Pass The Pen
Chapter Twenty - Two: My Enemy, My Ally
by M. Michelle

The masts spiralled overhead in a deep orange glow of sunset, a cool
wind gusting from the North flapping the sails in its gale, though the
Indy had anchored near land hours before. After a few hours of awaiting
word and report from Bracegirdle aboard the schooner La Mort Noire,
Pellew left word with one of the officers to send for him when news
should come and he retired to his quarters. The day had been a
strenuous one, and had already taken its toll in battle on his ship.
Thankfully, repairs could be made speedily and they would soon be on
their way back to England and leave this blasted mess behind.

Sir Edward Pellew crossed the quarterdeck and entered the door into his
cabin, closing it behidn him. The captain gave a weary sigh and dropped
his bicorne on the table, clasping his hands behind his back as he paced
to the window and watched the other ship anchored nearby in the dimming
twilight. Something was very wrong about this entire situation and it
made him uneasy. Enough years capturing ship and encountering even the
worst sort of scum, and he had never quite encountered a situation such
as this. The Indefatigable had really taken minimal damage. The shots
had been fired from the enemy to create only a small amount of damage,
though Pellew had been informed from the party that the ship had been
quite capable of more. Also, the La Mort Noire had surrendered much too
easily. And what of Simpson's disappearance and Ouimette's death, could
they be somehow related? He blew out a sigh and paced in front of the
window. This entire mess was damned frustrating!

At any rate, report should come soon and then they would be on their
way. Pellew's lips pursed; his frown deepened. Why would the captain of
this small vessel, the man who called himself Ramangard, surrender under
only slight attack? There was trouble afoot, and somehow it had to be
linked with Simpson's disappearance. Not Ouimette's death, though, for
Ramangard had made more noise than a wailing cat over the man he called
his cousin's demise.

Unless he was mistaken, and nothing was what it seemed. **Which would be
all too likely,** he thought wryly. **I don't like the look of any of
this.**

Still. Battle had occured in the hold. Ouimette was dead, and no one
would grieve him. And Simpson was missing. There weren't too many
places he could be on a ship, blast it!

A knock came to his door and he turned quickly. "Come!"

The door opened halfway and Halligin's face poked in. "ëScuse me, sir."

Pellew frowned, irritated at the interruption. "State your business,
man, and be quick about it."

The marine bowed slightly and stepped in. "Of course, sir. I am glad
to report, Mr. Simpson has been found, sir. He was apparently dragged
to the hold, by whom I can offer no guess. But he is badly injured, sir,
and unconscious. I had my men take him to the sick berth," he reported
curtly.

"Ah," the captain said softly, one of his previous thoughts circling
through his mind again. Then he returned his attention to the marine
commander. "Very good then. Return to your post, Mr Halligin, and see
to it to have at least one guard watching Simpson at all times. He is a
tricky one, be on your guard. Not *once*, not even for a *moment* is he
to be left alone until this mystery is solved, do you understand, Mr
Halligin." His gaze bored fiercely into the subordinate's.

"Aye, sir," the marine acknowledged and saluted, closing the door back
behind him.

It was not a full moment later when another knock came to the door.
This time Pellew crossed the room and flung the door wide open himself.
"Yes! What is it?"

The young midshipman standing there, Heather, cleared his throat and
stammered, apparently caught off guard by his captain's temper. "Uh...
sorry, sir, I was to report from Bracegirdle, sir?" He winced slightly,
as if expecting some lash of anger. Pellew dismissed it with his reply.

"Ah, yes," he noted. "Then let's have it, Mr Heather."

"All seems to be in order. The captain and his men did not seem to
resist terribly and have been escorted to the ship's brig. Bracegirdle
would like to, with your permission, make for England as soon as possible
tonight, if we can." Heather stood straight with his hands clasped as
though reciting a piece of literature as he reported and the captain
sighed.

"Then tell Mr Bracegirdle we leave on the half hour. Now be off with
you, Heather, I have a great many things on my mind.

The midshipman saluted with a quick nod. "Aye, sir. Thank you sir."

Pellew watched him go and shook his head. He despaired at times of that
young man ever learning any good sense. Oh well, there were more
pressing matters at present. The captain waited a moment, almost
expecting another man to come, and then began to undo the buttons on his
uniform and prepare to retire into his private sleeping cabin. There
were many things he still didn't understand, but he felt more relieved to
know everything was well in hand on the La Mort Noire and that Simpson
had been found and was not on the loose again. Pellew clenched his jaw
in anger, remembering how the madman had personally attacked him. No, he
should find it very hard to forgive the man of that.

But they would reach port soon enough and others could decide how to
lock Mr Simpson away.

Pellew disappeared into his sleeping cabin.

 

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

 

The guards stayed sway from the cells, apparently under orders, and that
brought at least a trace of relief to Shelley's current situation. If
done right, he could slip through the dark crates and supplies and
through the hold into other decks without being found, which had been
exactly how he had escaped being caught by the marines when they had gone
to find Simpson. The small, dark-dressed figure remained motionless,
hidden up above the hold, watching the occasional uniform and pair of
boots passing by below. At least they had taken Simpson to the sick
berth, where he would get more help than the mercenary could offer.

He assessed the men below. He would have to find a way back aboard
Ramangard's ship to find out what was happening and why. He knew he
wasn't being paid for this, and it had very little to do with his
assignment. The money wasn't even worth the risk. So why was he even
bothering to help the blissfully ignorant Englishmen? This made him
pause and frown, and shake the thought aside. For whatever reason
compelled him that he had yet to recognize, there was something
suspicious about this situation the assassin did not like. Shelley
continued to study the men below, pacing across the spot on the deck
where Ouimette's blood had spilled from a hole in the back of his brain.
His manner chilled. That had almost been too painless in this case. As
a general rule, he knew better than to get personally involved with an
assignment, but this one had been personal. And Ouimette and any of his
kin would never receive his kindness should they be burning alive in a
fire ship.

But first, to the matter at hand. How to get aboard the La Mort
Noire... Another one of the men, the one named Parker he had learned
through the past few hours, passed below and he studied the uniform. No,
too big. Cooper. To wide. Halligin. Too tall. That left Harris,
unless someone new came down. Shelley slid stealthily through the hole
in the high ceiling of the hold and dropped without a sound to the deck.
The marine was coming; he hid behind a barrel and peeked between the open
bars. Hmm. Perhaps not as well tailored as he should like, but Harris
was the smallest of them and the slimmest, so he would have to do.

Morton Shelley ducked away through the stores and hid behind one,
waiting for the marine's next move under the lanternlight. A slender
cable appeared in his hands suddenly from where it had been tucked up his
sleeve. He waited.

Listening to the guards talk had been of great interest. From there he
knew everything that was happening on this ship, but time was short.
They were to be departing in minutes and it was imperative that he make
it to Ramangard's ship. "Mr Halligin, sir?" Cooper spoke up.

"What?"

The marine shuffled nervously and pointed vaguely toward the hold where
they found Simpson. "Somethin' worries me. I keep gettin' the feeling
something ain't right. Simpson shouldn't have just disappeared into the
hold like that."

Halligin approached and Shelley ducked to avoid being seen. "I know..."
He sighed. "But cap'n got ëis orders. We aren't to go searchin' too far
in the hold until he says we can."

Parker glanced around, fidgeting. "I don' know, sir. I think there's
some evil craft at work, maybe Ouimette's ghost..."

Shelley's lips curved in a smile. He chuckled. **Ghost indeed.**

"Shut yer mouth, Parker!" Cooper warned.

Harris came closer, closer. Just another step...

Halligin cradled his rifle in the crook of his arm. "I'm going to go
check on Mr Simpson, make sure he's secure."

"Right sir."

Shelley was more than slightly amused by the turn of conversation.
Still, he was pressed for time. Up above decks, he could already hear
the ring of the watch bell. Only another quarter hour to go. **Just
another step....** The small man took a musket ball from his pocket and
hefted it in his hand. Once their backs were turned, Shelley ducked
behind another barrel and threw it away into the hold. The men gasped
and spun around, priming their rifles. "Wot was that?!"

Shelley wasted no time. In a heartbeat, he pulled Harris behind a stack
of supplies and snapped the man's head back with the cord. There was a
crack and the marine's body went limp. He quietly let Harris fall to the
floor and began to unfasten his uniform. There would be no real
complications. The man was only unconscious, and not dead. But his neck
would ache like hell when he woke up. Sudden footsteps approached, they
were going to uncover his hiding place. He dashed away through the
stores before he could be caught and heard the cries as they discovered
Harris' stripped body echoing behind him.

 

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

All was quiet, all but the rush of the lapping water against wood as
Horatio stepped aboard the French schooner under the command of
Lieutenant Bracegirdle. Word had come from the captain; they were to
leave within the hour he had said. But there were things to take care
of, questions to be answered. He breathed in a deep lungful of
refreshing night air. It had become such a beautiful evening, crisp and
calm, and quiet. Plenty of the perfect condition for thought, which was
what needed to be done about this matter. He had seen Pellew go below
into his cabin not long ago, and there was something obviously occupying
his mind. Something troubled him, and Horatio didn't know what. He
assumed it to be, somehow, associated with this ship and the events that
had happened on it. But there was only one way to know for certain.

A young officer, one of Bracegirdle's handful of men, came up from below
decks, and Horatio recognized him as Mr. Cutter. "Ahoy, Mr Hornblower,
aren't you supposed to be back on the Indy?"

Horatio nodded once, briskly. "Yes. The captain says we are to depart
within the hour. I came to check on Mr. Bracegirdle. How do things
fare, Mr Cutter?"

"Ah, excellent." The older midshipman, acting lieutenant now, shrugged
one shoulder and gestured about him. "As you see. We have everything
under fine control, as we have reported."

"Ah." Hornblower frowned slightly, deep in thought. Perhaps he had
been wrong to assume a problem. That would have been more in Archie's
style, he told himself, smiling slightly but fondly. Archie had a
magnificent way of attracting trouble and sensing danger, it was a wonder
his friend had survived so long in the British Navy, both here and aboard
Justinian. But somehow he did, and his constitution and bravery were
qualities to be treasured by those who knew him. Archie had risked his
life now more than once to save Horatio in just the last few weeks, and
the older midshipman would do the same, he believed, should a time come
to make that choice.

Words spoken suddenly brought him back out of his muse. "Mr Hornblower,
is there anything else you'll be needin'?" The older naval officer stood
impatiently, as if he had places to be and Horatio knew he was delaying
the man from his duties.

"Could I perhaps... have a look around? Would that be inconvenient?"

The acting lieutenant laughed and spread both hands. "I s'pose not, Mr
Hornblower, but make it quick, for I wager the captain will want you back
aboard Indefatigable when we depart."

Horatio cleared his throat and nodded stiffly, uncomfortable under the
silent ridicule he could feel. "Thank you... sir," he answered with a
stutter.

Cutter's wry laugh turned into more of an amused smile and he clapped
his hand on Hornblower's shoulder. "Just don't be disappointed.
Everything's in fine order, and much of the ship is open to see as you
will. But I fancy it's not much to look at, at any rate," he laughed and
turned away toward the watchpost.

Horatio tilted his chin higher and called out after him. "Perhaps not,
Mr Cutter. But one can never be too careful, as I'm sure you've
learned."

Cutter turned around and fixed him with an undecipherable stare, seeming
to evaluate the younger midshipman under the moonlight on deck. "Aye,"
he agreed quietly and went aft. Hornblower watched him go thoughtfully
for a moment. **He acts somewhat odd... Hm. Likely your imagination,
Horatio** Horatio stepped away to the hole that led him belowdecks and
ducked underneath the ceiling, stepping into the stinking ship's mess
below. All around, multiple stenches wafted through from the narrow
passages that led through the ship into her bowels, and he drew in a
ragged breath and held it. The nauseous odor made his stomach churn, but
he forced himself to enter one passage that should lead to the sick berth
and hold. That was, if The La Mort Noire was built at all the way most
ships were. Though with a French schooner, one could never tell. His
feet stepped about in the dark until he tripped and kicked something in
the path and sent little creatures shrieking and scurrying. Horatio made
a face, disgusted. Rats. He could hardly believe anyone should want to
live on a ship such as this. Food and clothes and other worthless items
were scattered around the mess, as if in a recent fight, but the original
crew were nowhere to be seen.

On the way past the wardroom, he stumbled across a seaman from
Indefatigable, McKinney. "Uh, excuse me," he spoke out and the seaman
paused and squinted into the lamplit shadows.

"Who goes t'ere?"

Horatio stepped closer and recognition crossed the man's leathery face.
"Where is Mr Bracegirdle?" the officer wondered.

Mc Kinney threw a thumb vaguely over one shoulder. "In the capën's
quarters, of course on top deck, sir."

"Thank you." Hornblower turned to leave and the seaman's hand caught
his arm.

"S'cuse me, sir, you won't wanna be down 'ere, if ya know what I mean.
Those pirates 'ad everything from rats to scurvy, beggin' yer pardon," he
warned him.

Horatio nodded once. "Yes, thank you, man-"

"Thankfully, we got ëem all locked away tight. Cept savin that one,
that Ramangard. 'E's up with Mr Bracegirdle."

"Yes, thank you," Horatio repeated more emphatically and the seaman
caught the hint and quieted. Hornblower turned round to go back up to
the top deck, almost relieved to leave this hole. There was some
uneasiness, some feeling of danger in these shadows that settled in his
gut. The sooner he went back to Indefatigable to better, he decided. He
had seen enough for now. As he passed the carpenter's walk, he
hesitated, peering down the long, narrow corridor of darkness. If he
listened close enough, he could swear he heard low voices, but could see
nothing in the passage. Horatio glanced around, the danger seeming to
loom nearer, and took another careful step toward the walk, listening
again. There were definitely words being spoken, words in French. He
swallowed the spike of fear and took out his pistol. Despite himself, it
was his duty to see if there was some trouble brewing, and French voices
only meant the original crew.

Horatio carefully entered the passage, walking slow and glancing about
him in the pitch darkness, listening to the voices.

"How long is that pighead going to be talking before we escape?" someone
murmured in French. The words echoed. It was almost as if ghosts were
speaking.

Several others whispered and mumbled, then one voice rose. "Here comes
someone."

Horatio's heart caught in his throat and he froze. Had they seen him?

"It's one of us. Where you gone-"

Hornblower let out the breath he'd been holding slowly in relief, and
didn't listen to the string of French curses. He took another step down
the walk, this time spying a dim light from a room full of supply stores.
He ducked inside, his eyes fixed on the grate the dim lantern-light
streamed through from below in the brig. He listened further, mutinous
plans unfolding to his ears. Then suddenly a choked cry and gurgle, and
he caught sight of the guard's throat being cut. Horatio gasped and
ducked behind a barrel, closing his eyes as he heard the man's dead body
fall to the deck. **Oh no... Mr Bracegirdle! They'll kill him for
sure!**

He peeked through again, then suddenly he heard footsteps running behind
him up to the carpenter's walk, heard swords being drawn. They were
going to find him!

A dark figure dressed in a uniform leaped down on his other side from a
crate and Hornblower raised his gun, and a foot collided with his hand,
kicking away the weapon. Suddenly hands grasped his wrists. He was
thrown down to the floor, someone pinning his limbs back painfully. A
hand clapped over his mouth to stifle any sound, and a soft voice hissed
beside his ear, the cold edge of a blade against his throat. "Don't move
if you value your life."

***

A sudden cry and explosion woke Pellew with a start. No, that wasn't an
explosion. That was cannonfire. "My god, the Noire!" Another shot hit
and cracked through the ship's hull into his cabin, throwing the captain
out onto the deck and he rolled away and over to the window, hearing a
another shot being fired. "What the devil is going on?!" Pellew forced
the door to his private cabin open and ran to the window, staring out,
barely dressed, at the French schooner.

She was moving. The La Mort Noire was moving... and from the looks of
it, in the opposite direction. "I gave no orders to move yet!"

**Bloody hell, something went wrong!!**

Pellew donned his uniform jacket and rushed out, calling to the marine
guard. "Mr. Bowles!! Prepare to attack at my word.! Chapman!" He
climbed up onto the quarterdeck.

"Aye, sir!" the man called back from the wheel.

"Follow her, and don't lose her or I'll have you damned!"

"Aye, aye, sir!" The man knuckled his forehead. Pellew snapped open
his spy glass and studied the fast-disappearing ship to try and see what
was happening. What the devil was going on?

"Sir!" One of the men dashed up from below, a midshipman.

The captain frowned and lowered the glass. "Yes, what is it?"

He recognized Heather now under the light, who was supposed to be on
that ship. The young man swallowed nervously, his face grave. "It's Mr
Hornblower, sir. He's missing. And no one can find him."

 

***

"Don't move if you value your life."

Horatio twisted until he felt the blade and tensed against the man that
held him, but otherwise didn't move. He could see nothing, but the stink
of disease and unsanitation was enough to make him vomit. He lay quiet,
his eyes wide, listening to the attacking Frenchmen destroying things on
the ship, hearing men's screams as they were murdered in the holds and
passages above. The man holding him pinned didn't let up on his grip for
a moment, dragging him down against the man's body in a corner behind
stores where they wouldn't be seen by the rebelling prisoners. Another
shot was fired in the darkness, rats shrieking around them. His heart
stopped in his throat, pounding deafeningly loud as fear gripped him and
he was certain the men had to hear it. Darkness, he couldn't see as
each second passed an eternity of listening to death.

He made a quiet sound and twisted against the agonizing pain from the
man's cruel grip. The cold blade presser into his throat. "Shut up,
damn you." The voice was English, but soft, in a sharp whisper.

Horatio didn't move; he could barely breathe in this position, but
whether friend or foe, this man was right. They could not afford to be
seen. But who..?

The pirates passed by, their footsteps pounding danger and mutiny on the
deck planks above the putrid hold that concealed them. Slowly, the man
behind him eased his grip and finally released Hornblower very carefully.
Horatio pulled away with a gasp and his hand went to his throat where
the skin had been lightly cut, spinning around. He couldn't quite make
out detail, except for a British marine uniform on a smaller man than
himself. "Who are you?"

"In a situation such as this, on the very threshold of death, I should
hardly think this the time for introductions, Mr Hornblower," the man
whispered rhetorically and shrugged off the uniform quickly, clothed
underneath in attire as dark as the hold itself. "Take this. It may
come in handy again."

The cloth was thrown in his lap and the dark figure jumped up atop a
crate and peered over the top. As he halted on the top, Horatio watched
the dim lantern-light from below in the brig illuminate his captor's
face. He was a smaller man by the normal standard, lithe and dressed in
black trousers and shirt, and armed. His face was angular and somehow
memorable, his hair dark and shorter than that of naval officers. He
puzzled the midshipman. Horatio had never seen this man before, yet it
seemed like the man almost knew who he was. He waited another second,
then jumped down quietly, crouching low.

The man jerked his head toward the deeper section of the hold. "They'll
be back within a few minutes. Follow me, and stay quiet, and you may
actually survive despite yourself." Cannonfire echoed above like deep
thunder. Hornblower stared directly into the face of his strange ally,
more than slightly indignant.

"And how do I know I can trust you? How did you acquire a British
uniform?"

The man's eyes shone brown in the dim light and he sighed impatiently.
"I did what I had to. Don't worry, the marine is safe, if a little
indecent is all." He shifted away and Horatio caught his arm.

"But who are you?"

He didn't move for a moment, and glanced away, as if listening to the
passageway. "My name is Morton Shelley, and I have neither a government
nor a political cause. Right now, all I want is survival, and if you
have the same desire, then you will follow me. Quickly." He slipped
away and, reluctantly, Horatio followed. He didn't quite understand, but
he wasn't willing to wait and be killed. At least this man hadn't caused
him any real harm, though he did not know what this Shelley would do in a
situation for his own survival. Should he trust him or not?

Shelley led him through a series of strenuous moves to enter passageways
and holes in the deck that Horatio had never before known to avoid being
seen by any of the crew, who's numbers seemed to grow quickly with each
level until they were directly underneath the aft captain's quarters,
hidden between the decks.in a uncomfortable space that cramped Hornblower
tightly. Above, he could hear a loud voice talking, boasting, with a
heavy French accent, followed by that of Lieutenant Bracegirdle. What
breath wasn't already pressed out of his lungs came out in a relieved
sigh. But what was happening?

Another voice rang above and he felt Shelley's hand tap his shoulder.
"The cracks. But be quiet," he hissed softly.

Horatio peered through holes and cracks under the deck plates into the
small, brightly-lit cabin. And a pair of feet passed above him and he
could glimpse an inverted view of a heavy man. "Capitiane!" someone
called and the heavy man moved in the voice's direction.

"Yes!"

"The Indefatigable's after us," the man reported in French and the
captain laughed. The boards creaked under his weight above the two
hidden men.

"Take her north by northwest, Monsieur. Steer her into the inland river
fog."

"With pleasure, Monsieur Ramangard," the smalled pirate grinned and
disappeared. Horatio's eyes widened; he couldn't believe his fate. Lost
aboard a recaptured pirate ship, they could not stay hidden forever, and
there would be no way the Indy could follow them into the fog, and not
inland. How would they survive, and what was going to be done with
Bracegirdle? How would the Indy find them? He was putting all their
lives in the hands of a stranger with no cause.

He felt a sinking ball of worry settle deep in his gut. There was no
way out, and the Indefatigable could no longer help them.

They were alone.

 

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