Red Sky at Morning, part 4
by Carolyn

It was an excellent cognac.

Captain Pellew stared into the glass as the smooth old drink slid down his throat. While there were no answers there, he could slip away from the nagging unsettledness that had plagued him since Morgan's visit a few hours before.

Images played across his mind. Alabaster skin and swirling lace skirts. Delicate hands and eyes that were the color of amethyst. He took another sip. And remembered the sweet taste of lips -- her lips in a stolen kiss in a stolen moment -- quickly before her father returned.

Ah, the memories were beautiful and he relaxed into them like he was easing into a soft familiar bed. Her name trailed off of his brandy-drugged tongue . . .

Elise . . .

Elise in his arms, her soft cheek resting against his own. Elise dancing with him, laughing with him, her soft hair swirling when she twirled. Hair the color of honey . . .

Another sip -- the last sip -- and the captain set the empty, heady glass on the table. Then he let his heavy eyelids close, lost in the once beautiful reverie.

And he slept.

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

"Easy!!" Horatio Hornblower shouted as he watched his closest friend being led away in shackles toward the Courageous. He tried to get near Archie Kennedy again, but the crowd of sailors had become thick and the rain was making it harder to see what was going on. Horatio shielded his eyes with his hand and tried to discern what was actually happening. He could see rough hands pushing and pulling at his friend, knocking Archie to the ground, jerking him back up. The crowd taking him away was like a lynch mob, and Horatio cried out as he saw a rifle butt ram into his friend's side. Archie stumbled to his knees, and then Horatio could no longer see him as the rush of sailors closed in over him. Horatio spun round to face Captain Morgan.

"For the love of God, Sir, stop this at once!" Horatio cried.

Morgan's eyes burned. "He killed a fellow officer in cold blood . . . in front of witnesses. I could not stop them now if I wanted to." The captain pressed a finger into Hornblower's lapel. "And why do you defend him so quickly, in the face of such damning evidence?"

Horatio heard his question, but his attention was still focused on the spot at which Archie disappeared into the crowd.

"I know him well, Sir," Horatio said, his words clipped. "He would die before taking another's life without proper cause."

"Perhaps this time he will die after the fact," Captain Morgan spat.

Horatio was taken aback by the Captain's cavalier attitude, but his attention was diverted once again when he heard a swell in the angry mob. Hw watched, horrified, as he saw Archie again, now beaten, bloodied and unconscious. Hundreds of angry men hoisted his body into the air, and passed him across a sea of human hands to the readied ramp of the Courageous.

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

She was tired of this wakefulness. She could not sleep with her bed empty when she knew he was to return that smae night. The longer he was gone, the more likely he was to be drunk upon his return. And he was never gentle when he was drunk.

She sat before her mirror and looked back at her own tired face. She was still beautiful. She still had dark blue eyes that were nearly violet. She rested her chin on her hand and studied those eyes--eyes that had been compared to jewels. But tiny lines played about the corners of her eyes and lips, and she knew they would begin to mar the contours of her face in but a few years. She picked up her silver brush and worked through her long graying honey hair. How nice it was to feel it drape her shoulders. She almost never let it fall like this, usually wearing it up, as was proper for a woman of her age and station. No longer could she look like a schoolgirl.

And she missed those days.

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

"They're killing 'im, Sir!" Stiles cried when he saw Lieutenant Hornblower at his shoulder. "We can't get close."

Horatio started hauling men out of the way . . . and got a fist in his face for his trouble. Stiles and Oldroyd jumped on the hapless crewman, fists flying. Horatio started to dive back into the foray, grateful for at least some way to lash out for what was happening to Archie, but a tight grip on his shoulder spun him round. His flying fist narrowly missed Matthews.

"Good God, man," Horatio sputtered.

Matthews spoke in a hard, grissled tone. "This ain't the way, Sir!" he cried. "Those fellows don't know yer an officer."

"All the better!"

"No. Sir!" Matthews was nearly screaming to be heard above the din. "It means court-martial. And you can't help him from the brig."

Horatio opened his mouth to speak, but said nothing. He simply nodded, then clasped his hand on Matthews' shoulder. They turned to make their way back to where they had last seen Archie--threading their way through the crowd instead of trying to manhandle people. Still the wall of people kept them from ever reaching him. Horatio cursed under his breath. Where were Stiles and Oldroyd? He looked around for them, but they had gotten lost in the melee.

Only now the melee was breaking up. The noise was beginning to die down. Horatio and Matthews got within a few yards of the Courageous just Archie surfaced again. A couple of the men Matthews had seen at the Pig were dragging the unconscious prisoner to the deck.

Matthews grabbed the lieutenant's shoulder and got right in his ear. "That one there's one of the bloaks what was talking to Lieutanant Kennedy earlier. He was one of Simpson's buddies." Horatio nodded his understanding. He had to get to the ship. The crowd was thick, but something was strange. Something he couldn't put his finger on. He looked around and realized that, except for Archie and the men moving him, no one was going anywhere.

Why wasn't the crowd rushing the ship?

"Look there, Sir!" Matthews pointed to the stern and saw the commanding figure of Captain Morgan directing the action of the sailors in his command. Horatio sighed heavily. Thank God the man had taken a stand.

He looked back over his shoulder at Matthews--Matthews who took the initiative to keep Horatio from making a serious mistake. Thank God the man had taken a stand. Horatio was about to say as much to his trusted crewman when Matthews leaned close to Horatio's ear. "The Captain seems to have things in hand, Sir. Best if you approach him alone, don't y' think?"

What a good man, Horatio thought. He clasped a strong, friendly hand on Matthews' shoulder. The old man nodded, then ducked his head, embarrassed.

"I'll go see to Mr. Stiles and Mr. Oldroyd?"

"Thank you, Mr. Matthews," Horatio said.

"Aye, Sir."

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

The constant rocking kept lulling him back into the dark sleep. In sleep, nightmare images tormented him--Simpson again and again, Horatio bloodied, the oubliette . . .

Floating under the night sky. . .

The jollyboat? No . . .

The oubliette. He was a prisoner, wasn't he? No escape, no escape. . .

Simpson. No escape from Simpson.

Simpson killing Horatio, killing him . . .

God, no . . .

Waking up in the jollyboat, still floating, floating . . .

Fists everywhere. Hitting him . . . Simpson?

Stay away from him, Horatio. . .

Waking . . . wake up, wake up, wake up. If you don't you'll die. Wake
up.

Waking in the oubliette? Night, dark in the oubliette.

Waking in the dark, waking in the . . .

Waking. With eyes closed. Waking.

In the brig. But not on the Indie.

God, no. Not this. Every inch of his body ached. And he was shackled, hand and foot. Oh, God.

Hands on him. . .

Archie's eyes flew open and he jerked his head up--colliding with someone's jaw.

"Bloody jackass!!" a voice cried.

At the same time:

"Get your g**d**n hands off of me!!!!!" Archie's throaty, terrified voice screamed, and he began to hyperventilate.

"Oh . . . bugger . . . "

Hands on his shoulders holding him down. "God . . . no . . . please . .
."

"Easy, lad. I'm a doctor. I won't hurt you."

"Huh?" Archie couldn't have heard that right. He twisted around to look at the man who was restraining him.

And saw a kind face.

"Who are you?" Archie asked breathlessly.

"Ship's surgeon, name's St. John. You're on the Courageous, lad."

The doctor carefully released Archie's shoulders and pulled around so the frightened young man could see him more easily. St. John offered a reticent smile and spoke softly. "You got knocked about outside and I was checking your injuries."

"They were . . . hitting me."

"I know, son."

"Oh God . . . " Archie nearly choked as he remembered. The Courtyard. The rain. The fight.

The dead lieutenant.

"Try to relax, lad. Breathe easy now. I'll take care of you."

Archie's wheezing became a wry chuckle. "I'm to be hanged in the morning. . . I can't see as it makes any difference."

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

Morgan presided over his ship like a god--a god who inspired something between awe and fear in his crew. And he was all the more terrifying because he was standing in the pouring rain wearing a uniform drenched with the blood of one of his own men.

Horatio started to board the Courageous when a wall of angry and intoxicated men blocked his path. Rough arms grabbed him and threw him against the railing.

"STAND DOWN!!" a voice bellowed and immediately the rowdy crew backed away from Horatio. Morgan made his way to the young lieutenant. His men scurried out of his way.

Horatio stood up and faced the Captain. "Thank you, Sir." Horatio squinted in the rain, but drew his shoulders up, trying to use his height to its full advantage. "I've come to speak to my friend. I fear he may have been hurt in the melee."

"The ship's doctor is tending to him now." Morgan said, then his voice became biting as he mocked Hornblower's words. "He . . . hurt . . . one of my men, Lieutenant."

"I understand that that is how it appears. But . . ."

"It's how it happened!" Morgan cried.

"According to the intoxicated eyewitness." Horatio was already trying to build a case for Archie.

"I AM an eyewitness, Mr. Hornblower."

Horatio stopped cold.

"And I am not intoxicated," Morgan said. "You yourself can attest to that." Clearly frustrated with the relentless rain, Morgan gripped the junior officer's arm and guided him belowdecks. Once inside, the captain paused on the stairs and seemed to be trying to regain his composure. He released the lieutenant and spoke evenly. "I understand your loyalty to your friend, but you cannot defend him. I saw him. I saw what he did."

"Was he defending himself?" Horatio wished he could steady his voice. He hated sounding desperate.

Morgan's eyes narrowed. "He assaulted an unarmed man."

This was impossible. Horatio tried again. "Did he seem . . . out of his head?"

The captain paused, considering. "He was angry. But he knew exactly what he was doing." Then his eyes widened as if in recognition of some lost fact. "Good God, that was the lad from the Justinian--the one who had the fits. Why the hell is he not incarcerated in a sanitarium somewhere? He nearly cost all your lives and now he's killed a fellow officer."

Horatio started to respond when a scream interrupted their conversation.

"HORATIO!!!!!!!!!"

The lieutenant had to do something. He gripped the captain's arm. "Please Sir, let me speak to him. Let me see him. I fear something is very wrong with him." When the captain failed to respond, Horatio's voice became more agitated. "Accompany me, if you want, but . . . "

"Come, Lieutenant." Captain Morgan led Horatio to the brig.

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

Archie finally realized that St. John was a real doctor. No longer did he fight the man.

"Thank you, Sir . . ." Archie gasped, then he noticed that the doctor's jaw was bleeding. "Did I do that?"

The doctor smiled. "It was an accident, lad."

"Oh no . . . I'm so sorry. I didn't mean . . ."

"I know. It's all right."

Archie shakily curled up on the floor of the cell, struggling to stay in control. He tried not to flinch when the doctor checked his ribs and his jaw. He fought to stay conscious. He had to. It was his only hope. If he fell asleep, he couldn't protect himself. If he fell asleep . . .

He'd hold it together. He had to.

At least Horatio was safe. He had been standing there with Matthews, hadn't he? Matthews had given him the message. He must have.

Archie squeezed his eyes closed. God, Horatio, I'm so sorry. I never meant for any of this to happen.

"Easy, lad." The doctor's voice interrupted his thoughts. Archie's eyes fluttered open again. "Did I hurt you?"

"Huh?"

"Did I hurt you?"

"No . . ."

Archie wasn't paying attention to the doctor. He heard something. But it couldn't be. A voice.

Horatio.

Oh, God, no. Horatio could not be on this ship.

But the voice. He heard him. Horatio.

And the Captain.

NO!

"HORATIO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

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

His sleep was heavy. His dreams . . .

Very sweet.

So when the voice insisted that he wake, Pellew resisted.

But the voice kept calling him. And a hand shook him.

"Captain! Sir! Please!"

"All right! All right! What is it?"

Pellew squinted up at the man. "The ship had better be on fire, Sir." The captain reached up and pulled the lantern closer to the intruder's face.

"Matthews?"

"Aye, Sir. Sorry to have to wake you, but there's trouble." Matthews took a step back to allow the captain room to get up.

"What sort of trouble, man?"

"Murder, Sir."

Pellew paced as he listened to Matthews' candid report on the evening's events, then he quickly dispatched the crewman to the Courageous to deliver a note to Captain Morgan.

Pellew still had his clothes on from the night before. He would change his shirt at least. What could have happened out there? This didn't sound like Kennedy at all. He thought about all the possibilities, while he quickly buttoned his crisp, clean shirt.

Damn, he thought, and he buttoned them again, the right way this time.

As he pulled on his jacket, his eyes traveled to his little table and for a brief moment lingered on the brandy snifter.

It had been a nice memory.

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


Horatio ran up to his struggling friend. He couldn't stand seeing him beaten like this. A long ugly bruise covered the side of his face. His lip was bleeding, his right eye was swelling, and he was favoring his side. God, they'd broken his ribs. And were still holding him in shackles. Horatio felt a blistering rage. But as angry as he was seeing his friend's physical condition, there was something else. Something far more troubling.

There was a look on Archie's face he had not ever seen before. Not terror . . . he had witnessed that when Archie awoke in the middle of the night with Simpson's name like a curse on his lips. It wasn't anger, nor was it guilt. No, it was something else entirely. And Horatio couldn't understand it just yet.

"Archie . . . "

"Horatio . . ." Archie was breathless.

"It's all right. I'll help you."

The prisoner fought his shackles to pull himself up. Horatio started to help him, but Archie shook him off. "NO!!" Archie yelled at him. For a moment the prisoner looked at the faces around him as though he were a trapped animal. Then his voice dropped and he hissed at his friend.

"Get off of this ship, Horatio. NOW!" Archie was clearly hurting. But he seemed to be very sure about what he was saying.

"No," Horatio protested. "Not until you tell me what happened."

Morgan interrupted. "Your jaw, St. John . . ?"

"I caught a fist in the hubbub, Sir. I'm fine." Morgan glared at the doctor for a moment, then at Kennedy. All of Archie's attention, however, was unwaiveringly focused on Horatio Hornblower.

"You can't do anything for me, Horatio." Archie's eyes were intense and desperate.

"I can bloody well try."

"No."

"Just tell me what happened." Horatio waited for a reply, but Archie's voice quaked as he warned his friend again. "Get away from me. You CANNOT be here, Horatio."

"Archie . . ." Horatio tried keeping his voice calm.

His friend's voice, by contrast, was becoming even more agitated. "Leave me alone, Horatio. I don't want you here. I don't want you anywhere near me. Do you understand?"

"No, I don't." Horatio would try the same tone of voice he used when Archie had starved himself. "You will tell me what happened, damn you. And I will do everything in my power to help you."

Archie laughed, in that self-effacing way he had. "No. You have no power here." Archie's eyes met Horatio's, and he said, in deadly earnest. "Go, Horatio. Leave me alone. And don't ever come back. You cannot be around me. Not anymore. Do as I say. Please."

"You're not in your right mind."

Damn it, Horatio. Archie muttered under his breath. Why are you so stubborn? Then he addressed his friend. "Don't you get it? I don't want you here. Why can't you just accept that?"

"I don't accept that."

Morgan reached down and put his hand on Horatio's shoulder. "Let's go, Lieutenant.

"NO!" Horatio cried.

Suddenly, Archie was struggling again. He tried to pull himself eye to eye with his friend. His breaths were coming in great gasps. "Go, Horatio. . . Go back to the Indie. . . For God's sake, leave me alone." Archie was almost screaming at him. "Please, I don't want you to see me like this. . ."

Horatio exploded.

"WHY NOT?!"

"BECAUSE I DID IT! DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME? I KILLED HIM. I'M A MURDERER." A hitching sob halted his words a moment. ". . . AND YOU DON'T NEED TO BE ANYWHERE NEAR ME." Archie fell back to his knees and waved everyone away. "NOW GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!!!!!!!"

Horatio couldn't believe what he was hearing. "SHUT UP, YOU BLOODY FOOL. YOU'RE INCRIMINATING YOURSELF."

"BECAUSE I'M GUILTY!! God, Horatio, you're a pig-headed idiot sometimes." Archie was out of breath and had to pause. Finally he gasped. "Just go."

Morgan put a sympathetic arm around Horatio. "Come on, son. He doesn't want you here . . ."

Horatio resisted the captain's efforts guide him away from his friend. Archie once more fought his shackles, and lurched forward, as though he were going to attack. His expression became almost maniacal. And he fought the hoarseness and the gasping. "Just get away from this ship, Horatio." Archie took another sobbing breath. "Stay away from here . . ."

Horatio stopped fighting finally. His voice softened. "All right, Archie." Horatio moved very slowly toward the prisoner. Then he reached out and gently touched his friend's bruised face. "I'll go. It's going to be all right." Archie trembled, and his eyes filled. Archie was finally silent. He nodded, relieved. Horatio took one long last look at his dearest friend and turned to go. The captain started to guide him away, but Horatio halted him.

"I can find my way out, Sir." The captain was a bit surprised, but he stepped back. Horatio nodded to the doctor caring for his friend.

And he left.

He'd stay away.

For now.

But he wasn't about to give up. He was just getting started.

He finally realized what the look was in Archie's eyes.

Resignation.

Absolute and complete resignation.

And that would be harder to fight than fear or anger.

Because there was nothing left to fight.


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Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six