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The Weather Eye
Part 14: For I am a Pirate King
by Rhiannon

If Guido di Cesare had known that Archie Kennedy had believed him to be
safe in London, along with Hal Trevelyan and his usual intelligence
affairs, he would have blessed him for an optimist. He was, instead,
much closer than anyone could have imagined -- and decidedly not
pleased about the situation.

"I'm cursed," said the Conte di Cesare grimly, staring at the latest
set of reports that lay on the desk of the small office he had been
forced to rent in Port Jackson. He looked up, and glared at his
immediate subordinate, Hal Trevelyan, who had been away from London for
the past three months. "I'm cursed and after I hand your incoherent
batch of scribblings in to Pitt, I'm going to be dismissed, disgraced,
damned and probably soon-to-be-dead. Thank you, Hal. Sterling work.
Do remind me to put you in charge again sometime, won't you?"

"Don't worry so much," yawned Trevelyan, stretching out in the chair
and wishing for a breeze to magically cool down the stuffy room. Guido
had been snarling at him for the last hour, having arrived in port that
morning in one of the most devastatingly bad tempers Hal had ever seen,
and his mood showed no signs of improving. "Pitt's in England. You're
not."

"The /reason/ I'm not in England, Hal, is because /you/ managed to
botch a completely simple assignment."

*And because I have been travelling here under the false impression
that your prolonged silence meant you were probably dead. I do /not/
want to discuss this, or start to tell you what I think of spies who
drop out of contact. Not to mention friends...*

Guido blinked once, and forced himself back to the task in hand,
beginning to realise just how much the heat was making his head hurt.

"I didn't!" Hal protested, taking Guido's somewhat unfocused glare for
pure condemnation, standing up rather too quickly to emphasise his
innocence, and sending his chair skidding across the room. It crashed
into the wall, and Guido sighed, rubbing his hand across his forehead.
"Roberts did." It was like lighting a touchpaper, as days of worry and
irritation exploded from the Conte di Cesare in a withering diatribe.

"The last I heard, Hal, Roberts was not responsible for which ships, or
which captains, sailed where. The only thing he was responsible for was
getting those damned mutineers. /You/, on the other hand, are
responsible for /knowing/ which captains sail where, and TELLING him!
Hell's teeth, man, was that too much to ask? Rodriguez has the
'Kaliakra', blast it! The goddamned 'Kaliakra' -- my only spy ship!
Can you not do /anything/ I ask of you without causing havoc?"

The spy commander looked at the reports helplessly, picked them up in
one thin hand, then sent them flying across the room.

"These are /useless/!" he spat, before visibly calming himself and
getting up from his chair.

"Guido?"

"Yes, what?" snarled the Conte di Cesare, stalking over to the window
and glaring out at the sea as though he held it as responsible as Hal
for the stream of disasters which seemed to have plagued them for the
last three months.

"There's another problem."

Guido leant his head on the hot glass and groaned.

"Tell me," he said wearily. "Why not? My day can't get any worse."

"I - um - I think that Roberts may have picked up some passengers."

"Really." Guido's voice was completely expressionless.

"His latest report said something about picking up sailors off an
island. They were from a ship called the 'Petrel'..."

There was a sudden stillness in the room that caught at Hal's attention
far more than his commander's previous rage had done.

"Guido? What -"

Guido took a deep breath, drew back his arm, and slammed his hand
against the window. Unfortunately, it went straight through the
windowpane, sending glass flying to the baking courtyard below. He
looked at the shards of glass sticking into his palm in mild
bewilderment, and began to pick them out of the tiny wounds with a
faintly distracted air.

"Ah," he said with eerie calm. "I see. The 'Petrel'. And you're
sure, are you, completely, absolutely, irrevocably sure that it was
Rodriguez who boarded the 'Kaliakra'?"

Hal just nodded mutely, staring as Guido's long fingers removed glass
splinters from his palm with methodical precision.

Guido's long mouth thinned and hardened.

"I take it back," he said, extracting the last thin, bloodstained
shard from just beneath his thumb, and dropping it on the floor. "I'm
not cursed. I'm doomed. I'm doomed to spend my whole damn life
worrying about everyone I know. I'm doomed to have information I don't
want, and get continual bad news relating to that information. Hal, go
and find out who Pellew put in command of the 'Petrel'."

Hal's dark blue eyes suddenly sharpened and narrowed, belying his lazy
demeanour.

"Pellew?"

Guido looked across at him bleakly.

"Indeed. Pellew. And what do you think the chances of him giving the
papers over to anyone other than those two lieutenants we ended up with
in Toulouse are? Given, you understand, that it seems to be standard
procedure to mix them up in things they really have no business knowing
about."

Hal groaned, and rubbed at his temples as though he, too, had a
headache.

"Miniscule," he said, dropping his pose of languid complacency
completely. "I'm afraid quite miniscule."

Guido dropped into his chair with a gesture of fatigue.

"Go and find out if we're right, Hal," he said, closing his eyes and
tilting his head back. "Now."

"And if we're right? Well, I know what happens if we're right, I
think, but what if you're wrong?"

"Then hire a goddamn ship!" howled the Conte at the ceiling. "Bribe a
pirate! Hijack the Dons! I do not bloody care what you have to do if
we're right, but even if we are not, we are going after Rodriguez!"

"But --"

Guido opened his eyes, sat upright, and fixed Hal with a look that
could have withered most of the local foliage.

"Hal. Whoever was commanding the 'Petrel' had the documents. Which
means Rodriguez has the documents. Which means --"

"We're in real trouble. And they'll be hung as spies," breathed Hal.
"Oh, God, Guido, if it is them..."

Guido dropped his head into his hands, smearing blood along one side of
his face from his cut hand.

"Just go, will you?" he asked wearily. "Before anything else
happens."

"But Guido --"

"NOW!"

* * *

Roberts was tapping his fingers on the floor beside him, thinking.
Whatever Rodriguez wanted, it was not, for once, him or his men. In
fact, the lack of interest he had shown in the 'Kaliakras' other than
to attempt to massacre as many as possible would have been insulting -
had it not also been a momentary respite from action that gave him time
to consider his options very, very carefully indeed.

His primary difficulty was one of trust. The orders from Trevelyan,
the second-in-command of the spy commander and ex-assassin, Guido,
Conte di Cesare, had been explicit. They most certainly had not
included getting shipwrecked naval officers to Port Jackson or Botany
Bay, or indeed anywhere in the southern hemisphere, as far as he knew.
So if -- or rather when -- word got back to Trevelyan as to where he
really was and what had happened to the 'Kaliakra' as a consequence,
would the Conte's subordinate even bother to come and look for him? Or
would he simply be written off as yet another spy seduced by more money
and better options?

If only he had written a full report the last time he sent word. If
only he had explained what he was doing. If only he had been better
prepared for an attack...but how was he to know Rodriguez would be
after them, that the damn Spaniard was fully aware of the 'Kaliakra's'
status as a spy ship?

If only he could trust in Trevelyan's opinion of him. If only he could
be sure that Sterling were just stupid and not out to double-cross him.

If only he knew where the two lieutenants were being held on the ship,
and whether it was going to be possible to get them out, or off the
ship, or...

If only he had been given a choice in anything he had been forced into
since picking up the shipwrecked 'Petrels'.

But Kennedy had said something about important documents...

And Rodriguez had been taking a most unhealthy interest in the naval
officers...was it it because he /knew/ about the documents, or for some
othe reason? Why would he be looking for two Naval officers anyway?

Except -- except they didn't look like Naval officers, not at the
moment...so how --

Roberts looked around the hold miserably, at the unmoving 'Kaliakras'
and 'Petrels', who were doubtless looking at him as a means of escape,
and sighed. Even though the Spaniard's interest had not been directed
towards him, there were at least six guards outside the door, two
inside who were changed over at the end of every watch, and no chance
of bribery, as all his money and possessions were safely in the
captain's cabin, which was now occupied by Rodriguez himself.

Roberts' fist clenched, and he pounded his fist against the floor.

"Are you all right, sir?" asked Sterling, and the sarcastic streak that
Roberts had been trying very hard to work at came to the fore. It
seemed to have been worked on in completely the wrong way in the hours
since they had been put in the hold, because it was right on the tip of
his tongue to say something reassuring, but what what came out instead
was --

"How on earth could I possibly be better, Mr Sterling?"

Ah. Not reassuring, really. Perhaps if the man just left him alone...

"Well, that's good to hear," said Sterling in all innocence, and
Roberts went back to pounding his fist on the floor.

*If only I could trust him...*

"Sir?"

Roberts closed his eyes and prayed for a hurricane or an attack from
the British Navy.

"Yes, Mr Sterling?"

"Why are you pounding your fist on the floor?"

"It's helping me think, Mr Sterling."

"What about, sir?"

"I am not quite sure as yet, Mr Sterling. Perhaps if I were /allowed/
to think for more than five seconds without your interruptions, my
efforts might become more profitable."

Oops, there went that sarcastic thing again. Sterling fell silent.

"Yes, sir," he agreed after a while.

Roberts considered banging his head on the floor instead, and stopping
only when he had been rendered blissfully unconscious.

* * *

"Horatio?"

"Yes, Archie?"

"Do you think Rodriguez is /ever/ going to send for us?"

Silence.

"I hope so, Archie. The waiting is beginning to -- concern me a
little."

Silence.

"There is something else that concerns me, Mr Kennedy."

"Aside from your sudden retreat into formality, Mr Hornblower?" Wryly.

"I believed -- at the time -- that disposing of my uniform was my best
chance of disguise. I have been forced to conclude since that it may
be rather too effective in convincing Rodriguez that we are not, in
fact, on Naval business. As may be your -- somewhat unorthodox --
apparel."

"Oh. Well, if he thinks we're spies, then at least we'll be shot. Or
hung. And quite frankly, Horatio, the prospect is somewhat less
disturbing than the thought of another two years rotting in a Spanish
prison."

Silence. A sudden exclamation.

"What, Horatio?" Irritably.

"I -- Archie, did you say you'd got my cloak back?"

A sigh.

"Yes, Horatio." Patiently.

"And the documents are still in there."

"Well, no."

Pause.

"What?"

"I put them in your jacket."

"You -- did -- /what/?"

"I put them in your jacket. You were being awfully careless with that
cloak, Horatio."

Pause.

"Oh God. Horatio, please tell me you took them out before you threw
your jacket over the side. Please."

Silence.

"That's no, isn't it." Struggling not to laugh.

A nod.

"Rodriguez is /not/ going to be pleased about this, Horatio." Voice
shaking with laughter now.

A small sigh.

"Quite honestly, Archie, I don't much care. Those papers have been far
more trouble than they're worth, sending them to the bottom of the sea
is what I was /supposed/ to do if we were attacked, and at least it
could buy us time."

"How?"

"Well, if he /thinks/ I've got the documents, or if that's why he wants
us, I can at least pretend we've still got them and refuse to tell
him...and he'll never be able to get his hands on them now, whatever
happens. It might be all to the best."

"Sometimes, Horatio, I prefer it when your plans surprise me, to your
telling me your thought processes."

"But it's a chance we must take."

Silence.

Very softly:

"Yes, Mr Hornblower. It is."

* * *

"Hal, any luck?"

Guido was waiting in the courtyard below the rented rooms, sitting in
the shade provided by the building as the sun began to set. He was
smoking his pipe, the long, nervous fingers of his undamaged hand
clenced around the stem.

"I got a ship..." Hal sounded evasive.

Guido sighed.

"And the bad news, Hal?"

"Well, I had to buy it."

Guido shrugged.

"That doesn't matter. We'll get the money back when we return to
England."

Hal swallowed.

"I doubt it."

"Why?"

The blond man ran his hands through his hair, looking mildly
distraught.

"Well, you know how you said I could bribe a pirate if I had to?"

"Oh God..."

"I did."

"/Hal/!"

"Look, it's a ship, all right! And God knows I paid him enough to make
him do what we ask, and he has no other loyalties, and if you wanted
something more orthodox then you could have done it yourself and --"

"All right, all right, all right! Fine! A pirate ship...Hal?"

"What?" snapped his second-in-command.

"Um -- why did the captain or whatever he is agree to do this? All
right, the money, but you must have offered some other incentive.
Pirates don't just agree to do things for vast amounts of money unless
there's something personal in it for them. I know. I've tried
before."

Hal looked very, very tired, quite suddenly. He sat down and put his
head in his hands, and muttered something against his fingers.

"What was that?"

"Pirate King," mumbled Hal, less than coherently.

Guido stared at him.

"The captain is a pirate king? What's that got to do with it? Apart
from the fact that he evidently has delusions of grandeur and is quite
possibly raving mad?"

Hal shook his head miserably.

"Not him," he said, looking up at Guido with eyes bloodshot from salt
and heat. "You. I said /you/ were the Pirate King."

The pipe fell from Guido's hand, and shattered against the flagstones.

"Oh dear God," said the Conte di Cesare.

***

Overheard on the pirate ship 'Revenant':

"Guido?"

A sigh.

"Yes, Hal."

"Are you still angry?"

"No, Hal."

Relieved breath.

"Good, because --"

"I am not angry. I am absolutely /infuriated/!"

"Oh."

"Hal, listen to me. I am not a Pirate King, whatever that may be. I
do not know how they behave. I do not know what I am supposed to say
in this new and rather dangerous role. And I now have a decidedly
painful ear-ring hanging from one ear. To say that I was angry would
be an insult to the dictionary definition."

"You're doing all right. I think. They're listening to you, anyway."

Another, heavier sigh.

"I suppose so."

"Guido?"

"I'm still here, Hal."

"What happens if -- if we don't get there. To the 'Kaliakra'. In
time."

"Then I will kill Rodriguez." Flat, expressionless voice.

"I'm sorry, Guido."

"Hm? What for?"

"Not knowing. Bad spying. Call myself an intelligence agent and --"

"You did the best you could, Hal. You got us a ship and you found out
who was commanding the 'Petrel'. And I have copies of the documents
Hornblower's carrying, so /that's/ all right, and --"

"Thank you, Guido. I know what you're trying to do, but it's no good."
A pause, then: "They could all be dead by now." Almost inaudible.

"Yes. But that isn't your fault."

"Like you said. I should have known about Rodriguez."

"I shouldn't have said that. A side effect of heat and infuriation."

"What is?"

"Irrationality."

Silence.

"Hal?"

"Yes?"

"Why are you smirking?"

A snigger.

"I was looking at the ear-ring."

"Oh, thank you so much, Trevelyan. That helped."

"It's very -- um -- dashing."

"It's necessary. Unfortunately."

Snigger.

"And the open shirt?"

"It's hot. I dislike sweating."

"And the red --"

"Trevelyan, will you shut UP?"

Snigger.

Silence.

"Anyway, you look just as ridiculous."

"I think I look rather good, actually."

"No, Hal. You look like a mildly sunburnt Englishman, inappropriately
dressed."

"Oh, that hurt..."

"Hal?"

"What?"

"It isn't your fault. Any of it. And we'll get to the 'Kaliakra' in
time. I promise."

Silence. Sound of the sea and the wind in the rigging.

"Thank you, Conte."

"Any time."

Silence.

"So, Guido?"

"Yes, Hal?"

"What's it like being a Pirate King?"

::THWAP::

"Ouch!"

"A bit like that, really..."

And the 'Revenant' sailed on...

* * *

Roberts was pacing the hold, taking care to stay away from the barred
door in case the guards stationed there mistook his restlessness for an
expression of cowardice at his probably imminent demise. In actuality,
it was an attempt to get his increasingly heat-befuddled thoughts into
some kind of order.

Sterling. Was Sterling truly as stupid as he pretended to be? If so,
was he pretending because he was checking up on Roberts himself, a
double agent within Guido di Cesare's own agency, or because he was
actually working for Rodriguez? And if not Rodriguez, then the French,
and if not the French, then...

Around in circles, and the heat oppressive now, stopping his thoughts.

Hornblower. Kennedy. What did Rodriguez want with them? They were in
disguise, how could the Spaniard know who they were? How was it
possible that he could have known they were aboard the 'Kaliakra'?

What had gone so wrong, and when? And how the hell were they going to
get out...?

Roberts stopped in his pacing to slam an impotent fist against the
wall.

//Damn. Damn and double damn. We're trapped.//

//Trevelyan, where are you? For Christ's sake, believe in me...//

* * *

The door to the little room where Horatio and Archie were being kept
opened, revealing six of Rodriguez' men, waiting.

"/Six/?" mouthed Archie in bewilderment, and then, whispering:

"Horatio, what the hell do they think we're going to do?"

"I suspect we are about to find out..."

"Consoling as ever, Mr Hornblower..."

He was rewarded with a faint smile.

The guards closed in around them, and they were led to Roberts'
erstwhile cabin.

"You may leave us." Rodriguez' voice was only faintly accented, a
pleasant change from the ponderous voice of their previous captor, Don
Masseredo, who had treated each syllable of every word like a lethal
weapon. "And I do not wish to be disturbed. Even, and I emphasis this,
/even/ if we are attacked, boarded, and taken by pirates." He smiled
mirthlessly, the bad joke evidently being made for the benefit of the
two men standing in front of him, and certainly being made in English
for the same reason.

The Spaniard turned his somewhat unnerving smile at Hornblower as the
guards closed the door.

"So, Conte," he said softly. "How does it feel to look upon the face
of your nemesis? This is a pleasure I have so long -- anticipated."

Hornblower's mind went blank.

//Conte?//

Rodriguez turned to Kennedy.

"And Mr Trevelyan. Most unexpected, but nonetheless a pleasure. Both
of you at once." Again, the faint, unpleasant smile. "They will be
most happy to receive you in Spain, sir, after your -- somewhat
precipitous -- departure from there a few months ago. It really is not
polite, to leave without so much as a farewell."

"I was in a hurry." Archie's mouth seemed to have taken control without
his brain getting involved first.

//My God. He thinks I'm Hal. But why...//

He looked across at Hornblower, seeing the same realisation in his
friend's eyes, and, in looking at him, understood.

Two men, not belonging to the 'Kaliakra', yet fighting for Roberts.
One dark, one fair, travelling on a spy ship.

Guido and Hal. Who else would it have been, under these
circumstances...?

//No wonder they thought they needed six guards. Personally, if I'd
been facing an ex-assassin like Guido, I'd have sent twenty.//

//Maybe he's a little understaffed.//

The thought made Archie smile. Unfortunately, it was exactly the
reaction, coming after his previous statement, that anyone who had even
heard of Hal Trevelyan would have expected. Rodriguez glared at him.

"You are not amusing, Mr Trevelyan."

"Oh, really?" //I wish I could shut up. Horatio's going to kill me
later if this man doesn't do it now.// "I thought my repartee was
really qute stunning, under the circumstances."

Rodriguez, fortunately, ignored him. Hornblower was glaring at him in
a way that showed Archie that any thoughts he might have had about
getting killed later were probably not just imagination.

"So." The Spanish Captain's attention was back on Hornblower.

//For God's sake, Horatio, play along with this...//

The sounds above them went completely unnoticed.

* * *

Roberts paced, and fretted, and tried to ignore the looks Sterling was
giving him.

Is he stupid, or a traitor, or undercover, the Conte's man -- what?

Where the hell has Rodriguez put those officers?

What in God's name am I going to do...

The 'Petrels', too, were watching him intently. Roberts snorted with
laughter. He probably looked as though he were losing his mind. He
began to suspect that there might be a grain of truth in his
appearance, and sighed, halting in his restless movements.

Then he heard the sounds from above.

* * *

"Where are they?" snarled Guido di Cesare in Spanish. He was at the
head of a rather ramshackle crew of nonetheless competent pirates,
having overpowered Rodriguez' men within a few and rather chaotic
minutes. The 'Revenant' had come out of the dusk like the ghost she
was named after, taking the new crew of the 'Kaliakra' by complete
surprise, and ensuring the new Pirate King a victory that at least
confirmed his new title, had it ever been in doubt. "/Where are my
men/?"

He looked utterly deranged, his long dark hair unbound to his
shoulders, a gash from a lucky stroke with a knife soaking into his
unbuttoned shirt, and his sword dripping with blood. It did not even
occur to the man he was questioning not to respond.

"In the hold, sir. I mean, the prisoners are in the hold, if that's
what you --"

Guido snapped something over his shoulder to an equally disarrayed, if
slightly less bloody Hal, in English, and refocused his attention on
his unfortunate captive.

"And Rodriguez?"

"Questioning the Conte di Cesare. In the captain's cabin. He said not
to disturb him even if we were --"

"Questioning the /who/?"

"The Conte di Cesare. He was on this ship. And Rodriguez..."

Guido's long mouth twitched in amusement.

"The Conte di Cesare, eh? Was -- the Conte -- with anyone?"

"His /associate/." The word was spat out with contempt. "Trevelyan."

Guido nodded, fighting the urge to start laughing from a mixture of
reasons. The Spanish Dons hated Hal more than they hated him after
Hal's recent expedition into Spain. Idly, Guido wondered if there had
been anyone Hal had /not/ insulted before he made his escape....He
turned his attention back to the more immediate situation.

"Fair hair? Blue eyes?"

"I /said/. Trevelyan."

Guido turned away abruptly, more to hide his grin than anything else.
Neithre Hal nor Archie were going to be terribly amused at this
particular confusion. Then his smile faded, and he sighed. Hornblower
was probably going to be equally offended. About to make his leave and
head for Rodriguez and the supposed Conte/Trevelyan setup, he thought
of something, and turned back.

"Rodriguez. He said not to be disturbed even if..?"

The Spaniard flushed under his dark skin, looking horribly embarrassed.

"Even if we were boarded and taken by pirates."

And now Guido di Cesare did laugh, making Hal, who was getting the keys
to the hold, look at his commander in consternation.

"How unfortunate," choked the Conte. "Oh dear..."

* * *

"Yes?" Hornblower looked completely unmoved. Being as that was a
typical response of both himself and of Guido, Archie was left in doubt
as to what conclusions his friend had come to.

"The great spy commander. Taken by a Spanish scouting party. Are you
not -- a little -- disconcerted?"

"Should I be?"

//That's definitely not what Horatio would have said. So either he's
understood, or he's got heatstroke. I really, really hope...//

"Conte, you do yourself no favours."

"I am indeed not doing the Conte di Cesare, the spy commander, or
myself, any favours. But then, when have I ever cared for my various
titles?" Horatio's smile was wry. "As to being disconcerted?" A
typically Guido-like shrug. "Who knows. Certainly not you, my Spanish
friend."

//He's actually enjoying this. I suppose Guido does tend to be rather
ruder than Horatio would ever allow himself to be...//

"I want the documents, Conte."

Horatio laughed, his face almost expressionless and his eyes as cold as
ever the assassin could have made his own.

"Which ones?"

Rodriguez looked on the verge of apoplexy.

"The ones you are carrying!"

Horatio shrugged, and suddenly Archie thought, looking back on his
friend's previous reaction:

//Oh God. Don't let this man have heard about how Guido normally
responds to this kind of amusement. Don't let him know that Guido
never laughs when he's in this sort of situation. Please...//

"But I carry so many."

The voice was dry, and bleak, and very unamused. It was also coming
from an entirely unexpected direction. The doorway.

Rodriguez spun.

"Who the hell --"

"Ah. Pray allow me to introduce myself. Guido, Conte di Cesare. Spy
commander, ex-assassin, and currently, thanks to my associate, Hal
Trveleyan -- who is, by the way, /not/ standing in front of you -- a
pirate king. Which is why," turning his attention to Horatio and
Archie, who were staring at him with as much astonishment as Rodriguez,
"I am wearing an ear-ring. On which subject I would truly prefer no
commentary at this juncture."

"It doesn't suit you." Archie's voice still seemed to be disconnected
from his thought processes.

Guido blinked.

"Please get out of character, Archie," he said with surprising
mildness. "One Hal Trevelyan is really more than enough for one day."

Rodriguez had still not moved.

"You," he said eventually, looking at Hornblower. "You are not the
Conte di Cesare?"

Hornblower smiled.

"I never said I was," he pointed out.

Rodriguez swallowed, and turned his attention back to Guido.

"I am ready to die," he said abruptly.

Guido smiled, his dark eyes hard and cold.

//No,// thought Archie, seeing the difference between the Conte's
expression now, and that of Horatio earlier, trying to imitate Guido's
blankly icy look. //Horatio never has that look in his eyes. Guido is
a killer, and that can't be imitated...//

At least his vocal chords seemed to have reconnected to his willpower,
or he would have probably said that aloud.

"Oh, I'm not going to kill you," said the Conte, sounding a little
tired. "Too much effort. Besides, complete and utter humiliation
seems /far/ more appropriate. I shall simply take my men and leave."

Rodriguez stepped out from behind the desk, his eyes flashing with
anger.

"/These/ are /not/ your men, Conte!"

Guido sighed a little, and, for the first time, Archie realised that
all the blood on his white shirt was not simply from other people.
Guido had been wounded. Rescuing them.

//Damn. Sorry, di Cesare.//

"No," agreed the spy commander with deceptive mildness. "They are not.
They are, in fact, officers of his Majesty's navy. Considering who you
mistook them for, doubtlessly insulted officers, but you can apologise
to them some other time. Gentlemen, if you would care to go on deck, I
--"

"Complimented, actually."

//Have Horatio's vocal chords suffered disconnection too? What the
hell did he --//

Guido blinked, which in the ex-assassin's range of expressions probably
meant he was completely bewildered.

"Complimented?" he enquired dryly.

Horatio smiled.

"Well, how often does a mere lieutenant get mistaken for a pirate
king?"

And Guido flung back his head and laughed, his whole demeanour thawing
from its icy stillness.

"I assume as frequently as the Conte di Cesare himself," he said with
evident amusement.

"Indeed."

"Go on deck, Mr Hornblower," said Guido, shaking his head. "And you,
Mr Kennedy. There are -- certain details -- that I must arrange with
Captain Rodriguez here."
***

Roberts heard the rattle of keys at the door, and braced himself,
convinced that whatever was about to happen was going to be the
deathknell of any half-formed plans he might have made. The 'Petrels'
rose to their feet, obviously prepared for the worst.

And in the doorway stood a bizarrely-dressed Hal Trevelyan.

"Hal?" asked Roberts, hardly daring to believe his eyes. "What the
hell are you wearing?"

Hal Trevelyan grinned.

"I'm a pirate," he explained cheerfully. "Recognise the outfit, do
you?"

Roberts swallowed hard, trying to quell his relief.

"No," he said after a few moments, when he was sure he could trust his
voice. "It's considerably more tasteless than anything I could have
come up with. And anyway, you're sunburnt."

"Well, I'm fair. You're dark. Guido's not burnt either, but he's got
an ear-ring, which I suppose compensates -- are you coming out of there
or what?"

Roberts felt himself smile.

"Out," he said as calmly as he could. "Definitely out. Uh -- Hal?"

"Yes?"

"Can I take it this is a rescue, then?"

Hal laughed.

"I suppose you can," he agreed. "Yes."

Roberts nodded, and started to move towards the door. Then he
remembered.

"Hal, the lieutenants, I -- Rodriguez --"

Hal's cheerful expression faded into the tight grimness that few people
ever saw.

"Guido's in the cabin now," he said quietly. "But they're alive. We
know that much. I just hope he lets Rodriguez stay that way, or we're
/all/ in trouble."

* * *

The evening air was blissfully cool after the closeness of the hold,
and Roberts drew deep breaths, reassuring himself that this was
reality, and not some heat-engendered dream. The faint scent of
pipe-smoke reached his nostrils, and he looked around to see Guido,
dressed in a clean shirt, the cut on his chest cleaned and already
scabbing over, leaning against the ropes behind him.

"Di Cesare."

"Roberts."

"So -- what happens now?"

Guido shrugged.

"I gave Hornblower the copies I have of the documents that he managed
to sink. Now I take Rodriguez and his merry men back to Port Jackson,
and you -- do whatever you feel you must."

"What of Hornblower and Kennedy? And the Petrels?"

Guido's long mouth twitched into what was not quite a smile.

"They stay with you. As I said. Do what you must."

"They could go back to Port Jackson with you..."

Guido shook his head.

"As guests of the Pirate King? I think not. Better we all forget this
ever happened. Except Rodriguez." The crooked smile became a rather
predatory grin. "I don't think he deserves to forget it. Ever."

"But -- Guido -- you could have official thanks, you --"

Guido shook his head.

"The last thing I want. I have to back to England, and face the
Commons, explain my absence, Hal's silence, ah, Christ, so much to do
yet again that I can't stand to think it. Better I just vanished."

"Have you spoken to the others?"

"The lieutenants? No. Bad enough they were mistaken for us, without
explanations and apologies and all that. I'll see them again." A
rather more genuine smile. "Probably sooner than I'd like, knowing my
luck."

Hal Trevelyan came on deck, looking less sunburnt in the growing
darkness.

"Ready to go, Trevelyan?" asked the Conte. Hal nodded. Their men --or
rather the borrowed pirates -- had long since departed, and the
'Revenant's' jolly boat was waiting below for the two intelligence
agents.

Guido sketched a salute.

"See you when you make your report, Roberts," he said. "Good luck."

Hal swung himself over the side, preparatory to climbing down, and
smiled up at the pirate-spy.

"Roberts?' he said quietly.

"Trevelyan?"

"I never doubted you. And I always come for those I trust."

Guido rolled his eyes.

"There speaks the eternal optimist," he muttered, and followed his
second-in-command over the side of the ship.

The splash of the jolly-boat's oars filled the warm air, and the sound
of two very tired men bickering combined with the watery sound to bring
a smile to Roberts' lips.

"What do you mean, I'm an eternal optimist?"

"Hal. Think about it rationally. What if you'd still been in
England."

"Well, I'd have rescued him from Spain."

"He'd have been dead, Hal."

"True, but I would still have come for him."

"Oh, for heaven's sake..."

"Like you didn't? I mean, you thought Hornblower and Kennedy were
alive, naturally..."

"That's /enough/, Trevelyan. Of course I knew they were alive."

"Of course you did. That's why you spent ten minutes beating the hell
out of Rodriguez once they'd gone on deck."

A cough.

"Yes, well..."

"So you weren't worried."

"Not in the slightest."

"Good."

"Right."

"Guido?"

"I am stuck in this rowing boat with you, Hal. I am therefore, however
unwillingly, listening to you. What do you want?"

"Are you going to keep the ear-ring?"

"God DAMN it, Trevelyan..."

* * *

The 'Revenant' disappeared into the dark, and Hornblower and Kennedy
approached Roberts, rather tentatively.

"They left?" Kennedy asked. Roberts nodded, not looking at him.

"Yes."

Kennedy nodded. Then he grinned.

"I still can't believe that bastard Rodriguez thought I was Hal..."

Hornblower rolled his eyes.

"I can't /think/ how he might have deduced that..." he murmured.

Roberts, considering the conversation he had just heard fading across
the sea, and the conversation he could hear starting, could imagine
only too well, and decided to rid his mind of all similarities as
quickly as he could.

"So, gentlemen," he began briskly, and then remembered the one question
he should have asked the Conte above all, and had not. He dropped his
head in his hands, and groaned.

//Sterling. I forgot to ask about Sterling...//


End of part 14