The Weather Eye
Chapter 20 - On Again, Off Again (The Island, That Is)
by Naomi

The Carmen, 22, was a neat sloop, definitely of French design and
built to point into the wind with a sleekness not shared by her
British-built sisters. But two captains aboard any vessel, even a
wherry, was one captain too many. Only hours after depositing
Hornblower and his men upon an unnamed island, Roberts and Alibrandi
combined their talents and plans and took the little sloop from the
Dons in a dirty skirmish guaranteed not to be immortalized in the
Naval Chronicle.

Capturing the sloop was the first and least of their worries. There
could only be one captain and neither Roberts nor Alibrandi was
inclined to do the gentlemanly thing and step aside for the other.
First they reeled off their rank, their years of experience, with
Alibrandi claiming precedence based on her knowledge of having
already commanded the Carmen for some little while. Roberts finally
won out though, based solely on his being bigger and stronger and not
afraid to tie her down if necessary. And it had been necessary. And
Roberts was very hard-pressed indeed to demonstrate his superior
strength before finally hitting upon the notion of biting Alibrandi
on the nose. She gave out with an entirely feminine shriek and
finally capitulated, though not before having dealt some telling
bruises to Roberts.

With the hierarchy of command now established and with only the two
of them to keep pistols trained on those dozen Spaniards who had not
been tossed to the sharks, she freely strode the quarterdeck and
snapped at the helmsman to mind the luff.

"Keep her close to wind, dammit!" Roberts fumed at the same time. He
had spent the morning wrestling with those pitiful scraps of
parchment the Spaniards had the nerve to call charts. Finally he had
given up.

"Alibrandi! See if you can make any sense out of those scratchings in
my cabin." He ignored the look she gave him, the look which reminded
him that it had once been /her/ cabin. "Otherwise we'll need the
devil's own luck to find that island again."

Natasha had been gone only a few minutes when she returned and
offered to Roberts a small piece of paper, the scrawling on it
indecipherable. She held onto a detailed chart of the southeastern
waters.

"Very helpful," he snarled, thrusting it back at her.

"Perhaps you ought to give more time to studying the languages of the
world," she suggested icily. "This is written in Cyrillic. I hid it
in the cabin before boarding Kaliakra. It is our position at the time
of boarding. From that point we sailed sou'sou'east a quarter east,
ahead of the wind. When the Dons cast the log that day our speed was
nine knots. I made it about six hours sailing time before landfall.
That puts the island somewhere between here," she pointed to some
pencil marks on her chart, "and here. And as of our noon sighting,
we are now here. Do you think you can set a course without further
assistance, /Captain/, or shall I manage that for you as well?"

Roberts crossed his arms and grinned. "Well done, Alibrandi, well
done indeed. We'll make a navigator of you yet!" Ignoring the
grinding of her teeth, he bellowed his orders the length of the
sloop. "Ware ship! Then make your heading west by nor'west. And a
guinea to the first man who sights land!"

The small company of Spaniards only stared at him, bewildered by the
gibberish he spouted.

"If you /please/, Alibrandi," the captain muttered.

With a smug smile of superiority she relayed his commands in
Spanish -- to the men.

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

"It's the Carmen! It's the bloody Carmen!" Styles was pretty sure he
was hallucinating. "Shouldn't it be the Indy, sir? Sir? SIR????"

His bellowing awakened the dozing Lieutenant Kennedy, who was
immediately after on his feet, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. A
smile of pure pleasure creased his handsome features, and a weight
seemed to fall from his shoulders.

"It is the Carmen and look, Styles! Look at her colours!" Protocol
deserted Archie at this point. "Horatio! Horatio! Dammitall, will you
let that boy be? He doesn't want to go to England and be pointed out
as the heathen Tiger-Boy! I never saw a frown on that lad's face
until you took it into your head to make him into an Englishman. It
isn't the lifelong wish of every human creature to be one, I can
assure you."

The shocked look on Horatio's face must have informed Archie that he
had crossed that invisible line into insubordination. And had done so
quite publicly.

"Thank you, Mr. Kennedy. Your objection has been noted. You will
please light the signal prepared for this eventuality." He jerked his
head in the direction of the Carmen. "Then prepare the men for
boarding. Mr. Wellard," he turned to the boy, whose innocently nude
figure continually aggravated Hornblower's sense of English
propriety. "Mr. Wellard, you will be leaving with us." He made
gestures toward the sloop and the idea was slowly born in on the boy
that this strange man wanted him to accompany them.

"Yall?" he questioned? "Yall?"

A furious Archie brushed past Horatio and caught the concern on
Wellard's face. Pausing only momentarily in the performance of his
duties, he muttered just loud enough for Hornblower to hear. `That
boy's going nowhere without his tigers. Sure you're up to that
Horatio? It ain't like conquering a fear of heights." Then he carried
on.

Horatio shook his head, wondering if some new form of island fever
had overtaken both Archie and himself. It was very like Archie to
stand up for what he believed in, but wholly out of character to take
potshots at a man's weaknesses. Archie understood human frailty all
too well. And as for himself what could he have been thinking? Take
this wild creature out of the bush? And then what would happen to the
boy? Horatio was no father-in-waiting, he could not see to the boy's
upbringing. Take the lad out of this life of freedom, a life he knew
and was bred to, and stuff him into shoes and stockings and breeches
and neckcloths. Maybe Wellard was a pagan baby, but the result of
despoiling his innocence by bringing him into `civilized society'
could only be ruinous to the boy's mind and soul.

A slow, wistful smile crept to Horatio's lips. He nodded and pointed
in the direction of the tigers' enclave. "Yall."

A flashing smile creased Wellard's face and he was off and running.
As if he suddenly realized what Horatio meant, he stopped abruptly,
turned and stared at the tall man.
Horatio waved at him. "Goodbye, Mr. Wellard. Goodbye."

Wellard raised one hand in imitation, then turned and fled from sight.

"Sometimes, Horatio, you make me want to adjust your queue with a
belaying pin."

Horatio turned to find Archie standing just at his shoulder.

"Yes, Mr. Kennedy?" he intoned formally.

"Yes," confirmed the junior officer. "But more often, you make me
proud to serve with you, sir!"

Slow grins came to both faces, and Horatio clapped a friendly hand to
Archie's shoulder. "Now, then, Mr. Kennedy, I see the Carmen is
sending us a boat. Are we quite prepared?"