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The Weather Eye
Part 18: The Star-Shaped Flower
by Michele

"Horatio - wait!" Without thinking, Archie tugged at
his friend's billowy white sleeve, preventing the quick exit
Hornblower had intended, to see what the commotion was on deck. The
sudden derangement of the garment caused its open neckline to spread
even further apart than it already was.

"Archie, what are you DOING?? Can't a man be allowed to keep
ANY of his clothes??"

"Sorry about that... I just thought of something."

Horatio turned back toward the interior of the cabin and gave Kennedy
his full attention. Whatever was going on with that sail, surely
Roberts and his men could see to it for a while; after all, they had
been doing just fine before taking these two naval officers aboard
the Kaliakra.

"Remember I had told you about that tall Spanish officer who came
to visit me at El Ferrol, before you arrived?" Archie sat down on
his bunk, but Horatio, in his ever-present nervous energy, clearly
preferred to stand. Perhaps it helped him think.

"Aye...you told me about that after we returned from
Indefatigable." Those days seemed like forever ago now. "I
think you had told me you didn't remember much about that
time..."

"That's right, I didn't. It was a rough time. I had
just come out of the hole in the earth and could hardly move. So I
couldn't remember much. Until just a little while ago..."

*****

Archie was vaguely, hazily aware of the familiar sound of keys
turning in a lock. That again. Why weren't there any doors here
that didn't lock? Why weren't there any rooms here without
doors? *What now?* he thought, through his fuzzy, pain-riddled brain.

The door opening. A commanding voice saying, in Spanish, "Leave
us. We are not to be disturbed." The door being locked.
Footsteps striding into the cell. Long footsteps. Must be someone
tall, though he didn't know, as he was facing the wall. *Do I
really
need to turn round and look?* Kennedy thought. *It's far too
painful...* Indeed, he lay there, on the lower of two attached bunks
with his knees drawn up almost to his chest, for he had not yet been
able to fully straighten his legs, without help; and even then, it
had been extremely painful when he had tried.

"Senor... Senor Kennedy..." The possibly tall visitor was
speaking. Archie was rather proud of himself that he could actually
hear it. At least, he HOPED he was hearing it. WhatEVER he was
hearing, the accent was rather strange. A Spanish accent, aye, but
there was some odd quality to it, something vaguely familiar, yet
unidentifiable. Archie attributed it to pain and lack of sleep. He
was still trying to decide whether to bother acknowledging the
visitor. So far, the tone had not sounded at all threatening; if
anything, it was tender, a quality he hadn't heard in a very long
time.

"Senor Kennedy?" The voice persisted, this time accompanied
by a hand that felt just as gentle on his shoulder as the voice
sounded in his weary ears.

Time to turn round. If possible.

"Yes. I'm Midshipman Kennedy, Senor," he managed. His
voice sounded strange, even to himself. "I -" He struggled
to turn
himself over to face the stranger, painfully holding out one arm, his
palm flat on the wall, and trying to push himself off with it. The
visitor could see the difficulty he was having. Archie heard a
rustle of cloth and a scuffle of shifting feet, and concluded that
the man must be kneeling beside the bunk. That one hand still on
Kennedy's shoulder, another gentle yet strong hand then reached
out
and grasped Archie's bent knees, and he felt himself being
slowly,
gently turned round on the bunk. For a moment Archie had a vague
sense of his father putting him to bed, when he was just a small
child and used to fall asleep in the parlor listening to stories
visitors told of faraway places. What he wouldn't have given now
to
be back in his father's parlor, never again to think longingly of
faraway places.

But now, his heavy, weary eyelids fluttered and he was looking up
into the concerned eyes of his visitor, who was still half-kneeling
beside the bunk, one knee on the dirty floor, the other bent in a 90-
degree angle. The man was magnificently dressed in the uniform of a
high-ranking Spanish officer, and a nobleman. Beribboned medals,
partially obscured by a heavy black cloak, adorned his broad chest.
Even kneeling, it was clear that he was tall, probably over six feet,
and powerfully built, though lean and muscular. His skin did not
seem as dark as that of most Spaniards he had seen (and he had seen
many of late), and even the eyes seemed lighter than most he had
met. But what was most striking of all was the concern he saw in
those eyes. Sincere, blessed, genuine concern. Archie had almost
forgotten what that had looked like. Still unable to relax his bent,
stiff body, Kennedy began to relax the apprehension he had felt when
he had heard that key turning moments before. He wasn't sure
why. He just felt -- what? Some connection with this man. But how
could that be?

"Senor Kennedy," the man repeated, quietly, almost urgently,
in a voice, Spanish-accented, that seemed to be looking over his own
shoulder, and yet had a confidence to it. "How are you?"

"I -" Archie began. "Excuse me, Senor, but who are you?
No-one has come to visit me in all the time I've been here, save
that time I was in the house being tended by Dr. Villa-Lobos."

"Forgive me. I am Don Pedro de Rosa, official representative of
their Excellencies in Madrid. I am on, how do you ingleses say, an
inspection tour. Their Excellencies have become concerned as to
prisoner treatment, following some disturbing incidents involving our
French allies, and I have therefore decided to make certain that all
matters are managed to satisfaction."

*What on earth is THIS all about?* Archie thought to himself.
*I've never heard such a tale in all my life!* He wanted so
badly to say, `Where the bloody `eck were you when I was bent
in two
in that stinking hole in the earth for an eternity?'

Instead he managed to extend his hand and say, "I am pleased to
meet you, Senor, and thank you for coming."

Don Pedro de Rosa took Kennedy's hand and shook it warmly.
"How are you, Senor Kennedy?" he repeated.

"Not well, I'm afraid," Archie groaned, attempting once
more, and quite painfully, to straighten his legs. He didn't get
very far. "You see, I foolishly attempted to escape, and for my
efforts I was placed in a little hole in the earth they have
here..." He sighed heavily, feeling the weight of his self-
recrimination, and still angry with himself for making yet another
attempt he'd somehow known was doomed to fail.

"I can see that, Senor." The Don's voice was not
sarcastic, just truthful. He rose to his full height, which indeed
appeared now to be perhaps 6 feet and 5 or 6 inches, and pulled a
single bunk closer to where Kennedy lay, and sat upon it. He leaned
forward and lowered his voice, and took something from the folds of
his cloak. Something shiny.

"Mr. Kennedy," the visitor whispered, "do not despair.
Here, drink some of this." He held out the shiny object to
Archie. It was an ornate silver flask, with a very distinct pattern
tooled into it, a pattern that seemed vaguely familiar. It looked
like a flower of some kind. Kennedy took the flask cautiously.

"What is it?"

"Brandy, Senor." His voice was slightly louder now than it
had been a moment before. "It will help loosen your muscles, and
ease your pain. I wish I could leave some with you, but it is not
permitted." His eyes showed genuine regret.

"I understand...thank you..." Archie raised the flask slowly
to his cracked, dry lips and slowly drank. Almost instantaneously he
could feel the comforting warmth of the brandy, just a split-second
after the liquid passed through his mouth, throat, and into his
stomach. One sip. Then another. It was wonderful. He was starting
to feel better already, and took a moment to study the silver flask a
bit more closely, between sips. Aye, it WAS a flower. A peculiar
star-shaped flower. Where had he seen that before? It had been a
few years, he thought, but he could not place it. Perhaps another
sip of the brandy would help stir his hazy memory.

Don Pedro de Rosa leaned forward again, his voice little more than a
whisper. "Mr. Kennedy, no doubt you feel very much alone."
The odd Spanish accent was still there, but was it a bit less? Or
was it a bit more brandy? "I know this is difficult for you, and
that you must feel abandoned. But you are NOT abandoned, and you are
not forgotten. We -" The visitor came still closer.
"-- we know
about you. We simply have not been able to do anything as yet."

Archie was more bewildered than ever, his weary brain ill-equipped to
deal with an enigma at the moment. "We?"

"I can say no more. Only this do not despair. Even now,
our --"

Footsteps were heard coming toward the door. All in one smooth
motion, Don Pedro de Rosa hastily pushed back the bunk and stood.
Archie instinctively offered the flask back to his benefactor, who
took it quickly, secreting it among the folds of his fine cloak. The
visitor raised his voice.

"I can see, Senor, that things are well here. Not as well as I
should have expected, but I shall speak with his Excellency Don
Massaredo regarding what may be done."

Archie looked up at the Don. Or whoever he was. He looked up a long
way. "Thank you, Senor," he said noncommittally.

"In the meantime, I would suggest that you make no further
attempts at the avoidance of his Excellency's hospitality."
Was that pain showing in the visitor's eyes? It did not match
the
official tone, or the careful Spanish accent. "But for now, Senor
Kennedy," he continued, turning to the door, "I must go. I
am
expected back in Madrid within the week." *Blast those guards --
don't they understand plain Spanish??*

Apparently not. The key was already being turned in the lock. Don
Pedro de Rosa turned back to Archie and leaned forward, whispering
one last time:

"So part we sadly in this troublous world"

And he was out the door.

A puzzled Archie watched the door close and listened to those long,
confident strides grow fainter and fainter. Henry VI? From a DON??
His brain ached almost as much as his legs. Finally he closed his
eyes and fell asleep with the words "To meet with joy in sweet
Jerusalem" on his lips.

*********************

 

Horatio had finally sat down on his bunk by this point. That story
had gone on longer than he'd expected, but he had been hanging on
every word. "Strange that you should just remember all the
details now, Archie."

"Aye, it is. But do you know what's even more strange?"

"What?"

"That intricate pattern on Don Pedro de Rosa's flask, that
star-shaped flower - it's the same exact pattern that's
on Sterling's locket."

***********************

 

"Oh bloody -" Max Sterling caught himself just in time,
as he saw the approaching sail; if anyone noticed him, they'd
wonder
why he was hurrying belowdecks as soon as he caught sight of an enemy
sail, instead of taking his station.

*Have to get down there and find it, have to find it, no time...* he
was muttering to himself, all the way down to the hold. At last
- the trunk. Sterling flung open the lid in anticipation, and
at once his rugged features were crossed by the darkness of
disappointment, worry...and anger.

*Someone's been in here...*

**************

"Hands to quarters! Hands to quarters!!" shouted a very
young sailor, apparently the "pirate" equivalent of a
midshipman. "Dons!! Abaft the larboard stern, and gaining!!"

"Quick, man, give me your glass!!" Trembling, the young
"middy" handed Captain Roberts his spyglass, which the
Captain took and peered aft at the approaching ship. It was Spanish,
all right, but - what was this?? She was hauling down her
colours and raising a flag of truce... But why?

**************

If Oldroyd had understood Spanish, he would have, from his vantage
point on deck, overheard a very interesting conversation indeed.
[And if I could WRITE in Spanish, I would, but I can't, so here,
at the request of Director Grieve, are the English subtitles...]

"Is this really going to work?" A lieutenant was asking his
superior.

"It IS the plan," the higher-ranking lieutenant of the two
replied, confidently. "We dare not deviate from it. Enough has
gone wrong already on this mission." A pause, as he looked
about. "She wouldn't like it..."

As if on cue, a shadow appeared over the hatchway, followed by a most
unexpected sight. Oldroyd, his eye caught by the movement, turned,
and his jaw dropped to its full capacity to do so.

"Well, as Oi know all that's roight in th' world..."
he couldn't help murmuring. "It's a - it's a
woman!!"

Indeed it was. By her bearing, however, she showed more indication
of being an warrior than a lady. Her walk was a swagger, her brown
eyes were flashing with determination and confidence, and her
clothes - no corsets and crinolines for THIS woman! She wore
the red uniform of a Spanish Captain, complete with decorations, and
an ornately-handled sword. Her long, dark brown hair was queued,
with nary a wisp showing at her temples.

She looked up with satisfaction at the white flag the men had run
up. *Good. The plan was moving along splendidly. Now to meet with
our contact, and receive the information...*

"Take us in, Teniente Albeniz," she ordered calmly.
"Easy now. We do fly the flag of truce, but we do not wish to
alarm them."

"Si, Capitan Tarrega," the aforementioned higher-ranking
lieutenant said, as he saw to the men busily carrying out the order.

******************

"Archie, that flower star-shaped, you say?"

"Aye... kind of like a funny wild rose or something..."

"No... it CAN'T be..."

"Can't be what?"

"That Don who came to visit you in El Ferrol... what colour were
his eyes?"

"Well, you know, that's the strangest thing - I could
have SWORN they were blue, but YOU know the state I was in at the
time... Someone could have handed me an old piece of bread -
which I
believe they DID, by-the-bye, and I would have thought it the finest
English beef. I couldn't have believed a Don would have eyes the
colour of MINE..."

"Archie, have you ever noticed that Don Massaredo has hazel
eyes?"

"I hadn't noticed..."

"*I* did... That day... YOU know..."

Archie remembered. He wished he didn't. But they had other
things to think about at the moment. The activity abovedecks was
increasing, voices were raised, and the two lieutenants could tell
they had better leave the reminiscences -- and speculations -- for
later. There was work to do now...

***************

"It's GONE!! No!!" A string of oaths escaped
Sterling's lips, as for the third time he flung all manner of
trousers about the hold. A more vehement tirade was produced by the
purple-with-orange-polka-dot travesty. Then his anger burned down
into the heaviness of fear and realisation that something was
terribly, dreadfully wrong, and there now seemed to be nothing he
could do about it. His features, moments before twisted in anger,
were now heavy with worry and apprehension.

"Miriam... dear Miriam... What am I going to do now? If I
don't complete my mission, what will happen to you?? Oh, forgive
me... I've failed you..."

"Wot you doin' `ERE, sir?" A young man was peeking
his head round a corner, apparently relieved to have found his
quarry. "Cap'n Roberts says - `IS words, sir, NOT
moine - `Tell
that Sterling to get `is rear end up `ere at ONCE!' Er,
if ye
please, sir..."

Sterling had barely noticed the intrusion, but instinct and training
had forced him to lift his head just enough to acknowledge the boy.

"Yes, yes - I'll be there presently."

"Aye aye, sir!" The nervous young man saluted hastily and
hurried back whence he had come.

"Oh my dear Miriam... I will find a way... I don't know how,
but I will find a way..."

Head down once more, Sterling made his feet move forward, and up on
deck to take his station.

************

 

Capitan Manuela Tarrega stood on the quarterdeck, the picture of
confidence and command, as her ship approached the Kaliakra. She
looked down at her men scurrying to take in just enough sail to slow
her down, then looked absently over their heads at the sea. If only
her men knew the turmoil just beneath her apparent calmness. But
they must NEVER know. They must never find out that she was a
British agent, so deeply and so long undercover for his Majesty's
Service that only two of the Lord Admirals knew about her, and her
mission.

Two Lord Admirals, that is, and one other living soul - Guido di
Cesare.

*************

"Oh, Matthews, at last!!" Horatio called in relief and
delight, as he jumped to answer the knock at the door. "Just in
time!"

Sure enough, it was Matthews, with a newly repaired pair of proper
trousers.

"'ere ye are, sir," the seaman said, holding them out.
Before the words were out, Hornblower had grabbed the garment and, in
his joy at the prospect of finally wearing REAL trousers (that
actually fit!), and in his haste to report on deck, he began to
remove his kilt, then suddenly flushed (his face!!) with
embarrassment. Matthews discretely suppressed a guffaw, hurriedly
saluted, and said: "If there be noothin' else, sir..."

"Yes, Matthews, that's all. Thank you!"

Matthews had exited and closed the door behind him before Horatio
could properly return the salute (kind of difficult to do with one
hand on one's kilt and the other on one's intended garment).

Suddenly Hornblower was aware of unchecked giggles and snickers; he
looked up and saw Archie exaggeratedly pointing and laughing,
purposely trying to annoy his friend.

"Archie! Please! Don't you have to report on deck or
something??"

"Is that an order, Mr Hornblower?" Kennedy breathed, between
giggles.

Suddenly Horatio collapsed under the pressure of whatever action
might be going on abovedecks, and still being tired from recent
events, he broke down and joined Archie in laughter.

"Misterrr Kennedy, canna a man be aloon wi' `is
kilt??" he said with
mock indignation, in the best Scottish accent he could manage. It
was not a very good one, of course, and Archie, with his blood and
his theatrical background, was made to laugh all the harder.

"If you want me to leave, Horatio, just say so..."

Finally Hornblower began to compose himself, but kept his
[devastatingly beautiful] smile. "All right, Archie, you'd
best go on up and see what's going on. Tell Roberts I'll
join you presently."

"Aye aye, Mr Hornblower." And he was gone.

Moments later, Horatio followed his friend abovedecks, dressed in a
well-fitting, carefully mended pair of dark trousers. After what he
had just been through, he felt like he could overcome ANYthing -
even Dons were nothing compared to being threatened with large purple
trousers with orange polka dots...

***********