THE JOURNEY HOME
Part 10 - Demons & Damsels
When Kennedy next opened his eyes it could have been minutes, or hours,
later. He wasn't quite sure. The dull ache in his head was horribly
distracting, so he closed his eyes again before taking stock of his
surroundings. He was lying down on a soft surface, and his first thought
was at least its not the floor. The room was dark except for a soft glow
off to his right. He gingerly turned his head that way and slowly opened
Annie sat in a chair beside his bed, the light from the lamp casting her
features in gold and turning her hair bronze. She was leaning slightly to
the left, and her head was slumped to her breast. Her breathing was soft
and even. She was asleep.
Kennedy was not aware of making any sound, but Annie started out of her
doze. She seemed confused for a moment, unsure of where she was, but then
her eyes focused on her brother. She slid from the chair and knelt
alongside the bed, taking his hand in hers.
"Archie! Are you all right? How do you feel?"
The expression of concern on his sister's face was all Kennedy needed to
bring memory rushing back, He shut his eyes as a tidal wave of blush
swept up his neck and over his face.
"I had a fit, didn't I?" he asked quietly. Disgusted with himself, and
not willing to meet his sister's eyes and see the pity in them, Kennedy
pulled his hand free of hers and turned his head away from where Annie
sat just as she reached out to brush his hair from his forehead. Stung,
Annie quickly pulled her hand away and rested it on the bed. She felt her
throat clog with tears, but not for anything would she cry at that
moment. Instead she leaned closer and rested her forehead against
She stayed there until she heard his breathing deepen and take on a slow,
regular rhythm. When she lifted her head the lines of strain had smoothed
out in his face and his features were relaxed. She stayed a few moments
more, watching him sleep, before she gently kissed his cheek, stood, and
left the room.
Hornblower was pacing the hallway outside the bedroom door. As soon as
Annie emerged he opened his mouth to speak, but she forestalled him. She
held a finger to her lips in a gesture entreating silence as she quietly
pulled the door to behind her. When it was closed she sagged back against
it, all her strength and will ebbing away in the blink of an eye.
"Is he all right?" Hornblower asked.
Annie shook her head. "I don't really know. Physically, yes. But as to
anything else..." She looked at Hornblower steadily and searchingly. He
flushed slightly and dropped his eyes to the floor.
Whether it was the fact that he couldn't look her in the face or the
nervousness of his stance, something in Hornblower's demeanor set Annie
off. She reached out, grabbed his hand and pulled him down the hall to
his bedroom. She shoved him through the door before shutting it quietly.
She stood in front of the door, leaving him no way out.
"I want to know what Reg was talking about, Horatio."
Hornblower sighed. "I don't really think you should know, Annie.
At that comment Annie caught fire. "Bloody hell! I don't care if I should
know, I WANT TO KNOW!" She advanced across the room, almost as if she
were stalking him. "That's my brother in there, suffering God only knows
what. My twin brother, for heaven's sake! Can you look me in the eye and
deny that I have a right to know what brought this on?! In the name of
God, why does everybody insist on protecting me?!"
Hornblower stood quietly, letting Annie's anger flow until she was spent.
When she hung her head and her shoulders began to heave with silent sobs,
he reached out and guided her to sit in one of the chairs. He gingerly
sat on the edge of the bed, across from her so they could look directly
at each other. While he waited for her sobs to diminish he composed
himself for what he had to tell her.
" I don't know everything, Annie. " he began quietly. "But I will tell
you what I do know. It won't be pleasant; I hope you understand that."
Annie nodded solemnly. "I understand, but I still want to know. If it
effects Archie, it matters to me."
Hornblower smiled slightly at the determination in her face and voice. He
took a deep breath and began the story.
"When I first came on board the Justinian things were fine. Granted, I
missed my father and my home, and was in strange and unfamiliar
surroundings, but I could handle that. Archie was the first of the
midshipman to extend a friendly hand, and I desperately needed it. He
taught me how to find my way around the ship, the system of watches, and
how to keep out of trouble." He stopped speaking, his eyes taking on a
far away look as he drifted with the memories.
Annie sat still and didn't interrupt. She sensed that Hornblower needed
to talk about these things as much for his own as for her sake;
exorcising the demons, as it were. It was certainly a different view of
her brother's friend, a far cry from the confident and assured young man
she had met just a few short days ago.
"That first week passed by so quickly I hardly had time to think about
being miserable." Hornblower continued. "But then..."
"Then what, Horatio?"
Hornblower shook his head to dispel the dark thoughts clouding his mind.
"Then Simpson came back to the mess. He had failed his lieutenant's exam,
you see, and so he was put back with the midshipman for six months." His
voice became hard and flat, unemotional and detached. "Simpson was
nothing but a bully. He used his position as senior midshipman to torment
and abuse all of the rest of us. Especially Archie."
"I never actually saw Simpson sod..." He swallowed hard and managed to
choke out the word. "Sodomize Archie, but I heard all the talk, and I saw
how Archie reacted to Simpson's presence. He withdrew, wouldn't talk to
anybody, and stopped smiling. And he started having fits again."
"What happened to this man, Simpson?"
"He's dead. Captain Pellew shot him."
Annie waited for Hornblower to continue, but he simply stared at the
carpet under his feet, unwilling to say anything else. She looked at him
shrewdly. "I think there's more to this story. Isn't there?"
Hornblower gave a quick, sardonic laugh. "Oh, yes. There is definitely
more to the story." He looked up and met her eyes. "Before his own death
Simpson had managed to make my life a hell on earth, he killed a good
friend, and it was through his actions that Archie ended up in prison. Do
you think that's enough?"
Annie drew back away from Hornblower, stunned at the bitterness in his
voice. She started to stammer out an apology, but he forestalled her
"What do you have to be sorry about? You didn't cause any of this, and
you certainly couldn't have done anything to prevent it!" He laughed
again, but this time with a touch of genuine warmth. "Actually, I'm
surprised at myself. I thought I was over everything, but I guess its
been festering under the surface all this time. I suppose its a good
thing to let it out."
"Well, it couldn't hurt!" Annie said with an answering laugh before
turning serious again. "Who was the friend that was killed?"
"Clayton, Jon Clayton." He took a deep breath before continuing,
determined to get the whole story out. "One night in the mess Simpson
beat me senseless." He ignored Annie's gasp. "I decided that the only way
to get all of us free of him would be for him to die. So I challenged him
to a duel. Clayton agreed to be my second, but before we could leave the
ship he knocked me unconscious with a belaying pin, and he took my place.
Simpson killed him."
Annie thought for a moment, absorbing what Hornblower had said. She had
heard his words as well as everything he had left unsaid.
"It wasn't your fault, you know."
Hornblower looked at her, puzzled.
"Clayton's death. It wasn't your fault. He chose to take your place.
Nothing you might have said would have changed his mind."
Hornblower's expression became agonized. He told the rest of the story in
a barely audible whisper. "I got there just as Clayton was dying. I
remember him saying ëYou were right, Horatio. Someone had to stand
against him.' I don't think I'll ever forget those words. And how can I
not blame myself? If I hadn't stupidly started that duel, he would be
"But if you hadn't done that, Simpson would probably also be alive!"
Annie said, reaching out to take Hornblower's hands. "He'd still be alive
and tormenting somebody else. Your friend Mr. Clayton obviously
understood that, and chose to put himself in danger for the chance to end
the abuse." She clasped his hands tighter. "And it was Simpson's finger
on the trigger, not yours. The blame is all on him for being so willing
Hornblower listened to Annie's words and felt comforted by them. He had
been carrying around the guilt of Clayton's death for years, but he
recognized that it was time to let it go. Both he and Kennedy had their
own lives to live. And its high time we both did exactly that, he told
He met Annie's eyes and smiled. "How did you get to be so wise at such a
young age?" he asked.
Annie laughed out loud. "That's odd, coming from you! I am a year older
than you, remember?" Her expression became sober again. "I'm not wise,
Horatio. But I've seen what guilt and grief can do to people, and I think
you are too fine a man to have that kind of shadow hanging over you for
the rest of your life."
She held up a hand to halt his words. "Don't say anything else, Horatio.
No need to spoil this moment of understanding, is there?" She stood up
and moved to leave the room. As she opened the door she half turned back
to face him. "Good night, Horatio." she said, so quietly that he almost
didn't hear her.
The morning sun on his eyelids brought Kennedy awake with a jolt. When he
opened his eyes a stab of pain pierced his skull, so he shut his eyes
tight against the lingering effects of a headache, and lay quietly in his
bed, luxuriating in the peace and quiet of the moments alone.
A crash and a clatter in the room next door brought him upright. He
waited, breathless, for a moment. When he heard Annie's voice, low
pitched and mumbling to herself, he smiled and eased back down to the
pillows. Annie had always been clumsy first thing in the morning. When
they were children she had been forever dropping things, and had broken
more water basins than their mother had cared to know about. It lent a
startling sense of normality to the day.
At least it did until he remembered how the previous evening had ended.
It had been over four months since he last had a fit. He had forgotten
the feelings of embarrassment and mortification that always accompanied
such an occurrence, as well as how exhausting it was. He remembered Annie
sitting beside his bed, worried about him, and he felt an overwhelming
anger with himself that he had rejected her concern and treated her so
A soft knock at the door caught his attention. Before he had a chance to
reply the door opened slightly and Annie's peered around it's edge. When
she saw that he was awake, she came the rest of the way into the room.
She stood nervously, shifting her weight from one foot to the other,
clenching her hands together, and staring at the floor beneath her feet.
"Good morning." he said.
Annie looked up from her study of the carpet, and at the sight of the wan
smile on her brother's face she darted forward to sit on the edge of the
bed. Kennedy sat up at the same time and the pair came together in an
embrace that needed no explanations. The previous night's tension was
forgotten in that instant
After a few moments Annie pulled away to study his face. She smiled in
"Good morning, yourself." she replied. "How do you feel this morning,
"Fine" he said. "A little tired, and with a bit of a headache, but other
than that, I'm fine. I'll be fine."
Kennedy looked into his sister's face, so close to his own. Her eyes
still held the vestiges of the hurt he had inflicted on her the night
before, but there was a spark of courage in those emerald green depths,
and her smile was as warm and gentle as always. He knew in that instant
that it was all right; that no apology was necessary. He reached out and
cupped her cheek in his hand, giving thanks for this one woman who
understood him so completely without words.
"What did I ever do to deserve a sister like you?"
Annie laughed and playfully swatted at one of his hands. "Who says you
deserve me? Its not like I have very much choice, is it? I'm stuck with
Kennedy grinned. "And I'm so sure that it disgusts you, being stuck with
me like this!" He face grew serious. "Annie, I don't know how to..."
Annie shook her head. "Don't! Don't thank me, don't apologize. I don't
need to hear that. I'm just happy that you're all right; I don't need, or
want, anything else."
"But there is something else that I need." He steeled himself to talk
about Reg's accusations. "I need to tell you the truth. I don't want you
imagining all sorts of evil things, especially after what Reg said last
"You don't need to tell me anything, Archie. I talked with Horatio last
night, after I left your room." She blushed slightly as she said it.
Kennedy didn't notice her blush, he only heard the words. "Horatio can't
have told you everything, because he doesn't know everything. I don't
think he even knows half of it."
Annie shook her head. "I don't need to hear. I know all that is important
to me. That you were bullied and abused on that ship, and that the man
who did that to you is dead. But I also know that you've become a better
man for it. I guess suffering does make us stronger, wouldn't you say?"
She gave a small, sardonic smile, and her voice took on a sarcastic edge.
"Justinian" she mused. "Not a very good name for a ship like that. I'm
sure there was very little justice to be had."
"Did Horatio tell you how Simpson died?"
"He said that your Captain Pellew shot him."
Kennedy absorbed the simplicity of that statement, and decided to leave
well alone. Annie didn't really need to hear the whole story of Simpson's
death as Hornblower had revealed it to him one night in that Spanish
prison. In that moment he realized that some things were best left
unsaid. But just to be sure, he asked his sister one last time.
"Are you sure you don't want to know anything else? Just ask, and I'll
tell you." He grimaced slightly. "It won't be easy, but I will tell you."
Annie shook her head decisively. "I don't need to hear another word. I
know you couldn't..." The sound of creaking in the hallway outside the
room brought her words to a stop. The door was slightly ajar, and they
both waited, almost holding their breath, for whomever to continue
When no steps were heard Annie got up from her perch on the edge of the
bed and quietly moved to the door. She stepped in front of it and pulled
the door open wide. At that point she froze, shock visible in every set
line of her body.
From his vantage point across the room all Kennedy could see was her
stiff shoulders as she confronted whoever was there. He could hear the
low-pitched voices, but not make out any of the words. After more than a
minute of tense conversation, Annie stepped back from the door, and
Kennedy immediately pushed back the blankets and got to his feet,
determined to confront his brother while standing. However, his head had
other ideas; a wave of dizziness overcame him and he sank back down to
sit on the bed. He shook his head slightly to clear it, then looked up
and met his brother's eyes.
"What do you want, Reg?" He deliberately made his voice as cold and as
harsh as possible.
Reg glanced toward Annie. "I need to speak to you." His eyes drifted back
to their sister. "Alone."
Archie looked to Annie and caught the tiny shake of he head. Whatever
else might happen, she wasn't about to desert him.
"Anything you have to say to me you can say in front of my sister." He
put the slightest of emphasis on that "my", making it clear to Reg that
the twins would stand united against him. "But frankly, Reg, I can't
imagine what we might have to talk about. You said your piece last night,
and, I must admit, you did it in a dramatic fashion. A performance worthy
of that well-known actress, Katharine Cobham." He paused and studied his
Reg grew uncomfortable under Archie's unflinching scrutiny. He blushed
and began to fidget. But on no account was Archie going to feel pity for
him; whatever tender feelings he might have harbored for his brother had
been nearly irrevocably shattered by the accusations that had been tossed
about the previous evening.
"I do have one question for you, though." Archie's voice broke the uneasy
quiet. "Why did you lie to me, Reg?"
"What..." His voice caught and he cleared his throat before continuing.
"What do you mean?"
Archie stood up again, slower this time, and was relieved that his head
didn't start spinning. He stood with an almost unnatural stillness,
calling on every ounce of self-discipline he had learned in his years in
the navy. He clasped his hands behind his back in an unconscious
imitation of Captain Pellew, and even his voice took on the growling tone
and intensity of the captain at his angriest.
"What do I mean? You know full and bloody well what I mean! You lied to
me from start to finish. All those letters begging me to come home,
horror stories of Father's drunkenness, worry about Annie... It was all
nothing but a packet of lies! And I fell for it like the rawest Snotty in
the fleet! Does that make you feel better? Do you feel like more of a man
because you bested me, Reg? Because if you do, I would suggest you enjoy
it while it lasts, because it won't last very long."
As he was speaking he had been unaware of moving closer to his brother,
but when he paused to draw breath he found he was standing just inches
away. To his credit, Reg hadn't flinched as Archie approached, but he
couldn't look his brother in the eye.
His voice grew quieter; a virtual whisper heard only by Reg. "I know all
about how you concocted that tale of Annie being forced to marry Robert
Chamberlain. You knew that if anything would bring me home and make me
willing to stay a while it would be some sort of threat to Annie. But I
know the truth now, so you can't manipulate the situation anymore. Its
over Reg. All of it" He had raised his voice for those last words so that
Annie could hear them.
Reg reacted to Archie's words by backing away toward the door; his face
flushed with anger. He laid one hand on the doorknob before firing one
last parting shot. "We'll see about that, little brother." he said,
practically spitting the words across the room. "We'll see about that!"
After the door slammed shut Archie finally turned around and faced Annie.
She was standing beside the hearth, white-faced with fear . He smiled at
her to ease the tension that was palpable in the room before he collapsed
back on to the bed.
Annie moved to sit beside him. She leaned her head against his shoulder,
and Archie put an arm around her.
"You looked and sounded very commanding just then, Archie."
He looked down at her face, veiled by the fall of her hair. "And that
"Well, not every man can be so commanding and in control while in his
Archie looked down at his calves, bare underneath the hem of his
nightshirt and started to laugh.