The Weather Eye, Chapter 6: When in Doubt...
by Rhiannon

 

Simpson's meanderings were not proving to be quite as enjoyable
as he had originally thought. He had so far encountered an
exceptionally persistent variety of biting ant, large clouds of
mosquitoes, several thornbushes, and a large, if thankfully
comatose, snake. Anything that happened to Hornblower and/or
Kennedy was turning out to be of less interest to him than
getting out of the trees and, hopefully, even if it took years,
onto a ship. At least if he got out in the light, and away from
these trees, his brain might start to function properly again,
without being distracted by the perpetual nightmare of trying
not to strangle those fawning idiots who manned the temple.
Certainly, the first thing was to go down to the beach and away
from the myriad of little insects that were tormenting him was
first on the agenda...

At least as a god, he had been protected from the more
unpleasant aspects of the forest. And he had been shown the
respect he deserved, which from now on was, as ever, not going
to be forthcoming - where else would he find such an accurate
assessment of his intelligence and abilities? The Navy had
never understood his greatness, his innate capacity to command
and control - even that fool Eccleston had given the command to
Hornblower, aboard the 'Papillon' - dying was no excuse for such
an obvious failure to recognise talent.

Life was not, after all, as good as he had envisaged it to be
when he first became a god emeritus. It involved rather more
personal discomfort than would have been ideal, and a good deal
less revenge, even second hand. All he could think of, as he
struggled through the latest batch of prickly vegetation that
had deliberately blocked his path, was that pathetic bloody boy
being treated like a god, while he -

Simpson snarled in disappointed fury, and ripped his shirt away
viciously from a particularly tenacious, and exceptionally
thorn-laden branch. Find a way to have his one-time worshippers
get him off this godforsaken island? He must have been out of
his mind. Being a god may have been almost suffocatingly dull,
but it was infinitely preferable to being stuck with a choice
between an arid beach and the insect-ridden humidity of the
trees.

A large hornet-like insect settled on his ear, and buzzed
loudly and viciously, sounding like the rasp of a saw. Simpson
jumped at the sheer volume of the sound, and swatted at it. It
stung his hand, buzzed louder, and then stung his ear when he
aimed for it again.

That did it. Whatever it took, whatever he had to do, he was
going back. And when he did, he would take the greatest of
pains to prove his dominance over that snivelling boy...how
could they fail to see that he was so infinitely superior - so
close, indeed, to godhood that the comparison would be
inevitable - and with any luck, as far as Kennedy was concerned,
fatal.

He got through the bushes at last, and found himself looking out
across the bay from the slight incline that lay ahead of him.
The sky was dark and threatening, seeming to hang almost just
above the sea, it was so laden with water. As Simpson watched,
he caught sight of a ship moving out across the bay, evidently
hoping to make it out to sea before the storm got too bad. He
frowned. There was a chance it would come back, and if it did,
then they might just be persuaded to take him somewhere. Escape
or the certainty of revenge - it was a difficult choice,
especially considering that the ship might not return. But if
he acted fast - he might have both. After all, the storm was
only a couple of miles away, probably heading inland, and if he
could just manage to get back to the temple at the right moment
- well, it would certainly remove any doubts about his godhead.

As for Kennedy's head -

It was worth a try.

Simpson pushed aside the prickly branches, and grinned out at
the stormy sky over the bay, assessing the direction of the
wind, and wondering if the ship would make it out to sea in
time. Then puzzlement overtook him. There were *two* ships out
there, not one - and one of them looked decidedly odd...

****

Julius Vanderdecker, otherwise known as the Flying Dutchman, was
lost. He was lost, of course, to hope, God, and mankind on a
daily basis, and that he had learnt to deal with, but being lost
somewhere near New South Wales was an insult even to a man
damned to sail the world for all eternity. He cursed the
navigator, who had decided to play chess rather than read the
maps, with a vehemence surprising in someone who had been stuck
with the same navigator for nearly three hundred years, and had,
after all, been given ample opportunity to replace him in that
time.

"How the devil can you have mixed up South Wales and New South
Wales?" he bellowed at the man furiously, still not able to
believe what had happened to him, even after the weeks they had
spent sailing into the middle of nowhere. Since the whole of
his damned and immortal life was spent sailing into the middle
of nowhere, it had taken him a surprising amount of time to work
out that, for once, the voyage really had become interminable,
rather than just seeming it...

"Sorry, Skip," mumbled the navigator miserably, looking down at
his hands. "Only I was learning a new chess move, y'see."

"What was that, Johannes? That a pawn can move two squares at
once on its first move? Or haven't you progressed that far
yet?"

"Can a pawn move two squares, Skip? I never knew that."

The Flying Dutchman gave up, and strode off to the other end of
the deck, muttering to himself. If he could have chosen a crew
to be doomed to sail the world with for all time, it would not
have been this one. Their ability, even after three hundred
years, to drive him close to insanity, was quite stunning.
There was, he thought bitterly, more than one way of being
cursed...

And they were sailing straight into a storm...

"Skip?"

Julius Vanderdecker groaned, and turned around to face the first
mate.

"Yes, Peter? What can I do for you?"

"Skip, I think there's a storm coming."

How he was making himself heard above the noise of the wind,
rain and crashing waves was quite incredible, reflected
Vanderdecker, restraining himself with considerable difficulty
from pointing out that the storm, far from coming, was quite
decidedly there.

"Yes, Peter. Thank you. However, since both we and our ship
are indestructible, I fail to comprehend the problem."

"Shouldn't I shorten sail, Skip?"

"If it makes you feel better, Peter, by all means do so. I feel
bound to tell you, however, that it will not alter our state in
the least."

"Skip?" asked the first mate plaintively.

"Yes?"

"Why don't we ever sink?"

"Because we're cursed, Peter," said Julius Vanderdecker through
clenched teeth. "That's why we've been on this damned thing for
three hundred years."

"Oh," said the first mate. "I was wondering about that."

"How long have you been wondering about it, Peter?" asked
Vanderdecker with the same morbid curiosity that leads a man
with vertigo to peer off the edge of an extremely high cliff.

"Oh...dunno. Since we started sailing, I s'pose. Why, Skip?"

The Flying Dutchman closed his eyes.

"Just idle curiosity, Peter," he said, and smiled broadly and
insincerely, his mind reeling in horror at the concept of his
supposed right-hand man's mental processes. "Curiosity..."

"Skip, what's that island over there?"

Johannes was back.

"I don't know, Johannes," grated Vanderdecker. "Why don't you
surprise me and actually have a look on the map?"

"SKIP!"

That was the lookout, Van Helden, who had probably only just
noticed the island himself, thought the Dutchman bitterly.

"WHAT?" he roared back.

"PIRATES!"

"Marvellous," sighed Vanderdecker. "Absolutely bloody
marvellous. Pirates."

"And SKIP!"

"Oh, Lord, what now - YES?"

"Skip, their ship...it's not looking good..."

"Oh, bloody hell," groaned the Flying Dutchman. "This is all I
need. A shipload of possibly wrecked pirates..."

"Oh, and Skip?"

"WHAT?" howled Vanderdecker, feeling as if one more question
would drive him insane.

"It's the 'Kaliakra', Skip! You know, the one that pirate - "

"Yes," said Vanderdecker grimly, the name bringing back some
most unpleasant memories. "The one that insane pirate has. How
badly is it in trouble, Van Helden?"

"Trying to make it out to sea, Skip...but I think it'd be better
off not, really..."

The Flying Dutchman smiled genuinely for the first time in three
years.

"Oh, really?" he asked. "Well well well. Perhaps we should -
*suggest* another course of action. PETER!"

"Yes, Skip?"

"We're going to attack that ship over there. Don't think about
it. Don't ask anything. Just clear the deck and get ready."

"But, Skip -"

"NOW, Peter!" bellowed the Dutchman at the top of his lungs.
Then he frowned. "Oh - and - you should inform our guest. No,
better still, send Johannes to do it, since it was their
confounded chess game that got us here in the first place..."

 

****

Laamu, it appeared, was not quite as expert as he had originally
seemed at leading the Petrels through the trees. They had been
walking for hours, and there was no sign even of the sea, let
alone of a ship. The trees were endless, and Oldroyd and
Taylor's bickering continual, which was adding nothing to the
general atmosphere. Perhaps their supposed guide's sense of
direction had been muddled by his joy at possessing both a gold
watch and Oldroyd's hair - perhaps he never had one in the first
place. Perhaps, reflected Matthews bitterly, there was no ship,
and they had just done something incredibly foolish - and why
the hell had he thought listening to Taylor was *ever* an
option? The man's optimism was probably leading them straight
to their doom - or just a different place of captivity, and what
good would that do anyone?

Eventually, they arrived at a rather clearer spot, and Laamu
came to a halt. Oldroyd was still muttering to himself, rubbing
at the back of his shorn head occasionally with an expression of
complete outrage and wounded dignity. Taylor, who had taken
quite some time to clean even part of the smashed fruit out of
his own hair, was studiously ignoring him, his expression as
offensively indifferent as he could make it.

Laamu pointed up one of the trees, tore away some of the
undergrowth from a patch in the clearing, and drew the picture
of a ship in the loose dirt. This could mean just about
anything - that he could see the ship if he went up the tree,
that he could get his sense of direction back if he went up the
tree so that finding the ship became a possibility, or that the
ship itself was up the tree, which, judging from the size of it,
was not completely out of the question.

Then he swung himself up into the lower branches, disappearing
almost immediately into the dense leaves.

"What's that bugger up to now?" enquired Styles, sounding
worse-tempered even than the still-grumbling Oldroyd.

"Dunno, do I?" Matthews stared up into the slightly rustling
foliage in concern. "Hope he's coming back, though."

There was a sudden shout from above, and the rustling got more
frantic, followed by noises of breaking twigs and a shower of
leaves and bark that fell to the ground - and over Taylor,
embedding bits of tree in the remnants of the crushed fruit that
still clung to his hair.

He brushed at the mess irritably, most of it sticking to his
hand as a result, and glowered at Oldroyd.

"Hardly fitting, this, old boy," he said, his affected tones
failing to conceal the fact that he was genuinely put out. "I
get us out and you ruin m'appearance."

"Look what yeh did to me, then!"

"*I* didn't," Taylor's good humour seemed to be returning as he
took in Oldroyd's continued fury. He pointed up in the tree.
"Our friend Laamu did."

"Yeh, well, I'll get him f'r this an' all."

"Hardly wise, old chap, hardly wise...we wouldn't want your
sacrifice to be in vain, now, would we?"

Whatever Oldroyd might have replied was lost in a volley of
incomprehensible shouting from up in the tree, and Laamu's hasty
descent, waving his arms at them frantically as he jumped to the
ground. Obviously deciding that he stood the best chance of
getting Taylor to understand him, he pointed at the sketchy ship
that he had drawn in the dirt again and again, and babbled at
him almost hysterically.

"What's he saying?" demanded Matthews.

Taylor shrugged.

"Haven't a clue. Can't understand a thing he's saying. Look,
Laamu, or whatever your name is, can you please - slow - down?
Eh? Slower. Good chap."

Laamu had fallen silent. Then he bent, and sketched another
ship beside the first, pointing at them one after the other,
over and over. Taylor's eyes widened with realisation.

"Two," he said, looking over at Matthews and seeing the older
man come to the same conclusion. "There's two of them out
there."

"BOOM!" shouted Laamu desperately, and at that moment, an all
too familiar sound was heard far in the distance.

Ship's cannons.

*****

Julius Vanderdecker's face was alight with glee as he fired at
the 'Kaliakra'.

"Oh, I have you now," he said happily, as the storm raged about
them.

"Uh - Skip?"

"Not now, Johannes," said Vanderdecker absently, watching the
all-too-familiar figure of the 'Kaliakra's' captain rushing
about like a madman trying to get his crew organised. "I'm
busy."

"It's that man we picked up from Plymouth, Skip."

"Ah, your chess tutor," said Vanderdecker dryly, and then,
seeing that Johannes had, as usual, completely failed to
understand, sighed, and asked, "What about him?"

"He says you should take a look through your telescope, sir. At
the navigator."

Vanderdecker frowned. He was sure that Johannes was quoting the
Englishman he had taken on board word for word, since the
sentence not only made sense, but contained the word 'sir' as
opposed to the ever-present and infuriating 'Skip'.

"And Skip?"

Back to that again. Vanderdecker closed his eyes and prayed
that it wasn't going to be one of Johannes' special efforts,
whatever the question turned out to be.

"Yes, Johannes?"

"He says when you've finished looking, please can he have a look
too?"

Vanderdecker blinked, and glanced over to where his unwanted
passenger was clinging onto the ropes for dear life, his long
blond hair plastered to his head with sea spray and rain, and
his clothes soaked.

"What on earth...?" he muttered, and shouted at his crew, who
had stopped in their tracks like wind-up toys as soon as he
stopped giving orders - "Reload, then, damn you!"

He strode across the pitching deck to his unfortunate guest, who
had joined them in the hope of quick passage to Wales, and was
now on a damned ship somewhere in the Southern hemisphere. He
had borne it all surprisingly well, considering, thought the
Flying Dutchman with some admiration.

"Mr Trevelyan?" he shouted above the noise of the guns and the
storm. "What is it?"

"The navigator!" bellowed Hal Trevelyan. "I think I know the
navigator! And he shouldn't be on a pirate ship, Vanderdecker,
trust me!"

Julius Vanderdecker stared at him, then raised his telescope to
his eye and scanned the deck of the ship.

"What the devil?" he asked of no-one in particular, and lowered
the telescope to look at his passenger. "English Navy?"

Hal nodded, and held out his hand.

"May I?" he enquired politely.

The bewildered Dutchman handed over the telescope without a
word. Hal raised it to his left eye, closed his other one to
try and help him focus, and swung it vaguely in the direction of
the ship. The Flying Dutchman closed his eyes in resignation as
the blond Englishman swivelled the telescope from side to side,
failing even to locate the ship.

Without even having to check, Vanderdecker assessed the
alignment, reached out his hand, and stopped the telescope's
increasingly wild trajectory.

"There," he said firmly, and tilted it up slightly. "Got it?"

"Thanks," said Hal cheerfully, his enthusiasm undaunted. Then
his mouth dropped open slowly, and he said very quietly -

"Ah - Julius?"

"What?" demanded the Dutchman irritably.

Hal lowered the telescope, his lazy blue eyes looking suddenly
alert, and very worried, and asked as calmly as he could -

"Stop firing, would you?"

"Why?"

"I was right. I do know the navigator...and if I have
*anything* to do with him getting sunk, I'm a dead man when I
get back to England. And if you didn't happen to be immortal -
so would you."

Julius Vanderdecker looked hard at the Englishman, assessing his
sincerity. This sudden demand, coming from someone who had
accepted the fact that they were over a thousand miles out of
their way with complete equanimity, and who had not even
commented when they informed him that he was, in fact, sailing
with the Flying Dutchman and his damned crew, was -

It was -

Worrying.

"STOP EVERYTHING!" roared Vanderdecker. "NO-ONE MOVE!"

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

If he was a rain god, thought Archie, then there was something
very, very wrong with his immortal powers. For one thing, they
didn't work. Not only the conjuring up rain and gold and
whatever else he was supposed to do, but all the nice little
perks that came with the job - how was it supposed to go, if you
were divine? Oh, yes. Omniscient, omnipotent and all the rest
of it - well, as far as the all-knowing bit went, he couldn't
even understand what anyone was saying to him, let alone
comprehend what their innermost thoughts might be...and
omnipotent, given his current trapped situation, was the biggest
joke of all. And for another thing, if the divine powers he
possessed enabled him to call up the rain, then he had missed,
from what he could see, by a very long way. There were rain
clouds several miles away, but they showed no signs of coming
anywhere near the temple, and they certainly weren't helping
him.

*Surely, if I can control the rain, then it should be listening
to me, getting itself over here and getting me out of this
mess...*

*If* he could control the rain? He groaned inwardly, realising
what he had just allowed himself to consider, even briefly.
Since when had that been something he'd started thinking about?
Not talking to anyone was obviously affecting his mind. A few
more days of this, and he'd actually be trying to get the clouds
to come over...though how he would go about trying was anybody's
guess.

And the thought of the shrunken heads kept intruding. Could
they be those of past, and failed gods? Well, being as it was
unlikely that Simpson had done anything other *than* fail to be
a god, and he'd been allowed to get away, perhaps that wasn't
the inevitable penalty for not having complete control over the
weather. On the other hand, given his usual luck where Simpson
was involved, that had been the point where the leniency towards
retired gods ran out. He had visions of his head being placed
over the temple doorway like a cannibalised version of Dante's
warning to those about to enter the gates of Hell -

'Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.'

Or rather abandon all hope, all ye Englishmen unfortunate enough
to have blond hair, blue eyes, and be even vaguely acquainted
with Jack Simpson.

Archie kicked irritably at one of the loose stones that were
scattered around the temple, and sighed, wishing that he were a
million miles away, wishing that he had someone to talk to, and
hoping to God that wherever Horatio was, he was thinking of some
kind of plan.

He would be, of course. It was impossible to stop the man from
thinking, usually out loud, and even at the most inappropriate
times, and he was bound to have come up with something by
now...if he was still alive - No. Archie stopped that thought
before it got any further. That wasn't even a consideration at
this point in time.

If he wanted to stand any chance at all of getting through this,
then he was going to have to stop thinking about shrunken heads
and Simpson and what might have happened to Horatio, and come up
with a plan himself.

"Which would be so much easier if it didn't always seem to
centre around it raining..." he muttered angrily.

How the hell was he supposed to tell whether it was going to
rain or not, stuck here? If he had been at sea, he would have
stood a chance, gauging the changes in wind and sky, but here,
reliant on nothing but the evidence of his eyesight and luck, it
was going to prove considerably more difficult.

The one thing he *could* do, on the other hand, was stall for
time until he worked out the weather patterns on the island more
successfully. After all, they'd started off with the assumption
that he was some kind of prophet - and although it was under
circumstances that would normally have left him wishing he was
at the bottom of the sea, that could be of some use.
Presumably, the more insanely he acted, the more they were going
to listen to him...and the more he forced them to listen, the
more time he would have to think of a better plan than simple
delaying tactics.

And he had the perfect means of sounding mad enough even to fool
someone who knew a little English - a technique perfected by the
master of procrastination and feigned insanity himself.

Hamlet.

"Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in the shape of a camel?"

No, he couldn't. But he had a feeling he could persuade
everybody else to - at least temporarily. Well, if it worked
for Hamlet...

Kennedy realised that he was actually looking forward to trying
this. If nothing else, it was better than talking to himself
and kicking stones. He looked out again at the clouds in the
distance, and grinned. This could be fun...

*****

"Who the hell *is* that?" asked Hal, staring out at the pirate
ship.

The Flying Dutchman looked completely furious.

"Roberts," he said grimly. "He took over our ship for a whole
year before he realised we really were telling the truth about
being cursed. Twelve months on this indestructible ship with
him, his crew, and my crew - and no beer..." He broke off,
looking haunted, and said grimly - "Let's just say I have good
reason to hate the bastard. Mr Trevelyan, are you *sure* you
can't afford to lose this navigator?"

Hal gave a brief shudder at the thought of what might happen to
him if he had to go back to England with the news that he had
stood by and allowed the Flying Dutchman and his crew to blow up
a man his commander counted as a friend. Not only would he
sound insane, but it would rank among the most unbelievable
excuses of all time.

"*Very* sure," he said firmly. "Julius...?"

It had the same intonation as the dreaded 'And, Skip?',
reflected Vanderdecker irritably - the sound of a man who
expected him to sort out every difficulty under the sun without
hesitation.

"What?" he snapped.

"Is there any way - that we could get him *off* the ship?"

Hal made his expression as imploring as he could manage, not
realising that after three hundered years of having people
implore him on a daily basis, Vanderdecker was completely immune
to any sort of special pleading. On the other hand, if Roberts
was reduced to taking on someone from the British Navy to serve
as his navigator, then he must be well and truly desperate. And
if Vanderdecker took the navigator *away* from him...well. Not
quite as satisfying as blowing him out of the water, but an
irritation that would certainly go a little way towards
alleviating the horror of the memories the Dutchman had of a
year in that man's company.

"Oh, all right," growled Vanderdecker. "Johannes!"

"What, Skip?"

"Get us alongside the 'Kaliakra'. Now."

"Are we going to broadside her, Skip?"

"God and all his angels, where did he learn that phrase?"
muttered Vanderdecker wearily. Aloud, he replied, wearing his
patented teeth-gritting smile -

"No, Johannes. We're not."

"Then why are we going to go alongside her, Skip?"

"Johannes. Let's play a game, shall we?"

The navigator beamed.

"I like games, Skip."

"Yes. I know. Let's pretend that I am the captain of this
ship, and if I give you an order, you obey it. *Without* asking
questions!"

"That's not a very interesting game, Skip," protested Johannes.

Hal snorted with laughter, and turned his head away quickly,
trying to regain his composure. The Flying Dutchman raised both
hads to his head, and gripped his hair in his hands. If he
hadn't been invulnerable as well as immortal, the number of
times he had been reduced to this over the years would have
probably left him bald by now. As it was, he still had a full
head of hair, which at least provided him with something to hold
onto at moments like this.

"Johannes. Get - along - side - that - SHIP!"

"All right, Skip," said Johannes cheerfully, and wandered off
to tell Peter, the first mate. It seemed to take him a very
long time, but eventually Peter shrugged, and started giving
orders. Vanderdecker lowered his hands.

"I don't suppose," he said hopefully, "that when we've got this
navigator of yours over here, I could keep him, could I?"

Hal shook his head.

"Knowing him," he said thoughtfully, "I'd imagine that
whatever's going on is a lot more complicated than him turning
navigator all of a sudden."

"He isn't a navigator?" Vanderdecker's head was beginning to
spin.

"Hmm?" Hal was staring out at the blatantly confused pirates on
the other ship. "Oh. No. He's a lieutenant. At least, he was
the last time I met him. I don't really know what he is now."

Julius Vanderdecker was strongly tempted to go into his cabin,
get into bed, and pull the covers over his head. He had learnt,
however, through bitter experience, that this accomplished
absolutely nothing. He simply groaned, and tried to pretend
that none of this was happening, as they drew closer to the
pirates and their ship.

*****

The 'Kaliakra' was making no attempt either to return fire, or
indeed to even engage the peculiar looking ship that had so
unexpectedly opened fire on them, and Hornblower was confused.

"Shouldn't we fire -" he had begun at one point, and the pirate
captain had turned a look of scathing contempt on him.

"Fire at Vanderdecker? What the hell would be the point?"
snarled the captain angrily.

Hornblower stared at him.

"The point, sir, would be that we could sink her before she
sinks us."

*Isn't that obvious? Or can they not fight as well as not
navigate?*

The captain started to laugh.

"Sink her? *Sink* her? Oh, if only. Vanderdecker would be
praising our names for years, if we did that."

"You know the captain, sir?" Hornblower was completely
bewildered by now, but at least the oddity of the situation was
stopping him from feeling sea-sick.

"Oh, yes," said the pirate grimly. "I know him. BASTARD!" he
yelled ineffectually across the sea.

"But, sir -"

"Just leave me alone," muttered the captain, sounding
completely depressed, and went over to the rail to stare
gloomily out at the other ship.

Hornblower gave up. He was stuck on a ship as a navigator for
an erratic and insane captain who wouldn't even fight someone
who was firing on him. Then again, compared to the last couple
of days, this was beginning to seem almost normal...

The ship stopped firing, and began to pull in closer to them.

"How the devil is she *doing* that?" muttered Hornblower
worriedly. In this sea, it should have been impossible to do
*anything* that accurately.

The captain muttered something that sounded remarkably like
"Wish I were bloody well cursed and could do that," but
couldn't have. Hornblower steadied himself on the ropes, and
waited for the ship to being firing on them again.

Nothing happened. Looking more than ever like a ghost ship, she
simply came in closer and closer, as though preparing to deliver
a broadside, and then close enough so that Hornblower could make
out, through the rain and spray, the figure of the other ship's
captain on the deck.

"Roberts!" he called over, his voice carrying even above the
noise of the storm. The pirate captain's shoulders slumped.

"What do you want, Vanderdecker, blast you?"

"Your navigator!"

*What?* thought Hornblower. Did every ship that came out here
have some desperate need for a sextant or something? This was
lunacy...

"No!" shouted back the pirate captain. "I need him!"

"Roberts, you need your ship more, and if you don't hand him
over you won't have either ship or navigator or indeed life! Am
I making myself clear?"

"As crystal..." muttered the pirate captain, and made one last
desperate attempt.

"Julius, come on, please? You've *got* a navigator. I don't.
I really, really don't want to lose this one..."

"Sorry, Roberts. Hand him over."

The pirate captain sighed heavily.

"Damn you, Vanderdecker!" he shouted at least, and the sound of
mocking laughter travelled over the increasingly minute distance
between the two ships.

"Already been done, remember?" called back the other captain.

Roberts turned away from the rail, and glared at Hornblower with
all the frustration of a man in an impossible situation.

"Meet Captain Julius Vanderdecker," he said bitterly. "The
Flying Dutchman himself. Damned and damnable. Well, you'd best
get yourself over there. You can leave the sextant, though."

"The Flying - the sextant - what -?"

"The sextant. Leave the sextant. I may learn to use it - who
knows."

"Sextant," muttered Hornblower. "Right. Yes."

He considered repeating the process he had begun a long time ago
with a compass - that of simply dropping whatever someone needed
most overboard - but decided against it. He was tired, worried,
confused, and starting to feel seasick again, and none of it
seemed worth the effort.

The other ship was so close now as to be almost touching the
'Kaliakra'.

"Go on, then," muttered the pirate Roberts, looking completely
miserable. Hornblower took one last look at his precious
sextant, sighed, and made for the rail.

He began to swing himself over awkwardly, and at that moment,
the 'Kaliakra' gave a sudden pitch, and he lost his balance.
Desperately clutching at the ropes on the side of the other
ship, not daring to move in case he was swept away, he felt a
cold, strong hand grasp his wrist firmly, and a familiar voice
said -

"Damnit, man, I've gone to all this effort to get you off there,
couldn't you thank me rather than trying to drown yourself?"

Hornblower looked up into lazy blue eyes that were glinting with
laughter, and decided that he really had gone mad.

"Trevelyan?" he asked blankly. "What are you doing here?"

The hand began to pull him upwards, and Hal replied, laughing
openly -

"Well, I'm rescuing you, of course."

 

*****

"And he's really the Flying Dutchman?" asked Hornblower.

They were sitting in the tiny cabin that had been allocated to
Hal at the beginning of the voyage, drinking the last of the
brandy that Hal had been forced to make last as far as New South
Wales.

The blond man nodded wearily.

"Trust me," he said. "I've had proof positive of the man's
immortality. He shot himself in the head to prove it."

"Ah."

There was silence for a moment, then Hal shrugged.

"Well," he said after a bit, "I suppose I'd better go and find
Julius."

"What for?"

"To get him to take us to the island, of course," said Hal, as
though it were the most obvious thing in the world.

Hornblower stared at him.

"Us? Hal, you don't have to -"

"No, I don't," agreed the older man. "I know I don't. But I'm
going to help, whether you like it or not. If I don't get off
this bloody ship, I'm going to go mad. And - well, maybe you
could do with some company, eh?"

****

"Oh, come on, Julius!"

"Look, I don't mean to be rude, Mr Trevelyan, but for a guest
you really do take things to the limit sometimes! Why the devil
would I want to bob around in a harbour waiting for you to
rescue yet another member of the British Navy?"

"Because it's less boring than watching Johannes learn chess?"
suggested Hal with a grin.

The Flying Dutchman shuddered.

"True," he admitted. "All right, have it your way. To the
island it is. But -" he held up a hand warningly as Hal's smile
got wider - "You have forty-eight hours. After that - I sail.
With or without you and that mad lieutenant-navigator, or
whatever he is - oh, for God's sake, Peter, what now?"

"Can we go too, Skip?"

The Flying Dutchman blinked at his first mate, and sighed
wearily.

"Why on earth do you want to go to the island?" he asked in
mild perplexity.

"Might be fun, Skip."

Juilus Vanderdecker thought wistfully of two days - or even two
hours - without his first mate, and found himself smiling. Then
his face twitched with amusement as he caught sight of Hal's
sudden expression of panic.

"Yes..." he said thoughtfully. "I'm sure that could be arranged
- and Mr Trevelyan would be glad of your help, I'm sure," he
added, carefully not looking at a fuming Hal. He nodded briskly,
as though coming to a sudden decision. "You and - ah, yes, your
chess pupil, Mr Trevelyan. Johannes."

Hal made a strange spluttering noise, and glared at the
Dutchman.

"Johannes?" he croaked.

The Flying Dutchman grinned at him evilly.

"Johannes," he confirmed. "Or I go nowhere near the shore."

Hal groaned.

"Oh, hell...Horatio's going to kill me..."

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

Simpson watched the two ships in complete bewilderment. First
one of them fired, and the other just stayed where it was. Then
the very strange looking one came right up to the one that
wasn't firing. Then it sailed away again, out to sea and
straight into the storm, which should have been absolutely
impossible, given the tide, and the other one stayed where it
was. This did *not* look like a situation in which he could ask
for passage...

The clouds were moving steadily towards the island, bringing the
storm - and most importantly, the rain - with them. Simpson
estimated that he had about two hours to get to the temple on
time, and turned away from the sea, retracing his steps. He was
looking forward to this...

*Especially the point where I tell them what they need to do to
impostor gods...* he thought, and smiled to himself
unpleasantly, imagining, not Kennedy's death, but the moments
before it, when he could look into those infuriatingly defiant
eyes, and watch the panic take hold as he finally realised that
defeat had come at last. Simpson knew that he would win this
time, no matter what it took...and then, then - he would use his
followers to find Hornblower, and bring him to see his little
friend's head hanging by the stream...

Simpson laughed, as the insects swarmed around him once again,
and hardly noticed their bites. Life was good. Life was very
good.

He walked back into the trees, and failed to see the way the old
and battered ship was sailing, slowly and impossibly, back
through the storm-tossed harbour and close to the shore...

*****

Horatio, Hal, Johannes and Peter stood waist deep in the surf
and watched as the little boat that Van Helden and Julius had
somehow managed to row up to the beach made its way back to the
ship. The Flying Dutchman raised one hand to them through the
spray, rather unwillingly, then bent his head back to his task.
The storm was moving up towards the top of the island, leaving
the bay behind, and the sun was beginning to appear.

Hal splashed out of the surf, wet and irrepressibly cheerful,
his blond hair stuck to his head, and his boots full of water.
He grinned at Hornblower, who was still trying to make his way
past the waves, and sat down in the sand, pulling off his boots
to tip the water out of them.

"Where now?" he asked.

Hornblower shrugged.

"To find him."

"Ah - right...yes...good...um - where, exactly?"

"I'm not sure."

"Oh, for Christ's sake, Horatio!"

"I don't know! I really have no idea - that's why I said you
didn't have to come with me..."

"Oh Lord. Fine. Let's apply logic, shall we?"

"Oh, and you're logical, are you?"

"I'm a spy, remember? I'm actually good at this...all right.
Thought. He's a prophet or something, you said - or at least
they think he is."

"Yes," said Hornblower crossly, not wanting to think about the
events that had led up to that particular revelation.

"Well, where would a prophet live?"

"How the hell would I know? I've never met any."

Hal grinned at him.

"You know, Horatio, agnosticism does have a price sometimes.
Temples, you fool. Prophets always live in temples. Like
Samuel, and, um, well, ah - Samuel."

"Samuel. Lovely. Thank you for that, Trevelyan. And how does
that help me?"

Hal started to laugh.

"Because there's a damn great ruined temple showing above the
forest, you fool!"

"Hal?"

"What?"

"You're a good spy."

Hal continued to laugh, unaffected by either praise or sarcasm,
and Horatio started to laugh as well, caught up in Hal's
infectious and persistent good humour.

"No," said Hornblower after a bit. "You are. You - you made
the connection..." He swallowed, feeling embarrassed, and
continued - "I wouldn't have."

Hal just smiled.

"I know," he agreed. "Johannes?"

Johannes, who was busy jumping the waves, turned around.

"Sir?"

"Let's go."

"But - the waves - they're wonderful...can't we -"

"NO!" shouted the two Englishmen simultaneously, and Hal
chuckled.

"Great minds think alike..." he murmured.

They collared Peter from where he was starting to make a rather
complicated-looking sandcastle, and set off into the forest.

"Horatio?" said Hal after a while.

"What is it, Hal?"

"*Why* is it always uphill when I'm walking?" enquired the blond
man plaintively.

"Oh, for heaven's sake..."

Johannes and Peter plodded on in a sulky silence. Their trip to
the island was *not* turning out to be the pleasure jaunt they
had in mind.

The storm began to move from the bay, and across the island. On
board the 'Kaliakra', Roberts gave up on his plans, paid no
attention whatsoever to his complaining crew, and took off his
shirt. He folded it into a pillow, and lay down on the deck,
leaning his head against the thick linen, and basking in the
first rays of the sun. Vanderdecker, he decided, stretching out
his tanned, muscular arms, had done him a favour. He could now
officially accept that he was completely overtaken by events,
and was no longer in control of anything that happened. Roberts
smiled to himself, closing his eyes against the light, and
beginning to relax. His broad chest rose and fell in deep, even
breaths, and he dozed, ignoring the activities of his pirate
crew as they tried to get the ship closer to the shore.
Stripped of his navigator, there was nothing he could do, and,
to his surprise, he was completely content.

The rain clouds moved ominously across the sky.

*****

Archie turned around with a small start of surprise as someone
entered the temple. Whoever it was stood silhouetted against
the light from the open doorway, and he squinted hard, trying to
make out who it could be. Then the figure giggled, and mumbled
something completely incomprehensible, and he realised who it
was. The man who had put him in this situation in the first
place, with the problems of sand in his mouth -

*And sand in his brain,* said a small voice unkindly, somewhere
in the back of his mind -

the only one with even the faintest grasp of English. Perfect.

The old man giggled again.

"Rain," he said happily. Archie sighed.

"Lovely," he agreed blandly. "It would be nice, wouldn't it?"

The old man took a few uncertain steps into the dimness of the
ruins, and peered at Archie with a rather worried expression on
his wrinkled face.

"Rain?" he asked. It seemed like a suggestion.

*Well, I suppose there's no time like the present...*

And the one-man performance of Shakespeare's most problematic
play began.

"Not so, my lord," replied Archie as gloomily as possible. "I
am too much i'the sun."

"Sun?" The old man giggled again, but nervously. "No, no, no
sun! Rain!"

Archie looked as miserable as possible, and stared at the floor
of the temple.

"Rain?" said the old man hopefully.

"It shows a will most incorrect to heaven!" announced the rain
god, changing parts in mid 'I-am-insane' monologue, and gazing
up at the smashed-in ceiling.

The old man followed his look upwards. He had stopped giggling.

"No rain?"

"But the great cannon to the clouds shall tell," declared
Archie, deciding to stick with Claudius for a while, "and the
heavens shall bruit again, respeaking earthly thunder!"

The old man heaved a huge sigh of relief.

"Thunder," he agreed happily. "Yes. Storms!"

*Oh, damn. Back to Hamlet, then...*

"Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in the shape of a camel?"
he enquired, pointing up through the open roof. Then he
blinked. There were, in fact, clouds. A lot of clouds. And
they were certainly not in the shape of a camel...

*Damn, damn, damn....*

He looked rather sheepishly at the old man, who was almost
dancing with delight, his wispy hair floating around him like a
mad form of halo, and tried to smile.

"Camels!" agreed the ancient headhunter, bobbing up and down.
"Camels! Clouds! Sand! Camels! Rain!"

*Oh, God...*

Archie wanted to say something that would get him out of this
horrible situation, but Hamlet, having finally taken over his
powers of speech, seemed to be rather reluctant to relinquish
his starring role.

"Methinks it is like a weasel," he heard himself say.

The old man giggled even more, plainly delighted with the whole
situation.

"Rain!" he shouted. "Weasels! Camels! Rain! Seemsun!"

*Oh, bloody hell, not him again...*

"No!" he snapped, finally getting rid of Hamlet and the Dane's
overwhelming need to take centre stage. "*Not* Seemsun. Me!"

"Who the hell is Seemsun?" drawled a voice from the doorway.
"Damn it, Horatio, if I'd known the bloody man was at the top of
this long a hill, I'd never have got you off that ship!"

And the first drops of rain began to fall, heavy and
summer-scented, bringing with them all the dust and flower laden
headiness of the forest.

And the old man had stopped giggling, and was staring at the
golden-haired, blue-eyed Hal as though he were the answer to a
prayer.

"You!" shouted the wispy-haired headhunter, and the manic
giggling began again. "You bring rain! Heeheehee! Rain!"

Hal stood in the doorway, the rain falling about him, completely
and utterly bewildered.

"What - Kennedy - who -"

"Oh, hell..." groaned Horatio from behind him. "Archie, what
did you *do*?

"What did *I* -" Archie broke off, deciding that this was no
time for either an explanation or an argument. "Hal?"

"Apparently," said the bewildered spy, as the old man began to
dance around him gleefully. "Would somebody mind -"

"Do any of you *really* think," sneered a voice from the other
side of the temple, "that this pathetic little charade is going
to work?"

Before anyone could respond to that, two oddly dressed men
plodded their way past Hornblower and Hal, and sat down on the
dusty floor of the temple with expressions of relief.

"Who the hell are they?" asked Archie, beginning to feel as if
he really was in a play. Possibly a French farce. With no
script.

"The Dutch equivalent of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, as far as
I can tell," said Hal with remarkable calmness as the wizened
little man danced around him. "Now will SOMEBODY tell me what's
happening here?"

Archie took a very deep breath, tried to think of a sane way of
explaining things, and gave up. There was no time.

"You're a rain god," he said simply.

Hal gaped at him. Then he stretched out one long, languid arm,
and caught the dancing old man by the shoulder, forcing him to
caper on the spot.

"I'm a rain god," he repeated flatly.

"No you are NOT!" shouted the voice from the other side of the
temple, and Simpson, torn, filthy and covered in insect bites,
stepped into the light, as the rain poured through the roof.

The old headhunter stopped dancing on the spot, stared at him,
glanced across at Archie, looked up at Hal, who was still
gripping his shoulder, and whimpered. Then he sat down in the
dust and started rocking from side to side with his head in his
hands.

"What the hell's the matter with him?" asked Hal Trevelyan,his
voice beginning to spiral out of control.

Archie started to laugh.

"Well, Jack's a rain god too...or he was..."

"Am," said Simpson, but the insect bites were detracting from
the old sense of menace, as was Hal's complete failure to notice
anything wrong.

"*Him*?" enquired the spy, looking at the bedraggled figure in
front of him. Then he threw back his head, the damp blond hair
faliing across his face, and laughed. "You're joking! This
pathetic idiot? A god?"

And Hal Trevelyan's laughter filled the temple, rising up into
the rain like a benediction.

"Christ!" he gasped at last. "How desperate were they?"

And the sounds of people coming towards the temple, obviously
ecstatically happy, became clearly audible through the rain.

"Oh hell," said Hornblower, finally regaining his powers of
speech.. "Let's get out of here..."

"Good plan," agreed Kennedy quickly. "Hal?"

Hal Trevelyan stood bemused, his heavy eyelids shading his blue
eyes.

"I - yes - I - but -"

"Just come ON!" shouted the two lieutenants, as Johannes and
Peter struggled to their feet, not even trying to understand any
more.

Hal shrugged as the four of them began to run down the hill, and
followed. From behind them came a scream of rage.

"I haven't finished with you yet! I haven't -"

And then the chanting of the tribe was too loud to hear any
more, and Hal, glancing over his shoulder, saw the ragged,
bite-covered man being lifted high onto the shoulders of the men
who had poured into the temple, and heard an inane giggle carry
down the hillside as the group made for the altar.

"Hee, hee, hee..."

Hal shuddered, and increased his speed, catching up with the
others as they reached the trees.

"Ship!" he gasped breathlessly. "Julius!"

Horatio simply nodded.

Once they were in the shelter of the trees, Hal stopped dead,
leaning against the nearest trunk, and wheezing for breath.

"So," he said after a bit. "How - does it - feel...to be a god,
Kennedy?"

Archie thought for a moment, as out of breath as Hal was, then
stated to laugh.

"You - tell...me!" he croaked.

Hal tried to stand upright, his lungs protesting, and then
simply slid down the tree-trunk, howling with laughter.

"Confusing!" he choked. "Very, very confusing! And you?"

Archie sat down beside him, thought for a moment, and then -

"Very like a whale!"

And the two ex-gods leant against a tree and laughed as if they
would never stop.

*****

Julius Vanderdecker was furious. Not only was he still waiting
for the return of two of his crew members, but he seemed to have
gained several others - none of whom were his, and all of whom
were arguing.

"SHUT UP!" he shouted eventually, glaring at the motley crew he
had picked up from the beach. The one with the shaved head
continued to mutter. Vanderdecker simply looked at him blankly
until he stopped, then said calmly -

"When they get back to the beach, I'll pick them up. Now will
you all *please* just - just - go...somewhere else? Anywhere?
Please?"

"SIR!" shouted the big man who had given him the most trouble,
and was now looking out over the rail. Vanderdecker sighed.

"Yes?" he asked, wondering when he was going to wake up from the
nightmare he seemed to be inhabiting.

"They're on the beach, sir!"

Vanderdecker closed his eyes, and prayed to the God that had
cursed him forever, knowing it wouldn't work.

"All of them?" he asked wearily.

"Well, five of them, sir. Dunno if that's all."

Vanderdecker winced. His navigator and first mate were back...

"Damn," he muttered, opened his eyes, and smiled as sincerely as
he could.

"Yes, Mr Styles," he said exhaustedly. "Unfortunately, that's
all. Van Helden?"

The lookout ran across the deck.

"Yes, Skip?"

The Flying Dutchman kept smiling.

"Launch a boat, there's a good chap. And pick them up from the
beach."

"Who, Skip?"

Vanderdecker's smile widened.

"The men standing on the beach, Van Helden," he said, gritting
his teeth. And then, losing his patience completely, he
bellowed -

"NOW!"

*****

The cursed ship of the Flying Dutchman sailed on, carrying one
damned crew, their furious and equally damned captain, a soaking
wet spy who had insisted on swimming to the ship, a group of
still squabbling ratings, and two Navy lieutenants. As they
passed the 'Kaliakra', where the dread pirate Roberts still lay
sunbathing, a few phrases caught his ear.

"Are you Oldroyd?"

"Yeh. Whassit to you?"

"I'm Johannes. And Mr Trevelyan said I should teach you chess."

 

"Chess, eh?" The voice sounded interested. "Whassat, then?"

Two other voices, from somewhere else on the ship.

"So, where are we going, then, Kennedy?"

Silence.

"Well?"

"Ah - I've forgotten."

"Oh."

Whoever had asked didn't seem to be particularly bothered by
this.

"Julius?" asked the first voice.

"What NOW?" roared the irascible tones of the Flying Dutchman.

"Do you know where we're going?"

There was a strained pause, and then Captain Julius Vanderdecker
bellowed -

"Oh, for the love of God - MR HORNBLOWER! Where the HELL are we
going, sir?"

Roberts didn't care. He drifted back off to sleep again,
smiling to himself, and thinking of the gold that was to be had
on the island.

******