Pass The Pen
Chapter Twenty - Seven: Chaos
by Yuri

 

Horatio felt it more than he could see it, a split-second warning, he
gasped and scrambled off the deck.

He dove into the sea a bare moment before the impact with the Soleil
Royal caused the Noire's magazine to ignite. Horatio felt the heat of
the blast through the water and its impact caused him to roll
helplessly beneath the waves.

**The surface is too far up. I'll never make it, I've not enough
air.** Gangly limbs flailed towards the choppy surface, battered by
hundreds of splinters darting through the water. **Where's the
surface? I can'tbreatheanymore.**

*****

On board the Indefatigable, men assisted with oars as the sails
caught the dark wind. The explosion of the Noire pushed her further,
throwing Captain Pellew to the deck. He grit his teeth and rose,
glaring at the fiery sea around him. Blood ran unnoticed from a small
splinter in his leg, and a cut on the cheek. His eyes turned skyward
for a momentno, the sails hadn't caught fire.

"You're not getting my ship!" he bellowed to the storm.

Matthews heard the shout of challenge, (or was it triumph?) and
turned to Styles.

"I know we'll make it now. Don't know anythin' can stand against the
captain when he's like that."

"Aye, true enough," responded Styles gruffly, and increased his grip
on the oar.

"'Ey, is that Mr. Kennedy? What's `e lookin' at over there?" Matthews
squinted into the blazing maw that had been the Soleil Royal.

Archie stood wide-eyed, seemingly hypnotized by the flames. Before
the impact, the decks of the Royal had been empty, but now dozens of
dark figures appeared amidst the smoke and fire. He could hear them,
screaming and shouting"why didn't anyone else notice? He swallowed
nervously and gazed over the rail, stiffening suddenly as he
recognized one of the voices. It called to him.

"You little bastard," cursed Ouimette, "you think you've escaped from
me but you haven't. Not yet."

"It can't be," Kennedy whispered, shaking his head to clear it.

"You're pathetic, boy," the voice of Ouimette's shade flying across
the water. "You were not worthy of my attentions, just a distraction
from the boredom of the cell!"

**Why doesn't anyone else notice?** He looked at the turmoil
surrounding him on the deck of the Indy. No, only he seemed to see or
hear the wailing souls of the damned aboard the Royal. **At least I
<know> he's dead and can't hurt me"can't hurt anyone.**

As though he had read Archie's mind, Ouimette threw his head back and
howled in vicious laughter. "Too late, boy. I'd have taken you,
useless as you are, but how it would have paled compared to your
friend!"

Archie's blood ran cold. Horatio had said that Ouimette had tried,
several times towell, he knew what Ouimette was. He had assumed that
these attempts failed"had they? Or did he assume it because that's
what he wanted to believe, what he <needed> to believe?

"You doubt me, pathetic excuse for an officer? The exquisite
Hornblower has deceived you, so easily fooled you are. I knew him,
made him mine! He fought at first, and much more effectively than
you! In the end, though, he was quite amenable to everything!"

"You lie!" Shouted Archie. "Horatio would not do such a thing!"

"Believe what you will, petite homme!" shrieked Ouimette, his voice
beginning to fade. "You shall never know the truth, for your friend
is dead!"

Archie's legs nearly buckled beneath him. Insults were easy enough to
bear"he had been through far worse"but Horatio dead? The world began
to spin, and the ghost ship to fade from view

"Sir!" Styles shouted. Both he and Matty had heard Mr. Kennedy yell
at the burning ship, but they held their places until they noticed
that the young man was near to collapse. Both had run toward the
rail, but Styles was quicker, catching the midshipman as he nearly
fell backwards. "Sir?" he repeated.

Archie blinked, his mind and body reeling. "Your friend is dead!" he
heard Ouimette call one last time, the voice fading in his ears. "He
was on that ship when it exploded"he saved your ship, died for it"it
should have been you!"

"Mr. Kennedy, sir?" Matthews said, approaching with caution. The boy
looked pale as death.

"I don't know what's wrong with `im," said Styles. "'E's starin' out
at that ship, but I'm not sure what he's seein'."

Matthews glanced over the water at the fiery wreck. It looked like
what it was"a burning, sinking ship. Not a ghost ship, just a ship.
The Noire was the same, only less recognizable due to the explosion
of the powder magazine. A booming shout interrupted before he could
say anything.

"Boat sighted! Boat sighted!" It was Mr. Bowles, pointing at a
jollyboat being rowed towards the Indy.

"Get those men aboard!" Pellew ordered. The sooner they collected the
survivors, the sooner they could leave this cursed place and return
to England for repairs. "If my officers are among them, have them
report to me at once!"

"Aye, sir!" Bowles answered, turning back to the jollyboat and
starting at the sudden appearance of Mr. Kennedy.

"Is he there?" Kennedy sounded near desperation.

"Is who there? Mr. Hornblower?"

"Yes. Is he?"

"No, he is not!" a strange voice shouted up.

"Who are you, sir?" questioned Mr. Bowles as he helped this first man
aboard. "And what about Mr. Hornblower?"

"My name is Shelley and Mr. Hornblower was just behind me on the
Noire. He sent the lieutenant and myself to the boats while he stayed
at the helm for a moment"to insure the collision with the other ship."

"Lieutenant Bracegirdle is with you?" Bowles asked, peering down at
the rest of the men.

"He is in the other boat, sir," Shelley answered.

"Mr. Bowles, sir," Matthews called from the rail, "there is no other
boat."

"Aye, sir," agreed Styles, "I don't seen anythin' out there either."

"Damn," muttered Bowles. How was he to tell the captain?

Shelley moved calmly out of the way so that the other men could be
brought aboard. He felt his broken ribs gently"they were no worse.
The twisted bit of cloth on his hand was soaked with blood, the wound
stinging from the seawater.

"They are out there," Shelley assured Bowles. "They were right next
to us. I'm sure that the explosion just pushed them in the other
direction and they will make their way to this vessel shortly." He
looked Bowles directly in the eyes, his coolness assuaging the man's
worry. "If I may go see your ship's surgeon?" He held up his hand,
smiling slightly.

"Of course." Bowles pointed to the hatch. He counted the men from the
boat and ordered them to stay put, searched briefly over the waves,
and, finding nothing, walked towards the quarterdeck to speak with
Captain Pellew.

*****

**It can't be true. Horatio is <not> lost.** Archie repeated this
over and over in his mind while Mr. Bowles and Mr. Shelley talked.
Lieutenant Bracegirdle had not returned, either, although Mr. Shelley
seemed confident enough that he would. Archie was painfully aware
that no such assurances had been made about Mr. Hornblower

Again, Archie looked at the wreckage of the Royal, scanned over the
water to the Noire. Another explosion caused him to fall back,
shielding his eyes from the pain and brightness. **Did I see
something?**

"Mr. Kennedy!" "Sir!" Exclaimed Matthews and Styles
simultaneously. "There's something in the water, sir," continued
Matthews. He ignored Styles dry look and pointed beyond the
Noire. "Over there, Mr. Kennedy. D'you see that" he was cut off.

"Yes, Matthews, I see him," Archie said breathlessly. He had already
half removed his jacket before Matthews could speak again.

"What are you doing, sir? It might not be Mr. Hornblowerat least
take the jollyboat."

"There's no time, I can swim faster. Send the boat after me," Kennedy
ordered.

"Aye, sir," Matthews tugged his forelock. He looked at Styles and
both watched the white figure dive into the water.

"Well," Matthews began.

"Wot about it?"

"Aren't you goin' after `im?" Matthews asked.

Style's responded with a grin. "Aye. Jus' waitin' for you to ask."

Matthews scowled lightly at his friend. "We'll be right behind in the
jollyboat, soon's we can," he assured. He waited a moment until
Styles had gone over the rail, swimming strongly after Mr. Kennedy,
then he turned and looked for Mr. Stanson"someone needed to command
the jollyboat.

*****

Captain Pellew was livid. "Neither one of my officers were
recovered?" he questioned his sailing master.

"No, sir. Mr. Shelley did say that Mr. Bracegirdle was on the second
ship's boat with the remainder of the Noire's crew as well as the
pirate leader."

"Ah, yes, <Captain> Ramangard." Pellew frowned and gazed through the
smoke. "What did he say about Mr. Hornblower?"

"He didn't know, sir," Mr. Bowles said uneasily, knowing that the
captain saw great promise in the young acting lieutenant. "The last
he knew, Mr. Hornblower was at Noire's helm. He should have had time
to dive over the side" Bowles winced as Captain Pellew interrupted
him.

"He <should>, but for the change in the Royal's course."

"Yes, sir."

Mr. Bowles shifted uneasily as he watched Captain Pellew, his mood
unreadable. It had been a painfully long day, with two junior
officers beginning it in the brig, one insane and one in disgrace.
Now Simpson was lying in the sick berth, to be discharged and dealt
with on shore"most likely the man would end up in some kind of
sanatorium

As for Mr. Kennedy, his behaviour during this latest disaster had
been erratic, but he had done his duty. Captain Pellew wondered wryly
if the excitable fellow would settle into being a reliable officer.
True, he'd been calm under fire, but had panicked at the appearance
of the ghost ship.

Pellew's mood grew even darker. Ghost ship it might have been, but
the damage caused by her cannon was bad enough. If Hornblower hadn't
rammed the Royal when he did, the Indefatigable would most likely be
on her way to the bottom. Dammit, he didn't want to lose either of
his officers.

"Send out the ship's boat to pick up survivors, Mr. Bowles. It may be
that Mr. Bracegirdle's boat capsized."

"Aye, sir," he replied, turning to follow the orders, pausing at the
captain's next words.

"We shall sail for England after sunrise. If you cannot find Mr.
Bracegirdle and Mr. Hornblower by then, we must leave them behind."

"Understood, sir."