie realized he had purposely left the "sir" off the end of his response.

"C'mon, sir," Styles murmured as he bent to take Horatio into his arms. "You're feelin' poorly, but we'll 'ave ya right as rain soon enough."

Horatio murmured incoherently, but did not wake. When Styles straightened up, Archie tucked one of the jackets around Horatio. He stepped back beside Hunter as Styles walked to the doorway.

"Mr. Kennedy?" Don Massaredo said, gesturing toward the door. "You will, of course, escort Mr. Hornblower as well."

"Thank you, sir."

"Get us word if you can, Mr. Kennedy," Hunter said as the door swung shut.

They hurried through the yard and through the gate into a second yard. Archie recognized it immediately. Their escape attempt had ended here. He followed Styles through a doorway and along a short corridor to an open door. Even in darkness, he recognized the room and shook his head to dispel the memories as he helped settle Horatio on the narrow bed.

As he tucked a rough wool blanket around Horatio's shivering form, he saw his eyelids flutter open. Leaning down, he brushed the hair from his damp forehead. "Horatio?"

Horatio shook his head slightly. "I am to blame," he mumbled as the fever took him again.

"Blame for wha', sir?" Styles asked.

Archie sighed. "It is the fever talking."

His Excellency stood back as one of the guards carried in a basin of water and some clean cloths. Another set his lantern upon the small table.

"Mr. Styles, perhaps you could open the windows," the Don suggested. "It is very close in here, is it not?"

Styles forced open the reluctant latches and swung the windows wide. There were no bars upon them; there was no need. The room sat at the edge of the cliff upon which El Ferrol had been built. There was no easy escape from here, only a fifty-foot drop down a sheer rock face.

Archie soaked a few of the cloths in the water and wrung them out. Taking one, he wiped the sweat from Horatio's face as his teeth continued to chatter. Turning to put it back in the water, Archie felt the room dip. Steadying himself on the table, he took a deep breath and waited for his head to clear.

Styles was beside him then, guiding him to the one chair. "You're tired, Mr. Kennedy. Jus' have a rest until the doctor comes."

Torn between the knowledge that the man was right and his need to watch over Horatio, Archie tried to shrug him off. "As you were, Styles."

"I think Mr. Styles is right," Don Massaredo said. "He will look after Mr. Hornblower. You need a few moments' rest. You need not sleep, but I must insist you rest."

Archie nodded and closed his eyes, too tired to do anything more. The harsh awakening combined with the long day and the distress of finding Horatio so ill had depleted his small resource of strength. A long night stretched before him, and he needed some time to recoup what energy he could to face it.

He listened to Styles quietly reassuring Horatio, trying to calm him. Occasionally the sailor wrung water out of a cloth, but otherwise the room was quiet. A breeze drifted in through the open windows, and he smelled the tang of salt in it. He drank it in, storing it away so, in the months to come, he could remember and marvel at it. They were so close to the sea, but the fetid odors of the prison robbed the air of that reminder.

"Mr. Styles," His Excellency said into the quiet, "do you like being a sailor?"

"Aye, sir, given I didn't have no choice in the matter."

"'No choice'? But all Englishmen are free, I have heard."

Styles snorted. "Not when press gangs are about."

"'Press gangs'?"

"When 'is Majesty's Navy needs some volunteers, the press gangs make sure it gets enough." As Archie roused himself to command him to silence, Styles added, "But it's a good life. I 'as me mates and a bloody good ship to serve on."

"But you are not on your ship now." The words were not said with malice, but a kind of interest.

"No, but we will be soon enough...sir."

Archie roused himself when he heard the clatter of horses' hooves in the forecourt. A moment later, Doctor Montoya hurried through the door, looking much as he had hours before. It did not appear he had been to bed. He wore the same dark coat, and his neckcloth was tied in the same knot it had been.

"Perhaps we should leave the doctor to his patient," His Excellency suggested, gesturing toward the door.

Styles looked at Archie, awaiting his command before leaving. Archie nodded, and they followed Don Massaredo into the small yard. Taking hold of the bridle on the doctor's horse, Styles walked the sweating animal around the perimeter as Archie sank onto the step outside the door. The air was cooler here, the shadows of the surrounding buildings protecting the area throughout the day from the unrelenting sun.

"An interesting man, your Mr. Styles."

Archie looked up at the Don. "Indeed, sir."

"I thought him most brutal until I watched him tend Mr. Hornblower. A paradox."

Archie nodded. "Yes, Your Excellency, a paradox."

Watching Styles walk the yard, Archie found himself counting the steps -- fifteen, turn; twelve, turn; fifteen, turn... Never sixteen steps, never eleven. Why was that? Horatio would know. Some law of physics or a mathematical certainty, but he was certain Horatio could explain it. He was too tired to puzzle it out for himself. Crossing his arms on his knees, he lay his head on them and closed his eyes. Fifteen, turn; twelve, turn; fifteen...

A touch on his shoulder brought him fully awake even as Don Massaredo said his name. He felt oddly refreshed and wondered how long he had slept. Climbing to his feet, he rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands.

Doctor Montoya stood on the step above him with His Excellency, speaking in rapid Spanish. Try as he might, Archie only recognized one word of every five. He shook his head, trying to evict the last remnants of sleep.

"Sir, what's he sayin'?" Styles inquired as he came to stand behind Archie.

"I don't know. He is speaking too rapidly for me to understand."

"Judgin' by his face, it ain't too good."

Archie felt his stomach clench at the words. They confirmed what he was thinking. "We will wait to hear what His Excellency says." Clasping his hands behind his back, he took a deep breath.

Finally the doctor finished his explanation with a question. Don Massaredo turned to the Archie. "He wishes to know what Mr. Hornblower has had to eat."

"Water, a few slices of orange, some bread."

His Excellency relayed the information, and Montoya nodded. After saying a few more words, he disappeared back into the building.

"Your Excellency?" Archie queried.

"Mr. Hornblower is suffering a fever brought on from exhaustion. Doctor Montoya is worried that, given his weakened state, it will deplete his strength further. He has bled him to relieve the fever and given him something to help him sleep."

Archie nodded. "I would like to see Mr. Hornblower, if that is all right, sir."

"Of course."

When they entered the room, Archie walked to the cot and bent down to touch Horatio's forehead. Still hot, but he lay quietly under the blankets. Picking up the damp cloth, he wiped Horatio's face and throat. As the doctor explained his orders to Don Massaredo, Archie pulled the chair closer.

"Mr. Kennedy?"

"Yes, Styles?"

"Am I stayin' or goin'?"

"Whichever the Don wishes."

"I'd like t'stay -- with yer permission, sir."

"It would be best if you stayed. I will ask him."

The doctor turned and said few words. His Excellency explained the simple orders -- they were to keep Horatio quiet and calm. Montoya had left a small vial of laudanum for that purpose.

"Do you have any questions?" the Don asked when he had finished.

"Sir, may I request Seaman Styles remain here?"

"I thought it was understood that he would, Mr. Kennedy."

"Thank you, sir." From the corner of his eye, Archie saw Styles knuckle his forehead.

"If you require anything else, tell the guards. They will provide whatever you need. You may also take advantage of the room next door when one of you requires rest. There is a bed, although not much else."

"Thank you, sir. That is most kind of you."

Don Massaredo nodded. "Then, I will bid you good night. I will look in on Mr. Hornblower in the morning."

"Good night, Your Excellency." Turning to the doctor, Archie bowed. "Gracias por su ayuda."

Doctor Montoya gave him a small half bow in return before following His Excellency out of the room.

"Beggin' yer pardon, Mr. Kennedy, but I'll take the first watch."

Archie looked at the man. "I thought I would -- "

"Sir, I'm wide awake, an' you're out on yer feet." He grinned at Archie. "Why not stretch out for a few minutes while ya can?"

"Very well, Styles, the sh-" Archie caught himself. "You have the watch."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The echo of the ship's bell woke Horatio. Without opening his eyes, he reached for the cloak he had hung on the peg beside his berth to dry -- if that were in the least possible in the midst of a gale. When a hand caught his wrist, his eyes opened, and he found himself in a cabin he did not recognize.

"Just lie quiet, sir," Styles counseled as Horatio tried to sit up. "I'll fetch Mr. Kennedy."

As soon as the sailor left the room, Horatio sat up and swung his legs over the side of the narrow berth. The cabin spun, but he fought the dizziness and tried to stand, keeping one hand on the wall for balance as the deck rolled under his feet. Lord, he was exhausted. Every movement was an effort. Where was that damn cloak?

"Horatio, what are you doing?" Archie exclaimed as he came through the door.

Horatio barely glanced at him. "I have the watch."

"You are going back to bed. Styles!"

"I have the watch," Horatio repeated. "I cannot find my cloak, Archie. I thought I hung it here."

Styles came through the open door and stopped. "Good Lor'," he muttered. "I never thought he'd 'ave the strength."

"Archie, help me find my cloak. The Captain will have my head if I report late for duty." Drawing himself up to his full height, he glared at Kennedy. "That is an order, Mr. Kennedy."

Shaking his head, Archie gestured to Styles. "Help Mr. Hornblower lie down."

"You are in-t-terfering with m-my duties," Horatio managed. The walls seemed to close in, and the air was too heavy to inhale. "Archie...I can't breathe..." he gasped.

Two strong pairs of hands forced him down on the cot, but the feeling of suffocation only increased. Pushing them away, he fought to stand. Abovedecks. He needed to go abovedecks. Dizzy with the lack of air, he tried to keep his balance on the rolling deck.

"Take a deep breath," Archie coached.

Deep breath? How could he? There was no air to draw into his lungs. Bright lights danced in front of his eyes.

"I 'ave you, sir," Styles said, taking Horatio's arm and slinging it across his shoulders.

Horatio tried to walk, but found his legs would not obey, collapsing with each step. To his chagrin, he felt Styles lift him into his arms and carry him.

When he came to himself, the air was cool and his breathing easier. Exhausted by the struggle, he lay with his eyes closed, waiting for his heart to slow its pounding.

"Horatio?"

He forced his eyes open and looked at Archie's concerned face as he crouched next to him. Where were they? He had been so certain they were aboard the Indy. Slowly, memory returned. Spain. Prison. He focused on the night sky above Archie's head.

"The stars have come out." He looked closer at Archie. "Are you all right?"

Archie smiled. "Yes, quite all right. And you?"

Horatio lay still and considered. "It was a dream, wasn't it? The Indy was a dream."

"We are still in this infernal prison, I fear."

Styles came through the doorway, carefully carrying a cup. "'ow ya feelin', sir?"

Horatio managed a crisp nod. "Fine."

Taking the cup from Styles, Archie held it up. "I want you to drink this, Horatio."

Stiles lifted Horatio up as Archie put the cup to his lips. At the smell, Horatio jerked his head away. Laudanum.

"No!"

"It will help you rest," Archie insisted.

Remembering the troubling dream he could not escape, Horatio shuddered and shook his head. "I have no wish to sleep!"

"But you must. You are exhausted."

Styles held Horatio still when he would have struck the cup from Archie's hand. "No, Archie!" He turned to glare at Styles. "Release me at once!"

Styles shook his head. "Sorry, sir, but I can't."

"I ordered you -- "

"Sorry, sir."

Archie put his hand on Horatio's shoulder. "This is for your own good, Horatio."

As Styles retained his hold on Horatio, Archie pinched his nose closed. When Horatio gasped for air, Archie poured the contents of the cup down his throat.

Choking, Horatio pulled free of Styles' grasp and glared at Archie. "That was gross insubordination, Mr. Kennedy!"

Archie sat back on his heels. "That was necessary, Mr. Hornblower."

Horatio fought the darkness seeping through his body, although he knew it was futile. "I shall..." Shall what? It was difficult to hold his thoughts together. He was suddenly exhausted. He fought to regain his train of thought. "...report you to..." To whom? The air was cool against his skin, and the temptation to close his eyes was overwhelming. "...to..." He felt sleep wash over him, luring him further into its depths. Letting go, he slipped deeper into the comforting darkness.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Soon after first light, Archie leaned against the frame of the open window watching dawn give way to full day. There was movement in the village on the far shore of the harbor. The fishing boats had come in an hour before, and activity had increased with their arrival. From his vantage point, Archie could see men working on the quayside, women with shopping baskets moving among them as they haggled over the price of their evening's meal. The temperature climbed rapidly as the sun rose in the sky, and some windows had already been shuttered against the heat of the day.

Archie yawned as he watched the distant scene, still half-drugged with sleep. When the faint light of dawn had come through the unshuttered window of the next room, he had awoken on the small cot and knew he had slept longer than planned. He had discovered Styles fighting to stay awake as he sat beside Horatio's cot. He had kept his watch two hours longer than they had agreed upon. Only when Archie had finally ordered him to do so, had he gone to rest.

"Good morning, Mr. Kennedy."

Archie started. "Good day, sir."

Dressed for riding, Don Massaredo stood just inside the door. "How is Mr. Hornblower?"

Archie shook his head. "His fever has not broken."

Standing beside the bed, His Excellency gestured. "He rests quietly, though."

"Yes, with thanks to the laudanum Doctor Montoya left behind."

"Indeed?"

"He became agitated, and we -- I had to dose him again. He has slept since then."

"Rest is the best thing for him, Mr. Kennedy." He looked at Archie, his eyebrows raised. "And you? Did you sleep as well?"

"For several hours while Styles kept an eye on Mr. Hornblower." He straightened one of the blankets before he spoke again. "If it is possible, sir, I would like to speak with the men."

"Of course, I will escort you there myself." Saying a few words to the guard who stood outside the door, the Don gestured for Archie to follow him.

"A moment, if I may?" Archie requested. Covering the few steps to the room next door, he woke Styles and told him where he was going. Styles was on his feet before Archie had finished.

Don Massaredo and Archie walked the short distance to the prison yard in silence. As the gate opened, Archie was bewildered to see the ratings and Hunter lined up in front of Captain de Rivera who was flanked by four guards. He looked at His Excellency who seemed as surprised as he.

"What is he doing, sir?"

"I believe he is counting the men."

"Why?"

"I am afraid this is my doing, Mr. Kennedy."

"You -- " Archie's voice cracked, and he swallowed before he tried again. "You, sir?"

"I admonished the Captain yesterday, bidding him look to his duties. This appears to be the result."

"Sir, there are only eight of us!"

Don Massaredo's eyes twinkled. "Ah, but now it has been officially noted."

Captain de Rivera crossed the yard and saluted stiffly. "Good morning, Excellency."

"Captain," the Don acknowledged.

"I have tallied the prisoners, sir. Five are present, now six," he corrected, looking at Archie. "Mr. Horn-"

"Yes, Captain, I am aware Mr. Hornblower and the man Styles are not among them. I myself had Mr. Hornblower moved to different quarters last night when he became ill. Mr. Kennedy and Styles are caring for him."

"You had him moved, Excellency?" The man looked stunned, and Archie found it impossible to control a smile.

"Yes, I heard the alarm and decided to investigate."

De Rivera scowled at the grin on Archie's face. "Investigate, sir?"

Don Massaredo sighed and tapped his riding crop on his boot. "Is it in some way necessary to repeat my every word, Captain?"

"Repeat your..." Captain de Rivera stopped. "My apologies, Excellency," he said, his jaw tightly clenched.

"Your Excellency, if I might be excused?" Archie interjected.

"Of course, Mr. Kennedy. Captain, I wish to clarify..."

Archie walked away on the rest of the sentence. He was not quite certain how, but the cockade on de Rivera's hat seemed to have wilted during the brief exchange.

Hunter met him halfway across the yard, closely followed by the rest of the men. "How is Mr. Hornblower?"

"The doctor says it is fever caused by exhaustion. A few days' rest and he will be fine." He looked at the grave faces. "I left him sleeping peacefully."

"Don't much like the idea of fever, sir," Matthews ventured. "Fever can be all kinds of trouble."

"The doctor is expected again this morning. He has assured me that, with the proper care and rest, Mr. Hornblower will soon be on the mend."

"I hope so, sir."

With the arrival of breakfast, the men wandered away, talking quietly among themselves. Hunter and Archie walked toward the tables.

"I thought you might want these," Hunter said, picking up Don Quixote and the Spanish lexicon from the end of one table and handing them to Archie. "Styles will stay with you?"

Archie took them, surprised Hunter had thought to bring them. "Yes, the Don has given his permission."

Hunter nodded, one hand rubbing his wounded leg. "Good. You have my word, we will not cause you additional worry, Mr. Kennedy."

"I appreciate your assurances, Mr. Hunter. Keep an eye on de Rivera. It seems he wishes to play at being gaoler today."

"Aye. Complete with four soldiers to protect him."

"With British cutthroats at hand, one cannot be -- "

"Mr. Kennedy!" Don Massaredo called.

"Yes, sir," Archie responded before turning to Hunter. "Thank you for the books. If there are any problems..."

"There will be none, Mr. Kennedy."

Archie nodded and followed His Excellency from the yard.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The warmth of late afternoon drew Horatio from a drugged sleep. His mind dragged up vague memories of numbing cold and confusion. There had been voices in the darkness around him, but their words had not made sense. He had been given something to drink, he still tasted the remnants of its cloying sweetness. Then followed dreams, worrying dreams.

"Sir, 'e's wakin' up."

With effort, Horatio opened his eyes and blinked in the glare. The white walls reflected the sunlight streaming through the windows.

Archie appeared at the side of the cot and lay a cool hand on his forehead. "So, you've decided to join us today," he teased, but the banter did not reach his eyes. Horatio saw the look he exchanged with Styles, the slight shake of his head.

"What is the time?" His voice sounded far away, even to his own ears.

"Jus' gone seven, sir," Styles reported.

"Better to ask which day it is," Archie advised.

"Day? Why?"

"You've slept the clock round."

Horatio focused on their tired faces. Archie was paper white with exhaustion, Styles only a little better.

"Was I ill?" he murmured.

"Chills and fever. The doctor said -- "

"Doctor?"

"Doctor Montoya. He tended your eyes, remember?"

A man in a black coat. He had come with Don Massaredo. "Yes, in the cell."

Archie nodded, obviously pleased he had put that much together. "He will be gratified with your progress."

Progress? Wearier than he had any right to be after a day's sleep, he would be hard pressed to find a muscle or a joint which did not ache.

"...Horatio?"

Horatio found Archie and Styles gazing at him in concern. "Hmm?"

"Would you like some water?"

Styles had already poured it. Kneeling down next to the cot, he supported Horatio as he held the cup to his lips. It was cold, and the swallow he took was heavenly as it washed the taste from his mouth. Part of him rebelled at being cared for, but he was too tired to protest.

"Archie, you should rest," he said as Styles settled him. "You as well, Styles."

Styles grinned, and Horatio knew he was about to be lied to. "Me, sir? I never 'ave been bet'er."

"Nevertheless, do so."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Now."

Styles glanced at Archie, but without a word, left the small room. Archie settled himself in the chair beside the bed.

"You look terrible," Horatio informed him.

A grin lit Archie's tired face. "This coming from someone lying flat on his back in a sick bed?"

"I feel much stronger."

"Not strong enough, I fear." Archie took a cloth and soaked it in a bowl of water. "The fever is still with you." Wringing it out, he put it against Horatio's hot skin.

Horatio swallowed a sigh as the water afforded him a moment of relief from the burning heat within. "You must look to your health, Archie. It will not do to have you become ill."

"Styles ensures I rest and eat. He has been most...determined in that." He soaked the cloth again and wrung it out. "You must concern yourself with your own recovery, Horatio."

"I will do," Horatio murmured.

"You must more than 'do'," Archie informed him. "The doctor has bled you twice, and still your fever does not ease."

'You must more than do!' Had the Captain barked that at him? Horatio tried to push the thought away, but fever did not allow him that luxury. He could hear Archie's voice, felt the cold cloth against his skin, but his mind conjured up Pellew snapping out the words.

"My apologies, Captain."

"Horatio?"

Opening his eyes, he found Archie watching him, a frown marring his face "I..."

"You must rest," Archie finished.

"You as well."

Archie nodded. "I shall."

"You...must," Horatio ordered. Damn, he was exhausted. Closing his eyes, he felt Archie lay a cold cloth on his forehead as he drifted into an uneasy, feverish doze.

"Apologies, Mr. Hornblower? I do not accept them, sir! A midshipman should not make such an grievous error. Not sound the well?"

Horatio swallowed, well aware of the men around them on the quarterdeck who were openly listening to their exchange. "With all due respect, sir, you yourself said the well would remain dry due to the cargo of rice."

"That is not an excuse! Any man with an ounce of sense would sound the well, regardless of the ship's cargo. You might have saved her, Mr. Hornblower."

"Sir, the Marie Galante was holed. She stood no chance."

Pellew turned away, his eyes on the activity on the deck below. "You might have saved her."

"Sir, her own captain said she was sinking -- "

"You would take the word of a Frenchman? One who would say anything to avoid an English prison?" He turned to Horatio and shook his head. "You have no future on this ship, sir. I will waste no time on such as you. You are dismissed."

'Such as you.' The curt words stung, and he tried to protest.

"Calm down, Horatio." Archie's voice cut through the haze of confusion. "Take a swallow."

He felt an arm slide beneath his shoulders, and then he was lifted slightly. A cup was put to his parched lips, and he drank. Water with another taste mixed in.

"You promised to rest," he fussed as Archie put the cup on the table beside him.

Archie smiled. "As did you. Once you have settled, I will."

Horatio nodded as he felt a wave of sleep wash over him. His thoughts drifted away into the gray haze around him, and he was content in the quiet.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Horatio awoke, he recognized the soft light of early morning. He had spent many hours awaiting its appearance while he cared for Archie. Stiles slept in the chair by his cot, and Horatio lay still, determined not to wake him. He was weary, unspeakably weary. The two long weeks in the oubliette with nothing but his own thoughts and derision from the guards for company had all but defeated him. The quiet of one long night had been briefly broken by the sound of singing coming from the cells. Tone-deaf, he was unable to enjoy the music, but recognized it as an attempt to buoy up his spirits. The singing had lasted only a few minutes before the guards had ordered the men to silence, but its sound had sustained him until the rain had started.

At first a blessing, he had stood with his face upturned and his mouth opened, letting the water quench the burning thirst he had suffered for days. As it continued, he had been soaked to the skin, his clothes holding the chill against him until he shook with cold. Attempting to conserve some body heat, he sat down on the small ledge, drew his legs up and wrapped his arms around them. Resting his forehead on his knees, he had finally dozed off.

The sound of squeaking and the grip of tiny claws in his shoulder had roused him from sleep. Almost afraid to turn his head, he had done so and found himself eye to eye with a rat. Reflex alone enabled him to grab it and throw it away. Hysteria finally won over rigid control, and he had wept until exhaustion claimed him.

In the morning, the sun had returned with all its brilliance, bringing with it soaring heat. Horatio had remained unmoving on the ledge, spent from the night and all the days before it. There was no sleep as the temperature steadily rose, and he dared not close his eyes as the squeaking of rats carried to him. The sound alone was torturous, but occasionally a rat would swim between the bars at the far end of the oubliette. By mid-morning, his bottom lip was bloody as he bit down on it rather than give way to hysteria.

It had occurred to him then how disastrous his career had been. He had yet to sail a prize ship into an English port; he had lost men; he had almost killed a close friend and had had another sacrifice himself in a duel. Even the relief of finding Archie alive had been tempered by the knowledge that it was his fault Archie lay in a Spanish prison.

He sat throughout the long day, reviewing it all. Clayton, Williams, Finch, Bunting -- dead. He had not even avenged Clayton's death by shooting Simpson. The Captain had done that when he had deloped and turned away from Simpson. When the Marie Galante sank, he had lost the upper hand to her captain and crew in the ship's boat. Knowing the odds were against them, he had taken some precautions, but not enough. Only the appearance of the Indy bearing straight for them had prevented a confrontation with her captain as they stood pistol to pistol. He had extraordinary luck, it was true. He was still alive. Other men were not, and their deaths were his fault.

Before his time in the oubliette, he had watched Archie. As he had grown stronger, his confidence in handling the men had increased as well. Now even Hunter seemed to respect him. A respect Horatio had never garnered. He would not share his despair with him; Archie had survived months of captivity and a month in the oubliette on his own. It was Horatio's own sudden appearance which pushed him beyond all endurance.

In those early days on Justinian, he had contemplated death. It seemed the only way to escape Simpson and his torment. In time, the opportunity had presented itself. Horatio remembered caring little for who returned as victor from the duel. Alive without tribulation or dead with honor. Either signalled an end to his suffering.

"I play to win," he had boasted to the Spanish officer who had accepted his surrender.

He had gambled and lost. In doing so, he had again failed miserably in his duty to the men he commanded. Simply by following his orders, seven others had been condemned to spend the rest of the war in an isolated prison, one now lay dead. With every awakening, he felt himself grow weaker as the fever destroyed what little remained of his strength. Archie was ready; Archie would take command.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After another day of relentless sun, the heat was stifling in the small room. For the fourth time in ten minutes, Archie's eyes flicked to the windows and made certain they were open. They were flung wide on their hinges, but the faint ocean breeze did little to cool the sun's blistering heat.

He attempted to focus on the page in front of him, but the words danced in front of his eyes. He set the volume down on the table and, walking to the window, put his hands on the sill and leaned out. The fiery sun lit the ocean and sky with streaks of red and gold. Mackerel sky at night...

As he watched, the fleet of fishing boats came slowly to life, making ready to sail with the evening tide. Battered sails, stained with use and age, hung from the bowed yards. Even at this distance, Archie knew these boats were old, generations old. Scows compared with a fighting ship, yet he would have given anything to be on board as they sailed out of their protective harbor. To hear the wind and the seabirds, to smell the salt air, to feel the seaspray.

"Goin' out are they, sir?" Styles asked as he came in.

"Preparing to," Archie answered.

It had fast become a ritual for them both, watching the small boats depart. In the hours before dawn, they awaited their return. The distance was too great to know the names of the boats, to recognize the crews, or to see when the nets were full, but they still kept their watch.

"Lucky sods," Styles mumbled as the boats formed their nightly procession.

Horatio stirred fretfully on the cot. "Archie?"

Archie crouched next to him, taking the wet cloth from the basin of water and wiping his skin. Two angry streaks of color stood out against the pallor of his face, and his dark eyes were unfocused.

"Why won't he let me out?" Horatio complained. "It's so hot."

Archie tried to quiet him. "You aren't in the hole anymore, Horatio."

"I couldn't breathe."

"You are all right now."

Horatio's gaze drifted away. "Clayton is right."

Archie exchanged a look with Styles. "Clayton? Horatio, Clayton is dead these eighteen months."

"He is angry he died protecting me, Archie."

Archie swallowed, pushing away a host of unwanted memories. "He died protecting all -- "

"He believes I am a coward, a failure -- they all do."

"Horatio, you are not well, and you have had a nightmare. Clayton is dead."

"Yes, you are all dead -- dead because I failed."

Without looking up, Archie snapped, "Styles, tell the guard we need the doctor now!" Wiping Horatio's hands with the cloth, he fought for control. "You are very ill, Horatio. Your mind plays tricks on you."

"No, Captain Pellew read the indictment out." Horatio's eyes focused on him, and Archie saw the pain and confusion in them. "But you weren't there, Archie. Where were you? Eccleston and Chad and Clayton were there." A convulsive shudder ran through the thin frame. "It is so cold."

Archie wrapped him in the blankets he had pushed away a moment before. "Listen to me," he commanded. "We are imprisoned in Spain, Horatio. There is no indictment against you."

"The Captain was irate, Archie. I have never seen him so."

"Captain Pellew is not here," Archie argued.

"He condemned me. I have killed you, and he could not forgive it." Horatio shook his head as his eyes drifted closed.

Panic drove Archie as he grabbed Horatio by the shoulders and shook him. "Look at me, Horatio! I am not dead, none of us is dead!"

"Easy, Mr. Kennedy." Gently breaking Archie's hold, Styles settled Horatio against the pillow, smoothing the blankets around him.

Archie walked to the window, trying to compose himself. His heart pounded, all but choking him. Gripping the window sill, he stared out into the twilight, hearing Horatio's words echo through his head -- 'I have killed you.' How often, in his despair, had he thought that as well? By the time Horatio arrived in El Ferrol, Archie had already been certain he would never see England again. And he had blamed Horatio. He did not remember much of the cutting-out expedition, but he had convinced himself in the months since that Horatio was responsible for his imprisonment.

"Sir," Styles said quietly, "'e's out of his 'ead."

Archie tried to think of a reply, but his exhausted mind refused. He finally managed a stiff nod, but stayed at the window, gazing at the western sky. The sun painted hard, bright streaks of reds, purples and golds across the rocky landscape below, distorting the cliffs into an angry kaleidoscope of contrasting edges and angles. He stood watching until long after the colors faded and were swallowed by the inky blackness of night.

When he turned, he surprised Styles watching him with concern and sympathy evident on his face. Archie cast his eyes toward the lantern on the table beside the bed, embarassed Styles had witnessed his panic and had felt it necessary to step in.

"Mr. Kennedy, why don' you sleep fer a bit?"

"After the doctor comes," Archie promised. He wandered around the small room, picking up objects and setting them down again. Styles continued wiping Horatio's face, throat and arms with the damp, cool cloth.

"You requested the doctor, Mr. Kennedy?" Don Massaredo asked as he hurried in. "Mr. Hornblower is worse?"

"Yes, Your Excellency. His fever is higher, I think, and he is delirious." Archie paused, trying to sort out the Spaniard's sudden appearance.

"I am well informed, Mr. Kennedy."

"So it would seem, sir."

"Good evening, Seaman Styles."

Styles had risen to his feet, the cloth still held in one hand. "Evenin', sir."

From the forecourt, the pounding of horse's hooves heralded the doctor's arrival. Archie took a deep breath and steadied himself.

"Mr. Kennedy, perhaps you and Styles would wait outside," His Excellency suggested. "I will stay here with the doctor."

"Styles." Archie nodded toward the door, and the man left. "I will stay."

"I think it would be for the best if you did not. It is difficult for Doctor Montoya to work in such a crowded space, don't you think?"

Archie was forced to agree. He stood back to let Montoya enter the room, then walked out past the guard into the darkened forecourt. Styles started to stand, but Archie waved him down as he settled on the step beside him. They were silent for a moment, each hoping the other would speak. Archie knew, as he was senior officer, Styles waited for him, but he was exhausted and could not bring himself to form the words.

"He ain't improvin', is 'e, sir?" Styles finally said into the silence.

"I fear not. The fever consumes his strength, and he grows weaker by the day." Archie shook his head. "The doctor does not offer much help -- he bleeds him and doses him while hoping for the best. There must be more we can do than that!"

"Aye, Mr. 'ornblower needs to be taken out o' 'imself, sir."

Confused, Archie asked, "What do you mean?"

"Mr. 'ornblower feels things real deep, sir. When you was lost off Papillon --" Styles stopped and looked at Archie, an apology written on his face. "Well, we all thought you was... dead, sir. It were Mr. Simpson what cut the line, but Mr. 'ornblower, 'e..."

Archie nodded, tracing a pattern in the soft dirt with his finger.

"The other officers told 'im it were fortunes o' war, but 'e wouldn't listen. Matty and me kept a close eye on 'im for a couple weeks after it 'appened. 'e looked dreadful, not eatin', walkin' around in a daze when 'e weren't on duty. The Cap'ain and Mr. Bracegirdle both 'ad ta talk to 'im."

Archie smiled, the transfer of information aboard the Indy was as efficient as ever. "And did it help?"

"'e seemed t' straighten out after that. But when we lost Finch, it were jus' the same. 'e takes everything to heart, 'e does," his voice trailed off.

"And Williams," Archie murmured, remembering the afternoon of their first engagement aboard the Indy. In the aftermath of the battle, he had found Horatio in the cheering throng on the ship's deck. Another man's blood ran down the side of his face as he stared blankly at Archie.

"Did you see me? Did you see? Well, where were you?"

Had Horatio answered him? Archie could not remember. The shock in those dark eyes was memory enough. He was the son of a doctor, and he had already known Williams would not survive his injuries.

Standing on the quarterdeck during his watch, Archie had watched Eccleston lead the burial party. Eccleston, who had not troubled to learn the man's name beforehand, had given the service the same emotion one expected to hear during a reading of the Articles of War. Horatio stood to Eccleston's left, his eyes fixed on the flag-draped body in front of him. He had winced when the body slid into the sea. After the committal, Archie had watched him stand at his station for over an hour, staring out to sea. When his watch ended, he had joined Horatio.

"Glorious night."

Horatio's eyes stayed on the horizon. "Yes."

Trying to shake him from his reverie, Archie had put a hand on his arm. "Our first engagement, Horatio! Our first engagement, and we took her by boarding! How often I dreamed of such things aboard Justinian."

Horatio had not responded, and Archie remembered how white the knuckles of his hand were as he gripped the railing. He was suddenly reminded of the midshipmen's mess aboard Justinian in the hours after Clayton had died. Horatio had had that same preoccupation, had removed himself from those sitting around him.

"Listen to me, Horatio, men are killed in war. That is the reality of war."

Horatio had turned to him then, and Archie caught only a glimpse of the stunned disbelief in his eyes before Horatio hid it. "No one is more aware of that than I."

"Then why torment yourself?"

"Williams was one of my division. I am -- was responsible for him."

"You did not fire that cannon at him, Horatio. You took him to the surgeon straight away. You could not have done more!"

Horatio had not replied, but shook his head before returning his gaze to the setting sun. He had stayed on deck until the sun had sunk below the horizon, and the stars started appearing in the sky. Archie had brought up their cloaks, draping Horatio's over his shoulders. He refused all suggestion of food, his face paling at the mention of it. Archie had found a seat on the carriage of a nearby cannon, protected from the wind. From across the deck, Horatio's division had kept watch over their new officer. Horatio had stayed at the railing, never speaking, his eyes trained on a horizon he could no longer see. It had been six bells before Archie had managed to get him below.

Styles interrupted his thoughts. "Mos' times, sir, we 'ave somethin' t' do, somethin' keepin' us busy. Now we're 'ere."

Now they were indeed here. Their odds of escape seemed insurmountable -- Horatio was ill, Hunter lame, and Archie himself too tired to even begin contemplating it. They had seen how rapidly the garrison had responded, the sheer force of numbers and weapons. For the time being at least, escape was a long way off.

"So what do we do, sir?"

"I don't know, Styles," Archie replied. "I don't know." With a swipe of his hand, he erased the pattern he had drawn in the dust.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Horatio awoke to the murmur of voices around him, the words indistinguishable. The room glowed with the light of candles. He watched with little interest as the doctor lifted his arm and, with the cut of the knife, sent warm blood dripping into a shallow bowl. After what seemed an interminable time, his forearm was tightly bandaged to stop the flow.

"My poor young man," Don Massaredo said, coming to sit beside the cot when he realized Horatio was awake. As he smoothed the blankets, Horatio inhaled the combined scent of soap and clean linen. "Do you wish anything, Mr. Hornblower?"

Horatio shook his head. "No, sir."

His Excellency seemed worried. Was something wrong? Where was Archie?

"Mr. Kennedy?" He tried to sit up, but the Don easily held him still.

"He is outside."

Doctor Montoya changed the compress on Horatio's forehead, and he sighed as the cool cloth touched his skin. How long had he been ill? It seemed like ages.

"We are all most anxious about you," His Excellency said. "Doctor Montoya thought you would have recovered from this fever by now."

Horatio looked away from the concern in his eyes, one hand plucking at the blanket.

Dismissing the doctor with a few words, Don Massaredo leaned forward in the chair, his hands clasped loosely. "Why do you not fight, Mr. Hornblower?"

"Your pardon, Your Excellency, but I am tired."

Don Massaredo raised a finger in warning. "You cannot treat me as you would one of your men."

"M-my apologies, sir."

"Now I would like an answer to my question. You railed at Mr. Kennedy when he would have given up, did you not?"

"I could not allow Mr. Kennedy to die."

"'Allow'? Such a strange choice of word. As if you alone make such decisions."

"He is my responsibility." Best not to think of the circumstances which had led to Archie's presence in El Ferrol. He could hear the sickening thump of the tiller against Archie's head as if he had struck him only the previous day.

"And you are not such a responsibility?"

Horatio forced his thoughts to the present. "If something were to happen to me, Your Excellency, he would take command of the men."

Sitting back, Don Massaredo steepled his fingers. "I do not think that is a thing he desires."

"It is his duty as senior midshipman."

"It is yours now as acting lieutenant." The older man sighed. "You are very young to carry the responsibility for these men."

Horatio shifted uncomfortably. "They are good men, sir."

"That is not my point, Mr. Hornblower. Men can be taught obedience, they cannot be taught respect. You have earned their respect. Seaman Styles is devoted to you."

Horatio shook his head. "I doubt, sir, they have forgotten their imprisonment is due to my decisions."

"They also live because of you. From what I have observed, Mr. Hunter would have sacrificed all their lives and his own before surrendering. You fought until there was no hope of success. Then you resigned yourself and your crew to capture." He tapped the arm of the chair emphatically. "No man lost his life because of your actions. That should be consolation to you, Mr. Hornblower. Your Captain would not fault your judgment."

The memory of his nightmares came swirling back -- Pellew's disappointment in him, reminding him of every inadequacy. The absolute certainty of his failure tormented him, its weight crushing him. Suddenly, he was achingly tired.

"Ah, but you are fatigued." Don Massaredo stood and, leaning down, put a hand under Horatio's chin and forced him to meet his eyes. "Whether you wish it or not, you must acknowledge your importance to your men. The worry they have for you destroys their morale, their resolve to survive."

"Mr. Kennedy -- "

"Mr. Kennedy has done everything in his power, but these are not his men. The responsibility for them is yours." His Excellency stood up and straightened the lace on his cuffs. "I urge you to weigh your significance to them. Good night, Mr. Hornblower."

As His Excellency disappeared into the darkened corridor, Doctor Montoya came in and picked up a cup from the table. Lifting Hortio, he held it to his lips. Knowing what it was, Horatio drank deeply and waited for sleep to claim him. Within minutes, the laudanum had done its work, and he drifted into uneasy slumber again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Archie stretched out on the cot, putting his hands behind his head. The breath of air moving through the room made the temperature bearable, but not cool. Every bit of him ached with exhaustion, but his thoughts did not allow him to sleep.

Horatio lay in the next room, closer to death, it seemed, with every hour. And he could do nothing. Horatio had nursed him back to health through the sheer strength of his will. Archie had resented -- no, hated -- him at times, but had known from the very beginning it was futile to resist. Horatio would not lose this argument. He never failed once he had his mind set on something.

Closing his eyes, Archie thought of that first afternoon aboard Justinian. Horatio, gray white with seasickness and nerves, evading Cleveland's questions, then retching up what little he had eaten for breakfast. It was, Archie was certain, the last time he had seen Horatio out of his element.

'One way or the other, Archie, tomorrow sees an end to it.'

The words rang as clearly in his head as they had standing on the gun deck with Clayton. Neither excitement nor fear had lit those dark eyes, merely resignation. Archie had known in that moment that Horatio could not stand another day of Simpson's torment. His own torture had gone on so long that it had become part of daily life. He was simply numb to it. Horatio had not attained that level of acceptance, and looking into his eyes, Archie knew he never would.

'I am to blame...He believes I'm a coward, a failure...You are all dead -- dead because I failed...'

What was it Styles had said? 'Mr. 'ornblower feels things real deep.'

Archie's eyes flew open. Oh God, no! Swinging his legs off the cot, his feet found his shoes, and he stamped them on as he ran to the door.

Styles awoke with a start as he rushed in. "Sir?" he asked, staggering to his feet.

"I require a moment with Mr. Hornblower."

"'e's asleep, Mr. Kennedy. I don' think you should -- "

Archie nodded curtly. "You are dismissed, Styles."

"Sir?"

Archie forced himself to keep his tone level. "You are dismissed."

Styles shook his head, but started for the door. "I'll be just outside, sir."

"Very well. And, Styles?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Please close the door as you go out."

"Aye, aye."

When he heard the door shut, Archie leaned down. "Horatio, wake up!" Without waiting for a response, he shook him by the shoulder. "Come on!"

Horatio awoke, but he was clearly not aware of his surroundings. Archie sat him up and placed a soaking wet cloth on the back of his neck.

"Archie?" Horatio mumbled as the cool water cleared his mind, but Archie could see the effects of fever and laudanum in his eyes. He would have little time to ferret out the answers he required.

Leaving the cloth on the back of Horatio's neck, Archie settled him against the pillows. "I want you to tell me about the indictment."

Immediately, a singular wariness filled Horatio's face, and his eyes darted away. "I -- I do not recall..."

"The indictment, Horatio, what did Captain Pellew say?"

"There was so much noise...I could not hear..." The long fingers of his right hand worried a spot on the bed frame.

"You said it was because you killed us," Archie persisted. "How do you know that?"

Horatio shook his head. "No, no. I am fatigued..."

"And so you shall sleep after you answer my questions. Now, how did you know?"

"Please, Archie!" Horatio pleaded.

"Mr. Hornblower," he snapped, "how did you know what the indictment said when you could not hear it?"

"I -- he told me."

"The Captain?"

The answer came in a whisper. "Yes."

"This occurred in his cabin?"

Misery evident in his face, Horatio nodded. "Yes, Lt. Bracegirdle and Mr. Bowles were there as well."

"What did the Captain say?"

"He..." Horatio swallowed and tried again. "He said my...c-cowardice caused the deaths of my men."

"What more did he say?"

Horatio covered his eyes with a shaking hand. "Please, Archie, no more."

"No, you shall not beg off, Horatio. I will not allow it. What more was said?"

"H-he said my failure was his fault."

"His fault in what way?"

"He thought I could be taught."

Watching the distress and agitation grow on his friend's countenance, Archie had to force himself to continue. Better to know the demons which tormented him. "And then you went on deck?"

"To face the crew."

"Do you remember who led you there?"

Horatio nodded. "Mr. Bowles."

"Did he say anything to you?"

"No, he never spoke. When I fell, he dragged me to my feet."

"Why did you fall? Was it icy?"

Horatio shuddered at the memory. "It was sleeting."

"And once you were on the quarterdeck?" Archie probed.

Horatio took a ragged breath. "The crew, the officers -- they were all outraged. I could see Mr. Chadd speaking to Mr. Eccleston, but I couldn't hear the words. Clayton tied my hands behind my back." He rubbed his wrists as if he could feel the rope. "He told me I was a coward. Then -- it is all so confusing -- the men were yelling, Captain Pellew read the indictment, the sleet..." Both hands clenched into fists, Horatio entreated, "Please, don't make me continue."

"You are almost finished," Archie encouraged. "What happened after the indictment was read?"

"They made me kneel down."

"Who did?"

"I don't know, I couldn't see. They made me kneel down, and the Captain drew his sword -- " Horatio struggled to sit up, but Archie held him against the pillows. Dark eyes full of confusion and pain found his. "I am sorry, Archie, so horribly sorry."

"It is over, Horatio. Calm down, it is all over."

"The Captain was right. I have no future."

Picking up the cup of water, Archie held it to Horatio's parched lips and let him drink from it. When the cup was empty, he wrung out the excess water from a cloth lying in the basin and wiped the sweat from Horatio's pale face. It was not long before the laudanum reclaimed him, dragging him into its sweet depths once more.

Archie continued sitting beside Horatio's cot, his head resting on the back of the chair as he stared out the window. His thoughts were scattered, most drifting away before they were fully formed. He was unaware Styles had returned until the man spoke his name.

"Long pas' time you were in bed, Mr. Kennedy."

Nodding, Archie staggered to his feet. "Good night."

"G'night, sir."

The walk was only a few steps, but Archie thought dully that it would never end. Without bothering to remove his shoes, he lay down on the cot and closed his eyes. Within a minute, he was deeply asleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Mr. Hornblower."

Horatio turned from the taffrail to face Bracegirdle, preparing himself for the worst. He had become a living ghost it seemed. The men paid him little attention, the officers less. He had taken to spending hours where others were not -- once climbing to the fighting top. Even that was preferably to the solitary time belowdecks, listening to the others in the mess and knowing he was welcome to join neither their conversations nor their meals.

"Yes, sir?"

"The Captain's compliments, he wishes to see you in his cabin at your earliest convenience." Bracegirdle walked away, then paused and turned to look at Horatio.

Horatio waited for the cutting remark or the bitter accusation which had become his lot, but the First Lieutenant merely shook his head and went on his way. Puzzled, Horatio hurried to Captain Pellew's cabin. He knocked, then ran shaking hands over his uniform, straightened his neckerchief, and smoothed his hair.

"Come."

"Act -- Midshipman Hornblower reporting as ordered, sir."

The Captain sat at his desk, his back to Horatio as he finished shaking sand from a recently written sheet and set it aside. The reflection of sunlight on water was dazzling in the room, and Horatio was half blinded by it.

"Do you remember your first interview after joining the ship's company, Mr. Hornblower?" Pellew inquired.

Horatio felt his face flush crimson at the memory. "Yes, sir."

"Perhaps you would care to recount the details for me."

"You reviewed my record, sir," Horatio choked out, loathe to describe the particulars.

"It involved the death of one midshipman and the wounding of another, did it not?"

"Yes, sir."

"We also discussed Mr. Simpson's division, I believe."

"You put them under my command, sir."

"And I also warned you, did I not?"

"You said you could not afford the luxury of feeding men who did not pull their weight."

"So how do you explain yourself, sir?"

Horatio stared at him, his mouth half open in a reply which did not readily present itself. "My men are -- were..."

"We are not discussing your men, Hornblower, we are discussing you."

Feeling as if the ship had come about too quickly, Horatio fought for balance. 'Steady,' he ordered himself.

"An answer, Mr. Hornblower, is all I require of you."

"Sir, I do not understand."

Pellew paced in front of the row of windows, moving rapidly in and out of shadow and light. "It is a simple enough question. You stand accused of cowardice; your actions mark you as a failure. Yet you do not offer a word of justification. You disgrace your men, sir."

"But, Captain -- "

Picking up a paper from his desk, he threw it on the table between them and pointed at it. "Silence! You clearly stated that you left your division in Mr. Kennedy's charge. Why?"

Horatio looked at the paper and recognized his own handwriting. Immediately the sharp, agonizing pain which accompanied any discussion of these events shot through his skull. After hours of trying, he could not recall a single fact concerning the deaths of his division and his best friend, but here, apparently, was his report. "I do not know, sir."

Pellew shook his head. "I will not be fobbed off, Mr. Hornblower. Why did you do it?"

The pain grew worse, and Horatio resisted the tempation to rub his temples. "Captain, I do not recollect."

"Your obstinence does you little credit." Pellew locked his hands behind his back and nodded sharply. "Perhaps two watches in the rigging will assist your memory."

"No! Captain, I have told you everything!" he protested, fighting the hands which took hold of his arms. "No!"

"Quiet, sir. Jus' lie quiet like."

Struggling up from the depths of sleep, Horatio tried to wrench away from the pair of strong hands keeping him still. "No, I've told you!"

"C'mon on, sir, you need your rest."

The voice broke through the remnants of the nightmare. "Styles," Horatio mumbled.

The sailor smiled, relief evident on his face as Horatio stopped fighting and fully focused on him. "Aye, sir."

Horatio looked around the darkened room. "Where is Mr. Kennedy?"

"Gone t' rest. It's late."

Someone was ill. Hadn't Archie mentioned that? One of the men had come down ill, but it was so long ago. It was this heat, this infernal heat. He could not think clearly.

"You should sleep as well, Styles."

Nodding, Styles straightened the blanket. "Beggin' yer pard'n, sir, but I 'ave the watch."

Horatio nodded, his eyelids growing heavier. "Carry on then."