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Into the Game
by Pam and Del

This series is a sequel to Recalled to Life

PART TWO

It wasn't a uniform.

Archie stared at the clothes draped over the chair--shirt, waistcoat,
breeches, and jacket. No one could fault the tailoring--well-cut and
unexceptionable--or the discreet hues of biscuit and grey. To one
accustomed to wearing the blue and white of His Majesty's Navy, though, the
change was a sharp, unpleasant shock.

*You're no longer an officer.*

Was he still a gentleman? Given his new profession, it seemed unlikely.
Once, he'd have thought being a gentleman was something that *couldn't* be
taken away from you. He was no longer sure of that, now. What did it
matter, in any case? He'd renounced all claim to being either in Kingston,
when he'd confessed to pushing Captain Sawyer. *Stop whining over spilled
milk, and get on with it.*

The clothes fit better than the ones lent to him for traveling, better than
he'd expected, really--probably sized from his uniform. They were loose,
though, especially around the waist. Hardly surprising under the
circumstances. A lengthy recovery, not yet complete, invalid food for which
he'd had no appetite . . . of course he'd lost weight.

Invalid food. This morning Latour had brought him porridge--another thing he
should have been prepared for, here. Oats. Given to horses in England and
people in Scotland, or so Johnson had written. As far as Archie was
concerned, the horses were welcome to them. But--"Nourishing," Latour had
said, with his usual sternness. "Healthful." And he'd stayed in the room
until Archie had consumed at least half of his portion.

His reprieve was over. Kilcarron would doubtless be back today. The thought
made his palms sweat and his stomach clench in apprehension. He hoped his
bland breakfast would not make a precipitate reappearance when the earl
appeared at his door. The porridge had been insipid enough going down--he
did not need to taste it again.

Footsteps in the passage. Latour's. He was becoming used to the sound of the
physician's comings and goings. And accompanying him--a lighter tread.
Archie tilted his head to one side, puzzled; it didn't *sound* like
Kilcarron. Then he heard Latour's authoritative voice raised in query, and a
younger voice replying.

The door opened and the doctor entered, a roll of what appeared to be maps
tucked under one arm. "Ah, you're up. Just as well--I have instructions for
you this morning, from his lordship." He stepped aside to let his companion
into the room. Occupant and new arrival stared at each other in open
curiosity.

"This is Rory MacCrimmon," Latour continued, by way of introduction.
"Kilcarron wishes you to improve his map-reading skills." He fixed his
trademark gimlet glare on the boy. "Your tutor is recovering from serious
injuries, Rory; you are not to plague him. And I'm not Carmichael--I don't
miss." After this cryptic remark, he handed Archie the roll of maps. "I will
return in two hours."

Under the pretext of counting the maps, Archie studied his new pupil from
under half-lowered lids, then realized, with a faint glimmer of amusement,
that he was being studied, no, *appraised*, in his turn. Rory MacCrimmon
was a tall, gangly youngster, probably in his late teens, with a pale, pointy
face, sharp green eyes, and fiery red hair pulled back in a somewhat
recalcitrant queue. His clothes were of good cut and quality, though the boy
carried himself as though he found them slightly uncomfortable. Perhaps they
were--about an inch of wrist showed over the cuffs of his shirt and jacket.

Ah, those sudden spurts of growth. He remembered them, less on his own
account than on Horatio's--and young Wellard's. Aloud, he asked, "How old
are you, Mr. MacCrimmon?"

Green eyes widened momentarily in surprise. "Seventeen . . . sir," he added,
the last clearly an afterthought.

//"How old are you, Mr. Hornblower?"//

//"Seventeen, sir."//

The memory made Archie's heart twist. He took an extra moment to suppress the
stab of pain, summoned a slight smile. "Well, you're never too old--or too
young--to learn to read a map correctly." This would be a bit like tutoring
the mids, he thought, back on the Indy. He unrolled the topmost of the
maps--depicting England and France--across the table in the infirmary.
"Tell me--what do you already know?"

Fiery brows drew together in a faint, dubious frown. "The blue parts are
supposed to be water?"

Clearly this was going to take a while. "Why don't you fetch that chair
over there, Mr. MacCrimmon?" Archie suggested. "And then we can get started."

*****

Two hours sufficed to teach Rory not only to distinguish between land and sea
but to recognize natural boundaries--rivers, lakes, mountains. And to
identify each point of the compass. Rather strange, that--Rory puzzled over
the letters as if they were only half-familiar to him. And he muddled east
and west several times.

"There's a trick to it," Archie offered finally. "Read from left to right,
the compass rose always spells 'we.' West *to* east."

"'We,'" Rory repeated obediently. Then, "Why is it called a 'compass rose'?"

Archie considered the matter. "D'you know--I've sometimes wondered about
that myself!" A corner of his mouth quirked up. "A compass rose by any
other name. That's from a play," he added as Rory eyed him askance.

Another bewildered look. Fortunately, Latour arrived to prevent further
confusion.

"That will be enough for today. Come back tomorrow, Rory, at the same time.
You have a ciphering lesson upstairs now."

Rory got to his feet with a slight grimace, nodded at Archie, and departed.

"You should rest, " said Latour, turning his attention back to his erstwhile
patient.

"It's only been two hours," Archie protested. Then he stood up and a wave of
exhaustion nearly brought him to his knees.

Latour steadied him quickly, brows drawing together in a manner that boded
ill for *someone.* "Did that young devil tire you out?"

"No, no," Archie assured him hastily. "Mr. MacCrimmon behaved impeccably
throughout the lesson."

"*Did* he?" Latour's grey eyes sharpened; he looked at the younger man with
renewed interest, as though noticing something about him for the first time.
Archie could not think what, though.

With Latour's help, he reached the bed, and lay down, embarrassed at his own
fatigue. But sleep itself eluded him. He remembered again--that small,
vulnerable scrap of exposed wrist . . .

//"Look, Horatio," Archie held up the remaining old shirt he had found in the
best condition. "Do you think this might do for young Wellard, just for
Sunday inspection? He's--growing. I noticed it yesterday."

Horatio considered the shirt for a moment, then went over to his own
sea-chest and opened it. "One of mine might be better, Archie. Mr.
Wellard's going to be taller than you."

"*Everyone's* taller than I am," Archie grumbled, and saw Horatio's lips
twitch at the shared memory. . . //

*****

//. . . "Errrgh!"

A frustrated growl. Archie looked up from his books. "What's wrong,
Horatio?"

For answer, Horatio held up his forearm. "It's this damned shirt--I'm
growing out of it! This wasn't supposed to happen anymore!"

"Let me see." Archie studied the offending sleeve. "That means the jacket,
too."

"Very helpful!" Horatio snapped.

"No, no. The jacket's much easier--you can let the sleeves out next
make-and-mend day. But shirts can be harder, you might need to buy more linen
or even make new cuffs."

"That will take time--" Horatio objected, frowning in thought.

"More time than you have," Archie finished for him. "It would be easier to
borrow a shirt--just for Sundays, for inspection--until you can get something
sewn.." He grinned ruefully. "I'd lend you one of mine, but you're already
taller."//

Archie's mouth curved in a drowsy smile. In the end, another midshipman,
taller and broader than Horatio, had obliged with a loan of a spare shirt.
What was his name? Not Cleveland, surely, though he and Hether had
transferred with them to the Indy. No--it had been someone already part of
Captain Pellew's crew. What a time that had been--full of promise,
challenge, and danger . . .

His heavy eyelids drifted shut and he slept, still smiling reminiscently over
those bare, dangling wrists . . .

*****

Wrists . . . extending down into a pair of cupped hands. Shaking once,
twice, three times . . . then opening and releasing.

Giant dice, tumbling slowly through space. And he was falling too, along with
them.

And landing, just as the dice fell, on a hard surface--but soundlessly,
without impact.

He managed to get to his feet. The dice lay immobile, fully as tall as he
was. Their edges no longer looked straight and regular, but more and more
uneven, almost like jagged teeth. Looking down, he saw that the surface he
was standing on was of alternating colored squares.

A chessboard. But was he a player or a gamepiece? Archie glanced down at
himself. He was in plain, dark clothes, still not his uniform. Worse, he was
unarmed. What now?

"His life is forfeit."

Voice and words both made him shiver. He scanned his surroundings, searching
for any clue as to what was happening,. Then the chessboard squares blurred,
shifted . . . and he was standing on the deck of a ship, feeling its familiar
roll and pitch beneath him, hearing the flapping of the sails and the hum of
the wind in the rigging. Eyes widening, Archie turned to look back at where
the dice had lain . . . but they were gone, replaced by the tall masts of a
man-of-war.

Where . . . ? Not Justinian, surely. Indefatigable? But the Indy had never
been this large.

Oh, God. Renown. He shivered, hugging himself as he looked around the
now-familiar setting. But the deck was deserted--except for a lone figure
standing at the foot of the mainmast, with his back to Archie. A figure in
plain, dark clothes and a hood covering his entire head. From the angle at
which his head was tilted, he seemed to be looking up at something.

Mystified, Archie followed the direction of the figure's apparent gaze . . .
and bit back a startled cry when he saw the dark mass hanging suspended from
the topmost yard. Suspended and twisting slowly in the wind, rocking back and
forth with each motion of the ship.

He tore his glance away, sickened--and saw that the dark-clad figure's
position had changed, that he was reaching up, lifting away the hood . . .

Queued blond hair tumbled free, gleaming against the dark clothes, gleaming
even under the overcast sky--and an awful suspicion began to form in Archie's
mind. Plain dark clothes and from this distance, the figure appeared no
taller than Archie himself . . .

NO! He would not look. Turning away from the hangman, he reached up to
massage aching temples--and recoiled at the sight of his hands, dripping
blood from fingers to wrist. Numb with shock, he stared at them, wetly
scarlet in the dim light, while rigging whined, masts creaked, and blood
pattered and pooled on the deck beneath those terrible hands . . .

"His life is the price for yours."

Again that disembodied voice, sounding eerily familiar this time. Archie
turned away once more--found his perspective suddenly altered, as if the deck
had risen several feet in the air, the topmasts no longer so far away.

And that hanging body . . . he tried to keep his eyes fixed on his hands, on
the deck, on *anything* else, but he felt his head tilting back, his gaze
traveling up and up, as though compelled . . .

. . . and he could see it clearly now. Powerless to look away, he stared into
the congested, empurpled face, the bulging eyes and prominent tongue. But
only when the wind ruffled the dark curls into a gruesome semblance of life
did the full horror break upon him.

Horatio . . .

Archie screamed--

*****

--and jerked upright and awake with a choked cry. Instantly, he felt hands
upon him, tried to strike them away, until a familiar voice cut through the
blind panic.

"It's all right! You're safe--I promise you!"

Latour. Archie slumped back against the pillows, feeling as though all his
bones had turned to water. His heart was still racing but not as wildly,
calmed by the physician's reassuring presence. He licked his lips, tasting
salt, pushed damp, disordered hair back from his forehead.

"Here." Latour held a glass to his mouth. "It's only water," he added before
his patient could venture a protest.

Obediently, Archie drank, even reaching up to grasp the glass himself. To his
relief, his hands did not shake too badly.

Latour was eying him narrowly, brow creased in concern. "Hm. I had hoped the
nightmares would cease, once we were ashore." He took the empty glass from
Archie, set it on the night table, then sat down in the chair beside the bed.
"I wish you would tell me what is troubling you." The doctor's voice was
very gentle.

Archie shook his head mutely.

Latour leaned forward in his chair, grey eyes intent. "The condition of the
mind and spirit can affect the condition of the body. If you do not attend
to the needs of the first, you may only ever be half-healed."

"Half-healed" might have to do, Archie reflected bleakly. He mustered a wan
smile and a thin whisper from somewhere. "'Canst thou not minister to a mind
diseased . . . '" His voice choked to a stop, refusing to oblige him any
further.

"I cannot minister to anything unless you *talk* to me. You have my word
that I will tell no one else, if that is how you wish it."

Archie hesitated . . . then shook his head again.

Latour sighed and got to his feet. "Do you wish to try to sleep some more?"

*God, no.* A third shake of the head.

"Very well." Latour glanced at the books on the night table. "I shall bring
you some tea, then--and we will review the French grammar together."

He was halfway to the door before Archie found his voice again. "Thank you."

The physician nodded, mouth canting up in a wry smile, and left the room.

Archie dropped his head into his hands. For a moment, he had almost yielded.
He knew Latour to be trustworthy, even kind--it had been such a temptation
to blurt everything out, to unburden himself of what he had been carrying all
the way to Scotland. It had never been his nature to close himself off from
others, he ached to trust someone again . . .

Not at this cost, though. He could--and did--trust Latour with his life.

But it was not *his* life at risk, anymore. And he dared not take that
chance.

 

END PART TWO