To Return With Honour
by Joan C.

Part Four

Once, during his first winter on the Indefatigable, Horatio had been exposed to a three-day blow in the Channel. He had not thought it possible to survive being so cold, so wet, and so weary. Those thoughts must have shown clearly on his face, for Mr. Bracegirdle, himself new to the Indy, had stood at his side, offering him a steaming cup of grog, and had tried to encourage him by saying that he would eventually come to a point where he would no longer care and just stand and endure. Cheering, that.

Horatio had never reached that point, not in his years of service since, not even in Massaredo's oubliette. He reached it now. Over the last two hours, the wind had not slackened, and the rain had increased to a streaming downpour. No boat cloak or oilskin was proof against it. He had shivered into immobility. His muscles were locked and aching. Despite the rain streaming down the brim of his borrowed round hat, his face felt scrubbed dry and raw; crystals of salt had formed at the corners of his eyes. Any food he had held in his stomach had long since left it in a wrenching spasm of nausea that had shamed him in front of Captain Campion; there was nothing to be done but to carry on with his duties. Every man on deck was suffering as he was, even Campion.

Horatio cast a glance at the Captain standing a few paces away. The single lantern Campion allowed the quarter-deck showed that his oilskin was dark and stained; it must be heavy. His skin was pale; a cold, blue colour underlay its naturally translucent tone and raw red patches scored his hollowed cheeks. Horatio was not religious, but you could not grow up in England without some familiarity with the Bible. He recalled the words: *I will set my face like flint ...* That was Campion, his face stony and resolute as he stared into the darkness. Horatio had seen one other man wearing that expression. Pellew.

Campion turned, sensing Hornblower's regard. His face was stiff with cold, he could not smile. Hornblower looked God-awful; not that Campion believed he looked any better himself. The watchbell clanged dully in the heavy air. Another hour gone. It was nearly dawn, and when the night grew into a sullen day, they would know better where they, and their enemy stood. The Skylark must have outrun the brig, for there had been no more threatening shots fired. Or, she could be lurking in the darkness waiting to come down like a wolf.

There was a touch on his arm, and Carlyle stood beside him, a questioning look on his face. "Captain?" He must have spoken, but Campion had not heard him.

"Yes?"

"Will you take some rest, sir? Mr. Martin has brewed some tea in sick berth."

Campion was suddenly ravenous. "Thank you, Lieutenant. I will. As soon as you can see light in the east, send for me."

"Aye, aye, sir."

He approached Hornblower. "Lieutenant, our relief is here. Get yourself below, man. Mr. Carlyle tells me that tea is to be had in sick berth."

Horatio remained at the rail. He could not decide which would be more painful: continuing to stand watch, or feeling the exquisite agony of returning warmth. Campion spoke into his hesitation. "That *is* an order, Mr. Hornblower."

Horatio nodded. He did not know if he could force his legs to move. A sudden lurch of the Skylark decided for him, impelling him forward; he moved stiffly across the quarter-deck and down the companionways to the sick berth. It was nearly more than he could manage. He leaned against a bulkhead, wondering what would happen if he just sank to the deck and did not move. He was about to find out, when he heard footsteps. He straightened, hoping no one had seen his weakness.

"Who goes there?" A sharp whisper came from the shadows.

"H-Hornblower --" Horatio croaked. With an audible breath of relief, Archie emerged into the light. He seemed pale to Horatio, his eyes glittering and wide. "Wh-who did you expect?"

Archie feined nonchalance. "No one, really. Which is why you nearly had to scrape me off the timbers." He peered into Horatio's face. "You look like the devil," he commented, hoping to put Horatio off the scent of trouble.

Horatio sighed. "It's been a hellish night, Archie. But it's nearly dawn."

"Oh. And that is supposed to be good news?" Archie asked sarcastically.

Horatio's laugh made his throat ache, but it also lightened his heart. "It is the best I have to offer at the moment. At least it is dry down here."

Archie chuckled. Despite the Skylark's caulking and new timbers, the walls of the hull were dark with moisture. "It is only comparative, I assure you! But there is tea in the sick berth. I pray you, Horatio. Have some."

"I will." Archie's face was beginning to waver in and out of focus. He blinked and the double image resolved itself into a single concerned one. "I promise." He pushed himself away from the bulkhead, and with unsteady steps, headed towards sick berth. Kennedy watched him until he passed into the dim shadows.

Archie heard someone coming behind him and turned quickly, his heart in his throat. it was only Matthews, looking worse for the wear, but blessedly sturdy.

"D'ye want me to foller him, sir?"

"Yes, I think you'd better. Thank you, Matthews."

"Aye, aye, sir." Matthews knuckled his forehead and set off after Hornblower. Archie drew in a deep breath and dragged his weary body up the companionway ladder to the deck.
~~**~~

Archie could not say for certain when dawn came. His aching eyes could not discern any immediate change in the ambient light, but slowly, with uncertain and shifting hues, the darkness seemed not quite as thick, the sky ever so faintly grey on the eastern horizon. He turned to Carlyle, who was blinking, seeing the same changes. "It's dawn."

Carlyle nodded. "Send for the captain," he spoke to the midshipman of the watch, and the boy left the deck. "Thank God."

The night was over, but it was far from salvation. By the time Campion and Horatio struggled to the quarter-deck, it was no longer necessary to depend on lantern light to discern their features. The rain had slackened to a thick drizzle, but the wind was rising again, tearing the crests of the waves into foamy rags. The sails were pulling the sheets taught, and the wind was screaming through the lines, setting off a weird resonance that made Archie shudder. No wonder sailors told tales of banshee creatures and wailing ghosts. They had heard the groans of a ship in agony. Archie felt a sympathetic pang for Campion. He loved the Skylark, and to know that she was being tested to the limits of her strength must cut to his heart.

He hid the strain well. But there was a tension in his manner, and his cheeks were drawn to the bone. He studied the sails, tested the wind, and issued a quiet order sending a man aloft with a telescope. Soon they would know if they had outsailed their pursuers, or if the hunt was on.

Horatio stood shoulder to shoulder with Archie, waiting. His body swayed against Archie's with each yaw and pitch of the Skylark, but the feel of that solid frame against his was more comforting than the hot tea Martin had forced him to drink. The surgeon had also insisted on lending him a dry shirt and boat cloak. Horatio had been touched by the kindness; but Martin had merely given him a slight smile, saying that to send Horatio into the storm without them would have been a betrayal of his Hippocratic oath. He was a good man and a capable surgeon. Campion was fortunate to have him aboard. They were all fortunate, and most grateful.

"Anything?" Campion called up to the topman.

"No, sir. No ..." The man's voice trailed off uncertainly. "Sail off the larboard bow!"

Campion cursed, but the held his response in check, waiting for confirmation, and more information than the man was able to give immediately. Horatio saw his hands tighten on the rail until the knuckles were white. It seemed many long minutes had passed, when in reality it was perhaps no more than two, when the man called down. "Square-rigged brigantine, sir. Looks the same ship, sir."

If Horatio felt his heart sink, he could only imagine what Campion felt. "God, he's a stubborn bastard," he whispered to Archie.

"Campion or the Dutchman?" Archie asked.

"Both." Horatio replied shortly. "But I was referring to the Dutchman. I would have thought the storm would have affected him more than it did us."

"What will Campion do?" Archie asked.

"Set more sail as soon as he can risk it. Stay on a nor'- nor'west tack. And avoid whatever is east."

Archie listened to this gravely, then raised his eyes to the pendant streaming in the wind. He swallowed. "The storm is driving us that way, Horatio."

Horatio nodded, his face white and set. "Yes."

"*Sail off the starboard bow!*" The lookout's shout sounded like the knell of doom. Campion snatched the telescope from Carlyle's hand and was up the ratlines, climbing with a sure-footed ease that Horatio envied at the same time he watched anxiously. It was what he had feared; a second, more lethal vessel. They were in the wolf-pack now.

Campion returned to the deck, his face now as pale as Horatio's. "She's too far away to identify, but I fear she is a ship of war." He turned his bleak eyes to his officers. "Now we shall test our seamanship against theirs, for it seems our best hope is to run. Mr. Pyne, we must set more sail, the royals and the storm stay'sls, and hope that our pursuers are less daring."

"Begging your pardon, sir," Carlyle asked. "But what if the weather worsens again?"

"Then we fight." He might as well have said, *Then we die.*

~~**~~

Of course, the weather worsened. The wind began to back and veer unpredictably, as if the storm itself were uncertain as to its tack. The rain fell, not as heavily as it had through the night, but enough to make life miserable. The two ships receded into the curtain of rain, but Horatio never doubted that they were close. After two hours under the influence of the added spread of canvas, Campion was forced to take them in, or risk damage to the sails and rigging. Grimly, he gave the order to shorten sail, forsaking speed for caution. He could not risk wounding the Skylark. If the weather moderated, he needed her ready to fly.

Cold, wet, weary, and hunted. It was a miserable state of being. Horatio wiped a hand across his eyes, clearing the moisture that had beaded there. This was his third watch of the day. Campion was holding to his hourly schedule and had reluctantly instructed the cook to re-light the fires. The risk of attack was less than that of losing men to cold and exhaustion. Horatio's hour was nearly up; he would be glad to surrender the deck to Carlyle. God, if he could drag his body belowdecks, he might never make it back up again. Nothing had prepared him for this sort of punishment, and he wondered if his father had any idea of what his son had to endure as a result of being sent off to the Navy.

Yet, he felt no bitterness towards his father, for he had no doubt that despite distance, time, and a deep, shared grief, Dr. Hornblower had never acted out anything less than kindness and concern. Standing on that cold, windswept quarter-deck, Horatio could see in his mind the place he called home: a simple, square-built manor in a setting of rolling meadows and fragrant orchards. He saw a warm, firelit library, book-lined and cozy. He saw his own small room, tucked under the eaves. It had been his since childhood, and even when he had grown to young manhood, he had chosen to keep it, rather than move to the larger room at the front of the house. And inevitably, he thought of his father as he had last seen him, standing on the quay at Portsmouth, watching as Horatio clambered into the shore boat that would take him to his future. His father -- tall, thin, somehow elegant despite crippling arthritis. Dark eyes that either gave nothing away, or glinted with feelings quickly suppressed. Not a man of emotion, but a man of sensibility and sensitivity. Qualities that Horatio wished he could find in himself, but doubted he possessed.

A hand jogging his elbow. "Horatio ... Horatio?" Archie. Blue eyes narrowed in concern. Horatio blinked. "Captain Campion orders you off watch for at least three hours."

"I cannot --"

"You must." He took his elbow firmly. "Off you go before the Captain has one of his marines drag you from the quarter-deck."

Horatio did not have the strength to resist. He found his way below, went to his cabin, and collapsed into darkness.

~~**~~

It was a risk, giving his officers three hours off watch, but when Campion looked at their gaunt faces, seeming years older than they were, he had to take it. The seamen, he had been able to send below in longer watches, but not the men on the quarter-deck with him. He could not in good conscience deny them those few hours of rest. He himself was scarcely able to stand, but would wait until Carlyle and Pyne were restored to something resembling life. He turned to Mr. Kennedy. He had been one of the first to benefit from the longer time off duty, but he still looked very tired. There were shadows beneath his eyes, and lines carved at the corners of his mouth. Three years in captivity ... Campion still marveled that he had the strength to survive, the will to live, and the courage to fight.

He cleared his throat. "Have you been in many engagements, Mr. Kennedy?"

"Not many, sir. And not recently." He could not repress a smile, recalling his one moment of glory on the Indefatigable, that afternoon when he had stood in the sun, his sword raised high, and had felt both the exhilaration and the raw excitement of combat. He had killed a man: the true reaction had not come until late that night when his thoughts had settled and the realization that he had ended a life struck. He had lain on his cot, shivering, seeing the shock in the man's eyes when his sword had bit deep and stilled a heart. He still recalled the conversation he had with Horatio that night.

*"Did I commit murder, Horatio?" he had asked.*

* "No!" In exasperation. Then softer. "No. He would have killed you in a heartbeat, Archie. You did your duty, as he would have done his. Only this time, you were the better man." *

* "The better man? Perhaps only the more fortunate one." *

Campion broke into his silence. "You were successful?"

"I was lucky."

"May it continue." He sighed, and tucking his hands inside his oilskin, he began a slow, measured pacing of the quarter-deck. He sent a man with a telescope up to the yards, but the weather was so thick that the two other ships could have been within a mile and not be visible. The only comfort was that their pursuers were equally blind.

For a long while, Archie remained at the rail overlooking the waist of the ship. His eyes seemed to gravitate naturally to the men from the Indefatigable. Matthews, Oldroyd, Griffin ... Archie counted mentally. Styles? His gaze swept the foc'sle. Not by the guns, not by the rigging. And Cleaver was missing from his post. Jesus wept! Archie was about to approach Campion, when Pyne and Carlyle came from below. Campion accepted their salutes wearily, then with a visible effort, forced himself to leave the quarter-deck.

As soon as Carlyle formally relieved him, Archie followed. The companionway was dark, but not deserted. He hurried, using his fingertips to guide him along the bulwarks, passing seamen coming from their watches. The first Indefatigable he met was Matthews. His question about Styles seemed to surprise the seaman.

"No, sir. Last I saw him, he were tendin' cables on deck."

Archie sighed. "And Cleaver?"

Matthews looked troubled. "I haven't seen 'im since 'is last watch. Is summat wrong, sir?"

"I'm sure it's nothing, Matthews."

"D'ye want me to take a look about, sir?"

Archie started to refuse the offer, then reconsidered. Matthews could go places that Archie's presence would set on alert. He peered into Matthews eyes. They were red-rimmed, but still bright. "If you could, Matthews. I would appreciate it. But as soon as you find him, get some rest."

"Aye, aye, sir. Don't you worry." He turned to go about his errand, then looked back. "Sir, if you don't mind my sayin', but you should take yer own orders."

Archie smiled slightly. "I will, Matthews. As soon as I speak to Styles." The seaman's knuckled salute meant as much to him as if it had been snapped on the quarter-deck.

He went to the tiny cabin. Horatio was drowned deep in slumber, lying in a loose-limbed huddle, his long legs bent, one arm thrown over his eyes as if to ward off any encroaching light. Archie sighed, slipped off his sodden shoes, and rolled into his hammock. Not long ago, he had nearly died of starvation, and though Horatio and Don Massaredo had done their best to restore him to health, he had not recovered his strength completely. If he had known that Horatio would will him back to life, he would not have been so foolish -- now he wished he had that strength he had scorned in his despair. He lay on his back, staring at the deck beams overhead. The hammock swung with every pitch of the Skylark, but the motion did not affect him. That Horatio could sleep soundly despite the heavy seas was an indication of the depth of his exhaustion. Archie yawned. He could not fall asleep yet. He had to wait for Styles ...

His doze was interrupted by a soft scratch at the door. He was out of his hammock quickly, praying that the sound would not wake Horatio. Styles stood there, his watch cap in hand. He looked tired, which was a bit of a shock to Archie, who had never imagined Styles wearing down. "What news?" he asked, whispering.

"Sorry to worry ye, sir. But I was keepin' me eye on Cleaver. Bastard takes every opportunity to sneak below. That's all 'e were doin' though, shirkin'." Styles sounded thoroughly disgusted. "Don't know why they keep 'im on, sir."

Archie's heart had settled into a more normal rhythm. He smiled wryly. "He's big enough to repel boarders with a look."

"Bloody right about that, sir." Styles grinned. "I'm headin' off to get some rest, sir. If ye don't need me no more."

"No. But Styles, carry on as you have been. Mr. Hornblower and I appreciate it."

"Yer welcome, sir." His gaze went to the darkened cabin. "How is he, sir?"

"Exhausted, as we all are. Get your rest, Styles. I fear this isn't going to get any easier."

"No, sir. I reckon it ain't." A ghost of a grin crept across his worn features, and with a tug at his forelock, he went down the companionway to the crew berth.

His mind eased, Archie returned to his hammock, and slept.

~~**~~

Styles could not say why, but after he left Mr. Kennedy, he retraced his steps to where he had last seen Cleaver. He approached as quietly as he could and peered into the shadowy darkness near the supply hold. Cleaver was there, but he was not alone. The armourer, Thomas Wright, a huge man with muscles like bands of steel in his forearms, and a small, weasly seaman named Krause had joined him. Jesus, bloody Christ! One seaman plotting was a dreamer, two were fools, and three, a mutiny. Now, they could have been there for an innocent reason; but for the life of him Styles could not imagine what that would be. There weren't nothing' wrong with his nose, and by God, he smelled trouble.

Styles tried to eavesdrop, but they were keeping their voices way too low, and he didn't dare get closer. Now, what was he to do with this knowledge? Go to Mr. Kennedy? Judging from the way he'd looked, he was off in some hard-earned slumber. Mr. Hornblower? Maybe when he woke up, but Styles would rather face the cat than disturb him. So for now, there weren't a thing he could do, but keep his mouth shut.

~~**~~

Horatio woke naturally, his mind somehow attuned to the passage of time. The three hours of rest had seemed like eight, and he sat up, still weary, but knowing that he could function. He rubbed his eyes. As they adjusted, he saw Archie. He was breathing deeply, evenly. There were no nightmares disturbing his sleep. His blankets were tangled about him, and Horatio straightened them and added his own, still warm from his body.

He had left a shirt draped over a chair, hoping it would dry. It was clammy, and Horatio grimaced as he pulled it over his head. He'd best get used to it; it would be a while before he would don a dry shirt again. He located his shoes, his coat, his damp boat cloak, his hat. Then he went up on deck.

It was three o'clock in the afternoon and as dark as early dusk. The seas were still running heavy, but the wind had dropped considerably, and Master Pyne had been able to spread more canvas. The Skylark was riding easily on the waves, and there was no sign of her pursuers. The aura of relief on deck was palpable. Horatio was not so sanguine. The visibility was still very poor, and he doubted the Dutch would give up on their without a fight. However, he had to admit his own relief at the respite from the unrelenting tension of the previous night. His appearance on the quarter-deck was greeted with a salute from Lieutenant Carlyle, who looked as if one more gust of wind would knock him off his feet. Horatio could sympathize. "Lieutenant Carlyle, your watch is relieved."

Carlyle managed a slight smile. "Thank you, Mr. Hornblower. It is most welcome." He drew a breath to call down to the waist. "Mr. Pyne! Report to Lieutenant Hornblower." He turned back to Horatio. "She is yours, Hornblower." He staggered as he made his way down to the waist, passing Pyne with a tired salute.

Pyne came up to Horatio, his weathered face scoured raw with wind and rain. "Sir, should I send a man aloft?"

Horatio squinted up into the sky. The rain had slackened to a steady mist, but the lowering edges of the clouds were grey and heavy, pregnant with moisture. "When was the last man up on lookout?"

"Afore I ordered the stays'ls spread, sir. About an hour ago."

"And he saw nothing then?"

"No, sir."

Horatio was at a disadvantage, not having seen the conditions at the time the last sighting had been taken. He nodded. "Very well, send a man up, Mr. Pyne. We have been graced with a break in the weather, but I doubt it will last."

Pyne looked grave. "You've sailed in weather like this before then, sir?"

Horatio had spent the better part of two winters beating up and down the coast of Spain and France. He knew the caprices of the Atlantic ocean quite well. "Yes. More than I care to admit," he said wryly.

Pyne, seeing his pallor and the shadows beneath his eyes nodded in comprehension. He was not an effusive man; quiet, cool, and observant. He had withheld his opinions of Hornblower and his men, but over the last hours, had realized that they were indeed quality. He could not fault Hornblower or Kennedy as officers. He knew when sailors respected their commanders, and knew well the difference between respect born of fear, and respect born of love. That this young man had engaged their loyalties was undeniable.

Pyne cupped his hands around his mouth and ordered a topman up to the small platform on the mainmast. When he was situated securely, Pyne shouted up to him for a report.

The sailor made a wide sweep of the horizons. "Nothin', sir. All horizons clear."

Pyne looked to Horatio. "Should I keep him up there, sir?"

Horatio held out his hand for Pyne's scope. He brought it to his eye and followed the same line as the topman. He could see nothing. Under optimum conditions, a topman might be able to view over twenty miles along the horizon, but with the current visibility, they would be lucky with five. It was not a felicitous circumstance. He folded the telescope. This decision should be Campion's not his. But it was a decision that he would have to make. What would he do if the Skylark were his ship? He would keep a man on the topmast if he had to lash him there; but did he have the right to expose the Skylark's man to the perils of the elements? Horatio's stomach cramped, partly from fear. He could not show that weakness! He squared his jaw and drew in a deep breath. He knew what was best for the Skylark.

"Hold him there, Mr. Pyne. Have him report every fifteen minutes. Bring him down after an hour and send another man up. If Captain Campion has other orders, they will of course, take precedence."

The set of that jaw dared Pyne to question Hornblower's command, but the Master merely gave Hornblower a measured study. "Aye, aye, sir."

Horatio swallowed his relief. Pyne's reaction had told him that his decision was right. He had passed his first test. The sickness in his stomach subsided. He braced himself, clasped his hands behind his back, and faced a horizon that seemed as hazy as his future.

~~**~~

Archie woke refreshed, amazed at what three hours could do for an exhausted body. He sat up and pushed the blankets aside. There were more than he remembered. He looked at Horatio's stripped cot. Of course, what else? He would have done the same for Horatio. The simplicity of their friendship was an astonishment, still. Simplicity was perhaps the wrong word, but it would serve until he decided on a better one, or until his brain was capable of functioning at more than an instinctive level.

He dressed in his damp clothes, but after spending three years in prison conditions that rivaled Hell, damp clothing was a mere inconvenience. He left the cabin, headed up the companionway and was nearly to the ladder when he was waylaid by Styles.

"Sir, we've got a mess o'trouble."

"What?" Archie asked. And when Styles hesitated, he spoke with some heat. "Well, explain yourself, man."

"Sir, after I left ye, somethin' made me go back to the hold, and 'he were there -- Cleaver, I mean. Him and two mates. The armourer and Krause. Three, sir."

The significance did not escape Archie. He nodded. "I understand, Styles. So the little mutiny grows."

"I don't like the sound o'that, sir." Styles looked uneasy. "What d'ye want me to do, sir?"

"Carry on, Styles. What else?"

The seaman's dark eyes were grave. He'd not had much opinion of Mr. Kennedy, but Spain had changed that. Fer God's sake, that bastard DeVergesse would've run 'im through if Mr. Kennedy hadn't stepped up. Saved his life certain sure. Styles reckoned he owed Mr. Kennedy. "Sir, what are you going to do?"

Kennedy's blue eyes widened. Styles was asking *him?* Not Horatio? Archie was astonished, and gratified. "I will think of something, Styles. Your help has been invaluable. I won't forget it."

"Thank ye, sir." Styles gave a pale imitation of his usual grin and ambled down the companionway. Archie drew in a deep breath. What was he going to do? That was an easy question to answer. Tell Horatio. Add another responsibility to those he already carried. And be there, no matter what action Horatio decided to take. Archie was very glad that the ultimate decision was not his.

The man whose decision it was, stood on the quarter-deck, his hands clenching and unclenching behind his back. Those long, nervous fingers were the first thing Archie noticed when he approached Horatio. His queue was sodden, and his upturned face glistened with drops of mist. He was shielding his eyes with his hand to ward off the rain as he peered at the man on the mainmast, waiting for the latest report. Master Pyne stood next to him, in a mirror posture. The response, when it came remained negative. Still nothing. Archie tried to discern a horizon, and could not. The endless heaving waves stretched out, but there was no definitive line between sea and sky. It was as if the ragged bottoms of the clouds, and the torn crests of the grey waters merged into a single entity. He had never seen anything like it.

Horatio's hand dropped to his side and he gave a dispirited sigh. He turned to Pyne. "Bring him down, Mr. Pyne. Send his relief up in fifteen minutes."

"Mr. Hornblower, do you reckon the other ships are still out there? It's been nearly eighteen hours since they were sighted last."

Horatio's dark brows drew level. "They might have been swamped -- they most likely have been driven off-course. But they could just as easily be within five miles. I cannot see through this weather, Mr. Pyne, but I would not care to hazard my life on either of the first two possibilities. If we assume the third, then we have an even chance."

Pyne chuckled. "I'd have never taken you for a gambler, Mr. Hornblower."

Horatio smiled grimly. "Then you do not know me very well, Mr. Pyne." It was not meant as a reprimand or as in insult, but a mere statement of fact, and Pyne took it as such. He studied Hornblower's profile, the shape of the fine bones very clear beneath the pale skin, and saw that he had indeed made a misjudgment. There was something of the adventurer in this young man.

"In that case, sir. I hope you play to win."

Horatio's chin came up and his eyes met Pyne's levelly. "I do, sir. Only a fool takes risks he cannot afford."

Archie would have told Horatio that was a blatant lie. Horatio took risks that were unimaginable, be it dropping a compass overboard to confound a French Captain, accepting the blame for a misdeed he did not commit, or challenging a monster like Jack Simpson to a duel. He always swore that he weighed the risks and the benefits in his mind before committing himself, but Archie knew that was impossible. Horatio might believe he acted with his mind, but in truth, it was his heart that he followed. Archie had felt the strength in that heart firsthand and knew it to be true. His greatest fear for Horatio was that in the battle between head and heart, the heart would take a mortal wound.

But this was not the time to dwell on Horatio's character. Archie had a concrete problem in hand, and this time, Horatio would have to decide what should be done, whether led by his heart or his mind. Archie stepped forward. "Mr. Hornblower, sir. May I speak with you a moment?" He was deliberately formal and Horatio turned to him in surprise.

"Of course, Mr. Kennedy." He took several steps away from Pyne. "What is it, Archie?"

"Styles found Cleaver and two of his mates having a bit of a discussion. It is no longer just one man with an outrageous plot, Horatio. This could become a mutiny." Archie tried to keep his voice as low as possible without the wind snatching away his words.

Horatio's eyes widened. "You're certain?"

"Styles is."

"Damnation!" Horatio cursed beneath his breath. He did not like being forced into taking an action that was counter to the best interests of the Skylark and Captain Campion, but this time, he had no choice. He could not delay warning Campion of the danger.

"Thank you, Archie. Take over this watch. I must speak to Campion."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Horatio left the quarter-deck and stood outside the great cabin door, his hand poised to knock. He tried to order his thoughts. How did one tell a captain that a mutiny was planned? How did one explain foreknowledge of the event? Christ, there were no answers to those questions. Horatio's hand dropped to his side, then in a sharp, determined motion he brought it up and rapped on the cabin door.

"Come." Campion's voice sounded as if he had been dragged from sleep, and Horatio cursed his clumsy intrusion. He pushed on the door, and it swung open. Campion was seated on his cot, the only piece of furniture still in place with the guns run out. He raised his head and looked at Hornblower. "What is it?" His voice was dull with fatigue. "The Dutchman?"

"No, sir. If I may come in?"

"Of course." Campion ran a hand through his stiff hair. "My apologies, Hornblower. My fatigue makes me stupid."

Horatio nodded, embarrassed that Campion felt the need to explain exhaustion. He closed the door behind him and stood with his hat held in his hands. "Sir, Perhaps I should have --" He heard his own voice telling Archie he should not begin a sentence with an apology, and began again. "Sir, it has come to my attention that there is a problem with Bosun's mate Cleaver."

His desperation to be tactful must have been visible, for Campion moved irritably on his cot and rose. He snatched a flask from a wall and took a deep swallow. "Forget that I am the Captain, Hornblower. Tell me frankly what is the trouble. You and I are both too weary to play polite games."

Horatio sucked in a breath as the Skylark fell into a particularly deep trough. *God, not now.* His hands clasped and unclasped nervously behind his back. "The man is planning a mutiny, sir. If the Skylark is disabled, or if she is fired upon, there will be an attempt to force the cargo hold."

Campion's reaction was not what Horatio anticipated. He took another swallow from the flask and gave Horatio a wry glance. "I suppose it was to be expected from one quarter or another." He sounded as calm as if Horatio had told him that the wind had shifted a few degrees. "You are surprised, Mr. Hornblower?"

Horatio blinked. "Sir, I have told you of a planned mutiny, and you ... You expected it, sir?"

Campion laughed at Hornblower's puzzlement. "From the moment I was told what cargo I would be carrying to England. What captain would not?"

Horatio blushed furiously. Would he have seen it if Archie had not called attention to the guarded hold and Cleaver's intense interest? He met Campion's amused eyes. "What will you do, sir?"

Campion sobered, the humour replaced by a steely glint. "For the moment, I must pretend to ignorance. If I start making accusations it will only foment discontent -- and we know I cannot afford to lose one man." He turned away from Horatio to retrieve his cloak. "How did you find out?"

"Mr. Kennedy saw the guarded hold. And when seaman Styles struck up an acquaintance with Cleaver, he let slip a few clues. They have been watching Cleaver and reporting on his actions."

"Your men do you proud, sir. Such loyalty is rare. I envy you." When he saw the look of confusion on Hornblower's face, he smiled slightly. "I have had scarcely three months with this crew, Mr. Hornblower. Perhaps if I had been given more time before undertaking this mission we would not be in this perilous situation. I owe you more than gratitude."

Horatio flushed. "Sir, if you wish, my men will continue to observe Cleaver and his mates. It will be easier for them, already being aware of the situation."

Campion's brows rose. "You would do this for me? They would take such risks for a Captain and a ship that are not theirs?"

"Sir, you are taking us home. There is nothing we desire more than safe passage."

"Nothing? Are they above temptation then?"

"No, sir. Not above temptation. But I hope above falling to it." To his own ears, he sounded stiffly pedantic. But the sentiment was true. His men had stood by him during their imprisonment in Spain, they had honoured his parole at significant peril to themselves; they had followed him willingly to the Skylark and to danger from enemies within and without. Their honour was beyond price.

"Thank you, Mr. Hornblower. If you could keep me informed, I would appreciate it."

"Aye, aye, sir." Horatio raised his fingers in a salute. Having unburdened his conscience, he felt awkward in front of Campion. "If you will excuse me, sir ..."

Campion raised a hand, staying him. "Send Lieutenant Carlyle to me, please."

Horatio hesitated, hearing the tightness in Campion's voice. "Sir, Lieutenant Carlyle -- he did not realize ... He did not ignore the danger, sir. He is too inexperienced to read his men and with the storm upon us, he has been too occupied --"

Campion's mouth tightened. "Damn you, Hornblower, do you seek to absolve him?"

"No, sir. But with respect, he has done his duty, he has handled the ship skillfully in these conditions -- "

"Have a care, Hornblower. By absolving him, you place the blame on me." He was in the shadows, and Horatio could not see his expression, but the accusation stunned him.

"No, sir! I do not!" he gasped.

Campion raised his head, and Horatio saw the anguish in his eyes. "Then I accuse myself. No, there is nothing more to say, Mr. Hornblower. Send Ross Carlyle to me."

Horatio swallowed his shame. He had no right to question Campion's command, and Campion every right to punish such impudence. "I apologize, sir. I will send Mr. Carlyle directly." He left the cabin and did not see Campion sink down on his cot, his head bowed as if in prayer.

Horatio delivered Campion's summons to Carlyle. He did not think he had given anything away by voice or expression, but the lieutenant paled just the same. Horatio wondered what would pass between the two men. Neither was in an enviable position. As a fresh gust of wind rocked him, he shivered. There was not a man on the Skylark in an enviable position. Perhaps they were all doomed.

"Did you tell him?" Archie asked.

"Yes." Horatio was reluctant to relate that conversation, but when Archie's slim brows rose in a questioning arch, he sighed. "He says he has been expecting it."

Archie read into the reply what Horatio had been battling with all along. "But he did not know for sure until you told him?" Horatio nodded. Archie, amazed by such blindness spoke again. "What of Carlyle? Did Campion warn him to be alert?"

"I don't know, Archie. They have only been together for three months. And we were scarcely out of Oporto when the weather broke. Perhaps no one could have foreseen the danger on such short notice." He thought of Campion's tortured expression and fell silent.

"I noticed. Styles noticed. How could they have been so blind?" Archie's disgust was evident.

"We cannot judge them, Archie." But even as he spoke, he could not help recalling Pellew's words: *There is nothing that happens aboard his ship that is beyond a Captain's control.* He could not think on that now. "I have promised to continue watching Cleaver."

Archie saw the familiar darkness shuttering Horatio's eyes. Arguing and speculation would get him nowhere once Horatio determined a course of action. Archie sighed. "Very well, Horatio. I shall tell Styles to stay close."

"Thank you." It was spoken so quietly that Archie could scarcely hear it over the bruit of the waves. As he raised his face to the lowering skies, a fresh squall descended on the Skylark. The deck rolled beneath him and the masts groaned as the sails protested against the new stress.

"Mr. Pyne -- take in a reef on the mains'l!" Horatio called out, in reaction to the new threat from the weather. "And bring that man down from the top until these seas moderate." Archie glanced at him, seeing exhaustion, resolve, and worry etched clearly on those fine features. He had never seen Horatio in command at sea, and it was a marvel to him that Horatio, who constantly questioned his competence and decisions, could bark out orders as calmly as Captain Pellew and have them be exactly right.

Archie thought of the three years he had lost in prison and wondered if he would ever have the confidence to issue orders with the same certainty as Horatio. He did not even know if he had a future in the Royal Navy. Captain Pellew had been all kindness and reassurance in his brief return to the Indefatigable, but had not made any promises. As Archie strained to see through the pouring rain, he wished the Indy would come sailing over the horizon. He had no way of knowing that next to him, Horatio was making the same wish.
~~**~~