Into the Game
by Pam and Del

PART FIVE

A hand came in the open doorway and rapped on the wall for attention. Archie
looked up curiously from the porridge Latour had brought (and insisted he
eat, despite his lack of appetite). The rest of Carmichael followed the hand
in.

"Get ready to pack, we're having you out of here," he said, by way of
greeting. Startled, Archie glanced from him to Latour, who nodded.

"You're well enough to leave the infirmary. I'll come to check your wound
this evening, but you can move out today."

Archie thankfully pushed the porridge away. Carmichael smiled faintly,
tossed him a canvas sack. "Put your gear in that and we'll have you down to
quarters."

What possessions he had were in the drawer of the cabinet nearest the window.
"Lieutenant Kennedy's personal effects were returned to his family." He had
seen similar bald statements in ships' logs. For a moment his vision
blurred; he started to empty the drawer unseeingly. The clothes he'd been
given, and the books he'd had to study on the ship--there was very little
else.

"Stand still a minute." Carmichael's voice roused Archie from the brief
reverie. His commanding officer stepped closer, his face deeply thoughtful,
and brought his hand up slowly.

The gesture stirred old memories. Archie stepped back, startled, tensing all
over. Another step backed him against the wall.

Carmichael stopped, brows drawing together. "Are you all right?"

"I--" Archie swallowed, taken aback. "You--surprised me, a little."

"Sorry," Carmichael said briefly. "Just thinking where you might be most
useful. Now hold still a bit." He reached out again; Archie flinched.

"No, no." Carmichael frowned. "Don't be so skittish." He set one
forefinger lightly under Archie's jaw, raising it slightly, then tilted it
into the light from the window.

It hads been Simpson's occasional whim to scan his victim's face, seeing if
he had produced a satisfactory level of fear, or pain, or whatever damage he
was intent on at the time. *This* touch was disconcerting but not
violating--an artist might do this to paint a portrait. Archie looked
uncertainly at Carmichael, felt the tawny eyes studying his face as if they
could strip away flesh and measure the very bones underneath.

Oddly, Carmichael's words matched Archie's thoughts as the commander stepped
away, dropping his hand and shaking his head in negation. "You wouldn't pass
for Italian. Not with those bones, not even if we dyed your hair. Not
Portuguese or Spanish either--coloring's all wrong."

"There are fair Spaniards," Latour pointed out. "Galicians."

"But we don't see too many of them about," Carmichael objected. "Have to be
French or German, I'd guess." He tilted his head, narrowed eyes examining
Archie's face again. "Or maybe Dutch?"

"That's a thought." Latour drew closer, looking contemplative. "Or Danish,
with that complexion."

"We don't send anyone up that way, though."

Archie saw his own face, faintly reflected in the window glass. It seemed
odd and confusing to study it as if it belonged to a stranger, or to think of
it as anything other than British.

"Or there's Irish," Carnichael announced. "You and Rory both!" he added,
smiling.

"You overlooked another exotic possibility," Latour remarked dryly.
"Colonial."

"America? That would mean no new languages, at least."

"*That's* a matter of debate," Latour said, even more dryly, and Carmichael
chuckled before turning his attention back to Archie. "Are you finished?"

The canvas bag was less than half-full but there was nothing left in the
drawer to put in it. Archie followed Carmichael out of the infirmary.

"Speak French, do you?" Carmichael inquired as they left the house, taking
the route Archie had taken yesterday to the range. "I saw the books," he
added by way of explanation at Archie's startled glance.

"I . . . was taught it as a child," Archie answered, absorbing that his
commander had dissected Archie's bones, argued nationalities with Latour, and
noted the grammar-books all simultaneously. "They were having me study again
with Doctor Latour on the ship."

"Ah, Latour--fluent in four languages and profane in six," Carmichael grinned
reminiscently. Archie felt the twitch of a possibly unwise curiosity.

"Do *you* speak French?"

Carmichael's slight smile broadened into a grin. "Yes, as it happens. But
not the kind *you* should."

That was a puzzling answer. "Where did you learn it?"

"Marseilles. In the gutter."

Fifteen minutes of walking brought them past all the practice ranges down a
slope to another large building. Situated where one might find a dower house
or hunting lodge, it was twice the size of either, and somewhat plainer of
aspect than the main house.

"It's as big as a barracks," Carmichael said casually. "Don't worry, you'll
find your way around the place soon enough."

"How many can be quartered?" Archie asked, wondering suddenly about the size
of Kilcarron's organization.

"There might be two to three divisions, here usually. Or . . less, because
most of them might be out on operations. Anywhere from six to a dozen people
in a division--and Old Nick's been calling most of our folk back in for new
orders. Might be close to forty people here soon."

Old Nick? Archie blinked as he suddenly identified the appellation.

They had reached the door. "It's three floors," Carmichael explained.
"Ground floor is kitchens and common rooms; next floor is living quarters,
top floor is library and studies. And the map room," he finished, with a
slightly evil smile. "Just for you and Rory."

"I'm to continue then?"

"Oh, yes. He has other lessons but they're not for you to worry about.
Caillean does those."

"Caillean . . . that's a woman's name."

"And so she is," Carmichael confirmed cheerfully. "Miss Dunbar."

A woman in this--organization? Archie was still struggling with the concept
as they entered through the main door and almost immediately walked into
Kilcarron.

"Gentlemen." The earl surveyed them both with eyes that missed nothing.
"Taking leave of the infirmary, Lazarus?"

Archie tensed, then looked down and heard Carmichael answering.

"He's in our division, so he can lodge with us."

"And was this your idea or Dr. Latour's?"

"Say it was . . . mutually agreed-on."

A pause. Archie glanced up cautiously. Kilcarron was looking severe.

"I've a job to do, Carmichael."

"So you want to do mine, too?" Carmichael's posture was very slightly
challenging; Kilcarron frowned.

"One day you'll go too far."

"One day you'll push too hard," Carmichael retorted. Another slight pause.
"My lord."

The frown faded into exasperation. "About your business, gentlemen,"
Kilcarron ordered, sounding faintly vexed, and strode away.

Archie relaxed before he realized what he was doing, slumping back suddenly
against the wall. Carmichael looked him over with an experienced eye and
made a shrewd guess.

"Old Nick been chewing on you?"

Archie stared at him, wide-eyed. Carmichael laughed.

"Never mind answering--you look a study!" He added thoughtfully, "But you'll
have to deal with him better than that, one day."

"I . . . know." Archie recovered the power of speech, stepped away from the
wall, and followed Carmichael up the stairs. "What made him--turn aside that
way?"

"Old tradition." Carmichael grinned ferally. "Chain of command."

Archie blinked. "I don't understand."

"He put you in my division. That means you answer to me, not him. Unless
you've fouled up and got somebody killed, you're not his direct concern
anymore. He can't argue with it because it's his system." The feral grin
widened briefly, then Carmichael resumed a more businesslike demeanor."Let's
get you to your room. Fourth door on the right--here."

A small bedroom, but bigger than any ship's cabin. Plain furnishings: bed,
table, chairs, nightstand with a lamp, washstand and mirror, chest of drawers
and an empty bookcase.

Carmichael was already turning to go. "Get settled in and rest a bit. I'll
see you at noon for rifle practice."

Alone, Archie absently upended the sack over one of the drawers, stared
unseeingly into space. It felt odd to have a room by himself after so many
years. Something was missing, there was an emptiness like a hole in the air
beside him. A five-foot-eleven-inch hole, with impossible hair.

*****

Indefatigable, 1797

 

Start from four hundred. Plan a night action--that could mean twenty-five to
thirty fewer men. Archie frowned over the numbers. One less gun . . . that
meant up to a dozen less men might be needed. Fifty short didn't seem so
difficult. . .

Across the table Horatio grimaced, rubbed his temples, and pushed the map
away. Archie promptly pounced on it.

"Don't forget the mountains," Hornblower warned. "You have them--I don't."
He picked up the paper where Archie had briefly sketched the formation of his
troops. "Mind?"

"Pick away." Archie went on tracing a route on the map. Horatio was right
about the mountains. Single file, extra ropes . . . he heard Horatio murmur
something and looked up. "What is it?"

"Your defense. One spot on the flank--right here." Hornblower passed back
the sketch, finger on the flawed position.

"What--oh! Damn, I should have seen that. Thanks." Archie crossed out that
side of his formation, discovered he needed to add five to seven men back
from the ones he had already cut to eliminate the weakness. "Damn," he said
again. Even cutting only fifty was not as easy as it looked at first--he
glanced at Horatio. And cutting back more than a quarter of your forces . . .

Horatio had pulled back the map and was poring over it again. "He wouldn't
have assigned it if it couldn't be done," he mused aloud, and Archie nodded
agreement.

They had no qualms now about consulting each other. Bracegirdle, when
initially asked if collaboration would be disapproved of, had genially
pointed out that opportunities for instruction in pure strategy were rare,
and a primary rule for young officers in training was Do Not Waste Your
Captain's Time. Any error of Archie's that could be found by Horatio (or, a
little less frequently, any of Horatio's mistakes discovered by Archie) would
be immediately visible to Pellew upon his review.

By now, they were sure they had saved him quite a number of hours. The goal,
after all, was a viable and potentially successful plan--ignoring so easily
accessible a resource as a shipmate was to risk, again, Wasting The Captain's
Time To No Good Purpose. There wasn't really any element of competition
involved, except for the tacit understanding of who was (nominally, anyway)
assigned the more difficult problems.

Hours had passed. Horatio had managed to reduce his numbers by eighty-five.
Archie had reached thirty-seven and then stuck. They were searching through
the map again.

"Rocks," Horatio muttered. "Reefs. Tides." But none of that appeared it
would do them any good on either approach. "Storms--weather?"

"This couldn't be a winter campaign?" Archie asked, and confirmed it with
himself. "No--"

"Something else that would help . . . fog? No," Horatio frowned fiercely as
he answered his own question. "You couldn't have fog and a night attack, no
one would see anything. But there's something we're still missing. A short
cut or some other advantage. Maybe we need another map?"

"Eighteen years," Archie thought aloud. "There might be something in the
books."

"Or we turn the problem around," Hornblower suggested. Archie looked at him
questioningly.

"Start from zero, at the ship. Add on the numbers: for guns, for battle,
for supplies--"

"And hope to meet in the middle?" Archie felt a little dubious, but it was
better than pounding their heads against the same wall without progress. "We
still have six days," he offered.

They went on poring over the problem until they heard four bells ring.
Horatio grimaced. "My watch."

He stood up from the table, collected his hat, cloak, jacket. "I see I have
a lot of work to do."

"*We* have work," Archie said staunchly, and saw the grateful flash in the
dark eyes as Horatio closed the door.

*****

Training . . .

Archie came back to the present and shook himself. They had solved both
problems eventually, although it had taken nearly every spare hour of their
seven days.

And now he was to be trained all over again. Alone, this time. Out of H
oratio's shadow, without Horatio's support. He felt the loss as keenly as an
amputation: it was as if the stronger, quicker-thinking part of himself was
gone.

Strange--they had never thought about separation with any sense of immediacy.
They could easily have been sent to different ships, or he might have been
left behind after Horatio's undoubtedly eventual promotion. But he'd never
thought the parting would come so soon, and in this way.

Crossing to the window, Archie looked out and down. Unbidden, the thought
stirred in his mind: this was an upper floor. What if--?

But the height might not be great enough, he might only break an arm or a
leg. And what would the consequences be if he failed?

What about the consequences if he succeeded? Remember the conditions . . .

*I gave my word.* No matter that it had been forced from him--he pushed the
memory aside, tried to regain his shaky self-control by focusing on other
thoughts.

What would they be teaching him? And how much was Archie Kennedy--Archie
Stewart, now--capable of learning on his own? Probably not bloody much.
Archie found that he did not want to consider the possible outcomes if his
work was unsatisfactory. Whatever new skills he was to acquire, he would be
learning them all alone.

Looking out the window again, he judged the sun's height to be nearly at
noon. Carmichael had told him to come for rifle practice. That was
familiar, at least. An island of familiar routine in a sea of strangeness .
. . "to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them."

But he was not the Prince of Denmark. He was no longer sure *who* he was,
let alone who he would become. Would he look into the mirror one morning and
see Archie Stewart, rather than Archie Kennedy, staring back at him? It
seemed impossible--but then, everything that had happened since Kingston
seemed impossible too.

Archie shook his head at himself, stepped back from the window. The promise
he had made then was binding--and he had another appointment to keep as well.
Leaving the room, he went in search of the stairs.

END PART FIVE