The Heir of Kennedy Manor, Part One
by Maryanne

 

The sky was once more overcast, as was the normality for
every afternoon in England. Soon enough, the afternoon
seasonal showers would fall over the lush, green English
countryside. It would fall to the soft Earth, dripping down
to the roots of the plants and filling the air with that
special scent of fresh rain. As for now, clouds loomed grey
and ominous over the land, filling the sky. The air had now
cooled in preparation for the rain. Actually, it was quite
pleasant. A storm wind whispered and rushed through the many
leaves of the oaks, pines, and wild cherry trees that shaded
the lush grounds and gardens of Kennedy Manor. It blew in
cool, pleasantly moist air through the open window of one of
the top rooms of the house.
The manor itself was lovely on the outside, but truly rather
dull for its occupants during the afternoon showers. Lilacs
grew around the whitewashed stone steps that led to the
entrance. The walls of the grand house were creamish-white.
Large, stone pillars decorated the front of the house and
supported the grand overhang. Ivy and morning glories
climbed up the sides of the house and it was surrounded by a
grove of private shade trees. Beyond that was the edge of a
forest, where the Kennedys had spent many a season hunting
foxes. Wild cherry trees grew in the side of one garden,
their luscious green leaves rustling in the stir of the storm
breeze.
Inside the house were halls adorned with paintings and
portraits of people back in the Kennedy ancestral line. They
were lonely halls, so quiet with the absence of children that
the ticks and chimes from the old grandfather clock could be
heard throughout the large house. The glass panes of the
windows were set in black metal for the rustic appeal and
covered on the interior by rich, full velvet drapes. The
floors of the hall were lined in wine-red carpet with traces
of weaved patterns. A set of elegant wooden stairs with
polished mahogany banisters led from the foyer on one side up
in an arc to the next level. Straight ahead from the door,
if one passed underneath the stairs, was the company's
sitting room.
Up the stairs and down the hall was a richly furnished room.
The heavy curtains were closed, allowing in only the slight
stream of dim, stormy light that peeked between them. The
room was dim, lit only by the glow of a single lamp. In the
center of the somewhat spacious room was a rather large bed
pressed against the wall, dressed in crisp linen sheets and
red coverings that matched the polished mahogany frame. The
glass lamp was set on a bedstand next to it and gave enough
light for the man who lay in bed, carefully writing something
out on a clean sheet of paper. Thinner, white cotton
curtains covered a smaller window, a window that was open to
let the refreshing scent of rain into the room. They blew
inward slightly as a small gust of wind whispered through
them through the open window.
The man lying in the bed snorted and dropped his pen back in
the glass inkwell hard, creating a satisfactory little clink
as its metal point tapped the crystal. It was a welcome
change of sound from the soft murmuring of voices outside his
room and the ever-constant tick-tock of the clock mounted on
the wall above the door to his room. He took a deep breath
and sighed, glancing over his unfinished document with tired
eyes.
He was an old man, old and full of years that showed plainly
on the lines of his face and his short, wispyish white hair.
Wrinkles rimmed his eyes, eyes that were a shade of distinct
cobalt blue, but could never be described as bright. They
were hardened, dim. Like the rest of him. His hands ached
from arthritis and his face seemed to be plastered
permanently in a stony frown of constant disapproval.
"Oh, blast it, blast it, blast it all!" Lord Henry Kennedy
gumbled and cursed without second thought. He raised his
voice, his eyes hardening in anger at not being noticed.
"WHO THE DEVIL OPENED THAT WINDOW!" he protested loud enough
for his voice to carry throughout the entire house. The fact
that he heard no response for the next several seconds only
fueled his rage at the whole world's existence.
"Oh, to the devil with it all, anyway!" he muttered, leaning
back against the feather pillows that were propped up to
support his back. "Everyone jumps when I speak and then
suddenly I'm too old and no-one listens to me. I suppose
that's my destiny," he snorted. "To lay up here in my own
house and be ignored for the rest of my damned existence."
Seconds later, he heard sounds drifting up from below, from
down in the grand foyer. A maid's voice was speaking rapidly
down below, chattering away like a common mouse in the
kitchen. A second voice, softer and quieter answered just as
hastily.
The old man grunted, took a breath and bellowed, "Miss
Melone!"
Quick steps hastily totted down the hall, coming nearer.
Seconds later, the door to the dimly lit room opened and a
young maid came in wide-eyed. She quickly curtsied as was
customary, in a curt, sharp sort of way. "Sir?" she asked in
her young girl's voice.
Lord Kennedy was more than ready to announce to the world
what was irritating him. "Who opened that window! Well,
speak up girl, cat's got your tongue?" he demanded of her, a
scowl on his face. "Next thing I'll know, the rain will come
in here and that's hardly suitible for a dying old man, now
is it!" The low rumble of thunder echoed outside from a
distance at that moment.
The girl's large eyes widened further. "...I... did,sir.
I..." she stuttered. She was clearly surprised at his sudden
rage. Let them all be surprised! I'm sick of this! Can't a
dying man get one last request? he grouched mentally. He
took another breath to say more when a soft, sweet voice
broke into the uneasy silence.
"Under my directions, Father," a young woman broke in as she
stepped through the open door and into the room. She was a
stately young woman, a beauty among all the fair young ladies
of England. She was dressed in an overcoat that fit snugly
over her elegant dress, the waistline up beautifull
underneath her lovely round breasts. Though relatively
small, she stood tall with the regal reassurance of a gentle,
demure lady. Her shoulders were back and her chin was high
enough to reveal her graceful neck. She was delicate,
slender. Her face was slightly flushed pink from the cool
out-of-doors air. Wispyish strands of blond hair had come
loose from where they had once been pinned and strayed across
her forehead. She was still wearing a bonnet, which meant
that she had gone into town today. Humph. Another thing
someone forgot to tell me, Lord Kennedy thought irritably.
He studied his daughter up and down, then turned his gaze to
the opposite wall. "And may I ask why?" he said, allowing
himself to be completely and utterly in a foul mood.
Annalise smiled slightly, fondly, and nodded to the maid.
Miss Melone practically tiptoed out of the room and carefully
closed the door behind her. The beautiful blonde began
untying the satin ribbon that held her bonnet. "The room is
so stuffy, I practically could not stand it another instant,"
Annalise commented as she brushed back strands of her golden
hair. "And the moor and the rain smells so pleasant." She
closed her brilliant blue eyes and sighed wistfully. Her
face was nearly aglow with life.
"I don't like rain. Close that window, girl," the crochety
old man ordered. This was no time for impertinent, uncaring
youth to take over his life, his room. He wanted that window
closed and, by the Lord God Almighty, he was going to have it
closed!
Annalise had unbuttoned her coat and was now dressed in the
simply elegant gown. The print consisted of white with
golden flowers that shone underneath the golden glow of the
lamp and matched her lovely golden hair. "Now Father,
remember the doctor told you not to get your temper up," she
said gently, soothingly. And blastedly frustrating! He sank
back down into his pillows and scowled at her. After a
moment, she met his eyes with a trace of carefully masked
defiance. "Besides," she argued. "The rain is good for you.
You need the fresh air after being cooped up in here all the
time like this."
"Doctors, doctors! All they want is my money, they don't
care whether I live or not!" he snapped back, rising from his
slumped position. Annalise wisely closed her mouth and said
nothing as Kennedy continued. "Always late. Never on time
for their appointments! You know, I would swear they would
like to see me dead." He paused in his grumbling to eye the
young lady standing over by the window warily. "And I
suppose you would as well, so you could have all my fortune,
all my lands. I suppose you're just like the rest of my
children. They don't care a snit about me. And I'm dying,
Annalise," he threw at her in a quiet, low grumble. It was
intended to wound, and he could see his success in the tears
that had suddenly appeared in her eyes. But somehow he
didn't feel any triumph.
"No, Father." The quiet denial was soft, barely above a
whisper. Heartbroken. The man looked down, unsure of what
to say now that he had furled all of his pent-up irritations
onto his youngest child. All was silent once more in the
room save the rumble of thunder and the rustle of leaves
outside as the rain pattered down on them. And the old clock
on the walls, mindlessly proclaiming its constant tick-tock,
tick-tock, tick-tock.
The old man sighed wearily and closed his blue eyes. "I am
sorry, my child. But it is so hard to live among people who
hate you when you're dying," he said tiredly.
Annalise turned, studied him for a moment, then swept her
gaze back out the window. The look on her face wasn't quite
saddened. It seemed more an expression of uncertainty at
whether to trust his words. He snorted indignantly,
inwardly. Uncertainty, indeed! he huffed. Now my words
aren't good enough for you. You can't trust me. Lord, I'm
your own father!
Finally, she spoke in a hesitant whisper that rung off the
walls in the complete and utter silence of the room. "I
don't hate you, Father. Just sometimes... just sometimes I
wish you didn't despise your own children so terribly," she
answered softly, honestly. She turned back away from the
window to search his eyes with her own blue pleading gaze.
Lord Kennedy rose slightly out of his nest of pillows onto
his elbows. "Good Lord!" he exclaimed in stark, blank
disbelief. "I never once told you that I despised my own
children! Where did you ever come up with an idea such as
this?" The tolerance and the slight softness that had
touched his manner so briefly had worn off to a hardened
edge.
The young lady glanced up at the ceiling, a brief prayer it
seemed. Then she came closer to the bed. The young girl who
had always been able to maintain the gentle grace of a lady
had taken a grievous loss to her composure. "You didn't have
to tell me! I could see it in the way that you locked us
away from you once Mother died. I could see it in the way
that you punished us! And what of Archie? How much you used
to punish him for nothing!" she demanded to him. She was
speaking quickly, succinctly, not allowing his to slip in the
slightest word in edgewise. Yet at the same time, she was
careful about her choice of words. When she mentioned the
name Archie, he felt himself stiffen.
Archibald Kennedy, his youngest son who was presently
God-knew-where in the British Navy, was a tenderhearted
disgrace to his family name. The young boy always argued
against his father and his brothers, and used to cry every
night when his mother died. Lord Kennedy sniffed disgustedly
at the mental image of the child who had been given a man's
body. Now there was a perfect example of what he had said to
his daughter. Archie hated his home, and he hated his
father; the old man could see it every time the young man's
blue eyes used to meet his. Especially when Kennedy had
bought a commission and had sent his boy into the navy. Oh,
Archie was careful about not letting his anger show, but his
father would wager a thousand pounds that the young man hated
him secretly. If he would only have to chance to be proved
right.
The old noble hadn't truly seen his son since the boy's
fourteenth birthday, when he had been given the rank of
midshipman to serve aboard that ship... oh what was its
blasted name again? Justify, Justin-- Oh, yes, it was the
Justinian. Two years ago from this rainy day now, Lord
Kennedy had received four different letters from him,
pleading with him to use his influence to help him.
Apparently, Archie had managed to get himself into a Spanish
prison. Well, he had had no reason to accept the request.
Besides, the kind of influence necessary for such a thing as
to try and free a man from a foreign prison -- it was too
difficult to achieve. Somewhere in his mind, the crochety
old man knew that that wasn't the true reason, if he had one,
for not responding. Oh, well. The last he had heard, Archie
had managed to free himself along with some other officer as
foolhardy as he and a collection of men anyway.
"Listen here, Annalise Grace Kennedy. Should I hear one
word, just one word more about despising my children..." he
trailed off warningly, holding up one finger to silence her.
Then he finished in a low, threatening voice. "Now get out.
I want peace and quiet for my final hours," he ordered
quietly, nodding toward the door as he said it. "And close
that blasted window before I catch my death!"
Annalise Kennedy glanced only briefly over at him, then
obediently did as commanded and locked down the latch on the
window. She paused. Then she walked over to stand beside
the bed. Lord Kennedy couldn't quite dicipher what the look
on her face was. But there was something dark, something
hidden behind those bright blue eyes that now shone with
unshed tears. Almost an... anger or an expression of pity.
It was quite unsettling to see it in this young woman who was
always so full of love. She is too much like Archie, he
thought angrily.
"Well? What request have you to make. I haven't a
lifetime, you know," he wondered grumpily.
She took in a deep breath, standing tall as she spoke,
though she had been verbally defeated. Then she told him
gently what her request was, and left the room as told. As
he heard her footsteps retreating quietly down the hall, he
could hear the rushing of the rain outside. He lay back down
into his pillows and thought hard about what she had asked.
About what she had said. Did he truly hate his children? He
realized, his heart sinking, that she was right about him.
He did hate them now. And he suddenly began to weep into his
hands. Tears fell down his cheeks, cheeks lined with the
wrinkles of old age. He was old. He was dying. And there
was now only one thing left to be done to correct his
mistake.

 

***

 

The room was now filled with the warm shadows cast from the
single sculpted glass lamp beside the bed. The pen glided
across the paper, nearly painting out the final words to the
document. Kennedy was reading softly to himself aloud as he
wrote, choosing his words carefully. The clock's familiar
sound as the pendulum swung in the near-darkness was his only
company. Drifting up, from below in the library, the clear,
lovely notes of the piano forte played an old concerto.
Accompanying this distant, yet somehow warm sound were voices
talking, guests for dinner at Kennedy Manor. Lord Kennedy
had already been given his dinner. He had merely set it
aside on the bed and continued working. But, Annalise's
servants had been so persistant that he had found the time to
oblige and eat half of his dinner. The rest had been cleared
away.
As the piano played on downstairs, thoughts began running
through the old man's mind. Memories. Memories of a gentle
kind woman, not so unlike young Annalise, who had once lived
life and loved every part of it. Her laughing blue eyes, her
silky blond hair, her full, dainty yet womanly figure. So
long, her hair was, and so soft... Soft like the touch of an
angel.
Laura had been such an angel. True, sometimes she had
reacted to a poor man's need or a request and touch too
quickly, but she had been so kind, so compassionate. The one
woman in all of England of whom he would say had been sent
from heaven. But she had died. Fourteen years ago, in the
winter, from a fever. And as she passed away, her life
slipping through his fingers, her last words had been about
life. About love.
He snorted. Love. Love was a concept so few seemed to
truly realize. There were the young women and men on all the
streets in all of the cities in England who thought that they
had found love in each other through physical relationship.
Then there were the ties of friendship. Some people called
it love, but what it truly was and whether it actually was
love, he had yet to understand. And then the "love" of the
men and women who gave to charities, or gave to the orphans.
That was not love, at least, not usually. That was a group
of people who only wanted to find a place to get rid of their
old things. But love...
Laura Kennedy was love. She had understood love, as none
other in the history of men had ever been able to. But she
had been too lenient on their children, especially Archie,
their third son. So when his mother's hands were no longer
there to run to, it had left him floundering. For that, his
father could almost hate Laura, yet not quite. Oh, well.
The boy hadn't learned his lesson early, so he had been
forced to learn it the hard way.
Kennedy dipped the pen and once more began to slowly pen out
his last wishes. As he wrote, one by one, the different
names of his children, and the different wishes that he had
for them, he thought back to his wife, so warm and loving,
waiting for him. If there was a heaven, there was no place
where she belonged more. And he could see her every night as
he slept uneasily, standing miles away with her arms
outstretched to hold him, and coming closer every night.
Edmund.
He remembered a very long afternoon waiting for any news on
how Laura had been holding up. In those days she had
appeared so fragile, yet she had been strong enough to give
birth to their firstborn. He remembered holding his swaddled
up son, feeling so very proud. But Edmund had not grown into
the man he had been expected to be. He was a wild one,
always looking for a reason to fight. He had been given a
commission in a prestigious division of the army. The last
his father had heard of him was that he was recovering from a
wound suffered in a duel. But his father almost liked that
fierceness about him. Oh yes, his youngest son could learn a
few things from him.
Tobias.
Traveling home from town with him bouncing on his father's
knee. Then the boy standing there over the boy who had hit
him, looking fierce. Tobias was almost an angry young man.
There had always been something there, something dark, in his
eyes. He hadn't exactly followed in her elder brother's
footsteps, he wasn't exactly wild. More cold. As he had
grown older, his tie to Edmund had remained the same, but he
had grown... indifferent to the rest of his family.
Lord Kennedy cleared his throat and took a sip from the
glass of wine on his bedstand. The glass shaked a little in
his aching hands, the contents sloshing around but not quite
spilling off the rim of the glass. He set it back down and
dipped his pen in ink once again.
Gabrielle.
Laura had been so happy when she had given birth to their
first daughter. But as she had grown older, she had, just as
her brothers before her, gone her own way. She had
cultivated a flair for society and the arts of acting her
wealthy heritage. Two years back, she had been offered a
hand in a most advantageous marriage. That had been the last
he had heard from her. She was the very portrait of a sour
expression and disdain of everyone else. Kennedy sighed and
paused in his writing to think about what he would say next.
Archie.
Oh, yes, the naval Kennedy. How very gentle a young boy he
had been, gentle and soft. How much his mother had loved on
him as a child, teaching him her love for the arts in music
and dance. Which really hadn't turned out well. Then Laura
had died and he had hidden away for three days. Too easily
wounded, he was just too much like his mother. He had grown
up differently than the other children. He had avoided his
brothers and his father, and his home for years, until
finally Lord Kennedy had, in a final burst of exasperation,
sent the young man into the navy. Oh, well. The British
Navy would be good for the boy.
Adrian.
The first of the only set of twins born to the Kennedy
family for several generations. Memories of her floated
through his mind. A girl running down a path with flowers in
her hand. A serious face, though everyone else in the room
was laughing. Adrian had never quite developed anything that
resembled even a slight sense of humor. Her serious face was
almost grievous to see. She also wasn't the most intelligent
of young women, but she had thus far been accomplished enough
to reach out and touch her ambitions.
Angel.
Adrian's twin sister. Like the others, pictures from long
ago ran through his mind. A silly smile on her small, round
face as a baby cradled in her mother's arms. A girl bent
over in giggles at something that struck her as funny. That
silly little giggle of hers, again, when she was older and
had whipped someone's attempt at a card game. Angel was such
a silly girl, quite the opposite of her twin sister. Though
she had grown physically into such a womanly body, she had
never matured. The girl didn't have a touch of common sense
in her.
And finally, Annalise.
A gentle cry as she was comforted in her mother's arms. A
breathless young girl when she'd gone with her brother for
the first time to Drury Lane. She had only known three years
of her life with her mother, yet she had somehow grown into
the most like her mother of anyone except for Archie. They
were two very gentle young people. Where the others had
left, Annalise had stayed to care for her sick father and for
Kennedy Manor itself. She was such a dainty, delicate,
ladylike creature. She was softspoken and demure, well seen
and accepted among society yet the woman the poor orphan
loved most. But she had changed Kennedy Manor, ever since
her father had been bedridden. And it infuriated him! Once
more, there was music played and sung in the house, as it had
been before Laura had died. And Kennedy almost hated her
because of it. He didn't want to remember Laura!
Kennedy forced his weary eyes open once more after their
brief rest and continued to write his wishes for the youngest
of his horde of children. Then he paused, dipped the pen
again, and finally penned his signature onto the paper. He
dropped the pen back in the inkwell and it made its little
clink as the metal point tapped crystal. He scanned the
document with dim blue eyes, then blew on it to help dry the
ink. He sighed and fell back into his pillows. He was so
tired... So tired...
Lord Kennedy's eyes had closed and he was drifting off to
the softness of welcome sleep before he realized it. His
hand that held the document went slack and he could feel
himself drifting away... So slowly, so gently. He heard a
voice speak his name, a soft loving voice. He turned and saw
Laura, closer this time than before. Her arms were
outstretched and he willingly let go and ran to those arms...
The last sound he heard was the notes of music from the
piano below as they drifted up into his room.

 

"We have gathered here today to mourn together the death of
Lord Henry William Kennedy."
The sky was grey and rumbled with thunder as it had been the
day before. A lonely wind whispered sadly through the leaves
of the shade trees that overlooked the cemetary back behind
the old, stone cathedral. The minister dressed in black
spoke solemnly, in low tones that, despite his effort to make
them be so, were hardly comforting. Mourners dressed in
black surrounded the elegant, silver and gold-lined coffin
that was laid on the soft, green grass. The wind ruffled
through the coats and dresses and the black veils that
covered women's faces.
Hardly anyone was present. Mostly the only people that were
there were the late Lord Kennedy's family and a small
collection of the servants and tenants who cared for Kennedy
Manor, who had managed to develope some sort of fondness for
the man.
One young woman stood there in silence, dressed in black
with a hat and veil that covered long hair the color of
sunshine, as if to symbolize the darkness of the day along
with the rain that would surely fall within minutes.
Annalise stood there between the head maidservant of the
manor and her cousin Charles, her cobalt blue eyes never
leaving their continuous study of the box that held the body
of her father as she listened to the minister's words. Her
twin sisters Adrian and Angel were there, the former trying
her best to offer comfort to the latter, who had a
handkerchief that was dabbed at her eyes occasionally.
Gabrielle was there with her husband and a string of
children. Uncles, cousins, aunts, and anyone related to him
who was available was there. Pretty much the only ones who
weren't present at the funeral were her brothers.
"His loss is something that no-one has the words to say.
But let us not think about the sadness, my brethren. Let us
think of the ways he has blessed our lives," the minister
continued.
Annalise almost snorted inwardly, glancing down at her feet
so that none should dare see the other emotions that burned
in those brilliant blue depths. His loss can't be grieved
too badly, she thought sourly. Or else Edmund and Tobias
would be here. She couldn't blame Archie. He had a reason
to be away. But the other two had not come merely because
they had not felt like it. It didn't so much create anger
inside her, she had too much love inside. But it still...
hurt.
"For indeed he had blessed our lives, in different ways--"
The blonde young lady set her jaw. She wasn't sure whether
to believe that or not at that moment. He was her father,
and she had loved him very dearly. That was why she had come
back from London to care for him and the manor. But she had
to think of all of the other things. Kennedy Manor had been
deprived of any kind of joy ever since the death of her
mother. The halls became so empty, so lonely and she
scarcely even remembered what it was like before.
Then there were the ways he would treat his children --
especially Archie. Annalise had always had a special bond
with her youngest brother, though he was four years her
senior. She remembered watching Edmund and Tobias play their
filthy tricks on him and hurt him because he was more
tenderhearted than the other boys. Gabrielle hadn't, and
still didn't, care. Adrian and Angel lived, for the most
part, in their own world. And that had left Annalise with a
determination to restore Kennedy Manor to the glories it had
been before her mother had passed away.
"--But let us also not grieve with the reminder that, though
his body may lay here now in death, his soul is with God--"
A sickening feeling churned in the pit of her stomach as she
turned the minister's words over and over in her mind. Was
it? Was it really?
"--And, though we miss him, we are comforted by the fact
that we will see him again someday in paradise. But we will
always remember, while we are here on this soil, how he
touched each of our lives. And now we must accept what must
be. Ashes to Ashes. Dust to Dust. Amen," the black-clad
minister finished solemnly and bowed his head, hand over his
heart. Angel lost her whimpering composure, breaking down
into sobs as she cried into her aunt's shoulder while Adrian
patted her comfortingly on the back. Soon, the circle of
people broke up as they drifted away, leaving only one young
woman still standing there beside the coffin. The thunder
rumbled and the storm wind kicked up her long black skirts.
She could feel a single tear from her bright blue eyes
silently roll down her own cheek. But it was the only tear
she knew that she would ever shed over her father for the
rest of her life.
Annalise set her small handful of flowers from the manor's
own gardens atop the polished lid of the coffin and turned to
walk away as a sprinkling of rain began spattering down,
catching droplets in her skirt. She brushed away her single
tear and climbed into her coach as the rain began to fall
harder.
Bright blue eyes strayed out to the rain as her cousin gave
the command to drive the coach back to Kennedy Manor. It was
over with. The manor would live again. But first, she had
to do one thing. She had to find her lost brother.
"Charles?" Annalise began, her soft voice filled with
determination. Her cousin turned and gave her an inquisitive
look. She met his eyes. "I'm going to need your help."

 

"FIRE!"
The cannon exploded with the wracking destructive force that
only such a weapon could exude. The fiery cannonball ripped
through the air, through the heat of battle.
"Fire!" a nearer officer's voice screamed at the top of his
lungs, his voice nearly cracking. All around, the air was
thick with blood and sweat. Men screamed orders and other
men cried out as enemy cannonfire ripped into the hull of the
Indefatigable. The second cannon fired, leaping back with
the force of the blast. Without a second thought, the blond
officer jumped agilely out of the way as it rolled back.
A sheen of sweat glistened on his face and neck, a layer of
black grit from the powder explosions sticking to his skin.
He stood on the deck of the frigate, mostly dressed except
for the thick blue coat and the vest of his uniform. His
shirt sleeves were rolled up to the elbow and his long dark
blond hair was tied back in an untidy ponytail. The heat of
battle contributed as much to sweat that covered his skin and
made his shirt cling to his back and chest as the noon sun
that came sweltering down overhead.
Archie's ears were still recovering from the enormous boom
when he heard one voice above the shout and chaos. "Mr.
Kennedy!" someone called behind him.
He turned sharply. "Aye, sir!"
"You- Lookout!" the officer who had called suddenly
screamed. Not even realizing what was happening, as the
world slammed into split-second events, Archie just let
himself drop down to his stomach on the deck.
"Hit the deck!" he shouted.
"Sir, the cannon--"
"Arrrrrrggggggghhh!"
The scream sent a nauseating twist to the queasiness that
already roiled in the pit of Archie's stomach. He could
almost feel the man's pain. He could virtually taste the
blood in the air. The fiery ball plummeted into the deck
with a crash that sent splinters and shards of wood every
which direction. Archie covered his face instinctively with
his arm to prevent any of the splinters from embedding
themselves in his face. CRAAAAACCKKK! Archie's men
immediately jumped to their feet.
Archie stayed down for just barely a second longer, then
felt someone's grip on his arm, helping him stand. Without
even looking behind him, he knew, just somehow felt who was
there.
"I don't like this, Horatio!" he shouted over the noise as
another cannon exploded. The ball missed the Indefatigable
and plunged down into the sea.
Horatio Hornblower released his tight hold on his friend's
arm once the young blond was standing. "I thought we were
doing rather well, don't you?" he replied as hurriedly over
the chaotic noise. There was no trace of the calmness with
which he usually said that. The blond lieutenant's blue eyes
were wide as he met the dark-haired officer's face with a
disbelieving expression. He felt almost sick, yet
exhilarated with the thrill of adrenaline. He almost wanted
to panic, but he would hold a tight reign on himself.
Or else men might unnecessarily lose their lives.
"Yes, but...!" he spluttered, cut off as something exploded
from one of the ships. He flinched and ducked as something
came sailing by overhead from the other direction, his eyes
tracking it worriedly. "It'd be a lot more comforting if I
knew that these Frogs were taking as many hits as we are."
Horatio paused before going back to his own men. He gripped
Archie's shoulders, meeting his eyes with brown eyes that
burned a fiery determination within them. He smiled tightly.
"I'm sure they are. Especially with someone as capable as
yourself, Mr. Kennedy, in charge of the guns. They don't
stand a chance!"
The younger of the two managed a tight grin as he pulled
back. Or, at least, it was an attempt at a grin. Actually
it appeared more of a grimace. "Save your compliments for
later, Mr. Hornblower, when I'm in a position to take them,"
he called back hurriedly as he rushed back to the guns at his
command. As he was about to order another charge, an idea
occured to him. His bright blue eyes went wide for a second,
then he almost tripped over the men as he rushed back to
Horatio, charged with a new energy.
"Horatio, I have an idea!" he said excitedly. He didn't
even wait for his friend's request to continue. "As I see,
there are two of them, and one of us, correct?" Horatio
managed a slight, quick nod in edgewise. "What we need to do
is disable one of the ships. Now there's a powder magazine
concentrated in the aft storage area--"
The dark-haired lieutenant snapped his fingers. "That's
brilliant, Archie! Why didn't I think of that?" he cut his
friend off. Their eyes met, exchanging the fury of battle,
the excitement of their youth, and the connection between
them. They didn't even need words.
"Reload!" they shouted to their men in unison.
The powder charges were spiked into the guns, the balls were
loaded. Then, everything was ready. Archie concentrated as
he and Styles began to aim the large cannon. He blocked out
everything around him, all of the screams and shots fired.
His world narrowed completely to him, the cannon, Styles, the
targeting sights, while remaining intuned to the other
officer's actions. There were two ships, one on each side of
the Indy. Both ships were small, but together packed a
firepower just above that of a figate. They seemed to have
the advantage. In this situation, it almost appeared
hopeless, but there was a thread of hope inside him that if
they could pull it off -- if they could make it work...
He aimed for the aft section of the ship on the Indy's
starboard side. Once it was aimed, Archie stepped back away
from the cannon. He paused for a second.
"Fire!" he suddenly ordered and a split-second later, the
lighter touched the fuse and a blast erupted from the gun,
sending Lieutenant Kennedy's ears ringing. The iron ball
tore forth with an explosive force few things could ever
match. It shot straight toward its target...
CRRAAAASSH! CRAAAAAACCCKKK!
Suddenly the rear end of the ship exploded into flames. The
ship was just close enough to hear the panicked screams of
the men on board as they fought with all their might to put
out the fire.
"Fire!" Horatio's voice echoed just then and a second and
third blast followed the first, these ones directed toward
the other ship. This ship was a little larger, and not so
prone to have its gunpowder storage hit. But, as damaged as
it already was, the shots would keep them from coming to the
aid of the smaller, more distressed ship. It was just like
one of the things Horatio had once told him. He had said
that the best way to defeat an alliance of two was to force
them apart.
Archie turned his attention back to his own targeted ship.
The fire had already been mostly extinguished. Still, the
ship had taken a horrible toll. It was half-burned, and
riding alarmingly low in the water, the sign of an obvious
leak. If the crew didn't jump overboard soon... "Reload the
cannon-- No. Wait." He held up one hand and the men
tensed, prepared to follow his orders. He jumped up agilely
into the taffrail and crouched there for a moment, squinting
to see what the enemy ship was doing and why it wasn't
returning fire. Then, he saw it. A pure white flag,
flapping in the hot breeze from the mainmast. "Cease fire,"
he instructed his men and jumped down.
Another shot boomed from the other cannons on board the
Indefatigable, then he heard Horatio's voice bark an order to
cease fire. It was tense, awaiting the movement of the enemy
ships, sitting there in the water, primed and ready for
another round.
They sat there, the two wooden battleships, their decks torn
and their masts partially splintered. Then, a man signaled
from the French ship. Archie glanced over at Horatio, who
had joined him. Then his blue eyes returned to the flag
signals. But it wasn't that particular flag that had caught
the young blond's attention as much as the white one that was
ascending the mainmast.
"She's surrendrin', sir!" a man called out and the crew
broke out into cheers.
Suddenly an explosion wracked the torn and burning timbers
of the smaller French ship, as the powder had burned through
to another powder storage magazine. The timbers cracked and
ripped apart as the cloth of the sails and the oiled ratlines
crashed down in flaming shreds. Like a ship in agony, she
rocked lower still in the waves. It was only a matter of
seconds later when Archie caught sight of figures leaping off
the sides of the burning vessel. The crew jumped overboard,
at least forty men diving as quickly into the sea as they
could to escape the fury of the flames.
"Mr. Hornblower, Mr. Kennedy!" a voice called quickly,
urgently.
"Aye, aye, sir!" they responded together.
First Lieutenant Anthony Bracegirdle hurried up to them.
"Take a boat, if necessary. Pull those men out of the sea.
They may be prisoners, but I'd rather have prisoners than
drowned Frogs."
Archie caught the play on words, though it hadn't in all
likelihood been intended. He hesitated for only the barest
hint of a second. "Aye sir," he responded quickly and rushed
over to the side, Horatio at his side. One by one, the two
young men jumped into the small boats below with a group of
selected men and set out on their task to collect the
half-drowned French crew of the small ship that was now a
smoldering wreck sinking with the hiss of water on fire into
the sea. Very little was left of it, mostly burnt pieces of
wood straying around that several of the men had caught a
hold of.
Horatio began pulling prisoners into his boat, as his men
did the same. On his own boat, blond Lieutenant Kennedy
reached down and grasped a firm hold around the hand of one
man. The man was an officer, thin and short, and was
coughing and sputtering water. As he reached out to pull in
another man, a sudden memory flashed before his eyes. That
of running face to face into Jack Simpson on the
Indefatigable after Horatio had pulled him in as a survivor
in just this manner.
Don't think about that, Archie, he thought to himself. Just
concentrate on the task. He continued on his work as he
rested on the thought that this had been a complete victory
for the Indefatigable. And for that, he was proud.

 

***

 

"Well, H'ratio, I see that things are moving smoothly. The
prisoners are under lock and key and we have captured a prize
ship for our efforts," Archie chattered amiably as he and the
other lieutenant made their way across the deck of the
Indefatigable. He was once more fully dressed in his
uniform, with the exception of his hat. The afternoon breeze
ruffled through his golden hair, effectively causing feathery
strands of shorter blond hair to come loose from his
ponytail. His hands were clasped behind his back
thoughtfully as he glanced over at his friend. "Still, I
wish that other ship could've been spared. There were a good
eight hundred pounds of rice, I'd wager, in her."
"Well, sometimes a captain would rather sink his ship than
have it captured. We should caunt our blessings to have
captured one," Horatio told him calmly. He glanced over
toward his blond friend and their gazes met, one warm brown
and the other brilliant blue. A smile pulled at the corners
of his mouth, a warm, proud smile. "But if it hadn't been
for some great observation on your part, we might not have
one prize ship and we could have been even more badly wounded
than we were," he said, perfectly serious about what he was
saying.
The blond officer felt a flush of almost embarrassment burn
on his cheeks. He couldn't suppress a thankful smile at the
compliment. "You bid me a great compliment, Horatio, but you
flatter me too much," he answered as he made his way below
decks, his friend behind him. He paused and met Horatio's
face. "I did not do anything you wouldn't have done." There
was a few more seconds of pause, then they continued on their
way to their cabin.
"You are being too modest. You were brilliant, Archie," his
dark-haired friend went on, his smile wider. Archie couldn't
quite understand why he was so determined to place him in the
spotlight. All he had really done was use an idea he had
learned by watching Horatio one time. Yet it was nice to be
the one praised for once. Though that still didn't mean it
was entirely his praise.
Archie sighed. "As were you. It appeared to me that you
had as much a part in our plan as I did," he replied,
carefully stressing on the word ëour'. The two men halted at
the door of their cabin.
"But it was still your idea," Horatio pointed out.
The young blond sighed again, then grinned, blushing. "It,
was, wasn't it?" he admitted. The two friends' faces were
alight with mutual joy, their grins matched. "Though I will
always have it told that you were my inspiration," he added,
pointing his finger at Horatio meeting the other lieutenant's
warm brown eyes.
Hornblower made a quick bow, smiling in his slightly amused
way again. "As your fellow officer, I would be honored, Mr.
Kennedy." Archie, who had gone serious, quirked another
smile, this one gentle. They were good friends, closer than
he could ever hope for. It had a private meaning for them,
calling each other by their last names. It was, first of
all, more appropriate and fitting in a battle situation.
Usually, however, it was a sign of gentle respect for the
other and supposedly saying that they were only friends on a
professional level. It was a quiet tease. In actuality,
they were closer than Archie had ever been to anyone else,
even his youngest sister. He would give his life for Horatio
and he knew the other man would do the same.
"ëScuse me, sir?" a familiar voice called behind them. The
two lieutenants exchanged startled expressions and turned.
Midshipman Jenkins came up to them and nodded his greeting
with respect.
"Yes, what is it, Mr. Jenkins?" Kennedy asked, his tone
almost gentle.
Jenkins was a young boy, a good sixteen in age. He was tall
and skinny, but his voice no longer cracked when he called
out an order. His hair was short and red and he just barely
filled his uniform. "Sir, with the captain's regards, he
wishes to see you," he said quickly. He kept his somewhat
boy-like face as expressionless as he could, but Archie could
see the smiling admiration for these two senior officer's
glowing in his green eyes.
"Both of us?" Horatio inquired.
Jenkins faltered a bit. An uncertain look crossed his
features. "Actually, sir, he wishes to speak with Mr.
Kennedy." The speaking of himself as though he wasn't
present in the walkway didn't bother Archie; he was
accustomed to it. He traded surprised looks with the other
lieutenant beside him. Jenkins couldn't stifle back his
smile. "But he figured that if you, sir, went to speak with
him, Mr. Hornblower would accompany you." He was speaking to
the younger of the two lieutenants now.
Again, the friends matched embarrassed smiles. "Thank you,
Mr. Jenkins," Archie bid him off. He looked over at Horatio,
who flicked his eyes skyward, and led the way through the
ship to the quarterdeck, where the captain's quarters were.
Several minutes later they stood outside the door of the
captain's cabin. Archie wondered what the captain wished to
say to him. What could he possibly have done to deserve
punishment? Or was it that at all? After a moment of
hesitation, he straightened himself and knocked on the door.
A few seconds passed, then, "Who is it?"
He clicked the latch open and stood halfway in the door.
"Lieutenant Kennedy reporting as ordered, sir," he answered
simply. His bright, cobalt blue eyes travelled around the
room and finally rested on the captain. Captain Pellew was
seated at his desk, writing something on a sheet of
cream-colored paper. As Archie entered the room slowly, he
dotted a period on the paper and dropped the pen back in its
inkwell.
Pellew's attention turned to the two young officers in front
of him who stood in the doorway. Suprisingly, a slight smile
appeared on the captain's face. "Oh, do come in, Mr.
Kennedy!" he invited brightly. He gestured to the other side
of the table. "Have a seat. You too, Mr. Hornblower," he
said to the other lieutenant. Of course, Archie knew that
Hornblower was more than just another lieutenant to Pellew.
He was the one he admired most of all the junior officers.
He was his protoge, in a way.
"Thank you, sir. But, if I may, I would rather stand. I
will be reporting for watch in a few minutes," Archie
requested respectfully.
Pellew's head gave a single nod. "Of course," he
acknowledged. There was a second of silence as his dark,
commanding regard flicked from one lieutenant to the other
and back again. "I wish to request something from you, Mr.
Kennedy," he said after several moments of silence. Archie's
eyebrows rose in surprise and he traded looks with Horatio.
The captain continued, holding up one finger to tell them
that he not allowing them an answer just yet. "But first, I
wish to congratulate you. With men like you and Mr.
Hornblower in the service of His Majesty's navy, I wager this
war will end much more swiftly."
Archie smiled, trying at the same time to hold it back. But
the appreciation and admiration for his captain still shone
in his eyes. "Thank you, sir," he beamed at the compliment,
while trying to keep himself respectable at the same time.
He glanced back at Horatio and took a small step foreward,
gathering his boldness. "Now, if I may be so bold, what is
it that you wish me to do?"
Captain Pellew rose from his seat and began pacing the
length of the window thoughtfully, his hands clasped behind
his back. "I believe you are acquainted with Arthur
Chesterson?" he asked.
The name startled him. The Chesterson family was well
acquainted with his own prestigious family. Archie
personally hadn't cared much for their company, so he had
maintained merely a formal relationship with any of them.
His father, however, had been very closely involved with the
dealings of the Chestersons. So, he was well familiar with
them. Arthur Chesterson in particular, he had always struck
Archie as strikingly similar to his own brother Edmund, who
had turned out to be hardly a respectable man.
"Yes, sir," Archie answered carefully, warily.
The captain paused and turned to study his youngest
lieutenant. He had likely heard the wary bitterness in his
voice. "I take it you are not fond of him?"
The young blond dropped his eyes to the deck to hide the
resentment that burned there. "No, sir," he answered darkly,
his voice quiet.
There was silence in the room for several uncomfortable
seconds as the captain studied him, his eyes narrowing
thoughtfully. Finally, after an eternity, he spoke. "Then I
suppose what I am about to ask of you will not be hard for
you." His manner hardened. "But I will have to have your
word that you will not let anything personal color the
facts." His strong gaze held Archie's own bright blue one,
not releasing him.
The young blond officer swallowed and raised his chin high
calmly. "Sir, you have my word," he assured him. Once
Pellew had released his gaze, Archie glanced over at Horatio.
He met his friend's eyes, wordlessly communicating his
thoughts to him.
"Good," Pellew went on. "It is suspected that Arthur
Chesterson is working as a spy under orders from France in
his own country. Now I have been conducting investigations,
and I believe that he is, indeed, an informant. But I don't
have proof or testimony. Which is why I need as much
information about the man as you can give me."
Archie Kennedy nodded in understanding. "I see, sir, but I
would rather not be involved in this. My memories of home
are not exactly... pleasant," he told him seriously. "If you
need someone to assist you about this... I would not be the
one to volunteer," he warned.
Captain Pellew nodded once, again. "If nothing else, then,
tell me what you know about Mr. Chesterson." His voice was
calm, holding a reasonable acceptance that surprised Archie.
It was not usually good to disagree with one's captain, but
somehow it was accepted here. With a sigh, he nodded in
agreement and began to relate what he knew of Arthur
Chesterson.
************************************************************