Heaven and Earth
by Sarah B.
Horatio walked with determination through the small plaza of
the Spanish prison, the clean white shirt held in one arm, not
minding the gray clouds or sullen faces that surrounded him. He
had a duty, and it was clear to him now what it was.
He must get Archie to walk.
It was close now, Horatio could feel it; it had been nearly three weeks since that terrible night in the sickroom, and Archie had been getting stronger every day. Every day his eyes grew a little clearer, his color edged back from its sickly pallor, just a little. If they had been in England, Horatio knew he would be visiting his friend at some spa, where he would be sitting in a glorious garden while his health slowly returned to him. But they were not in England, and they did not have time.
Because Hunter was planning something. Horatio knew it.
Horatio could see the midshipman, standing as he usually did with the small group of prisoners he had made loyal to him, in a corner of the courtyard. Horatio did not like Hunter; he was stubborn, rash, and worst of all single-minded to the point of absurdity. Hunter had been pushing for escape since they arrived, and Horatio knew he would try it soon, too soon, and he had to be ready to handle whatever came after, for the sake of the men.
And Archie had to be able to walk. Because if by some miracle Hunters escape succeeded, Horatio knew he would not hesitate to leave Kennedy behind.
Horatio neared the small, tidy sickroom where Archie had been taken, and paused before it with a sigh. It was difficult, seeing his friend helpless and heartbroken, but it was damned unsettling to Horatio too, because he did not understand the cause of it. Archies spirits should have been lifted, not dashed, when they found him; he was not sick, nor had he been beaten. True, he had been imprisoned, but that alone did not break most mens souls. Even being put in that infernal oubliette should not have driven him to starve himself, since he must have known they would all escape eventually. Yet despite being shown every hope, Archie did not offer help or even seemed to be cheered by the prospect; instead...
Horatio stared at the closed door to the sick room gloomily, and shut his eyes against the memories of what lay beyond it. Archie nearly dying, then coaxed back to life, but just barely. The past three weeks had been a series of ups and downs; there were days when Archie seemed almost himself again, tired and quiet but with a smile on his lips and no objection to the gruel Horatio fed to him, slowly and carefully, so that his ravaged body might begin to mend.
Then there were other days, when Horatio would arrive to find his friend lying stiffly in the bed, his face pale and glistening with sweat, and no amount of questioning could force him to reveal why he looked so frightened, or why he suddenly had no appetite for the gruel or company. Those were the days that troubled Horatio the most, because they reminded him of that first terrible night, when Archie had been wracked by nightmares and bolted upright in the bed in terror, paralyzing fear in his eyes and a name Horatio had not heard in years - a name Horatio had forgotten -
- Simpson -
Not shouted or even whispered, but whimpered from Archies lips like the forlorn realization of a childs worst fear. And Horatio did not understand why.
Oh, he had theories, and memories. Simpson was an arrogant bully, and had caused him his own share of nightmares before Pellew put a bullet in him. Archie had been on the Justinian long before Horatio, and of course his memories were likely more terrible, but he had been out of that mans influence for three years, so why should the bad dreams continue? Why should Simpson still haunt him?
And why, when Horatio had told him later that same night that Simpson was dead, did Archie only shudder and turn his face to the wall without reply?
No, none of it made sense, and it was beginning to rankle Horatio. It was time for Archie to start healing in earnest, for his shipmates as well as himself. Yes, Horatio nodded to himself, today he would discover the cause of Kennedys melancholy and then conquer it, and then everything would be fine. Archie had to be made to understand that they would all be free soon. And when he knew that -
- why, then he would be happy. Horatio saw no reason for him not to be.
The sick room door was unlocked, and with a soft push Horatio opened it and looked into the room beyond. It was bright, sunny, the whitewashed walls with their simple furnishings glistening in the morning sunlight. The fire in the grate had long since been extinguished, and still the faintest tint of smoke was in the air. And Archie -
Archie was not in the bed.
For a moment Horatio was frozen in fear. Good God, he thought, Archie died in the night and no one told me -
Then he saw Archie, sitting on the floor with his back to the bed, and relaxed momentarily; then he looked a little closer, and felt a new apprehension.
Archie was still in his stained shirt and breeches, his long blond hair tangled and hanging about his sallow face. He did not turn toward Horatio, but stared instead with dull eyes at his hands, which were clasped carefully in his lap.
Horatio carefully closed the door behind him, set the clean shirt on the bed and walked to where his friend was sitting. Archie? Ive brought you some clean clothes.
Archie didnt move, merely blinked slowly. Horatio. Ive been thinking.
Horatio paused at these words, and their emotionless tone. Then he looked at the empty bed and said, Youve been doing more than that. I see youve made your first steps into the world at last.
The words were intended as encouragement, but to Horatios surprise Archies reaction was to lift his hands to his face and laugh, a short, dismal laugh that spoke of bitterness and defeat. God, I fell out of the bed, Horatio. Leave it to you to turn that into an achievement.
Horatio was taken aback by this. Archies voice had the heavy tone of sarcasm in it, and a resentment Horatio had not heard before. Not knowing where this was coming from, Horatio decided to sidestep his friends dark mood in the hopes that it would lift. Well, its got you out of the bed at any rate. Are you up to walking today?
Archie glared at him, a spiritless look that was also new to Horatio. Then Archie looked down at the floor again. Horatio, Ive been thinking. This is foolishness.
Yes, it is, Horatio agreed, his own irritation coming to the fore in the face of his friends sour mood. He leaned forward and hooked a hand around Archies arm. You should have been on your feet a week ago. Come, let me help you -
No! Archie suddenly shouted, shaking Horatios arm off with a newfound vehemence. He remained on the floor and gave Horatio the sharpest glare hed ever seen, full of ice and fire. Christ, Horatio, listen to me! This is foolishness, what youre doing. Your men are ready to leave, Hunter will break the gate without you if you dont move soon. It will be death for all of you if you dont go together.
I intend to, Horatio answered evenly, with all of my men, together.
Archies gaze was sullen, resigned. No, Horatio. You wont wait for me any longer. Ill not have your death on my head as well.
And what are my other options, Mr. Kennedy? Horatio returned. Leave now, while one of my men needs my help? Abandon a fellow officer, and know that he suffers while I am free? That should be worse than death.
I did not ask for your help, Archie replied bitterly, curling himself tighter, And Ive been suffering for three years while you have been free, and the earth turns just the same.
Horatio felt his stomach tighten at Archies pessimism. Well, that time is past. I have told you before, Archie, you are one of my men and I will not leave without you. So you see, I will live or die by your hand. Is it my death that you want?
That should have done it; Horatio knew that at bottom, Archie would react to such a statement with a firm denial. The sad creature before him was not Archie, Horatio knew; it was a shadow of him, a ghost of the hearty youth who had welcomed him with a jaunty smile and gentle sarcasm to his first ship and new life. This was also the young man who had raced up to him, sword in hand, after their first battle, vibrant and enthusiastic with life; and the smiling face that had welcomed him home after his first command. Of course, Archie did not want his death. Archie was his friend.
But to Horatios amazement, Archie did not answer right away, did not deny his words with a hasty and negative response. Instead, he gazed at the floor uncertainly for a long time, his eyes full of a hollow unhappiness Horatio did not understand. Finally he whispered brokenly, Just - take your men and leave, Horatio, please. Youve caused me enough misery.
Horatio was stunned, stared at Archie in sick astonishment. He could not think of a word to say.
Archie glanced up at him, and managed another bitter laugh. Oh, of course. Doubtless you cannot understand how saving my life could make me miserable, how giving me hope could fill me with dread and make me hate you. Well, I dont expect you to understand, *Acting Leftenant* Hornblower, for my life has not been yours and likely never will be. Your duty here is done; go on to your other glories, and leave us mere mortals to our grief.
Archie, stop it! Horatio took a step forward, unable to hear more. I will not sit here and listen to such foolishness. Youre going to get better, dammit -
For what? Archie returned, his voice loud now, his eyes snapping with anger as he turned them to Horatio, Come now, Horatio, for what? To return to the Indy as the midshipman who has fits? To live in the shadow of your charity? To be looked at with pity and scorn for the rest of my life, never knowing when or where my next failure might be, while you promenade on cliffs with beautiful women and shine like the northern star? An excellent future indeed, Mr. Hornblower! I wonder that I dont jump at the opportunity.
Horatio opened his mouth, then closed it again. He had no argument. Archie ducked his head down again, and Horatio stood there for a moment, dazed. He could not promise Archie that there would be no more fits or failures. He certainly could not deny his own ambitions, or the possibility of his own success. And he could not stop the stares or whispers on board ship, after Archie returned; very likely such words would be said, and believed, and would only fade after Archie proved himself worthy and capable again. But he never would, not in this state. Even if they made it home, his confidence was gone. He needed to get it back. He needed to know that the English lion in him, the vibrant radiant youth, was not dead, but sleeping. And needed only to be reawakened...
For his part, Archies anger seemed to ebb somewhat, and he turned his head to stare at the floor, his eyes distant and hurt. When he spoke, his voice was a broken whisper. I thought you were a ghost, when you came. I thought you were dead, killed by the noises I had made, or perhaps later at Simpsons hand. Sometimes - sometimes I wondered if he had gotten to you too, made your life the hell he made mine. I almost hoped... Archie hid his face, and Horatio heard a choked sob come from somewhere deep inside him. I almost hoped he had, if only because then there would be someone who knew my misfortune. Then I would not be completely alone.
Horatio found his voice. You are not alone, Mr. Kennedy. We are -
And then you came, Archie continued, his voice full of venomous jealousy, And I thought you werent real. Then I knew you were, and I hated you, Horatio. I could tell you had escaped him, beaten him, and there was not a scar to show for it. I wanted that victory so badly, and it was given to you. *Given* to you! Archie shook his head sadly. Youll never understand what his death has cost me.
Horatio was not sure he knew what Archie was talking about. But he did not dare ask. Archie -
With a loud sigh, Archie put one hand on the bed and heaved himself upward, every line of his body dragging with the effort, as if it were made of lead. Im sorry company today, Horatio. Youll pardon my bad manners, but I think I should like to sleep now.
Archies tone and expression brooked no argument, and if Horatio had one it was extinguished when his friend threw himself down on the bed and turned over on his side, and Horatio found himself staring at Archies back.
This visit was over. And Archie had not begun to walk.
For a long moment Horatio stood there, staring at Archies back as he considered his options. He could have a seat, and wait for Archie to be more cooperative; he could try to bully him into a better frame of mind; or he could leave.
For a few moments, the first option had the upper hand; after all, Horatio knew Archie was just overcoming a rather bad stretch of luck, and it was perfectly understandable that he should be a little gloomy over their chances. Yes, time was all he needed, and thanks to their imprisonment Horatio had that. He had plenty of time...
But then, gradually, Horatios irritation over his friends recalcitrance began to come to the for, and he became angry. He was trying to help; he was being open and sympathetic when he did not need to be; and - and dammit, didnt he just save Archies life? Were petulance and harsh words to be his reward for showing friendship to one who so desperately needed it?
Well, fine then. Horatio felt youthful aggravation boil up into his brain, and erupt there like an active volcano. Fine. There were other things to attend to.
And Horatio left.
The rest of the day was not pleasant. Horatio snapped at everyone who dared to talk to him, and spent the remainder of the afternoon pacing quickly around the courtyard, his eyes wide open and staring at the ground in fierce concentration. He knew his men were watching him, glancing at one another in concern, but he did not care; for a very brief moment, he was tired of caring.
Finally, the sun began to go down, and the guards appeared to herd everyone back to their cells for the evening meal. Horatio saw them approach, and hesitated; after the meal, he had always gone to see Archie, to give him his dinner and go over the days thoughts. But now he did not want to; he almost preferred Hunters company. At least he knew Hunter hated him.
But dammit - dammit - deep down Horatio could not deny that despite Archies current temper, he was his friend and Horatio needed him. He needed him whole and well, and back on the Indy, and if he just left it alone that would never happen. If he never discovered why Archie was having such a hard time recovering, it would never happen, and Horatio knew he would always wonder why, until it drove him mad. He had to know.
So, with a frustrated sigh, Horatio decided to visit Archie early and secured permission to go to the sick room before supper.
This is the last time, Horatio decided as he listened to his own shoes clatter on the stone walkway leading to the sick room. I must attend to Hunter, I must concentrate on our escape, and I cannot afford to spend time coaxing Archie out of his doldrums as if he were a child. He is a man, and whatever he has been through it cannot be so bad that he would rather die here than live on the open waters. So I will tell him, this is the last time Im going to try reviving his spirit. I am done with it.
The sick berth door came before him, and Horatio opened it slowly and peeked in. It was a curious scene that met his eyes: Archie was asleep, turned over on his side with the sheets half-covering him, but he had removed the old, soiled shirt he had been wearing and cast in the corner behind him without putting the clean one on. It was rather stuffy in the sick room, and it was a hot day; doubtless he was more comfortable sleeping without the shirt, even if it was only light cotton.
Oh well, Horatio thought, I will just have to come back after supper. Treading lightly so as not to awaken his friend, Horatio walked into the corner to gather up the soiled shirt, thinking sourly that at least Archie wouldnt argue with him doing THAT favor for him. Then, with the shirt in hand, he straightened up and turned to go.
And then, just by chance, his gaze fell on Archies back. And Horatio started in shock.
For one jumbled moment he thought he had been wrong, that Archie was not shirtless but wearing some patterned garment of light color, but a horrified blink of his eyes told him that was not the case at all. Archies back was covered with scars, dozens of scars, so many Horatio could not count them. Many were slightly curved and raised, the unmistakable signs of flogging; of those marks some were still red and healing, telling mute tales of suffering that Archies lips had never spoken. From his escape attempts most likely, but Horatio was too stunned for that thought to have much meaning; he was too occupied with wondering at their number. Some were newly made; others months old, or years? It was difficult to say.
There were other marks too, not curved but straight, old white lines that Horatio knew were the signs of having been beaten with a cane. But when had that occurred? In the Royal Navy caning was a boys punishment, not a mans; some youthful infraction perhaps, some misunderstanding? But there were scores of them, not one punishment but several, and Archie was no rebel, to warrant so many warnings. Unless...
**youll never know what his death has cost me**
Horatio shuddered. Unless the punishments were not deserved, but given anyway. Unless they were not the consequences of bad behavior, but a means of control, of power.
Simpson would do it. He had beaten Horatio for no cause whatever. Christ.
There were other marks on that fair skin as well, whose origin Horatio could not decipher. Pale, ragged lines, like the claws of an animal, here and there, very faded, just showed beneath the other lines and scars, as if they had been there for a very long time. Other beatings, other punishments? Good God, how many had there been? Horatios mind began to work, almost against his will, and finally a sickening picture began to come together, a litany of suffering and solitude that had offered no hope or redemption, save one. And then, a brief time on the Indy, some happiness and refuge. And then -
Then Simpson had come back. And Archie had been cast in hell again.
Horatio felt sick, could not move but stood there for a moment, trembling. Now it was clear, what he had not been told - could not be told - before: Archies pain was beyond his comprehension. There would be no talking this out, no smiling reassurance that would take away those scars, or the ones Horatio could not see, on Archies heart and soul. No amount of cajoling or gentle bullying would erase those marks or the cause of them, and Horatio had been foolish to try. Foolish! But he could not be foolish or naive anymore, now that he knew. This was not a battle that could be won with words.
Very quietly, and with tears in his eyes, Horatio crept out of the room, clutching the shirt to himself tightly, and did not have supper that night.
The sun went down, all became quiet. Horatio sat in the cell, his eyes down to the floor, thinking. Hunter sat on his bunk staring at him, almost daring him to make some harsh comment or gesture, but Horatio ignored him. For a very long time, he did not move. He was thinking.
Finally, he stood up and rapped on the door to gain the guards attention. He asked permission to visit with Mr. Kennedy, and was granted it. He ignored Hunters resentful, sneering sigh and left the cell, knowing as he did not know before that this was, truly, the last time he could make this journey, the last hope he had of drawing Kennedys spirit out before it was crushed forever. His heart was thumping in his chest; he could not allow himself to fail.
He was allowed into the sick room, and saw at once that a fire had been started, and Archie was sitting up in bed, reading a small volume of Shakespeare that Don Masserado had lent him. He had put on the clean shirt, as Horatio thought he would; Archie would not hazard anyone seeing those scars in the firelight, and likely never would. They would always remain hidden...
Archie glanced up at Horatio, his eyes still hollow and veiled. He did not smile, but said, I did not thank you for the clean shirt.
Horatio could not read Archies tone, and decided it was better not to try. Does it suit you?
Archie shrugged, and went back to reading.
Horatio took this for what he now knew it was - gratitude too guarded to express itself - and responded, Well, I accept your thanks in any case.
Archie kept his eyes on the book, and as Horatio approached the chair that always sat by the bed he saw how tightly Archies lips were compressed, as if his presence were a sudden, bruising burden. His face still looked gaunt and pale, even in the firelight, and one glance at the full bowl of gruel on the floor told Horatio that Archie had not eaten a bite. Very cautiously, he sat down.
For endless minutes, nothing happened. Archie steadfastly ignored Horatios presence, keeping his eyes on the book, and Horatio listened to his own heart pounding against his ribcage and tried to find a way inside his friends misery. I cannot understand your pain, Archie, he thought sadly. But still I must try to bring you out of it.
The fire crackled in the grate, and the wind howled mournfully outside. Archies eyes flicked to Horatio, just for a moment, and he whispered, As you might have gleaned by now, Mr. Hornblower, I am not up for conversation this evening. You will find better company back in your cell. Or with the Duchess, if she were still here.
Horatio took a deep breath, I am not interested in conversation, Mr. Kennedy. I came only to speak my piece, and then I will leave you to whatever fate suits you.
A small flicker of curiosity, carefully hidden in eyes still intent on the words in front of them. Oh?
Horatio sighed, and said quietly, Yes. Archie, you must forgive my bullheadedness of this afternoon. I am concerned for all my men, you see, and the thought of even one of them being left behind robs me of my reason. If it is your wish to remain here I cannot confess to understand it - but no longer will I be so arrogant as to think I must understand everything because - Horatio paused, and swallowed hard. - because I cannot. But if I cannot encourage you to join us, Mr. Kennedy, I have only one request of you, that I must insist upon.
Archie looked at him uncertainly. And what is that?
I want to know youve come out all right, Horatio said, surprised at the emotion in his voice; he certainly hadnt planned on that. If you remain here, will you at least promise to eat - to get better - to walk again? For you may very well survive me, Archie, and if our escape fails I will need you to remember me to my father, and to Captain Pellew.
Horatio, dont say that, Archie said in weary, irritated encouragement, Youll survive, you always do.
Horatio shook his head, and his uncertainty was sincere. I will do my best of course, but I know the odds. We are in enemy territory, and Hunter will not follow me. I can hold my men together for a while, but unless we make an English ship very soon I cannot hope that this will end in anything but death by shot or hanging for us all. That will leave you, Archie. And I will not be able to rest in my grave unless I know you will survive to carry on for me. I will - wander the night, like - His eyes fell on the book Archie held. - like the ghost of Macbeths father.
Its Hamlets father, actually, Archie corrected, But Horatio, I dont know why youre so worried, you know things always come out your way. Im hardly the best choice for making certain that things go well.
On the contrary, Horatio replied hotly, Archie, I cannot know what will become of me if I am wounded, or taken prisoner again, or find myself in another hellhole like Justinian was. I am untested, that wonderful run of luck you are so envious of has left me soft and unchallenged. But you are not. Your trials have given you a strength I do not possess, and if I do not survive this... Horatio could no longer meet Archies eyes, and gazed at the dappled pattern the firelight made on the bedcovers. Archie, I *know* that you will, if you will only allow yourself to get stronger and heal. Only promise me that, and I will ask nothing else.
For a long time Horatio heard only the snap of the fire, and the wind singing its lonely song outside. He did not dare take his eyes from the bed, for fear that a disappointing sight should meet them. But finally there was no help for it, and he looked up again to see Archie looking at him with a mixture of bewilderment and something like fear in his haggard features. There was no agreement there - but there was no denial, either.
As soon as their eyes met, Archie darted his gaze down to the book, as if they had not said anything at all. Its - its late, Horatio. I think it will rain tonight, youd best go back to your cell and keep Hunter in line.
A draw, then. Well, perhaps it was all Horatio could wish for. Standing reluctantly he said, All right. Good night, Archie.
Archies gaze did not move from the book. Good night, Horatio. And thank you for the shirt.
The night was restless, the morning worse. Horatio woke sore and fatigued, and kept himself from paying his morning visit to Archies room. He had said his piece, and been done with it; whatever Archie decided, he must concentrate on his men, and keeping Hunter from getting the lot of them killed. And to be truthful, knowing some of the depths of Archies suffering had frightened him. It was better to stay away.
Breakfast came, and then time for exercise. Horatio walked dutifully out of the cell with Hunter slumping at his heels, and as he made his way to the courtyard Horatio tried to think of how he would spend the day. Well, there was that copy of Don Quixote that Don Masserado had given him; he could always sit in the courtyard and make his way through that. At least the men would leave him alone...
It was a gray day, and Horatio squinted at the bleakness of the courtyard as he entered it, thinking it might rain. Certainly others must have thought so, for at the moment the courtyard was almost deserted except for a few guards and -
- and a familiar-looking figure in a white shirt sitting on one of the stone benches and holding a small volume of Shakespeare.
Horatio stopped, blinked, stared. No, that couldnt be, not after last night, but - no, it was Archie, still looking like hell but sitting as straight as he could on the bench, looking up into the gray morning sky as if it were blanketed with an aurora borealis from one end to the other. Behind Horatio, Hunter made a surprised grunt, and Archie turned and looked in their direction.
And smiled, a little.
Horatio was speechless. Leaving Hunter he walked to the bench alone, not bothering to hide his amazement at seeing Archie sitting there.
Archie met his surprise with an even stare. It took me most of the night, after you left, but this morning I managed to make it from the bed to the door without bruising myself too badly. I didnt take your accustomed seat, did I?
Hm? No, no, I - Horatio could not gasp out the words. I - Archie, how did you get here?
Well, Im not sure, Archie replied, taking his eyes from Horatio to gaze placidly across the courtyard. But from what Im told, someone struck me over the head with a tiller.
Dammit, you know thats not what I mean! Horatio fumed, sitting beside Archie and glaring at him.
Yes, I know, Archie responded quietly, and looked at his hands for a long time. Horatio watched him carefully, saw that the hopelessness and despair were not totally gone from that beleaguered face, but that a battle had now been joined there, where there was none before; the lion was reawakening, even if only by degrees. Finally Archie said, Dont ask me to explain it, Horatio. I cant.
All right, Horatio replied, and squinted across the courtyard to where Hunter was gathering his cronies and Matthews and Styles were sitting by the entrance, looking at Archie with surprised and slightly suspicious eyes, as if they could not believe what they were seeing was real.
It was real. And it would be Archie who made it so.
Archie sighed and lifted his face again to the clouded sky, seeming to draw strength from it as a flower does from the sun. Of course, if I decide to come with you there will be no one here to carry on should we all be lost. So you see, if you wished last night to rouse me to action you may have doomed yourself to failure.
But if you come with us we will not be lost, Horatio amended with a smile, Because I will have the tempered sword between myself and the world.
Archie grimaced, and shifted in a way that made Horatio think of the scars on his back, and the cause of them. Looking down Archie said, I am not tempered so much as merely tried. But since no one else seems ready to volunteer, until I find better employment it seems I am fated to look after you, Mr. Hornblower. If you will accept me, that is.
Horatio nodded in satisfaction. Gladly, Mr. Kennedy. Who knows but you may save my life someday.
Hm, Archie returned, and opened his book of Shakespeare.
Horatio knew that meant the conversation was done for the moment, and looked across the courtyard with an uneasy feeling. He knew that it had taken a great deal of courage for Archie to make his way there, and it would take a great deal of courage on both their parts to make it back home. After that - Horatio thought of Archies scars, and felt a tight knot in his stomach. After that, he did not know. He only knew that, as a leader of men, he was still very green and very naive.
I suppose now would be a good time to go get the book, Horatio thought, and idly glanced down at Archies Shakespeare, curious. It was mostly nonsense to him, but he was surprised to see his own name on the page that Archie held open, and peered more closely to read a little.
- there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, then are dreamt of in your philosophy.
He read it again, absorbed its meaning. Then he sat up and sighed, his eyes gazing over the men he had sworn to lead to freedom, and the sad and struggling youth beside him whose secrets he did not know, and realized that those words were very true. But they would not be true forever, just as his men would not imprisoned forever. And when they were all safely back home, then that part of his mission would be done; and when Archies secrets were known -
- then his friend would be free. And the steel that was merely tried would be tempered and strong at last.