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The Weather Eye
Chapter 15 - In Which Very Little Actually Happens
by Derry

Voiceover by Robert Lindsay: **Previously on Horatio Hornblower ­ The
Weather Eye...**

"What's it like being a Pirate King?"
::THWAP::
"Ouch!"
"A bit like that, really..."

"You are not the Conte di Cesare?"
"I never said I was."

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

"Archie, damn you! Give me my clothes!" (OK - so *that* wasn't from the
*last* episode <G>)

**And now Horatio Hornblower ­ The Weather Eye continues...**

 

Chapter 14

Max Sterling stared out over the golden ripples as the sun was slowly
setting. Miriam always loved this time of day.

He clung to the hope that somewhere, she gazed upon the same glorious sight
and forced himself to believe that they would one day see each other again.

"I'm coming, my love. I'm coming," he whispered.

No one heard. No one was listening.

At the other end of the ship, those two officers were also watching the
sunset but no one was watching him. No one had any reason to. No one
suspected.

Just a little longer and the task would be complete. He hated to do it but
it was his only chance to see his beloved Miriam again.

Just a little longer...

* * * * * * *

"So presumably, we are now going to make our way to Port Jackson and deliver
those infernal documents."

"Presumably..."

Archie didn't like the non-committal tone of his companion's reply. "What's
worrying you, Horatio?"

"Nothing, in particular. Just the vagaries of the universe, in general.
But it *is* good to be settled upon a firm course again."

"Definitely! Rather than just tripping hither, tripping thither. Nobody
knows why or whither."

Horatio looked askance at his friend. "Are you speaking in rhyme just to
annoy me or is that a quotation?"

Archie's brow furrowed. "I cannot say for certain that it isn't a quotation
but I am unaware of the source, if it is."

"Not Shakespeare then?"

"Well, contrary to popular belief, I do not actually have complete verbatim
knowledge of every play that Shakespeare ever wrote. So I cannot say for
certain that it isn't Shakespearean either."

Horatio sighed. "I know that you consider yourself to have thespian
leanings, Archie. But couldn't you try an express yourself in your own
words rather than quotations, and with as little rhyme as possible, at least
for the rest of this conversation?"

Archie shrugged. "A wandering minstrel I, a thing of shreds and patches, of
ballads, songs and snatches..."

"Archie, please..."

"Very well, I'll try."

"Thank you." Horatio peered across the deck to discern the figure at the
other end of it. "Isn't that Sterling? What's he doing up on deck?"

"Probably, the same thing that we are ­ quietly watching the sunset."

Horatio shook his head slightly. "I've long thought that there's something
suspicious about Mr Sterling."

"I think you can trust him, Horatio. For he is an Englishman. He himself
has said it."

"And it's greatly to his credit that he is an Englishman, Archie. But I
don't think that we can rely on that fact alone to assume the man's
trustworthiness. We need to find out what his intentions are."

"How?"

"Well, I thought you might have a conversation with him."

"Me? What, walk up to him and say, 'Good day, Mr Sterling. Would you care
to tell me what's on your mind?'"

"Well, I envisioned something a bit more subtle."

"From me? I'm not subtle! You're the subtle one. So subtle sometimes, I
think even you don't know what you've got planned."

"Alright then! You don't have to be subtle! Go and start a fight with him
with him, for all I care! Insult his parentage or something!"

"What? Something like 'Your mother was a hamster and your father smell of
elderberries'?"

Horatio fought the urge to strangle him. "You're being deliberately
obtuse!"

"Well, a little," admitted Archie. "I don't see why I should be the one to
go. You're the senior officer."

"True. But you are the one who specialises in small talk. Noblesse oblige
and all that."

"You're not going to bring up the subject of my family again, are you?"

"Why would I? Mind you, I still find my mind reeling at the sheer abundance
of you relations."

"Hmmn," Archie considered. "I *do* have sisters and cousins whom I reckon
up by dozens..."

"And aunts."

"Yes, and aunts. I still think you should be the one to talk to him, if
anyone, Horatio."

"Me? My lack of conversation skills have become a veritable legend.
Sullen, withdrawn, morose, brooding, totally lacking in any sense of
humour..."

"That doesn't actually sound all that much like you, Horatio. Except the
lacking sense of humour, of course. I still think you should do it. It
might go well and you'll never, never know, if you never, never go."

"You're speaking in rhyme again and *that* definitely sounded like a quote."

"Sorry, I'm not doing it deliberately."

"I don't know that I believe you. And I am now *ordering* you to go over
there and interrogate Sterling ­ as subtley as you possibly can!"

"Look Horatio, I don't know why you're so adverse to talking to the man.
There's nothing wrong with your conversation skills. You are the very model
of a modern naval officer, with information animal, vegetable and mineral."

Horatio frowned at him again.

"What?" Archie protested. "That didn't rhyme!"

"Nonetheless, the words had a suspiciously lyrical meter to them. And I've
made up my mind that you are going to be the one to interrogate Sterling.
I'm in command. I don't' have to explain my orders."

"This isn't like you, Horatio. Say, this isn't revenge for that incident
with 'Captain Pants', is it?"

"Archie, as far as 'Captain Pants' is concerned, hanging is much too good
for you," Horatio replied dryly.

The episode in question had occurred while they were still aboard the
Petrel. Looking for Archie one evening, Horatio had found him dozing in his
hammock with the book that he had fallen asleep reading about to fall from
his hands onto the floor.

Horatio had caught the book as it fell, but at the same time, his elbow had
knocked Archie's chest, rousing him from his slumber. Despite the
disorientation of recent sleep, Archie was instantly somewhat concerned to
have his reading matter returned to him ­ and this puzzled Horatio who then
opened the book to see what it contained.

"Captain Pants ­ A Tale of Seamen and Romance." Horatio raised an eyebrow
at his friend. "*Not* Shakespeare then?"

"Uh, no, Horatio. Look would you mind returning it to me?"

But greatly amused, Horatio turned to a random page within.

"Even though he knew that he should not, Twinkle, the cabin boy put his ear
to the door." Again he threw his friend a querying glance. "The cabin boy's
name is 'Twinkle'?"

"Yes, Mr Hornblower." Archie's voice was resigned, knowing that he had no
hope of escaping ridicule this time.

Horatio returned to reading the text. "The captain drew Lady Tiffiny
towards him. He could feel her bosom heaving in time with the passionate
throbbing of his own heart. 'Oh, Captain,' she moaned, as she reached up to
stroke his strong manly..."

"Excuse me, sir..."

Horatio almost dropped the book in shock, as he looked up to see Matthews in
the doorway. It took him a second or two to find his voice. "Er...yes,
Matthews? What is it?"

"I w's wonderin' if you might come up on deck, sir?" He looked
significantly at the book in Horatio's hands. "That is, if you aren't too
busy, sir."

"Of course, I'm not busy." Horatio thrust the embarrassing tome back at
Archie. "The book belongs to Mr Kennedy."

"Of course, sir." Matthews said in the same matter-of-fact tone that he
often used but Horatio was quite sure that the unflappable seaman didn't
believe a word of it.

"Isn't that so, Mr Kennedy? This is yours."

"If you say so, Mr Hornblower." Archie was wearing that innocent expression
that Horatio often suspected he'd spent countless hours in front of a
looking glass cultivating.

"Right you are, sir," Matthews said, obviously just wanting to get out of
there. "See y'up on deck, soon as y'finished here then." He beat a hasty
retreat.

Archie had burst into helpless laughter and Horatio had thrown the book at
him, before following Matthews.

It all seemed like years ago, rather than a matter of months. Horatio
sighed.

"Archie," he said with what he considered to be infinite patience. "You
will interrogate Mr Sterling. I will try and find out what Captain Roberts
knows."

"You don't trust him either?"

"Well, not entirely, no. Even if he isn't really a pirate, he *is* a spy."

"So are Hal and Guido."

"Yes," said Horatio. Again that non-committal tone.

"You don't trust them either?"

"Up to a point, Archie. I like them both immensely but I would be a fool to
ignore what they are both capable of. We may have replacement documents but
there are still far too many questions left unanswered."

"Such as?"

"Such as what happened to Rodriguez's ship."

"Hmmn... That's a point to consider. I don't think any of us have seen it
since they locked us below decks."

"Yes, someone must have sailed it away. I don't like disappearing ships,
Archie."

"Well, I daresay that it might simply turn up again soon. That would solve
the mystery."

Horatio snorted slightly. "And put us all in deadly peril. That's the last
thing that we need!"

"Really? I would have thought you would have preferred a face to face
fight, peril and all."

"There's peril and there's *PERIL*, Archie."

"I suppose so. Can't we have just a little bit of peril?"

"No, it's too perilous."

Archie muttered something under his breath which sounded like "get more hay"
but since that didn't make any sense at all to Horatio, he decided to ignore
it.

"I don't know why you are adopting this carefree attitude. Our troubles are
far from over. We still have to make our way to Port Jackson. We don't
really know if we can trust our hosts to convey us there. There is a
Spanish ship somewhere out there and we lost half our men last time they
boarded us ­ good men amongst them, including Oldroyd. If they attack
again, I don't know that we could survive another hand to hand battle."

"Ah yes, when a foeman bears his steel, we uncomfortable feel."

"Archie!" Horatio cried, in true exasperation. "No more rhyming! This time
I mean it!"

Archie just grinned. "Would you like a peanut?"

"Archie! *SHUT UP!*"

* * * * * * *

Oldroyd had been hiding in various parts of the ship for several days now.
The constant risk of capture had frayed his nerves and he was almost ready
to snap.

Currently, he was fr*gging in the rigging because there was f**k all else to
do.

He wasn't too sure what happened towards the end of the battle for the
Kaliakra. He'd probably been hit on the head or something.

When he'd woken up, it had been late evening and he had found himself
amongst a pile of dead bodies which the Spaniards had started throwing over
the side, one by one. He reckoned that they must have thought that he was
dead too but he didn't want to go swimming anytime soon.

He could only see Spaniards on deck, so the rest of the crew had to have
been killed or locked away somewhere. Oldroyd looked for a place to hide
and climbed into an empty barrel. He had been most surprised when the
Spanish had picked up that barrel and carried it aboard their ship. They
must have thought the barrel contained good British rum.

It was almost an hour before it became quiet and dark enough for him to
climb out of the barrel without being seen. When he did so, Oldroyd found
that the Spanish ship had left the Kaliakra behind. He could see it in the
distance as they sailed away.

He didn't know what he should do. Mr Hornblower and Mr Kennedy and all his
mates were still aboard the Kaliakra ­ if they were still alive, that is.
Oldroyd wasn't used to making decisions for himself. He was used to
following orders.

What the hell was he supposed to do now?

Well, he needed to not get caught by the Spaniards, for a start. And for
days, he had managed it. The Spanish had no reason to suspect they had an
unwanted Englishman aboard their ship, so they weren't looking for him.

But today, something seemed to have upset them and they were scurrying
around the ship like mice. Even now, after sunset, there were nearly ten of
them busily doing something on the deck.

Since it was dark, Oldroyd had climbed the rigging. It wasn't a good place
to hide during daylight ­ they'd only have to look up to see him. But
tonight, it seemed safer than being on deck.

His luck was not destined to hold out though. As he tried to adjust his
position, the knife that he'd managed to steal slipped from where he'd
tucked it into his belt. When it clattered to the deck and the Spanish
started climbing the rigging to investigate, he was a sitting duck.

Not only were there a lot more of them, but he was also now completely
unarmed. They dragged him down to the deck and threw him to his knees in
front of a Spaniard who appeared to be some sort of officer, but not the
Captain.

They started shouting questions in Spanish at him which was bloody stupid of
them, Oldroyd thought. And then they shouted the same Spanish words very
slowly at him, like one word at a time. As if that was going to help him
understand! Bloody stupid dagos!

Obviously frustrated with Oldroyd's lack of response, one of the Spanish
sailors drew his sword and grabbed Oldroyd's right wrist, forcing it to the
deck. He hefted the sword meaningfully and spoke in Spanish again.

"What?" Oldroyd was terrified now. "Y'can't chop me 'and off!"

Whatever question it was was asked again in Spanish.

Oldroyd tried to rally his courage.

"I dunno what yer bloody sayin' an'... an' I wouldn't tell ya, if I did."
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then he opened them again and
steeled himself for what was to come. Squaring his shoulders, he proffered
his left arm as if to say to them "take it as well!"

He took another deep breath. "This 'ere..." said Oldroyd, hoping
desperately that he would not faint (and nonetheless still managing *not* to
lapse into an American accent) "This is English courage!"

The Spaniard with the sword drawn looked to his officer who nodded. The
sword was raised high above Oldroyd's head and then...

TO BE CONTINUED... (da-da-da-dum!)

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