To Return With Honour
by Joan C.

Part Six

As the light strengthened, the horizon grew distinct -- a line of deep grey suspended between the waves and the fading stars, stretching uninterrupted as far as the unaided eye could see. There was a hush upon the deck as all hands; seamen and officers, strained to peer into the distance and waited for the cry from the lookout. "Sail ho!" And yet all remained quiet.

Horatio's face was a perfect mask of calm. Poised near him, Campion wore a similar expression, but his body betrayed him as he leaned forward, his hands clenched on the shaft of his telescope. Ross Carlyle looked about ready to jump out of his skin. Inside, behind that imperturbable calm, Horatio felt much the same as Carlyle, but he was determined to reveal none of that inner turmoil. He turned his head slightly to see Archie, and remembered the time they had stood on the deck of the Indy, waiting for the order to descend to the boats and cut out the Papillon. If he had recognized then, the signs of the seizure that would strike his friend, he might have been able to avert it; if he had, the last three years would have been immensely different. Pointless to think on that, he chided himself. This day, Archie was similarly tense, but his eyes were focused, his manner alert. Horatio watched the pulse at his jaw beating in the same time as his own heart. His gaze went to the men waiting in the waist. They were still, watchful, waiting.

How many of them would be alive at the end of the day? He pushed the gruesome fancy to the back of his mind as quickly as possible. But not before he thought it might be a mercy if Cleaver were to fall to enemy fire. In the light of what Archie had rather tersely related, it would be the best thing that could happen to the Skylark. Horatio searched out Styles. He was standing at the base of the mainmast next to Cleaver. Styles lifted his head, and his eyes met Horatio's briefly, a quick flare of pride and determination lighting them before his expression turned sullen under Cleaver's scrutiny. Horatio scowled, and saw Cleaver dig an elbow into Style's ribs in a show of camaraderie. The ruse was working.

For nearly an hour, they sailed on without a sighting of another sail. Horatio was wondering if the storm had ruined the Dutchman. To have sailed within striking distance of the Skylark, and then to suddenly drop from sight seemed to suggest disaster. There had been so sign of wreckage in the water. That surely would have marked where she went down. With her reduced sail, and the tacking to keep their course as true as possible, the Skylark had surely not covered so many miles that the flotsam of a wrecked ship would not be visible. Then where was the Dutch brig? And was there a sister ship waiting to pounce?

Campion snapped his telescope shut. "It seems we have been granted a respite, gentlemen. I suggest we have breakfast. Carlyle, dismiss the men who have been on watch with my thanks."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Mr. Hornblower, Mr. Kennedy, my cabin, if you please."

They followed the captain below. When they had settled and cups of coffee had been served, Campion leaned back in his chair. "So, how goes our little mutiny, gentlemen? I saw you speaking with your man, Matthews."

Archie sat forward slightly. "Sir, there will be more men involved the closer we get to England. Cleaver has been speaking to his mates. He's looking for at least twelve, including Styles and Oldroyd."

"It is like a fever, isn't it? Spreading quickly. Affecting even your men."

"No, sir!" Archie objected. "My men-- our men -- have sworn their loyalty. They will not turn on their oath."

"You are so certain?" Campion asked bitterly. "If they betray one comrade so easily, might they not betray you, as well?"

Horatio broke his silence. "They will not, sir. Their word is as good as mine. I would stake -- I have staked my life on it. They have never let me down. However, I have a request, sir, and I would ask you to act on it immediately." He looked at Archie, and then back to Campion. "In the event this mutiny comes to pass, I want Styles, Oldroyd, and any other Indefatigable to be clearly absolved. If you would write a statement, sir, attesting that they have remained loyal and true despite their apparent outward actions, Mr. Kennedy and I will witness it. If something should happen to you, or to myself, I want my men to be in no danger of prosecution if an Inquiry or Court Martial should be held."

"You are asking a lot, Lieutenant."

"Yes, sir. I am, but I am asking it for the men who have stood at my side unfailingly, despite my having led them into extreme danger and hardship. I owe them my life, and I cannot leave them without protection."

Campion reached into his desk, took out a parchment and quill, and wrote out what Horatio had requested. Then he passed it to Horatio and Archie to sign. "Does that satisfy your honour, Mr. Hornblower?"

"It is not my honour which requires satisfaction, sir." He waited as Archie wrote out his signature and returned the document to Campion. "If you will keep it with the ship's log, sir?"

"Ah, you really are taking no chances, are you? Very well, I shall hold it safe."

"Thank you, sir." There seemed to be little else to say. Horatio and Archie left Campion, and went to the wardroom where they were served a breakfast of porridge and coffee. Archie set to eagerly. The food was plain, but it was hot and filled his stomach with a satisfying weight. It was such a relief to feel warm and full after days of being cold and hungry, that he was willing to forego the luxury of flavor.

Horatio took a spoonful of the thick substance and watched it plop back into his bowl. He had no appetite for it. Instead he stirred a spoon of sugar into his hot coffee and sat sipping it in silence. The atmosphere was stifling; tension and danger bubbling just below the surface. His head ached, and his fingers went to his temples, rubbing at the tight muscles.

Archie looked at Horatio's untouched breakfast. "You should eat, Horatio."

"Why? So I can vomit it back up again?"

Archie returned his glare. "You are no longer ill, Horatio. You'll need the strength."

"I'm not hungry. The coffee will suffice."

"It will not." Archie pushed a plate of bread towards Horatio. "It won't take a shot from the Dutch to kill you -- you will blow overboard."

Horatio could not help smiling at that. "Very well." He tore a chunk of bread off and gnawed it thoughtfully. "You were very quiet in Campion's cabin."

"You said all that needed to be said. You are that worried about Styles and Oldroyd?"

"Yes. They are good men, Archie. If anything happens, they deserve commendations, not the humiliation of a court martial and possible death. If I d--" He could not say it. He shredded the chunk of bread into crumbs, and left the wardroom.

Archie sighed. He had faced his own mortality often enough that it no longer frightened him. Indeed, there had been times in his life when he would have welcomed death as a friend. And those times were not so far in the past that he could look back at them and question his sanity. He knew that Horatio did not fear death as much as he feared cowardice and dishonour. Horatio was not a coward: it was not the prospect of dying that had driven him from the room, but his belief that death meant failure. Archie drained his mug and gathered up his cloak and hat. Death might be waiting for him, it might be waiting for them all, but at times life was more frightening to Archie than the prospect of eternity.

~~**~~

Once on deck, Horatio forced himself to stand and allow his heartbeat to return to a more reasonable pace. Damn! He was not a green Midshipman who had never seen combat, who had never seen men die. He had been once; a frightened boy puking and shivering. But now he was an officer in the Royal Navy. He had a commission, a physical token of his worth and fitness for command. And because of that piece of paper he had to be strong. He had to lead his men. He could not afford panic, uncertainty, or fear.

Nicholas Campion watched as Hornblower's thin frame seemed to draw strength from his inner resolve. He could not imagine the thoughts in that young man's mind; but they could not be much different from his own. They were both beset with doubts, burdened with responsibilities, exhausted, and, alone. Oh, Hornblower had Kennedy and Campion had Carlyle, but essentially they were alone. It was the nature of command. Some men could learn it, but very few were born with that strength in their hearts. Campion had sensed it from the first meeting with Hornblower; it was why he had decided to trust him with the Skylark, and her cargo. He had not expected to entrust him with his very life.

"Sail to windward!" The topman shouted down and all reflection and doubts were swept away. Campion snatched his telescope from Carlyle's hands. Archie bolted up from the companionway. Horatio turned suddenly, his cape swirling. In an instant, the lookout on the mizzen mast screamed, "Sail to leeward! Sail to leeward!" They had escaped once, this time they would have to fight.

"Run out the guns, Mr. Pyne!" Campion gave the order. The gun crews sprang into action, rallying around their pieces. The enemy was still far out of range, but the Skylark's disadvantage was enormous. Her guns needed to be ready to fire as soon as Campion gave the order.

Campion paced the deck, drawing up short next to Horatio. "Mr. Hornblower, you have my apologies for doubting that there were two ships working in concert. You have been proven correct. Now if you could tell me how I am to beat the two of them, I would be most grateful."

Horatio considered, seeing in his mind the logistics. This, for him, was the easiest part of command. A mathematical problem, with variables. It was simple. He could factor in weather conditions, the wind direction, the physical characteristics of the ship under sail. It was the human element which made it complicated, for that was unpredictable. If only there were a formula for that! But he had been thinking of the Dutchman's actions, and believed he had an answer.

"Sir, the ship to leeward will have a hard time beating against this wind. It is the ship to windward that we need to concern ourselves with. The privateer will try to cripple us, but she is not strong enough to take us by boarding. The ship to leeward is the more powerful -- she will swoop down to take us even if we can hold off the privateer."

"Yes, that is what I had feared. Can we engage the Dutchman?"

"We can engage her and we can beat her, but we cannot make headway against the other ship as we do so." Horatio's idea was so audacious, so intriguing, that he could not contain his words though he doubted Campion would consider it. "Sir, if we were to change course, we could bring the engagement to the Dutchman, rather than wait for him to press the attack. He has been very methodical, keeping to a carefully considered plan. The shots fired across the bow, retreating when the storm threatened, reappearing on the horizon, only to wait until her ally is also within sight --" He wondered if he sounded as if he were babbling like an idiot.

Archie spoke into Horatio's pause, "It is like a carefully choreographed dance, one wrong or unanticipated step and the entire pattern falls apart." And then, blushing because it seemed such a strange analogy, he added: "Or having an enemy in full retreat, suddenly wheel and charge."

Campion looked at those two young men, outwardly so different, and yet so much alike. Just now, Kennedy's blue eyes wore an expression nearly identical to Hornblower's fiery gaze. Campion was not afraid to take risks under normal circumstances. This situation could scarcely be considered normal. But necessity dictated risk. Decisively, Campion issued orders to spread more sail, and gave the direction to Pyne to turn the Skylark on a tack to pursue the Dutch brigantine. "Run a log line, Mr. Pyne. I want to know when we can expect to be in firing range."

"Aye, aye, sir." Pyne's dour face took on an expression of relief, and Horatio knew how he felt, released from the awful tension of waiting. He felt his heart quicken, but this was a different tension, expectant and battle-borne, and he thought that this was why men fought, why war in all its terror was so beloved of the human race. It was not until the aftermath was faced that it became ugly and loathsome. Horatio was young, but he had seen both faces of war. He looked over the decks, saw the swarm of men preparing for battle. And Cleaver, standing at his customary post at the mainmast, his dark eyes hard and sharp. Horatio knew that by forcing a battle, he might be releasing the mutiny as well.

He turned to Campion and saw that he was staring at Cleaver with eyes as bleak and grey as the seas. He knew what Horatio would have told him. He must have felt as if one gun were aimed at his heart and the other at his back. Either shot would kill him.

Archie jogged his elbow, shaking him from his thoughts. He handed Horatio a telescope. "We're getting closer Horatio. Look."

Horatio took the scope from Archie and held it to his eye. He could see the schooner clearly now; a tiny ship still. Her sails at this distance were creamy, her strakes red and black, her guns as threatening as toys. She had not raised a flag, but flew a narrow red pendant to show the fetch of the wind. Horatio narrowed his eyes, straining to see her lines, how she sailed. Her canvas was loose on the yards, he noticed -- her master could surely bring her closer to the wind. Was it a ruse, or casual seamanship? Did she not see the Skylark bearing down on her? He heard Pyne tell Captain Campion that they would be within a reasonable range in a quarter of an hour. Fifteen minutes.

Horatio would have held his breath if it had been possible. The deck was active, Campion and Pyne issuing orders in rapid succession, setting the sails to bring them as close to the wind as possible. The Skylark was flying on a razor's edge, as if earthbound by only the attraction between her hull and the water. Soon the Dutch schooner was no longer a toy, but a threat. Campion was taking a risk by setting the Skylark's bow straight at her, delaying the tack to present the Skylark's broadside, but at least she was a narrow target.

It would not be long before they were in range, and Horatio took a last look at the Skylark; pristine and virginal, unbaptized by blood and untouched by shot. Campion was running his hand along the smooth length of rail before him like a lover, but his eyes were focused on the growing profile of the Privateer. He spoke to Carlyle, and Horatio could not catch the words, but he saw Campion grasp his lieutenant's arm briefly, as if to hearten him.

"Are you ready, Horatio?' Archie asked quietly.

"Yes. It's not as if I have a choice."

"What about Cleaver?"

"The men know what to do. First, we have a battle to fight."

Archie saw the nervous working of Horatio's throat as he swallowed to relieve the tension. He felt his own emotions swelling, and for a moment, closed his eyes. He was not afraid, but he was nervous. He smiled at his friend. "Thank you, Horatio."

"Why?"

"For giving me back my life."

"In time for you to lose it?"

Archie shook his head. "At least I will lose it in honour and not in shame."

Horatio's dark eyes met his for an instant, comprehending. "You are one of us. And when we return to the Indy --" His sentence was cut short by the hollow boom of a cannon. He turned to see a bank of black smoke rolling towards them as the Dutch guns fired a broadside in succession. It had begun.

The moment Campion saw the first puff of smoke, he gave the order to tack. At that instant, the first shots struck the Skylark and the hell of battle came to her decks. Horatio felt the Skylark heel and stutter in her course as the shells struck her hull, and her own guns roared out an answer. The first broadside from the Dutch had been aimed too low! The masts and rigging that were the best and most effective targets to cripple a ship remained untouched, and he saw the chain shot from the Skylark's guns rip into the Privateer's shrouds and canvas. The gun crews set up a ragged cheer as they saw the effect of their shots. There was little time for jubilation as they prepared for their second chance to kill.

"Helm hard a-lee! Campion's order rang out, and the Skylark's crew and helmsman turned her swiftly as the privateer's second broadside was fired, at a closer range, but at a poor angle. Still, several shots found their mark. Splinters flew from rails and gunnels, ratlines sagged from the masts. Men screamed in pain and anger, as wounded comrades were pulled from beneath ropes and cables. The gun crews stood ready, linstocks in hand, poised above the touch holes.

"FIRE!"

Horatio winced as the guns belched fire and smoke. The Dutchman's mizzen mast cracked in two, bringing sails and riggings to her decks. The canvas dragged off her stern, acting like an anchor. The Skylark was less than five hundred feet from her, now. The Skylarks could see the blood on the decks, the unseated guns, the shredded sails, and splintered masts. The progress of the Skylark slowed as the hands shortened sail. The privateer could not maneuver, but she had enough firepower to loose one last cannonade.

A wave of heat and noise broke over the quarter-deck. It was as if a giant hand plucked Horatio from his feet and slammed him to the planks. He lay there, not losing consciousness, but dazed and unable to breathe. All around him rained splinters, sparks, and severed rigging. His ears rang, his mouth was thick with the taste of gunpowder, smoke, and the salty taste of blood.

"Horatio! Horatio!" Archie grabbed his shoulder and turned him face-up. "Breathe! For God's sake -- breathe!" He shook him hard; frightened by Horatio's pallor and the faint blue tinge to his lips. Horatio coughed, exhaling what little air remained in his lungs, and then sucked in a deep breath, nearly crying out with the pain of it. But the next was easier, and the next. Archie's worried eyes swam into focus. Horatio struggled to sit, then clawed his way to his feet with Archie's support. The quarter-deck was a shambles.

Broken spars, rigging, shreds of charred canvas. And bodies. A young midshipman, dead and bloody. Horatio had never learned his name. Two sailors were entwined in an embrace of death. Both had been disemboweled, possibly by the same shot. Horatio gagged at the stench and sagged against Archie's arm. "Where is Campion?"

"Amidships. Look."

Horatio followed Archie's direction. The privateer had struck her colours, and Campion stood receiving the surrender of the captain and her remaining crew. The Skylark had done horrendous damage to the ship and her crew. There did not seem to be many left alive, and the ship itself was a dismasted hulk. The Skylark had been victorious.

"We won?" he marveled.

"We won." Archie confirmed. "Come, Horatio. You should see Mr. Martin. That gash on your head might need to be stitched."

Horatio raised fingers to his scalp and flinched when they came away sticky with blood. "It's nothing," he argued. His voice sounded thick and sluggish in his ears.

"It's not. No arguments, sir," Archie said in his best no-nonsense manner, and Horatio did not have the strength to disagree.

Campion saw them heading belowdecks and hurried over. "Lieutenant Hornblower! Thank God, when I saw you lying there, I thought for certain you were dead."

"No, sir. I seem to have a singularly hard skull."

Archie interjected before Horatio could say any more. "A singularly hard and bloody skull, sir. He needs to get to surgery as quickly as possible."

"Yes. I sent Ross there, as well. Mr. Kennedy, bring a casualty report from Mr. Martin when you return."

"Aye, aye, sir." He began steering Horatio towards the companionway.

"Sir, sir!" Matthews hurried over. "Mr. Kennedy, is he --"

"I am perfectly well, Matthews," Horatio said with some heat. "The others, how are they?"

"All well, sir. Thanks be to God."

"Cleaver?"

"That bastard's got the devil's own luck, sir. He were standing next to a man cut in half by a shot, and never even got splattered." Matthews said disgustedly. "He'll live to make more mischief, mark my words."

"More's the pity," Archie replied. Horatio's weight on his arm was increasing as he weakened. "Thank the men for their concern, and tell them that Mr. Hornblower is not badly injured."

"D'ye need any help, there, sir? Oldroyd! Get over 'ere and 'elp Mr. Kennedy." Matthews shouted, and Archie cringed sympathetically as he felt Horatio recoil at the sound of Matthews' voice, but there was no doubt they were both grateful for Oldroyd's strong arms as they navigated the narrow companionway to sick berth.

~~**~~

Horatio would not stay in sick berth longer than it would take Martin to stitch and bandage his head, Archie was certain. He helped Horatio to a chair and handed over a cloth that one of the mates thrust at him. "Hold that on your head until someone sees to it, Horatio." Archie ordered. "And do not return to duty without Martin's approval."

Horatio shot Archie a resentful glance. "I am still your superior officer, Mr. Kennedy."

Archie tried to suppress a grin. "I believe I have the advantage of rank, sir. At least until you and Carlyle are given a clean bill of health. And you *will* stay here."

Horatio did not feel like arguing the point. He held the rag against his scalp, waiting for the blood to stop flowing. It was not a serious wound, but he could not report for duty until it was bandaged. What had Campion said about Carlyle being wounded? Horatio looked around the sick berth. The initial rush had been dealt with. Aside from the four men killed, the casualties had been light, and Martin and his two surgeon's mates were moving on to the less seriously injured men. If he had been less worried about the state of the ship, Horatio would have waited his turn, but he was not unaware of the work that needed to be done. They were not out of danger, yet. He reached out to catch the attention of one of the mates.

"Pardon me, but if Mr. Martin could attend to me, I must return to duty as quickly as possible."

"Aye, sir. Sorry you had to wait." The man spoke to Martin, and a moment later the surgeon came to Horatio, wiping his bloody hands on his apron.

"Mr. Hornblower, let me take a look at that."

Horatio pulled the cloth away. The slash was still bleeding, but it was beginning to clot. He sat still as Martin began a gentle exploration of the wound.

"Any headaches? Blurry vision?"

"No."

"Sick to your stomach?"

"Not from this."

Martin laughed softly. "Good. To tell the truth, I don't believe it even needs stitches. Just a bandage, and a promise from you to take it easy for the next few hours, so the bleeding doesn't start again. Can you do that?"

"I think so." He bit his lip as Martin began cleaning the wound with warm water.

"You were lucky, Mr. Hornblower. It's a clean wound. No splinters or debris. It must have been a piece of metal, perhaps grapeshot that grazed you. It could have easily penetrated your skull." He wadded a strip of linen into a pad, and then deftly bound it in place with another band of cloth. "You're set, then."

"Sir, how his Lieutenant Carlyle?"

"A bad splinter wound to his arm. But he will recover. Tell Captain Campion that I wish him to remain in sick berth overnight, so that I can keep a watch for fever and bleeding."

"May I see him?"

"He's in the far hammock. Don't keep him awake."

"I won't." Horatio rose a little unsteadily and made his way to Carlyle's side. He was very still, but his eyes were open, and he smiled wanly as Horatio looked down at him. "How are you, Carlyle?"

"A bit weak."

"Yes, I know how it is. You should rest. We need you back on your feet as quickly as possible. There is much to be done." Horatio turned to leave, but Carlyle called him back with a whisper. "What is it?"

"Is -- is the Captain all right?"

"He is untouched. And I am certain he will be glad to hear that you are recovering."

"Is it over? I mean, will there be more fighting?"

Horatio shrugged. "Who can say? But I think there will be."

"And the other --" Carlyle licked his lips and glanced around the sick berth. "Cleaver?" He looked so distressed that Horatio feared he would make himself ill. He laid a hand on the young man's shoulder. "Ross, listen. I know it is not my place to say this, but Captain Campion does not blame you for Cleaver's actions -- nor should you blame yourself. Right now, you must get well. That is all he expects of you. Mr. Kennedy and I will worry about everything else."

Carlyle closed his eyes. "Thank you, Lieutenant Hornblower."

"Horatio."

"Aye, Horatio," he said drowsily, and was quiet.

Martin stood beside Horatio for a moment. "That was kind of you, Lieutenant. He was fretting, you know."

"I know. He'll have enough to worry about tomorrow if he is well enough." The prospect made Horatio's head throb. The pain must have shown on his face, for Martin peered at him intently. "I am all right," he insisted.

"Very well. I can't tie you down, Mr. Hornblower. But if you do not follow my instructions, I can have Captain Campion order you back here."

"I promise I will do nothing to cause you to do that, sir." Horatio managed a wry smile. "Thank you for your care."

"Just doing my duty." Martin nodded curtly and continued down the row of occupied hammocks. Horatio retrieved his blood-stained coat and left the sick berth for the chaos on deck.

It was always a shock to move from the darkness of the lower deck to the bright light of full day, and Horatio stood blinking in the companionway until his sight adjusted. In the short time he had been in the sick berth, quite a bit of work had been accomplished. Most of the rigging had been cleared away and coiled, the shattered spars had been removed and replacements brought to be hoisted into place. All things considered, the Skylark had been fortunate. Stepping over some fallen ratlines, Horatio made his way to across the deck and pulled himself up the short steps to the quarter-deck. Order had been restored there quickly under Campion's watchful eye. Temporary railings and gunwales had been hammered into place, and two seamen were working the deck pump to wash debris and blood from the planks.

Horatio approached Campion. "Lieutenant Hornblower, reporting for duty, sir."

Campion appraised him with his sharp, grey gaze. "You are well enough?"

"Mr. Martin released me, sir. As long as I do not start bleeding again."

"Good, good." Campion's attention turned back to the ruin of the Guilder. Skylark's guns had torn her masts and rigging to shreds, and gouged deep scars in her deck. Horatio thought there was nothing so forlorn as a defeated, dismasted ship. "What will happen to her?" he asked Campion. "We cannot afford a prize crew, nor do we have room for prisoners."

"I know. I have ordered her guns disabled, and her armoury stripped, save for the officers' sidearms. The carpenter has sounded the well, and she is in no immediate danger of sinking. I will return Captain Schenk and his crew to her, and let her fare as she may. Perhaps her companion in the hunt will come to her rescue. It is not a satisfactory solution, but it is the only one I can see at this time -- unless you have something else in mind?"

Horatio shook his head. The plan seemed sensible enough, and they had few alternatives. "No, sir. But I would not depend on the other ship to abandon the pursuit to help the Guilder. We are the prize they are after. That much has not changed."

"Then where are they, Mr. Hornblower?" Campion asked. "We have not seen them in nearly a day. Could the storm have taken such a toll that they cannot keep station with us? And what nationality were they? We never did discover that."

"No, sir," Horatio replied. "I cannot say for certain, but it is possible that they were French."

"What! Why didn't you say anything sooner?"

"I ... I was not certain -- and I still am not. But when they did not appear to aid the Guilder, I was fairly certain that they were not Dutch. They would not leave their countryman to hang. I would have a serious talk with Captain Schenk -- see if he is angry enough at his betrayal to give up his ally."

"By God, Hornblower, but you are a cool customer! I shall pray that our countries avoid a war, for I should hate to meet you in battle."

Horatio did not know how to reply. He cleared his throat and looked back out over the Guilder. "Sir, if the other ship is French, they will return quickly, now that they no longer have to share the prize with the Dutch."

Campion spat over the rail. "Damned scavengers! How is your French, Mr. Hornblower?"

"I can make myself understood, sir. Mr. Kennedy's is better."

"Then I suggest we find him. Captain Schenk's English is no better than my French."

~~**~~

Fifteen minutes later, Archie, Horatio, and Campion were closeted in his cabin with the Dutch captain. Schenk was a tall man with greying blonde hair and a weathered face showing the strain of the last few days. He had a guarded attitude, not hostile, but definitely wary. When Archie began speaking in his fluent French, Schenk's eyes opened wide, and he seemed relieved that he would not have to struggle with his English under interrogation. He understood that Archie would be asking questions posed by Captain Campion, and that his replies would be translated exactly. He nodded, indicating his agreement and Campion drew a breath.

"Very well. Ask Captain Schenk why he was stalking us."

Schenk feigned puzzlement at Archie's query. "Je ne comprends pas, monsieur."

"He doesn't under --"

"That much French I do know. And his answer is rubbish."

Schenk's cheeks reddened. From his expression, Horatio figured he had been testing Campion's comprehension. Archie repeated the question, and this time Schenk shrugged and answered.

"He is a privateer, he was doing his job."

"Really? I admire his persistence in staying with us, despite the weather and the knowledge that he was seriously outgunned. He must have been anticipating quite a reward. Ask him if his conspirators had agreed to share the prize money."

As Archie spoke, Schenk's emotions chased across this features; a hint of obstinant chagrin, then anger, and Horatio was certain, fear. He burst forth in a flood of French. Horatio caught the general drift of the reply, but Schenk's accent made it difficult to follow word for word.

"He says he is stubborn, and headstrong. He says it is entirely his fault that the Guilder was lost. He says there was no conspirator."

"He is a damned liar. We have proof. And we do not understand why he would honor the anonymity of an ally who so clearly deserted him in his hour of need."

Schenk listened, then set his mouth in a tight line. Archie looked at Campion and shook his head. Campion's eyes blazed, but he too held his silence.

Into that tense pause, Horatio spoke in a low, level tone. His accent was as awkward as Schenk's but there was no doubt that he knew what he was saying. "Captain Schenk, your allies -- and we know that they are French, so there is no need to protect them, left you to deal with us alone. They did not care about your ship, they did not care about your men, they did not care about your life, they did not care about any treaty or agreement between your countries. If you believe they would have shared one Louis D'or with you, then you are a fool. The only thing they would have shared with you is a broadside from their guns."

Horatio's words clearly startled Campion, but he recovered quickly, leaning towards Schenk in a menacing fashion. "You have two choices, Captain Schenk. You can answer our questions truthfully, in which case you and your men will be returned to your ship, with enough supplies to repair her damage and allow her to return to port. However if you are obdurate, I will set fire to the Guilder and you and your men will become prisoners of war, to be sent to the hulks on the first English ship that crosses our path."

Schenk listened to Archie's translation. He stared deeply into Campion's eyes, then nodded and spoke in halting English. "Very well. The other ship is the Marseilles."

"How many guns?"

"Thirty-two."

"Dear God," Campion breathed softly. "And what was your deal with her?"

Schenk returned to French. "I was to force you to turn east, towards her guns. Naturally, it was assumed you would surrender, and we were to share the prize sixty-forty."

"And you believed that?"

Schenk's shoulders lifted in a shrug. "They are our allies."

"And unwise choice, Captain Schenk. The French have no allies -- only less bitter enemies. Thank you for your honesty. I will see to the provisioning of Guilder. However, your guns will be disabled, and your armoury stripped of all but your officers' sidearms."

Schenk looked horrified. "But we will be helpless!"

Campion's brows lifted. "Afraid that your *allies* might take affront at your defeat? As for your enemies -- flying a white flag or a distress signal will be enough to prevent them from blowing you from the water. You might find that your enemies are more trustworthy than your friends."

Schenk looked shaken by that observation. He inclined his head towards Campion. "Thank you, Captain. My men and I will be ready to return to Guilder as soon as you have done with your work."

Campion heaved a sigh of relief. "Mr. Kennedy, thank you for your services. Take an hour to rest and eat before returning to your duties. Mr. Hornblower, a minute more, if you please."

Archie and Horatio exchanged weary glances, more telling than words to Campion. He envied their friendship but not the heartaches that the future would hold for them.He waited until Kennedy had left the cabin before turning to Horatio. "That was quite a speech, Mr. Hornblower."

Horatio flushed, believing himself rebuked. "I am sorry, sir, if I over-stepped my bounds. I should not have spoken so precipitously --"

Campion laughed. "My God, man. You must learn to take a compliment. Though it was a bit of a chance you took, mentioning the French the way you did."

Horatio shrugged. "If he had denied it without naming another country, I would still have been right. And if he had named another country, then we should have had our answer. It seemed logical."

"Are you a gambler, Mr. Hornblower?"

"I-I play whist, sir." He looked so abashed that Campion could not help tweaking him.

"Do you play it well?"

"Yes, sir." No false modesty, just a statement of fact.

"Then I pity your opponents. You must lead them a merry dance."

"Whist is nothing but mathematics, sir."

"Really?" Campion's brows rose. "And what of luck?"

Horatio shook his head and smiled. "Luck is what you make with the cards you are dealt. That is what my father taught me."

"A wise man, that."

"Yes, sir."

Campion gazed out of his stern windows. "What happens next, Mr. Hornblower? Do I confront the erstwhile mutineers or continue allowing them to plot, believing me to be in ignorance of their schemes? What does the gambler in you say?"

"Sir, there is another ship out there, a French frigate. You thwarted Cleaver by defeating the Dutch ship. I believe they will lay low until the frigate returns to harass us. Their only hope is that the Marseilles will attack. They know you will not surrender, sir."

"No. I cannot surrender. Better the Skylark should go to the bottom with her cargo." He turned quickly to face Horatio, and his expression was stark with grief. "And with her men. I am sorry, Mr. Hornblower, to have brought this upon you. It was to have been an easy sail to England."

"Sir, there is no such thing as an easy sail to England." A smile tugged at the corners of Horatio's mouth. "At least, I have never had one." He saluted Campion. "I will see how the repairs are progressing, sir, if you have no objection."

"Carry on, Mr. Hornblower."

"Aye, aye, sir."

~~**~~