The still air blanketed the courtyard as Hunter and Kennedy sat at the table, the remains of their evening meal between them. The atmosphere had the expectant calm of an impending storm. The walls of the yard were high and it was impossible to see past them to the horizon, but Kennedy had been long enough in El Ferrol to know the signs. Hornblower had left not five minutes earlier for his two hours parole. Kennedy pushed the bowl aside the usual Garbanzo gruel and contemplated what he would do next.
Time passed slowly in prison; it was an aspect of prison life to which he had become accustomed. There would be no escape soon, not with all three officers recovering in one form or another. He was steadily regaining his own strength, but still did not have the stamina for an extended journey. Hunter's leg wound was mending, but he was still in pain and had a pronounced limp. Archie doubted that Hunter would be well enough to move for some time yet. Hornblower was recovering well, and Archie was grateful that he had spent such comparatively little time in the oubliette, one week to his four. After the initial cramping had ceased Horatio was soon back on his feet and able to resume his walks. Two hours in the sun, walking the cliffs, would be a fine way to spend one's time. He had seen the cliffs and wild coastline during his last escape, but it was best not to dwell on that now.
He leaned against the wall, Hunter still on the other side of the table. They continued sitting there in not quite companionable silence for some time. There was still a barrier between them that interminable hours in the cell and shared adversity had been unable to break down. Their initial animosity borne of Hunter's obstinacy and willingness to dispose of Archie on the one side, and Archie's despair and unwillingness to help in their escape on the other, had yet to be fully overcome.
A grunt from the other side of the table bought his attention back to the yard. Hunter had levered himself up, holding his leg, glancing briefly at Archie, before looking more ruefully out into the yard itself.
"Time to stretch this leg. It won't get any better on it's own."
Archie replied with a slight smile, "Don't hurt yourself further, Mr Hunter. You are too heavy for me to carry back to the cell."
Hunter chuckled and limped out into the yard. Archie briefly
contemplated joining him, he needed to continue to regain his
own strength, but the impending storm stayed him. For a time he
watched as Hunter paced up and down, occasionally holding his
leg to keep up his momentum.
Archie was just reaching for the lexicon and Don Quixote as the first splashes of rain hit the dirt. Oldroyd gathered the dice signalling an end to the game that he and some of the ratings were playing and made for the cover of the awning, the other men following his lead. Hunter continued his solitary walk up and down the yard; he was now holding his leg at each pace. The rain increased in intensity and Kennedy considered calling him in, concerned that the extra exertion would lead to further complications. A doctor had eventually removed the ball during Hornblower's incarceration, but Hunter's low spirits and initial refusal to eat had slowed down the healing process. Hunter almost appeared, now, as if he were trying to pay penance for his earlier actions. Archie found the change in personality almost disquieting, learning how to deal with the man again had not been easy.
Relaxing, Kennedy returned to the books. It gave him something to concentrate on. They were the first books he had seen in almost two years, except for the occasional bible, and he was determined to savour them. The ratings talked quietly, barely heard over the sound of the pelting rain. At a rumble in the distance, Archie looked up, and then sat up straighter. It sounded like thunder, but he had not seen the accompanying flash of lightning that he would have expected. He realised that the ratings had stopped talking, and that Hunter had momentarily halted his pacing, appearing slightly startled. Hunter returned to the cover of the awning, sitting with an audible thump and sigh. The sound, again. The noise was familiar; it was not thunder, too regular.
"Mr Kennedy, that was cannon fire." Hunter was staring at him intently.
It had been years since Archie had heard the sound, a battle at sea then. "Mr Hunter, I think that you may be right." He had the sudden urge to scale the walls and look for himself. Frustrated, he closed the books. "How close, do you think, Mr Hunter?"
"They must be out in the bay. Can't be more than a mile or two distant." A feral grin appeared on Hunter's face, "I hope we're giving them a beating. I wish I was there," he added, with a dissatisfied air he thumped the table.
Another burst of cannon fire; Archie knew that his face mirrored the frustration in Hunter's. "When Mr Hornblower returns, perhaps we will learn more." Briefly, he wondered where Horatio was; surely he would not stay out in this downfall. But then, if he could see the battle
For a moment Hunter and Kennedy's eyes locked and each knew exactly what the other was thinking. 'To be on the deck of the Indy. Hear the wind in the rigging,' Horatio had said. With the sound of battle so close, Archie felt a longing to, once again, be at sea. He could see that same longing reflected in Hunter's eyes, but he could not see a way out, and even if there were, the ship would be long gone before they could reach her. The storm would further complicate matters, making any kind of an escape by sea perilous, even if they could find a boat, and neither he nor Hunter were truly strong enough to leave under such conditions. They could only listen to the cannon, wishing that they were there.
The sound of cannon fire stopped almost as abruptly as it had started. The battle had ended. Someone the victor, the other vanquished. Hunter let out a sigh and stared at the far wall. The guards no longer had their attention on the yard, with backs turned; they stared intently out to the ocean beyond. Archie wondered whether they could see anything at all in the torrential rain.
Leaning back against the wall again he closed his eyes and listened to the patter of the rain. The storm appeared to be settling in and he knew it would soon be time for them to go back to their cells for the evening. The sky was darkening, the cold starting to seep in. Horatio, too, should return soon from his walk. He was just contemplating getting up when the gate opened and Hornblower re-entered the courtyard, running to the cover of the awning.
"Mr Hornblower, we heard the cannon. What news do you have?" He asked, before noticing Hornblower's expression.
"Men," Hornblower said loudly, not answering Archie's question, but gesturing to the others to form ranks as best they could, "a ship, the Almaria, has been wrecked on the reef in the bay. Don Massaredo has given me permission to attempt a rescue. He is presently arranging a boat and other provisions to do so, but I will require your assistance. I ask only for volunteers, and I will not hold it against any of you if you decide not to come."
There was silence. Somewhere inside him, Archie could feel an excitement bubbling to the surface, one that he had not allowed himself to feel in years. He found himself readily agreeing to come. Around him the other men, likewise, gave their assent.
The gates were again opened, but as they vacated the yard Hornblower briefly pulled Hunter aside. The conversation was quiet enough that it did not reach Kennedy's ears, but he could guess at what was being said, his lips canted up into the beginnings of a wry smile, the irony was not lost on him.
Two carts. Rope. Fishing boat. The fishermen and guards, along with the ratings, were working frantically to load the necessary equipment into the boat before it was put onto the carts. Kennedy was surprised at the change in the ratings, and in himself. They now had a purpose, something that had been missing during these idle months, in his case, years. He noted a tangle of provisions for the boat, brought by Massaredo's men, and yet to be loaded. He signalled to Hunter, who had been supervising the loading on one side, yelling over the wind and the rain, "We must get these into the boat."
Hunter, rain beading his face, his eyes squinting against the wind, yelled his acknowledgement. He noticed that Don Massaredo was standing at a distance watching the proceedings. Kennedy wondered if he realised that this was the perfect means for escape for them all. Surely, he must. Perhaps he thought the rescue of the sailors from the wreck worth the risk of a few escaped prisoners. Regardless, Archie knew an attempt had to made to save the lives of those aboard the Almaria, who would doubtless drown if their ship broke up completely against the rocks.
Then, the boat was on the carts, Hornblower was climbing in, the ratings and fishermen lining up on either side. The cart started on its journey to the ramp, propelled by their combined effort, forged ahead down the cobbled path. Archie found that it took much of his energy, on now stiff legs, to keep up with them. He was aware of Hunter trailing some distance behind him, but he had the feeling that if he were to slow and wait for him to catch up he would be left behind, deemed unfit to travel.
He caught up as the boat was being pushed into the water. Archie heard Don Massaredo informing Hornblower that he had included food and sails in their supplies, and to stay at sea until the storm had passed. At Hornblower's order, Archie rushed to assist in getting the barrels to lash to the side of the boat knowing that they could be necessary to keep them afloat in the rough seas. All was now ready, and he informed Hornblower before climbing onto the prow of the boat, it would be his duty to warn of obstructions so they could steer clear of them. He took a deep breath, steadying himself against the side. His heart was hammering, with excitement, or fear, he could not say. For a terrifying moment he felt more alive than he had at any time since that first battle when he had rushed up to Horatio covered in blood, brandishing his sword, boasting how many he had killed.
Hunter was now clinging to the side of the boat, saying something to Hornblower, then was pulled aboard, and they were pushed into the harbour. Hornblower, at the tiller, was yelling, "Now, lads! Put your backs into it! Row your hearts out! Row!"
They were out of the harbour and for the first time in two years Archie was on the sea of his own volition. The storm, raging around him, was making his purchase on the prow increasingly difficult. His excitement ebbed slightly as they rowed further into the bay; the waves were increasingly rough, the larger rogue waves breaking over the small boat. Somehow they made progress as Archie felt the cold and wet seeping into his bones. He could almost feel the effort it was taking the ratings to pull through the waves toward their destination.
The wreck loomed before them, only five people clinging to the bow. One fell as they approached; Hornblower gave the order to keep station. The ocean, turbulent near the rocks, was throwing more water into the small boat, the danger of sinking before they could affect a rescue a possibility that could not be ignored.
"Oldroyd, Styles, bale for your lives!" He yelled above the din created by the sound of waves against the rocks and sinking ship.
Turning back he watched as the first survivor jumped into the sea, and was swept with the incoming wave towards their small boat. Archie tightened his grip on the side, the wave swept alongside, and then past the boat. The man was gripping at the side, and was then hauled aboard.
Squinting through the spray he looked back in time to see the next sailor jump from the wreck, into the sea. Rain obscured his vision; he wiped away the hair that had blown into his eyes, running a hand over is face in a vain attempt to clear away the gathering water droplets. He continued to look at the two survivors still remaining on the bow of the ship. Then, the man was at the side, being pulled aboard. The third survivor hesitated when Horatio yelled, and the next wave crashed against the side of the Almaria, a rouge, higher than the rest. Archie braced himself as the wave threatened to move them from their station, rocking the boat, filling the bottom with water. The next he knew the survivor was alongside, and in their boat. Horatio was reacting to something the words were caught and carried away by the gusting winds he could just make out the startled look on Horatio's face, and the survivor gestured toward the wreck.
Now, the last man was hanging from the broken rigging before falling into the ocean. Despite the wave carrying him he made heavy progress toward their boat. The wave hit with a crash, Archie steadied himself, the man was still in the ocean, and the backwash from the wave was threatening to pull him away toward the Almaria and the rocks beyond. The ratings were leaning over the side, urging him on. He would drown soon. Archie knew that they could move no closer; they were all in danger, barely keeping station, as it was.
Hunter was in the water, he hadn't seen him jump in, and he was now swimming toward the man still trying to keep his head above the water. Hornblower, at the side, was yelling, likely ordering him to return. Hunter was in no condition to attempt such a rescue. But as he watched he grabbed the sailor, struggling against the ebb was able to get him alongside, the ratings pulling him in. Hunter gripped the edge of the boat and pulled himself up the side, half out of the water, Hornblower going to his aid. But it would take more than one man to get him back into the boat. Archie heard the crash, another wave was upon them. The boat swung wildly, tipping, then righting itself as the wave passed them. Hunter was no longer there; nowhere to be seen. Hornblower was yelling and looking over the side. Archie frantically looked into the water, but saw nothing. Matthews' voice carried above the other babbling seamen with an entreaty to Hornblower to leave. Another wave crashed against the boat. Hunter was gone, Matthews was correct; to search in these seas would be futile, most probably at the cost of all their lives.
Hornblower at first seemed inclined to stay, but the sea was becoming rougher and although Archie could sense his reluctance, he gave the order, and the ratings were again at the oars. Archie looked ahead for obstructions as they pulled across the waves and into the bay. To return to land, now, would be more dangerous than riding the storm out at sea. Archie took a deep breath, and peered into the dark water ahead.
"'e didn' even try to get back in I tell you."
"course 'e did. You're imaginin' things. You are." The voice held a measure of finality as well as exasperation.
"I know what I saw." Came the equally convinced reply.
"The wave got 'im before 'e knew it. There wasn' time."
"I know what I saw, Styles, an' 'e didn' even try."
Archie kept his eyes closed and tried to ignore the low-voiced discussion. They were talking just loud enough to be heard above the rain that still pounded both the boat and the bay beyond in a steady, seemingly, never ceasing downpour. Archie wondered if there were any truth to it. Had Hunter wanted to end his life and found a way to do so? Had he wanted to go out the hero? Did he believe that his wound meant that he would never be able to rejoin the service; that he would no longer be able to fight for King and country? Had he known Hunter better he would have been able to fathom the answer. He did not, and in a small corner of his mind he found himself regretting that now. At the same time he did not want to dwell on it. He had spent too much time, recently, regretting the past, seeing no future because of it. Perhaps he and Hunter were not that far removed in thought, after all. He would never be able to discover if that were true, he shook he head, not now.
There was more than an inch of water in the bottom of the boat,
but Archie was too exhausted, too wet to even worry that he would
be sleeping in water. They had pulled for a long time, until fatigue
had started to take a toll on even the most hardy of the ratings.
Hornblower had determined that they were out any of the eddies
and currents that may have drawn their small boat back onto the
reef and had given the order to stow the oars. Now, they were
riding the waves in the dark, waiting out the storm, before they
returned to land and gaol.
At the other end of the boat Kitty Cobham was clinging to Horatio, shivering in the cold. He knew that she had set sail aboard the Almaria, Horatio had told him as much, before he had left the infirmary. But he had been more than a little surprised when he realised that she was among the survivors. They must have been at sea well over a month without ever making landfall. Had the war escalated to such a point that a coastal journey was so fraught with peril? While still pondering the question, the sounds in the boat quieted around him. Archie fell into uneasy slumber as the grey dawn broke.
Archie awoke with a jerk to Styles' yell of, "Sir! A sail, sir!" and felt Styles clamber across him for a closer look. He levered himself up as Hornblower asked their heading. She was hove-to. They could reach her. Was she the enemy, or one of theirs? Horatio, excited, was yelling at everyone to wake up and man the oars. "Row, you beauties! Row!" Hornblower yelled, urging them on and forward. Archie felt his spirits lift, after a night at sea, in a small boat; he found that he didn't even care if it was the enemy.
The ship seemed familiar to him, and he squinted, trying to get a better view. Then, confirmation from Styles, "Sir, it's the bloody Indy!" Archie couldn't believe it, but the shape coalesced into the familiar lines of the Indy, and he could not help but grin as he leaned forward for a closer look, around him the ratings laughed in joy and relief at the sight. Behind him he could hear Hornblower hailing the Indy as they pulled with all their hearts toward their home. They were finally free.
The rain was still sheeting down as he set foot on board, the water to cascading across the deck in rivers. Archie reminded himself to be careful of his footing as he made his way to the boat lashed to the middle of the deck. Captain Pellew was with a blanket-wrapped Hornblower, his satisfaction and joy at the return of his lost acting-lieutenant, as well as his struggle to hide it, could be clearly seen. The duchess appeared to have fainted and was being held up by two of the men. Someone put a blanket around his shoulders; he heard the order for double spirits to warm them up. The elation he had felt as they approached was dissipating; to be replaced by a bone tired weariness. Then, he was guided below decks by Mr Bowles, too tired to even feel a stab of jealousy and dislocation at being ignored. But perhapsit had been two years, after all, Captain Pellew had not recognised his former midshipman.
Mr Bowles guided them along the narrow passages below decks, toward the sick berth. He felt his tread growing heavy as he obediently followed. Archie was surprised that he still recognised so much of the ship after such a long absence. It was only as they entered the sick berth that Mr Bowles appeared to take note of him.
"Mr Kennedy, at first I thought my eyes were deceiving me. But it is you. Come, lad, I'll take you to the midshipmen's berth; you'll be more comfortable there. The rum'll warm you up soon enough."
"Y-yes, sir," he said through chattering teeth.
Mr Bowles gave him a kindly smile as he guided him away from the sick berth, "I can see that you have some tales to tell. I look forward to hearing them."
Archie cringed inwardly. The last thing he wanted to do now that he had finally attained freedom was talk about the last two years. His tired mind was moving in smaller and smaller circles as he tried to think of an answer. But Mr Bowles did not seem to take offence at the lack of response.
In midshipmen's berth, Cleveland, who was seated at the table, looking damp and cold, stared at Kennedy wide eyed before clamping his mouth shut, and looking away. He looked like one who had seen an unexpected apparition. Perhaps he had at that, with the blanket still around his shoulders, the mug of rum in his hand and his hair plastered to his head he must have looked a sight. He stared back at Cleveland, rooted to the spot for a moment, before realising that if he did not sit soon he would be on the deck.
Taking a seat at the table he simply stared into his mug of rum, unwilling to converse with Cleveland. He was too numb, too tired, to articulate at present. He was aware of Cleveland's stare, and continued silence, but the rum was starting to warm his tired limbs and he found himself blinking in an effort to remain awake. There was a hand on his shoulder and he realised that Cleveland had now risen, and was standing behind him.
"Archie, let's get you to a hammock before you fall asleep at the table. We can talk later."
He had not recalled seeing any hammocks strung in the berth when he had entered, but at Cleveland's bidding he rose unsteadily from the bench and found himself being guided towards a corner of the berth. He felt his jacket being removed, and he rolled into the hammock with Cleveland's assistance. He did not remember his head hitting the pillow.
Archie frowned. Which way should he go? He paused in the passage for a moment before deciding on a course. He had known the Indy as well as any of the other midshipmen before he had left, but now found himself hesitating on his way back up to the deck. It wasn't that he didn't know his way, but rather there was a certain unfamiliarity about the ship, an erosion of memory caused by the passage of time. He had awoken earlier with a similar feeling, thinking at first that he had dreamt the previous night in the storm, finding himself upon waking in familiar-yet-unfamiliar surroundings. It was a very disconcerting, and at the same time, heartening feeling. He tugged absently at the sleeve of his borrowed jacket. As he had expected, his sea chest had been returned to his family after the raid on the Papillon, and he was without any of his belongings, leaving him to the mercy of the other midshipmen's generosity until he could retrieve them. They had managed to find some clothes to replace his threadbare ones. He could not help but be grateful for their kindness.
He paused again, and fingered the report currently in his jacket pocket. Mr Bracegirdle, the new first lieutenant maybe not so new at that - he ruefully acknowledged, had seen him an hour earlier, with a request that a report be written on what had transpired since the Papillon raid. So, in that hour, he had managed to distil the last two years into a very dry report, which gave details of the prisons in which he had resided, his escape attempts, and anything else he thought could have been considered tactical. The report was no more than a page in length; he had given all the details needed, leaving out the ugly details that were of little concern to the navy. He hoped that Captain Pellew would not require a more detailed explanation, but he few hopes in that regard.
On deck, the harsh sun glinted off the water causing Archie to shade his eyes until they had adjusted, the sun almost blinding after the dull light below decks. Archie assumed, from the activity around him, that they would be soon ready to make sail, but he noted that Mr Bowles was alone on the quarterdeck, a sign that they were not quite ready - as yet. He mounted the steps to the quarterdeck; he must deliver his report.
Mr Bowles nodded his greeting as he approached. "Mr Kennedy," he said as way of a greeting, "you've come with your report?"
"Yes, sir. Mr Bracegirdle requested that I deliver it to him here."
"He was called into the captain's cabin, along with Mr Hornblower, some time ago, with a message that they were not to be disturbed." Mr Bowles said, and Archie nodded. As commanding officer Horatio would be asked to deliver the report on his capture first. "If you wait here, I'm sure you will be called upon when needed. We set sail for England soon. I dare say that you'll be happy to be home again, if only for a short while."
Archie smiled, this was more than he could have wished for. At best he had hoped that they would be heading for Gibraltar, where he would be able to send a letter back home to inform his family that he was alive, and arrange the return of his sea chest.
"That is, indeed, good news, Mr Bowles." Archie said, knowing that some of the relief must have crept into his voice, but not caring.
With a conspiratorial glint in his eye, Bowles leaned closer to Archie, "Word has it that the Duchess is also in the Captain's cabin."
"Indeed?" Archie replied, wondering why she had been allowed into a closed briefing, belatedly remembering that Kitty Cobham in her guise as 'The Duchess of Wharfdale' would be given special consideration.
"Yes, I hear rumours that she was also at El Ferrol for a time, is that true?"
"Yes-yes she was - for a time. I believe that her ship encountered problems due to the blockade. I also heard something of a battle?" Archie replied, steering the conversation onto more comfortable ground. Mr Bowles seemed inclined to talk today, and it passed the time until Mr Bracegirdle returned.
"At Cape St Vincent, against the Spanish Fleet. A well-earned victory, Nelson is a genius. They were no match for us, but you would know that already. You heard nothing of the victory, in Spain?" Bowles looked quizzically at Archie.
"No, but of course, we wouldn't. Gaolers do not usually share such news with their inmates; it would be bad for morale. Did the Indy take part in the engagement, sir?"
"No-no we missed out on the fight, as we were not part of the fleet. Instead we were on patrol, here, along the coast."
Mr Bracegirdle was returning to the quarterdeck up the stairs, the briefing must have concluded. Bracegirdle approached them with a greeting and then - "Mr Kennedy, you are needed down on deck. The captain wishes to speak to you, and the other men, from Le Reve."
Archie saw Bracegirdle also nod to Mr Bowles as an indication to come with him, and they all descended to the waist. The men were assembling, and he stood to one side in front of them. Briefly, he glanced over at Horatio wondering about what the reason they had been called to the deck. Around them, all the officers gathered and 'Her Grace' came to stand beside the officers. Captain Pellew began pacing in front of them, before stopping in front of Archie.
"It would seem that Mr Hornblower has been most unkind to you men. He has given his word to the dons that he will return." Pellew said without preamble, and Archie felt a sinking feeling in his chest as he continued, "More than that, he has given your parole. However; his word does not bind yours." Pellew was now pacing along the line of men, Archie kept facing ahead, hoping that his reaction was not showing on his face. "You are free to remain here with your comrades aboard your old ship. Or you can return with Mr Hornblower to imprisonment - in Spain."
Captain Pellew was now directly in front of him, as the next highest-ranking officer after Hornblower he would be expected to give his answer first. He found himself hesitating, lost for words. There was only one choice he could make, and he made it before he let his regrets overtake him. "If, Mr Hornblower has given his word, that holds good for me, sir." He fought the urge to grimace as Pellew, stared at him briefly, as if judging his conviction, before pacing again further up the line of men.
"Does he speak for all of you?" Good, God, he was asking them if they were going to follow his example. Archie held his breath until he heard Oldroyd's reply. With relief he realized that they would all be returning. The breath he had been holding came out as a suppressed sigh. He grimaced, hoping that the others were preoccupied enough not to notice.
"Very well, Mr Bracegirdle," Captain Pellew continued, "we will set course for land. We'll go in under a flag of truce." Pellew spat out the last word as if it were distasteful, before striding away, a signal that the muster as now at an end. Archie wondered if he had just raised his captain's ire, if so, perhaps, it were better that he would now be returning to Spain.
Hornblower approached him with a slight look of regret on his
face. "Archie - "
Archie raised a hand to forestall what he was about to say. Right now, he could not hear Horatio's words of apology. First he had to control his own churning thoughts. Hornblower stood uncomfortably by him, obviously wanting to speak, but not wanting to intrude on Archie's thoughts. They were both saved from having to continue the conversation by an approaching midshipman, with a request that Mr Kennedy see the captain in his cabin. Archie nodded to the middie and lightly clasped Horatio on the arm before walking off.
Archie stood at attention, his eyes fixed resolutely on the back wall of the cabin. He hoped that he did not look as nervous as he felt. On his entrance, at his captain's bidding, he had handed him the report, and now, the captain paced the small space while reading it, all but ignoring him. Archie used the time to try and calm himself. He had expected to be disciplined for inciting the other hands to return to El Ferrol. But other than taking the report from him, no words had been spoken.
Pellew's eyes narrowed slightly as he finished reading, he placed the report on his desk before turning and addressing Archie. "Mr Kennedy, I had not expected to see you again. I feared that you had not survived the raid on the Papillon. Mr Hornblower reported that you had been left behind after the boarding action, and since that time you have not appeared on any of the official lists as being among the captured." He indicated the report, "I am able to read between the lines of your report, Mr Kennedy, and I find it difficult to believe that you would willingly return." He turned to face him fully, and Archie fought the impulse to swallow.
"Mr Hornblower had given his word, sir," he said. It was the truth. That he was dreading returning, and was in a small corner of his mind regretting his almost impulsive decision, was not of any concern now.
"Indeed he had," Pellew stated, "but I also told you that his word did not bind yours."
Archie found that he could not meet Pellew's eyes, and kept them resolutely locked on the wall. "Yes, sir."
"Then why, Mr Kennedy, do you wish to return? I find it difficult to believe that you do not wish to see England again."
He did not wish to return to El Ferrol. Surely Captain Pellew understood that. To say that, though, would be dangerous. In truth, he did not understand himself what had spurred on his words on deck, other than he would not willingly compromise Hornblower's honour for his own selfish reasons, and in good conscience, it was the only decision he could make, but it was a difficult position to explain.
"Sir, I do wish to see England again, but I gave my word to return with Mr Hornblower. When he gave his parole, he gave it for all of us. His word is binding."
"So you believe that you must be loyal to Mr Hornblower's parole, Mr Kennedy? I would have thought no less of you, if you had wanted to stay, sir." Pellew's eyes bore into him. Briefly, Archie wondered if he could read the answer straight from his mind, and knew of his own misgivings.
"Yes, sir. I am aware of that, sir." At the captain's nod he continued, "But I would have thought less of myself, sir." Archie hoped that his answer would suffice, and that the captain would understand.
Pellew gave a tight nod, "Thank you, Mr Kennedy. An admirable position, I am sure."
A knock on the door interrupted them. Relief flooded him; there would be no need for copious explanations of what had occurred during his captivity, of which he was ill prepared to respond to, while someone else had Pellew's attention. He used the time to try and gather his thoughts.
"Come," Pellew ordered, and a midshipman he did not recognise was standing at the door, hat in hand.
"Mr Patterson?" he said, and raised an eyebrow, a clear order to continue.
"Mr Bracegirdle's compliments, sir, and preparations have been completed to weigh anchor."
"Thank you Mr Patterson, you may tell Mr Bracegirdle that I will be on deck directly."
The door again closed, and Archie waited for the inquisition to continue. The report had yet to be discussed. Yet, his last answer had seemed to satisfy him, even though it was an evasion, perhaps Pellew would be satisfied enough with the report, and not feel the need for a more elaborate explanation on the events during his time in France and Spain. Pellew's next question, though, surprised him. "Would you care to join me on deck, Mr Kennedy?"
"Of course, sir."
As they prepared to leave the cabin, Pellew grasped Kennedy's arm. He was unprepared for the contact and almost flinched. "Mr Kennedy, without loyalty the Royal Navy would cease to exist. I am aware of your misgivings, but you made the right and honourable choice."
Archie briefly closed his eyes, he was grateful that from this angle Pellew could not properly see his face. "Thank you, sir."
He hoped that he was prepared for what was to come as they ascended back onto deck.
The guard motioned them into the cell, Archie walked through the door, hesitating only slightly at the entrance. He felt Horatio's presence at his shoulder and tried for a rallying smile that died at the edge of his lips. He should say something, anything, to help relieve the guilt that he knew Horatio must have been feeling. For a brief moment they both stopped and surveyed the small, dirty, dank cell.
"It almost feels like home," he said to Horatio, knowing that he would understand the irony of his words; he managed a brief smile and felt a profound sense of relief that his sense of humour, at least, had not deserted him. The smile that played on Horatio's lips in response assured him that he had understood the irony, and perhaps more. They both moved to their bunks, Archie seated himself onto the edge of his, leaning against the thick wall, letting out a sigh, which was answered by Horatio who had thrown himself onto the top bunk. Was he, too, thinking of what could have been?
Archie found his mind wandering back to the events of the afternoon; he had not had much time to think on them until they had climbed into the fishing boat for the journey back to the harbour. He had spent the majority of that time trying to cultivate a stoic expression, but he knew that he had failed in that particular endeavour and his true emotions had shown a little too clearly, he was certain that the ratings had pretended not to notice. He was grateful for their discretion but wished that he had not needed it.
Images tugged at the edge of his memory, the ship under sail, the creak and hum of the rigging, the sound of the bells, the bellowed orders, and the white flag signalling a truce while they proceeded further into the bay. He could still feel the shock of the cannon fire the salute - as they had left the Indy for harbour once again; the cannon was ringing in his ears, still.
He shook his head slightly at the image Don Massaredo had made on their return. He had started when he had seen Archie alight from the boat, before Hornblower had hidden him from view, whilst giving him his report. He had heard some murmured comments from the ratings around him at that which he had studiously ignored, as an officer should. It was gratifying to think that he could surprise the old aristocrat. He had been gracious on thanking them for their bravery in rescuing the survivors from the Almaria, and returning under what he had termed 'difficult circumstances', an understatement, at least from Archie's standpoint.
The walk to the prison gates had brought the sinking feeling back, though, and he made a conscious effort to rally himself as they walked the rocky hill, if not for himself, then for the ratings who had followed not only Horatio, but him back, as well.
He had volunteered to rescue the survivors from the Almaria,
and then to return, again, to Spain he reminded himself sternly.
Even if, right now, he felt that it would have been better had
he not gone at all. But perhaps, as well, he had needed the reminder
that beyond these walls was his old life, and that eventually
he could return to it. For the remaining months he was incarcerated
he could call on the memory of standing on the deck of the Indy,
the smell of the sea, if times became more difficult, and perhapsjust
perhaps his time here, this time, would not be as trying. He had
companionship, and perhaps some respect from his shipmates. Don
Massaredo, as well, it seemed from his greeting, might be more
kindly disposed toward him, since he had demonstrated his willingness
to honour a parole. He removed his jacket, carefully rolling it
into a ball to serve as a pillow and stretched back onto the bed.
Horatio, it appeared, had fallen asleep. With little else to do,
Archie allowed himself to relax, feeling sleep tugging gently
at the edge of his mind. It would be enough; it would have to
be enough, at least, for now. With that thought he drifted into
what he hoped would be a dreamless slumber.