El Ferrol
by Hillary Stevens

Part Three

 

Combing his fingers through his hair, Archie peered at his reflection in the window glass. In the early morning light, he was still pale, but it was the pallor of prison life rather than illness. Fastening the buttons on his shirt cuffs, he absently rubbed his sleeve, trying to remove the dirt on one cuff and then smirked. He was filthy from head to toe, but here he stood, fussing. Shaking his head at himself, he walked next door.

"Mornin', sir," Styles greeted him.

"Good morning, Styles." He stopped in his tracks. "What are you doing? And what is that marvellous smell?"

Styles stopped in the middle of propping Horatio up against another pillow. "It's beef broth, sir."

"Beef broth?" Archie repeated, wondering if he were quite awake.

"I was talkin' with Don Massaredo, sir -- "

"You were talking with him?" Archie rubbed his forehead with his hand. "This morning?"

"The Don came in early, askin' afta Mr. 'ornblower, sir. 'e owned as 'ow 'is ol' nurse 'ad beef broth made when 'e 'ad the influenza as a lad. All of a sudden like, 'e's offerin' t' send some down for Mr. 'ornblower. 'is man jus' left it. Good, decen' broth, sir. Wouldn' mind a taste myself." He nodded at a linen-covered tray on the table. His eyes suddenly met Archie's. "I'm sorry, Mr. Kennedy. Maybe I shouldn't be talkin' to the Don like 'at."

"Like what?"

"Like you an' Mr. 'ornblower, sir."

"That is ridiculous, Styles. If His Excellency engages you in conversation, I expect you to oblige him."

Styles' face relaxed into a grin. "Well, now we 'ave a plan, sir."

"It seems we do." Archie nodded toward Horatio. "Has he woken?"

"In the middle o' the night, sir. Asked where you'd gone, then dozed off again. Been mumblin' a bit from time t' time since."

"All right, then. I think our first task is to rouse the patient." Sitting down on the edge of the cot, he gently shook Horatio's shoulder, dismayed to feel the heat of his skin through his shirt. "Horatio, wake up."

It took a full minute before the dark eyes fluttered open. Styles stood ready with the broth, handing the bowl to Archie as Horatio slowly drifted toward consciousness. Before he was quite awake, Archie had the spoon filled and at his lips. Styles was right, the broth was dark with meat juices, and Archie's mouth fairly watered at the smell.

"Try some of this, all right?" he cajoled, slipping the spoon into Horatio's mouth.

Horatio swallowed, choking a little. Archie managed to feed him three mouthfuls before he turned his head away.

"Just a few more. It will help you regain your strength."

"No more."

"I'm afraid I must insist, Mr. Hornblower. Our host has had his chef prepare this expressly for you. I do not wish to incur his displeasure, as I'm certain you do not."

"I am too tired, Archie."

"Then do not waste your strength arguing." Refilling the spoon, he slipped it into Horatio's mouth once more. He fed him another two spoonfuls before Horatio began retching. Archie held his breath, hoping he would not lose the little nourishment he had taken. Styles grabbed the slops pail and stood ready by the head of the bed.

"It's all righ', sir," he murmured and was rewarded with a feeble glare from Horatio as he fought for control over his stomach.

When he finally calmed with the broth blessedly intact, Horatio shook his head. "Enough."

"For now," Archie agreed.

"He barely 'ad any," Styles muttered as Horatio's eyes drifted closed.

"I know, Styles. It seems we have a long day before us." Archie replied, handing him the bowl. "Let him rest, then we will try again."

And so they spent the next few hours. The broth grew cold, but still Archie spooned it into Horatio's mouth. He no longer argued, just swallowed the liquid until his stomach protested. Occasionally he quelled its rebellion, but more often lost the argument. At points Archie was certain they had lost more ground than they had gained but, with no other choice, he persisted.

 

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

 

It was early evening before the one of the guards escorted Archie back to the prison yard. As the gate creaked open, the men looked up from their places along the wall. With Oldroyd's help, Hunter struggled to his feet. The others stood a respectful foot behind him, but every eye was trained on Archie as he joined them.

"Any improvement at all?" Hunter asked.

"He managed some broth today," Archie reported.

"But the fever, sir," Matthews inquired, "has it broken yet?"

"No, unfortunately it has not."

Hunter muttered, "Fever's not a good thing."

"Is Mr. Hornblower awake then, sir?" Matthews asked.

Archie shook his head and looked at the ground.

"Mr. Kennedy, when Finch took sick, we tried to keep him awake, tried to keep his mind goin'." Matthews shrugged. "Mr. Hornblower had Finch quizzing him for his examination, he did. Gave Finch somethin' to focus on."

"The doctor feels he should sleep as much as possible."

"I'm no doctor, sir, but old Finch seemed better when he were awake. Gave him an anchor."

Archie nodded slowly, weighing the man's words. "It's worth a try at least, but he is very weak."

The gate clanged open behind him and Archie turned. Captain de Rivera walked in with a retinue of eight guards in tow. Seven carried rifles with fixed bayonets and looked remarkably bored. The eighth carried a book and an inkwell.

Archie spun on Hunter. "You gave me your word -- "

Hunter held up his hands. "We've been meek as lambs, Mr. Kennedy, but the good captain's guard continues to expand."

De Rivera stopped in the middle of the yard. "Good evening, Mr. Kennedy. How good of you to join us."

"Good evening, Captain."

"If you would assemble your men?"

Archie looked at Hunter with raised eyebrows. "Assemble the men?" he whispered. "They are all here," he glanced over his shoulder, "and they have already lined up."

Hunter grinned. "I haven't come up with an answer for that. I just let him count."

Archie grinned as well as he faced forward. De Rivera counted, then recounted. As he snapped his fingers, the guard proffered the ledger book and a pen. With aplomb, the number was entered.

"You are dismissed. Mr. Kennedy, a word if you would."

Kennedy exchanged a look with Hunter then joined de Rivera in the center of the yard.

"Yes, Captain?"

"Mr. Hornblower and the man Styles -- when can we expect their return?"

"Mr. Hornblower is quite ill, Captain. I cannot hazard a guess as to when he will return."

De Rivera drew one glove through his hand. "Ah...that is most inconvenient."

"'Inconvenient'?"

"Yes, Mr. Kennedy. The intricacies of keeping track of the prisoners, you see." The Captain gestured vaguely. "Madrid insists on exact numbers and, with a number of you removed from the group, my responsibilities increase tenfold. Sometimes you yourself are here for the count, other times you are not. Do you see my difficulty?"

Fighting to keep the smile from his face, Archie nodded. "You could, of course, count the three of us separately, Captain. I am certain Doctor Montoya would not forbid you visiting the sick room."

De Rivera recoiled in horror. "Does Mr. Hornblower not suffer from fever, Mr. Kennedy?"

Archie nodded. "A most virulent strain."

"I could not take that risk! Not on a daily basis."

"Twice daily, Captain," Archie corrected.

The Captain's eyebrows rose even higher in horror. "No, Mr. Kennedy. That would be impossible! His Excellency would not allow me to endanger myself in such a way." He took a hurried step back as he realized how close they stood, then pulled out his handkerchief and covered his nose and mouth. "Impossible!"

Archie took a step and closed the distance between them. Over de Rivera's shoulder, he saw several guards grin. "If I might suggest, Captain, perhaps one of the guards who is on duty outside the sick room could be given the responsibility."

De Rivera took another step back. "An -- an excellent idea, Mr. Kennedy."

"If you would excuse me, I shall return to my duties." Archie barely waited for the man to nod before he turned away.

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

Archie stood at the window, watching the flashes of lightning in the distance. For the past few nights, there had been lightning, but no sign of rain. On the previous night, lightning had struck on the hillside opposite, and the dry grass had burst into flames. Villagers had beaten the fire out with heavy blankets before it consumed the slope. With the lack of rain, even the smallest spark was a danger.

Since noon, he had watched dark clouds gathering to the west. Perhaps now they would see rain. A relief after the fortnight of torturous heat.

Turning from the window, he walked over to the cot and put his hand on Horatio's forehead. He did not suffer from delirium any more, and Archie worried the fever had consumed all that remained of his strength. When they woke him, he swallowed whatever they put to his lips without question or protest. Even the nightly dose of laudanum went unchallenged. They tried, without success, to keep him awake; to keep his mind active; but it grew more difficult with each hour it seemed. Despite every effort, he continued to fail.

"It may rain, Horatio," he tried, sliding a pillow behind his shoulders. "Perhaps this heat will break with the storm." Picking up a cup, he filled it with water. "I have been watching the lightning. It is quite a display." He sat down on the edge of the cot and held the cup to Horatio's lips. "I know you must be thirsty. Take a sip." As Horatio opened his eyes, Archie smiled. "Rain, Horatio, after this awful heat."

"Rain..." Horatio repeated, and Archie was surprised to feel him shudder.

"Yes, there are clouds to the west of us. The wind has picked up as well." Archie held the cup to his lips again. "I wonder if we shall see a full-blown gale."

A flash of lightning lit the darkening sky. Drawing from a childhood spent in the country each summer, Archie began counting. 'One, one thousand...two, one thousand...' He stopped as the accompanying rumble of thunder sounded in the distance.

"Eight miles away," he announced. Putting the cup down, he arose and struck the flint, lighting two of the lanterns in the suddenly dark room.

"Storm's blowin' in, sir," Styles announced as he came in.

"Yes, I have just been telling Mr. Hornblower."

"Afternoon, sir," Styles said, picking up the cup. "Been 'avin' a drink?" Kneeling down, he held the cup to Horatio's mouth. "'ow 'bout a bit more then?"

Horatio took another sip then turned his head away. "No, thank you."

"Well, your dinner will be 'ere soon enough."

"Perhaps not, if this storm comes soon." Archie returned, settling in the chair. "Would you care to hear some of Don Quixote, Horatio?"

Horatio shook his head as his eyes began to close.

"But, Mr. 'ornblower, I'm almos' understandin' the lingo now," Styles protested.

Laying the book down on the table, Archie leaned forward and roughly shook Horatio by the shoulder. "Stay awake, Horatio. What would the Duchess say of your skill in conversation? I fear she would be sorely disappointed in her protege, don't you?"

"I was...never good," Horatio replied.

"Then you must practice," Archie insisted. "What think you of the weather, sir?"

"It seems...severe."

"You see? You must do better than that, Horatio."

Faint irritation shone in the dark eyes. "I cannot."

"Ridiculous! You would say more if I were coming on watch, would you not?"

"The ship depends on it."

"As you must realize your entree to polite society depends on your ability to converse."

Archie settled back in the chair as Styles walked to the window to watch the gathering storm. "Horatio, do you remember your first day on Justinian? It was a beautiful day for January."

"It rained and sleeted."

"No, I recall it being quite different, and I was the officer of the watch, was I not?"

"You were. Mr. Chadd was the lieutenant."

"Just as I thought. I clearly remember the glorious sunset."

Horatio shifted on the small cot, and Archie leaned forward to help him settle. "It rained...all day. I was soaked through."

"But when Captain Keene came aboard, and we assembled on deck -- "

"The storm had passed."

Archie glanced at Styles who had turned from the window with a half grin on his face. "Are you certain?"

"I have never been as cold and wet..." A look akin to pain passed over his face.

Worried, Archie fought to keep his tone light. "I think that is a bit of an exaggeration."

"Beggin' your pardon, Mr. Kennedy," Styles said from the window, "T' my mind, there ain't nothin' colder than January rain in Spithead."

A brilliant double flash of lightning cut off Archie's reply. Silently he counted until the thunder rumbled.

"Four miles," Horatio mumbled.

"Aye, sir. I can see it comin'. They've bat'ened down all the boats in the 'arbor," Styles reported. "Mos' o' the town as well."

As Archie watched, Horatio's eyes closed, and he slipped back into sleep. Shaking his head, he joined Styles at the window. "He's gone off again."

"But you kept 'im goin', sir. That's the longes' 'e's been awake 'n talkin' since 'e took sick."

"Yes, you're right. We must take each victory as it comes."

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

Horatio clenched his hands tightly behind his back as the Spanish lieutenant directed his boarding party to collect the Duchess of Wharfedale's belongings from her cabin. Romirez himself escorted her to the entry port to await boarding the gig.

"What will happen now, Horatio?" Archie asked quietly.

Not taking his eyes from them, Horatio answered, "They will take Le Reve and the Duchess to the nearest port and all of us to the nearest prison, I expect."

He heard the murmur behind him as this news passed amongst the crew. He could think of nothing to say to calm them. He himself was in a state of near shock. They had been so close, so very close to freedom, but fate had ruled against them. Around them, the fog grew thicker by the minute, and he shook his head. A mere quarter hour earlier, this same fog would have ensured their escape from the Spanish fleet.

"Lieutenant," Romirez called across the deck, "my captain has issued orders to have you join him aboard ship."

"Ain't that lovely?" Hunter muttered behind him.

"Belay that!" Archie snapped over his shoulder. Turning to face Horatio, he dropped his voice. "Be careful. I do not trust them."

"I cannot imagine why the Captain wishes to see me," Horatio said. "This is not a large prize, and I do not have information which would be useful to him." His heart skipped a beat as he thought of the dispatches he had entrusted to the Duchess only moments before.

Archie put a hand on his arm. "Be very careful."

"I will." Horatio turned to look at the crew. "Mr. Kennedy is in command until I return. Is that understood?"

There was a general murmur of assent, and Horatio found Matthews in the small group. The seaman touched a knuckle to his forehead, and Horatio nodded. If he did not return, Archie would have able assistance.

"Time's a'wastin', Mr. H," the Duchess called.

Horatio looked at her, then turned to Archie. "I will be back shortly, I'm sure."

"We will, most likely, be here," Archie replied with a grin.

Horatio returned the smile and crossed the small deck, waiting until the Duchess was settled in the boat below before climbing down. As the boat rowed toward the San Ysidro, he looked back over his shoulder. The mist had grown so heavy that Le Reve was a dark outline, nothing more.

"It'll be a treat to be aboard a big boat again after that dinky rowboat, won't it, Mr. H?" the Duchess inquired.

Horatio bit back a retort and nodded. "Yes, ma'am."

She turned her attention to the man beside her and smiled. "Ah, Teniente," she murmured.

Horatio pointedly ignored their whispered conversation, looking up at the seventy-four-gun ship rising above him. As he climbed to the deck, he gave silent thanks for the haze which prevented him from seeing the water far below.

San Ysidro was awash with the activity of setting sail. Horatio did not recognize the commands, but the responses were unmistakable. In panic, he turned to Romirez.

"I must rejoin my men!"

Romirez looked at him in surprise. "You are a prisoner of Their Most Catholic Majesties -- "

"As I am well aware, sir, but I must rejoin my men!"

"Lieutenant, I do not know how the British Navy treats its prisoners, but in Spain, the prisoners do not dictate where they are sent."

Horatio shook his head in exasperation. "I must rejoin my men, Lieutenant!"

"What is this?" a voice queried behind him.

Romirez came to attention as Horatio turned. The man in front of him wore the gold braid of a captain on his jacket. In one hand, he held a half-smoked cigar. The Duchess clung to the other arm. Horatio smelled liquor and tobacco on his breath as he stepped closer.

"Sir, I must protest -- " Horatio started.

"Your capture, I presume."

"No, sir. I wish to rejoin my men aboard Le Reve."

The captain shook his head. "I do not think you do, Lieutenant."

Dumbfounded, Horatio stared at him. "W-why, Signor?"

"Because you are obviously not a stupid man." He put the cigar in his mouth and inhaled deeply. Slowly exhaling the smoke, he watched it dissolve into the gray morning. "In fact, you are quite the opposite."

"Sir, I don't understand."

"In a few moments, Lieutenant, Le Reve may no longer exist. Even as we speak, my men are planting kegs of gunpowder aboard her. I will ask you a few questions. Should you supply the answers I seek, you will be returned to her and taken with your men to a prison quite close by. If you should fail..." He paused and shrugged his shoulders.

Horatio felt the deck move under his feet, and he staggered slightly. Romirez roughly grabbed his arm and held him still.

"Shall we begin?" the Captain inquired. "With what ship do you rendezvous?

"Ship? Sir, we sail for England."

The man laughed. "You wish me to believe that they have entrusted a mere boy and a handful of men to such a task?" He leaned forward and blew cigar smoke into Horatio's face.

"Sir, my orders are to escort the Duchess to England and deliver my ship to the nearest English port."

"Very convincing, don't you think, Your Grace?"

The Duchess nodded. "Indeed, the boy should go on the stage."

"Perhaps you could convince him to give me his information, my dear."

"Oh, I've tried, Captain. I got these dispatches this morning," she said, handing over the packet of papers, "but I still did not find out his mission."

Horatio glared at her. "I had no mission. I am not a spy."

"You sail into the middle of the Spanish fleet, and you tell me it was a mistake. Is that it?" the Captain proposed.

"Sir, I did not sail into the middle of your fleet! It came up around us in the fog!" Horatio insisted.

"Just like the elves and the fairies!" Her Grace added.

"If you and your men are not spies, why did you wear French uniforms? Why did you have them?"

Fighting for calm, Horatio spoke through gritted teeth. "We had them because Le Reve is a prize of war, sir. We took her from her French crew three days ago."

"And you were, perhaps, planning a masquerade this morning?"

"No, I hoped to fool you long enough to make our escape."

"How easily you tell this story, Signor."

"Because it is the truth!"

"Or because you have rehearsed it!"

"I am an acting lieutenant in His Britannic Majesty's Navy, sir. I am not a spy."

The captain shook his head. "These are not the answers I want."

"I am telling you the truth, Captain!" Horatio looked at the Duchess. "Tell him, Your Grace!"

"Tell him what, Mr. H? I know nothing of you." With a shrug, she strolled away and disappeared belowdecks.

"Most unfortunate," the Captain sighed, "most unfortunate. I understand the British Navy does not deal kindly with men who lose their ships." He shook his head and walked to the rail.

Horatio took a breath, preparing to protest as Romirez dragged him to stand beside the Captain. Le Reve was a faint dark outline in the fog. Through the mist, he could make out a jolly boat halfway between San Ysidro and Le Reve, its crew idle at the oars.

"We are not spies, Captain!" he tried again, struggling against Romirez's hold. "We are British sailors! I have given you my surrender!" To his own ears, he sounded hysterical, and he fought for a measure of calm. "Captain, you must listen -- "

"I will not be bothered with your lies, Lieutenant." Looking over Horatio's shoulder, he nodded at an officer on the quarterdeck. Horatio also turned to look up at the man.

The sound of a shot jerked him around. A marine stood in the jolly boat, lowering his musket. There was a pause the length of a breath, then Le Reve exploded skyward in a ball of red fire and black smoke. The concussion all but knocked Horatio off his feet.

"No! Oh God, what have you done?" Ripping his arm from Romirez's hold, Horatio lunged for the captain. His weight took them both to the deck as his hands tightened around the man's throat. "I told you the truth! You have killed them all!"

It took two crewmen to break his grip and another two to drag him off the man. Horatio continued to fight as they dragged him back to watch what remained of Le Reve blaze. Bodies and wreckage were strewn across the water amongst pieces of burning timber.

"Your ship is gone," Romirez observed.

Horatio closed his eyes on the scene. "My men are murdered, Lieutenant."

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

The crack of thunder was so close that Archie felt it as well as heard it. Both he and Styles jumped at the sound and then grinned sheepishly at each other. The wind had picked up, and the sky was purple black with thunderheads. Lightning flashes of incredible brilliance lit the room.

Amid the fury of the heightening storm, he heard Horatio calmly announce, "Mr. Kennedy is in command until I return. Is that understood?"

Turning from the window, he crossed to the cot and leaned down. "Horatio?"

Horatio's eyes were open but unfocused. "I will be back shortly, I'm sure."

Sitting down on the edge of the cot, Archie reached over, taking the cloth from the basin of water and wiping Horatio's face. "Wake up!" he urged, shaking him.

Horatio flinched as the water touched his skin, but did not rouse. "I must rejoin my men!" he protested. His eyes focused on the shadows behind Archie, no doubt seeing the scene playing out in his mind. Archie shook him again, but to avail.

Styles knelt down on the other side of the cot, plying another cloth. "'e's not comin' out of it, sir."

"He must," Archie pronounced. "This agitation cannot be good for him. He is so weak."

Outside the storm came, blowing out the candles in the room with a terrific gust of wind. Styles jumped up to close the windows and relight the candles. Seconds later it seemed, rain pounded in sheets against the glass panes.

"...nearest English port," Horatio muttered. His eyes were glazed, and his face strained and pale.

Archie slid an arm under his shoulders and tried to put a cup to his lips, but Horatio turned his head away. Setting the cup aside, Archie slapped him, but it had no effect.

"I am not a spy!" he declared. Half to himself, he muttered, "Why did I trust her?"

"Give 'im the laudanum, sir?" Styles asked.

Archie shook his head. "He cannot find his way out of this nightmare. I will not confound him further." Taking a deep breath, he tried to collect his thoughts and quell his growing panic.

Horatio went completely stiff, horror written across his face. "No! Oh God, what have you done?" he screamed.

The anguish in his voice brought Styles to his feet. "Sir, we 'ave to do somethin'! 'e'll tear 'imself to bits."

They both jumped as another crack of thunder sounded overhead.

"Pick him up, Styles," Archie ordered.

"Sir?"

"Pick him up, man." Archie grabbed a blanket from the cot as Styles lifted Horatio into his arms. "We will take him outside."

Styles looked at the windows. "Outside, sir?"

"The rain will break his fever," Archie announced with more confidence than he felt. What happened if it didn't? What of the shock to Horatio's system? But he could think of nothing else to try.

Rain pounded the courtyard, the wind blowing it in sheets across the surface. Not the soft rain of a English summer shower, but a hard, cold storm announcing the end of torturous heat. Within seconds of stepping outside, they were all three soaked. Stiles knelt down, still holding Horatio, but his face lifted to the pounding water. Archie sank to his knees beside him, rain running down his face and into his eyes.

"Come along, Horatio," he encouraged over the sound of the rain. "This will cool you. You have been so hot, haven't you? We have all been hot these past weeks."

"Sir, he's shakin'," Styles reported.

In that instant, Archie felt his rigid grip on control slip. He was killing his best friend. He was certain of it. He draped the blanket he carried around Horatio's shoulders, and Styles wrapped it tightly around him.

"No," Horatio protested. His eyes opened, and he focused on Styles. "You must go, now before the rats come."

"There aren't no rats, Mr. 'ornblower," Styles assured him.

Archie put a hand on his arm, but Horatio pulled away. "No, no, there are," he protested.

"There were rats in the hole, Horatio, weren't there?" Archie tried.

"God, yes! They came in the rain." His eyes darted around the courtyard. "I heard them; they climbed on me." He shuddered and bit back a sob. "Why won't he let me out? I am so..." He closed his eyes tightly.

"You are what?" Archie pressed.

"I must get out," Horatio insisted, turning his head away. "It is dark, Archie."

"I know it is." Archie took Horatio's chin in his hand and turned his head to face him. "Why do you want to get out, Horatio?"

"I must get away from the rats," Horatio whispered.

"Mr. Kennedy!" Styles pleaded. "Let me take 'im in and get 'im dry."

Shaking his head, Archie brushed the wet, dark curls from Horatio's forehead. He was hot, the delirium and the laudanum still holding sway over him. "It is very dark, Horatio, isn't it?" he asked.

Horatio pulled away from his touch and nodded.

"Are you frightened?"

Closing his eyes, Horatio shook his head. "No, no, I'm not," he insisted, his voice nearly inaudible.

"But you are. Is it the dark? Is that what has made you so afraid?"

"No, I'm not afraid."

"It rained on the Indy too. When the Captain read out the indictment, you said it rained and sleeted."

"Yes." The word was little more than a hiss of breath.

"Sir!" Styles protested. "You're torturin' 'im"

"One more word, Styles, and I will order you inside," Archie barked. "Horatio, look at me," he ordered. To his amazement, Horatio's eyes found him, blinking against the pouring rain. "You were frightened then, weren't you?"

"No -- "

"You had failed, and you were frightened."

"I was not -- "

Archie leaned down so their faces were inches apart. "You had failed your men, sir. You failed them then as certainly as you fail them now."

"You will take command," Horatio told him. "You will get them home."

"These are not my men, Horatio. You are responsible for them until they are back on board the Indy. It is your duty."

"I have failed," Horatio protested. "We are here because I failed."

"You are here because a wind shifted. You are here because a Spanish sailor once met some French allies."

"I have failed," he insisted. "Men have died because of my shortcomings."

"Men die, Horatio," Archie snapped. "You cannot continue to bear the burden for things which are beyond your control."

"Clayton -- "

"Clayton died as he once would have lived. He avenged a grievous wrong, a wrong in which you had no part. You did not spend the months of torment we did, Horatio. The fight was not yours, but his."

"It was my challenge."

"It was never your challenge, Horatio. Have you not learned that? Had Clayton not chosen to step in, you would be dead. Another ridiculous boy with a misplaced sense of honor killed by Jack Simpson. He would have won in every way possible, and your death would have made our lives that much more unbearable." He gestured at the walls surrounding them. "This is your challenge, Horatio, your fight. Not with pistols, not with Simpson." Gripping Horatio's shoulder, he shook him and shouted over a roll of thunder. "You cannot turn away! You know you cannot!"

Styles bent over Horatio as if to shelter him in some small way from the wind and driving rain. "Mr. Kennedy, please!"

Archie sat back on his heels and nodded. Without another word, Styles had Horatio in his arms and hurried toward the building. Raising his face to the sky, Archie let the rain wash over him. He was unspeakably tired. He felt a shiver of cold but still did not move. The rain had been so long in coming, he could not go in just yet.

The thunder rumbled in the distant hills, and the wind carried with it the sound of men's voices, their jubilance carrying more clearly than their words. The others had been allowed out of their cells. Archie stood, staggering a bit before gaining his balance. The rain continued sheeting across the courtyard as he turned to go inside.

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

On the sandy bluff above the beach, Horatio sat with his back against a boulder and his eyes closed. The sun was warm, but the breeze felt cool against his skin. Below the waves washed against the shore, and seabirds took turns diving for their suppers while others cried out as they circled overhead.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Hornblower," Captain Pellew announced.

With a guilty start, Horatio rose to his feet, dusting the sand from his uniform. "Good afternoon, sir."

Pellew looked him over and nodded slightly before returning his attention to the horizon. "At ease, Mr. Hornblower."

"Thank you, sir."

"Of late, it seems you have not had an easy time of it," Pellew observed, drawing out his glass and holding it to his eye. "In a short time, you have been forced to learn a great deal. Many officers take a lifetime to acquire that knowledge."

Horatio shrugged. "Sir, I -- "

"That is not to say," the Captain continued, "that you have not made errors in judgment. There have been many, Mr. Hornblower. Some I write off to your youth and inexperience. Others I do not excuse as easily." He lowered the glass and looked over his shoulder at Horatio. "But you forgive yourself none of them, do you, man?"

Caught flatfooted by the question, Horatio shook his head. "Captain, in these past weeks I have reviewed my performance here, and I find myself..."

"Seriously wanting in the skills necessary for command?"

Horatio nodded, relieved he understood. "My behavior since our arrival here has been contemptible. If I had acted in an appropriate manner, if I had paid attention to what was going on in front of my eyes, Mr. Kennedy would have never -- " he paused searching for the words.

"Attempted to starve himself to death," Pellew supplied quietly, returning his gaze to the horizon.

"And Mr. Hunter would never have organized that disastrous escape. We could have been on our way home by now." He shook his head. "An officer's first duty is to his men, sir, and I have most assuredly failed mine."

Turning, Pellew took a step forward and met Horatio's eyes squarely with his own. "And what would you have me do, Mr. Hornblower?" he inquired. "Would you have me relieve you of command?"

Horatio hesitated, wanting to agree yet knowing it was not an answer Captain Pellew would accept.

"Come, come, man," Pellew snapped. "It is a simple enough question."

Horatio swallowed. "It would be for the best, sir."

"The best for whom? Are you considering the men, or yourself alone?"

"M-Mr. Kennedy could take command of the men, sir."

"Indeed he could. Perhaps even Mr. Hunter. But what of you?"

"Sir?"

"It seems you are more than willing to have Mr. Kennedy bear the burden of your responsibilities."

"Captain, it would be best for the men! I have failed them in every sense."

"No, Mr. Hornblower, your sole failure has been giving up." He turned to look out on the water again. "No, I have made my decision. You are in command and will remain so until you return to Indefatigable."

"Captain, I must protest!" Horatio pleaded

Pellew turned so they stood not more than a foot from one another and fixed his hands behind his back. His dark eyes stared into Horatio's, effectively stopping the words. "Do you doubt my judgment, sir?" he inquired quietly.

"I -- you see, sir -- "

Pellew leaned slightly toward him. "Do you doubt my judgment?" he repeated.

"You do not know the facts, sir!" Horatio protested.

"The facts are perfectly clear. You are malingering."

Horatio felt a hot flush rise in his face. "Captain, I -- "

Pellew put up a hand to stop the flow of words. "You will do yourself no credit with excuses. What example do you set for your men, sir? Your conduct destroys their morale. Do you not understand that?"

Horatio shook his head as the sun's warmth began fading and a chill crept into the air. "I am ill, sir."

Pellew put a hand on his shoulder. "You must fight. Can you not understand that, boy? If you fear failing your men, you must fight."

Horatio looked away from the steady gaze. "But I am weary."

"Then you must fight harder. Mr. Kennedy and Styles have done everything in their power, but ultimately it is up to you." Pellew sighed. "I do not believe I mistook what I saw in you, Mr. Hornblower. You are the one, however, who will prove me right or wrong. Do not disappoint me." He nodded. "As you were, sir." As he disappeared along the bluff, Horatio returned to his seat and closed his eyes.

A drop of water fell on his face, disturbing him. "You are cooler, at least," Archie murmured.

With a great effort, Horatio opened his eyes and focused in the dim light. Looking half-drowned, Archie sat forward on the chair and smiled.

"The sleeper awakes!" he announced. "How do you feel, Horatio?"

He considered. "Tired." He took in Archie's wet clothes and his soaking hair. "Has it rained?"

"Quite hard, and it continues even now. I believe the heat has finally broken."

Horatio studied him for a moment, and Archie finally supplied, "I could not resist. I went outside during the storm. I am cleaner than I have been in months. My uniform benefited from a wash as well." He gestured. "The room is still warm, so I am nearly dry."

Horatio wiped the drop from his face. "Perhaps not." He swallowed a yawn and, nagged by a vague memory, asked, "Archie, who was ill? Did you not tell me someone was ill?"

Archie put a calming hand on his arm. "I did, but he is better."

"Ah." He felt his strength fading, but forced himself to remain awake. "And the other men?"

"All well. Your dinner will be here soon. Sleep until it arrives."

Horatio allowed his eyes to drift closed. For the first time in days, he was most blessedly warm. He hoped for rest untroubled by dreams and fears as he slipped deeper.

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

By early evening, the rain had turned to drizzle. The sky had grown lighter in the past hour, promising clearing weather overnight. Thrown open again after the afternoon storm, the windows let in a cooling sea breeze. The building had retained much of the heat within its thick walls.

Archie and Styles finished all they could tolerate of dinner -- the same stew they had eaten every night for the past week. With the change of temperature, though, both had managed to eat more than the previous night. The cooler air had not, unfortunately, improved the flavor.

"'e's still asleep," Styles reported for the third time in ten minutes.

Archie nodded. "And resting quietly." He took a sip of water, trying to stop himself from checking Horatio again. His skin felt cooler, but Archie feared the fever's return.

"Good evening, gentlemen," Don Massaredo said as he entered. Doctor Montoya followed a step behind, his usual somber attire covered by an equally severe cloak glistening with droplets of water.

"Good evening, Your Excellency." Nodding to the doctor, Archie added, "Signor."

The doctor nodded, his eyes already evaluating Horatio's condition as he crossed the room.

"Mr. Hornblower seems improved," Archie said. "His fever seems to have abated in the last few hours."

"Ah, that is excellent news!" His Excellency replied. He repeated Archie's words in Spanish, and Doctor Montoya nodded as he set his bag down and bent over his patient.

They waited in tense silence as he started. Archie had already determined that he would not leave Horatio alone with the doctor, and Styles stood silently behind him.

"Mr. Kennedy, I understand you recently had a conversation with Captain de Rivera," His Excellency murmured.

Immediately on his guard, Archie nodded. "We spoke two or three days ago, I believe."

"He complained that you refused to cooperate with him."

"Cooperate with him?" Archie glanced up, trying to remember what they had discussed.

"On his daily counts, Mr. Kennedy," the Don prodded.

"He would have Mr. Hornblower moved back to the cell block to facilitate his work!" Archie protested. "I simply pointed out how utterly ridiculous -- "

The Spaniard held up a hand to stop the torrent of words and anger. With difficulty, Archie cut his tirade short.

"My apologies, sir."

"They are accepted. You must not antagonize him, Mr. Kennedy. I think you forget the power he holds over all of you as your jailer." His eyes flicked toward Styles then back to Archie. "You perceive him as a useless aristocratic pretender, do you not, Mr. Kennedy?"

"That is hardly my view of him, Your Excellency."

"Yes, you probably think much worse," Don Massaredo agreed and caught a grin crossing Styles' face which was quickly disguised with a cough.

Doctor Montoya turned from the bed and spoke rapidly.

"He says the bleeding has worked at last. Mr. Hornblower's fever has indeed gone," His Excellency translated.

Hearing the doctor's report, Archie let out the breath he had been holding. Behind him, Styles muttered, "Thank th' good Lord for that, eh, sir?"

"A word, if you would, Mr. Kennedy."

Perplexed, Archie followed him into the corridor. In the half light, he tried to read the expression on the man's face. He had already been scolded about Captain de Rivera. What else had he done of late?

"You took a terrible chance this afternoon, Mr. Kennedy."

"Sir?"

"What possessed you to take Mr. Hornblower out into that storm? You could have easily killed him." He held up a hand to prevent Archie from answering immediately. "The truth, if you please."

Archie could not look at the concern in his face -- concern for Horatio, concern for what would drive him to such a reckless act. Looking down at the floor, he weighed his answer.

"Desperation, sir. I did not know what else to do. He has grown weaker by the day, by the hour, in fact." Shifting his gaze to the guard standing at the far end of the hall, he shook his head. "I could do nothing to stop it, to reach him, to make him continue fighting. There was nothing left except that."

"Sir!" Styles yelled.

As Archie ran into the room, he saw Styles with his hand on Doctor Montoya's wrist, preventing him from moving. Montoya tried to jerk away from the strong hold, but with little success.

"Unhand him, Styles!" he ordered. "What do you think you are doing, man?"

Styles let go, but did not move away. Still glaring at the doctor, he explained, "'e's trying to force that crap down Mr. 'ornblower's throat, sir."

Archie looked at Horatio. His eyes were open and focused, with no sign of the fever or delirium returning.

"No more, Archie," he whispered. "I don't want it."

"What?"

Horatio swallowed. "The laudanum. I don't want any more of it."

"Styles, get him some water," Archie ordered. He turned to Montoya who was barely containing his anger, and His Excellency. "I will not force him if he does not wish to have it."

Don Massaredo nodded as he translated for the doctor who immediately supplied what Archie knew was an extensive set of perfectly logical medical reasons why they should be overruled in the matter. Archie waited for the tirade to end, watching Styles hold a cup of water to Horatio's chapped lips and patiently insisting he drink it. Horatio managed half the cup before his eyes drifted closed. Styles stayed beside the bed, awaiting the verdict.

"Please, sir, I know what laudanum is, what it does to the balance of one's mind," Archie entreated. "I cannot believe Mr. Hornblower would not be better without it."

His Excellency studied Horatio for a moment, then nodded. "I agree, Mr. Kennedy. However, should he require the laudanum, I shall insist you allow the doctor to administer it."

"Of course."

Montoya received the decision with disbelief and protested. When Don Massaredo overrode him, he shook his head once more. Picking up his bag, he nodded sharply to Archie as he took his leave.

"I beg your pardon, sir," Archie began.

Waving away his words, the Don shook his head. "You do not understand we Spaniards, Mr. Kennedy. It will not matter in an hour when the doctor joins me for dinner and an evening of chess." He nodded toward Horatio. "Although he is angry I did not support him, Mr. Hornblower has begun to recover, and that is all he is truly concerned with. The rest?" He gestured. "All for show."

"Blimey!" Styles whispered.

The older man smiled. "Unlike you self-contained English, eh?"

"Still, Your Excellency -- "

"Mr. Kennedy, you begin to sound like Mr. Hornblower. No apology is necessary." He turned to leave, and his eyes fell upon their plates. "What is this?" he inquired, going to look.

Archie looked at Styles and saw him shrugged. "Our dinner, sir," he supplied.

"This -- " he gestured, " -- is your dinner?"

"Yes, sir."

"I gave orders days ago to return all prisoners to the same rations the guards received."

"Sir, they are."

Don Massaredo looked at him in shock. "These? You are certain?" He looked at Archie, then past him to Styles.

"I believe they are, sir," Archie confirmed as Styles muttered, "Bloody lousy cook" under his breath.

His Excellency called for the guard. When the man appeared, he asked him questions in rapid Spanish which were answered with a series of nervous nods and headshakes, and a short burst of explanation. Dismissing him to return to his post, the Don turned to Archie.

"What you say is true. My men seek the nearest tavern for their meals rather than eat this." He picked up a plate. "If I may?" he inquired. Without waiting for an answer, he stalked from the room, the plate held at arm's length.

"This will be interesting," Archie commented.

"I don' know about interestin', sir. I jus' want somethin' I can eat."

Half an hour later, one of Don Massaredo servants arrived with a tray for Horatio. Another man carrying a larger tray followed him. Both trays were set on the table, and the servants stood back as if awaiting further orders.

"Gracias," Archie said, wondering what they would do if he were to ask for something.

"They like that, sir," Styles observed as the men left.

"What?"

"When you speak the lingo to 'em. Surprises 'em, but they like it."

"They probably don't understand me."

"No, sir, I think they do." Styles walked over to pick up the bowl of broth and stopped. "Well, what d' you think o' that?"

Archie followed the line of his gaze to the second tray. Sausage, cheese, bread -- plain fare to be sure, but welcome after the food they had been given.

Picking up the bowl, Archie nodded toward the food. "Eat something, Styles."

"Now, sir?"

"Of course now. I will get some of this into Mr. Hornblower, then join you."

Styles shook his head. "I'll wait, Mr. Kennedy, it bein' all the same t' you."

Later Archie realized he had expected too much. With the fever gone, he had thought they would simply feed Horatio, and he would, accordingly, grow stronger. To his utter disappointment, as he offered the third spoonful, Horatio turned a ghastly shade of gray and lost the little he had taken.

"I am sorry," he murmured as Styles wiped his face with a cloth.

Archie shook his head. "Sorry for what?"

"I must try harder."

Setting the bowl aside, Archie asked Styles to leave them for a moment. He waited until they were alone. "Horatio, you have been desperately ill. You cannot expect to spring back through the sheer power of your will. I warned you of it when you were first released from the hole as I warn you now."

"But I have -- "

Archie held up a hand. "Stop. If that is to be followed by word 'failed', I will not listen. You must stop thinking that way, Horatio. You will not recover if you do, and I will not stand for it." He picked up the bowl. "We shall have small setbacks, I am certain, but you must not -- you will not take them to heart." Calling for Styles, he refilled the spoon and held it to Horatio's lips. "Shall we begin again, Mr. Hornblower?"

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

For the next two days, Horatio slept deeply and restfully. Whenever he awoke, Archie or Styles insisted he try to swallow more of the broth. Archie knew he had grown tired of the taste and even more tired of his inability to keep much of it down. They had taken to adding water to it, hoping doing so would ease its effect on Horatio's stomach. It worked to a small degree, but Archie continued to worry.

On the evening of the second day, he sat down on the chair with a resigned sigh. Filling the spoon, he held it to Horatio's lips. Horatio held up a hand to fend it off.

"I am sorry, Archie, I cannot."

"Horatio, we have been through all that. You must eat to regain your strength."

"I know, but I cannot consume another mouthful of that." His eyes went to the bowl Archie held. "I simply cannot."

Archie looked at it as well. The smell was making him ill, he could not remember the last time he had found it appetizing. He put the spoon back into the bowl and put it aside. "There is only one option, I'm afraid."

"Gruel."

"Yes. Do you think you will be able to manage it?"

Horatio smiled. "I thought you would be eager to return the favor I did you some weeks back."

"I, sir, have an iron constitution," Archie proclaimed. In perfect seriousness, he added, "You do not."

"Let me at least try. If I cannot manage it, I'll return to the..." He gestured toward the bowl.

"All right." He went to the door and made his request of the guard.

Half an hour passed before the Don's servant carried in another linen-covered tray. Archie took it from him and brought it over to the cot. Uncovering the bowl, he smiled. "It is more porridge than gruel, Horatio, but it will do."

"It will be fine as long as it is not beef broth."

Horatio gagged at the consistency of the first mouthful but fought to swallow it. He succeeded, then lay trying to catch his breath and wiping tears from his eyes. Archie thinned the porridge with water, waiting until Horatio was ready before offering a second mouthful. This went better as did the third and the fourth. He found himself holding his breath on the fifth. Horatio rarely reached this point without losing all he had gained. When he succeeded, they exchanged shaky grins.

"I think we will call a halt while we are ahead," Archie announced. He held a cup of water to Horatio's mouth and watched him drain it. "Sleep for a time."

Horatio shifted so he lay on his side. "Hmm."

"'Hmm', Mr. Hornblower?" Archie teased. "What am I to infer from that?"

Horatio struggled to keep his eyes open. "Thank you, Archie," he mumbled.

"You're welcome," Archie said as he straightened the blankets, "very welcome."

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

Horatio stared into the darkness, unable to ignore the pain in his back any longer. He had spent the last hour trying to find a way to ease it but had not succeeded. The room was warm, the cot was uncomfortable, and he could not settle -- that was all there was to it. Judging by the moonlight coming through the window, there were several hours until dawn. He could not lie still another minute.

Archie was most decidedly asleep in the chair beside the bed. Despite Horatio's continued entreaties, he or Styles still remained beside him through the night. Horatio sighed and rolled onto his side. He would not wake Archie. He looked at the chair set before the open window. Styles had set it there earlier in the day and had helped him to it. He smiled remembering his first view of the small harbor with its blue water and fleet of fishing boats, and the small village beyond. So much color after days of staring at the white ceiling and walls. It had been glorious.

Glancing over his shoulder at Archie, Horatio pushed the blanket away and swung his feet to the floor. It was only three -- well, perhaps four steps to the chair. He would sit until this infernal ache went away, then creep back to bed. Archie need never know.

When the spinning in his head stopped, he pushed himself to his feet. Using the wall for support, he waited until he was steady before taking a step. Cold sweat ran down his face, and his heart pounded from the sheer effort of the task at hand. Just a few more steps and --

"What the hell are you about?"

Distracted, Horatio lost his balance and started to fall. Two strong arms caught him and gently lowered him to the floor. As he panted for breath, Horatio read the anger in Archie's face.

"Are you all right?" he inquired. "I ask only to ensure that my killing you has the proper effect. What were you about, Horatio?"

Horatio felt a guilty flush creep up his face. "I was -- my -- " He sighed. "I wanted some air."

"I was no farther than two feet from you. Did it occur to you, Mr. Hornblower, to wake me?" Archie demanded.

"You need your rest. It is but a few steps to the chair."

"Yes, a few steps more than you are capable of on your own at present," Archie snapped.

"I was fine until you shouted."

"You were listing badly, and I did not shout, I merely inquired."

"You shouted," Horatio insisted. "Had you been on the quarterdeck, they would have heard you in the galley."

"Voices always sound louder when you sneak about like a thief in the night."

"I was not sneak-"

"You were sneaking," Archie pronounced. Standing, he proffered a hand. "Back to bed with you, sir."

Horatio shook his head. "The window, if you please."

"It is the middle of the night, Horatio. What do you hope to see?"

"I merely wish to sit. My back protests vehemently tonight." He looked at Archie. "Help me to the chair, Archie, please. I will find my own way back to bed."

Archie sighed. "I will help you, but I will also sit with you until you can sleep."

Once he was seated, Archie grabbed the blanket off the bed and wrapped it around him.

"You must be patient," Archie chided as he sat down with his back against the wall. Tilting his head back, he watched Horatio from under half-closed lids.

Horatio shrugged, more exhausted than he wished to admit, even to himself. "I know. I am over eager, and I apologize."

"Your problem, Mr. Hornblower, is a lack of familiarity with the sick berth," Archie observed. "I do not recall you ever having so much as visited it."

"Only once," Horatio agreed and shivered at the thought.

Archie's eyes flew open as he remembered as well. "Lord, Horatio, I did not mean to bring Simpson to mind."

"It is of no matter. He is dead. It is over."

They sat in silence. Horatio thought of the moment on the beach when he realized Simpson lay dead. It had been accompanied, not by great joy as he had expected, but merely mild relief.

"I thought of you then, Archie," he murmured.

Archie's bright eyes found him in the darkness. "When?"

"When Simpson died. I thought of you."

"But you thought I was dead."

Horatio nodded. "Perhaps that is why. You and Clayton both dead at his hand. Simpson dead at the Captain's. I was at the center of it all, yet..."

Archie leaned forward and touched his knee. "I think it is time to rest, Horatio."

He shook himself. "No, I am fine." He glanced over at the cot. "How funny it is that, in the hole, I dreamed of lying down for weeks on end. Now I cannot endure it."

Archie nodded. "I did not rise for three days after they released me. It was sheer bliss to stretch out flat." He paused. "Why did you do it, Horatio? Why did you lie about the escape?"

"I was in command."

"Not of that."

"No, not of that, but of the men. Hunter would have bled to death, Archie, I could not allow that to happen."

Archie smiled. "He nearly did with my ministrations."

There was a moment of silence between them, and Horatio braced himself for the words he knew were coming -- had been coming since the escape attempt.

"You took a terrible risk. You could not have known what Don Massaredo had decided the punishment would be. He lost men needlessly that afternoon. You could have just as easily faced a firing squad."

"I knew I would not," Horatio reasoned.

"He was angry, Horatio!" Archie's voice rose. "You should not have depended on it. You took a foolhardy risk! I will say this, and then we shall be done with it. It was a foolish gamble. You had no right playing forfeit with your life." His hands gripped his knees, and he stared intently at them. When he spoke again, his voice had quieted. "You cannot lead men from beyond the grave, and I beg you to keep that in mind."

Horatio looked out at the darkened landscape. A sliver of moon hung low in the western sky. Archie was right. His duty lay with his men and bringing them safely home.

After a moment, he inquired, "Do you think we will succeed in escaping?"

"Given the right set of circumstances and the proper planning."

Horatio nodded. "Then tomorrow we must begin."

Archie rose to his feet. "Today is tomorrow," he teased as he helped Horatio to his feet. "Since it seems we both will require clear heads, I shall return you to your bed forthwith."

Horatio leaned heavily against him, too tired to attempt the walk on his own. When, at last, he lay down, Archie tucked the blanket around him. His eyelids were like lead as he murmured his thanks. He heard Archie settle himself in the chair before everything faded softly into dreams.

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

"How goes the translation?" Archie inquired lightly, dropping into his chair at the table. From his place by the window, Styles caught his eye and shook his head. Archie bit back a sigh.

Across from him, Horatio held his head in his hands, glaring at the page in front of him. "It does not go," he announced. "It does not go; it will not go; it shall not go; it has not gone." He looked up at Archie, a challenge in his dark eyes.

"Take it slowly, Horatio." Reaching for the book, Archie turned it so they could both read it. He pointed to a line and read aloud, "'Que tiempos hay de acometer, y tiempos de retirar.' Do that much."

Horatio set his jaw and glared at him. "No."

"Just that line! I know you can translate this passage."

"Archie, I cannot think. I have stared at that book for hours, and it might as well be Greek for all the sense it makes."

Archie found himself unable to resist. "You read Greek, Horatio."

From the direction of the window came a snort of laughter. Horatio turned and scowled at Styles who quickly returned his eyes to the harbor but could not control his grin.

"I cannot be the only one able to speak Spanish if our escape is to succeed," Archie reminded him.

"When we escape, I doubt the local inhabitants will ask me to recite passages from Don Quixote."

Archie grinned. "You cannot be certain of that."

Horatio pushed himself to his feet, one hand gripping the chairback until he had steadied himself. "I must get out of this room."

"Fine, we will work on this outside." Archie arose and found Horatio's coat. Holding it out, he assisted him into it. "There is a cool breeze today." He nodded to Styles. "If you would lend Mr. Hornblower some support?"

Picking up the book and the lexicon, he followed them down the hall. Horatio tried to reduce his dependence on Styles' strength with each passing day. He now made the trip from his cot to the chair before the window by himself, but could not manage the few extra steps to the small dining table. By the time they reached the yard, Styles was all but carrying him.

Settling Horatio on the step, Styles began walking the yard. Archie watched Horatio's eyes follow him almost jealously as he paced the perimeter.

"The sun will do you and your temper good," he said as he sat down beside Horatio and turned to face him. "Shall we continue working, Mr. Hornblower?"

 

Horatio looked up, watching a pair of gulls play against the azure sky. "You are a strict schoolmaster, Archie. What was the phrase?"

Flipping open the book, Archie read, "'Que tiempos hay de acometer, y tiempos de retirar.'"

"'There are times to attack and times to retreat'," Don Massaredo said from the open doorway. "Most appropriate, Mr. Kennedy."

Archie rose to his feet and helped Horatio to his. "Good morning, Your Excellency."

"Good morning, gentlemen. You are feeling better today, Mr. Hornblower?"

"Indeed, sir."

"Good." For a moment, he studied Horatio, and Archie knew he was weighing the improvement of the last few days against all which were still needed. He had noticed it himself when helping Horatio on with his coat. He was still too thin, too pale. Despite his continued denials, he tired easily, and food remained a daily trial for him. "I have spoken with Doctor Montoya. Pending the result of his visit this afternoon, you may rejoin the rest of the prisoners this evening." He smiled. "Your isolation is nearly at an end."

A smile played over Horatio's mouth and lit his eyes as he swayed with relief. Grabbing his arm, Archie supported him.

"Thank you, Your Excellency," he murmured.

Don Massaredo nodded to Archie. "I think Mr. Hornblower should rest."

"No, I am fine," Horatio objected.

"Sit down at least," Archie ordered, lowering him to the step.

"Good day, Mr. Styles," the Spaniard said as Styles joined them.

Styles touched a knuckle to his forehead. "Mornin', sir."

"You may be back amongst your 'mates', as you call them, today."

"Mr. 'ornblower's that well?"

"So it seems. I shall miss our discussions," Don Massaredo said.

"Me too, sir."

Archie watched Horatio's eyes widen and go from one man to the other. He had indeed missed much of what had happened in the sick room.

"I bid you good day, gentlemen. My overseer requires my presence this morning."

Archie waited until he had gone before sitting down. Opening the book, he read, "'Los extremos de cobarde y de temerario está –'."

"Styles, what did he mean?"

Archie kept his eyes on the page.

"You mean the Don, sir?"

"Yes, of course. What conversations?"

"Well, sir, 'e checked on you most mornin's."

"And you talked to him?"

"If I had the watch, sir. Mr. Kennedy said I was to answer 'im if 'e asked me a question."

"Which he did?"

"Yes, Mr. 'ornblower. 'e had a bloody lot o' questions."

"Concerning?"

"Ev'rythin', sir. Bein' a sailor, where I come from, my fam'ly."

Horatio looked at Archie and then back at Styles. "And you answered them."

"Mr. Kennedy said to, sir."

"Thank you, Styles." As soon as Styles walked away, Archie felt eyes being turned on him and pretended to be engrossed in the book he held. "Archie?"

"Yes, Horatio?"

"Don Massaredo had a conversation with Styles every morning."

Archie turned the page. "Yes, I was aware of that."

"But did not see fit to tell me?"

"It was not worth mentioning." He looked up, trying to gauge his reaction.

Turning his face back to the sun, Horatio closed his eyes. "What possible interest could His Excellency have in Styles?"

"You must remember he has never met anyone like him, Horatio. I doubt he has any contact with the people in the village other than riding through or solving their petty disagreements. Styles comes from a world he never so much as glimpsed before, and he was fascinated."

"Hmm, fascinated," Horatio mumbled.

Archie closed Don Quixote and set it aside. The sun was warmer than it had been earlier, but his eyes assessed Horatio to ensure he was not growing cold. He would give him a few more minutes then ask Styles to --

"The mean of valour lies between the extremes of cowardice and rashness," Horatio volunteered suddenly.

"What?" A hundred fears flooded Archie's mind.

Horatio's eyes were bright as he grabbed the book and found the page. Running his finger along the words, he grinned. "I am right! 'Los extremos de cobarde y de temerario está el medio de la valentía'."

Archie grabbed the book from him. "Do not ever do that again, do you hear me? The shock cannot good for me."

Horatio took the book back and scanned the section. "It all makes sense now, Archie. How could have I possibly been so dense?"

"Because -- "

"The question was purely rhetorical, Mr. Kennedy," Horatio informed him sternly as he continued to read. He stopped and marked his place with a finger. "Is there anything else, Archie?"

Archie stood up. "That's enough fresh air. I fear you are becoming overly excited. Styles!"

Horatio resisted his efforts to draw him to his feet. "No, a few more minutes, please! I meant is there anything else you should tell me?"

Archie shook his head. "Not a thing."

"The men?"

"All well, as I have told you repeatedly."

Horatio studied him. "You are certain there is nothing else?"

Archie shrugged his shoulders as he sat down on the step again. "Have I mentioned Captain de Rivera of late?" he inquired casually.

Closing the book and setting it aside, Horatio made himself comfortable and waited.

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

Horatio glared at Archie as he finished tying his neckerchief. Reaching behind him on the cot, he picked up his coat and put it on. As promised, Dr. Montoya had given him leave to return to the prison yard.

"Styles, would you leave us?" he asked quietly.

"Yes, sir."

Leaning against the table, Archie crossed his arms and once again shook his head. "It is out of the question, Horatio, totally out of the question."

"I disagree."

"Of course you disagree!" Archie returned. "It does not alter the facts of the matter. You do not possess the strength to walk that far. Allow Styles to carry you, Horatio."

"No! It is merely a few steps, I will have no problem."

"You cannot walk ten feet without aid, and it is easily ten times that to the yard."

"I will not be carried!"

Archie sighed. "Fine."

"'Fine'?"

"Fine, we will stay here until you regain either your senses or your strength." He pulled out a chair and sat down.

"What are you doing?" Horatio demanded.

"Making myself comfortable. It may be a long wait for either one." Archie reached for the lexicon and began leafing through it.

After several long minutes of silence, Horatio sighed. "All right, Archie, but only as far as the gate."

Archie stood up, picking up the books and taking one more look around the small room. They had little else to bring back with them. "Styles!"

"Sir?"

"Mr. Hornblower has agreed to my proposal -- "

"Only to the gate," Horatio interjected.

"Yes, only to the gate. After that, we will stand to and render assistance as needed."

"Which it will not be."

Styles was careful not to look at either of them. "Wha'ever you say, sir."

Walking over to the cot, Styles picked Horatio up and walked from the room with Archie half a step behind. They crossed the yard quickly, Archie nodding to the guards they passed. As one unlocked the inner gate, Styles set Horatio on his feet and waited until he was steady before stepping back.

Archie watched as Horatio took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. Moving so he was only a half step behind him, Archie nodded to Styles to take a place at his left.

Matthew glanced over when the gate swung open, and his jaw dropped open. "Mr. Hornblower!" He was on his feet before the other men started to react. "How are you, sir?" he asked anxiously, taking in the pale face now covered in sweat from the exertion of walking the few extra feet.

Horatio smiled even as Archie took hold of his arm. "Much better, Matthews. Thank you."

"Are you back then, Mr. Hornblower?" Hunter inquired.

"As long as he continues to heed the doctor," Archie supplied. "Styles, let's help Mr. Hornblower to a seat."

The small group moved with them to the table where Horatio sank onto one of the stools and leaned gratefully back against the wall. Oldroyd offered him a cup of water, and he drank it eagerly. Around him, there were questions, all with one underlying theme -- when would he be strong enough to escape?

Hunter drew Archie aside. "He doesn't look recovered to me."

"Nor is he, but it is early days yet," Archie replied. "A step at a time, I'm afraid."

Hunter slapped his thigh. "When he's ready to go, I will be as well." He glanced around the yard and lowered his voice further. "Does he have a plan yet?"

Archie smiled. "There is much to be said for a room overlooking the harbor, Mr. Hunter."

Nodding, Hunter grinned.

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

Don Massaredo peered over his steepled fingers as Captain de Rivera came to the end of his report. The cook had been reassigned to the laundry. The food had seen improvement immediately. The new detail of guards would arrive within the fortnight.

"...and Mr. Hornblower has been returned to his cell," de Rivera finished.

"Yes, I am aware of that. The doctor feels his recuperation will benefit by rejoining his men." He fixed the Captain with a look. "Dr. Montoya will have full access to him, of course."

"And the protection of the garrison, Excellency."

"I think that will hardly be necessary."

"Nevertheless, I shall insist on it."

"If you must."

"I am relieved to have all the prisoners in one area again, sir. Much less worry."

Don Massaredo shook his head. "Ah, that is where you are wrong, Captain. Now, with young Mr. Hornblower back amongst his men, our worries truly begin."

End