Horse Play
By fluteface

 

"Come, come, Horatio, it's not the end of the world!"

From his side of the carriage, where he has been dejectedly staring
out the window for the last half hour, Horatio Hornblower turned to
look at his long-time friend and sailing mate, Acting-Lieutenant
Archie Kennedy. "That is easy for you to say, Mr. Kennedy," he said
despondently. "Your career is not over."

"And neither is yours, Horatio. For heaven's sake, it is only - "

"Only what, Archie?" Horatio responded angrily. "Only a disrating
to Midshipman? Captain Pellew might as well have thrown me
overboard or had me hanged, rather than this.this. demotion. It
would be much preferable to this humiliation." He turned back to
the window of the carriage, trying to shut out his friend, but
Archie would have none of it.

"Horatio," he said patiently. "It is only a temporary disrating.
Captain Pellew fully intends to return you to your rank of
lieutenant after a sufficient time has passed for you to ponder your
transgression."

Bristling, Horatio turned back to face Archie, who was glad to see
the fire in his friend's eyes. Horatio had been silent and brooding
ever since he had returned from the captain's quarters with the news
of his return to the rank of midshipman. It had been far too long
since he had shown any sign of life at all.

"Temporary or not, it is humiliating."

"You don't think you are deserving of this?"

Horatio's lips pressed together in a thin line as he scowled at
Archie. "That is not for me to decide. That decision lies with the
captain."

"Agreed," Archie said smoothly. "But do you agree with that
decision?" As Horatio remained silent, his eyes cast down on the
floor, Archie continued on. "You were late for watch, Horatio, not
once, but twice! It could have been much worse, you know, had you
not had sufficient reason for your tardiness. You could have been
turned before the mast and reduced to a simple seaman. Or even
worse, the captain could have forbidden you be allowed this leave we
had planned for so many months."

"That is not amusing, Mr. Kennedy." Horatio's voice had become
stern and prim, and Archie couldn't help laughing out loud.

"Perhaps not to you, Horatio."

Glaring across the length of the carriage, Horatio folded his arms
across his chest. "I do believe that you are enjoying this, Mr.
Kennedy."

Smiling widely, Archie fought to hold back more laughter. "Oh, Mr.
Hornblower. How could I not enjoy it? After all, I do now outrank
you now, at least for a few days."

Anger turned to horror on Horatio's face as the truth dawned on
him. His reduction in rank now placed Archie as his superior
officer, something that was beginning to rankle at Horatio a great
deal the more he thought on it.

"Enjoy it while you are able, Mr. Kennedy," he said loftily, trying
to hide his dismay at this unfortunate turn of events.

"Oh, I intend to," Archie smirked back at him.

**********

Finally, after what seemed an eternity to the silent Horatio, the
carriage drew to a halt, and the door was opened. He followed
Archie out of the coach, taking a moment to stretch his legs and his
back as he looked around.

Kennedy Manor stood tall and imposing before him, the cold gray
stones a marked contrast to the beauty of the early summer day. It
was not the first time that Horatio had joined Archie here, but, he
vowed to himself, if his friend continued to pester him so, it would
most certainly be his last visit here.

"Welcome home, Mr. Kennedy," came the familiar voice of Dawes, the
Kennedy butler. "It has been a long time, sir." He motioned for
two younger servants to come forward and collect the bags belonging
to the two sailors, which was accomplished silently and
unobtrusively. "And Mr. Hornblower. A pleasure as always, sir."

"Thank you, Dawes," Archie said cheerfully, and Horatio dipped his
head in acknowledgement. It never ceased to amaze him, the amount
of wealth and comfort that Archie had grown up in, such a marked
contrast to the relative poverty Horatio had known as a child. And
yet Archie had never in his life lorded it over Horatio, instead
shrugging off the differences in their class as if they had no
meaning. And to him, they didn't, Horatio thought as he followed
Archie into the huge home. Archie truly saw no difference in the
two of them - he saw them only as fellow officers. As friends.

"Your rooms are prepared, sir," Dawes said in his slow, haughty
manner as he closed the front door behind the two sailors. "We've
given Mr. Hornblower the Blue Room, as before."

"Splendid, Dawes!" Archie said cheerfully. "We'll take some tea and
then a light supper. I imagine Mr. Hornblower will want to retire
immediately following, as I have something very special planned for
him tomorrow."

"What?" Horatio said, surprised, turning to his friend, but Archie
just looked back at him with wide blue eyes and a look of complete
innocence on his face. Suspicion began to grow in Horatio's mind.
That look on Archie's face was never a good sign.

**********

"Good morning, Mr. Hornblower!" Archie's cheerful voice greeted
Horatio as he came down the stairs. "Did you sleep well?"

"Fair," Horatio admitted as he accepted the cup of tea that Archie
held out to him. "It is always difficult the first couple of nights
away from the ship." In truth, he very much missed the soft roll of
Indefatigable as she lay at anchor, and he lay awake listening for
the soft lapping of water against her hull, the myriad creaks and
groans she uttered in her sleep. "It is.disconcerting."

"Well, then, I have the perfect remedy for that! Something to take
your mind off of what you miss, and concentrate it on something new."

"Oh lord, Archie," Horatio groaned as a horrible thought hit
him. "You are not planning on dragging me to another of those
blasted plays you love so much, are you?"

Archie's laugh rang through the exquisitely furnished room in which
they sat. It was, Horatio thought, the only true evidence of the
differences in their upbringings besides their homes - Archie loved
the theatre, and plays, and literature, while Horatio felt utterly
uncomfortable and out of place in such areas. The sea was his home,
he realized, while Archie could be at home anywhere.

"No, no, Horatio," Archie said, shaking his head, his eyes sparkling
with laughter. "In fact, what I propose is something that could
well help you in your career."

"Oh?" Horatio instantly perked up at that. Perhaps Archie had some
new navigational books..

"We'll begin after we've had a breakfast - "

"Oh, Archie," Horatio interrupted. "Could we not begin now? I am
really not all that hungry"

Archie quirked an eyebrow at him, not even bothering to smother his
grin. "Are you quite certain, Horatio?" At his friend's
enthusiastic nod, Archie stood up. "Very well. Follow me."

"Aye," Horatio said, following Archie out the door. He expected his
friend to turn toward the library, but instead he headed out the
front door, Horatio following a little more slowly now. "May I ask
where we are going?"

"You may ask," Archie said as they headed across the carriage lane,
Horatio in tow.

Horatio waited for a few moments, then ventured "I may ask, but you
are not going to answer?"

"That's right," Archie grinned at him. "You'll find out in just a
moment, Mr. Hornblower."

As they made their way away from the manor, Horatio felt his heart
drop. They were heading toward the stable, which no doubt meant
they were haring off on some wild adventure that Archie had cooked
up, instead of the leisurely, restful day Horatio was hoping for.

"Ah, Henry," Archie said as we reached the stable. "Are we all
ready to go?"

"Yes, sir," the groom said with a slight bow. Straightening up, he
indicated a nearby stall. Archie went over to stand just outside
the door, looking in.

"Perfect!" he said to Henry, who grinned and left the stable.
Turning around, he saw Horatio standing rather awkwardly and
uncomfortably in the middle of the aisle. "Are you quite ready, Mr.
Hornblower?"

"For what - if I may ask?" he said warily, and Archie grinned evilly
at him.

"Why, for your riding lesson, of course!"

Horatio's dark eyes widened, and his gaze darted from Archie to
where Henry disappeared to the stall behind Archie and finally back
to his friend. "Ri....ride......riding lesson?" he finally choked
out, near-panic in his voice.

"Yes, indeed," Archie answered him. "I understand you are not very
comfortable on horseback. In fact, I have seen you, Horatio. It
was pitiful."

"No, no, I don't need to be comfortable. All I need is a ship....."

"And you never know when your crew will be ashore on a mission and
you will have to use horses to travel. Your men would be much more
likely to follow you if you were able to stay on top of that horse,
rather than falling off."

Horatio looked resentfully at Archie. "I have never fallen off a
horse."

Shaking his head, Archie took his arm and pulled him over to the
stall. "Then you cannot call yourself a horseman. No rider worth
his salt can say he's never been thrown."

"But..."

"No buts," Archie said firmly, opening the stall door. "I would
like you to meet Sabine."

"Archie, please, I do not need to do this."

"No, Horatio, you do not wish to do this. You do, however, need to
do this, for your own good. Come over here and introduce yourself."

With a small sigh, Horatio stepped over to the stall and looked
inside. Sabine was a gray mare, about seven or eight years old, and
16 hands, with a gentle, docile look about her. As she saw Horatio
shuffle toward her, she stuck her head toward him and huffed a
greeting. Warily, he raised a hand and stroked her neck, all the
while looking like he was ready to jump out of his skin.

"See?" Archie grinned at him. "She's harmless. Very sweet."

"Until someone climbs on her back," Horatio grumbled, looking at the
tack already in place.

"Nonsense," Archie said firmly, taking hold of the reins and leading
Sabine out the back of the stable and into the corral that was
directly off the side of the stable. There were no other horses out
here, just an empty, dusty corral. Horatio let out a small groan.

"Must we do this, Archie?"

"I fear so, Mr. Hornblower," Archie answered with a grin. Opening
the gate and leading Sabine inside, he threw a look at his
friend. "Shall I make this the first order I give you?"

With a resigned look, Horatio followed them into the corral. "We
are on dry land, Mr. Kennedy. That is not necessary."

Archie closed the gate behind them and turned Sabine around.
Handing the reins to Horatio, he stood back. "Very well, Mr.
Hornblower. Mount up."

With a dramatic sigh, hoping he could just get this over with,
Horatio took the reins and put his left foot in the stirrup.

Well, that's a good start, Archie thought to himself. At least he
won't end up facing the tail of the horse. That quickly changed,
though, as Hornblower tried to mount. Groaning, Archie watched as
he pulled the reins tightly toward him, forcing Sabine's head toward
him and her hindquarters to swing around away from him as he hopped
on one foot, trying to mount. This is worse than I imagined, he
thought to himself. Did he learn nothing from Edrington?

"Mr. Hornblower," Archie said sternly, taking hold of Sabine's head
and stilling her. "I see we shall have to start with the basics."

Hornblower, still standing on one foot with the other one in the
stirrup, glared at him. "We don't have to start ANYwhere."

Taking a deep breath, Archie shook his head as Sabine moved again
and Hornblower started hopping around once more. "If we had more
time, I would start you like any other person who was just given a
horse. I'd have you cleaning out stalls and grooming and walking
the horses before I even let you put a saddle on them, much less
mount one."

Hornblower stopped his hopping and glared at Kennedy again. "I
cannot imagine you ever doing such things. That is why you have
servants."

"We have grooms, Horatio, yes, to make it easier, but when I was a
boy, my father made me learn everything about the care of the horses
we kept stabled here, from how to feed them, to how to clean their
coats and their feet, and care for them when they are ill. But,
since we don't have the luxury of that much time, we'll start
here." He took the reins from Horatio's hand as he began his
instruction. "You always mount from the near side." At his blank
look, Archie continued, "The left - or port - side. The right side
is the `off' side. Never pull the reins, but gather them loosely in
your left hand. Don't pull the horse's head toward you, because she
will think you want her to move and like the good little girl she
is, she'll do just that. Keep her head straight ahead." He handed
the reins back to his friend, then stood back to watch as Horatio
mounted up. Well, it wasn't pretty, but it'll do, he thought to
himself. Now as to his form.

He stood beside the horse and rider and took ahold of his booted
foot. "The first thing you must remember, sir, is `head up, heels
down'." Gently, Archie pulled Horatio's heel down as his friend
grimaced. "And keep your feet pointed straight ahead, not off to
the side like you're doing." He stood back and looked at the rider
critically. "Well, your seat isn't bad - I guess we can thank the
Navy for your straight posture, but move your hips forward just a
little. We want a straight line from shoulder to heel. And lower
your hands." Obediently, Hornblower did as asked. "Very good.
Now, move out. At a walk, please." Horatio gave a swift kick and
Sabine snorted and took off.

"HOLD IT!!" Archie bellowed at him, and Horatio yanked on the reins
in surprise. "What are you doing?"

Horatio looked at him, confusion on his face. "I am doing what you
asked."

"Never kick a horse like that," Archie said, quieter now as he stood
beside him. "It's rude and unnecessary. Just gently squeeze her
side with your calf or your thigh while you lift and ease up on the
reins, and she'll know exactly what you want." Archie stepped back
to the side of the corral. "Now try it again."

Horatio made a small motion with his legs, and Sabine stepped off
smoothly, but what Archie fully expected to happen, did. "Heels
DOWN, Mr. Hornblower," he cautioned, and Horatio dropped them down
immediately. "Very good." Archie watched them circle the corral
for a bit, watching Sabine as much as Hornblower. She was one of
Archie's favorites, though not one he normally chose to ride
himself, as she was very docile and calm. Usually, he rode a far
more spirited horse, such as his stallion, Brutus.

"All right," Archie called out to him after he had circled the
corral several times. "Now I want you to cross the corral at a
diagonal. To turn her, gently pull the left rein toward you - just
a little, using your pinky, that's good. Heels down please, Mr.
Hornblower. Don't flop your elbows around like that - you look like
one of Styles' chickens. Keep your hands lowered, please. Heels
down! No, ease up on the reins. Did I say I wanted you to turn her
completely around? You have to loosen up on the reins, or she'll
keep turning. Try it again. Heels down and toes forward."

Hornblower grumbled as he rode past Archie, who was now seated on
the bars of the corral. "There's too much to remember."

"It's much simpler than sailing a ship, sir. All right. Diagonally
again, and stop in the middle."

Horatio turned Sabine and directed her to the center of the corral,
hauling back on the reins and pulling her to a stop. Instantly,
Archie dropped from the railing, grabbing a riding crop he had
brought out with them, and quickly made his way to where Sabine
stood shaking her head and huffing at them.

 

 

"Get down," Archie snapped at Horatio, anger in his voice as he
petted Sabine's head gently. She rubbed her head against his
shoulder as he put a hand on her reins.

"What?"

"I SAID," Archie said angrily, glaring at him, "dismount."

Confused, Horatio did just that, albeit not very gracefully and
stood beside Archie. "Are we finished?"

"Get on your knees."

His mouth dropped open. "What?!?

"I said, on your KNEES, mister!" Archie was not about to let
Horatio get away with this, and he was going to teach the officer a
lesson he would never forget. Just like Captain Pellew with the
disrating.

Horatio remained standing, looking down at Archie from his slightly
superior height, but Archie didn't back away. Feet planted, he
stared back at Horatio, tapping the crop against an open palm.

"I don't suggest disobeying me, Mr. Hornblower." Archie's voice was
quieter now, but still firm, and Hornblower got the point and
dropped to his knees, though he was still obviously unhappy with
having to follow orders from his friend. Archie remained quiet for
a few moments, just letting Hornblower kneel in the dirt.

"All right," he finally said. "One thing you need to learn and
learn NOW, is that horses are living animals. They feel pain just
as you can." Archie was walking around the kneeling officer now,
and Horatio's head swiveled to watch him, then whipped around to
catch him on the other side. Stopping beside him, Archie leaned
forward. "Never, EVER, jerk on a horse's mouth. If the horse has
been well-trained and well-treated, their mouth will be soft and
supple and sensitive, and very easily damaged. How would you like
someone to put a piece of metal in your mouth and then yank on it?"

"Is that not what the reins are for?"

"No, Mr. Hornblower, they are there to guide the horse. Gently."

"But."

"No buts," Archie snapped as he stood behind Hornblower. Quickly,
Archie reached forward. Holding the riding crop in both hands, he
put it in Horatio's mouth like a bit, holding onto the sides from
behind him. Leaning forward over his shoulder, he spoke quietly to
him. "Now, Mr. Hornblower, you are the horse, and I am the rider.
Got it?"

Horatio nodded, keeping the riding crop in his mouth.

"Good," Archie nearly purred. "Now, this is what you just did to
Sabine." Putting his knee against Horatio's back, Archie pulled the
riding crop back toward himself, hard, and felt Horatio flinch, his
hands going to the crop in an attempt to dislodge it from his
mouth. "How does that feel? Did it hurt?"

Horatio nodded again.

"Of course it did. Now imagine that this riding crop is made of
metal instead of leather. Think how much MORE it would hurt then."
Releasing one end of the crop, Archie pulled it away from him, and
stepped away, watching dispassionately as Horatio's hand went to rub
his mouth.

"But, Archie," he ventured, "with all due respect, I wanted her to
stop."

"So you ASK her, not order her. Horses respond much better to
kindness than brute force." Archie gave him a smile. "Treat a
horse like you would a lady, Horatio, and you'll get much farther
with them."

Shaking his head, Horatio mumbled something about not having a whole
lot of luck with the ladies, and Archie laughed out loud. It was
true that Horatio was easily discomfited by the fairer sex, but he'd
have to get over that someday. Still smiling, Archie held a hand
out, and Horatio looked at it warily for a second, before taking it
and allowing his friend to help him back up to his feet. As he
brushed away at the dirt on his knees, Archie took Sabine's reins
and stood beside her head.

"Ready for lesson number two?"

Horatio eyed Sabine, who rolled her eyes and snorted at him. "I
think not, if that is agreeable with you. I believe I have learned
enough for the day."

"All right," Archie said, his voice colored with laughter. A
horseman he'll never be, Archie thought to himself, but at least he
now knows how to treat a horse correctly. Let's just hope that in
the future, he remembers it.

"Then allow me, Mr. Hornblower," Archie said lightly. Bowing
slightly, Horatio stepped aside, and Archie gathered up the reins
and swung himself easily up into the saddle, settling gently on the
mare's smooth back. Sabine stood quietly, awaiting his direction.
Gently, Archie urged her forward, and she responded instantly as
they walked around the corral, getting used to each other once
again. After two circles, he sent her into a trot, effortlessly
falling into the familiar posting rhythm, and then he loosened the
reins and asked her for a gentle canter. She had a wonderfully
smooth gait, and she flawlessly executed the lead changes that were
asked of her. She'd been well trained and well handled, all
throughout her life, and she enjoyed having a skilled rider on her
back. Finally, Archie dropped his hands and asked her to stop,
which she did on a schilling, and when he asked her to back, she
immediately did so, in a perfectly straight line. Archie fell in
love with her all over again.

Horatio met him at the gate, and held Sabine's head as Archie
dismounted. He watched with a bit of amusement as Horatio scratched
beneath her forelock, and she lowered her head in pleasure.

"You look very natural up there," Horatio said quietly as he looked
up to meet Archie's gaze. "As if you were born to the saddle."

"Just as you look aboard ship," Archie answered him quietly as he
began to lead Sabine back through the stable, Horatio easily falling
into step beside them. "It's a wonderful thing to be able to do
something you love so much, and do it well."

"Aye," he agreed, holding the door to Sabine's stall open as Archie
lead her inside. She wasn't at all heated from her short exercise,
so there was no need to cool her. Horatio closed the door and
leaned on it as he watched Archie replace her bridle with the halter
that was hanging on the side of the stall. "Why not let the groom
do that?" he asked as Archie begin to untack the mare. "Is it not
his job?"

Archie shook my head. "It's all part of having a horse," he said
lightly as he put the saddle on the top of the stall. "Grooming
them is one of the best parts."

"But she is not yours. She belongs not to you specifically, but to
the family, does she not?"

"Yes," Archie agreed as he lightly began to curry the soft gray coat
before him, "but she did allow me the pleasure of being on her back
today. The least I can do is repay her by taking care of her."

Horatio said nothing, but he watched him for a few moments, and then
opened the door and came inside the stall. Reaching out, he took
the currycomb from Archie's hand.

"Mr. Hornblower?" Archie said in surprise, and Horatio flashed a
grin.

"She also allowed me to be astride her," Horatio said, a bit of his
usual cockiness showing in his voice. "So I must return the favor."

Laughing, Archie ceded to him, and then took up the softer brush and
went over the spots that had already been curried. Currying
loosened up the dirt, and the soft bristles of the brush he was
using removed it. He also took time to point out to Horatio that he
must only curry or brush the coat in the direction the hair grows,
and there are many places on the horse, especially near the flank,
where it swirls around in many different directions, so he must take
care. Horatio was a quick study, and soon Sabine was resting, her
coat gleaming as the two men took their leave of her. Archie even
showed his friend how to clean the mare's feet, though he chose to
ignore the attempt at humor Horatio tried when he learned that the
soft, spongy part of the horse's hooves was called the frog. It was
something about how the British could win the war without even
trying, if they just let the horses keep all the Frogs in their
hooves.

"So, Horatio," Archie said as they made their way into the drawing
room after a quick stop to wash up. "Did you enjoy yourself?"

"I did not, Mr. Kennedy," Horatio said. Watching as Archie's face
fell, he hastened to add, "However, I will concede that your lesson
may indeed be useful in the future."

"Truly, Horatio?" Archie said as a smile graced his features. "You
think that someday you may even enjoy being on horseback?"

"I did not say that," Horatio said hurriedly, as Archie busied
himself pouring them each a glass of wine. "I only meant that,
well, perhaps sometime I will have orders to lead the men on a shore
mission, and perhaps we shall have to travel some distance, aboard
those accursed animals, and if that is so, then perhaps what you
have taught me today will....aid....in my endeavor. For that I
shall no doubt be grateful to you in the future." He looked down at
the glass of wine in his hand. "The very distant future, I pray."

Archie laughed as he filled his own wine glass. Horatio so hated to
ask for help. Archie was fully aware that they could easily be set
ashore during these times of war, and he knew that the odds were
very favorable that horses would again at some point be the required
method of transportation. It was just his way of repaying a debt to
his friend.

"Very good, Lieutenant Hornblower," Archie said, pleased. "I see
that you have learned the captain's lesson very well."

Horatio frowned as he looked up at his friend. "The captain's
lesson? And as much as I hate to remind you of this, I am merely
Midshipman Hornblower once again."

"No, Horatio, you are not."

Taking a moment, Horatio very gently placed his glass on the table
next to him before turning to face his friend. "What are you
saying, Archie?"

Archie grinned that familiar devil-may-care grin at Horatio. "This
was all a plot, Horatio, one conceived and planned by Captain
Pellew, and performed with great aplomb by the magnificent
Shakespearean student, Archie Kennedy."

Horatio felt the blood drain from his face. "A plot? Are you mad,
man?"

"Not at all," Archie replied easily. "The captain wished to
reprimand you for your tardiness, but when I explained the
circumstances to him, he decided that you should instead
be `punished' by being forced to do that which you despise above all
else - to learn to ride a horse. He could have had you take singing
lessons, I suppose, but this was much more feasible. However, he
had to reduce you in rank, so that you would be forced to follow my
orders, thus your disrating to the rank of midshipman. Do not
worry, Horatio. It never went into his log, nor was it ever entered
into any of the books. No one knows of this except for the captain,
Lieutenant Bracegirdle, and myself."

Horatio groaned. "Lieutenant Bracegirdle is also in on this, this
humiliation?" He dropped his head, already envisioning the teasing
he would be subjected to back aboard Indefatigable, by both Archie
and the first lieutenant. It was his worst nightmare come true.

"Do not fear, Horatio," Archie said softly, and Horatio raised his
head back up to meet his friend's eyes. "No one shall ever know of
this, but Captain Pellew is well aware that this is a lesson you
shall never forget. Not only to be on time for watch, but to learn
about your men, to find out what they love - and what they hate. To
help them to face what they dislike, and learn to overcome it." He
raised his wineglass and tipped it toward his friend. "To be the
leader he knows you will be."

Silently, Horatio raised his own glass and tipped it to Archie. It
was unusual, certain sure, the way his captain had handed out his
punishment, but as Archie said, it had been a learning opportunity
for him. He would follow the captain's example and learn about his
men, for only that way could he truly lead them. He gave a slight
nod as he looked at his friend.

"Lesson learned, Archie," he said quietly, raising his glass once
again. "And if I may, I should like to toast to friendship."

"To friendship," Archie echoed.