Red Sky at Morning, part 7a
by Sarah B.


Dawn the next day was gray and depressing, but as he came above decks Horatio drank in the meager light desperately. He had never been so happy to see daylight come.

The previous night had been among the hardest of his entire life. For hours he had tossed on his bunk, unable to erase the words he had heard, or banish the horrible, terrifying images they caused.

There was no trying with Simpson, sir. If he wanted to break you, he did.

He caught Mr. Kennedy by the collar and yelled that he had to be taught a lesson -

-he took him, sir. The way a man takes a woman.

Horatio wrapped his cloak about himself and shivered. Those words had echoed in his head, forcing him to dwell on them, taking away his sleep. He couldn't stop thinking of those dark days on the Justinian, of Archie's vacant, hopeless eyes, and he had never understood, never known the depth of Simpson's evil, until last night. And now he could never forget.

And then, when he finally had fallen asleep, what nightmares! Every blow, every insult, every act of depravity Simpson had ever visited on him had returned, mingling with disembodied feelings of anguish and despair so intense that Horatio had awakened with a cry on more than one occasion. There had been no peaceful sleep for him that night, nor would there be until this was over. Horatio knew that now. Archie's soul had been crying out for help since before they had met, and now that it had been laid bare Horatio knew he must give help, or be destroyed trying. It was his duty, as Archie's friend and as a superior officer with knowledge that could affect the court-martial proceedings, and possibly save Archie's life.

If only Horatio could figure out a way to reveal it...

The harbor was a little lighter now, the Courageous clearer against the murky waters and murkier sky. There was movement about the decks, and Horatio saw a group of people gathering around one of the entryways, and something lying on a plank and covered with a British flag.

A burial at sea. Creps.

Horatio watched in fascinated revulsion as the men of the Courageous prepared to bury their dead shipmate. How could they give him honors - how could they say holy words - how could they do such a thing when his death had come as the just result of protection against a loathsome act? Horatio had to swallow hard against the bile in his throat. It was against all reason.

Horatio stared at the shrouded corpse and shook his head; it was all so clear now, what had happened, the cause of the entire incident that had ended with the loss of Creps' life. Creps was like Simpson, Matthews had said. Horatio closed his eyes, shuddered as he pictured Archie at the tavern, waiting for him, perhaps Creps had said something that made Archie want Horatio to stay away, but before he could get away himself Creps had caught him, and tried - and tried -

No. Horatio could not picture it. It hurt too much.

Of course, Archie would never talk about it. It was unspoken even among men who were agreeable to such an act, but to have it forced - and for years, by Simpson, to be humiliated and tortured, then freed, only to endure it again by another hand...of course, Archie would tell no one what had actually happened.

Not even to free himself, Horatio thought sadly as he turned around to face the town, now dimly visible in the morning gloom. He thought of Fredericks and Clayton, two people who had been Archie's friends, and now both dead. He thought of how Archie had been in the Spanish prison, determined to die so Horatio and the others could escape. He had never told Horatio about the demons that were tormenting him, never confessed the bondage that Simpson still held clamped around his soul. Had never said a word, but simply faded away until at last he was nearly dead. Nearly dead. And had fought so hard when Horatio tried to drag him back to life...

You don't need me...

Dammit Archie, I do need you, Horatio thought angrily. I need you to stand up to Simpson, to Creps, and show them you're not afraid of them any longer. I know your courage and your strength, but they'll die with you if you don't fight back. And I will fight with you, but I fear you don't believe that. You only know that Pierson deserted you, that Fredericks died and Clayton was badly injured and Simpson told you it was your fault, but it wasn't, and dammit Archie! How can I make you understand that true friendship is worth any price? And how can I free you when I need your words to do it, and those words are so terrible that they will be locked inside of you forever?

I cannot save you, Archie. And I am so afraid that you will not save yourself.

The daylight was stronger now, and when Horatio turned back to the Courageous he saw more men moving about its decks, the entire ship's company gathering to witness the burial. The heavy-cloaked, gold-braided form of Captain Morgan came into view, and Horatio repressed a shudder. He recalled the previous evening's conversation, the captain's hawklike stare and his almost threatening demeanor when his offer for Horatio to join his ship was refused. At first Horatio had admired Captain Morgan, then been wary of him. Now...now the wariness was verging on dislike.

But still, for all his bluster Horatio knew that Captain Morgan's first interest had to be in justice, and he began to think about what he might say to Morgan that would help Archie's defense. He could not condemn Creps without evidence - Morgan would laugh in his face if he attempted it. But for there to be evidence Archie would have to tell someone, and Horatio knew he would never do it. But there was no other way to convince the captain - who was hell-bent on avenging his lieutenant's death - that Archie was innocent. So Archie would be court-martialed, condemned to death, and hanged from the yardarm by a rope hoisted by the Courageous' own men. Then he would be dead.

Horatio's eyes drifted to the shroud that sat silently on the entranceway plank and thought, dead... and after Archie was dead there would be no solemn ceremony, no flag-draped shroud, no earnest prayers for his scarred, immortal soul. There would only be the drop of the rope, some strangers' hands grabbing his now-useless body, and then cast into a common grave or overboard, and lost to them all forever.

But no - no, it would not end that way. Horatio took a deep breath, glared at the Courageous and its duplicitious crew, his heart seizing at the injustice of the scene before him. This was wrong, this was cruel, as cruel as Mariette's death and the crushing defeat at Muzillac. He had been unable to stop those tragedies but this...No, by God. He would not stand by while Creps was lauded, and Archie vilified. He would not allow the shadow of the past to lay claim to Archie's future. And by God - by God - he would think of some way to convince his friend to tell the truth. And he would see Archie set free, no matter what it took.

He only had to reason out how to do it.

"Ahoy Indefatigable!"

Horatio turned his head. Someone was hailing them, from the other side of the ship closer to the town. It was a faint voice, still far away and lost in the fog. Already Lieutenant Bracegirdle was making his way over, so Horatio ignored the visitor and turned his burning eyes to the Courageous once more.

Bracegirdle's voice was loud and booming. "Shore boat ahoy! Identify yourself!"

"I need to speak to Captain Pellew," came the returning call, a little closer now. "Is he on board or ashore?"

"And what do you want with him?"

"I'll explain when I don't have to shout!"

Horatio listened to this exchange with only one ear, but still something about that hailing voice struck him as a bit familiar. He shrugged it off and began to pace the deck as the men of the Courageous began the service to bury Creps at sea.

Across the deck he could see Bracegirdle peering over the side of the ship, one hand on the great ropes that ran up to the mast.

"You're close enough now, young man," Bracegirdle said, looking straight down - at their visitor, Horatio guessed, "Now what do you want to see the captain for?"

"My apologies," Came a reasonable, even voice from below them, "I thought it might be disrespectful to the burial to continue yelling. I'm here to offer my legal service in regards to Mr. Kennedy."

Horatio looked up.

"Well, then," Bracegirdle replied, leaning over to apparently help the young man aboard. Horatio took a step closer, saw first two hands, a blue cloak, then finally a man as young as he was appear over the side of the Indefatigable. As Bracegirdle assisted him, Horatio looked more closely and saw that this person was a full head shorter than Bracegirdle, with curly dark hair and a wide, smiling face. He was dressed in plain civilian clothes. I know him, Horatio realized with a start. I *know* him -

The young man smiled at Bracegirdle and adjusted his cloak. "Thank you, sir."

"First Lieutenant Anthony Bracegirdle. And you are?"

"My God! Terry Whitehall!"

The young man looked up at Horatio's startled exclamation, his own surprised expression echoing Bracegirdle's. Horatio didn't care, he came forward and blurted out, "It is you. How on earth!"

Terry's momentary confusion gave way to astonished recognition, and he instantly put his hand out and took Horatio's warmly. "Good Lord, Horatio! I didn't recognize you!"

"Nor I you," Horatio said in wonderment as he shook his head. "It's been seven or eight years, at least. Your hair was lighter then."
"Yes, and I was taller than you too!" Terry laughed. He barely came to Horatio's shoulder.

Bracegirdle still looked confused. "Do you mean to tell me you gentlemen know each other?"

Horatio was still dazed by the experience, but grinned and said, "Mr. Whitehall's family has known mine since we were both children. Which reminds me, how is Trudy?"

"She's well, Horatio," Terry said, his expression sobering, "But we'll have time to catch up on family talk later. I need to talk to your captain right away."

Horatio's eyes swept over Terry's frame. "Father told me you were on the bar. You've come to help Ar- help Mr. Kennedy?"

"Yes, and from what I've heard in town we don't have a moment to lose. Barring a miracle, at this moment your acting lieutenant is fast on his way to the hangman's noose."

Horatio shook his head in wonder, overwhelmed at this sudden miracle of fortune. A few moments ago he had despaired over how to help Archie, and now - now like an aurora in a night sky this forgotten friend had come, and wanted to help. It was almost too good to be true.

The sudden, faint sound of a drum roll made all three men look up toward the deck of the Courageous. As they watched, the men on that ship all stood stiff and silent as the plank bearing Creps' body shifted upward, and his white-clad corpse dropped heavily into the sea. On that ship, nothing else moved.

For a moment, Horatio simply stared at that somber spectacle, a wave of dread coursing through him. Terry's next words didn't help.

"Fast on his way. And from what I hear, I'm the only solicitor in England who's willing to help him."

Bracegirdle ushered Terry away, but Horatio's eyes remained fixed on the rippling waters next to the Courageous, staring at them in horrified wonder, as if he was hypnotized. His joy had been tempered; Archie was not free yet. After a long moment Horatio's gaze wandered up its side, to the gold-braided figure that was striding like a titan across the lower deck, parting his crew before him and leaving cowering servility in his wake. Horatio watched this and felt another, deeper wave of dread. And knew that Terry was right. But still it did not diminish his resolve. With his help, and now Terry Whitehall's help, Archie would be vindicated and freed. It would happen.

Whatever it took.

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

For a long time before he awoke, Archie thought he was home.

No, not quite home; in the stables behind Kennedy Manor, sleeping in the warm straw in the hayloft at one end of the horse barn. He was young, only five years old, and his older brothers had left him behind again, and he had been so upset at being abandoned that he had hid in the hayloft. And now he was just waking up...

Archie stirred and felt the gentle scratch of the straw against his face, smiling at the drowsy feeling of security it brought him. Security, because soon his mother would come looking for him; she was the only one in the whole family that remembered that every time he ran away, he could be found in the hayloft. She always looked, and she always found him, and Archie was always happy when she did. Even though she was always angry in that funny worried-angry way that was part 'Thank God you're all right' and 'Now I'm going to punish you'. She was always angry, but she had never given up on him and not looked.

She would be coming soon. Archie burrowed a little deeper into the straw, basking in its musky warmth. It wasn't a very nice thing to do, he supposed; it did worry mama when she couldn't find him, and one of these days his brothers would notice when he was gone and come poking in the hayloft with pitchforks, just to show him. Then he'd be sorry, he knew...

But it felt so good to be found. He'd tell God he was sorry later, but it just felt so wonderful when he heard his mother's voice calling his name, and knew that she cared about him, and was looking. Then he'd pop up out of the straw and she'd say, "Archie, there you are! I've been looking all over for you!" And she would look so happy to see him. The feeling he got then, looking into her bright blue eyes, was warmer than the hay, warmer than the down quilt she had made for him, warmer than her hugs even. It felt so good to be found, certainly God would let him be just a little naughty. It couldn't be that much of a sin. Not when the world was big and empty the other times, not when you had brothers who hit you when nobody was looking and a father who called you names when you cried. It wasn't wrong to want to be found, when you knew how much it hurt to be lost, was it?

Daylight was coming. Soon his mother would be here, and it would be all right. Archie curled himself up in the straw, and smiled sleepily in anticipation.

And felt a hot pain slice through both his wrists.

He gasped, and his eyes flew open in painful shock. Oh, that had hurt! What -

He blinked, looked around, and remembered where he was. When he was. And what had happened to him.

"Well!" A sarcastic, slurring voice said, "His mighty lordship's awake!"

Archie took a deep breath and looked up, through the thick iron bars of his jail cell. The gaoler was lounging at his scrap of a desk, both feet up and his eyes looking at Archie as if he was some kind of beetle that had crawled from under the floor. Archie looked away quickly, and slowly uncurled himself from the straw he'd been sleeping on. He could not stand how heavy his heart felt. It had all been a dream.

His wrists hurt very badly. They were still bandaged, but there was a acid smart to them, and Archie flinched as he tried to move them.

"'Ey!" The gaoler called out suspiciously. "'ow'd you get them chains off?"

"Oh - " Archie cleared his throat; his mouth was very dry. He looked over to the next cell, to where he had last seen the kind woman - Rose - who had taken pity on him, and who he had promised to shelter from her own demons, and repay her.

The next cell was empty. Rose was not there.

Feeling suddenly even more bereft, Archie glanced back at the gaoler to see that the scruffy man was wearing a face of disgust. "I mighta known! That whore has more tricks up her sleeve than a pickpocket's monkey."

Archie gazed at the empty pile of straw that still lay pushed against the bars of Rose's cell. "Where is she?"

"Gone," The gaoler said sourly, rising reluctantly and walking over to a low bench where a bucket and bowl sat. "I don't run a bloody inn. She done 'er time and begone wi' 'er."

Archie nodded, and understood. Of course, he understood. She had generously given him a little bit of kindness, and then gone on her way. It had happened before, after all. Unconsciously, he drew his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, and stared at the door.

The gaoler picked up the bowl and a ladle from the bucket. Scooping something into the bowl, he sauntered over to Archie's cell and shoved the bowl through the bars, spilling part of its contents in the process. As soon as that act was finished, he turned away from the bars as if Archie were a contagious disease.

Archie eyed the bowl and shook his head. "I'm not hungry."

The gaoler shrugged. "Starve then. Do all of England a favor."

Archie curled his body tighter and began to draw into himself. He didn't fight it - what would be the point? - and as he faded away he found his gaze drawn irresistibly to the rough wooden bowl and its unappetizing contents. It was true, he didn't feel hungry. He should have, but he didn't. He didn't feel hungry or thirsty, hot or cold...it was as if he was slowly disappearing, one sense at a time, withdrawing from the world gradually rather than all at once. Was that how it was to be? Could he take himself away, so it wouldn't matter anymore when they pronounced the sentence, and he was taken to hang? Perhaps he could...perhaps by that time, nothing would matter and he would be dead inside before they ever tightened the noose. Perhaps he would feel...

Archie shuddered and hugged himself tighter. He would feel the way he did just after his mother died, when he once again hid in the hayloft and no one came looking for him. A stunning, sharp blow to the soul, then nothingness. Nothingness that would remain with him for seven years, would drift inside him on Justinian, and form itself into a welcome haven when the nightmares truly began. Nothingness that had faded, but had never completely gone away and now...

...now it was the only refuge he had left.

Archie felt himself sink into the dull, soft-edged vacancy that had been his only home for so many years, and only as he lay back down to close his eyes did he happen to glance into the next cell. It was then that he noticed something lying beneath the straw, something that was not straw and not the earth of the gaol floor. Archie's eyes flicked to the gaoler, but he was already dozing at his chair and paying Archie no mind at all. Slowly, Archie reached through the bars and shifted a little of the straw away, and saw what it was.

The pick. The slender pick that Rose had used to pry his chains off. Its positioning told Archie this was not an accidental loss - the pick was lying in a shallow depression scraped into the earth, and well-hidden from the gaoler's eye by strategically arranged piles of straw. No, Rose had not merely lost this pick - she had meant for Archie to find it.

But why? Archie slid his fingers around the pick and cautiously dragged it to his side of the cell. She might have intended for him to escape, but surely she would know that he could never escape with a marine at the gaol door. Some kind of defense, perhaps?

Archie fingered the pick and felt some of his battered soul reawaken. It didn't really matter why Rose had left the pick. To him it was a silent reminder that someone had cared, in the dark when he was alone and hurting. One last time, he had been found, and it had felt good. He could carry the memory to his death, and not feel as if he had been completely cheated.

Hioratio was far from him now; all other help was gone. But there was this, on what might be the final full day of his life. And, strangely, it was enough.

Archie slipped the pick into his shirt, and curled himself up once more into the comforting, warm depths of the straw. Before long he was hiding in the hayloft again, and five years old. And patiently waiting to be found.

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

Captain Julius Morgan glared at the Indefatigable as he strode across the Courageous' deck, away from the scattering rabble that had gathered to watch Creps' body make its final appearance on the earth. It was a gloomy day, damp and foggy, and seeing that miserable ship was only making his black mood worse. He could make out the slender form of Hornblower on the deck, just for a few minutes before the lieutenant turned and walked away, but it was enough to make him angry. Angry and determined.

There were footsteps behind him, First Lieutenant Lafferty's voice behind him. "Sir?"

Morgan stopped, turned enough to see the young man almost cowering behind him. "Yes, Lieutenant?"

Lafferty looked around apprehensively; Morgan noticed he was very pale. "Sir, I need to talk to you - it's about Lieutenant Creps."

"Careful, Lafferty," Morgan said, with a frown cast toward the spot where Creps' body had slid beneath the waves, "It is bad luck to speak ill of the dead."

"Yes, sir," Lafferty said helplessly, "But - I found something in his cabin, sir, and I'm afraid - well - " he dropped his voice to a whisper, "I'm afraid we might not be able to help it."

Captain Morgan's glare became deeper, and he turned toward his cabin. "Follow me."

****************************
Captain Pellew sifted through the papers the earnest young solicitor had given him, trying not to make eye contact with the boy as he read them. He had spent a restless night, and after the hopelessness of the past few days this arrival seemed to him a Godsend. But it would not do to have his joy be too obvious, and in his present condition it was bound to show in his eyes...

He cleared his throat and said, "Well, you certainly have the proper credentials, Mr. Whitehall. Would you mind if I asked how you heard of Mr. Kennedy's court-martial?"

"Not at all, sir," Terry replied with a slight bow. He was composed and graceful despite his short, stocky stature, Pellew noticed. Or perhaps because of it. "I've been some time in London, and was on my way home to Devon, by way of several small towns along the way. In one of them I happened to hear of a dockside murder, and a criminal no one would take a hundred pounds to defend. I figured he must be guilty until I heard some of my colleagues discussing what they'd been offered to *not* defend him."

Pellew's eyes grew dark. "Then you surmised he must be innocent?"

Terry shrugged. "I am always eager to champion the underdog, sir."

Bracegirdle, who was standing near Pellew's shoulder, looked at his captain aghast. "This is unconscionable, sir. If someone is offering money so Kennedy is not defended - "

Pellew's eye remained on Terry, and he waved his hand. "I agree, Mr. Bracegirdle, but for the moment let us remain fastened on our objective. Once Mr. Kennedy is released we may deal with that 'someone' at our leisure. And I promise you he *will* be dealt with." Pellew lowered his hand and continued to gaze at Terry. "I take it that unlike your colleagues you were offered no money?"

"Oh, it's possible someone thought about it," Terry admitted, "But my practice is small, and I'm wagering they thought I wasn't worth the bother. From what I understand, everyone considers the case fairly solid in any case, and the solicitor who defends Kennedy is out for a death sentence."

Pellew raised his eyebrows. "Literally or figuratively?"

Terry's smile was confident as he shrugged again. "Doesn't matter to me, sir. Literally, I go to Heaven. Figuratively...well, I'm small and mighty hard to catch."

"And you're certain you can prove Kennedy guiltless?"

Terry paused, and looked down at Pellew's desk. "Well, sir, I can only use what evidence is given me, so to answer honestly I must say it depends on Mr. Kennedy. But I will say that I was unsure over whether to take this case until I heard Horatio - that is, Mr. Hornblower's name connected to Mr. Kennedy's."

Pellew cocked his head. "And that changed your mind?"

Terry straightened and looked Pellew squarely in the eye. "Captain Pellew, if Horatio has been on your ship more than five minutes I don't have to tell you what kind of a person he is. Even when we were children he had a heart as loyal, as true, and as upstanding as the blue in the British flag. There is no doubt in my mind that he would have no friend who would commit the murder that was described to me."

Pellew glanced at Bracegirdle; then he looked back at Terry and said, "Well, Mr. Whitehall, provided the Admiralty has no objections, I accept you as Mr. Kennedy's adjutant. I will deliver a letter to the Admiralty stating the situation, and with luck we can postpone Mr. Kennedy's trial until tomorrow at the very least. I'm afraid you have little time to prepare, so I suggest you find your way into this case as quickly as possible."

Terry seemed to relax visibly. "Thank you, sir."

"Do not thank me yet, Mr. Whitehall," Pellew said with a look of warning. "I'm afraid when it comes to the prosecution, you don't know quite whom you are dealing with."

"Oh, I don't mind, sir," Terry replied with a self-assured grin, "As my sister is fond of saying, I'm the most tenacious little fox-terrier there is. And I love a good fight!"

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

First Lieutenant Lafferty stood as still as he could as Captain Morgan looked over the letters he had found under Creps' bunk, and tried not to sweat too visibly. It was very hard.

As soon as the captain had the letters in his hand, he began to pace his cabin. Morgan's cabin was large, but when he was angry and paced it suddenly had all the dimensions of a coffin. And was about as comfortable.

And Morgan was angry. Lafferty could tell by the way he hunched his shoulders as he leafed through the papers, page after page of information, all written in French. All very damning.

At last Morgan stopped pacing and turned one glowering eye to Lafferty. "Where did you say you found these?"

Lafferty swallowed. God, his throat was dry! "Underneath his bunk, sir. Far underneath, very well hidden."

Morgan's response was a low growl, and he continued to leaf through them. Lafferty decided to be bold and asked, "Do you know what they are, sir? Why he would have them?"

Morgan resumed pacing, and was frowning in a calculating way Lafferty had seen before. He's thinking of a way to cover this up, Lafferty thought. I was right about them. My God...

But if Creps had been a spy, Morgan was not willing to admit it. Straightening up to his full height - his head almost brushed the ceiling - Morgan asked in a low voice, "Who else knows of these letters?"

"Um - " Lafferty had to think for a moment. "Lieutenant Stephens, he was with me when I found them. No one else, sir."

Morgan folded up the letters and tucked them into his jacket pocket. "Find Lieutenant Stephens, tell him I want to see him as soon as we return. The *minute* we return."

"Yes, sir," Lafferty nodded, then paused and asked, "Return?"

Morgan pierced Lafferty with his gaze. "Ready my personal boat, lieutenant. I must go see Captain Pellew at once, on the Indefatigable."

*****************************************
Horatio walked about the quarterdeck, his hands behind his back and his mind spinning in a million different directions at once. He could hardly complete a thought without another one bouncing on top of it, and the end result was that he simply stopped trying to think at all. He merely paced on the deck, and waited for Terry to finish speaking with Captain Pellew.

As he waited, he watched Matthews, Styles, and Oldroyd as they sat in the morning gloom mending a torn sail. The previous evening's conversation came to his mind again, and Horatio cast his eyes on the deck, afraid that his men would pity his weakness, now that they had seen him so undone. Styles and Matthews were already casting him concerned looks, and it galled Horatio that his men should eye him with such obvious worry. But, strangely, it was a bond among them now. They all knew. Only Oldroyd, who Horatio thought probably never really knew the depths of Simpson's depravity, kept his eyes on the sail and never looked up.

He is the lone innocent among us now, Horatio realized. I envy him for it...

The weather was still foul, cloudy and hinting strongly of rain. Horatio glanced up at the leaden sky and idly wondered what sunlight looked like, it seemed to have been so long since he'd seen it. Months...

A memory stirred, and Horatio's gaze wandered to the foremast, now a dark spike against the marbled morning sky. There had been sunlight when he'd ascended that rigging, the full warm sun of a bright future. He'd stood on the top yardarm and drunk his fill of it, took it into his lungs and let it nourish him. Muzillac had seemed only minutes past, but at that moment he was cleansed of its hurts and failures, and felt only the brilliant promise of days to come.

Had it been that recently? Surely not. For Archie had been by his side then, his own ruddy face beaming with the dream that the past could be forgotten, that sins could be forgiven, that hurts could mend and the black smears of misfortune wiped out. The sun had been shining on both of them then, and it seemed as if it would shine forever.

Horatio dropped his gaze and shook his head. It was too painful to recall that morning, when there was nothing but rain and darkness now. Perhaps, soon, there would be sun again. He had only to hold on to the memory, and hope.

He hadn't realized that Matthews was standing next to him until he heard the nervous clearing of the other man's throat. Only then did Horatio blink himself out of his melancholy. Throwing on a stern expression he looked at Matthews and said, "Yes?"

Matthews glanced quickly over his shoulder, then said, "The sail's just about mended, sir, and you said there'd be more to do once that was done."

"Oh - " Horatio scanned the deck quickly. Blast it, he'd let his concentration slip completely! What if Pellew saw this? Then he remembered. "Yes, Matthews, as soon as you've finished with the sails see if we have enough rainwater to wash the hammocks in. I don't think we quite finished them from yesterday."

"Aye aye, sir," Matthews said with a nod, and began to turn away. Then he turned back and said, "Mr. Hornblower?"

Horatio had begun to sink into his reverie again, pulled himself out of it and looked at Matthews quizzically.

"There's been summat floatin' about that Mr. Kennedy's got a solicitor now. That so?"

Horatio once again marveled at the swiftness of shipboard talk, and nodded. "If he meets with the captain's approval, yes."

Matthews' expression became at once anxious and hopeful, and he stepped a little closer to Horatio as he asked, "Ye think he can help?"

Horatio smiled. "He's an old friend of mine, and very gifted. I'm sure he'll do his best."

"And will ye...will y'be tellin' him what we talked about last night?"

Horatio started, suddenly realizing what Matthews was afraid of. "Don't worry, Matthews, I would not so thoughtlessly betray your confidence. Unless Mr. Kennedy speaks of it himself, no one will know what words passed between us."

Matthews seemed mollified, but his face grew dark. "Mr. Kennedy won't speak of it, sir. I don't know that he even remembers."

Horatio felt a catch in his throat, and looked down at the deck so his eyes would not betray him. Did Archie remember the night Simpson tore his soul to shreds, and left him bleeding and forsaken in the bowels of the Justinian? No...if there was a God, and He was merciful, no.

But Horatio now carried the memory for him. And that was enough.

Aware that Matthews was still standing beside him, Horatio said quietly, "I'll let you men know if I hear anything further regarding Mr. Kennedy. And...thank you for your candor last night. If nothing else, at least I may use the knowledge to coax him into revealing what happened the night Creps was murdered."

Matthews' smile was tentative, but he nodded all the same. "Right, sir. We'll get on those sails straight away."

And he knuckled his forehead to Horatio, and walked back to his comrades.

Horatio watched the old sailor go and felt a surge of gratitude. If there was any evidence that Simpson's evil could not last, it was these men who had once been his dogs, and were now King's men. He had seen them at their worst, foul with idleness and beaten by Simpson's bullying ways, and now - now they stood straight, with a proud gleam in their eyes and a willingness to help. If they could cast off the chains that once seemed to bind them so fast, then surely Archie could as well. His disgrace and death were not a certainty. They couldn't be...

"Horatio!"

Terry Whitehall's voice came booming from the doorway to the captain's cabin, and Horatio turned toward it to see Terry walking toward him with a satisfied grin on his face. Setting his hat on his head as he reached Horatio's side, Terry adjusted his cloak about his shoulders and said, "Are you available for a visit to town?"

Horatio blinked and took a deep breath. "Did everything go all right with the captain?"

"Better," Terry replied, pulling a slender leather pouch from under his arm. "He's accepted me as Mr. Kennedy's adjutant, is setting about getting his court-martial delayed, and told me to get started right away. Naturally I'd like to talk to the accused as soon as possible, and the captain told me you would show me the way. But he'd like to talk to you first."

Horatio's stomach dropped at that last statement. Terry seemed to flip it offhandedly, as if it meant nothing, but there was a weight to his words that suggested to Horatio that he knew they were important, and did not want Horatio to panic; but he did want him to act.

Terry squinted at the faraway town and nodded to himself. "I'll be waiting when you get back."

Horatio tried to swallow his fear, and let it mingle with the painful hope that he might have a chance to talk to Archie again. Then he left Terry standing at the rail, and went to see his captain.

***********************************************
The knock on Pellew's door was hesitant, almost timid; but he heard it anyway. "Come."

The door opened, and Hornblower entered. Pellew glanced at him, a quick glance only, because he did not want the youth reading things in his eyes that he did not want him to see. Emotions could be an officer's undoing, and a captain's death warrant; and to show them now, Pellew knew, would be all of their undoing.

So he merely glanced at Hornblower, clasped his hands behind his back and walked slowly around the desk. Slowly, to absorb the raging temper that threatened to flare like ship made of kindling. He could not show his anger now; later, when this was done, it would be time. Later.

But, by God! How many hours had he scoured the streets of Plymouth for someone to represent his officer, and had nothing to show for it? How much weariness had he felt, how much hopeless and cynical despair, and all because help had been blocked at every turn.

And Pellew knew by whom. He knew exactly who was to blame.

He could never prove it. Julius Morgan was exceptionally clever, and had always known how to create an advantage and make it seem merely fortuitous. But it was obvious just the same that when he had told Pellew that he wouldn't find a solicitor between there and London to take Kennedy's case, he wasn't being merely conversational. He had already made sure it would happen.

Pellew seethed, and tried in vain to hide it. Whitehall was more than qualified to plead Kennedy's case, but he would be a minuscule David going against a very mighty - and very devious - Goliath. It was becoming clear to Pellew that justice would have no place in this trial, nor Kennedy a fair chance unless some words were said in his defense, from him, who had so recently marked himself guilty and condemned himself to die. To be fair - to be rational - to be the objective captain he must be to survive, Pellew knew he must stand back and leave Kennedy to live or die by his own devices.

But there was no objectivity here, and certainly no fairness. So Pellew had thought of Hornblower.

Oh, God, Pellew thought as he studied the haggard young man standing at attention before his desk. There were circles under his eyes, and a sickly pallor to his fair skin. Muzillac had put the weight of the world onto his shoulders, and this tragedy had added the weight of the netherworld as well. The injustice of this whole affair rankled Pellew, and he wanted it to end. Now, as soon as possible. So, he cleared his throat and spoke.

"Mr. Hornblower, your presence here suggests to me that Mr. Whitehall has told you that I have accepted him as Mr. Kennedy's solicitor."

Hornblower nodded. "Yes, sir."

"And he may have also told you that he will be paying Mr. Kennedy a visit shortly, to hear his story and prepare his defense."

Another nod, a blank, expressionless face. "Yes, sir."

Pellew turned to look at Hornblower now, pouring every ounce of command he possessed into his words. "Understand me, Hornblower. I meant what I said on the Courageous yesterday. Mr. Kennedy has pleaded guilty to a murder offense, and nothing short of an act of God can save him from the noose. You may accompany Mr. Whitehall, but you cannot lead Mr. Kennedy in any way when Mr. Whitehall questions him, do you understand?"

Hornblower swallowed, and tilted his head. "Perfectly, sir."

The agony in those eyes - why did Pellew think it had not been so intense when he had seen Hornblower the previous evening? Turning his gaze to the light rain pattering at his cabin windows, Pellew was about to dismiss Hornblower when he heard that unsure young voice say, "Sir - if I may be so bold - "

Here it comes. Pellew turned. "Yes, Mr. Hornblower?"

Some color had returned to Hornblower's cheeks, but he still stared straight ahead as he stammered, "Yesterday you commanded me to keep my distance from Mr. Kennedy. I was wondering if I could know why you changed your mind."

There was the question. Of course Hornblower would want to know. Pellew sighed and looked at the gleaming floorboards as he spoke. "Because, Mr. Hornblower, it is my hope that your presence may invoke some - recollection in Mr. Kennedy's mind, that he would otherwise conceal from an unfamiliar third party. It is my hope - that he may in some way recant, and save himself."

What was that in Hornblower's eyes just then? Agreement? Hope? Something that fairly shouted, but Hornblower did not give voice to it; he merely ducked his head and nodded a little, his exhausted eyes on the wooden floor beneath them.

Pellew's heart went out to Hornblower, but his gaze was stern as he walked around the desk and stood next to the youth to look him straight in the eye. "Remember, Mr. Hornblower, you are Mr. Whitehall's escort only. Any impropriety may only tighten the noose, not remove it. Is that clear?"

Hornblower met that gaze, and returned it tenfold. "Yes sir." A slight pause. "Thank you, sir."

Pellew permitted himself a slight smile, to hide the anguish he felt at hearing this young man thank him for allowing him one last visit to the friend he would likely never see alive again. "Off you go, Mr. Hornblower." He said quietly.

And did not run one hand over his aching, world-weary face until Hornblower was gone, and the door was safely closed behind him.

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

Terry Whitehall was quite happy to stand on the deck of the Indefatigable and wait for Horatio's return. He had never been aboard a ship before, and marveled at the great amount of activity that was occurring, even on a ship at rest.

He walked around in a small circle, looking far overhead to where men scampered up and down the riggings, then down lower to where the crew was mending sails, checking the cannon, and generally tending to the ship. It seemed a positive beehive of activity, and they were in the harbor! What was it like when they were at battle? Terry shook his head in amazement.

He looked across the deck and saw that helpful officer from earlier, what was his name, Brace-something? He had shown Terry back above decks and was now shouting off the deck at someone, sounded like they wanted to come aboard like he had. Other men, sailors and marines, were beginning to run about, as if preparing for something. Curious, Terry wandered over to where the officer was standing.

The officer saw him and smiled. "Ah, Mr. Whitehall, I trust you have seen that Mr. Hornblower has gone to the captain?"

Terry nodded, and noticed a small boat coming towards them, although in the damp and fog it was difficult to see who might be in it. "More visitors? This is a very popular ship!"

The officer shook his head, and Terry saw that he wore a serious expression. "At this moment I wish it were less so. They'll be coming aboard, Mr. Whitehall, you'd best stand back from the entryway."

Terry did as he was told, feeling somewhat foolish for allowing himself to become a potential hazard. The men arranged themselves in straight rows, and one of them produced a slender pipe which he fingered impatiently.

.After a few minutes a hand popped up over the railing, then a head, and Terry saw a young man with dark hair wearing a heavy cloak struggling his way over the side of the railing.

In an instant, Terry took one arm as Bracegirdle took the other, and hauled the young man aboard.

"Thank you," The young man straightened his hat, and saluted to Bracegirdle. "First Lieutenant Lafferty, coming aboard, sir."

The Indefatigable officer merely smiled at him, and they all quickly stepped away from the entranceway. Lafferty slipped on the wet planking, and Terry caught him before he fell.

"Watch yourself," Terry warned him amiably as he helped the young man right himself.

"Um, thank - " Lafferty turned to Terry and looked at his civilian clothes with a puzzled frown. "You're not a naval officer."

"Oh - no, I'm Terry Whitehall, Archie Kennedy's legal representation." Terry held out his hand with a smile.

Lafferty took it automatically, but then Terry saw his face go from blank indifference to sudden shock as he suddenly blinked and said, "You're who?"

Terry opened his mouth to explain again when the man holding the pipe began to blow it shrilly, and he was forced to hasten out of the entranceway. Someone else came over the railing, someone Bracegirdle and a marine were helping very carefully. At first Terry thought it might be a bear, it was so large, but after a moment he realized it was a tall, large man wrapped in a very dark - and very expensive cape. He was wearing a hat with captain's braid on it.

On his arrival, Lafferty immediately turned away from Terry and straightened up, as did everyone else. Terry noticed Bracegirdle handling him with some deference, but judging from his face not a lot of affection.

The tall man shook his cloak out and glared at the officer. "I must speak to Captain Pellew at once."

Bracegirdle nodded, and began to lead him away.

Terry noticed that Lafferty was not following his captain, was in fact still looking at Terry with eyes that were at once surprised and suspicious. Clearing his throat Lafferty said, "Captain Morgan?"

The tall man, Captain Morgan, stopped and turned around. At the same time Terry heard footsteps on his right, and Horatio appeared, looking at Lafferty and then Captain Morgan before saying to Terry, "Mr. Whitehall, there you are. Come on, the boat's ready."

"Of course." Terry said, and smiled at Lafferty as Horatio pulled him away. He just had enough time to notice Captain Morgan give his lieutenant a dark look, and then turn around once more and stalk away, Lafferty at his heels.

Terry looked at Horatio and attempted a smile. "So that's the famous Captain Morgan, eh? I'm disappointed, in some taverns they've said he's ten feet tall."

But Horatio didn't smile, only looked after Morgan with an anxious expression as they reached the entryway where the boat waited. "Yes, that's Captain Morgan. I almost wish you had not volunteered for this duty, Terry. He's every bit as formidable as he looks."

"Well, he looks very formidable indeed," Terry said as they made their way over the side, "And for that reason, I'm very grateful that justice is blind!"

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

The docks at Plymouth were swarming with the usual collection of sailors, tradesmen, and suspicious characters, but Horatio took no notice of them as he and Terry disembarked onto the cold stones. His mind was far too busy.

His mind was still reeling from all that had happened that morning. He awoke in hopelessness, and now there was hope. He had been full of despair, and now there was a reason to rejoice. He had spent the early morning living in the darkest chasms of uncertainty and dread, trying in vain to think of a way to help Archie and lift the cloud of depression that had descended upon them all...

...and now it seemed that the cloud might lift of its own accord, in the person of Terry Whitehall. Horatio would have called it a miracle, if he believed at all in the word.

Archie might be freed, and Horatio wouldn't have to do anything. He had been afraid some action might be called for, some distasteful bargaining with Captain Morgan, but now it seemed like a fading nightmare. He wouldn't have to deal with Captain Morgan at all; Terry was a good lawyer, and Archie had been acting in self-defense, which was not murder. Terry would convince the tribunal, and Archie would be released. It seemed almost too good to be true.

Horatio had hoped to talk to Terry, to catch up now that they had come across each other at last. But his friend had spent the journey to the dock leafing through some papers he kept in a leather case, and hardly paid Horatio any mind at all. Once they hit the dock, Horatio offered to buy Terry a decent breakfast at one of the local taverns, and Terry accepted, but as they sat down to biscuits and coffee Terry once more opened his case and brought the papers out.

Finally, Horatio's curiosity got the better of him. Frowning at the papers he asked, "Terry, what on earth are those things?"

"Hm?" Terry blinked at the papers, then said, "Oh, they're writings I've collected since deciding to take on Mr. Kennedy's case. Mostly what I've heard in the taverns on the way here. Rumor, but sometimes you can find a bit of truth in them."

Horatio became interested, and leaned forward a little. "What do they say?"

Terry spread them out. "Well, the accounts vary widely, I'm hoping we'll find some eyewitnesses here that can tell me what happened, and of course we need to talk to Mr. Kennedy." He paused, then looked at Horatio intently. "I take it you know Kennedy fairly well."

Horatio nodded. "Very well. I owe him my life."

Terry pursed his lips, then drew out a fresh sheet of paper and a small portable inkstand from the case. "Then, since we're here, I suppose I can start gathering my testimony with you."

Horatio had taken a bite of biscuit, but now stopped chewing and looked at Terry in mild surprise. "Me?"

Terry nodded as he set up the inkstand. "I don't have much time, and I need all the help for my client that I can get. Now seems as good a time as any. Do you mind?"

Horatio shook his head. "Not if you don't mind waiting while I chew my food."

Terry smiled. "I prefer that to you spitting it all over my writing paper. Now, how long have you known Mr. Kennedy?"

Horatio thought. "Five years."

Terry nodded, and wrote the figure down. "Served together the whole time?"

Horatio hesitated, then said, "Well, nearly. He was captured during a night raid off the coast of France, and spent three years in prison. Aside from that, yes."

Terry's eyebrows went up, but he wrote the information down without comment. Then he looked at Horatio and asked, "Can you think of any reason why he would murder Lieutenant Creps?"

Horatio looked away from Terry so his friend couldn't read what he was thinking. He thought of Simpson, of the tribulation on board Justinian, but that wasn't his secret to divulge. But he could use that information to head Terry in the right direction...finally Horatio said, "I heard that Creps was something of a bully. He...was a friend of Jack Simpson, who used to torment both Archie and me on board our first ship, Justinian. Perhaps there is a connection there."

Horatio saw Terry frown, then begin to shuffle among his papers. "Did you say 'Simpson'?"

Horatio nodded, wondering what on earth Terry was doing.

At length Terry pulled out one of his sheets of paper and said, "Aha,I knew I'd heard that name before." He read over the sheet briefly, then set it down with a sober expression. When he next looked at Horatio, there was an unsettling wariness in his eyes that Horatio decided he didn't like.

"Horatio, I need to ask you something," Terry said, pitching his voice low and leaning forward on the table, "and I need you to answer it without flying off into one of those indignant rages you were so keen on when we were children."

Trying to decide whether to take offense, Horatio nodded. "Whatever you wish."

Terry pitched his voice even lower."Horatio, to the best of your knowledge, is Mr. Kennedy a sodomist?"

Horatio sat bolt upright so fast that a few of the tavern's other patrons glanced over in curiosity. His sudden fury at such an epithet being hurled at Archie was so great that for a moment he didn't trust himself. Terry was a childhood friend, and suddenly Horatio wanted to wring his neck.

Then he stood, and quickly strode out of the tavern.

He was walking very fast, he didn't even know where to, and didn't slow down when he heard Terry running after him, calling his name. It was only when Terry caught up with him and grabbed his arm that Horatio spun around and faced him, and seeing they were in a public place roughly pulled Terry into a low archway so they could have at least a little privacy.

Terry fought to catch his breath. "Horatio - "

Infuriated beyond measure, Horatio thrust a finger into Terry's face and said, "Now you listen to me. Archie Kennedy is one the bravest and most decent men to walk the face of this earth, and anyone - ANYone - who slanders him will answer to me for it. Childhood friend or no. Is that clear?"

Terry didn't look frightened, but he did look exasperated. "Damn it, Horatio, listen to me - "

Horatio felt all of his anger boiling up into his eyes, and glared at Terry hotly. "IS THAT CLEAR?"

Terry took a step back and gave Horatio a look that was every bit as ferocious. "Of course it's clear! It was clear when your father wrote me back in '93 and told me you'd found a friend on the Justinian. It was clear when I read in the Naval Gazette how the two of you helped destroy a bridge in France. And it was VERY clear when your captain told me how you haven't gotten a decent night's sleep since this whole incident happened, and how you've almost driven yourself insane trying to find a way to keep your friend alive!"

Horatio blinked, felt some of his anger ebbing. But the simmering resentment remained.

"But damn it, Horatio!" Terry said in frustration. "I've heard a lot of things about Kennedy on my way down here, and a lot of it wasn't very good. It was terrible in fact, and frankly I don't believe any of it. But a lot of ignorant people do, and what's worse, Captain Morgan won't hesitate to use any of it to send your friend to an early grave."

Horatio winced, not wanting to believe any of it. But he knew it was true.

"Now I'm not here to make judgments," Terry said slowly, "I just need to know the truth. And the more of the truth I know, the better chance Kennedy has of walking away from that court martial a free man. So I *have* to ask. I *have* to know. I'm sorry."

Horatio looked at the ground, at the chipped cobblestones and rough mortar crusted with mud, and felt the earth sway a bit, then settle back into place. After a long pause he whispered, "No, the apologies are mine. I gave you my word and broke it."

Terry nodded understanding, then quirked a small smile. "I should have known you'd react like that. You always were the tiger when other peoples' reputations are at stake."

Horatio kept staring at the cobblestones, fascinated by their irregular pattern for a reason he couldn't name. Still gazing at them he said quietly, "The answer to your question is no, by the way."

Terry sighed a little. "I thought as much."

Horatio lifted his head and looked at Terry sadly. "Do you have any more, less provocative questions?"

Terry nodded. "A few. But you can answer those on the way to the gaol. Lead the way."

Horatio looked beyond Terry, at the milling street not far away, and felt his white-hot anger settle into a mournful melancholy. He should not have been surprised that tales of the murder would spread and grow, and that Archie's name would be dragged in the filth behind it. And he was not surprised. But he suddenly felt very naive to think it would be all right if Archie were merely acquitted.

With that thought, Horatio turned around and led Terry down the muddy cobblestone street, toward the answers to the painful questions he knew must be asked, and the beleaguered soul who housed them.

********************************************
Captain Pellew studied the letters that Lieutenant Lafferty had just handed him with mounting amazement.

He had not been expecting to see either Lafferty or Captain Morgan until the court martial, and felt some dismay when Bracegirdle had come into his cabin with Morgan scarcely a step behind. He had thought this was about Kennedy, and was angry enough at Morgan for what he thought - no, what he *knew* was some complicity in sabotaging Kennedy's defense, that were it not for Lafferty's presence he would have called his old friend out then and there. Even the reawakened hope for Kennedy's case, in the person of Terry Whitehall, did not dampen his ire at Morgan's scheming maliciousness.

But Morgan's visit had nothing to do with the court martial. It was far more serious.

Lafferty looked very nervous, so Pellew tried to phrase his questions as gently as he could. "Now, my boy, where did you say you found these?"

"In Lieutenant Creps' cabin, sir," Lafferty responded, glancing at his captain who was standing just behind him, arms folded and scowling. "They were hidden very far back under his bunk."

Pellew set the letters down and shook his head. "Has - had Lieutenant Creps shown signs of being dissatisfied with the navy? Surly, complaining, anything in that manner?"

"No, sir," Lafferty replied, looking at the letters in disbelief, "I was hardly his closest friend, but I never thought he was a traitor."

Pellew nodded a little, then peered at the letters despondently. Betrayal always saddened him. Betrayal and profligate waste.

Lafferty shifted his weight under Pellew's silence, then asked quietly, "Sir?"

Pellew looked up.

"What are you going to do?"

Morgan moved then, to stand beside his first lieutenant and put a hand on his shoulder. "That's enough, Mr. Lafferty, this is now a matter between Captain Pellew, myself, and the admiralty. Go get some fresh air, and I know I do not have to ask you to discuss this matter with no one."

Lafferty blinked rapidly, and Pellew thought he looked a little pale. "No, sir, of course not. I'll - be outside then."

The young man left in a hurry, and after he had done so Pellew remarked, "Your first lieutenant is apparently under a great amount of strain, Julius. No doubt this discovery has added to it, unfortunately."

Morgan stood in front of Pellew's desk and stroked his chin thoughtfully. "Yes, but he's a good man, and a great help to me. He'll bear up." He paused, then said, "So you confirm my suspicions, eh?"

"Indeed I do," Pellew responded with a heavy sigh, "Ship movements, coordinates, even details on our home ports and battle strengths. I'm afraid if Lieutenant Creps were still alive, he would be convicted twenty times over."

Morgan began to pace, his normal composure weakening against this unsettling discovery. "I was afraid of that. Damn it, Edward, on my own ship! How could he think he would get away with treason on board my ship?"

"Unfortunately, he did get away with it, and quite handsomely too," Pellew said sourly, pushing the notes away as if they smelled bad. "It's a pity he'll never be brought to justice for it."

Morgan continued pacing, but faster now. "If only I could get my hands on him, just for five minutes! Do you know how humiliating this is? Once word gets around it will take months to regain my reputation - perhaps years!"

Pellew's eye fell on the letters again. "And you say no one else knows of this?"

Morgan shook his head. "No, but once word reached the Admiralty that won't last for long. Every tavern house will be ringing with it by sunset."

"It is quite a scandal." Pellew muttered, almost to himself.

"A scandal! That's the least of it." Morgan sighed and looked at Pellew almost regretfully. "Look, Edward, I know this whole affair with Kennedy has caused hard feelings between us, and I regret that. If Kennedy had come from some other ship, or he'd killed another captain's officer, why, you and I would be sitting in a tavern somewhere toasting the ladies right now. I know I've been less than a friend to you lately, but we both know why. As captain of the Courageous, I have an example to set to my men, an example that no one will cause them to come to harm without answering to me. And paying for it."

Pellew leaned back in his chair, eying Morgan warily, and waited.

"Kennedy killed Creps, that's a certainty," Morgan continued his pacing, nodding to himself as he spoke. "He's confessed to it, and he's willing to die for it. Those are all facts, and believe me I take no more joy in relating them than you do in hearing them."

Pellew frowned. "Julius, I'm not understanding you. You have spoken of no pity for Mr. Kennedy, in fact you have all but branded him a traitor as vile as Lieutenant Creps. Kindly tell me, what is your point?"

"My point is this," Morgan said, stopping in front of Pellew's desk and indicating the letters. "When I show those letters to the Admiralty, your Lieutenant Kennedy is a dead man."

Pellew's stomach clenched at the certainty in Morgan's tone, but he battled the feeling of dread that was threatening his optimism. "And this does not please you?"

Morgan allowed himself a quirking half-smile. "You know me very well, Edward. I've not bothered hiding my true feelings from you; you know nothing would satisfy me more than watching Kennedy swing from the end of a rope for killing one of my men. But I don't want the victory this way. I want him punished for what *he* did. Not for what Creps did."

Pellew tilted his head. "Explain."

Morgan backed away from the desk a step and began gesturing with his hands as he strolled around the desk. "Suppose I take the letters to the Admiralty, and show them to Lord Hood. He should see them of course, he should know that the traitor they've been looking for has been found. I show him the letters. He's furious, insulted as an Englishman at the way Creps betrayed us all. Like any red-blooded King's man he wants revenge, but it's denied him, because Creps is dead. Now, Pellew, tell me again why Creps is dead."

Pellew's eyes widened as he realized what Morgan was saying. My God, he thought.

Morgan nodded. "I can see you understand. Creps is dead because Kennedy killed him, thus robbing England of the chance to show the world what we think of traitors. Now, who's presiding at Kennedy's court martial? Lord Admiral Hood. Kennedy has already confessed to the crime, he's already said in front of you and me and God that he put that knife into Creps and killed him, but that won't be why Lord Hood convicts him. He won't listen to a word of the testimony, he won't care a damn about the facts and the guilt that's written in every pore of that little bastard's skin. All he'll know is that Kennedy robbed him of the chance to make Creps pay. It's not a clean kill, Edward. And I want a clean kill."

Pellew nodded, but he was only half-listening to Morgan's words. He knew his friend was right, in a way that made his flesh numb with helpless dread. With Terry Whitehall's arrival there was a chance, however small, that a way could be found to save Kennedy's life. Pellew believed that, hoped it was true for Kennedy's sake, and for Hornblower, who he knew would never cease blaming himself should Kennedy come to the noose. And there was, for a moment, a chance that the death could be averted, that a miracle could be found and Kennedy freed...

...but it would be burnt to ashes in a heartbeat if Kennedy was convicted before the hearing was even begun.

Pellew looked at Morgan, just for an instant. He had always held himself aloof from his friend's flamboyant, arrogant ways, but in the past few days had come to realize he did not like the man. He was on his way to holding him in contempt for the troubles he was taking to make sure Kennedy hanged, but at that moment he felt a bizarre, loathsome kinship with this narcissistic bully who was drunk with his own power. They both knew Hood was of the old school, he would want to make sure an example was made of what it meant to cross England, no matter who it was or what crime they had committed. Yes, as much as he hated to admit it, Pellew realized that Morgan was right about one thing: If Lord Hood saw these letters, and knew where they had come from, Archie Kennedy would hang.

Morgan leaned back a little, and lowed his head to gaze at Pellew earnestly. "I can tell by your expression, Edward, that you know I'm right. Now, what do you want me to do?"

Pellew paused, his mind spinning with thought. It was not altogether right, but the timing of this could not possibly have been worse...and if Terry Whitehall was worthy of the trust Hornblower seemed to place in him, by this time two days hence Kennedy would be free, and there would be no chance of his being injured by Lord Hood's misdirected wrath.

And the alternative...to watch Kennedy march to the hangman's noose to appease Hood's anger, and know he could have prevented it...to be forced to look into Hornblower's gaunt face and grief-shrouded eyes and have only empty words and regrets...

No. No temperate God would permit it.

Pellew took a deep breath and phrased his words carefully. "Captain Morgan, while I do not agree with your assessment of Mr. Kennedy's chances, I do agree that to inflame Lord Hood at this delicate time would be possibly quite imprudent." It was almost physically painful to say these words, so Pellew had to take another breath before continuing. "You may...retain these letters, and once the court martial is over, present them to Admiral Lord Hood. Then we shall both be assured that, whatever the outcome, Mr. Kennedy was treated as fairly as humanly possible."

Morgan put both hands on the desk and leaned forward, eying Pellew keenly. "Are you certain? I don't want anyone saying I intimidated you into doing this."

Pellew's stare was made of iron. "Captain Morgan, I dare you to attempt to intimidate me."

"I know," Morgan said with a grimace as he gathered up the letters, "The indomitable Captain Pellew. My thanks on your discretion in this matter, Edward. May the Lord of justice prevail."

"May he indeed." Pellew said almost flippantly, for he relished having a reason to conceal those letters that Morgan didn't know about. As long as Morgan thought he was winning Pellew was willing to remain the silent cat. The canary would be let out of its cage soon enough. It may even be a quiet joke to Pellew, that Morgan quite possibly had himself opened the door...

It was not a situation Pellew would have wished for, and he felt a certain uneasy desperation that he had to engage in this sort of a game at all. But anything that would buy Kennedy a hair's-breadth of a chance was worth it, and so he helped Morgan gather the letters up and put them back into their envelope. Then he bid him farewell until the morrow.

And spent a solemn time at his desk, staring at nothing and thinking about trapped things, and clean kills, and a certain woman with long blond hair who was another man's wife, and therefore dead to him. And cages.

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

The sky was drizzling rain as Horatio and Terry made their way along the slick cobblestone streets towards the gaol. There were the usual milling crowds about, but everything had a sodden, depressed air to it that settled on Horatio's spirit like a choking anchor. His mind was still rankling over Terry's question, and he could not stop thinking of the stories that had doubtless been circulating since that accursed night. His eyes darted about the rain-dampened street, accusing every less-than-upright person he saw of spreading those stories, hurting Archie's name, hurting Archie himself.

It wasn't right. It had to be stopped. And he had to stop it now.

Terry pulled up short at Horatio's side and put a hand on his arm. "The Peddler's Pig."

Horatio blinked, came back to himself. "Yes?"

Terry motioned with his leather folder, and Horatio saw the whitewashed brick building a little ways ahead of them, half-lost in the mist. Horatio stared at it, shocked; he'd never seen it in the daylight before.

Terry began digging for his pocket watch and pulled it out. Opening it he said, "The morning is wearing on. It might be better if I hear from some witnesses what happened that night before I talk to Mr. Kennedy himself..."

Terry kept talking, but Horatio's attention was suddenly riveted by something else and he stopped listening. Across from the Pig, an unkempt sailor was busily hunched in a doorway with a woman of the street.

A woman Horatio instantly recognized. Rose.

"...waiting here?" Horatio heard Terry pause, then say, "Horatio?"

Horatio took a quick breath and looked in his friend's face. "Hm?"

"I said, I'd rather question the owner by myself, do you mind waiting here?"

"Oh," Horatio's eyes darted back to where Rose had been, and he saw that the unkempt man was gone, and she was furtively stuffing something - most likely money - into the pockets of her tattered dress. She glanced up and saw Horatio, and he saw her eyes wider, just slightly. Then she brought her chin down and slowly turned away, into a nearby alleyway.

Horatio made up his mind then, and turning back to Terry said, "No, I'll be here. Or - nearby."

Terry glanced at the dark skirted shadow swaying down the alley, and his eyebrows went up. "Horatio, I know you haven't changed *that* much since school - "

Horatio felt himself blushing, and knowing he'd been caught stammered, "No, it's not - the lady is an acquaintance of mine, Terry, for heaven's sake! She has been watching over Archie for me."

"Oh?" Terry seemed surprised; then he smiled a bit. "Of course. You need to know if he's all right, one way or another. You really *haven't* changed."

Embarrassed, Horatio glared at the tavern and said, "Go along. I'll be here, I promise."

Terry nodded, but before leaving said, "I'm glad you haven't changed, Horatio. Few enough constants in our world, you know."

Then he gave Horatio a smile that was almost grateful, and turned to enter the Peddler's Pig.

Horatio watched him go, frustrated that his friend's admiration could not extend to anything that would mean freedom for Archie. But perhaps that was changing...wrapping his cloak more snugly about him, Horatio peered into the dark alleyway before him and approached it, hoping he could find Rose and that she would have something good to tell him.

The alley was even darker inside, and dank, smelling of things that had lain forgotten for years. His eyes were slow to accustom themselves, and Horatio paused, unsure whether to continue. Rose was nowhere in sight.

"Psst!"

Horatio started, then whispered, "Miss Rose?"

"Don't look at me," a soft voice from the shadows warned, "Wouldn't do for anyone to see an officer talkin' to the likes of me. Act like you're adjusting that fancy sword."

Horatio put his hands on the gilt sword that hung at his side, and glanced about the alleyway despite Rose's words. "Did you see my friend, in the gaol?"

"Yes." the voice paused.

Horatio unbuckled the sword, then worked at buckling it again. "How is he? Tell me quickly."

A sigh, the rustle of rain-sodden skirts. "He's heartbreaking. Damn the lot of you."

Horatio glanced up, then back down as the sword slipped from his fingers. "What do you mean?"

"He wanted to protect me, from the bad dreams I sometimes get. Him in chains, younger than you, and that's what he thought about."

Horatio winced at the stab of hurt he felt at hearing those words. "He's a good man. Thank you for watching him for me."

"I did what I could," The voice sounded almost resentful now. "But I saw what he's fighting. I know what he's fighting. I held his hand, but it's already cold from the hangman's rope."

"Don't say that," Horatio whispered, cursing inwardly as his sword buckle slid out of his hand, "A solicitor's come to his defense, a solicitor who's very good. There will be a victory, I'm sure of it."

There was a pause, then Horatio looked up to see Rose step from the shadows, drift from them as if she was made of insubstantial mist. She looked much as she had the previous evening, except in the daylight she looked older. And sadder.

Horatio straightened, and tried to temper the worried frown on her face with a hopeful smile. "Ma'am. I thank you for your assistance last evening, and I pray it won't be necessary again. My friend - Mr. Kennedy - is as you've seen a decent man, and I will ensure that justice is swift and nobly served. You have my word on it."

Horatio meant those words, had spent all morning convincing himself that they were so, but as he looked into the forlorn eyes of the woman standing before them he felt unaccountably foolish and awkward. Without looking around Rose reached out and put a hand on his cheek, and despite the encouraging smile he kept on his face shook her head.

"I held your friend's hand," she whispered, "and I know what justice is. He won't get it, not even if he's freed. But he's fortunate to have someone care enough to try."

Horatio put his hand up and laid it on top of hers with a grateful smile.

Rose cast her eyes down for a moment, and when she blinked Horatio saw a tear fall. She took a trembling breath and whispered, "I must go, before somebody sees you and me together, but I wanted you to know, your friend is the kindest man I've met in a long time."

"He is," Horatio agreed, and drew her hand down from his cheek to hold for a moment longer, "And I will see to it that he's released from this travesty he's been placed into. You'll see, he has an excellent solicitor. And he's completely innocent."

At that word Rose took a sharp breath, and raised eyes to Horatio that brimmed with salt tears and bitter truths. Fixing him with a hard gaze, she shook her head.

"No," she said, her words tinged with gall, "that's the horrible part. He's not innocent, and hasn't been for a long time. And it shouldn't have been that way."

Horatio's mouth dropped open, and he knew at once what she meant. But there was no reply for it.

Rose looked down at the pavement, and ran her hand across her cheek. "Damn the lot of you," she whispered.

And without waiting for a reply from Horatio, turned and ran down the alley back into the darkness, and within moments was gone from Horatio's sight.

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

Philip Lafferty sat just behind his captain in the jollyboat that was slowly plying its way across the murky waters of the harbor, and felt absolutely lost.

His eyes strayed from the Indefatigable to the Courageous, then back again, and he struggled to suppress the conflicted feelings that welled within him. The Indefatigable was like every other ship in the fleet - it was second to the Courageous, and always would be. It was obvious from the moment Lafferty boarded her that the men were not as dedicated, the ship was not as clean, and certainly the coffers were not as rich as those found within the Courageous' mighty timbers. And of course, the Indefatigable was the home of a murderer, a self-confessed criminal and if the rumors were true...well, in any case one thing was clear: no ship could hold a candle to the Courageous, and Lafferty was proud to call that ship his home.

So why did looking at it now only fill him with an uneasy dread?

Lafferty tried to puzzle it out as they drew nearer, and the ship loomed larger, but nothing made any sense to him. Perhaps it was the weather - the tension - the grief at losing Creps - but none of those ideas seemed sufficient. And the ones that stealed in between them were sounding out too loudly to be suppressed.

Lafferty didn't like it that he had had to confess so much of Creps' personality to Hornblower the previous evening. It was true, Creps was not an easy man to like, and most of his friends were only friends because they were too cowardly to risk being enemies. Creps was sullen and brutish and mean, and Lafferty didn't like remembering any of that, because it made him feel foolish for defending such an obvious bully. But what else could he do? Hornblower didn't understand, you either went along with men like Creps or you were crushed under their heel. All right, so it made him a bit of a coward, but what was wrong with self-preservation? And what right did Hornblower have, insisting that Lafferty tell what he knew? Didn't he know that Creps had friends like him, and what would happen to Lafferty if he told? No, he didn't. So he really had no right to insist on anything. And Lafferty knew he was only doing what any man would to get along in this world. But he didn't like thinking on that.

The Courageous loomed closer, and Lafferty saw the men arranging on the quarterdeck, ready to pipe the captain back aboard. Captain Morgan stood in preparation, and Lafferty eyed his back and shivered. That was another thing, he didn't like how the captain had been acting lately at all. Lafferty knew it was an honor to be a first lieutenant at his age, had wondered at it when Morgan promoted him, but it drew him closer to how the world really worked, and he found he wasn't liking it much. He had thought that Morgan's ways were the ways of the fleet, but Morgan and the other captain, Pellew, seemed different, despite the identical gold braid on their hats. Pellew had Morgan's bearing, his dignified commanding presence, but there was something else to Pellew that Morgan lacked. Lafferty thought back to that morning in the captain's cabin, when he handed Pellew the letters that were found in Creps' cabin. He had been terribly nervous, for he had heard that Pellew was a perfect hurricane when he was angry, but Pellew did not get angry the way that Morgan did. In fact - in fact, he'd been almost considerate of Lafferty, had spoken softly to him and not shouted his words at him the way Morgan did when he was in a temper. And just before Lafferty left, was that a look of concern Pellew gave him? No, it couldn't be - why would Pellew give a damn about an officer who wasn't even from his own ship? That might have been wrong, but still it was almost - a relief to be in the presence of a captain who didn't threaten you. Morgan was everything Lafferty had thought a captain should be, but Pellew was something else, and Lafferty couldn't think of a word for it. But he was sure one would come. Yes, it really had been a relief...

But no, wait - no, the Courageous was the place to be. And Morgan was his captain, the man responsible for his rapid rise and his certain future. Lafferty owed everything to him, and that was worth any price he had to pay.

Wasn't it?

The jollyboat drew alongside the great ship, and Morgan squared his broad shoulders and ascended the ladder. Lafferty came up behind him, and by the time the piping had stopped and Lafferty made it over the railing he noticed that another lieutenant had approached Morgan and was speaking to him, waving toward the captain's cabin as he spoke. Morgan scowled in puzzlement, and before Lafferty had even gained his footing was stalking toward the cabin door, his great cloak billowing behind him. With an apologetic glance at the marines who were helping the men aboard, Lafferty grabbed at his hat, and followed him.

Morgan's gait was far too fast for Lafferty's liking, and by the time they reached the cabin door Lafferty was almost at a run to keep up. He watched as Morgan reached out one great hand and pushed the door open, then strode inside and threw his hat on the desk in front of him.

Lafferty stumbled into the doorway just in time to see a tall, thin, rather self-important looking man lounging by the wide windows turn and look at both of them.

"Ah, there you are at last," The man said, without a trace of fear but with a considerable amount of smugness. "I feared I should be here through supper."

"Damn it, Goss," Morgan growled, and then Lafferty remembered where he'd seen this man before. He was one of the town magistrates. "Damn it, is what Peterson just told me true?"

Goss' smile was triumphant, and he shifted his shoulders like a satisfied cat. "Oh, you didn't know? Yes, it's true. Kennedy's court-martial has been delayed a day to give his solicitor time to prepare his case."

Lafferty felt his stomach drop. The way Goss said those words - especially 'delayed' and 'solicitor' - indicated that he knew just how bad the news he was giving was, and he didn't care a tinker's dam. In fact, he was relishing it.

Morgan took a deep breath and stalked around his desk, shaking his head. "You must be mistaken! There isn't a lawyer in this half of England who would be foolish enough to take Kennedy's case."

"Yes, that's what I thought," Goss replied, giving Lafferty a quick once-over, then apparently convinced he was no one important, "I mean, I heard at Regent's this morning that some little man had been asking questions about him, and had hired a boat to go over to the um...oh, that ship, you know the one I mean."

Morgan stood next to Goss and crossed his arms with a huge glare. "Go on."

"Oh, where was I? Anyway, I was certain I'd heard wrong, but then a while later I was talking to a clerk from Hood's offices and he told me it was absolutely true. Pellew had written a letter of request himself, and Hood had granted it." Goss paused, and eyed Morgan with the falsest of sincerity. "I am sorry to break this to you, Julius. I know how much you looked forward to wringing that little bastard's neck."

"Don't think I won't," Morgan growled, and Lafferty shivered involuntarily. "What's the solicitor's name?"

"Oh - um, Whitehall. Terrance Whitehall, if I remember correctly. I never heard of him."

Morgan turned away from Goss, his arms still crossed over his massive chest and his face thrown into shadow against the murky daylight behind him. He stood like that for a moment, and Lafferty began to wonder if he should leave. He looked down at the floor as he contemplated how to make it out the door, then looked up again to see Morgan still silhouetted against the window and exactly as he had been, with one exception.

Morgan was looking straight into Lafferty's eyes.

Goss gave a huge sigh and said, "Well, I must go ashore and see to my clients. I told Hood's clerk I would let you know, that's the only reason I was forced to bother you this morning. Look at it this way, it gives you an extra day to prepare his execution."

"Yes, it does." Morgan said, without moving.

Goss paused a moment, then the faintest glint of something like fear shimmered across his face and he said, "Well, good day then, to both of you. I'll show myself out."

And he strode happily out the door, and closed it far too loudly behind him.

For a long, painful moment Lafferty stood under his master's gaze, and wondered what Morgan was going to do. When he could bear the silence no longer Lafferty said, "I tried to tell you, he was on the In - "

"Silence." Morgan snapped, and turned toward the window.

Lafferty closed his mouth, and scrunched his hat in his hands nervously.

After another long silence Morgan said, "Lieutenant Lafferty, you've been under a tremendous amount of strain. I am granting you shore leave."

Lafferty blinked, confused. He expected ranting, raving, perhaps a fist rammed into the desk - Morgan had done those things before. But not this. "Sir?"

"Shore leave," Morgan said again, and when he turned back toward Lafferty his face seemed to be in layers, a struggling smile over the most furious expression Lafferty had ever seen on his captain. "Take a few days, go ashore, find something interesting to do. Meet some new people."

Lafferty shook his head; to leave the ship with a court-martial imminent didn't make sense. "Sir, I should be here to assist you - "

Morgan's eyes blazed. "Are you arguing with me, lieutenant?"

Lafferty hoped he wasn't turning pale. "No sir."

"Good." Morgan began to walk around his desk slowly. "The world is a wide place, lieutenant, and it pays to know as many people as you can. Some you perhaps just met - don't know very well - and perhaps you'd like to know who they are and what help they're giving to people who have harmed you."

"Someone I just met?" It suddenly occurred to Lafferty that Morgan was asking him to spy on Kennedy's solicitor. Not in so many words, of course - you never knew who was listening at cabin doors - but - "Sir, are you suggesting - "

"I am suggesting nothing," Morgan said quickly, pleasantly almost, "Merely that you're overworked, and need some time ashore to gather yourself. Find a pleasant inn, maybe seek one out. See some of the sights ashore. And then - well, if you hear of anything interesting, you can send me dispatches about it."

A spy, Lafferty thought in dismay. "But sir, if Kennedy's good as dead anyway it won't matter what - "

"Damn it, don't you bring that whoreson's name up to me!" Morgan's voice was controlled, but slipping, and Lafferty suddenly found himself afraid. "He's mine to swing from the yardarm, and I'll teach anyone who stands in my way what it means to defy me."

Lafferty realized he had stopped breathing, and took in a shaky breath.

Morgan took a step toward him, his face red with anger. "Now you take your leave, damn it, and whatever you hear of interest you'll report to me. Understood?"

Lafferty's gaze was riveted to his captain's eyes, and he knew he was caught. "Aye aye, sir."

Morgan leaned back and relaxed. "Excellent.. Send Lieutenant Stephens in here. You're dismissed."

And that was the end of it. Lafferty took a few more breaths, tried to gather himself enough that he could get through the cabin door without falling on his face. Then he turned and left, trying to quell the horrible, trapped feeling that was strangling him from the inside, and causing him to hold his breath until he was well away from the captain's cabin. He staggered out onto the quarter-deck, and gulped in the chill morning air.

A spy. He was no better now than Creps.

One of the marines came up to Stephens and said, "Are you all right, sir?"

Lafferty nodded, tried to pull himself together. "The captain wants to see Lieutenant Stephens."

The marine nodded and went to find the lieutenant, and Lafferty walked quickly to the rail, grasping the ragged wood with both hands and breathing as deeply as he could. As he exhaled, his eye fell to the Indefatigable anchored some distance away, and the air caught in his lungs. He stared at the ship, and the word he had been trying to think of - the word that separated Morgan from Captain Pellew - leapt into his mind.

- father -

Then the word retreated, because it had to, and lieutenant Lafferty reluctantly left the railing to go and pack his belongings.

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

Horatio's stomach was in knots as he and Terry Whitehall made their way to the gaol where Archie was being held. He had tried every way he could think of to settle down and put a governing clamp on his emotions, but nothing was working. He was a nervous wreck.

He had not seen Archie since the previous evening, when he was taken from the Courageous. He had not spoken to him since before that, since that terrible morning when Archie had been almost hysterical with grief and shame, and had begged Horatio to leave him and never return. Rose had done what she could, but her bitterness towards Archie's condition rattled Horatio's conviction that this would all turn out all right. The whole world seemed resigned to Archie's death.

But the world didn't know that now there was hope, Horatio reasoned to himself, and felt better. Soon the world, and Archie, would know that here at last, in the person of Terry Whitehall, was the way across the bridge Horatio had been searching so hard for. If only Archie would talk to him! If only Horatio could say, Archie, I know Creps attempted to brutalize you, I know you were merely defending yourself as any upstanding Englishman would. Please, for the love of God, tell Terry what you know and you can come home when this is over. Then we can play a hand of whist, and everything will be like it was.

Except that it wouldn't be, and that was the newfound obstacle that was blocking Horatio's path. Terry's earlier question still unnerved him, made him aware of just how fatally injured Archie's good name could be. Archie had been frantic to distance himself from Horatio, to spare him any disgrace that would come of their two names being linked together. Knowledge that his name now carried such poison in it, that terrible, disgusting stories were being told that were entirely untrue but outside his control, would surely only make Archie more convinced of his own contamination, no matter what the outcome of the court-martial was. He would distance himself from Horatio, shrink back into the shell that had surrounded him on Justinian, and the friend Horatio knew would vanish forever.

Horatio sighed as he thought about this; it depressed him. Before, he had only Archie's life to worry about. Now he knew he would have to concern himself with redeeming his soul as well.

Keeping pace beside him, Terry turned his head and looked into Horatio's face in concern as they walked into the shadows of an arched passageway. "Are you all right, Horatio?"

Embarrassed, Horatio flicked a glance at Terry and nodded. "Better when this business is over with."

"I couldn't agree with you more," Terry said as he hefted his leather folder from one hand to the other, "Now remember, Horatio, once we're in the gaol I'm to do the talking. Any words between you and Mr. Kennedy could be looked on unfavorably by the court martial, and I'm sure there'll be a guard standing right nearby who'll spill everything that happened for a mug of beer and a shilling. The less he has to fabricate, the better."

Horatio hated all of this, and nodded. "Understood."

Terry clasped the folder tighter. "Good, thank you. Well, according to the directions I received,we should be just ...about... there."

Horatio was looking down, and only casually wondered why Terry's speech had faltered. He looked up to discern the cause, and brought himself up short.

They were at the end of a small, grubby street which seemed in perpetual gloom even though it was cloudy daylight. Before them was a small, decrepit-looking white stone building jammed between two larger, equally squalid structures. It was a bleak, dismal, forgotten-looking place, but that was not made Horatio stop. In front of the white building a crowd of people was standing, milling about and trying to get close. Horatio heard angry murmurs, and his heart sank.

"The gaol." He said to himself, as if looking for someone to deny it.

"I'm afraid so," Terry said with a shake of his head. "People are always interested in the latest bad news. Well, there's no help for it. Come on."

Horatio almost hung back; the crowd reminded him of the mob on the Courageous, of the throng outside the Peddler's Pig, and both memories were too fresh and too frantic for him to want to relive them at this moment.

But then Horatio thought of Archie in the middle of those crowds, as he was in the middle of this one now, frightened and dispirited and alone. Horatio couldn't help him then, couldn't be at his friend's side to help him weather the tempest that was battering his fragile defenses. Archie had been forced to walk those bridges alone.

But not now, not this time. These were different people, but their impulse was just the same as the mobs on the Courageous and at the Pig: to bring down an innocent man, and make him suffer unjustly.

Horatio squared his shoulders and thought, not this time. And he strode into the milling crowd, parting them with a brusqueness born of righteous impatience, and with Terry Whitehall at his side withstood the onslaught of shouted insults and threatening looks.

And almost before he was ready, found himself standing in the gaol.


Despite the gray daylight outside the whitewashed brick walls, the inside of the gaol was dark and gloomy, and it took Horatio's eyes a moment to adjust to the dimness. Gradually he made out a pair of iron-barred cells, a dirt floor scattered with straw, and directly to his left a ramshackle desk with a scrawny, unkempt-looking man sitting at it with his feet propped up on a stack of books. The man scowled at both of them, but Horatio didn't care, in fact barely noticed, because as soon as his eyes made out shapes he peered as hard as he could into the cells, and heard the sudden creak of protesting wood, and saw a dim white-clad figure start upright in the dark corner. The figure didn't move, but a moment later Horatio saw a face, and the frightened surprise there.

And cursed himself that he could not say a word.

"'ere now," the surly gaoler said, "What'choo want? I told them guards ain't no one let in here."

"I'm not 'no one'," Terry replied evenly, pulling a document from his satchel, "My name is Terry Whitehall, I'm Mr. Kennedy's solicitor. I'm here to interview him for his court-martial."

Horatio's eyes were growing more accustomed to the low light now, and he saw Archie's reaction to Terry Whitehall's words. Archie didn't move, but his head came back a little, and he blinked at Horatio with eyes that were at once bewildered and accusing. Horatio stared back, hoping the answer was evident in his own eyes. Did you think I would just leave you to die, Horatio thought, noting with frustrated sadness how gaunt and strained Archie looked, how the bruise on his face now stood out in stark contrast against skin made pale by confinement and worry. I know, you asked me to abandon you to the darkness, begged me to forget and surrender you to a capricious fate that cares not who it swallows. Doubtless you'll fight me, but damn it Archie, I'll not deliver you to the hangman simply because you insist there is no hope. There is, I know now what happened and you don't have to be afraid. The worst is past; and the darkness need not win. Trust me.

But if Archie saw those words in Horatio's eyes, the answer was written in his own, red-rimmed and overflowing with nameless dread. It spoke of fear, and desperation, and something else, but Horatio did not know the language, and so saw only anxiousness and exhaustion in that sallow countenance. He tried to soothe Archie's fears with a small smile, but Archie looked away into the shadows, and Horatio was unsure if he saw the gesture at all.

The gaoler read over the document and snorted at it, glaring at Terry with scornful eyes. "Ye're standing up for this trash?"

Terry nodded. "Yes, I am."

The gaoler threw the paper on the desk. "Yew know that crowd out there's been trying to get in all morning so's they can hang 'im out in the square where everybody can see?"

Terry's smile was slight. "That's not my concern. I've been given permission to talk to the prisoner, and I aim to do it. So unlock the cell, please, and ask the guard to come inside. Then you can go, and I'll let you know when I'm done."

The gaoler scowled deeper, and slid his eyes to Horatio. "'oo's he?"

"My escort from the Indefatigable," Terry said, as if it were obvious, "Would you comply with my request, please? I have a lot of work to do and we're wasting time."

The gaoler grumbled, but dragged his feet off of the books and resentfully got to his feet. Horatio backed away, mindful that he had to keep himself in the background, and slipped over to the far wall as the gaoler grabbed the keyring and unlocked Archie's cell. Archie sat up a little more on his cot, and set something down on it that Horatio recognized as the small book he'd lent him - God, it seemed like ages ago. The gaoler opened the cell door wide for Terry to enter; Terry paused at the entrance and gave the gaoler a dismissive look.

"Thank you, sir," he said, in an authoritative tone, "My escort will see you to the door."

Archie glanced at Horatio then, a quick, furtive look that said he understood Horatio's role, and why he was playing it. Understood, and would do nothing to threaten it. But the anger was still there in those white-blue eyes. Anger, and fear.

The gaoler grunted and turned toward Horatio, who straightened himself to look as official as he could and gallantly pulled the heavy door open so the gaoler could step outside. Throwing Horatio a dirty look, the gaoler sauntered out, tossing a few words and a jabbing thumb at the guard just outside the door. The guard nodded, came inside, and Horatio shut the door again. Then he looked at Terry, in the gaol cell with Archie, and both of them in the shadows.

Terry's back was straight, and his eyes were bright as he sat at the end of the cot next to Archie. "Mr. Kennedy, my name is Terry Whitehall. I've been appointed as your solicitor in the court-martial."

Horatio bit his lip, and tried not to react to Archie's wary, still almost shocked expression. Archie didn't say anything.

Terry waited a few moments, then said, a little quieter, "Assuming, that is, that you have no objection?"

Archie paused, then shook his head.

Terry nodded, and Horatio saw him pull some papers out of his satchel. "Mr. Kennedy, I've been told that you've already confessed to killing Lieutenant Creps."

Archie looked down at his hands and nodded. Finally he spoke, a pale whisper. "Yes."

Terry paused, and Horatio noticed that when he next spoke, his voice was softer yet. "I've also been told that you've asked for no plea of self-defense, no mercy, no concession of any kind. You've said you did this crime, and you want to die for it. Is that true?"

Horatio saw Archie close his eyes and clasp his hands in his lap. "Yes."

Terry paused again, and for a long time simply looked at Archie, the heavy silence growing in the cell as the endless moments went by. Horatio had to pretend he wasn't really looking, but in a casual way he kept his eye on his two friends until, after almost an eternity, Archie opened his eyes again and looked at Terry, puzzlement obvious on his battered face.

Then Terry leaned back a little and shook his head. In a voice almost too low for Horatio to hear he said, "Mr. Kennedy, I don't believe that you really want to die."

There was another pause, and Archie's eyes once again flashed to Horatio, just for an instant. Then he looked back down at his hands, his long blond hair half-hiding his face.

Terry leaned forward again. "I believe you want to do what is right, and what will put you at peace, but letting yourself die won't do it. I want to help you do what is right, in the best sense of the law, but I can't in good conscience allow you to hang unless I am convinced that you deliberately, maliciously, and with vicious intent ended Lieutenant Creps' life. And I don't think you did."

Archie's head turned a little, and he looked at Terry with narrowed eyes. "How would you know what my intentions were?" he asked in a tight, accusing voice.

"Because I've heard of you," Terry said in a firm, insistent tone, "I've heard of your bravery, your valor, your noble character. The kind of man who your captain and your friends described to me would never senselessly take another man's life." Terry paused, then tilted his head a bit. "But to defend you I need to know the reason. And I need to know what happened that night."

Archie turned away again, shaking his head as he hid his face in the shadows. "I - don't remember. And you shouldn't be...neither of you should be here. Leave me alone."

Horatio's heart plummeted. He recognized that voice, that despair, the fatigued angle of Archie's body as it slumped on the filthy cot. It was the prison in Spain all over again, only this was much worse because Archie had recovered after that, only to sink lower than he ever had before.

Horatio bit his lip and fought every instinct in his body not to cry out at his friend. He knew the truth, knew why Archie would not talk, but surely there would be no shame if the truth were known! Horatio begged Archie in his mind to speak, to unleash himself from that awful prison more impenetrable than iron or stone, and let the fates deal with whatever came after. For God's sake, Archie, we have a chance now. Take it. Why won't you take it?

At least Terry would fight him. Horatio had to stand back and keep his silence, but Terry would be that strength for him, and make Archie defend himself. Terry would sit there all day and night if necessary, and Horatio knew eventually Archie would break down. All they had to do was wait.

This thought was so firmly in Horatio's mind that when Terry rose off the cot not ten seconds later he was absolutely shocked.

Terry didn't meet his eyes, only looked down at his leather satchel and said quietly, "Mr. Kennedy, I'm very sorry to have bothered you. If you change your mind, I'm staying at the White Dove."

Horatio's mouth dropped open, and he glared at Terry even though the young man wasn't looking at him. Surely he was not surrendering already!

Archie seemed to be similarly surprised, glancing up at Terry with uncomprehending eyes as the solicitor put a hand on the bars of the cell door. He paused for a second, then stammered, "I'm - I'm sorry, but you don't understand. What I've done is indefensible, and to help me would be..." Archie's blue eyes flickered downward for a moment, and when he looked back at Terry they held a glint of desperation. "I don't want anyone else to be hurt."

Horatio was glad no one was looking at him, for he felt as if his gaze would shoot fire if it could. Archie, concerned about other people being hurt when he himself was eager for the gallows! Archie, rejecting the best chance he had for acquittal, shoving it away with both hands! How could he do this to himself? Why did he think seeing him die wouldn't hurt?

But no, dammit, Horatio could give voice to none of those thoughts. He could only stand mute as a statue as Terry nodded with a gentle smile and said softly, "I know, Mr. Kennedy, it's very difficult. I'll be at the Dove if you change your mind."

Archie nodded, and turned his face again to the shadows. Terry slowly pulled the cell door open and drew himself outside, closing the iron gate as quietly as he could before walking to Horatio's side.

Horatio could give his frustration vent then, and he did with all guns blazing. "Terry, what the hell do you think you're doing?" He hissed, in a low voice because the marine was still there and he didn't want Archie to hear the effects of his temper. "What the - "
"Hush!" Terry replied in a sharp whisper, opening his satchel and looking into it. "I'm not happy about it either, but I'll explain over a tankard at the Dove."

"You will not!" Horatio argued, feeling a dangerous anger balling up behind his eyes. "You'll go back into that cell and talk to Mr. Kennedy, dammit, Terry, you're his one chance! How can you - "

"Later, Horatio!" Terry jabbed back, and as quickly as he could swept past him, bolted out the door into the street.

Horatio grunted in frustration, and picked up his hat to follow his friend.

*whump*

Horatio paused as something thudded against the heel of his left boot. Looking down, he saw the small red book that Archie had been reading, now half-buried in the filthy dirt and straw just behind his foot. Frowning, Horatio glanced up and saw that Archie had risen and was standing at the bars with an expectant look on his face. Horatio understood, and with a furtive glance toward the door swiftly picked the book up and carried it to Archie's cell.

As soon as he was close enough, Archie reached out a hand for the book and met Horatio's gaze with his haunted blue eyes. Oh, God, Horatio thought, it was so hard to look into those eyes now! The horrible stories of the previous night crowded into his mind, and they were so fresh in Archie's countenance, so raw and unrelieved that Horatio found himself fighting back tears. He would have run from the pain in his friend's eyes if he could, but too many people had done that already. He would not run. He came close to Archie, as close as he dared, and held the book out for Archie to take.

Archie did take it, and pulled Horatio's hand with it close enough to look into his eyes and whisper, "You will not give up on this foolishness, will you?"

Horatio's eyebrows went up, and he struggled to stand in the blazing pain of Archie's eyes and not be burned. "Indeed I will not. You know me, Archie."

Archie's shoulders sagged, and he shook his head imploringly. "God, Horatio, please let me go. You don't understand what could be lost if you don't."

Horatio heard the heavy thunk of the door opening behind him, and leaned closer to Archie. "I do understand, and I am not afraid to lose it."

"'Ere now!" Came the gaoler's irritated voice from over Horatio's shoulder. "What'choo on about?"

Urgency coursing through him, Horatio tilted his head forward and defied the hopeless look in Archie's eyes. Quickly he whispered, "We will cross this bridge together, Mr. Kennedy. I will *not* abandon you to the darkness."

Archie pulled back from him then, leaned away with the book in one bandaged hand and an expression Horatio couldn't decipher on his face. It was fear, and helplessness, and a despair that was not assuaged by what Horatio had hoped would be inspirational words. Horatio knew he had to leave, had to turn away and act as if he was simply returning a lost article to the prisoner, but it was very hard to arrange his face into careless lines, when Archie curled himself up on the ragged cot with the book and turned his face to the wall, losing himself to the shadows. It was hard to turn away, when Horatio could still see a terrified twelve-year-old boy cringing on that cot, crying and hurting in ways no one could touch or heal. It was very, very hard -

- but it was his duty, or else everything might be lost. So Horatio took a deep breath and turned away, hoping it would be the only time he would ever have to do so, and went to join Terry on the other side of the great oaken door.

****************************************
Horatio was seething as he followed Terry down the street, and at every step wanted to grab his friend and rattle him until he divulged why he had simply left Archie instead of pressing him until he gave forth the information that might save his life. Horatio knew he couldn't do that, of course - for one thing, Terry was walking much too fast - but was confidant that once they reached the Dove and sat down, he could force Terry to reveal why he had betrayed Horatio's best friend. He was certain he could do it.

But once they reached the small, stylish inn with the painted dove on the placard out front, Terry did not rest long enough for Horatio to get his hands on him. He strode in the front door, paused at the desk long enough to pick up a few letters that were waiting there for him, and strode up the narrow stairs to his room. Horatio followed him, fire in his every breath.

Terry had to know how angry Horatio was with him, but he didn't pause to look back or even turn around, simply walked up the stairs and brought out the key to his room as if Horatio wasn't behind him at all. And so, by the time they were both standing inside the light-colored, tastefully decorated room that would be Terry's home until the court-martial was over, Horatio was ready to explode. And did not hesitate to do so.

The moment Horatio shut the door behind him he turned to Terry, who was setting his satchel on a small round table by the window, and shouted, "Terry, what is the meaning of this? How could you so carelessly abandon the case you came so far to defend?"

Horatio thought Terry would snap at him - the Whitehalls were all known for having no problem defending themselves against attack - and so was surprised when Terry did not flash angry eyes at him and throw out sharp-edged words. Instead, he kept his back to Horatio, standing at the little table for a moment before wiping one hand over his face, and sitting slowly down in one of the chairs. He stared out of the window with an thoughtful expression which Horatio found puzzling. Curious, he crossed the room and sat down in the other chair, and folding his hands waited for Terry to speak.

Finally, Terry took a deep breath and turned serious eyes to his friend. "Horatio, remember when you were asking about Trudy earlier?"

Horatio blinked in surprise; certainly he didn't expect Terry to bring up his little sister. "Yes, I asked how she was doing. You said we'd discuss it later, but what does that - "

Terry made an impatient face and raised his hand. "Before we go further, let me answer your question by saying she's doing fine, and thank you for asking. Your father's been looking after her, and he thinks she might be able to walk without her cane someday."

Horatio smiled despite the heaviness in his heart. "Well - that's wonderful news, Terry, I'm very glad to hear it. But - "

"But what does that have to do with your friend?" Terry asked, his eyes once again straying to the misty daylight outside their window. Taking a deep breath he said, "I'll tell you. You remember when Trudy had her accident."

Horatio nodded. "How can I forget? We were all riding together, you and Trudy and I, with our instructors. Trudy's horse became panicked and - "

"Yes," Terry said quickly, with a wince that told Horatio that was all the memory that was needed, "And she nearly died. Your father was very certain for a while that she would."

Horatio glanced down at the gleaming tabletop, his mind searching back for those memories, now fully a dozen years old. They had all been children then, he and Terry scarcely eleven, and little Trudy not quite seven. Very young to ride, but she was quite good at it, and loved being outdoors and active, almost too much for a girl. But that had ended, and far too soon.

Horatio's brow knitted with thought. "I remember - my father would be gone to your house for days at a time, watching over her. I wanted to visit, but he didn't think I should."

"No," Terry said soberly as his hand dropped to flick at the lace doily on the table, "It's better that you didn't." After another pause he said quietly, "Horatio, I was only eleven years old and I still remember that those were some of the worst days of my life. Trudy worshipped me, had always depended on me to be the stronger older brother, and for weeks I sat by her bedside and cried inside because I'd failed her so utterly. If guilt could kill a person, I would have been dead that afternoon."

Horatio regarded his friend, recalling those days and the dark cast within them. Then he smiled. "But you could not have failed her too badly, Terry. She did recover, and her spirit is as strong as ever."

"Stronger," Terry corrected with an appreciative smile, "But that wasn't my doing. You weren't there, Horatio, you didn't see...Trudy didn't wake up from the laudanum and think about how wonderful it was that she was crippled with a badly broken leg and her hip so fractured your father doubted that she'd ever have children. Those were terrible days for her too, and even worse for me because I was convinced that if I was any kind of brother, I could pull her out of the depression I thought I was responsible for. But I couldn't, and it took me a long time to realize that."

Horatio tilted his head and looked at Terry's face, silhouetted against the dismal light. "Go on."

Terry took another deep breath. "Horatio, when your father told Trudy she couldn't ride anymore, and probably wouldn't be able to bear children, I could almost see her spirit dry up and blow away. It killed me, and I tried everything I could think of - everything! - to bring her back, to make her open up and realize that her life wasn't over. But nothing worked, and after a while I gave up, and just took my books with me and just sat with her. I'd decided I had doomed her, and was willing to wear the shame of it for my entire life."

Horatio frowned. "Then what happened?"

"I'll tell you," Terry said, pointing a finger at his friend, "After all my cajoling, after all my threats and yelling and pouting at her stubborn refusal to get better, one day I went into her room and she smiled at me. The first smile I'd seen in six weeks. I don't need to tell you how astonished I was, and I told her how happy I was to see her smile again, and asked her how she was feeling. Well, you know Trudy - she gave me a straight answer right away. She told me she woke up that morning and the birds were singing just outside her window, and she realized if she didn't get better she'd die and then never hear them again. And that," Terry said, leaning back in the chair as the light rippled across his face, "Is when she began to get better."

Horatio gazed at the table, absorbing what Terry had told him.

He could feel Terry's eyes on him as his friend said, "I'm not just telling this tale out of thin air, Horatio. Your friend is where Trudy was, I could see it in his eyes. Something...I don't know what, but something happened, and he doesn't think there's any living after it. And until he makes the decision that he wants to live - to hear those damn birds sing - he won't talk to me, or you. I know it."

Horatio opened his mouth to argue, then stopped. What Terry was saying was true, he knew it, had he not been trying every device he knew of to get Archie to reveal himself, with no success? Archie had closed the door himself, and the keyhole was on his side only. Fighting a surge of hopelessness, Horatio asked, "What will you do now?"

Terry took a deep breath and raised one hand to his chin. "The tavernkeeper gave me the names of several men who were there that night, officers from the Courageous mostly. Perhaps one of them saw something that can help our cause."

The Courageous. Horatio suppressed a shudder at the thought of returning to that ship, so shrouded in suspicion and untold secrets. "I'll accompany you, although to be honest I doubt we'll learn much. Captain Morgan's men are...very loyal."

"I know," Terry said in a melancholy way, and cast his gaze into the street below them. There was the rattle and clatter of a carriage going by, and Terry eyed the passing conveyance as he said quietly, "Between us, and based on what I've heard...I think I know what happened to your friend at the Peddler's Pig."

Horatio's heart sank, and he glanced out the window and nodded sadly. "As do I."

There was another silence, thick and jagged, and Horatio almost gasped at the weight of it. When he looked back at Terry he saw that his friend was eying him steadily, the Whitehall determination shining in his dark brown eyes.

"I only had to make a temporary retreat," he said, "But I promise you, Horatio, if there's any way to do it, I'll convince your friend to save himself before he faces that tribunal. He's got far too much to offer this world to let the bastards win."

Horatio nodded his appreciation, then with a slight smile said, "I'm sure you said as much to Trudy, to encourage her after her accident."

"Well, almost," Terry said, returning Horatio's smile with a wry one of his own, "Actually, when I asked her later how she pulled through so magnificently, those were the words she said to *me*!"

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

Captain Pellew knew that after sending word to Lord Admiral Hood that Kennedy's court-martial should be delayed, he was obligated to pay the esteemed officer a visit to explain the matter in person. After Captain Morgan left the Indefatigable, Pellew put on his best dress uniform, selected his nicest cloak to wear against the drizzling rain, and set out at once to the Admiralty to make his excuses in person. All of this was right, and proper, and keeping in the finest British Naval tradition.

He still hated doing it.

Even in the best of circumstances, in the fairest of weather and the most clement of times, Pellew did not like calling on Lord Admiral Hood. The old man was the right arm of the King where the sea was concerned, yet his thoughts were always on appearance and politics, never on what was right or what made sense. Hood had been the one to insist that the mission to Muzillac take place, even though he knew - knew! - that the details of the mission had been stolen and were in enemy hands. Pellew shivered as he rode in the carriage to the huge old Admiralty House, remembering that day not so long ago - a pale, half-dead lieutenant gasping his last painful breaths on a couch in the Admiralty hallway, the plans gone from his jacket, and Hood's beady eyes piercing Pellew as he said in low tones, The throne has decided this mission will take place, and they are not in the habit of changing their minds. What has passed here will remain between us.

And what had passed after would haunt Pellew until the day he died.

The carriage drew closer, and Pellew struggled to cast the memory from his mind, knowing it would make him angry and risk impertinence with Hood. He needed the stubborn old man's cooperation, and his sympathy, if Kennedy was to have any chance of a fair hearing, even though in these cases there was almost never any such thing. And with Captain Morgan as his accuser, in Kennedy's case it was even less so.

The only solace Pellew found as the carriage drew up the cobblestone street to the huge pillared building was that Hood had no knowledge of Lieutenant Creps' treachery. Surely that knowledge would infuriate him and drive away any hope for impartiality toward the unfortunate Mr. Kennedy - and he was unfortunate, for all that he was by his own admission a murderer who deserved the noose. Pellew had seen murderers, and had hanged more than one in his many years as captain; he knew the mark, and Kennedy did not have it. He could only pray to God that the good fortune hinted at with the arrival of Mr. Whitehall, and the conspiracy to hide Creps' guilt, would continue and Kennedy would be set free. Then the world would be right again, and he could sleep at last.

The carriage rattled to a stop, and Pellew alighted, noting with a shudder how similar this day was to the one he was just thinking on, how the sky was the same leaden color, and the air full of misery and portent. He tried to shrug it off, and hunching his shoulders against the melancholy, made his way into the large building and up the winding stairs to where Admiral Lord Hood was waiting.

Pellew was quickly shown into the wood-paneled room that was Hood's office, and as soon as he entered the door he saw the old man bent over some papers at his desk. Hood was seventy-five years old, wizened and sharp-faced like a hawk, but with narrow eyes that seemed to see only what they wanted to. And right now, they did not want to see Pellew.

Pellew approached the desk as respectfully as he could, frantically burying the rage he felt so it would not show in his eyes. But his mind still churned. You stupid old man, he growled inwardly, the scene before him melding with another, a young man weeping in the captain's cabin over a mission that he could not have succeeded at had he been Christ himself. Horatio, weeping for all he had lost, and now he may lose even more. And all on this old buzzard's command. It was not to be tolerated.

Pellew reached the far side of Hood's desk, and waited patiently for the lord to acknowledge him. After what seemed like an eternity, Hood lifted his head with its badly made powdered wig setting on it like an eggshell on a melon, and blinked his tiny eyes in Pellew's direction.

"Ah! Captain Pellew, sir," he said, in his usual stuffy tone, "Come in, sir, and take a seat."

Fearing that sitting down would mean an additional hour's wait, Pellew cleared his throat and said, "My apologies, my lord, but I am here on a matter of some urgency - "

"Are you now!" Hood's eyes came up again, sharper this time, "When you are of my rank, sir, you may arrange another's time as you wish. For the moment I am otherwise occupied, and others must wait their turn. But sit or stand, it makes no difference to me."

The tiny eyes went back to the correspondence, and Pellew was left to stand at the desk and think very dark thoughts.

Another eternity passed, and finally Hood raised his head and gave Pellew a vacant smile. "Now, captain, before we attend to your matter I must tell you His Majesty was quite distressed that the mission to Quiberon did not meet with the success hoped for."

Damn it, Pellew thought to himself, and clearing his throat said, "Trust me when I say, my lord, that their distress cannot equal my own. I would have given my own life to be able to stand before you now and speak of the downfall of the French Republic."

"Hm," Hood nodded in a way that seemed to be weighing whether that would have been a fair trade. Then he abandoned that mental exercise and motioned with one bony hand toward the papers on his desk. "Well, no matter. Don't worry, Captain Pellew, I have received favorable reports from the other officers involved, and we will do what we can to assuage His Majesty's feelings."

That was it, the entire affair dismissed with the wave of a well-manicured hand. The whole mission, six of his mens' lives and uncounted others from all armies, the senseless and completely avoidable destruction of property and worse, the shattering of ideals and hopes - all swept away with a wink and a nod, as if they were viewing a play with only the shallowest of consequences. Pellew closed his eyes for the briefest moment to hide the white-hot anger there. You bastard.

"Now then," Hood said with a sigh as he pushed the letters aside and folded his hands on the desk, "On to other matters. I've been told one of your men has committed murder against another member of His Majesty's fleet."

Pellew tucked his hat under his arm and glanced at the floor. "I am very sad to say that is so, my lord."

Hood scowled and leaned over to pick up another piece of correspondence, one Pellew recognized as the letter he wrote that morning. "And now I understand that you have requested a continuance on his court-martial to allow his solicitor to gather evidence on his behalf."

Pellew paused, then nodded, his eyes seeking Hood's out to convey his earnestness. "Yes, my lord, it seems the accused, Mr. Kennedy, has been until today unable to find proper defense. In the interest of ensuring as fair a hearing as possible, I was moved to grant his solicitor's request that we give him time to question those who might have evidence in his favor."

Hood dropped the letter on the desk and pierced Pellew with his beady eyes. "I have granted your request, captain, but only out of respect for your deference in regards to the matter of Quiberon. One good turn deserves another, as they say."

Pellew felt his stomach churn. A chance for Kennedy's life in exchange for his eternal silence over the bungling of Muzillac. God, how he hated politics!

"However," Hood continued, leaning forward on the desk, "I must say that I find this highly irregular. From what I understand, the criminal has confessed and seems most anxious to be quit of this world. Why the devil do you wish to inconvenience the Admiralty over a foregone conclusion?"

"Because it is not foregone, my lord," Pellew said quickly.

"Isn't it?" Hood opened up his hands and shrugged. "The criminal was caught, blood on his clothes, and confessed before they could even put him in irons. What is foregone if that is not?"

"Just so, my lord," Pellew agreed, and cast about in his mind for a way to explain the reasons for his actions. The crusty old goat would never sympathize, would never consider second chances and fairness a good argument for anything. "It would seem that the case against Mr. Kennedy is cast in stone and yet - " his eyes fell on the letters on Hood's desk, and he had a sudden thought, "And yet, in Mr. Kennedy's case I hesitate to condemn him, especially considering his heroic actions in the Muzillac campaign."

Hood's eyes twitched, and he blinked at Pellew like a startled owl. "Heroic actions?"

Pellew nodded. "As I'm certain it's stated in one of your reports, Mr. Kennedy distinguished himself quite highly in the rescue of one of my officers at the Muzillac bridge. He saw firsthand the destruction that was wrought there, and yet risked his life to bring one of my lieutenants back from what would have certainly been a most tragic death. And might I add, a most embarrassing one for the Admiralty as well."

Pellew almost winced at his own words, detesting that he had to play Hornblower's tragic loss that way, but from the look on Hood's face his ruse worked. The Admiral patted the letters for a moment, as if searching them, then as his eyes lit on one he said with a loud cough, "Acting Lieutenant Archie Kennedy? Is that the young man we are speaking of?"

"Yes, sir."

"Yes, he is mentioned here, in Lord Edrington's report." Hood turned toward Pellew with a confused expression on his face. "I don't understand, captain, how can this be? A hero in war accused of murder!"

"That is what Mr. Kennedy's solicitor is attempting to find out," Pellew said with an almost imperceptible smile, "And should he succeed in finding something, perhaps we can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat after all."

"Perhaps," Hood said thoughtfully, and once again he pushed the papers away, "But he had best find it quickly. I'm a very busy man, and the court-martial will take place tomorrow forenoon at the very latest."

Pellew breathed a sigh of relief inside, and nodded his assent. "Yes, my lord."

Hood took Pellew's letter in his hands again and looked at it as he spoke. "In response to the somewhat violent nature of the Courageous' crew toward Mr. Kennedy, it has been decided that his hearing will take place here in one of the downstairs chambers to avoid further embarrassment to the crown. All other preparations are being made, and the captains are being notified of the change as we speak. You of course may be present, captain, should you wish to be."

"I do, my lord."

"I thought as much," Hood said, almost grumbled, but Pellew was relieved and so did not care. He had not much liked the idea of Kennedy being dragged back to the Courageous, and was gratified that he would not have to endure that trial, at least.

There was a few moments' silence, then Hood looked up at Pellew with his sparrow's eyes and said, "That will be all, Captain Pellew, you will be notified if there are any more changes. We will give the boy a swift and equitable trial, and then we will get on with our business."

"Aye, my lord," Pellew said, knowing a dismissal when he heard it. "Thank you, my lord."

Hood merely grunted, and folded Pellew's letter to tuck it away. His vision narrowed again, and Pellew could tell that at that moment he no longer existed.

Backing out of the ornate room, Pellew turned in the hallway and made his way down the stairs, his heart light and heavy at once. Kennedy had been given a chance, a slim one, and if Hood could be persuaded he would not hasten to condemn a man whose acts of bravery could soothe the blasted damage of Quiberon Bay. But against that fragile transport of hope a hurricane of malevolence blew, strong destroying winds fueled by Kennedy's despair and Morgan's powerful and influential hate. It would have to be a strong vessel indeed to withstand that onslaught, and even as he walked down the winding stairs Pellew confessed to himself that he did not know if the little gossamer ship could stay afloat. He only knew that he would do whatever he could to aid it, even if it meant pulling down the very columns of the Admiralty itself.

He owed that much at least to the young man who had stood in his cabin in the ashes of Quiberon Bay and wept, the unwilling victim of ambition and stupidity, and to the officer who had saved his life for all of them.

*************************************************
"Ow! God dammit!"

Dr. St. John frowned as he leaned forward in the Courageous' dark sick berth and continued to stitch the knife wound in the sailor's arm closed. Or tried to, because the sailor was still drunk and putting up a considerable fuss.

"If you'd hold still," Dr. St. John advised, putting one hand on the sailor's burly shoulder to keep him steady, "I'd get this done quicker, and it wouldn't hurt so much."

The sailor glowered at him and spat a curse, but put one hand on the table he was sitting on and clenched his teeth.

Satisfied that his patient would at least attempt to not move much, Dr. St. John sighed a little and continued to ply his needle and stitch up the wound. It wasn't a bad wound, only about an inch long and fairly clean, but it was deep and would not close without help. He had seen countless wounds such as this on the ship, and more lately since the ratings figured that the captain was so distracted with the court-martial he wouldn't care about such small matters as fights and attacks, and they'd been right; but for some reason seeing such injuries on this day depressed the doctor, and as he performed the operation he tried to figure out why.

He was tired; but then, he was always tired. He disliked seeing these kinds of hurts, the avoidable kind brought on by people resorting to their basest natures to solve disagreements, but that was nothing new either. Dr. St. John had always been aware of the undercurrent of brutishness on board the Courageous, the wild beast concealed beneath the veneer of civility and success. To tend to the results of a four-sided fistfight, or even a full-scale brawl, were nothing new to him, and he had long since learned that it was useless to complain to the captain about it; Morgan cared nothing for his men beating the daylights out of each other, so long as they did not disgrace him in public or in battle. They didn't, the Courageous' reputation as the richest in the fleet endured, and so Morgan didn't care. So, St. John didn't care either.

Except he did, now, and he didn't know why. He had lived this way for years, dwelling in the dank confines of the sick berth, stealing topside to catch some sun and air when he could, knowing his place. He owed his life to Captain Morgan, and his silence as well, and for almost as long as he could remember that had not bothered him; it was simply the way it was. So why should the sight of a sailor reeling into his sick berth holding a bleeding arm and cursing to the world about the bastard who stuck him fill St. John with such disgust and despair? What had changed?

He knew what. It was that unfortunate officer Archie Kennedy.

The sailor grunted again and spat on the floor, but St. John ignored him and kept working. Everything had been fine until the marines brought that young man to him, and Morgan had ordered him to stitch him up and keep him healthy until they could hang him. At first St. John had done his job complacently, because Kennedy was obviously doomed and there was no sense in wasting emotion over foregone conclusions. St. John knew Morgan wanted Kennedy dead, and St. John assumed that was the end of it.

But then that other officer, Hornblower, had arrived, and St. John's assumption had been unexpectedly challenged.

"Ow! @#$!!" The drunken sailor shifted on the table and threw St. John a hot look.

"Almost done," St. John replied, and hastened to finish the task and get this hulk out of his sick berth. Then he could be alone to puzzle out this confusing problem.

Hornblower. St. John could still remember how shocked he had been to see that young officer there, outside the brig, a small book in one hand and an earnest expression on his handsome face. Kennedy's fate had already been sealed, he was already yesterday's leavings, but not to Hornblower. He had pressed the book into St. John's hands, begged him to give it to Kennedy, and then, astonishingly, thanked him and called him 'sir'. Nobody on Courageous did that.

That anyone should care for Kennedy after Morgan had damned him was astonishing enough, but what stupefied St. John was that Hornblower's concern had not ended there. He had tried to see Kennedy, tried to talk to him, defended him from the mob that wanted to kill him. He had to know he was risking his future by doing so - Morgan could end any man's career with a wave of his hand, and had done so many times - and yet still he persevered, against all reason and common sense. It was not an action that St. John was used to seeing in an ambitious young officer, and it baffled him. It shamed him as well.

Oh, but no - no, St. John amended as he tied off the final stitch, he did not feel shamed. There was no room for that, not on that ship. There was no reason to feel that he should help Kennedy, or risk his own reputation and perhaps his life for this young man who had so - so foolishly struck out against attack. Kennedy had as much as spit in Morgan's face, and it was wise to back away and not get involved, not shameful. There was nothing shameful about looking after your own interests, about knowing how the world worked and amending your own sense of right and wrong to it. Of course, Hornblower wasn't doing that, but what Hornblower was doing was really just about as foolish as what Kennedy had done, and could only result in disaster. If he had not already damaged his career irreparably by refusing to join the Courageous...

But might that not change? St. John remembered Morgan's oath that he would keep Kennedy alive long enough to use him as bait to entice Hornblower to join the Courageous. St. John shivered, and was glad his patient was too drunk to notice it. Morgan had used such methods before, and St. John knew how it would go. Morgan would summon Hornblower to him sometime before the trial, and would offer to influence the judge if Hornblower would consent to joining the ship. Hornblower was intelligent, and had to know that as it was the court-martial was so rigged against Kennedy as to be almost redundant; with no other course but to let his friend die, Hornblower would agree to the terms, and Kennedy would be - not freed, Morgan would not allow that, but at least he would not be hanged. Most likely he would be sent to prison, perhaps Newgate, and left to rot. Or it was possible that Morgan would keep him out of prison entirely, if he knew of a captain who needed a hand. That had happened occasionally, to other members of the Courageous who had committed crimes or otherwise found themselves outside Morgan's favor. But St. John hoped that would not happen, because he knew what kind of ships those men were hired to, and how often they were never heard from again. If Hornblower knew, he would never agree to it. It would be more merciful to let Kennedy die.

But Hornblower would not know, and Morgan would win no matter what happened. And St. John knew there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it.

"You're finished," He said in a low voice as he gave the sutures a final once-over and pushed himself away from the drunken man. "Try not to rip it open again."

The sailor glanced at the reddened wound, now neatly stitched together, and without even a grunt of thanks slid off the table and staggered for the sick berth door, pushing past two people coming in on his way out. St. John shook his head at the display, and was about to go back to his work when he noticed who had come in, and stopped in his tracks.

Hornblower, and another man he didn't recognize.

"Good afternoon, doctor," Hornblower said politely, giving St. John a gentle smile as his great brown eyes swept the sick berth. "I hope we're not interrupting your work?"

Still startled, St. John shook his head quickly, and for some reason found himself cringing away from the young man. "What do you want?"

Hornblower raised his eyebrows slightly and indicated the man next to him. "Doctor, this is Mr. Terry Whitehall, he is acting as solicitor for Archie in his court-martial."

St. John went from being startled to shocked. "Solicitor!"

Whitehall smiled a little and nodded. "Yes, doctor, and I'd like to ask you some questions about Mr. Kennedy, if you don't mind."

St. John shook his head. "I don't understand. Kennedy confessed."

Whitehall glanced at Hornblower, who replied, "We - there is reason to believe his confession may have been more from fear than fact. You may be able to aid us in determining that."

Now St. John knew why he was cringing away from Hornblower. "I can't."

"Are you certain?" Whitehall asked as he sat down on a nearby chair. "You treated Kennedy's wounds after he was arrested, didn't you?"

Wary, St. John paused before knowing he had no choice about that question. "Yes, I suppose I did."

Whitehall paused, then drew some papers and a small bottle of ink out of a leather satchel he was carrying. "Well then, let me explain. I've been spending the day asking people about what happened, and I'm inclined to think that perhaps there is more to this story than Kennedy is revealing. You knew Lieutenant Trevor Creps, correct?"

St. John hesitated again. "A little."

"Would you say he was kind of a bully? Liked to pick on people?"

"I didn't know him well enough to say."

"Did you ever treat him for injuries from fighting? Cuts, bruises, broken bones?"

"Everyone on this ship has those."

"Did Kennedy have them?"

St. John opened his mouth, then shut it again. "Does Captain Morgan know you're questioning me?"

Whitehall made a small face, then said, "He was ashore when we came aboard, but we have obtained permission from one of the lieutenants. He didn't seem to happy about it, but after I reminded him it's illegal to deny my client information that might free him, he allowed us aboard."

St. John nodded, and thought that lieutenant should probably desert.

"Now then," Whitehall continued, shifting the papers in his hands, "Tell me about Kennedy's injuries. I've seen some of them, a large bruise on his face and various cuts and scratches. What did I miss?"

St. John sighed. "A large cut on his back. I stitched it. Some other bruises."

Whitehall made a few notations on the paper. "And you saw Creps' body too, correct?"

Suddenly feeling lightheaded, St. John nodded a very little bit. "I had to get it ready for burial."

"And what wounds did it have?"

St. John took a deep breath, and wished Morgan had been on board. He never would have let Whitehall down here. "A large cut in his breast, through his heart. Scratches - "

"Where?"

Damn it! "On his hands."

Whitehall wrote that down too. St. John noticed that Hornblower was looking away, into the shadows, and wondered that the boy hadn't given up after all. Had he lost his senses?

Whitehall nodded to himself, then asked, "Any other wounds?"

"I don't remember."

Whitehall tilted his head. "That's all right. Tell me, doctor, based on your experience, would it be safe to say that if they were fighting, Kennedy was more severely injured than Creps, the fatal wound notwithstanding?"

St. John shook his head absently. "What?"

"What I mean is, judging by their wounds, could one conclude that they were not evenly matched?"

Exasperated when he realized he was revealing information that would infuriate Morgan if he knew, St. John shook his head again and said, "What does it matter? You're wasting my time."

"I most certainly am not," Whitehall snapped, standing up to glare at St. John with eyes that surprised the doctor with their intensity. "A man's life is at stake here, and I do not consider a moment spent in determining his fate a waste of time. To put it plainly, I think Creps attacked him, but there is a conspiracy of silence at work on this ship that it appears you are a part of. Do you deny it?"

St. John silently cursed this young man's audacity - he barely came up to his shoulder! - but decided he would rather face this boy than Morgan. "You *are* wasting your time. Kennedy's confessed. No one on this ship has anything to tell you."

"Lies!" Whitehall exclaimed, taking a step toward St. John and stabbing a finger in his face. "You call yourself a doctor, yet you throw away life as if it were a shilling a dozen. You've tended Kennedy, you know what he went through - "

St. John drew himself up. "What HE went through? Creps was the one who was murdered - "

"You KNOW what Kennedy went through," Whitehall repeated, emphasizing his words so there would no mistaking them, "And you know why Creps ended up dead. So you are aware, I have committed myself to finding the truth, and believe me when I say that once all is revealed I will know your part in this shameful affair. And I will curse you for it."

St. John was stunned by Whitehall's words, and knew that they would be Hornblower's too, if he had leave to speak. As it was, Hornblower was merely standing in the shadows, his gaunt face sharp with lights and darks, his liquid eyes staring at St. John in an imploring way that broke his heart. He could tell what he knew, redeem Kennedy, cleanse his soul of the gadflies that were harassing it -

- and earn Morgan's wrath in the process. Newgate prison, surgeon on a foul, forgotten scow...St. John averted his eyes and made his choice. "I wish I could help you. There's nothing else."

Whitehall stood there for a moment, and St. John knew without looking that he was giving him a look of unabashed hatred. "Spare me your apologies," he snarled, then turned around and began gathering up his things. "Come on, Horatio."

St. John looked up then, saw that Hornblower was still looking at him beseechingly. The doctor began to feel damnably torn, but what could he do? Hornblower had chosen this idiotic game, he had to be prepared to lose. Or ransom himself. St. John tried desperately not to care which.

Whitehall hoisted the satchel under one arm and strode past Hornblower to the door, but for a moment the other man remained, still regarding St. John with a gaze that teetered between anger and pity. Then he took a few steps forward and took St. John's arm. Startled, the doctor, looked into those great, painful eyes and impulsively said, "I can't help you."

"Yes you can," Hornblower said softly, "You have so much already, I know it is within you. I have every confidence that in the end you will do what is right."

And he smiled, a small, confidant smile. Then turned and followed Whitehall out.

For a few minutes Dr. St. John stared after the two men, shaken and uncertain. Damn it, why did they have to come see him? Why was Hornblower fighting, when by fighting he might lose everything? Why was he defying Morgan, when no one did that and survived?

And why did St. John's once-empty heart now ache with blistering, all-consuming, undeniable shame?

The door to the sick berth opened again, and St. John flinched, but it was only another sailor, this one walking slowly and rubbing at his mouth.

St. John tried to muster his professional demeanor, and cleared his throat. "Yes?"

The sailor made a face and said, "Damn whore gave me the syph."

Oh, Christ. St. John turned away and reached for the mercury with a sigh, and wished he had died years ago.

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

Horatio could hardly keep up with Terry as the smaller man bounded up the Courageous' companionway stairs. Terry was mumbling angrily to himself the whole way up, and as soon as they reached topside Horatio heard some of the words, and guessed what he was upset about.

"It's like talking to stone walls!" Terry groused, frowning at the men who toiled around them and were at that moment giving both of them suspicious looks.

Horatio nodded, gazing about him as if he was surrounded by the Spanish fleet. "I feared as much before we boarded her. Captain Morgan has such a hold on his men, it would take a fleet of cannon to dislodge it. I'm sorry, Terry."

Terry shook his head and kept glaring. "Don't be. This only gets my blood up, and when that happens I'm twice any man's match, believe me. Who else can we talk to?"

Horatio thought of Lafferty, as he had several times that day, but knew that youth was as cowed as the rest of Courageous' crew, and would sooner die than whisper a word and risk Morgan's wrath. So he surrendered that thought and said, "You may talk to my crew. They would be more cooperative, at any rate."

"Please!" Terry said in exasperation, waving Horatio toward the boat that would take them back to the Indefatigable. "I am desperate for cooperation."

They made their way to the boat, and carefully climbed down into it and pushed away for the Indie.

Horatio eyed the distancing Courageous for a moment and said, "Captain Morgan once offered me a commission to join the Courageous, and hinted that he might spare Archie's life if I took it. I am very glad that with your help accepting his offer will no longer be necessary."

Terry's eyebrows went up. "You wouldn't take it, would you?"

"To spare the life of another who would otherwise be unjustly doomed - "

"Never mind, I know the answer to that question!" Terry gave Horatio a peeved look and gazed out onto the murky waters. "Your intentions are noble, Horatio, but I know men like Morgan, and those kinds of bargains are seldom what they seem to be. I'll do all I can, but I don't think Morgan is the kind of captain you'd be happy serving under. And I KNOW he's not the kind of man to be indebted to."

Horatio dropped his gaze to the rough planking beneath their feet, and said nothing.

Terry leaned forward, his brown eyes sharp. "Horatio?"

Horatio looked up.

Terry shook his head in warning. "You're not going to take that offer, no matter what happens, promise me. I don't want to lose you that way."

Horatio pursed his lips, then shrugged and gave Terry a smile. "As I've said, it won't be necessary. We have your excellent offices, Mr. Whitehall."

"And?"

Horatio looked back down at his shoes. "All right, Terry, I promise."

Terry sighed in angry satisfaction and leaned back in the boat. "You know, the worst part is that promise shouldn't even be necessary. This Captain Morgan is turning into the largest impediment since the Great Wall of China!"

"And every bit as formidable," Horatio added.

"That 's what HE thinks," Terry said as he adjusted his cape to cut the sea-wind's chill, "But even a great wall has cracks for mice to slip through. Morgan may be powerful, but we're right, and that's going to make a big difference."

Horatio smiled at his friend's optimism. "Spoken like a true Whitehall."

Terry grinned a little in acceptance of the compliment, then glanced back at the Courageous and shook his head. "Still and all, if there's anybody in England who wants that Morgan fellow down and impotent more than you and I do, I'd give a hundred pounds to meet them. I really would."

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

Elise sat in the garden, and tried to concentrate on her sewing, but found that concentration was impossible.

That morning she thought it might rain, and it was still gray and gloomy out, but after the luncheon dishes had been cleared away and there was no rain she told Violet that she might like to sit in the garden awhile and work on her embroidery. But things had not gone as planned.

The garden of their estate was lush and overgrown, full of blossoming flowers and tall, old trees. There was a series of stone benches along a brick path, and a cozy nook beside an ornate iron fence that ran along the coach drive in the front of the house. Elise had always liked that as her sewing place, because she could watch for visitors and listen to the clopping of the horses' hooves on the cobblestones as they were led to and fro in their work. But today it had not been a relaxing afternoon, or a pleasant one. Because today her husband had come home.

Elise wasn't expecting him, he had not said he was coming at all. So when she heard the loud clatter of a carriage coming round the drive she looked up, and through the ivy that had worked its way around and through the ironwork. The carriage door had opened, and her husband's large form had appeared, a dark scowl on his face. She had dropped her sewing and nearly spoiled it, but she had not noticed.

He had barged in through the front way, had apparently asked for her first, and before Elise could even think of hiding her dismay at his arrival he was there, striding up the walk as if he were a great bear and she the doe with no place to hide. That was what her fear had felt like.

But she knew how to play his game. Clearing her throat she smiled and rose to greet him. "Julius, what a surprise. "

He did not greet her, or even smile. Instead he took her by the shoulders and kissed her, long and deep and rough, until it hurt. Then he released her and eyed her coldly.

She loathed his taste in her mouth, but did not have the courage to spit it out. "Is something wrong? I thought the court-martial - "

"You haven't heard?" Morgan walked around her, as if she were a statue and he was talking to the air. "I would have that that little slut Violet would have gotten the word off the streets by now. Pellew found Kennedy a solicitor. The court-martial's been delayed until tomorrow."

"Oh," Elise said, and she was genuinely surprised. She thought they would have given up on the boy by now. "Who is it?"

"Nobody," Morgan shrugged, gazing at the beautiful gardens around him with dead eyes, "That situation is already taken care of. But," His eyes slid towards hers, and a fire was kindled in them, "It does leave me with my afternoon..free."

Elise looked down at those words, for she knew what that tone meant, and that look. Morgan heedlessly trampled her stitching as he took her arm and led her inside.

She was sore afterwards, moreso than usual, because Morgan had been even less attentive to her discomfort than he usually was. To herself, Elise remarked that he seemed determined to prove he could overpower and control, anxious to have dominion over something the law would not take away or prevent. He had not gotten his court-martial today, but he would take something by force; he had been challenged, but knew where to go to receive total deference and meek submission, and revel in it. And he had done so until he was thoroughly exhausted.

The aftermath was swift and abrupt. He had risen, dressed, and told Elise brusquely that he was expecting visitors for tea and she was to go back into the garden and work on her sewing. After he was gone, Elise moved when she felt up to it, bathed - she always bathed after, to replace the animal scent that clung to her with vanilla or lavender - and gone out into the garden once again, looking for her sewing. She was only a little depressed to find it dirty and almost unworkable; she was growing used to disappointment.

Soon after that the afternoon bells tolled four o'clock, and another carriage came rattling up the drive. Peering through the iron gate Elise saw four men disembark, men whose attire and attitude marked them as captains, as her husband was. None of them noticed her, but went straight into the house.

Elise took the crumpled sewing in her hands, and went to the well to fetch some water to wash the mud away. Of course, she knew who the men were, even if she did not recognize their faces. A court martial always needed at least five captains, and here were four. Four men who would do her husband's bidding. Four men who would see Edward's officer hang, no matter what defense he might offer. It would be delayed, but the caged bird would be killed at last.

The well was very full from all the rain, and Elise found enough water in the tethered bucket to dip the cloth into, and draw it out again. The mud began to come off, and she soaked the fabric again, kneading it with her hands and watching the water thicken as dark, swirling clouds surged within it. Edward, she thought as tears sprang into her eyes, I know how this will hurt you. Your men were always first in your mind, and losing one of them is to you like cutting off a part of your body. Julius will make sure he hangs to spite you, to flaunt his power, and I cannot stop him for you. I would give my life to do so. But that power is lost to me...

The sewing was coming cleaner, and Elise smoothed it out in her hands to look at it, and see if the damage could be mended. Most of the filth was gone, but a shadow of it remained, and it was obvious where the white cloth had been ground into the dirt, and where it was still pristine. The stain will never come out, Elise thought, and sadly folded the ruined embroidery to give it to Violet to throw away. So much work wasted, she thought as she trudged back to her bench, for she did not want to go back inside just yet. Like so many promising things, destroyed by the careless heel and the indiscriminate fates. Unfinished, and now it would never be. Never.

It was a silly thing, but by the time Elise made it back to the bench by the iron fence she was crying, silent tears that slipped down her face and burned her cheeks. She wasn't even sure why she was crying - it was certainly more than the childish disappointment that her embroidery was ruined and now she couldn't finish it. Oh, but it wasn't fair! Elise sank down on the bench and covered her face with one hand, weeping quietly into it. Edward's face came into her imagination, and Elise ached that it had not been him to light from that carriage, him to come into her garden, not rough and mindlessly destructive but kind and gentle, as he had always been, and she had been too blind to see it. She had only cared for fine things, for sparkling days and nights filled with dance and song, scoffed at the serious young man who could offer her only quiet conversation and a somber, heartfelt gaze. Her tapestry had been torn and ruined from her wedding night, never to be made whole again. And so much since then, spoiled and destroyed, and no one to remedy or redress it.

It could happen to her, that was all right; Elise knew she had made a foolish mistake, and would never cease to regret it. But that her foul luck should be visited on Edward! That a young life should be clawed from its home and flung far from help and home, for her husband's wounded vanity! That her prison, her penance, her condemnation should be visited on anyone else! It was wrong, it was monstrous, it was almost unbearable to contemplate.

But there was nothing to be done. Her caged bird had tried to fly free, and was now dead. Elise had learned her lesson.

"Excuse me?"

Elise jumped at that sound, so unexpected in the quiet afternoon. She turned her head to see a young man with straight dark hair standing on the other side of the ivy, looking at her earnestly.

Wiping her face and trying to hide the embroidery in her hands, Elise said softly, "Yes?"

"I'm sorry to bother you," The young man said, "I'm Lieutenant Lafferty,from the Courageous. I was told Captain Morgan was here."

"Oh," Elise stood, and walked to the fence, putting her hands on the ivy-covered bars as she spoke, "He is. You may go inside if you like."

Lafferty's eyes darted toward the entrance, and Elise was surprised to see hesitation in his eyes, hesitation and reluctance. "No - no, that's all right, I..." He looked down, and when Elise followed his movements she noticed that he was holding a letter in one hand. "I suppose I have some information for him."

Information...Elise noticed Lafferty had said the word with displeasure, as if he regretted having it. "You may leave it at the door if you don't wish to disturb the captain. The servant will see that he gets it."

Lafferty nodded, and tapped the letter against his other hand as if thinking something over. When he looked back up at Elise, she saw that he was wincing against something, and his eyes were full of wavering emotions. After standing there for a few moments, however, he cleared his throat and said, "Well, thank you. Thank you, ma'am."

Elise nodded, and thought the young man would leave. He backed away a few steps, enough out of her sight so no further conversation was needed, but then he stopped and continued to tap the letter against his hand.

Oh, God, Elise thought, and her throat clenched with fear. She sensed this young man was teetering on some precipice, that he was making some decision that would alter his life, for good or ill. Oh, God, don't do it, she thought. She could almost see her husband's shadow behind the boy, luring him on, taking his life as he had taken hers, and would take Kennedy's. You have a choice, you know what your heart is telling you to do. Listen to it. Suffer for it, weep for it, die for it, but listen to it. You may yet escape -

But no, of course that would not happen. Lafferty took the letter firmly in one hand, and walked toward the front door.

And for the second time that day, Elise sank down on the stone bench in the cold chill of the afternoon, clutching the mangled tapestry to her as if she could still protect it, and wept.


Cont.