Master and Commander - A Perfect Victory
By Mapu

 

Notes: As the full title suggests this is related to the movie Master and
Commander. It's not so much a crossover as a plot substitution. One scene
from the M&C movie set in the Hornblower universe then expanded on - other
than the plot thief it has no real connection to Master and Commander.

***

 

Master and Commander - A Perfect Victory
By Mapu

 

Notes:
As the full title suggests this is related to the movie Master and
Commander. It's not so much a crossover as a plot substitution. One scene
from the M&C movie set in the Hornblower universe then expanded on - other
than the plot thief it has no real connection to Master and Commander.

Warnings:
I suppose a spoiler warning for the movie Master and Commander is in order.
Even though I only took one scene it was a pretty powerful one.

Rating: G

Thanks to both Wendy (Lt. Lila) and Pam Preston... for the excellent grammar
and language usage edits!

Disclaimer:
Both Master and Commander and Hornblower are already owned works, no offence
is intended by this fan fic. I intended this fic only for the enjoyment of
Hornblower fans.

 

***

 

Wind shrieked though the rigging as the squall intensified, and the deck
beneath Pellew's feet first pitched then heaved as the frigate's bow cut
through the crest of yet another monstrous wave. Water washed across the
forecastle in thick sheets to spill onto the deck. Pellew glanced up at the
sails straining into the wind and the men arrayed along the yards
desperately trying to haul up a reef. He had left the ship carrying more
sail than was really safe for the heavy seas but he had weighed the risk to
his sails and masts against the chance to out run the French 74, Faucon,
that had been stalking them for the better part of two days. The Faucon
would undoubtedly be more stable in these seas because of her greater
weight, but she wouldn't be able to run with the storm as well as the
Indefatigable's lighter frame and narrower beam allowed. It was a dangerous
gamble, but the only real option they had. If they could run fast enough
they might have a chance; they would have very little against a 74, a ship
with almost four times their firepower.

An overhead sound, almost obscured by the roar of the storm, drew Pellew's
attention by its strangeness. Lifting his glass to his eye he checked the
set of the sails. He almost missed it as his eye passed over the mizzen but
a second look confirmed the source of the sound and a potential problem for
the ship. The starboard yard had slipped its collar; a fact that none of the
men already aloft had yet noticed. Pellew snapped the glass closed and
glanced to his left. Hornblower stood there, one hand gripping the rail for
balance in a white-knuckled hold, but the look on the boy's face was pure
exhilaration.

Even as young and inexperienced as he was, Hornblower had the makings of a
first class seaman and fine naval officer. He had already won the respect of
the men, first with his clever tactics as the officer in command of the
prize vessel, Marie Gallante, and then he'd solidified it by his courage and
command of the Papillon. Showing respect to an officer was demanded by the
service, but Hornblower had won the heart of the crew as well. His courage
and the mercy he'd offered Mr Simpson after being the victim of the other's
spineless treachery had only served to strengthen the crew's loyalty to
Hornblower. Pellew had overheard several of the crew referring to the young
midshipman as "Our Mr Hornblower" in a definitely possessive tone. That kind
of allegiance to a junior midshipman was not unheard of, but neither was it
common. Over the months Pellew had come to realize that he had been granted
that most rarefied of gifts, a protégé to train, that someday, would surpass
the master. It was an opportunity Pellew intended to exploit.

"Mr Hornblower! Lay aloft and have those men re-collar that yard before it
brings the Mizzen down."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Despite his reported fear of heights, Hornblower showed no hesitation as he
swung himself up into the ratlines and began to climb. Pellew watched his
progress, noticing that even after weeks of healing, Hornblower still
favoured the shoulder that had taken Simpson's bullet. The wound would
likely take some time yet to fully heal. Hornblower reached the yard and
Pellew could see him directing the four men stationed there. The two closest
to the mast had only begun to work their way towards the loosened collar
when disaster struck.

It happened so quickly. A powerful gust of wind caught the sail, tearing it
from the hands of the sailors trying to haul in the reef, and sheeting it to
its full length. The starboard yard, unable to withstand the weight broke
free, taking one of the men with it and knocking the other to the deck.
Pellew tried to ignore the man's terrified screams and the sickening thump
of his body hitting the deck. He watched, helplessly, the catastrophe taking
place above. The unrestrained sail lashed backward and forward with
tremendous force, throwing the second hapless sailor off. The man was thrown
clear of the deck and into the sea, a small speck, soon swallowed by the
dark and left behind. Wind caught and refilled the broken sail with a harsh
snap. It ballooned out over the larboard side. The Indefatigable rolled
dangerously onto its side, the heavy seas lapping at its deck. Pellew braced
himself against the ship's list as best he could. In a minute the ship would
flounder.

"Cut that sheet free!" Pellew yelled in desperation, and watched as men
crawled along the steeply angled deck toward the stays to cut the sail down.
Above Hornblower and the two remaining sailors worked to do the same.

They weren't fast enough. In a splintering roar the Mizzen gave way. Pulled
by the remains of the sail, the Mizzen, yards and the three men still
clinging to it were tumbled into the sea and swept toward the stern. Pellew
threw himself down, flattening his body to the planks of the quarterdeck as
the wreckage, a tangle of splintered wood, canvas and rope cables, passed
over him. He felt a solid blow to his shoulder before the entire mess
vanished over the stern. Pellew clambered to his feet. Despite the throbbing
pain radiating from his shoulder, he seemed to be in one piece. From the
moans of pain sounding about the quarterdeck not all the crew appeared to
have been as fortunate.

The ship creaked, groaning under the strain, it righted itself from the
larboard list, only to begin to sag toward the starboard. The wreckage,
acting as a sea anchor, pulled the stern of the ship downward.

"Mr Hornblower! Sir, it's Mr. Hornblower!" One of the crew standing near the
stern shouted, pointing out into the dark. Pellew ducked and weaved his way
through the tightly stretched cables binding the wrecked Mizzen to the ship
and rushed to the stern rail. Alone in the dark, he could make out a shape,
a human shape in a midshipman's vest, struggling to swim in the frothing
sea.

"Swim for the wreckage!" Pellew shouted.

Hornblower seemed to hear him and began to make for the dragging mast.
Pellew held his breath; if the boy could make it to the mast, there was a
chance he could pull himself back to the ship along one of the cables. There
was still a chance to recover him. Of the other two men that had gone into
the sea there was no sign.

The deck shuddered below Pellew feet. He glanced toward the bow in time to
see a solid wave of water break on the deck. The ship, unable to fully crest
the waves groaned loudly, suffering the strain from both the dragging weight
and the push of the wind. Another few waves like that and the ship would be
lost.

Lt. Bracegirdle, Pellew's newly appointed first Lieutenant, struggled to his
side.

"Captain, the sail is dragging us back. In a few minutes we'll loose the
main mast and the ship will flounder."

Pellew looked up at the main sails; they were stretched to breaking point,
with half a dozen of the crew still struggling on the yards, attempting to
take in a reef. More lives in the balance. A glance back over the stern
showed Hornblower had almost reached the debris, but it would take the boy
several minutes to climb back aboard. Minutes that the ship didn't have.

"We can't save him, sir," Bracegirdle said, his tone heavy with regret.

Pellew knew it to be the truth.

"Cut this wreckage free, Mr Bracegirdle," he ordered.

"Aye, aye, sir."

Bracegirdle turned, issuing orders to the men to bring axes. Pellew took one
of them from a sailor for himself. He would not order his crew to take the
life of a fellow shipmate without shouldering responsibility for the act
with them. It took several strikes to part the thick ropes, each slash
feeling like a rent to his soul, but in moments the ship was freed. With no
more than a sigh and the rasp of rope sliding over wood the ruins of the
Mizzen cables vanished over the stern. The Indefatigable straighten out of
her perilous list immediately and surged ahead with the wind, once more able
to crest the swells. The ship was safe.

Pellew looked back to his lost man, he could see Hornblower only for a
moment before the boy was swallowed by distance and dark, one arm raised in
the air. Whether it was a salute, or the last desperate plea for help from a
man dying alone, Pellew would never know. He turned away, there was nothing
left to see. He prayed that when death came to Hornblower there would be
peace for the boy.

The men spread about the quarterdeck stood motionless, many still staring as
Pellew had, at the black, churning seas behind the ship.

"Mr Bracegirdle, have this damage shored up."

His order released the men from the spell they'd been under and with several
backward glances the men moved off to care for the ship. Pellew kept his
mind away from Hornblower, resisting the temptation to glance back over the
stern. Death was a part of life at sea, and it was a Captain's role to make
life and death decisions for his crew. He'd made hundreds of similar choices
but Pellew suspected the rawness of this decision would be slow to fade.

 

 

***

By midday three days after the storm, all the repairs that could be done
were finally complete. The ship still lacked a Mizzen but she sailed well
enough in the calm seas and fair winds. Pellew watched his crew at their
work from his customary position on the quarterdeck, painfully aware that
this was the watch that he usually shared with Hornblower. The crew had
taken the damage to the ship and the loss of the popular young officer
badly. Tensions were high and morale low among many of the crew,
particularly men that had been under Hornblower's direct command. Several
fights had broken out below decks. So far the resulting injuries had been
reported as falls and accidents, but Pellew knew he would shortly need to
take steps to prevent any more such accidents. He judged the incidents to
simply be an expression of grief with no true malice behind them, but while
he respected his crew's need to cope with their grief, he could not allow it
to interfere with ship's discipline. That would be a disaster for them all.

What the crew needed was a clear enemy to fight, an engagement that resulted
in a solid victory. A glimmer of an idea began to form, and within minutes
an entire strategy of attack emerged clear in his mind. For the first time
in days Pellew smiled.

 

"Helm, alter course three points to starboard. We'll stand in to the coast."

"Three points starboard, aye, sir."

The ship began her starboard tack, carving through the light cross-waves
with ease, throwing a fine mist of glistening sea-spray across the deck.
Pellew admired the sight as he ran the navigational situation through his
mind again. If his calculations were correct the Indefatigable would be in
sight of the coast just before dusk and the peak tide. Somewhere behind
them, hidden by the horizon, the French 74 hunted them. It was time to
rectify that.

***

The ship behind a narrow strip of a peninsular as the day's light began to
soften. Even though he did not expect the Faucon before dusk, he ordered the
decks cleared for action. Then he sent a party ashore to forage branches so
they to be lashed to the topmasts. If the captain of the French ship wanted
to catch them, and Pellew had no doubt that he did, he would need to steer a
course close in to land to take advantage of the stronger winds and good
currents in this area. With luck, it would not occur to the captain of the
superior ship that its smaller prey would attempt a counterattack. From the
sea, with her masks disguised as treetops, the Indefatigable would be nearly
invisible. Pellew hoped it would be enough to fool the French lookouts.

The crew's mood mirrored his own, the ship felt tense, but this time the
cause was the excitement of an anticipated battle and not the tension of a
damaged morale. This was a chance for the crew to strike back and for that
opportunity they waited with all the patience of a spider in her web. When
this trap was sprung the crew would see the Faucon paid dearly for the
wrongs she had inflicted on the Indefatigable.

"A sail! Close in and coming down the fairway!" the lookout called down to
the deck.

Pellew smiled. He'd been right; the French captain was still hunting them.

"Have all hands to stations, Mr. Bracegirdle. Quietly now."

Bracegirdle relayed the orders with a signal to the ships' master. There
was no need for a beat to quarters to warn the enemy of their presence,
every man aboard the Indefatigable had been waiting hours for this duty.
Pellew watched the hands scramble to their places, preparing the ship for
battle. Pellew turned to the ship's master as he came onto the Quarterdeck.

"Get us underway, Mr. Bowles."

The sails fluttered downward, ruffling unsettled in the broken wind for a
moment before they caught the breeze and filled with a snap. The ship glided
forward toward the open sea, and the enemy ship still hidden from view. The
Indefatigable gathered speed as it left the protected waters. Pellew held
his breath as they crossed the bar and from the corner of his eye he could
see Mr Bowles do the same. It had been ahigh, rising tide when they'd
entered the inlet but the tide had long since turned and the water had been
dropping for hours. There could only be a few feet of water under the
frigate's keel. They crossed without incident and Pellew heard Bowles give a
faint sigh of relief.

Ahead the Faucon had at last become aware of their presence. The ship was
close enough that Pellew could see the men on her decks scrambling to ready
their ship for action.

All need for secrecy gone, Pellew bellowed out his orders. "Hard to
starboard; run out the larboard guns."

"Aye, aye, sir."

The ship crested in response to the sharp course change. No longer
paralleling the Faucon the Indefatigable's new course would take her across
the stern of the larger ship. A perfect "crossing the T" manoeuvre that
would give the larboard guns a chance to rake the ship.

"Fire as they bear!"

Pellew felt a swell of pride in his crew. Each of the cannons roared in
sequence, every shot inflicting heavy damage to the enemy.

"Helm, make your tact to larboard, bring us along side," Pellew ordered.

The Indefatigable had passed across the Faucon's stern, but now to continue
the action they would have to come along side the larger ship and trade
broadsides with her. Pellew hoped the raking attack had caused enough damage
to make the difference. Even as badly damaged as she appeared to be, the
French ship out gunned the frigate. Pellew prepared himself for the French
response. Would she slug it out, would she run, or dear God, was the captain
crazed enough that he would attempt to ram and board them. The answer took
Pellew by surprise.

 

Faucon drifted further away from the Indefatigable and closer inshore.
Pellew, at a total loss to understand the French captain's strategy, watched
the French crew struggle to take in the sails. Only when she struck her
colours in surrender did he understand. Through his glass he analysed the
damage to the Faucon and saw both her wheels had been totally destroyed. The
huge ship was rudderless and drifting in toward shoals, she was completely
helpless. Pellew gave the order to hold fire but did not have the crews
stand down. The hands realized the victory and the Indefatigable's deck
erupted in cheering.

Only after the French cannons were run back in and the gun ports closed did
Pellew allow himself to recognize that they'd captured an enemy 74 without
taking a single shot.

"Mr Bracegirdle, you will take a squad of marines to secure that ship."

"Aye, aye, sir!" Before hurrying away, Bracegirdle touched the brim of his
hat in a salute, a smile so wide it looked to split his face in two.

Down on the deck other faces showed similar elation at the decisive victory,
but it was a small group of men standing respectfully still and separate
from the celebrations that drew Pellew's attention. Hornblower's division.
For a moment Pellew felt a keen connection to those men. For them, as for
him, the victory was lent a bitter edge by the knowledge that the one man
who would have appreciated it the most was gone. It was a revelation to
Pellew that he had begun to crave and would deeply miss the high esteem that
Hornblower had held for him. Pellew watched alone from his vantage point on
the quarterdeck as others of the crew interrupted the little conclave of
Hornblower's men, pulling them away to join the festivities.

It didn't take Mr. Bracegirdle and the company of marines long to secure the
Faucon. The surrender had been genuine. The officers, despondent in their
defeat, still surrendered with dignity. The ship's crew surrendered without
incident but made no secret of their feeling, nor did they make any attempts
to hide their sullen attitude. On Bracegirdle's signal of all clear Pellew
finally had the Indefatigable's guns run in and the all clear sounded to
officially end the action.

The size difference between the frigate and the French 74 was obvious when
the Indefatigable was brought up along side her prize. Pellew had to climb
up the Faucon's side to gain access to the deck. The deck was a mess. Most
of the damage, huge rents in the planking and shards of splintered wood were
obviously caused by the Indefatigable's guns but much of the damage was
older, showing signs of hasty and unfinished repairs. It seemed the Faucon
had suffered the storm almost as badly as the Indefatigable had.

Pellew approached a knot of French and English officers awaiting him near
the base of the main mast.

"Captain Pellew, sir, this is Captain Borgoen of the French vessel Faucon."

Pellew nodded to his counterpart after Bracegirdle's introduction.

"His sword, sir," Bracegirdle added, holding the hilt of an elaborate naval
sword toward him. Pellew accepted the sword and the surrender it signified.

Again Pellew's thought turned briefly to his lost protégé; the boy's
linguistic skills would have made the coming interview with his prisoners
easier. Bracegirdle's command of French was almost as poor as Pellew's own.

"Mesure Captain. May I enquire as to the fate of my men and my ship?" asked
Captain Borgoen in heavily accented, but clear English.

"Your men are prisoners of His Britannic Majesty, King George, sir. As to
your ship, it is a prize of war and its fate will depend on how quickly she
can be made seaworthy," Pellew answered.

"I see. Thank you, captain."

Pellew was about to order Borgoen and his officers taken into custody but
before he was able to give the order he was interrupted by Midshipman
Cleveland's hasty appearance.

The lack of decorum shown by the rotund junior officer seemed to amuse the
French officers standing at easy attention next to their captain. Pellew
swallowed his annoyance; to react would no doubt further amuse the
Frenchmen.

"What is it Mr. Cleveland?" Pellew asked in his coldest tone. It had the
desired effect. The young man drew himself upright into a semblance of
attention and saluted.

"Mr Bowles's complement, sir, and can you please come to the French sick
berth. It's Mr. Hornblower, sir. The Frenchies have him trussed up down
there, sir. He's alive, sir!" By the end of his message Cleveland had again
forgotten his etiquette but Pellew barely noticed.

Hornblower alive? Pellew's first emotions were shock and joy, but then
Cleveland's words filtered through "have him trussed up" and his anger
flared. He pointed to the French captain.

"Bring him."

Cleveland led the way. Below decks the only light source came from the ship'
s lanterns and despite his desire for haste Pellew had to move with care so
as to not to stumble on the unfamiliar ship.

The sick berth was filled to capacity with wounded from the action. The
thick, cloying scent of blood, hung heavily in the air, and to one side a
neat stack of the dead waited for their final ministrations. Pellew didn't
allow the sight to touch him, nor would he listen to the pained moans of the
men in the hammocks awaiting the attention of the ship's surgeon. In any
language the pleas of the wounded were easily interpreted. Pellew kept his
mind on the needs of his own crew as he threaded through the sick berth to
several men gathered around a single, motionless form on the floor.

The group, Mr Bowles and three men from Hornblower's division, parted at
Pellew's approach to give him room. It was true. Hornblower lay on his side,
deeply unconscious but without the pallor of death. Fresh, livid bruises
marked his skin along one cheek and a thin smear of drying blood gave
evidence to a recently split lip. Hornblower's hands were bound behind his
back with manacles attached to a length of chain that secured his legs
together at the ankles. Pellew turned to Captain Borgoen in a rage, almost
ready to have the man shot on the spot. The French captain raised his hands
in pacification.

"This is not as it seems, Captain. Your young officer has not been
mistreated."

Pellew glanced back down at the chains restraining his injured and
unconscious man; Hornblower's condition gave no support to Captain Borgoen's
claim, but in the interest of justice Pellew was willing to listen.

Captain Borgoen continued. "We pulled him from the sea, clinging to
wreckage, two days ago. Near death. We thought him no threat and left him
here to recover. Shortly before your ship attacked he escaped and was found
attempting to sabotage our powder magazine. He was subdued and returned
here, but this time we intended to allow him no future opportunities."

Pellew assessed Borgoen and nodded; he'd always been able to tell when a man
lied to him and he felt the truth of Borgoen's explanation. Given Hornblower
's tenacity it was not beyond belief that, even injured, he would require
such extreme measures. In fact, the thought that one of his most junior
officers had single-handed been such trouble to his captors was a source of
profound pride for Pellew.

"You will release him, sir. Immediately," Pellew demanded.

Borgoen bowed his head and pointed toward the doorway. "The guard on watch
would have hung the keys on a hook by the door, Captain."

Pellew's nod to one of the marines had the man hurrying to retrieve the
keys. It took only seconds to release Hornblower from his bonds. One of the
seamen from Hornblower's division, a large, rough looking sailor, gently
supported the boy's head as he was rolled onto his back. Hornblower uttered
a soft groan of pain as he was moved and his eyelids quivered. Pellew knelt
next to him, calling his name.

"Mr. Hornblower? Wake up, man!"

Hornblower became more animated, struggling to wake, and Pellew encouraged
him.

"That's it. Open your eyes, boy."

In response to the order, Hornblower's eyelids slitted open to reveal dark,
tired eyes that lacked their customary spark. The eyes drifted and rested on
Pellew's face for a long moment before recognition registered.

"Captain Pellew!"

Hornblower's voice was weak but strong enough to convey the intensity of his
surprise. Pellew laid a firm hand against the young man's shoulder to thwart
his attempt to come to attention before his captain.

"Rest easy, man," Pellew admonished gently.

"I'm sorry, sir. I didn't expect to see you, sir."

"Nor I you, Mr Hornblower."

Pellew doubted Hornblower had heard his last comment; sleep had already
reclaimed the boy.

"Mr Cleveland, you will see to it that Mr. Hornblower is transported to the
Indefatigable at the earliest opportunity."

"Aye, aye, sir!"

Pellew stood and favoured his injured officer with a last glance before
heading for the deck. On his way a thought stopped him in his tracks for a
moment. The perfect victory, his own mentor had once told him, is one that
came without a cost and such a victory did not exist. This victory had cost
him far less than he'd originally believed it would. It wasn't the perfect
victory, but Pellew imagined it was as close as he was likely to come.

Finita.