Horatio and the Horse
by Wendy Snow-Lang


In which our intrepid heroes are setting out from the beach to retake the village of Muzillac from the French revolutionaries who have possession.
They run into minor difficulties.

***
"But, Archie, do I HAVE to?" Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower whispered in his friend's ear, then looked up at the tall brown horse next to which he was standing.

Archibald Kennedy, Acting-Lieutenant of HMS INDEFATIGABLE of His Royal Britannic Majesty's navy, smirked at the other officer. "She looks like a very nice horse, Horatio. Don't be afraid."

Horatio glanced at the horse's big brown eyes. The horse whickered softly and blinked. Horatio cringed. "It made a noise, Archie! It's going to bite me, I'm sure!"

Archie rolled his eyes. "First of all, Horatio, she's a 'she,' not an it. I don't like it when people refer to animals as 'its.' Animals have feelings too!"

"I have a feeling that SHE has a feeling to bite me!" Horatio insisted.

Archie took the reins in his hand, tried to give them to Horatio. "She's NOT going to bite you! She seems very sweet! Look at those beautiful big eyes of hers. They exude nothing but kindness and obedience!"

"They exude MEANNESS, if you ask me! I don't like her, no, not at all!"

Archie leaned in closer to Horatio. "You'd better mount up, old chum. Major Edrington is starting to notice!"

"YOU mount up. I'll walk!" Horatio glanced over his shoulder. Edrington, Lord Edrington, that is, sat upon his own sturdy stead a short distance away and scowled at Horatio and Archie, noticing their heated, whispered discussion.

"Horatio, you're the senior naval officer here. You MUST ride! I'M the one who'll walk. I'm only a lowly Acting-Lieutenant." Archie crinkled his small nose in an endearing manner. "Come now, up with you!"

Horatio crossed his arms in front of his dark blue, white lapelled coat. "I refuse! I AM the senior naval officer here and you can't make me get on top of that creature!"

Archie touched his forehead in salute. "Aye, aye, sir!" His bright blue eyes widened. "Uh, oh! Here he comes!"

Edrington, his back ram-rod straight, his red coat blinding in the harsh French sunlight, touched his spurs to his horse's sides and walked the animal to the two naval officers. "Is there a problem, gentlemen?" he asked.

"N-no, my lord!" answered Horatio. "I was merely attempting to talk Acting-Lieutenant Kennedy into riding. He-he's hurt his leg, my lord, and needs to ride. I-I would prefer to walk anyway." He gazed up at Edrington, his square-jawed face set and determined, hoping Edrington would believe his lie. His arched brows drew together and his lips pressed to a grim line. If he showed how serious he was, Edrington might not suspect him of a falsehood. "I-I like to walk, my lord. Stretch my legs, as it were. Ha-hum. Exercise. Yes, that's it! Exercise! One doesn't get much opportunity to stretch one's leg on the quarterdeck of a frigate!"

Edrington's eyebrows rose, his mouth forming a perfect--"Oh! I see! Hmm. Exercise. Of course!" He gazed steadily down his short nose at Horatio. "I didn't THINK you could possibly be AFRAID of riding a horse. Especially a gentle mare like that one!"

Horatio's shoulders slumped and he threw an acidic look at Archie, took the reins from his friend's hands, then turned to face the mare. She blinked calmly at him. Horatio lifted his booted foot and attempted to stab his toe into the metal stirrup.

"Um, Lieutenant, sir-" Archie said.

"Not now, Mr. Kennedy! Can't you see that I'm busy?" Horatio continued struggling with the stirrup.

"Sir!" Archie continued interrupting.

Horatio stopped trying to mount up and thrust out his head, his chin down and exasperation clear on his face. "What IS it, Mr. Kennedy?"

Archie turned slightly away from Edrington's observant gaze. "Ahem, sir. You should mount up from the OTHER side! Horses are very particular about that sort of thing."

Horatio's mouth dropped open, then he clamped his jaw shut and nodded curtly. "Yes, of course, Mr. Kennedy." He rounded to the horse's left flank and raised his right foot to the stirrup rung.

"Ahem. OTHER foot, sir," Kennedy whispered.

"Oh." Horatio looked at the stirrup, looked at the saddle and the horse's broad back, suddenly picturing the consequences if he had mounted by his right foot. He would have ended up facing Edrington and his own mare's rump. 'Twouldn't have been very dignified if he'd succeeded in mounting up backwards! He gazed up at Edrington scowling down at him, one brow raised. Horatio smiled. "Just, uh, just having a bit of a laugh with the mare, my lord. Horses like that, you know. A good laugh relaxes them, it does."

Edrington's other eyebrow joined the first high up on his forehead. "That's a new one on me, Mr. Hornblower, and I grew up on a horse's back! Please do continue with your joke to the mare. I'd love to see her laugh out loud!" He grinned with one side of his mouth and colour rose to Horatio's cheeks.

Horatio turned back to the horse and Archie's dismayed expression. "Don't say a word, Archie!" he whispered, his face beet-red and his temper in tight control. He lifted his left foot and stabbed at the stirrup, tried again, and again, and yet again, then spoke quietly out of the side of his mouth. "Mr. Kennedy! Your assistance would be greatly appreciated!"

Archie bent and wove his fingers together, offering the clasped hands for Horatio to step upon. Horatio stepped, Archie heaved-and Horatio landed on the ground on the other side of the horse.

"Uh. Mr. Kennedy?" he said meekly. "Could you-could you help me up please?"
***