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Feliz Navidad, Senor Kennedy!
by Ruth W.

Archie Kennedy's festive pudding sat, untouched, on the polished
wooden table before him.

It was cold now, the white brandy sauce congealing around it like a
sad snowfall in a frost. It had smelled wonderful when it was hot, as
had the fresh white bread roll on the side plate. The fruit in the
centre of the table was ripe, polished, shining like a bowl of jewels
in the candlelight, and the wine which the smiling servant had
poured for him was spiced and enticing. And there had been the
splendid main course of fowl and vegetables, delicately flavoured
with herbs from the Don's garden, which the been put before him
earlier, and then removed half an hour later when it had become clear
he was not about to touch a mouthful

The Spaniard had eaten well, and so had Hornblower.

"Will you not try this?" Don Massaredo asked him, his eyes
narrowed shrewdly. "I had it made specially for you gentlemen, to
give you the flavour of your homeland."

It was not a wise comment. Hornblower's eyes switched to
Archie's face nervously. It had been a kindness to offer them this bounty
without warning, and he welcomed the chance to relax and enjoy a few
hours of luxury, but Kennedy was a different matter. After two years
in the wilderness of war-torn Europe, he had probably half- forgotten
the flavour of his homeland, and it was perhaps unwise to remind him
of what he was missing.

"Come, Archie, you must try it," Horatio gave an encouraging
smile, and instantly regretted the incivility. His midshipman was not
a child to be coaxed and cajoled into downing his dinner, like some
sick nursling. Nevertheless, he should eat. Still gaining his
strength, Kennedy needed all the nutrition he could get.

But Archie looked up from his plate with a calm smile, and responded
pointedly "Thank you, no. As I have said three times already,
sir, I am really not hungry."

Hornblower took a deep breath, biting back the comment that they had
both expressed life-threatening hunger just before Massaredo had sent
his invitation out to the courtyard. Growing lads, they were always
hungry, and whilst the food they were given in prison was more than
adequate for existence, it did not wholly satisfy their needs. Which
was why this surprise had been so welcome at least to
Horatio The chance to replenish themselves a little, and remind
themselves what life was all about. Besides, if they were to escape
ultimately, they would both need strength. It was their duty to eat
well whenever the chance arose. So what on earth was Archie playing
at?

"Perhaps you are ill, Mr. Kennedy?" Don Massaredo suggested
politely. By the look in his sharp eyes, he knew what Archie was about, but had
the aristocratic delicacy not to confront him.

"Perhaps, sir," agreed Archie, still smiling. It was not a
real smile - not the look of a man who was genuinely enjoying the company,
the glitter of the candles and the conversation. Indeed, he had not
even partaken of that last item, leaving all the social intercourse
to his superiors and answering only when a direct question had been
put to him. He had the inscrutable look now of a casual observer -
one who sees all, but does not take part. Horatio was worried. If
Archie was starting to lose heart again

Suddenly the Don stood up, pushing back his heavy, carved chair with
a scrape of wood on stone. "Gentlemen, excuse me for a
moment," he requested. "There is a wine I have in my cellar which I would
like to open today. I will not allow my servants to handle it, you
understand."

The two younger men returned his smile and watched him leave in
silence. It was an excuse, and they both knew it. He was leaving them
alone to transact whatever business lay between them. As soon as he
was out of earshot, Hornblower turned to Archie, his face sharp and
intent in the candlelight. "Archie, what in heaven's name are
you doing?!" he demanded quietly.

The blue eyes met his with a level stare. "Refusing food,"
came the blunt answer. "You should be used to that, sir."

"Don't call me `sir' in private!" Hornblower
hissed, realising too late that it had come out as an order. "Archie," he continued
in a less confrontational tone, "he has been good enough to us
since we came back here. And this is beyond the call of his duty to
prisoners of war. He's not such a monster that we can with
conscience treat him ill. I don't see why you can't be civil to him, at
least at Christmas!"

"And what about next time we cross him?" Archie's eyes
darkened. "When we attempt this fine plan you have for the next
full moon? If we fail which we WILL - what then? Will this
kindly old man be sitting here feeding us dinner then?"

"Archie, let's cross that bridge when we come to it. For
today let's just celebrate Christmas in the ways offered to
us."

Archie continued to stare at him, his face unreadable. "He had us
both tortured, Horatio," he answered in a low, flat tone.
"And now we must take what he OFFERS?! God help me, I will NOT eat with him."

Hornblower was silenced. Kennedy had acquired that tone recently, and
did not often use it, but men who knew him had learned to be very
wary of it.

A step in the stone corridor drove Archie's eyes back to his
untouched dish, and Hornblower, despairing, looked up with what he
hoped was a cheerful smile, but was probably more like a nervous grin.

"Here is my oldest port," Don Massaredo told them, sitting
down and looking pleased with himself. It was only a small bottle,
and covered in dust which he wiped off with his sleeve. The aged,
peeling label spoke of many years languishing in the cellar. Kennedy
eyed it as if wondering whether it had had room in there to stand up
or lie down

A servant cleared away the empty dishes, and Archie' untouched
pudding, and brought fresh glasses.

"This is fifty years old," Massaredo told them
conversationally. "It was laid down by my father in the family vineyard when I was a boy. I
have not many bottles left, but I like to take some at this time of
year - the time of re-birth - and of reconciliation" Without
asking, he poured a glass for Hornblower, who thanked him warmly.

"Mr. Kennedy?" Massaredo held out the bottle.

"Thank you sir, I believe I have not the stomach for it"

There was a silence around the table, which would have been deeply
embarrassing had not the old man's face softened into
understanding. "Without food in it, I would think you are
wise," he responded kindly. He put down the bottle and lifted his glass.

"To our two countries," he toasted quietly. "And the fine
men who serve them And to peace between us."

He and Hornblower drank, and Kennedy sat silent, in the company but
not a part of it. When the other two had taken their seats again, he
looked up, still meticulously polite. "May I be excused,
sir?" he asked.

Massaredo's face softened. "Indeed, Mr. Kennedy. If you
should need anything, please send for it. my men are instructed to be especially
helpful to you during the season of goodwill."

Archie rose slowly and made a minute bow, before turning with great
composure to leave. It was not the action of an angry man, nor even
an aggrieved one, but simply the graceful and dignified withdrawal
from an impossible situation.

After he had gone, Hornblower's eyes met the Spaniard's
ruefully. "I am not at liberty to apologise for Mr. Kennedy's
behaviour," he said with stiff formality, "Nevertheless, I am
sorry for it."

But the don was older and wiser even than Horatio realised. "Are
you, Mister Hornblower?" he responded thoughtfully. "Perhaps
you should not be"

Hornblower's expression was caught half-way between dismay and
puzzlement. He felt a fool, suddenly realising that there had been
some complex interplay between the other two which had gone
completely over his head.

"You must be offended, sir," he commented blankly.

Massaredo gave him an amused smile. "At my age, Mr. Hornblower,
it takes a lot more than a snub from one so inoffensive as Mr.
Kennedy to make me lose sleep. " He opened the bottle and poured
more port. "I will send his dinner out into the courtyard, and he will
no doubt cheerfully eat with your men, and you may take the rest of
the port to give him heart. My goodwill has been given, and perhaps
the best part of it has been put to good use."

Hornblower's brows creased in enquiry. Whatever could he
mean?

The Spaniard gave him a knowing grin. "You must put yourself in
his place, Mr. Hornblower. He is a man who does not like to lose
control. I confess, I was angry with myself when he escaped that
last time, that he had been able to evade me not once but three
times, and because I felt this anger, I treated him harshly. too
harshly, perhaps. A month in that place is a very, very long time. I
confess I had not intended him to suffer so, but one does not
realise. I did not see what it would do to him. Now we have this
standing between us, a wall which will never be torn down, no matter
how many Christmas dinners I offer him. But I am content, because
tonight I was able to give him something back."

Hornblower shook his head, still bemused. "But he refused your
good will, sir," he reminded. "He did not touch a scrap."

"On the contrary, Mr. Hornblower, he took from me the most
precious gift I could have given him. Power. He has been powerless
for a long time - unable to raise his voice, or strike at his
enemies or even the score with me. By offering him this bounty,
I have given him the power to refuse it. I am not surprised he took the
chance with both hands!"

"The power to refuse" Hornblower repeated, beginning to
understand.

They had talked about the horrors and deprivations of the oubliette
during long sleepless nights shut in their cell of the heat in
the day and the cold at night - the rain, the rats, the pain of
immobilised joints and unused muscles - the humiliation of dirt and
the loss of dignity.

What they had not shared possibly had not even confessed to
themselves was how unmanned they had been by the total
impotence of their situation. Horatio now realised the Spaniard was
right. There was nothing so fearful and degrading as the loss of
autonomy they had suffered in Don Massaredo's `hole in the
ground' And Archie had been there four times as long as he had.

"You will notice that I extended the olive branch," the don
continued slowly and deliberately "by appealing to the one thing
which, in my arrogance, I thought could not fail his
stomach. He is a healthy young man. I had expected one whiff of roast
fowl would mellow him. But he tossed the favour back without a
thought. And the grace with which he did it will be a satisfaction to
him," Don Massaredo's eyes twinkled. "It took great
courage to so calmly turn down the food his belly craved. He is in need of - what
you English call `self respect' - your young Mr. Kennedy.
More in need of that than food, it seems. He will remember for a long time
his moment of dignified triumph. And one day you will retell the
story in his family drawing-room in England, and he will feel pride
in his heart which dawned here on Christmas day. The first stirring
of his new power - the power of a man in control."

Horatio frowned. "But he is not in control," he pointed out
prosaically. "You are. He is merely in prison."

Again the amused twinkle. "Power, control, self-worth." he
said philosophically, "These are not things of the body, but of
the spirit. Who knows in what strange places we find them, but once
we have confidence that they are there, within us, they are tools for
life."

At last it was clear. Hornblower stared at him, wondering how a man
so wise could be governor of a tiny military outpost like El
Ferrol. "I... don't know what to say, sir"

"Then say nothing," came the equable response. "Simply
raise your glass again, to your friend Mr. Kennedy and to his
continuing good health! And remember to tell the story often, when
you sit with your families at home, of his great moral victory over
Spain!"

'And over himself' thought Hornblower with silent gratitude.