Pass The Pen
Chapter Twenty - Eight: Bittersweet Homecoming
by Olivia

Kennedy and Styles didn't have to swim very far to make out the boat
that was headed towards them. Like the gold barrage bearing the
mighty Cleopatra, so too was the solid jollyboat carrying the dashing
Colonel Darcy, his chocolate brown locks slicked back from his tanned
face, and his ripe, full lips revealing a perfect set of piano teeth.
The disheveled Kennedy and Styles hovered in the water as he glided
towards them.

"Colonel Darcy!" exclaimed Kennedy, his lungs gasping for air. The
man was a legend, and to Kennedy right there and then he appeared
something akin to the archangel Michael.

"My good man!" greeted Darcy, confident, smiling, composed. "I
believe I have some men of yours to return."

Kennedy and Styles stretched their necks to see who was in the jolly
boat. Bracegirdle, and a few familiar faces but no Hornblower.

"What of Mr Hornblower?" asked Kennedy. "Have you seen him?"

Darcy was not acquainted with Mr Hornblower.

"I rescued all the men I could find after the explosion" assured
Darcy. "Perhaps he is still swimming in the La Noitre's grave. Let's
get these men safe and sound first, then we will go back and search
for him."

Kennedy was very tempted to decline the offer of getting into the
boat and instead keep on swimming in search of Horatio, but he
trusted Darcy knew best.

*****

"Colonel Darcy!" exclaimed Pellew when he saw the vision of Alexander
the Great headed towards him. "Praise be God it's a miracle!"

Darcy strided confidently as he boarded the Indefatigable, as though
he were the owner of the ship. Despite stares of admiration and awe,
he urged the men he had rescued be given immediate medical attention,
then wasted no time honoring his promise to go back and search for
the missing midshipman.

********

So *who* was it this time? Horatio thought, as he peeled his eyelids
open and saw the blue clouds of heaven passing before them. He was
afraid to turn his stiff neck and look, lest it be another
sociopathic, deranged, mentally unstable, evil, hateful, devil-
worshipper commanding the vessel he was on. Though not in the least
bit comic, the hyperboles helped him to make light of the
situation. "It couldn't get any worse" he thought. "It just couldn't."

So he turned his stiff neck, and nearly cried when he saw another
sociopathic, deranged, mentally unstable, evil, hateful, devil-
worshipper commanding the vessel he was on. Ramanaguard cackled as he
saw the fear and loathing rolling in his captive's eyes. "The decent
Englishman awakes at last" he jeered.

"Where are you taking me?" Hornblower demanded, though he knew it was
futile to ask.

"Some place where you can get to sleep, English boy" promised
Ramanguard. "Some place where you can get to sleep for a very long
time."

*********

With Pelllew's permission, Kennedy was granted leave to join Colonel
Darcy aboard the Empire to search for Hornblower. His fear and
anxiety that something bad had happened to Horatio was converted into
mere concern, as he trusted Colonel Darcy implicitly. He even allowed
himself to admire the opulence and splendor of the Empire there
were no filthy curtains here separating master from the common crew,
and no mildewed canvass bags to sleep on either. The steward's
cooking was inventive and first rate, and Kennedy found an appetite
to enjoy his first night aboard the ship. He never knew octopus could
taste so good until now. Kennedy wished Hornblower could be there to
enjoy the meal, then his conscience pricked at him that he should
actually be enjoying himself while Horatio lay somewhere in pain. But
then Horatio was a man of such simple tastes; he could never enjoy
octopus, and again, Kennedy felt his conscious pricking.

*******

"What now?"

"We now get out of the boat" barked Ramanguard.

Horatio had seen a pistol pointed in his face before, and he remained
frustratingly unperturbed. All the same, he got out of the boat.

"And now we walk" ordered Ramanguard, yanking Horatio's arm and
painfully twisting him towards East. Horatio felt a surge of violent
energy within him and began to struggle, but Ramanaguard was not
afraid to use a pistol.

He shot Hornblower in the leg. Twice.

At the crack of shooting pain, the full horror of the situation
dawned on Hornblower like a smothering blanket. This wasn't a war
game anymore of negotiation and wit, but a rapidly disintegrating
hostage situation. His choices now were to either die or do as
Ramanguard commanded. He chose the latter.

With his prey's spirit broken, Ramanaguard grabbed Hornblower's arm
and began to drag him through the muddy mountainous terrain. Razor
sharp rocks glazed their ravenous teeth from every corner of the
trail and tasted the blood pouring bountifully from Hornblower's
juicy thighs.

Ramanguard dragged him for what seemed hours, the hot searing sun
crowning the majestic sky with a glorious heat. It really was quite a
beautifully day, and Hornblower was dying.

********

Meanwhile, Kennedy was having a grand old time aboard the Empire. The
fresh sea breeze swept through this hair and the music of the
festivities from the previous night rang gaily in his ears. He was on
the topmast on the lookout for Hornblower, and as the wind battered
his ears and billowed beneath his shirt sleeves, he felt exhilarated
and calm.

Though all he could see for miles was a vast expansive ocean as wide
and as infinitely blue as the sky, with foamy white waves creaming
through...

*********

Ramanaguard was screaming obscenities at Hornblower now.

"YOU ENGLISH ARE ALL ANIMALS!!! YOU HAVE NO CLASS! I WILL KILL YOU
HORNBLOWER, THE SAME WAY YOU EVIL ENGLISH BASTARDS HAVE KILLED
SOUNSANDS OF MY PEOPLE BEFORE!"

"You may kill me, Ramanguard" countered Hornblower through the
stinging sweat in his eyes and lips, "You may cut me into a thousand
pieces, but the war will still go on, and when the war's over,
England will be victorious!!!"

Ramanguard responded with a sharp kick to the ribs of this man whom
he harboured such a violent hatred towards.

"YOU WILL DIE, HORNBLOWER. I PROMISE YOU THAT!! YOU WILL DIE WIZOUT
DIGNITY, WHERE NO-ONE WILL FIND YOU, LIKE A FILTHY DOG IN ZE STREET!"

He grabbed Hornblower's arm and dragged him towards the edge of the
cliff. Hornblower's chiseled jaw jarred on the ground as his eyes
zoomed down towards his impending fate, where it would soon all be
over. Ramanguard roughly dragged him back up, pulled the trigger and
said "Today, I kill you for Spain!"

The trigger clickeda shot rang outand a trickle of blood oozed from
Ramaguard's face where a bullet had lodged itself neatly right
between his eyes.

Ramaguard slumped forward and Hornblower realised that by some
miracle, a bullet had been fired at a distance. But Ramaguard was not
yet dead, not quite. His Spanish bug eyes bulged and rolled
menacingly full circle, and they came to rest on Hornblower.

"AAARRRGGGGGHHHHHH!!" shrieked Ramanguard, and he propelled forwards
and tore himself and Hornblower off the cliff, away from
civilization, away from safety, away from life, down, down, down, to
the gurgling jaws of death.

*******

"And again."

Hornblower choked and gurgled and spluttered as fresh seawater oozed
from his mouth, like a fountain. With a painful dizziness Hornblower
saw the smiling faces of Englishman smiling all around him. Was this
heaven?

"Ease him up" said Kennedy. The sharp smell of medicine pricked his
nostrils.

Then a vision of worldly goodness sauntered into the room. "How is
the English patient?" asked the vision.

"He's awake sir" replied the doctor. "And is expected to make a full
recovery, though he may limp a little."

"Colonel Darcy!" marveled Hornblower.

"At your ease man, at your ease" said Darcy. "Lucky for you our
fighting crew make good fishermen, hmm?"

"Yes Sir," mumbled Hornblower, and closed his eyes. He was too dazed
and dizzy to hear what was said after that.

****

After another interim period of darkness and dreams, Hornblower
opened his eyes to the gleam of sunlight.

"Wake up, sleepy head" chirped Archie. "Colonel Darcy needs you."

Hornblower roused himself to focus on his surroundings. He observed
an efficient, motivated crew skillfully manning their tasks at hand.

Darcy's tall, Michelangelo's David-esque figure stood before him.

"You well Sir?" asked Darcy.

"Yes Sir" replied Hornblower feebly.

"Good, then, please report for duty aboard aloft the topmast."

Aloft the topmast! God! Of all places! But Hornblower did as he was
ordered, which wasn't easy, with his wounded leg still limping.

Aloft the topmast once could get a bird's eye view of everything, and
Hornblower saw a lot. He noticed the way the crew went happily about
their work, even in the most harshest of weather conditions. The way
nobody argued or disagreed with anything Darcy said. The way Archie
followed him around like a lost puppy, trying to soak up as much of
Darcy's radiance as possible. Hornblower observed all these things
with an envious eye, and felt a strange swelling his chest. It wasn't
pride or lust or joy or guilt, but something gnawing at him inside
that for some reason, he had ended up on the most utopian of ships,
and still wasn't happy. He wanted to be on the deck in Darcy's place,
issuing out orders to the best and most loyal crew, and he wanted to
be noticed for it, the same way he was noticing it now.

********

They finally made it back to the Indefatigable, and much fan fare was
made of Darcy's immortal presence. Never mind Hornblower's ordeal
over the last few months Darcy outranked and outshone the sum of it
all. With increasing irritation Hornblower noticed that even the
unmovable Captain Pellew was moved to the point where he had all
the cabins refurbished because Darcy "deserved" it.

"Don't you think all this is a bit excessive?" Hornblower quietly
asked Archie in passing. "Pellew would never have deigned to do so
much for anyone else."

Archie stared blankly at Hornblower as if he had just spoken a
foreign language. "What on *middle earth* are you talking about
Horatio?" asked Archie sharply. "This man is a legend, thousands
would die for him. Now if you'll excuse me, I have urgent things to
do" and he briskly walked away, leaving Hornblower feeling miserable
and numb.

*****

"Mr Hornblower! Captain's compliments sir, will you see him
immediately?"

"He's finally going to acknowledge me" thought Hornblower. "Tell me
I've done my duty for King and country and all the rest of it."

He remained composed as he made his way to his Captain's cabin.

"Ah, Mr Hornblower, I hope you find this good news. Darcy's told me
all about the rescue mission and the exemplary work shown by all the
men..."

Hornblower's spirits rose a little.

"...and as a result of his exceptional bravery I've decided to write
to the Admiralty and press for his advancement to Commander."

Hornblower's jaw dropped.

"Yes, it's a surprise to me too, to have the good fortune of
bestowing this honor. You would count yourself very fortunate, would
you not, of being rescued by him?"

"Yes Sir,...but Sir- "

"Yes Mr Hornblower?"

What to say without sounding awkward, about how after his terrible
ordeal he wanted some recognition too, that the monstrosity that was
Ramanaguard had only ended because he was brave enough to take him
on, and how England's position in the war would profit immeasurably
from having one less dangerous enemy to conquer. Surely what
Hornblower had achieved over the last few months was more marvelous
than Darcy's rescuing antics?

"Nothing Sir" he said simply. "Just that it's good to be home."

***********

 

THE END