To Return With Honour
by Joan C.

Part One

The moon laid down a shining path of silver leading back to Spain as the cutter Josephina drew away from the shore. Horatio leaned against the rail and watched as the land first became a shadow, then a thin misty line on the far horizon, and then slowly vanished into darkness, leaving only the phosphorescent wake like a trail of dreams. Horatio sighed and straightened, uncertain in his emotions. Freedom -- yes, he had craved it, had nearly died to insure that his men would gain it. But his gaoler had opened the door willingly; indeed, had helped his caged birds flee at no small risk to himself. Don Alfredo de Massaredo had been everything a gentleman of honour could be, and more. Horatio would miss him. He could no longer see the land, but he remained looking out across the waters, wondering where the wind would carry him now.

Archie Kennedy came from the tiny cabin he and Horatio would share for however long they remained on board the Josephina. He saw Horatio standing by the rail and hesitated a moment, uncertain that he would be welcome company. Freedom did strange things to a man's mind, Archie thought. It made one feel very small, to have the whole wide world to choose from -- like a starving man suddenly seated at a banquet table. So many choices, and unable to decide which course to take. Paralyzing, really. He wondered if Horatio could understand that. Deliberately scuffing his feet across the deck to warn Horatio he was approaching, Archie stood beside his friend.

"We really are free," he said, unable to suppress his wonder at the word. He had been in one prison or another for the past three years; had gone into captivity as a boy, and was now returning as a man. Returning to what? he wondered.

"Are we?" Horatio sighed and turned to look at Archie. "We are British Naval officers on board a Spanish ship -- one smuggling contraband, yet. That does not seem to me to define freedom."

"Better than a cell, or a cave." He drew a deep breath of sea air.

Horatio turned, his dark eyes unreadable in the dim light. "I will not feel free until I am on the Indy. There is too much I cannot see, too much that is unknown. And I am responsible for the men, still."

Archie frowned. "What do you think will happen?"

"I don't know." He sighed and tried to suppress a yawn.

Archie cast him a sidelong glance. The imprisonment in Spain had been harder on Horatio than he would admit and he looked thin and exhausted. "I don't suppose anything will happen tonight, Horatio. Go to bed before you drop overboard."

Horatio opened his mouth to argue, then recognizing the truth in Archie's words nodded. "Are you coming down?"

"No. I thought I'd stay up here a bit longer. Savor the moment, as it were."

"Goodnight, Archie." Horatio turned and went belowdecks. The cutter was so small that there was only a thin screened partition between the officers' quarters and those of the sailors. The Josephina was well crewed, and the addition of nine extra men and two officers was straining her to the seams. And in the cargo hold were fifty barrels of contraband liquor, bound for the wine cellars of England. Close quarters, indeed. He could understand Archie's preference for the deck; but at the moment he was so weary, he could have slept on a "parrot's perch," as Kitty Cobham had once called the swinging cots on the Indefatigable.

He was about to open the partition when the captain of the Josephina called his name. Captain Eduardo Cortes was a tall, rather stout gentleman whose only concession to his rank was a tarnished silver cockade fastened haphazardly to his round hat. "Ah, Senor Hornblower, you and your men are settled, then?"

"Yes, sir. Thank you."

"Bueno. Will you join me in a glass of wine before you retire?"

Horatio thought longingly of his hammock, and then dismissed it. Common courtesy alone would require him to join his host, and he did have some questions about their voyage that needed to be addressed. He nodded. "It would be an honour, sir." He followed the captain to his tiny cabin, scarcely large enough to hold a small table, two chairs, and a hammock. It reminded him of his cabin on the Caroline, only this one did not smell of cow dung.

Cortes poured two mugs of wine. "My apologies for such a poor service. But crystal is not a wise choice on these seas. Perhaps the wine will compensate for it." He raised his mug to Horatio. "To your liberty, Senor Hornblower."

"Thank you, sir. And to fair winds and smooth sailing." He sipped his wine. It was a pleasant vintage. "One of Don Massaredo's wines?" he asked.

"Si." He seated himself across the table from Horatio and fixed him with a frank, curious gaze. "I have known Don Massaredo for many years, senor. And I have never seen him so concerned for the welfare of another, as he is for yours."

Horatio was powerless to control the blush heating his cheekbones. "The Don is very kind, sir. I merely honoured my parole."

Cortes chuckled. "Yes, I am certain that is all you did, senor." He steepled his fingers. "And I imagine you must have some questions you wish to pose."

"Y-yes, sir." He tried to order his thoughts, to frame his queries in such a way as to not insult his host, who though benevolent, was still England's enemy. "Sir, I -- my men -- we wish nothing more than to return to our ship, but how that is to be done ..."

"Ah, indeed." Cortes nodded sagely. "To sail to England would seem to be out of the question. My poor Josephina would fare most poorly against one of your warships. Is that what you are thinking?"

Hornblower smiled. "That thought had occurred to me, sir."

"What would you do, were the decision yours?"

It was not what Horatio had been expecting, and it was a few moments before his tired brain could come up with a logical reply. "I should sail to the nearest neutral port, sir. And since we are heading south, I would guess that it would be somewhere in Portugal."

Cortes smiled. "That is possible." He watched as Hornblower passed a hand over his forehead. It was not fair to bedevil the lad with questions when he was exhausted. In truth, Cortes had already made his plans for the voyage, but Massaredo had spoken so highly of this young man's qualities, that he could not resist putting him to the test. "You are weary, sir. My apologies for not seeing that earlier."

"Thank you, sir. The wine was excellent."

He had scarcely sipped it, Cortes noted. But instead of insult, he felt pity. "I bid you good night, Mr. Hornblower. The dawn will come before we know it."

Horatio nodded, stumbled his way to the tiny cabin he shared with Archie, and collapsed into his hammock with all the elegance of a limp rag.

~~**~~

On the other side of the screened partition, Styles lay awake. Nearby, he could hear Oldroyd snoring, but Matthews was quiet, and most likely as wakeful as he. "Oi, Matty!" Styles whispered. "You awake, mate?"

"Aye, I reckon I am, now."

Styles could hear the humour in his voice, and it brought forth an answering grin. "Think we'll make it home this time?"

"Mr. Hornblower will see to it, won't he?"

"We're not 'ome, yet," Styles replied, his tone grim.

"Yer worryin' fer naught." Matthews punched his hard pillow into a more forgiving shape. "G'night, mate." And that was that, Styles thought. Only it wasn't, and wouldn't be until he set foot on the bloody Indy.

~~**~~

Oporto. White houses with red tile roofs, a neat harbour bustling with activity, vineyards in green and gold tiers on the hillsides, and on this day glittering beneath a perfect blue sky. Paradise. Archie grinned at Horatio as the Josephina made her way into the port. Today was the first day that he felt his world righted from the canted and crazed plane it had existed on since the day he was fished unconscious from the sea. "Have you ever seen anything like it, Horatio?"

"What?" Horatio said absently. He had been studying the ships at anchor, trying to find one flying a broad pendant, or at the very least the British flag. They were mostly merchant vessels, taking on the cargo that would bring them gold from ports around the world. A ship flying the stars and stripes of the American colonies met his eye. A pretty flag. He had never met an American, despite being born on that infamous day they had declared their independence. She was a vessel to match her flag -- sturdy, yet sleek, with a delicacy to her lines that was almost feminine. He shielded his eyes and tried to make out her name. Skylark.

"Horatio!" Archie jogged his elbow.

"Hmm?"

"Wherever you are, it isn't on the deck of the Josephina," Archie commented.

Horatio sighed and straightened away from the rail. "No. Captain Cortes can take us no farther, and I was hoping to find a ship -- preferably British."

Archie looked at the pennants on display in the harbour. Everything from German and Dutch to Spanish and Italian, but not British. "It's a long way to England, Horatio. And the French and Spanish fleets are prowling about."

"I know." He turned his gaze back to the Skylark. "I wonder where she's bound?"

"The American? She's a real beauty, that one. But it wasn't that long ago that we were at each other's throats. Think she'd take on nine British seamen and two officers in His Majesty's Navy?"

Horatio did not have time to answer. Captain Cortes came up on deck to order the Josephina to drop anchor. For a few minutes, the Josephina was a welter of activity as the sails were furled, and hands scrambled to order cables and lines. The Josephina glided to a graceful halt, and sat rocking gently on the waters of Oporto harbour. When he was satisfied that all was as it should be, Cortes approached Hornblower and Kennedy.

"Well, gentlemen. Our voyage together is at an end."

Horatio held out his hand. "Sir, how can we thank you?"

"That will not be necessary. It was a favor to my old friend, Don Massaredo. Over the years, I have accumulated many such debts to him. It is only right that I be able to repay them."

Horatio did not know how to reply. He cleared his throat. "I consider him a friend as well, sir. And you."

"Then when we meet on the seas, you will not intercept my cargo?" Cortes asked, his eyes glinting.

"What cargo?" Horatio asked, all innocence.

Cortes clapped him on the shoulder. "I will ready the ship's boat for you, if you wish to go ashore to pursue arrangements to return to England."

"Thank you, sir." He turned to Archie. "Well, shall we see if we can beg our way aboard a ship?"

They descended from the Josephina to the boat, and the coxswain headed towards the shore. An hour later, after a visit to the port officials and customs house, Horatio and Archie were back in the ship's boat being rowed out to the American sloop. Luck was with them. Despite the rather cool relations between the two countries, the Skylark was bound for England.

As they came nearer, Horatio's eyes drank in every detail of the Skylark. If the Americans were turning out ships like this, then they were going to be a force to be reckoned with in the future. The Skylark was a sloop, carrying twelve guns and stern and bow chasers. Her masts were raked and her brightwork shone newly polished and untarnished by salt and sea air. Every detail of her appearance was a delight to his seaman's eye, and he felt envious of the man who had her command.

"What would you give for a ship like that?" Archie asked, seeming to read Horatio's thoughts.

Horatio smiled. "Someday, Archie. Someday. But right now, all I want is to get all of us back safely to the Indy." He shaded his eyes against the sun as the Skylark's sides loomed above them. "Ahoy, there!" he called.

"Boat ahoy!" An answering hail came from the deck of the Skylark.

"I am Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower of His Majesty's Navy. Is your captain aboard?"

"Aye, he is. What's your business with him?"

"Permission to come aboard and speak to him."

A hesitation of a moment, then a reply. "Come aboard."

The boat came alongside the entry port, and Horatio was up the ladder followed closely by Archie. The were greeted by an officer wearing a uniform not dissimilar to their own -- navy jacket with brass buttons and white duck trousers. The face above the white stock was young, and the dark eyes wore an expression of frank curiosity. "I am Lieutenant Ross Carlyle. Welcome to Skylark, Mr. Hornblower." He offered his hand.

As always, when faced with an open greeting Horatio felt his own reserve acutely. He took Carlyle's hand firmly but cautiously. He introduced Archie and then asked to meet the Skylark's captain. "It is a matter of some urgency, Mr. Carlyle," he explained.

Carlyle nodded and turned to the tall, slender man who had come to his side. He wore a dark blue coat trimmed with with gold braid. A captain's epaulette glittered on his shoulder. His red hair was tied back in a queue and his grey eyes were slightly narrowed as he appraised Hornblower. "I am Captain Nicholas Campion. You require some assistance?"

Horatio drew in a breath. "Sir, I am Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower, late of His Majesty's ship Indefatigable and this is Midshipman Archie Kennedy, of the same."

"Late of?" Campion's sandy brows rose, and Horatio flushed under that keen regard. Campion's thoughts were quite clear. They could be anything -- deserters, mutineers, God knows he and Archie scarcely looked like the officers they claimed to be. "Sir, if I may explain?"

"Please," Campion drawled. "But let us do so in my cabin." He nodded to Lieutenant Carlyle and they followed him from the deck to the great cabin of the Skylark.

The Captain's quarters were simply furnished, and plain. The walls were painted eggshell, the planking on the decks was unfinished, and there was no mistaking the presence of the twin twelve pounders which occupied a good deal of the Captain's personal space. To Horatio, it felt like home.

Campion offered them ale, which they both refused, and then water, which they accepted gladly knowing that as long as the Skylark was in port, it would be fresh. When they had settled, Campion fixed them with his sharp gaze. "What can I do for you, Mr. Hornblower?"

"Sir, Mr. Kennedy, myself, and nine seamen from the Indefatigable have been recently released from a Spanish prison in El Ferrol. We have been given passage to Oporto on the Josephina -- the cutter that entered the port this morning. However, she can carry us no farther. I was hoping that perhaps you might be able to take us to England."

"If I were going to England," Campion said quietly. "You seem to assume that I am."

"The customs agent on shore informed me that you are sailing for London later today."

Campion's smile was slightly strained. "Damned obliging of the fellow to make so free with my plans. However, as you can see, the Skylark is not a large ship. Berthing might be difficult."

"Sir, after spending six months in prison, I assure you, even cramped quarters will seem a palace. And the men with me are all prime hands eager to work off their inactivity."

Campion looked from Hornblower's intent, serious face, to Kennedy's. He had remained quiet through the interview, deferring to Hornblower's more forceful presence. He was only a midshipman, of course, and Hornblower a commissioned officer, but there was more to their story, of that he was certain. He clasped his hands in front of him on the desk. "Very well. Nine seamen, and you two. With the autumn storms coming up, I suppose I might be grateful for the extra help." He rose and extended his hand to Hornblower. "Welcome aboard, Lieutenant Hornblower, Mr. Kennedy. We weigh anchor at four."

Horatio returned the handshake firmly. "Thank you, sir. You won't regret it."

"We shall see, Mr. Hornblower."

Apprehension coursed through Horatio. But he could not refuse this passage. It might be their last chance for weeks to return to England and the Indy, and he could not let it pass. "I will have our dunnage and the men sent over as soon as possible, Captain."

"Dunnage? I thought you had been in prison, Mr. Hornblower?" He watched as a blush coloured Hornblower's cheekbones.

"Sir, I -- we, were serving out our parole, given to the commandante of the prison in El Ferrol."

"Oh?" Campion's brows rose. "I can see that if nothing else, you will earn your passage by telling me this story over dinner, Lieutenant. But for now, you had better move things along on the Josephina. Time and tide wait for no man."

Campion watched as the two Englishmen left the Skylark. Carlyle came to his side. "Sir, you're taking them on?"

"Yes."

"What about the French, sir?" Carlyle asked doubtfully.

"That is a question, isn't it?" Campion gnawed at his cheek. "A risk, certainly. But I have a curiosity about Mr. Hornblower, and since we have no quarrel with England at the moment, there is no reason on earth why we should not extend this courtesy, the French be damned. Their new government is nothing more than a rabble despite their claims of liberty."

"And the cargo, sir?"

That innocent question caused a flush of anger to rise in Campion's face. "That cargo, Lieutenant, is confidential, and you would do well to remember it, lest you find yourself confined to quarters for the duration of this voyage. Is that clear?"

"Aye, aye. Sir." Carlyle's eyes were wide in his pale face. Captain Campion's temper was legend; it burned to match his hair, and though controlled by an iron will, Carlyle had seen it often enough to give him pause. "I beg your pardon, sir."

"Be wary, Carlyle. We cannot afford carelessness. Literally."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Make certain that we have hammocks enough for our guests. Nine men and two officers. You and Meade will have to share a berth. And have the cook prepare a decent meal. Lamb, I think. We'll be on sea rations soon enough. Then double check the security on the cargo hold and make the usual preparations to weigh anchor."

"Aye, aye, sir." Carlyle left the quarter-deck, and Nicholas Campion stared out over the waters towards the cutter Josephina. *Damn the French, damn the politicians, and damn me, for agreeing to take on Hornblower and the Indefatigables.* He could hear his father, Admiral Thomas Campion, USN, cursing him for inheriting his mother's red hair and all the emotional baggage it implied. Campion smiled then, and shrugged. Something about Hornblower suggested that it would not be a dull voyage.

~~**~~

Styles scowled at the glistening sides of the Skylark's hull as they drew closer. Yanks, he thought. He'd known a few. Bloody arrogant bastards. And none o'them too charitable towards His Majesty's Navy. You could never tell about former enemies ... they'd as lief turn coats as do you a favor. Still, orders was orders, and when Mr. Hornblower gave 'em, you obeyed. 'Twasn't like the lad weren't taking the same risks ... He had stood up in front of them on the Josephina, looking as severe as Capn' Pellew, and said plain like, what he expected of them. "We're not goin' aboard as guests, men, but as seamen willin' ta lend a hand where needed." Same for him and Mr. Kennedy, too. What could they do but knuckle their foreheads and say 'Aye, aye, sir?' Styles sighed heavily as the boat glided towards the Skylark.

"She's a right beauty, that one." Matthews observed. "Bet she sails smooth as butter."

"Aye," Styled agreed dourly. "But I don't like the idea of servin' in the bloody Yank navy."

Matthews chuckled. "Ye don't like the idea of servin' in King George's neither, mate."

"Yeah, but I bloody know who's goin'ta be shootin' at me," Styles whispered. They were alongside the Skylark now, the boat drawn up close to the entry port. "Well mates, in fer a penny, or in fer a pound." He reached up and began the climb to the deck.

Horatio stood on the deck of the Skylark with Archie, waiting for the men to ascend the ladder. He knew what they were saying, and he could not blame them for their doubts, for they were his as well. He disliked being beholden to any man; having to bend in supplication. But he could not allow his pride to stand in the way of his crew's welfare, and his own feelings carried no weight when weighed in that balance.

At last, all nine Indefatigables formed up. Only nine, Horatio thought bitterly, feeling again the shock of young Dawlish's murder by Etienne DeVergesse. They had been eleven, now two were dead. The only thing that kept him from utter despair was Archie's presence at his side -- a near miraculous resurrection. He drew in a breath and straightened his shoulders as Captain Campion approached.

"Sir, these are my men."

He said it with pride. Campion appraised the group of British sailors. They looked like any others, he thought, and then in a quick reassessment amended his impression. Physically, they seemed like the usual rough customers, but they stood with pride, their eyes on Hornblower and Kennedy. Their deference was not due to fear, or mere duty, it was due to the respect they bore for the young men who were their officers. And that was rare indeed. Campion touched the brim of his cocked hat.

"Welcome to the Skylark. Mr. Hornblower tells me that you are willing to work. And I have work for you to do." He allowed a grin to touch his mouth. "Our voyage to England is likely to be arduous, and perhaps dangerous. If you are called on to fight, I will expect you to obey my orders as if they were issued by your illustrious Captain Pellew." He caught Hornblower's start of surprise and suppressed a chuckle. "Yes, his reputation precedes him. Will you do this?"

The men's eyes went to Hornblower and only when he nodded his assent did they murmur in unison, "Aye, aye, sir."

"Good. I regret that you will be in close quarters below decks. The Bosun will acquaint you with the watches and mess arrangements, so that we will not be tripping over each other night and day. You may dismiss your men, Mr. Hornblower. As soon as they are settled, we will weigh anchor."

Horatio nodded. "Aye, aye, sir." The amusement he saw in Campion's eyes was unexpected and welcome. Perhaps his decision was a wise one, after all. He turned to Archie. "Well, shall we move our dunnage below?"

Archie nodded, watching Campion's form as he ascended to the quarter-deck. "I like him, Horatio."

"Yes, so do I. I only hope we can trust him as well."

"Has anything happened to tell you otherwise?" Archie asked in faint alarm.

"No," Horatio shook his head. "It is just my nature to doubt, Archie. Still ..."

"What?"

"Did you ever wonder what an American sloop of war is ferrying to London?"

And because he had not, Archie did not reply immediately. "Why don't you ask?" he finally said.

Horatio grinned. "Oh, yes. I'm sure Captain Campion will disclose that!" He shouldered his pack and followed Lieutenant Carlyle down the companionway to the cabin he and Archie would share.

As he descended belowdecks, he was struck by how new the Skylark was. The Justinian had been old, in her last years of service when he had boarded as a Midshipman, and not well maintained. Even the Indy, as spruce as Pellew kept her, was approaching middle age reckoned in the life of a vessel. The Skylark was young and fresh, still smelling of sawn oak and pine pitch. The damp had not penetrated her bones; the very way she rode on the waves was buoyant. Horatio felt his heart stir at the thought of unfurling her sails and letting her run with the wind. That thrill alone would be worth his doubts and concerns.

Archie stowed his pack and looked around the cabin. Tiny. If he and Horatio turned at the same time, they would collide. He imagined they would spend their days in the wardroom, or on deck, as long as the weather held. He was not fond of cramped quarters; his years in prison and the month he spent in the oubliette had honed his awareness of space until his nerves tingled when confined for too long. He looked from the cot to the hammock, which had been slung to provide the extra berthing. "I suppose as the junior officer, I inherit the hammock," he suggested.

Horatio shook his head. "We'll trade off."

"Only if you'll take the cot first."

"I don't need coddling, " he protested.

Archie just smiled. "Well, I'm going up," he said and left Horatio alone.

He sighed and shoved his belongings in the bin that would keep them from tumbling about if the Skylark were in heavy seas. The one item he took out was the small book Don Massaredo had given him. *The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.* As he held it in his hands, he thought of his father. What had Dr. Hornblower made of his imprisonment, escape, and voluntary return? Perhaps nothing, perhaps he had cursed him for a fool. He did not allow himself the hope that perhaps the doctor had felt pride and concern. Horatio laid the book on his cot and returned to the deck.

~~**~~

Captain Campion surveyed his ship as the final preparations to weigh anchor were completed. He had been watching the Indefatigables, and nothing he had seen thus far had dispelled his original impressions. They were prime seamen who clearly knew their way around the deck of any ship; if all the Indefatigable's hands were like that, then Pellew was fortunate indeed. And his officers? Hornblower was a man born to lead, you had only to look in those dark eyes to see the strength in his heart. And he was yet young. Give the man another five years experience and he would be a formidable commander. As for Kennedy? He could not say. The men treated him with proper deference -- more than deference -- their attitude was almost protective, as if he were fragile somehow. Yet he did not seem weak. That, he supposed was part of the story.

"Captain Campion, sir!" Lieutenant Carlyle called for his attention. "All stations are ready, sir."

"Very well, Lieutenant. Man the capstan and prepare to make sail." In two hours they would be away from the harbour and into the open sea. As pleased as he was at the thought, he knew it was just the beginning of his perilous mission. "Lieutenant, invite Mr. Hornblower and Kennedy to join us on the quarter-deck."

"Aye, aye, sir." Carlyle snapped a salute, and went to complete his orders.

~~**~~

As he stood next to Campion, Horatio watched his men. He was not concerned that they would perform poorly, for he had never seen them fail in their duty, but he marveled that they melded so seamlessly with their American counterparts. Even Styles, a tough nut to crack in the best of circumstances, went about his way easily, laughing with his shipmates as well as the Skylarks. Horatio cast a glance at the man next to him. He approved of Campion's style of command. It was as firm as Pellew's, but less lordly. Of course, he had no title other than Captain -- a strange thought that all men were created equal -- at least until money and power came into play. So in America, a man might rise from the ranks without prejudice, without patronage. He wondered if it were true, or merely an ideal. He would ask perhaps, when he knew Campion a bit better. He wondered what Archie, the son of Lord Aylesford, would think of such an idea.

His thoughts were interrupted by Campion's orders to set sails. It was the moment he had been waiting for, and as the Skylark's sails filled, his own lungs expanded with sheer pleasure. He could feel the response of the Skylark rising to the wind like the bird she was named for, and the song of the rigging and ropes was the only music which appealed to his ear. He turned to Archie, whose blue eyes were wide with wonder. "Lord, but she's a sweet ship, isn't she?"

Campion heard the remark and responded before Archie could draw a breath.. "She is that, Mr. Hornblower."

"Have you ever had to fight her, sir?" Archie asked.

"Only in practice. The only real threat I've faced was a Dutch schooner set on taking me with a letter of marque. We outran her handily -- it was scarcely good sport."

"Impressive, Captain."

"Yes. But her guns have never been tested in battle." Campion sounded regretful.

"Sir, I hope you won't take offense if I wish that she may not be tested until after we reach England," Archie said lightly, but with an undertone of tension that Horatio sensed, even if Campion did not.

"That is my fervent wish, as well, Mr. Kennedy." Campion's reply was surprisingly serious. Horatio felt a frisson of unease ripple through him. Then Campion laughed to dispel the shadows. "I would like to invite you gentlemen to dine with me this evening. As long as my cook has fresh food to work with, we shall do quite well."

"Thank you, sir. It will be an honour."

"Excellent. Now I imagine that you and Mr. Kennedy would like to take some rest."

Horatio started to demur, but Archie spoke up before he had a chance to object. "Thank you, sir. We shall be glad to do so. Horatio?"

"Yes, thank you, sir." Grudgingly. Once belowdecks and in the cabin, however, Horatio lay down on his cot gratefully. As usual, the first hours at sea after a spell on land were not easy for him. A victim of seasickness that shamed him deeply, he had never been able to overcome his symptoms by will alone; only by rest, and gradual accommodation of his body to the motion of the waves. He closed his eyes and was soon sleeping.

Archie lay in his hammock, reading Horatio's copy of Gibbon. It was dry as dust to him, but for some reason Horatio was fascinated by the rise and fall of the ancient civilization. Archie wondered why, when it was scarcely enough to keep him awake. Perhaps it was the reminder that no matter how far one rose, the return to earth was inevitable -- a philosophy that Horatio would parallel with his own life. Pride goeth before a fall, and that nonsense.

Unable to work up much enthusiasm for Caesar Augustus, Archie closed the book, slid from the hammock, and left the cabin. He wandered down the companionway towards the stern of the ship, curious about the arrangement belowdecks: where the mess and wardrooms were, the galley, and the sick berth. It had been so long since he had been at sea, that he found himself feeling a bit lost. As he reached the end of one passage, and considered descending the ladder, he heard voices approaching the hatch, and for some reason, backed away into a shadowed recess between the ribs of the ship.

"All secure?" Carlyles's voice floated up the hatchway.

"Aye, aye, sir." An unknown voice, perhaps one of the ship's small complement of Marines. Archie recalled Horatio's comment about the mission of an American warship in London. It hadn't made much sense then, and it was still a mystery.

"Sergeant Michaels will be relieving you?"

"Aye, sir. At the end of the watch."

"The cargo is not to be left unguarded, not for a minute."

"Aye, aye, sir. My men understand that well."

"Good. That is particularly important since we have added several guests to our roster."

"The Brits, sir?"

"I wasn't referring to Portuguese fleas, Sergeant McNally," Carlyle said acidly, and headed towards the ladder. Archie held his breath and waited until Carlyle's blue back vanished into the forward part of the ship before he stepped out from his hiding place. A secret cargo? Now *that* was something to tell Horatio. He would give him the information later, before they joined Captain Campion for dinner. He wondered if any of the Indefatigables had heard rumours. *Archie, my boy,* he warned himself, *this may not be the wisest thing you've ever done.* But it was the most intriguing.

On deck, he sought out the company of Matthews. If anyone would have gained the confidence of the Americans it would be the old sailor. He was undeniably trustworthy. Even the guards at Massaredo's prison had told him things that no prisoner had any right to know. Matthews was leaning against the rail, his weathered face raised to the sky as if he could not get enough of the warmth and the feel of the wind on his skin. When he saw Archie he straightened and knuckled his forehead. "Mr. Kennedy, sir."

"At ease, Matthews."

"Aye, sir."

"What do you think of the ship, Matthews?"

"She's a right fine goer, sir. As pretty a ship as I've ever seen."

"And her crew?"

"They know what they're about, sir. They was a bit wary like at first, sir, 'til we proved we knew what we're doin'. I reckon we'll suit well enough 'til we get 'ome."

Archie fell silent and gnawed at his lip. Matthews gave the young man a concerned look. "Sir, beggin' yer pardon for askin', but is somethin' wrong? Is Mr. 'Ornblower all right?"

"Yes, Hor -- Mr. Hornblower is fine." *Damn, but Horatio would know how to ask the next question.* "Matthews, have you heard any talk amongst the Americans about their cargo?"

"Cargo, sir? In a warship?" Matthew's incredulity made Archie wonder if he had misunderstood the scene he had witnessed in the hold.

"I know it sounds odd, but keep your eyes and ears open, Matthews. If you do hear anything, come to Mr. Hornblower or to me immediately."

"Aye, aye, sir." If Matthews had doubts, he was wise enough not to reveal them to Kennedy. The lad might have had a rough go of it most of his life, but Matthews sensed a solid core of strength growing beneath that fragile-seeming exterior, and if Kennedy believed there was summat not right with the Skylark, then he was willing to make an effort to find out if it were true. "I'll do that, sir. And if you don't mind, I'll clue Styles in, sir. He's got a way of talkin' to the Yanks that makes'em ease up a bit."

"Thank you, Matthews."

"Sir, 'ave you told Mr. Hornblower?"

Archie felt a slight exasperation at Matthews' question; as if he were not entirely to be trusted in matters of command, but it evaporated when he recalled how long it had been since Matthews, or any of the Indefatigables had seen him as an officer. How could he expect them to have confidence in him, when his confidence in himself was shaky at best? "No, but I will. Perhaps he will say that it is not our concern, in which case you can laugh at my worries."

Matthews looked hurt. "Sir, if you say summat is wrong, then that's good enough for us." Kennedy smiled, and Matthews thought how young he looked -- younger than Mr. Hornblower, certain sure. He made his small, discreet salute, and Archie nodded, moving away casually, as if their conversation had brooked nothing more serious than the weather.

~~**~~