To Return With Honour
by Joan C.

Part 11

Horatio woke with a start, for no reason that he could discern. He lay still in his cot, trying to determine what had roused him from a profound sleep. There was a sound outside, whispers. He reached for his pistol, fearing the worst; a mutiny rekindled. Then there was a sharp rap at his door, and Styles' voice. "Sir!"

"What is it?"

"The topman's seen a mast, sir."

"Damn!" Horatio jerked open the door. He grabbed his boat cloak from the hook and brushed past Styles. As he hurried to the quarter-deck, he began figuring the logistics of their situation. His crew and his ship. Aside from the wounded, he could not allow any of the men who had actively participated in the mutiny to man the guns. Even with Cleaver dead, there was enough simmering anger to be explosive under the right circumstances. He most likely had enough men to man less than half of the guns ... against a French ship of the line. Not even Nelson would take those odds. There was a chance they could out-sail them, but that was a very slim chance indeed. He had to see their location on the charts -- surely they could not be more than two days out of England. Changing his mind, he turned towards Campion's cabin to study the charts.

The cabin seemed cold and empty without Campion's vital force. Horatio shivered and lit a lantern. He unrolled the charts. Campion had marked their last position, taken just prior to the mutiny. The last known position of the Marseilles was also marked. Horatio looked at the two points. There had to be some way to elude the French! He thought back to his sorry attempt at subterfuge on board La Reve. In his wildest dreams, he could not pass the Skylark off as a vessel from another nation. Or could he? They had the flag from the Guilder. That alone would not be any protection, but in addition to another ruse, it might be enough to save them.

Horatio grabbed the charts and returned to the companionway to the deck. He fairly leaped up the steps to the quarter-deck. "Mr. Kennedy, what is the report from the topman?"

"Possible sail, sir. Just over the horizon."

Horatio held out his hand. "Give me a glass." He stuck the telescope in his waistband. God, he hated climbing the rigging. He knew there were captains who reveled in it. He steeled his nerve, and hand over hand made his way up the ratlines to the topmast. He swung over to the tiny platform, nodding to the sailor. "What do you see?"

"Don't know for sure, sir. Somethin' like a lighter patch, a smudge on the horizon." He pointed and Horatio peered through the night glass. There it was, just the smallest bit of light, a tiny shimmer. No identification possible. But it appeared to be coming from the same general direction that the Marseilles' last course had been plotted.

"Keep reporting."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Horatio clambered down, hating every step. But at last he was on the solid planks of the quarter-deck. Archie hurried over. "The Marseilles?"

"I don't know, but it is very likely." He turned to Pyne. "Hoist the Dutch pendant we took from the Guilder. Douse all lanterns on the deck. Prepare one of the ship's boats for launch. I want two long-burning lanterns tied in the stern. Once it is cast off, lower the t'gallants and royals. We must make ourselves as invisible as possible for as long as possible. At first light, providing the wind holds, we will spread all canvas available, and hope that the Marseilles is following our false course."

Archie watched the expressions chasing across Pyne's face. Incredulity, disagreement, objection, then comprehension, and awe. He was rather in awe himself. He had seen Horatio's quick mind at work before, yet it was always daunting to realize that the diffident, wary young man who was his friend, was also the commander with an intellect as hard and cutting as a diamond.

Pyne saluted, barked out several orders to the men on deck, then took off himself to make certain they were followed to the letter. One by one, the lanterns illuminating the Skylark were extinguished, until they were surrounded only by darkness, and the stars overhead. It was the dark of the moon, and with luck, they were invisible to the naked eye. Archie watched the lanterns in the ship's boat bobbing on the waves, growing smaller and fainter as the Skylark sailed away.

Horatio stood still. He had done everything he could to avoid capture, to avoid meeting an enemy in a pitched battle. But had he done enough?

~~**~~

The Skylark sailed on silently. The lookout reported that he could no longer see the sail on the horizon, but Horatio would not take that as a hopeful sign. It was yet dark, and the starlight might be reflecting differently, or perhaps a fog was rising from the water to the warmer air. The only thing that could be seen, was the tiny pinprick of light that was the drifting ship's boat, and that was nearly out of sight. Horatio could no longer see it from the quarter-deck, but the topman could still track its course. They were not safe yet.

The wait was excruciating. Horatio's twined hands ached from being clenched. He would have paced the deck, but would not betray his agitation to the crew. Just when he thought he would go mad from inactivity and nerves, one of the loblolly boys came up the quarter-deck, and approached him.

"If you please, sir. Mr. Martin requests that you come to sick berth. Captain Campion has woke up."

As he followed the boy to the sick berth, Horatio wondered if this was good news or bad. It could be that Campion's wound was less dire than Martin had predicted, though as a doctor's son, Horatio knew what he had seen. He did not believe in miracles -- for if such a thing existed, why had his mother died? Still, something of that impossible hope must have shown in his face, for when Martin saw him, he could not meet his eyes.

"He's been asking for you," Martin said. He led Horatio a few paces farther from the cot. "Listen, Lieutenant. I don't know the current disposition of this ship, but I won't have you cutting up his peace to salve your conscience. He's a good man, he deserves to die with his soul at ease."

Martin's acceptance angered Horatio. It was not in his nature to surrender and he did not want to believe that Campion would give up his life without a fight. "He won't die," Horatio said. He brushed past Martin and stood over Campion. All that vitality, all that strength, so still, so fragile. But he did not look near death. "Sir?" Horatio touched his shoulder lightly. "Sir, it's Hornblower, I've come to make my report."

Campion opened his eyes. His gaze focused and sharpened when he recognized Horatio. "Well, lieutenant. It seems I still have a ship." He gave a ghost of a smile. "Thank you."

"I did my duty, sir." He did not know what else to say. "I regret, sir, that Cleaver is dead, as is his chief accomplice, Wright."

"How many others?" When Horatio told him, he closed his eyes for a moment. "What of the Marseilles?" he asked.

Horatio paused, thinking of Martin's admonition, and Campion, seeing the confusion in his eyes, gave a ghost of a laugh. "I am not dead yet, Mr. Hornblower, though Mr. Martin seems to believe I should be left in peace." His fingers stirred weakly on the covers. "Tell me the truth, Hornblower. I deserve that much."

Horatio decided that Martin was a fool to think that Campion would have any peace when the fate of his ship was in doubt. In Campion's place, he would want to know that his men and his ship were safe, and he would refuse to relinquish his life until he was certain. He told the captain of his hopeful subterfuge; and Campion, on hearing it, smiled. "You've done well, Hornblower."

"I've done what I could, sir. It is a very slim chance, at best."

"You are a gambler, are you not?" Campion's voice was growing weaker, and his head stirred fretfully on the pillow, but he gripped Horatio's hand urgently, his eyes very bright. "You took your chance, Hornblower. See it through -- you must see the Skylark through ..." Campion coughed, and froth of blood and spittle stained his pale lips. Horatio took a cloth and gently wiped it away. He eased Campion's head back against the pillow.

"I will, sir. I promise on my honour. Now you must rest."

"Tell me when it is done. You tell me!" Campion insisted, and was wracked by another spasm.

Martin hurried over, forcing Horatio from the bedside and pulling him away. "Damn your eyes! I told you --"

"He is still the captain of this ship and I told him the truth." The words sounded brutal, but Horatio would not apologize for being honest. He dared Martin to argue the point, but to his horror, the surgeon's eyes reddened, and he stormed out of the sick berth. Horatio followed, and found him leaning against a bulkhead, his hands covering his eyes. "Mr. Martin ... for the sake of the crew as much as for the captain --"

"He is dying, Hornblower! Don't you understand? He is bleeding to death inside, and there is nothing I can do to stop it! Nothing, but make his last hours as comfortable as possible!"

Then Horatio understood; he had been living in a fool's paradise. Campion was not going to recover, he was not going to sail triumphantly into Portsmouth with his treasure. That would fall to Horatio, and he desperately did not want it to be that way. For a moment he was afraid that he would break down and weep right along with Martin. He struggled, swallowing tears that were scalding and bitter, and with a strength of will he did not know he possessed, succeeded. He cleared his throat. "Go back in to him, Mr. Martin. Do your duty, as I shall do mine, and perhaps we will be able to give him that peace."

"You're a cold man," Martin said, too blinded by his own grief to see Horatio's. He went back into sick berth, and as the door swung closed. Horatio felt a great pain clutch his heart, and wished he were as unfeeling as Martin accused him of being. He stood for a moment there, unmoving, waiting for the pain to stop. He was a captain now, in name, if not in truth. His responsibilities went beyond his feelings -- he knew that. He felt a track of moisture down his cheek, and dashed it away. Then without another look back, he returned to the quarter-deck.

 

~~**~~

Dawn came quickly on the sea: with no cities, no topographical features to block the first rays. It showed first as a pale line on the horizon; grey, then steel blue, then a clear sapphire just touched with rose. Beneath it, the sea remained dark; the line of demarcation as sharp as the edge of a sword. There was no fog this morning.

Horatio watched the light spill from the sky onto the waters, turning the darkness into a hundred different shades of blue that made the ocean the most beautiful sight in the world. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. Another day, and Campion still lived, the Marseilles remained unseen, and the winds were carrying them closer to England. He judged the wind and gave the order to raise the royals and t'gallants. The Skylark, despite the damage from the storm and the mutiny responded to the added canvas as if she were newly launched.

Horatio dismissed Pyne and Archie, ordering them to get the rest they so clearly needed after the long night. He stood with Matthews, watching the horizon. Oldroyd had volunteered to relieve the topman on watch and Horatio had been glad to agree. Oldroyd, though innocent in the mutiny, was tainted with distrust in the eyes of many of the Skylarks, and Horatio hoped that by demonstrating his faith in Oldroyd, that his mates would come to trust him again, too. Meanwhile, it would do no harm to have those sharp, youthful eyes on watch. Horatio had to smile when he saw Styles lounging near the mast, looking as if he were mending a sail, but in truth keeping an eye on his fellow Indefatigable. He sighed, his heart torn between grief and gratitude.

Matthews heard that sigh, and he spoke quietly. "Mebbe with a bit o'luck we've lost that Frenchy, sir."

"I'm afraid it will take more than luck, Matthews." He could not accept Matthews' confidence and sympathy so easily. "If I am wrong, I may have cost our lives."

"You did yer best, sir."

"Did I?" He felt that he was scrambling up a rope that was increasingly slippery, and every time he tried to advance, he slid backwards an equal distance. What if his best was not enough? He was beyond exhaustion. If there was one more demand on him, one more decision to make, one more heartbreaking choice ... he did not think he could bear it.

"Sail ho! Sail to windward!"

Oldroyd's shout sent a jolt through him, shocking him from his despondency. He could not give up, not yet. "What ship?" His voice nearly broke; his throat was so dry.

"Dunno, sir! Can't see naught but a tops'l."

"Damn! Styles, go up there and see if you can make an identification." He slapped his telescope into Style's palm. "For God's sake, hurry, man!"

"Aye, aye, sir. I reckon their ain't too many ships in these waters I ain't seen." Horatio watched him climb, then turned to the Master's mate standing nearby. "Mr. Meade, I think we can get a bit more from her, bring her a few points closer to the wind. I want those sails taut."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Beat to quarters, Mr. Elliott," he ordered. "All gun crews to their stations, stand on alert, until we know if we are facing a friend or foe." He looked down at the deck at Sergeant McNally and marines. "Sergeant, can your men work the bowchasers?"

"Aye, aye, sir."

He sent a seaman to wake Pyne and Archie, and then stood, waiting for the identification. Surely it had to come soon ... one way or another. He tried to think if there was anything else to be done; he feared he was out of options. His heart was pounding. He felt he could scarcely breathe. And God, he regretted those men lost to the mutiny.

Archie bounded up to the quarter-deck. "This is it, then?"

"Aye, one way or another, this is it." It was a moment paused in time, an eternity to Horatio as he waited. The men were silent at their stations. The only sounds were the sea, the creaking timbers, the luff of the wind in the sails as the Skylark plunged forward through the waves. *Why was there nothing from the topmast? Had they lost sight of the ship once again?* How much longer could they sustain the chase? How far and how fast could they run? *Oh God, and to think that he would fail in his last promise to a dying man.* Horatio closed his eyes ...

"Sir! Sir!" Styles shouted from the top, his curly head suddenly appearing over the platform. "Sir, she's one of ours! One of ours!"

The deck seemed to drop from Horatio's feet and if not for Archie's solid presence he would have fallen. "Are you certain, Styles?" His fingers were clenched so tightly on the rails, that he had no feeling in them. "You must be certain!" he rasped.

"Aye, sir. Certain as I can be. Looks like a seventy-four, sir. Can't identify her just yet."

Horatio forced himself to stand upright, and to release the rail. He drew in a breath, hoping that his voice would not humiliate him by quivering. "Mr. Pyne, take a reef in in the t'gallants, slow us down until we make a positive identification. Order the gun crews to stand down, but to stay at their stations. Have the signals midshipman ready to send out identification as soon as we are certain that she is British. And take down the Dutch pendant. Let your colors fly."

"Aye, aye sir!"

"Sir!"Styles shouted. "It's the Ajax! I c'n see her standard now."

"The Ajax!" Archie turned to Horatio. "You've done it, Horatio! You've done it!" His eyes were glowing, he was smiling. Horatio could only stare dumbly at him. There was a cheer rising from the waist of the ship as the word spread, and it seemed to envelop him, and echo around him, until he could scarcely bear it. He turned to the signals midshipman. "Identify us to the Ajax. As her where she is headed."

A few moments later, the midshipman called out the response. "She confirms identification as the Ajax, sir. She is bound for Plymouth for refitting."

"Ask if she would be so kind as to allow us to keep station with her."

"Captain Cochrane says it would be an honour, sir."

"Send our thanks," Horatio said, his voice reduced to a whisper. "Mr. Pyne, set a course to rendezvous with the Ajax." Then he could stay on deck no longer. He gave the command to Archie and fled to Campion's quarters. He sat at the table, staring at the charts before him until the lines and letters blurred with tears. He laid his head on his arms and struggled to contain the sobs that threatened to unman him. He could not go to Campion like this. He fought for control, and won, painfully. When he looked in the glass hanging on the wall, he scarcely recognized the gaunt, hard reflection as himself. Only the dark eyes haunted with shadows of care seemed familiar. He retied his queue, grimaced as he ran his fingers over his stubbled cheeks. He would have to put some effort into his appearance before he conducted services for the dead. He paused, heartsick at that thought, then left the cabin and went to sick berth, to keep his promise to Nicholas Campion.

Mr. Martin shook his head gravely as Horatio entered. "It will not be long, Mr. Hornblower."

Horatio closed his eyes. "Does he know about the Ajax?"

"No. I know you wanted to tell him if the news was good. He's waiting to hear it."

Horatio was shocked by the change in Campion's condition since he had last seen him. His skin was waxy and white, his lips blue-tinged, his eyes sunken. Even his red hair had lost its lustre, and fell lank and dull over the pillow. Grieved, Horatio sat next to the cot, and took Campion's cold hand in his warm one. "Captain Campion, sir?"

Campion opened his eyes; the laudanum Martin had dosed him with had dilated his pupils, so that they looked more black than grey, but they were still aware, and he smiled when he saw Horatio. "Is the news good, lieutenant?"

"Yes, sir. It is good. We are on course for Plymouth, sailing in company with the Ajax. She is a ship of the line, sir. Seventy-four guns. She will keep us safe."

A tear gathered in the corner of Campion's eye and scrawled a glistening track across his temple. "Thank God ... I have not failed ..." His throat worked, and Horatio raised his head and held a cup of water to his mouth. Campion was too weak to swallow, but the moisture seemed to soothe his dry lips. He spoke again, softly and with a great effort. "You have done very well, Hornblower. I am in your debt ..."

"No, sir," Horatio objected.

Campion smiled slightly. "It is no matter. You are unlikely to ever collect on it. Give the letters I have written to the American ambassador ... perhaps there will be some recompense in it for you and your men. Your gallantry ... deserves some reward.

Horatio blinked away his tears. "I need none sir. I only did my duty."

Humour glinted in Campion's eyes. "You're still a damned poor liar, Horatio. I wish Ross good fortune and a safe voyage. He will do well." His eyelids trembled and closed. "And tell ... tell your Captain Pellew, that you have returned ... with honour ..." Campion sighed once, and was still. Horatio held his hand until he felt the pulse flutter and fade, and then gently laid it across his breast. The heart of the Skylark beat no more.

The tears Horatio had fought so hard to contain spilled over, scalding his cheeks, soaking into the blankets covering Campion's body. He knew Martin came to his side, laid a hand on his heaving shoulder, and stayed until the storm of grief had passed. It was not long, for Horatio would not allow himself the indulgence of mourning his dead. He rose unsteadily, feeling ill; his throat scoured raw, his head aching and heavy. Martin handed him a mug of cool water and he took it and drank. "Thank you, Mr. Martin." He looked at the doctor. Martin's eyes were red-rimmed; he had shed his own tears as Horatio wept. "I must tell the crew --"

"Not yet." He crossed to a table and poured brandy into a glass. "Drink this." When Horatio balked, he frowned. "You need this, sir. As a doctor, I insist."

Horatio took the glass reluctantly, downed the contents in a swallow, and choked as the harsh alcohol hit the back of his throat. He did not like it, but he could not deny that the warmth heartened him and gave him the illusion of much needed strength. He looked around him, at the men in the hammocks. It was rarely so silent in that place. He was conscious of being watched, of sorrow and guilt in the eyes of the seamen. "I've forgotten Lieutenant Carlyle. How is he?"

"Very weak, sir. Feverish. I've given him a sleeping draught. He won't wake for several hours."

"When he does, send for me. He is the commander, now. And prepare the body, Mr. Martin. We will hold the service at sunset."

Horatio forced himself to return to the quarter-deck. The sun was shining, throwing sparks of light from the water. After the darkness, it was excuse enough for his eyes to tear, and for that Horatio was grateful. Archie was there, and he was grateful for that, too. He nodded to Pyne, and the master came to join Kennedy.

"Captain Campion has died. Call all hands, Mr. Pyne, that they might be told."

"Aye, sir."

Archie fought back the impulse to touch Horatio's arm. He knew he would not tolerate the familiarity, or bear the comfort easily. "I am sorry, Horatio," he whispered. "He was a good man."

"Yes."

"Carlyle is the commander now, isn't he?"

"In name, but he is too ill to take over. I wish to God, it weren't on my shoulders, Archie. I am afraid I cannot do this."

Archie would have smiled if the circumstances were not so solemn. "The worst is over, Horatio. You have seen the Skylark through storms, a mutiny, and pursuit. I think we shall make landfall without further incident."

Horatio sighed. "I appreciate your confidence, Archie. But somehow, this last duty will be the hardest yet." He rubbed at the nagging pain that was lodged between his eyes. "Signal the Ajax. Inform her that we will be shortening sail at sunset to administer the offices of the dead."

~~**~~

The workings of the ship had to continue, despite the death of her commander, and short of hands as they were, every man was kept busy. The hours passed quickly, and as the afternoon wore on, the brisk wind moderated so that the Skylark was able to take in sail and still stay in sight of the Ajax. Captain Cochrane had sent his sympathies, and agreed to slow the Ajax accordingly. Horatio was relieved, for he had feared falling away and losing the protection of the Ajax's mighty guns. He was so close to completing the Skylark's mission, that to fail now would surely break his heart.

He went below, to prepare for the service, but when he entered the cabin he shared with Archie, his small bundle of personal possessions was gone. He could have sworn he had stowed them ...

"I had them sent to Campion's cabin," Archie spoke behind him. "It seemed the right thing to do."

"I'm not the commanding officer," Horatio objected.

"Bollocks!" Archie said inelegantly. "Begging your pardon, Horatio, but you are. You need to be there, you know it is the truth." He paused, and his blue eyes held a hint of laughter. "And then, I shall have the chance to sleep on the cot instead of rolled up like a sausage in that hammock!"

"An ulterior motive, Mr. Kennedy? I am shocked." Horatio could not help smiling in response, and was startled that he was still capable of an emotion that did not cause him pain. "Thank you."

"You're welcome, sir." Archie touched his forehead. "If you will excuse me, sir. I will make the preparations for the service."

Horatio went to the great cabin, shaved, ran a damp comb through his hair, and tried to clean the worst stains from his jacket. His shirt was a disaster, his stock had been ruined, but as he opened his pack, he smiled. Archie had given him a fresh shirt and silk neckcloth. There was nothing to be done about the jacket, but at least the image he faced in the mirror bore some resemblance to an officer, and not a brigand.

He needed a prayer book. In his current state of mind, he did not trust his memory with the service. Perhaps in the desk ... he opened the drawer. The Book of Common Prayer was where he had expected to find it, and he took it out, leafing through the pages until he reached the service for burial at sea. He had read it before, for Bunting. He had believed he had failed in his duty, and the words had been like ashes in his mouth. This would be worse, for he had come to respect and like Campion, and he wanted to do him honour.

Horatio set the book down on the desktop, and started to close the drawer. Something was jammed at the back of the desk. Horatio reached in and pulled out a bundle of letters. He started to flatten them, and then looked at those he held in his hands. They were addressed to Nicholas Campion, and the return on them was to Admiral James Campion, USN. His father. There would have to be a letter written, explaining his son's death. Horatio closed his eyes. How often had he wondered what Dr. Hornblower would do, if such a letter were delivered to him? Would he weep, curse fate, or fold the letter back up and stow in deep in a drawer where he would not come across it again -- as if it were a poison thorn? He rather thought it would be the latter.

Feeling dreadfully guilty, Horatio opened the top letter. "Dearest Nick ..." He skimmed the paragraphs. They related news of family, friends, fellow Naval officers -- all the details of a life that would have to continue without a beloved son. The Admiral closed with the words, "Trusting in your safe return, Your loving father."

Of course, he would have to be told. Horatio found stationary and writing tools in a second drawer, and steeling himself, he penned a letter of condolence, patterning it after the ones dictated by Captain Pellew. It hardly seemed adequate comfort, but it was the best he could do; it was all he could do. He folded the parchment, found an envelope, and sealed it. On an impulse, he wrote the Admiral's address on a scrap of paper and put it in his pocket. Perhaps someday he would write a letter to him, telling the story of their voyage so that he would know the entire truth. But he could not do it now.

There was a knock on his door, and Archie's soft voice was telling him it was time for the service. Horatio tucked the prayer book under his arm and ascended to the quarter-deck.

The bodies were laid in ranks like so many fallen toy soldiers. The American flag draped over the first body would rest briefly on those who had remained loyal during the mutiny. Horatio would read the service for them all, but he would be damned if he let that flag touch Cleaver or any of the other mutineers. Two bodies were set aside, and the sailmaker had stitched together a rough British flag to honour the fallen Indefatigables, Seamen Dawson, and Thomas, who had died from his wounds. The sight brought a lump to Horatio's throat, and he thought, *I must remember to thank the sailmaker, for his kindness ...* Then he realized that the company was waiting for him. He cleared his throat, and began the service.

The last body was Campion's. Horatio repeated the entire service for Campion alone. His hands were shaking, but his voice remained steady as he spoke the grave, beautiful words. When he had finished, he stayed the seaman whose duty was to tilt the plank, sending the body into the water. There were things that needed to be said. He was not certain that he had the words, but he had to try.

He turned to face the company. The light was fading, but the sky behind him was brilliant, glowing with fiery glory; ruddy and golden, as if the gates of heaven were opening to admit the fallen hero. A shaft of light spilled down on Horatio as he stood there, touching him with splendour, and gilding Campion's flag-draped body with illusory warmth as the chill of evening spread over the waters.

Horatio looked over the men as they stood at attention. Some faces were impassive, others tear-stained; all were weary. Horatio did not know if his words would offer any comfort, but he would try. "Your journey is nearly over, and shortly, Captain Campion will be gone from us in all but memory. He was your commander. He died defending his ship. He died giving honour to his country. And now we return him to God, with honour."

Sergeant McNally nodded to the marine standing at the stern gun. As the last echo of the salute faded away over the waters, Nicholas Campion's body sank beneath the waves in the shadow of his beloved Skylark.

The evening breeze came up, stirring Horatio's hair. He shivered and closed the prayer book. "Mr. Pyne, dismiss the ship's company." The men filed silently away, leaving Archie and Horatio alone at the rail. Archie realized that Horatio was shivering still. He took off his coat and set it around Horatio's shoulders.

"It's over, Horatio. This time tomorrow we will be in sight of England. You can let go, now." He did not know if Horatio had heard him. "Horatio?" No response, just those shoulders trembling beneath his hands. The flare of a lantern illuminated Horatio's face, and Archie was startled to see that his drawn cheeks were glistening with tears.

Horatio drew in a sobbing breath, and with a curse, struck the rail before him with a clenched fist, as if beating his very grief into submission. "Leave me!" he whispered harshly, ashamed that Archie was witnessing his humiliation. He jerked away from Archie's touch. "Go!"

"No," Archie said, "unless that is a direct order. There is no one else to see, Horatio. And if you recall, I already know that you are human, and capable of feelings. You may deny it to everyone else, but I have seen it, and I do not hold you in any less esteem ..." Archie rambled on, and his words really had no meaning, but they covered the sound of Horatio's strangled sobs, and when his tears had finally run their course, Archie was still nattering away, deliberately oblivious to his commander's shameful loss of control.

Horatio dragged his sleeve across his eyes and straightened away from the rail. He was as weak as a kitten, he thought with disgust. He turned around and found Archie regarding him with innocent blue eyes. He took a deep breath. "You are insubordinate, Mr. Kennedy." But the gratitude in his voice was unmistakable.

Archie regarded him solemnly. "If you say so, sir." He was relieved that some of the strain was gone from Horatio's face. And perhaps he would not shatter into a million pieces of jagged pain. "Let's get something hot to eat and a mug of grog." He knew that would make Horatio smile.

"I hate grog." And his mouth did curve. "Go ahead, Archie. I will be there in a few minutes. I promise. I need some time ... and I must see Ross Carlyle."

Archie nodded, understanding. When he was gone, Horatio looked out over the sea, at the wake of the Skylark as she soared over the waters. The trail of foam and light led back to Campion's grave, and he stared at it for a long time, until at last, it was lost in the darkness. There was a hollow feeling about his heart, as if all emotion had been bled out leaving only a shell, in a body so weary that he could scarcely force himself to move. But he had promised Archie, and Carlyle was waiting.

~~**~~