To Return With Honour
by Joan C.

Part Ten

The violence erupted like a thunderclap, shattering the illusion of order and stability on the Skylark. Carlyle saw the mass of men below him suddenly boil into confusion. Cutlasses were drawn, the flash of gunpowder and sparks from pistols and muskets, the screams of men as they joined the fight. Briefly, he thought that the seething rebellion would be stemmed at the site of the eruption, but then it began moving across the waist of the ship towards the quarter-deck, reaching the steps in a matter of seconds. The swiftness of it was stunning, and he stood paralyzed; his mind refusing to believe what was happening.

Kennedy grabbed his arm, and gave it a hard shake, shouting, "Carlyle! You must take some action before it is too late!"

Carlyle blinked. Kennedy stood before him, his body so tense that it was trembling. Galvanized into action by Kennedy's voice, Carlyle, drew his cutlass and cried out. "To me, Skylarks, to me! Indefatigables, to me!" He and Kennedy were the nucleus for the defense of the quarter-deck. Kennedy's men gathered around, forming a wall between the mutineers and the officers, while the Skylarks were drawn into the fray. They were a woefully small group; perhaps twenty men, fighting against fifty. Archie and Carlyle alternately loaded and fired their pistols, but quickly had to abandon them for cutlasses, as the fighting intensified.

Archie's brief experience in boarding an enemy ship had prepared him for the savagery and close-quarters of the fight. His instincts took over, much as they had on that day long ago, and the men who yesterday he was able to call by name, became faceless cyphers, meaningless automatons to be dispatched with a practised flick of the wrist, or a lunge to the heart. Ross Carlyle was fighting at his back, but Archie could feel him weakening steadily as his wound drained all strength from him. Archie whirled and parried a thrust that might have skewered them both. Then Carlyle slid to the deck at his feet, and Archie found himself looking into Krause's blood-spattered face. The big seaman was reaching towards him, and suddenly that face seemed to change its form, to resolve itself into that of Jack Simpson, reaching for him greedily and with evil intent.

Archie drew back his cutlass and raised it high, preparing to strike, as one would strike to behead a snake; before he could make his downstroke, Krause's eyes widened in surprise, blood frothed from his mouth and he fell. Immediately behind him, Matthews stood, a smoking pistol in his hand. "Well that's one o'them bastards, sir." he said, grinning with satisfaction.

Archie looked around him. The quarter-deck was littered with bodies, loyal Skylarks and mutineers alike, but it had been secured for the moment. Archie tried to catch his breath. The odor of gunpowder scoured his throat. "Get Lieutenant Carlyle out of the way, Matthews." He looked around. "Anywhere he won't come to harm until we have cleared a way to sick berth."

"Aye, aye, sir." Matthews bent and heaved Carlyle's limp form over his shoulder, taking him towards a sheltered area near the rail. The fighting was continuing in the waist, but so many men had been wounded or killed that it was nearly impossible to tell which side was winning the fight. Archie caught a quick glimpse of Pyne, his head bloodied, exchanging thrusts and parries with a seaman in a black coat. Styles? *Jesus Christ!* Had he turned? *Had* he turned? "Oldroyd!" Archie screamed at the seaman, "Go down to the waist. Get Styles!"

"Aye, aye, sir!" Oldroyd vanished down steps into the confusion below. Archie watched, his heart in his throat as Oldroyd fought his way towards Styles and Pyne. Oldroyd grabbed Pyne's arm.

"He's one of us! He's one of us!" Archie could read the words on Oldroyd's lips. Pyne shook him off angrily, resenting the interference, but had no time to object as Styles brought his pistol to bear and fired, killing the mutineer who had been about to club Pyne with his musket. The sound of the pistol shot cracked through the tumult on deck, and Pyne took advantage of the silence; crying out in his great voice: "Surrender you mutinous bastards! You cannot hope to win!"

Archie saw the pause in the fighting, recognizing one of those moments when failure to act would be fatal. He had to bring this to an end before the mutineers re-grouped behind their leaders. He turned to Lieutenant Howard's troops. "Marines! Stand to! At the rail. Train your muskets on the deck!"

The men standing below the quarter-deck suddenly found themselves facing half a company of Marines, muskets aimed to sweep the deck. The loyal Skylarks and Idefatigables still able to fight, instinctively formed ranks around Pyne and Matthews, protecting them.

"Put down your weapons!" Pyne roared. "Put them down by God, or you will be gunned down where you stand!"

For the first time since the first shot had been fired, total silence came to the deck of the Skylark. Mutineers and Loyals stood facing each other, weapons drawn. But there was no one to step forward to lead the rebellion. One of the leaders, Tipton, was the first to cast down his cutlass. He laid his pistols at his feet and turned to the men standing behind him. "It's over. Cleaver ain't worth my life. And he sure as hell ain't worth yours." He stood before Pyne, slightly defiant, but broken. Behind him, the men muttered as their choices became clear. Surrender, and they might have a chance to live. Continue to fight, and they would certainly die. One by one, they dropped their weapons and stood defeated. The mutiny was over. It had lived for only half an hour.

Pyne turned to Kennedy. "Orders, sir?"

Archie's mouth was so dry he could barely speak, and his voice was cracked and hoarse. "Very good, Mr. Pyne. Collect their weapons. Hold them under guard in the foc'sle until Captain Campion --" Archie broke off suddenly. Campion! And Horatio -- dear God where were they? And Cleaver? Panic burned through his breast, so intense that he had to close his eyes to keep from crying out with the force of it. When he opened them, Pyne was still waiting. "Put them under guard, Mr. Pyne. Matthews, Oldroyd, with me. We must find Captain Campion and Lieutenant Hornblower."

Matthews turned to Styles -- or rather to where Styles had been standing only a moment earlier. He was gone.

~~**~~

Horatio and Campion followed Howard through the darkness to the orlop deck. They were moving towards the holds at the stern of the ship -- three compartments; the after magazine, stores, and the secure hold that was their goal.

Horatio was aware of the curve of the deck as the hull narrowed. Unlike a blunt-sterned frigate, the Skylark was built for speed, not endurance. The elegant taper of her hull left scant room for maneuvering. Howard was several paces ahead of them, and had reached a point where the bulkheads obscured what lay around their turn. Horatio knew that just past that bulkhead, was the secure hold. Campion's pace had slowed, and Horatio heard him whisper a warning to Lieutenant Howard.

Either Howard didn't hear Campion's voice, or he chose to ignore it. Campion cursed under his breath and increased his pace. Horatio felt a shuddering premonition. "Sir!" He reached out an arm to snag Campion's coat, but his fingers just brushed his shoulder as he rounded the bulkhead.

The blast of Cleaver's pistol roared through the confined spaces of the hull. The ball slammed into Howard's body, driving it against Campion as he entered the narrow passage. He fell to the deck, pinned beneath the marine's still form, and unable to defend himself before Cleaver's second pistol was aimed at his breast.

Horatio stopped dead in his tracks, his pistol drawn. "Put your weapons down, Cleaver!" he ordered.

"I don't think so, Mr. Hornblower. I've got the captain in my sights. One wrong move and he's a dead man. Yer the one putting down your weapons. Easy like, boy, and no harm will come to Campion. And get rid of those lobsters backin' you up."

"Don't do it, Hornblower!" Campion ordered.

Horatio looked from Howard's body lying across Campion, to Cleaver's steady hand. The armourer standing behind him was heavily armed as well. What choice did he have? To risk a protracted gun battle in this space, so near a powder magazine would be suicide. He had to bargain for time ... "Very well." He set down his pistol and turned to the marines. "Lay down your arms and leave us." When they had gone, he spoke to Cleaver. "I've met your terms. May I tend to Lieutenant Howard?"

Cleaver snorted. "Tending to a dead man. Wright, get Campion's pistol. No tricks, or yer a dead man, Campion."

As soon as the armourer had taken Campion's pistol, Horatio moved Howard's body aside, and Campion stumbled to his feet. His white trousers were soaked with blood. He looked at Cleaver with hate. "Take care of him, Hornblower."

It was hardly a necessary order. Horatio had already removed his stock and wadded it against the hole in Howard's chest. The blood soaked through the silk in seconds; the ball must have torn the sub-clavian artery. Horatio damned his father's medical jargon that he recalled from his childhood. It seemed so cold, so clinical to describe why a good man was dead. Howard's breathing was agonal; two last respirations, and it ceased. Horatio stood cautiously, wearily, letting the silk fall from his fingers with a wet, sickening thud.

"How is he?" Campion asked.

"He's dead, sir."

"You murdering bastard!" Campion spat. "I'll see you hanged from the yardarm."

Cleaver laughed. "Yer no high and mighty captain anymore. You've lost yer ship, and yer about to lose yer life." He looked back over his shoulder at the armourer. "Wright, you got that lock open yet?"

"I need time!"

"We ain't got time!"

"Then give me a pistol and I'll blow the damned lock if I have to," Wright growled.

Cleaver kicked the pistol he had taken from Campion across the planking. "Here. Do it so's we can get outta here."

"I wouldn't advise that," Campion said. "There is a line of quick match laid from the latch to a powder keg just inside the hatch. You shoot that lock, and you won't have time to blink before we're all blown to kingdom come."

"Yer lying to save yer life!" Cleaver hissed.

"Do you really want to find out?" Campion raised his head slightly, as if he could see through the timbers overhead. "The fighting has stopped, Cleaver. One way or another, this is over, and my bet is that you've lost."

Cleaver made a strangled sound of rage, he stepped forward and jammed his pistol against Campion's ribs. "Then you open that door, *Mister* Campion, or I'll send a pistol ball through your guts."

Horatio sucked in his breath. He should do *something.* But for the life of him, he could not think what. He was afraid if he moved an eyelash, that it would set Cleaver off. And so he stood, his hands clenched tightly as his sides and his mouth so dry that he could taste the coppery tang of fear and blood.

~~**~~

Styles ran through the darkness that he had helped create. The gundeck was cloaked in shadows and eerily silent. A place that was normally crowded beyond enduring was deserted. Styles paused to catch his breath and consider whether or not he should snatch a lantern from the timbers and light it before proceeding. The sound of shot from the direction of the holds decided for him. He drew a shuddering breath and took off, the slung hammocks brushing his shoulders as he hurried past.

He nearly tripped over the edge of the hatch framing the ladder leading to the Orlop deck, and he grabbed hard at the ropes running alongside. *Easy now, ye won't be any 'elp at all ta Mr. Hornblower if yer lyin' in a heap at the foot of the ladder now.* He wished he had not been so zealous in extinguishing lanterns earlier. Doomed to curse the darkness, he ran his fingers lightly along the walls, turned, and saw a glimmer ahead. Advancing cautiously, Styles pulled his pistol from his belt and cocked the hammer.

He could hear voices, now; pitched low and desperate. He crept closer, his back flattened against the bulkheads. He was past the food storage, past the armoury, past the powder magazine. Cautiously, he peered around the jut of a timber.

Lieutenant Howard of the marines lay on the deck, and the odor of sulphur and saltpeter lingered in the air. Cleaver was holding a pistol flush against Campion's body, and Hornblower stood not more than two paces away. Styles could see blood on his hands, though he looked unharmed. Must be Howard's. Well, ain't this a pretty pickle? he thought and tightened his grip on his pistol. None of the options that his mind presented to him seemed viable, and he could not come up with one that would not cost Campion his life. Christ! He weren't used to this sort o'fight. Give 'im a ship to board or a Frog to shoot at, an' he'd do it without a second thought. But this? His eyes went to Hornblower, as if he could find the answer in his lieutenant's features. The lad looked about done in -- and if it weren't for the tense flexing and unflexing of those fists, Styles would have thought him in shock.

The sound of Cleaver's voice broke Style's study of Hornblower. "Then you open that door, *Mister* Campion, or I'll send a pistol ball through your guts."

"Go to hell!"

Styles caught his breath. Jesus! Didn't the man have the sense not to bait his own deathtrap? Styles swallowed hard. It seemed push had come to shove. He moved silently from the shadows.

"Cleaver!" He tried to sound as if he had just come running from the fight. "C'mon, mate. We've gotta get outta 'ere, before they come lookin' fer us! It's over!"

"Over?"

"Aye, over. And we ain't on the winnin' side, mate. We c'n still get away whilst the officers're busy on deck. Take a boat, go on the lee side o'the poop." Styles crossed his fingers as he saw half a dozen different expressions chase across Cleaver's face. Greed won.

"Leave? Empty-handed? Are you daft, Styles? I've not come this far to give up to the likes of him!" He dug the pistol into Campion's ribs. "Open it, you bastard, or you'll die right here!" Campion's gasp of pain made Cleaver grin. "Do it."

Campion refused. "You can't get away, Cleaver. Every ship in the channel will be hunting you down, just the way the Guilder and the Marseilles have hunted us. Lay down your weapon, man."

Cleaver's panic took over his sense. He looked from Campion, entreating him to surrender, to Styles, to Hornblower standing over Howard's body. He'd done murder already; an officer was dead; he'd hang for that alone. Styles was watching Hornblower, too; with an expression that gave everything away. Cleaver's gut clenched. He'd been betrayed from the start. Campion had known from the beginning and had played him like a fiddle.

"Lay down your gun, Cleaver," Campion said. Cleaver looked into those grey eyes, and saw no compassion; just an iron will that would see him dead before dawn. He shook his head. "No... NO!" The discharge of his pistol ripped through the silence and a red mist of blood erupted from Campion's side. His body hung for a moment, sustained by the shock of the blast, and then he crumpled.

Styles had seen the shift in Cleaver's eyes, the rift torn between sanity and madness. His pistol was brought to bear even as Cleaver pulled the trigger. The second shot was scarcely distinguishable from the first. Style's bullet tore a hole in Cleaver's heart, dropping him like a stone.

~~**~~

The twin concussions ripped through the hold, staggering Horatio and leaving his ears ringing. He stood shocked, unable to react to the horror that had unfolded. Campion's crumpled body, the blood pooling beneath him. Cleaver, struck dead and staring sightlessly overhead. Styles, coming closer, his smoking pistol in his hand.

"It's over, sir. It's over ..." Styles said. "You all right, then, sir?" He touched Horatio's arm sympathetically. Horatio could scarcely hear his words, but he could read the concern in Styles' dark eyes.

"Yes .. yes." His voice sounded as if it were coming from beneath ten feet of water. He shook his head. "Styles, get Martin here, quickly!" He knelt beside Campion, and laid his hand alongside the captain's throat. It was warm, and a faint, faint pulse beat against his fingers. "Hurry man! I'll be all right."

"Here, sir." Styles pressed his kerchief into Horatio's hand. "Ye might need this."

Horatio very carefully turned Campion over to take a closer look at the wound, and immediately wished he had not. He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to deny what all his senses told him.

"Open your eyes, Hornblower." Campion whispered. "It's not quite so frightening then ..."

"Sir, you must lay quiet. Mr. Martin is on his way."

"He should be with the men he can save, not wasting his time on me."

Horatio blinked away the welling tears that were obscuring his vision. "You will be all right, sir. It's not so bad. I've seen worse."

"You're a lousy liar, Hornblower." Campion caught his breath, and coughed. "Christ!" he groaned, and Horatio's arms went around him, supporting him to ease his breathing.

It was not that far to sick berth, Horatio thought desperately. Where was Styles? A sound came from the darkness; a footfall. "Styles --" He looked up. Wright stood over him, a pistol in his hand.

"He ain't dead?"

"No."

"Pity. Now I'll have to kill you both."

Horatio looked from the cocked pistol to Wright's hard face. He gently laid Campion down, and rose, uncoiling slowly, his hands held away from his body. "Listen, Wright. You haven't killed anyone, yet. The mutiny is over, and you've lost. If you surrender, I'll see that you get a fair trial. I'll testify that you're no murderer, I will even tell them that Cleaver forced you into this. All you have to do is give me your gun."

Wright licked his lips. "You promise?"

"My word on it." He held out his hand, and Wright slowly released the hammer. He handed it butt first over to Horatio. Campion moaned, and Horatio knelt beside him once more. Campion's hands were cold, but he still breathed. The stain of blood on the deck was growing larger, and Horatio knew that the kerchief Styles had given him was useless as a sticking plaster on such a grave wound. "Easy, sir. Lay easy," he soothed. "It's over and you can rest now."

Campion's eyes opened, but they were not focused on Horatio. He thought it was the end, that Campion was seeing whatever dying men saw, but then the grey gaze sharpened. "Hornblower!" he gasped.

Horatio pivoted and found himself face to face with Wright and a long dagger poised scant inches from his chest. Hornblower's sudden motion had startled Wright, and he tripped backward, his heels catching on Cleaver's corpse. He twisted, overbalanced and fell face down on the deck, unmoving. Horatio thought he must have hit his head and stunned himself, but when he prodded Wright's body with his foot, and felt the lifeless give of it, he knew differently. He shoved the body over. Wright had fallen forward on his own dagger. It must have gone straight to his heart. Random chance. Horatio felt no pity at all.

"He's dead?" Campion's voice was very faint.

"Yes."

"I always knew ... you had the luck ..." Campion closed his eyes, and Horatio bent over him, laying a finger on his lips to quiet that tortured voice. "Hush sir, hush." Then he did hear footsteps and the next he knew, Martin was there with Styles and Oldroyd carrying a litter between them, and Archie was laying an arm around his shoulder, raising him, reassuring him that the mutiny was over, the leaders in chains, and all those who had been lured into Cleaver's plot, under guard until they could be interrogated to determine the depth of their guilt.

"Come, Horatio. Let Martin do what he can," Archie urged. "Mr. Pyne has the deck and Sergeant McNally and the marines are taking care of the prisoners."

"Matthews and the others?" Horatio asked.

Archie regarded him soberly. "We lost Dawson. Thomas is badly wounded. The rest have nothing worse than a few minor wounds, Horatio. And Matthews is unharmed."

"Thank God! What of the Skylarks?"

"Eight dead. Five seriously injured. The rest have cuts and bruises for the most part. Carlyle is back in sick berth. His wound re-opened and he nearly bled to death, but Martin says he will recover. We'll be short-handed, no doubt."

Horatio rubbed his forehead. "We must bury the dead and make sail as soon as possible. We cannot linger here -- the Marseilles could be just over the horizon." He peered at Archie in the dim light. "And you, Archie. Are you all right?"

"Yes." He saw doubt chase across Horatio's haggard features. "Truly, I am perfectly fine. Whatever you need me to do, just name it."

Horatio drew a shaky breath. "Thank you. We'll start where I said. I need ... " he cleared his throat. "Give me a few minutes to go to sick berth --"

"Aye, aye, sir." Archie saluted him solemnly and vanished into the companionway. Horatio passed a hand over his eyes. Light. That was what was needed. Light. And someone to take the bodies away, and sluice the blood from the planks. The smell of it made him want to retch. He would go to sick berth to see how Campion and Carlyle fared. After that, he would have to check their course against the charts, see how far they had drifted during this damned affair. He would have to come to some decision about the mutineers. A wave of weakness and delayed shock washed over him, and his knees trembled so that he had to lean against the bulkhead for support. He felt as if he did not have the strength to put one foot in front of the other without collapsing.

"Sir?"

Horatio looked up, ashamed to be caught in a posture of despair. He straightened sharply. "Who goes there?"

"Sergeant McNally, sir. I've brought a lad to light the lanterns, sir. And the marines Mr. Kennedy requested to guard the hold."

"Very good, McNally." He looked at the young marine. "You've done well. I shall make sure your superiors know of your conduct."

"Thank you, sir."

"If anyone comes by looking for me, send them to the sick berth."

"Aye, aye, sir. Is Captain Campion --"

"He was alive, when Martin took him. Pray God that he remains so."

"Aye, sir. I will."

"And McNally, get someone to take these bodies out of here and prepare them for burial at first light." He turned as crisply as he could and headed towards the sick berth.

When he reached it, he paused outside the flimsy door. He did not want to go inside and see what was waiting for him. He did not want to see Campion dead, and Carlyle bled out and helpless, but that was what he feared he would find. It didn't matter. He was in command now, no matter what was beyond that door. He shoved it open, bracing himself for the inevitable -- the odors, the cries of pain, the miasma of illness and despair that seemed to permeate the very timbers of its walls. The reality was only slightly less distressing than the vision.

At least Martin ran a neat surgery. The wounded were in their hammocks, a few on pallets on the floor, and there was a boy scrubbing down the planks near the tables where Martin did his bloody work. Horatio stepped inside and looked for the surgeon. He was standing on the far side of the surgery. Horatio could not see what he was doing, and was not sure that he wanted to see it.

"Mr. Martin?" he said.

The surgeon looked over his shoulder. "If you can stand the sight of blood, you can come closer, sir. If you're the type who can't, I suggest you wait outside."

"It's nothing I haven't seen before," Horatio replied. He approached the table. Campion was stripped naked and laid out on the planks. He looked dead -- until Horatio saw his chest lift with a breath. It seemed an eternity before another came. "He's dying."

Martin shot him a look. "I've given him a dose of laudanum to keep him quiet. He's still breathing, and as long as he can do that, I won't give up on him. ."

Horatio nodded, though he believed otherwise. Campion's skin was nearly translucent, his eyes sunk. His fiery hair looked obscenely vital against that pallor. Horatio's eyes went to Campion's abdomen. Martin had stitched up the wound and was taping a bandage over it. When he had finished he called a loblolly boy over and thrust a basin of water and a rag at him. "Here, clean him off."

Horatio thought Martin did not mean to be abrupt, but could not let his emotions impede his duty. The surgeon had done what he could, and now must move on. He should do likewise. Horatio looked up. The loblolly boy was watching him with wide eyes, waiting for him to leave. Impulsively, Horatio reached for the rag. "I'll do it. You go help the surgeon with the other wounded." The boy nodded, and without a word passed the basin over to Horatio.

The water was fresh, at least. Horatio wrung out the rag, and very gently sponged away the blood that had dried on Campion's torso. He thought of books he had read of ancient warriors; the rituals of washing and anointing fallen heroes. If this small kindness was the last thing he could do for Campion -- no, the last thing he could do for Campion would be to see the Skylark safely to England. He finished and pulled a blanket over Campion's body for dignity as much as warmth. "I'll do it, sir," he whispered. "I'll do it, or die in the attempt." He touched Campion's hand, and imagined it was warmer than it had been. Or perhaps it only felt so, because his were so cold ...

He walked over to Martin, tending to Lieutenant Carlyle. He was unconscious, and so pale that Horatio wondered how much blood he had left in him. "He will live?"

Martin nodded. "Yes."

Horatio sighed. "Let me know of any changes immediately."

"Aye, aye, sir." Martin acknowledged his command with a wry smile. "Captain Hornblower."

Horatio turned cold. "No. Your captain is here. I am only here to carry out his orders." Martin would not be so quick to recognize his authority if he knew of his past failures. And now this. Was he cursed? Horatio's quick mind jeered at his own superstition. Cursed? Not likely. Only a victim of his own weaknesses. He could not brood on his shortcomings. There would be ample time for that when they returned to England. He marshalled his strength, pushed his weariness and sore heart aside, and returned to the quarter-deck.

It was a shock to emerge on deck to find it was still dark. It seemed a lifetime had passed since he had followed Campion below, yet it had been less than two hours, and the night still stretched before him. The mutiny had left scars on the Skylark, evident in the splintered rails, the damage done to her fittings, the stains on the pale planks. He wondered how many men he had left to work the ship, and if any at all could be spared to man the guns if that were to become necessary. *Oh God, don't let it be necessary.* For some reason that thought made him want to burst into hysterical laughter. He had enough sense left in him to recognize it as a sign of exhaustion. He could not break now. He would not break now. Wearily, he forced himself up to the quarter-deck.

~~**~~

Archie was standing at the rail as he watched Horatio. He had never looked so worn, so dispirited. Archie's heart sank. What should have been a time of rest and recovery from imprisonment had turned into a test of endurance that was sapping his slender reserves of physical and emotional strength, and there was nothing he could do to spare his friend. Except perhaps to be his friend.

He waited, and when Horatio stood next to him he asked the question he had been dreading. "How is Captain Campion?"

"Alive, but barely. I do not expect ..." Horatio cleared his throat. "I do not know if he will live through the night."

"I'm sorry. He is a good captain. A good man." After a moment of silence, Archie spoke again. "I have had Pyne check our course against the charts and make the necessary adjustments. I-I thought the wind was light enough to allow an extra spread of canvas ..." his voice trailed away hesitantly. "Horatio?"

He blinked, his eyes blurry with fatigue. Archie could see the physical effort it took to bring them into focus. "Oh. Yes. I'm sure it was the right decision. Thank you, Archie."

He swayed and Archie caught him by the arms. "Horatio, you must go below and get some rest! You'll be no use to yourself or to the Skylark if you are dead with fatigue. Pyne and I can take care of the ship for a few hours."

Horatio listened to those words as if they were a siren's song. God, he would give his soul for a fw moments to lie down. He replied, his voice sluggish. "I cannot ..."

Horatio's longing was palpable, but Archie knew him well enough to realize he would not yield until he was dead on his feet. "One hour, Horatio. Please, just an hour."

"I can't afford it, Archie! Look around you. Two hours ago we were gripped in mutiny, the Captain is near death, there is a French warship pressuring us. How can I rest?"

Archie's mouth took on a stubborn set. He would not argue with Horatio until he was incapable of a rational response. He spoke sternly. "Listen to me. The mutiny is contained, the Marseilles is not in sight, and Campion is still alive. You are right, that could all change at a moment's notice -- but it is not going to happen right now. One hour ... and I promise I will have you called when that hour is up."

Something of his determination must have penetrated the fog of Horatio's fatigue. His shoulders slumped and he nodded. "Very well. Call me if anything changes."

"Aye, aye, sir." He watched Horatio's departing back with concern. "Styles," he spoke to the seaman standing nearby. "Go after him, and stay outside his cabin for an hour. When you hear the watch bell, you may wake him. But he is not to return here until that hour is up. Is that clear?"

"Aye, sir. It is." Styles looked as near to being worn out as Archie had ever seen him. The rest would do him no harm, either. Archie looked around at the woefully slender crew working the Skylark. It was fortunate that she was an easy ship, and that the night was calm with just enough breeze to move her along at a good pace. Archie looked up at the topmast. Pyne had sent a man up there to keep an eye open for any other ships. Archie had an odd feeling at the back of his neck, as if he were being watched. He wondered if his imprisonment had made him preternaturally sensitive, or if the events of the day had overset his nerves to the degree that he was imagining peril where there was none. Still, it was better to be prepared than caught off guard.

"Mr. Pyne," he addressed the master. "Have your topman report every fifteen minutes."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"I'm going below to check on the captain and Lieutenant Carlyle. You'll know where to find me."

The sick berth was still crowded, but most of the lightly wounded men had been released either to duty, or to their own hammocks. The place still reeked of blood, and for a moment, Archie hesitated on the threshold, overwhelmed by old memories before he entered. "Where is Mr. Martin?" he asked one of the surgeon's mates.

"Over there, with the cap'n." He jerked his head in the direction of a cot, and Archie thanked him and went to the surgeon's side. Campion was still as an effigy, as pale as marble. Archie shivered.

"Has there been any change?" His voice seemed to startle Martin.

"Ah, Mr. Kennedy -- he's still alive, if that's what you're asking."

"That's good, isn't it?"

Martin sighed. "Depends on what happens in the next few hours. If the wound turns septic then the poor bastard would have been better off dying right then."

"That 'poor bastard' is your captain, Mr. Martin," Archie said coldly, in a tone that would have surprised his aristocratic father. And then when he saw the look of sorrow on the surgeon's face, he shook his head. "I am sorry, Mr. Martin, I know you meant no disrespect. How is Lieutenant Carlyle?"

"Resting comfortably."

"May I see him?"

"Of course. Don't tire him."

Archie went over to the cot where Carlyle lay. He looked a bit better than he had earlier, with faint color in his face, and a weak smile when he saw Archie. "I hear the news is good."

Archie nodded. "So far. I wanted to thank you for your presence on deck earlier. It would have been easy for you to stay here in sick berth."

"It was my choice. I wanted to do it for him." His eyes went to Campion. "I owe him everything."

Archie did not know what to say. He understood that obligation too clearly; the pain and the pride it implied. He bade Carlyle to rest and regain his strength, and returned to the quarter-deck. It was three in the morning, and all was as well as could be expected.

~~**~~