Red Sky at Morning, part 7c
by Sarah B.
"Wot the 'ell!" the gaoler groused, and Archie looked up idly from where he was lying on his cot to see the man standing up and going to the door. Archie frowned; there did seem to be some noise in the street, didn't there? But not a mob, not like before...
People running. Had something caught fire? He didn't smell any smoke.
The gaoler jerked the door open and stuck his head out. Curious, Archie stood and tried his best to see out the small window that was opposite his cell, but the window was small and placed too high to be useful. What the devil were those people yelling about?
"What did you say?" The gaoler barked, and walked the rest of the way out of the door, leaving Archie alone. Well, he obviously doesn't think I'm going to escape, Archie thought glumly, and went back to sit down on the cot. His nerves got the better of him again, however, and after a few minutes he once more rose to pace in front of the bars. If only he could see something!
The gaol door came open again with a bang, and the gaoler came tramping in, an unfamiliar Naval lieutenant at his heels. "Bloody hell!" he swore, going to the ramshackle desk and picking something up from it. Archie saw that it was a pistol.
"I was sent right away to warn you," The lieutenant, a skinny, impossibly young man, said sharply, "They may retaliate and come here.
Alarmed, Archie said, "What's happened?"
"You shut your mouth!" The gaoler shouted, angrily waving the pistol at Archie before bringing it close to his own eyes to check the flint. Behind him, the lieutenant was looking at Archie with undisguised disgust.
The gaoler brought the pistol down, then gave Archie an angry glare. "This is all your fault, you know, and don't think I'll waste the powder to save your hide if they come for you next!"
"Next?" Archie could barely choke the word out.
"That high-flyin' lawyer of yours went and got himself jumped in one of the alleys. 'e's probably dead by now. Why the bloody hell didn't they just hang you and be done with it!"
Those words should have stung Archie, but he did not hear them, or anything the gaoler said after, and he did not move when the lieutenant gave his reassurances that the gaol would be looked after and left. Time stopped, went backwards, and as he gripped the iron bars with hands numb from shock Archie could only stand frozen and hear, over and over, the terrifying screech of a loosed cannon maiming and killing, and the hollow satisfied laughter from lips long dead and cold.
Horatio stood with Captain Pellew on the docks, gazing at the Indefatigable as she rode anchor some distance out in the harbor. The jollyboat was ready, and he had only to wait until Captain Pellew was aboard before getting in himself. It would be a long night of tiresome chores, but curiously Horatio's heart was lighter than it had been that morning. He glanced over at Matthews, who was now sitting at the oars and ready to row them to the ship, and he gave the seaman a grateful smile. Matthews nodded back, and their exchanged looks said the same thing: maybe tomorrow, this nightmare will be over.
Horatio was adjusting his cape and waiting for Pellew, who was just setting foot in the wavering boat, when he heard some shouting and turned his head toward the town to look. Someone was running toward the boat, a youth Horatio didn't recognize. Then he did; a serving boy from the Dove.
"I'm looking for Pellew and Hornblower," The boy squeaked as soon as he was close enough to gasp out the words.
"I'm Lieutenant Hornblower," Horatio replied, feeling suddenly uneasy.
The lad quickly looked him up and down. "You've been asked for, sir, there's been an accident."
Archie, Horatio thought automatically, but - Captain Pellew swiftly set himself back on the pier and said, "An accident, boy?"
The youth nodded, shaggy hair falling in his eyes. "Lady at the Dove sent me. She said to tell you it was your lawyer friend - "
"Oh, my God!" Horatio exclaimed, and would have taken off running toward the inn if Pellew had not immediately guided him away from the boat and toward a stand of carriages.
"These will take us faster and with more dignity," Pellew said, and Horatio noticed how tight and angry his voice was. "We must learn more of this, come boy."
My God, Horatio thought, Terry - an accident - he scarcely noticed when Pellew bundled him into the carriage along with the serving-boy, and they took off at a near-gallop down the deserted cobblestone streets.
Lafferty could not stop pacing.
They had gotten Whitehall to his room at the Dove, and into his bed. It had not been easy - Lafferty couldn't tell how or where Whitehall had been injured, and even with two hostlers helping him Whitehall had been a load to carry. He had not awakened either, and looking at him now on the bed Lafferty wanted to throw up. Or go beat the stuffing out of Stephens. Or possibly both.
God, it was sickening! The prostitute had come with him, was even now washing Whitehall's face while the doctor from the Dove looked him over, but Lafferty could not even glance at the bed without pacing faster, and wanting to punch out the walls.
Those bruises - the blood - Whitehall was one massive wound from stem to gourd, and Lafferty knew - knew! - that Morgan was responsible. And those two bodies he'd seen, those must have been the marines Terry had accompanying him, were they dead? Would Morgan order them murdered?
Of course he would. To stop the trial and save his reputation.
Lafferty kept pacing, slamming one fisted hand into the other in frustration. Finally the prostitute looked up from her work and whispered, "Will you stop that! You aren't helping."
"Shut up!" Lafferty barked, but as the prostitute looked away he came to the end of the bed and said, "How is he?"
The doctor, a fat old man with a foreign accent, shrugged and said, "He's been in a fight, what do you want? He's got some nasty bruises, maybe a few broken ribs. He's been knocked senseless too, very bad unless he wakes up soon."
"Is he going to die?" Lafferty asked desperately.
The doctor shrugged again. "I'm no fortune-teller. But when he wakes up he might wish he was dead."
Lafferty made a noise - he wasn't even sure what it was - and grabbed his jacket from the chair it had been sitting in. He had stripped it off because he couldn't stand the smell of the blood on it, but now he didn't care. The coward in him, that stood aghast but went along, was retreating in the face of the outraged anger that was hurting him inside. It might kill him, if he didn't do something.
Without another word to anyone, he threw open the door and almost ran outside.
The restaurant was quiet, the candles and linens as pristine and glowing as they ever had been. Captain Morgan took a sip of wine and had just set the glass down when there was a quiet knock at the French doors. Glancing at them he said, "Come in."
The doors opened, just a crack, and Morgan made a face when he saw who it was. "What do you want, Goss?"
"Oh - " Goss replied lightly, slipping in through the crack as if he were a March wind, "Nothing, captain, certainly not to disturb your excellent dinner. Merely to congratulate you on the court proceedings today, it's all the talk of the clubs."
Morgan scowled and cut a slice of beef. "Thank you."
"Not that it started out that way, I hear," Goss said in a sly tone, toying with the back of a vacant chair as he spoke, "Good heavens, Julius, but how those low-lifes did run on about your men! I wonder you didn't line them all up and have them shot for treason."
Morgan gave him a brief, stabbing glare, then resumed eating.
"But the talk is that it was all even until that haughty little lawyer brought in that Matthews fellow. I swear, why anyone would rather listen to a smelly old tar than a landed aristocrat I'm sure I have no idea!"
"It's a strange world," Morgan growled, and took another sip of wine.
Goss nodded. "Another day of this, and even I couldn't keep the scandal out of the papers for you. But what do you think? The court martial may be over after all!"
Morgan stopped, slowly, as if he was made of liquid, and looked up at Goss. "Oh?"
Goss paused, then leaned forward and said, "You haven't heard? Someone attacked Kennedy's lawyer in an alleyway, beat him just about to death! The talk now is that without him it's likely Hood will just pass sentence, unless another lawyer for Kennedy can be found right away. And we all know how likely *that* is."
"Hm." Morgan said noncommittally, and cut another slice of beef.
"So," Goss continued, "It seems now that without any witnesses or testimony of his own, that Kennedy will most likely hang, although the captains are apparently very curious about your ship. I'm sure there's no truth to one word that's been said against them, is there?"
"None," Morgan said, his eyes on his food.
Goss nodded with a smile. "Just as I suspected. Well, at least with this trial cut short you won't have to worry about your fair name being dragged through the mud, and with Kennedy hanged I suppose that will be a bit of a vindication, won't it? Then of course there's the matter of cornering the ruffians who nearly killed Kennedy's lawyer. They'll never catch them, I suppose."
Morgan didn't move his eyes from his plate. "Everyone hated him. It would be a long search."
"Hm. But you'd never stoop that low, would you? I mean - it's impossible of course, you've been here the whole time. Eating."
Morgan's eyes shot up then, to stab Goss with a rapier-sharp glare.
Goss didn't flinch. "Just wanted to remind you, in case you needed - well, let's call it corroboration. Have a good evening, captain, and do come by my establishment sometime. I'm sure we've lots to discuss."
"Good night, Goss." Morgan said, but there was not a syllable of pleasantness in those words. And after Goss left, Morgan sat in the fancy private dining room and continued eating. And thinking.
The carriage could not go fast enough.
Horatio leaned forward, sideways, counting the streetlights and searching desperately for familiar landmarks that would tell him they were near the inn. Captain Pellew kept his hand on Horatio's arm, his dark eyes urging caution and calm, but damn! Terry was injured, perhaps - no, Horatio couldn't think on that, what would he tell Terry's sister? His father, God! They would never forgive him. And Archie -
Finally the carriage rattled to a stop, and Horatio all but vaulted out of the compartment. He waited for Pellew, which was only right, and forced himself to match the captain's slower gait as they went into the inn and were shown upstairs. Everywhere there seemed to be people, their heads together, talking, talking.
Oh, God, Horatio thought, a horrible sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, what are we going to do?
They got to Terry's room and Horatio let Pellew enter first. He couldn't see Terry until the captain moved to the other side of the bed, and then it was all he could do not to cry aloud. Terry's face was covered with red and black marks, his brown hair matted in places with drying blood. His shirt was gone, and the doctor was applying the last of several large bandages, a few of which were already newly bloodstained.
Horatio shook with anger. His only consolation was that his fury was mirrored in Pellew's eyes.
And - after blinking for a moment Horatio realized that Rose was there as well, dabbing at Terry's face with a clean wet cloth. Pellew stood next to her and touched his hat, disregarding her obvious occupation to deal with the task at hand. "Ma'am."
Rose glanced up at him, then Horatio, then nodded. "Captain."
Pellew's eyes darted to the doctor. "Your prognosis, sir?"
The doctor shrugged casually. "He was at the receiving end of about ten good punches. Broken ribs, hasn't awakened yet."
Pellew's shoulders slumped, and he briefly closed his eyes. When he opened them again he focused on Horatio for an instant, their gazes mirrors of each other's thoughts .
Then he asked quietly, "Where are the marines that were to be accompanying him?"
Rose looked up, "They're - likely still in the alleyway, sir. I don't think anyone's moved 'em. I don't think - they were movin'. Sir."
Pellew sighed, then shook his head. "Damn. Mr. Hornblower, stay here and see what can be done. Lord Admiral Hood needs to be informed of this - development - right away, and I need to see about my men."
"Aye, sir," Horatio whispered, but he felt strangely insubstantial, as if he were made of mist. He knew this was a nightmare, like his others, and that he would wake up any second. But it was not happening.
Pellew walked around the bed again and out the door, his shadow growing large and small again as he passed the lanterns, and a moment later Horatio moved to stand next to Rose, his stern lieutenant's facade crumbling as he looked at his injured friend. First Archie, now Terry. What would it take to bring that bastard down?
As Rose continued to ply the cloth, the doctor stood and said, "I need more bandages. Don't move him, he might break someplace."
Horatio nodded, and wondered blankly where this man had gotten his education. He suddenly missed his father terribly.
Without warning Horatio suddenly felt a hand in his, and looked down to see that Rose had turned to take it, her other hand on the cloth covering Terry's bleeding forehead.
"Don't worry, lieutenant," She whispered, "He'll be all right, your friend."
Horatio knelt beside her and shook his head, feeling shameful tears in his eyes. "This is all my fault! I should have insisted on going with him - "
"Oh, then we'd have two brows to clean, instead of one! They were big strong men, lieutenant, and they took down two marines. You might be dead right now."
"Better dead than this!" Horatio cried in a tortured whisper.
At that moment the cloth beneath Rose's hand moved a little, and with a small groan Terry opened his eyes.
Horatio was on his feet in a second. "Terry?"
"Ow!" Terry cried in an aggravated rasp. "Ow! What happened?"
Rose quickly moved out of the way, and Horatio sat in the chair and bent close. "Don't move, Terry, you were attacked in the alleyway coming here. You don't remember?"
Terry's eyes opened a little wider, then he winced at even that slight movement. "Damn! Yes, I remem - remember." His brown eyes searched Horatio's. "My guards?"
Horatio shook his head. "I don't know. Captain Pellew's checking."
"Oh, no - " Terry tried to move his head. "Ow! Damn it, pardon my language, ma'am."
Rose smiled at the courtesy, and picked up the water bowl. "I'll get some clean water and be right back."
After she left, Horatio asked quietly, "Terry, who attacked you?"
"I don't - know," Terry said tightly, "They had hoods on, and cloaks. Jumped my guards from behind, the next thing I knew - sh*t! I think I broke a rib."
"You probably did," Horatio said as he put a hand on Terry's shoulder. "Terry, please don't move. I've been - injured like you, that only makes it worse - "
Terry made one more valiant effort to move, then gave up and lay panting on the sheets, staring at the ceiling, his face damp with exertion. "Damn! Oh, damn! Horatio - "
Horatio bent closer.
Terry moved his head, just a little, and winced at the effort. "Morgan did this."
Bile rose in Horatio's throat, and he fought the anger he knew showed in his eyes.
"I know he did," Terry repeated, louder, "He's scared, Horatio, he doesn't want - oww! - doesn't want anyone to know the truth, thinks he can beat me into silence. But Kennedy - "
"Archie knows," Horatio said, "Terry, Archie knows. Nothing will happen to him, Morgan can't touch him in the gaol - "
"No, but - ow! - he's frightened too, for you and me - oh God, Horatio, he won't testify if he knows about this. He's scared it will happen to you."
Horatio froze, remembering Matthews' story of the first friend Archie had on Justinian - and the loose cannon that killed him before he could report Simpson's behavior to Captain Keene.
"Damn!" Terry was becoming truly distraught, and Horatio hurriedly put the cloth back on his forehead to calm him down. "Kennedy's alone, Horatio, no one else will defend him. He'll hang - "
Terry started coughing, and Horatio quickly dropped the cloth and eased him into a sitting position, as far as he dared. After a few spasms Terry quieted down, but still he shook his head and said, "He'll hang, Horatio, and I can't let that happen - not if I have to crawl there - "
Horatio fought the feeling of ice-cold dread that was crawling up his spine. "The captain's gone to see Hood, he can get the court-martial delayed I'm sure of it."
"That won't help," Terry gasped, lying back against the pillows, "Not if Kennedy is too afraid for you to testify. You've got - got to help him, Horatio. Somehow, he has to know - this didn't end it for me, or him."
Horatio's mind swam in confusion, but the look on Terry's face sealed it for him. He knew that if he hesitated even a little, Terry would indeed try to drag himself to the courthouse tomorrow, and would probably die in the attempt.
And Archie - God, what ghosts could his friend be facing now? What thoughts must be going through his head? Terry was right, Horatio had to see Archie, had to talk to him, if only to beg him not to give up, not to let the evil that was threatening all of their lives win. This was not Justinian, they were not helpless, there had to be - something - "I'll see to Archie, Terry. Somehow I'll find a way to help him."
Terry nodded,and closed his eyes. "Thank you, - ow! - Horatio. I must...say...this is a bit more adventure than I bargained for."
Horatio sat back with a small smile. "You defended yourself quite ably against five men twice your size. I'd say the bad bargain was on their side, Mr. Whitehall."
Terry caught the humor in Horatio's voice, and his split lips curled in a smile of their own. "Never...underestimate the fighting ability...of a man who only got to five foot five in height."
Horatio smiled again and patted Terry on the arm. "Don't worry, Terry. As soon as the doctor returns, I'll go see about Archie."
Terry nodded, but was already slipping back into sleep.
It was only after Terry had slipped into unconscious again that Horatio's reassuring smile faded, and his eyes burned with righteous anger as he looked at his beaten friend. *I will also find justice for the bastard who did this to you, and Archie. I swear it.*
Lafferty was almost running, and he knew that people were looking at him, but he didn't care. He knew where Morgan was, where he always was at this time of night when he was ashore. And he knew he had to speak to the captain, now.
Thank God he had his cloak on! His uniform was still stained with Terry Whitehall's blood, and Lafferty knew he'd never be let into Regent's looking like that.
But he didn't care about that either. The way he felt, he would have broken the doors down.
Controlling himself as best he could, Lafferty entered the restaurant with his cloak tightly wound about him and nodded at the proprietor. "Is Captain Morgan still here?"
The proprietor nodded, and Lafferty made his way through the crowds of diners to the closed French doors, paused for the merest moment -
- Think, you fool, he's your captain, the one who made you first lieutenant, the one who promised you a captaincy if you were smart enough to take it. Do you want to throw that away just because the world isn't a fairy tale?
Lafferty paused, his breath coming in hard gasps, and realized that the warning voice in his head was not his own, but Creps', and Stephens. And he would never be like them.
Lafferty put his hand on the latch, and forcefully pushed open the door.
Morgan was there, of course, quietly eating his dinner. He looked up at Lafferty, and for the swiftest moment the young man was afraid. The his resolve overcame it and taking a step into the room he blurted, "I can't do it anymore, sir."
Morgan leaned back a little, puzzlement on his large, florid face. But he didn't look angry. "Come inside and close the door, lieutenant."
Lafferty did so, he was glad to give them some privacy. He couldn't really trust what he was going to say.
"Now then," Morgan said, casually, kindly almost, "What seems to be the problem?"
"You know what the problem is," Lafferty exclaimed, letting the cloak fall open so Morgan could see the bloodstains on his uniform, "I can't be a part of this anymore, sir. It's not right."
Morgan frowned at the bloodstains. "What are you talking about?"
"You know what I'm talking about," Lafferty cried, feeling himself reeling towards some unknown abyss, "The attack on Mr. Whitehall this afternoon."
Morgan's eyes widened. "You were part of that?"
Lafferty suddenly realized what he looked like, what he was saying, and stammered, "N-no, of course not! But some of the men of the Courageous were, I - I think I recognized Stephens."
Morgan's expression changed again, to a kind of controlled shock.
Lafferty shook his head, his heart hammering a mile a minute. "If Kennedy's guilty, he should hang, sir, but not this way. You shouldn't have to resort to this, it's beneath you. Kennedy would have been convicted without it."
The shock on Morgan's face gave way to a threatening frown. "Exactly what are you suggesting, lieutenant?"
Lafferty took a deep breath, unsure if he would be able to voice the terrifying reality he knew. He found it was easier if he looked at the floor. "I - I know Creps' death upset you, sir, and I know you want Kennedy to hang for it. And the things that were said against you today, it would be hard for anyone to bear - but to have Whitehall set upon goes against everything we stand for as Englishmen, and I cannot - "
"You think *I* had Whitehall attacked?"
It was uttered quietly, in a hurt voice almost. Surprised, Lafferty looked up.
Morgan's face was all astonishment. "Lieutenant! You're suggesting that *I* ordered a civilian beaten because he opposed me in court?"
Lafferty's heart stopped for a moment, then resumed, shakily. He licked his lips and said, "I won't tell anyone, sir, I just can't - "
"By God!" Morgan's fist came down onto the table, not thunderously so but loud enough to rattle the china. "By God, lieutenant, how dare you accuse me of such a vile act! Why would I even think of doing such a thing?"
Lafferty was momentarily speechless. He was at that moment convinced that answering that question would get him killed.
Morgan shook his head and said, "To think I would have someone attacked just because he disagreed with me, it's almost treasonous! I welcome any man's opposition of me, for I can counter any condemnation handed down with the spirit and success of my men."
Lafferty blinked. It was the only action he was capable of.
"Whitehall attacked?" Morgan rose, and slowly paced around the table. "Why would I want such a thing, when tomorrow I could have easily proven that all of his witnesses are liars, and that Kennedy is a cowardly butcher? Why would I deny myself and my ship the chance to defend the malicious accusations made against us today?"
Lafferty managed a weak shake of his head.
Morgan stopped pacing and scowled. "Lieutenant Lafferty, there have been moments lately when I have seriously doubted your sanity."
Lafferty felt a shudder go all the way through him, and simply stared at his captain. He reminded himself he wasn't breathing, and let in a shaky lungful of air.
Morgan hunched back to his seat. "Tell me about Whitehall. How badly is he injured?"
"Um - he was beaten pretty severely, at least a couple of broken ribs, and - and I don't know what else."
"Will he make it to court tomorrow?"
Lafferty winced. "I doubt it, sir."
Morgan sat down, his expression thoughtful. "And you say you saw the assailants?"
Morgan's tone was quieting, inquisitive, and Lafferty let his guard down a little. But only a little. "Yes, sir, five men, all heavily cloaked."
"And one of them was Stephens?"
Lafferty paused. God, I feel like a traitor! "Yes, sir. I believe it was."
Morgan sat still for a long time, staring at the wall, and it began to occur to Lafferty that he might have been wrong about Morgan ordering Whitehall's beating. Oh, Jesus - what if he WAS wrong? His career crumbled before his eyes, in a dreamy kind of slow-motion. Feeling his heart begin to race again he said, "Sir - Stephens - must have been acting on his own, you know he never liked taking orders, and - "
Morgan's eyes snapped to him. "You would speak that way about a fellow officer, lieutenant?"
Lafferty stopped, confused. Then he said, "Stephens must be found, sir, and turned over to the judge. Do you want me to start - "
Lafferty paused, every feeling of dread and fear rushing back. Morgan looked at him with hard eyes that glittered with malice and contempt.
"No, lieutenant, I will not have Stephens placed in the gaol with that perverted, murdering garbage. You are not to speak of this to anyone, that is an order. Understood?"
Lafferty's mouth fell open. "But sir - sir, he attacked a civilian, killed two marines, that goes against - "
"You know, lieutenant," Morgan growled, rising from the table like a snake from its hole, "It occurs to me that these flights of your imagination may be hiding a darker purpose. Whose blood is that on your uniform?"
"It's Whitehall's - " Lafferty said, then froze as Morgan's eyes gleamed with furious fire.
"Whitehall's!" Morgan exclaimed, "And you accuse *me* of violence! And you accuse your brother officers as well, what kind of a heretic are you?"
Lafferty could only stare in bewilderment. "Sir?"
"You've been following Whitehall around for days," Morgan pointed out, his voice angry and accusing, "Not under any provocation, but by your own will! What's to prevent me from clapping you in irons? What more do I need than the evidence of my own eyes?"
Lafferty was aghast. "My God, sir, you don't mean - to suggest that *I* attacked Whitehall? That's preposterous, I have witnesses - "
Morgan suddenly smiled, a terrible thing to see, and leaned close enough to Lafferty to make the young man shrink back.
"And so do *I*, lieutenant," He purred, very softly so only the two of them could hear the words.
And Lafferty knew, looking into those piercing, jet-black depths, that Morgan was speaking the truth. He could have witnesses, five witnesses probably, all marking him at the scene of the crime, and Lafferty would have...
...a prostitute. That was all.
Morgan turned away with a shrug. "My dinner's growing cold. You're dismissed, lieutenant, and I do not accept your resignation. I will, however, caution you to mind your step."
Lafferty could hardly think, his mind was spinning so fast. He could not even look at Morgan. He felt like he was drowning.
The shouted word made Lafferty jump, and he saw Morgan smile a little at the reaction he had caused.
Then Morgan said, "I said you're dismissed. Go back to the ship."
With a trembling hand, Lafferty left the little room and very gingerly made his way to the darkening street, not knowing where he would go, knowing only that he felt pain in every fiber of his body, as if he'd been stabbed by a hundred knives.
And every one of them was still lodged in his back.
Dr. St. John was reading a medical text in his cabin when he heard the heavy thump of someone knocking on the sick berth door. Closing his book, he sighed and went out to the sick berth, hoping it was something simple and he could escape back into his books soon.
It was Christopher Stephens, his face a swelling mass of bruises and cuts.
Stephens just grinned at him. "Evening, doctor. Patch me up, will you?"
"What have you been doing!" St. John exclaimed as he guided Stephens to a nearby seat. Both the young man's eyes were almost swollen shut.
"Oh, just a little shore leave," Stephens returned, almost humorously. His eyes glinted like an animal's after the hunt.
St. John took down some of his salves and shook his head. "That's why you went ashore tonight, to cause trouble. As if we don't have enough already."
"That will do, old man," Stephens said, sharper this time, and St. John knew he'd crossed a line and had better keep his mouth shut. Silently, then, he dipped a cloth into the salve and approached the worst cut on Stephens' face.
"This is going to hurt," he warned, even though the fact was he didn't care much. Another brawl, another half-dozen bleeding officers, it was strange how it all blended together. Strange how it was just about back to business as usual...
Stephens grunted as St. John put the salve on his gashed face, and let out a curse.
"I suppose there'll be more of you coming in," St. John said in resignation.
"And who were you fighting? Each other?"
"None of your business," Stephens spat. "OW!!"
St. John sighed. "Hear anything about the court-martial?"
Something in the irritated way Stephens said this made St. Jon hesitate before asking, "Well?"
"Nothing you need to know about." Stephens replied sourly, "It's been taken care of."
A prickly suspicion began to form in St. John's mind, and he took another look at Stephens' knuckles. "You didn't start a fight over the court-martial?"
"Didn't I tell you to mind your own business?" Stephens gave St. John a stabbing glare, then slumped over and stared glumly at the walls while the doctor wiped off his face. "We just showed 'em what Courageous men are made of, that's all. They won't be back."
Who the hell are 'they', St. John wondered, but didn't dare ask. "Was Lieutenant Lafferty with you?"
Stephens snorted. "That back-stabbing little sh*t."
St. John stopped wiping, genuinely confused now. "What?"
Stephens eyes flickered up, as if he'd accidentally divulged a secret, then they sought the wall again. "Nothing. Are you done?"
"Almost." St. John picked up one of Stephens' hands and peered the skinned knuckles. "Whoever you were fighting, I'm sure he felt it."
"He did," Stephens said with a small grin.
St. John suppressed a shudder, and wiped his hands on his shirt. "You're done."
Stephens got up and turned toward the door with a grunt. At that moment the door to the sick berth opened, and another young man, a midshipman, burst in all out of breath.
"Stephens, there you are, did you hear? Kennedy's lawyer's been murdered!"
St. John's mouth dropped open. "What!"
The midshipman nodded, his eyes glowing with excitement. "It's all over the ship, he was jumped this afternoon. He was beaten within an inch of his life!"
"Now they'll hang Kennedy for certain!" The midshipman was almost beside himself. "Do you think they'll let us all watch, Stephens?"
"Of course, my boy," Stephens smiled, and put a companionly hand on the youth's shoulder to guide him out. "The captain will want to make sure Kennedy's made an example of."
"I've never seen a hanging," The boy declared, not noticing the warning smirk Stephens gave St. John as they left. "I hope they don't spoil it by putting a cloth over his head..."
Their conversation continued outside, but St. John didn't hear it. For a long moment he simply stared at the medicines around him, wrapped up in such a feeling of disgust and loathing that he thought it might be visible, a ghastly, putrid fog like one would see around a charnel house or a graveyard.
And he was part of it. As trapped and doomed as Kennedy was, except his sentence would be to live, not to die. Live and know that he was a passive observer in the cruelties that the men of this ship seemed to revel in, sick at the knowledge but unable to act.
**I know you can't be dead inside. Not yet.**
The lawyer's words again. Oh, damn, he wasn't dead inside. He wasn't, but this might kill him.
Or Morgan would. But St. John knew he couldn't hide again, not in the putrid bowels of Courageous where he could still see a battered, wounded youth whose blue eyes begged for understanding, not where he had been asked questions he was too cowardly to answer, and where the face that looked back at him in his shaving mirror showed accusation and guilt in every tired line.
And not where he could still see a slim, serious-faced lieutenant inquiring after his friend who was already beyond his reach, and who had still not given up on him, even when all seemed lost.
No, Dr. St. John thought, he couldn't hide on Courageous. He could never be free either. But he had to do something.
WIth that realization, he took a deep breath, and began to gather up some bandages and ointments to prepare for a trip ashore.
"The Lord Admiral has retired for the evening, Captain Pellew," The proprietor said, "But I'm certain you can call on him tomorrow morning."
Pellew glared at the man in silent fury. It was true, the exclusive, delicately appointed inn that Lord Hood was staying at was somewhat out of the way and thus had not been reached by the tide of excitement that Whitehall's attack was causing, but - "Once again, sir, I must tell you this is a matter of the utmost urgency! I'm certain Lord Hood will not object to being disturbed."
"You may not think so," The proprietor said evenly, still sitting behind his elegantly carved desk, "But I assure you that if you are wrong, it will be me and my staff who will hear about it, and not your fine beribboned self. You may leave a message if you like."
Pellew was about to forget himself and let loose with a tirade, but stopped himself just in the nick of time. Instead, he merely gave a tight little nod.
"Very well," The proprietor said, and slipped off his stool, "I'll get some paper and be right back."
Pellew watched the man go, and tried unsuccessfully to control his anger. It was bad enough that Mr. Whitehall had been set upon, setting his own life in danger as well as Mr. Kennedy's, but it even worse that Pellew knew - or at least was very certain - who the instigator was. Oh, it would look like a random jumping in an alley, but the timing was too neat, and there had been too many times during the court martial when Pellew had glanced over at his old friend and seen Morgan's eyes flashing fire. And Morgan could be a very dangerous man.
But to do this! To have a civilian set upon, beaten! That would be taking a terrible risk, if he were uncovered Morgan would be forced from the navy in disgrace, not to mention barred from all polite society forever. The very beastlike nature of it seemed low, a coward's way out, and it sickened Pellew to think that one of his own fellow officers would perform such a horrid act...
But it worked, a small, mocking voice within him whispered. Didn't it?
Surprised, Pellew spun around to face Lord Hood, who for reasons unknown to him was standing in the hallway of the inn carrying a cup of tea.
"My lord," Pellew bowed briefly, then asked, "Are you well?"
"Damn this hovel!" Hood groused, approaching Pellew with a scowl, "Don't they know how to make a decent cup of tea? If this were the navy I would have them flogged for attempting to serve their guests this watery pap!"
"Er - " Pellew only glanced at the teacup that was shaking in the admiral's grip, "Could not your servants have seen after that, my lord?"
"Ha! As if any of them could make a decent cup of tea!"
"My lord," Pellew said, knowing that he had to act quickly, "I'm afraid I must ask for a moment of your time to deliver some very bad news. Mr. Kennedy's lawyer, Mr. Whitehall, was attacked this evening."
"The devil you say!" Hood's eyebrows leapt in surprise. "Where?"
"In an alleyway near the inn he is staying at. He's resting there now, but I'm afraid the trial will have to be delayed until he can recover enough to pursue the case."
"Delayed! Here," Hood was distracted by the proprietor's return, and thrust the teacup at the startled man before he could react, "Take this distasteful mixture out of my sight, man, and have some proper tea sent up to my room."
"Yes, my lord," The proprietor squeaked, and was gone again.
"Now then," Hood said, squinting at Pellew as if his attention had never wandered, "About the other. Whitehall's badly injured, you say?"
"I'm afraid so, my lord. At least he's in no shape to conduct a court-martial."
"What a pity! They aren't safe, these streets, you know, nothing like when I was a boy."
"Yes - but - we need to call a delay to the trial, until Mr. Whitehall is better."
"A delay?" Hood twisted his head to look at Pellew as if he'd just appeared there. "Whatever for?"
Pellew began to feel uneasy. "My lord, the court-martial is not yet over, we still have witnesses. Mr. Kennedy himself may feel inclined to speak."
"You think so! He seems rather timid to me, hardly the kind of man I would have pictured running across a burning bridge, as Lord Edrington said in his report. Come to think of it, I wonder if he was mistaken?"
Pellew sighed. "I think not, my lord."
"Well, devil take it all anyway! There are only a few witnesses left, and the Crown is anxious to have this distasteful affair over with as soon as possible. They would be most unhappy with a delay."
"But Mr. Kennedy has no defense - "
"I will ask the questions in Mr. Whitehall's place."
Pellew's breath stopped for a moment. When he regained it he asked, "You, my lord?" He hoped it did not sound too disbelieving.
"Of course! Hm - why not?" Hood seemed almost amused by the idea. "After all, how hard can it be? It is not unusual for the judges at a court-martial to ask questions. Yes, we will get to the bottom of Mr. Kennedy's situation in no time, and be home in time for supper."
Pellew frantically cast about for an argument - any argument - against this frightening turn of events, but could find none. Finally he said, "My lord, it is an excellent thought, but Mr. Kennedy's case is very - delicate, are you certain - "
"Blast it, Captain Pellew, I may be old but I am not senile!" Hood snapped, and his flashing eyes told Pellew he had gone too far. "I have commanded ships at sea and men in peacetime, I'm certain I can manage asking Mr. Kennedy whether he took a life or not!"
Pellew sighed again, hoping Hood would not see the dismayed look in his eyes. "Aye, my lord."
Hood nodded. "That is settled then. We will convene the court-martial at noon tomorrow, and you will please convey my best wishes to Mr. Whitehall in the meantime."
Pellew felt the same helpless ache he had felt at receiving the orders for Muzillac, the same wondering dread that men so blinkered and self-absorbed could still be so powerful. All of the day's moving testimony - all the passioned arguments in Kennedy's defense - wasted. There was no doubt that Kennedy had taken a life. Mustering all the energy he had, Pellew whispered, "Aye, my lord. I will."
"Excellent. Now if you will excuse me, I am going to return to my room and discover whether this blasted hole in the earth has learned how to make a proper cup of English tea!"
The captain's cabin on board Courageous was quiet and dark, a hurricane's eye of quiet amid the storm that swirled around it. Nothing moved here that did not first get permission, not even the candles it seemed, when Captain Morgan was in the room as he was then. But even he was not moving, merely sitting at his desk with the candles glowing about him, as still and silent and watchful as a snake.
There was a knock on the door. Morgan stirred slightly. "Come."
The door opened, and Christopher Stephens walked in, frowning at the dark silence of the place. Closing the door, he saluted Morgan. "Good evening, captain."
Morgan still did not move. "Lieutenant. Did you look after my interests while I was ashore?"
"Aye, sir," Stephens replied briskly. "Everything is taken care of."
Silence and muted movement. Then, "Very well."
Stephens walked forward a pace, then leaned toward Morgan and whispered, "I sent Lieutenant Richards to look in on the gaol, he said Kennedy's petrified. He said he thought he might choke on his own tongue and never even make it to tomorrow - "
"That will do, lieutenant," Morgan said, a little more loudly than before, but with enough of a threat in it that Stephens immediately straightened up and said nothing more.
"A good officer looks after the welfare of his ship and crew," Morgan said in a low, expressionless voice as he casually pulled a bag out of his desk drawer. The bag jingled softly, and he put it on the desk. "A good officer performs his duty and follows the orders of his captain."
Stephens nodded happy agreement and reached for the bag.
Like lightning, Morgan reached out one large hand and grabbed Stephens by the collar, almost dragging him over the desk to bring his face close to his own.
"A good officer," Morgan rumbled, staring into Stephens' wide and startled eyes, "does not - get - CAUGHT."
Stephens was breathing rapidly, but managed to stammer, "C-caught? What - we didn't - "
Morgan pushed him away and indicated the bag. "Dismissed."
Stephens rubbed his throat and sputtered, "D*mn, it was Lafferty, wasn't it? He won't talk, he's just a cowardly little sh - "
Morgan turned his head, just a little, but the look in his eyes was enough to make Stephens' blood run cold. "I do not repeat myself, lieutenant. I do not give second chances, either."
Stephens took a deep breath, reddening in chagrin to the roots of his hair. Without another word, he stepped forward, took the bag, and giving his captain another salute quickly left the room with its unnatural stillness and its lone occupant, who clasped his hands on the desk and sat alone and undisturbed in the sepulcher darkness.
Horatio walked the streets like a man possessed, his head down, his eyes full of anger that in a less restrained man would have laid waste to half the town. He thought his soul could not contain all the fury he held within it; surely he must do something, or go mad.
Calm - reason - quiet dignity - those were the hallmarks of a British officer, and on the streets that was the image Horatio knew he should convey. But no - every calm impulse was answered with the nightmare image of Terry's beaten face, every appeal to reason hampered by those bloodstained bandages that made a mockery of all British officers, just as Clayton's had - just as -
Oh, God, Horatio thought with a sudden rush of anguish, and he had to slow down in his wide-gaited walk to contain himself. It was just like Clayton, all over again.
The realization of a possible tragedy, the frantic rush to be there before it was too late, the awful sight of wounds and hurts preventable but unprevented - and the causes were the same! How different could Simpson and Morgan be if their villainy achieved the same despicable ends? But this was even worse, for Simpson's crime had been almost mindless, the mere taking of a life worthless to him; Morgan, however...
Horatio tilted his chin down, and his eyes once again lit with fire as he made his way toward the gaol.
Evening was fast approaching, and there were fewer people on the streets. The lanterns were being lit, and everything had an otherworldly, surreal glow to it that fed Horatio's disjointed mood, took his outrage and compounded it. Morgan knew Terry was winning, knew one more day's testimony would sink him; even now, would his officers be as welcome in town as they once were, since some of his mens' sins were known already? Not the worst, no, but bad enough. And another day, then Morgan might be finished forever.
But Morgan did not want there to be another day. And he had seen to it.
Horatio's throat constricted with sudden sickness as he thought of those cowards, five of them beating on one defenseless man! How I would like to tear them to shreds, Horatio seethed, if we had only God's law to deal with, how I would return kind for kind! He had been helpless in Clayton's death, helpless in Archie's disappearance during the attack on the Papillon, and until now did not realize how badly that helplessness had chafed at him. But now, faced with it again -
I will fight for them, Horatio vowed, and this time I will win.
The gaol was nearby now, and Horatio stopped at the end of the street and looked at it. Damn, of course now there are four times the guards, and I am not even supposed to be here. He wrapped his cloak about him to conceal his identity a trifle and found a small vacant alleyway where he could think this thing out and not be disturbed. So there he paced, and thought.
But nothing came.
Damn, Horatio cursed to himself, how am I to do this? I promised Terry, and he's right, Archie will not testify if he thinks only ill will come of it. The memories of Matthews' talk returned, the hushed whispers about Archie's first days aboard Justinian, and Horatio winced as he recalled the words
**Mr. Kennedy didn't understand the way of things, 'e and a few of the other lads, they didn't like Mr. Simpson's bullying. Danny Fredericks, one of 'em was called. Other was Pierson...they'd taken to hiding in the timbers, they saw things. Things Mr. Simpson was doing that they'd have hanged 'im if they'd've known."
"Mr. Kennedy, 'e weren't so sure, but Fredericks told 'im they 'ad to tell the captain, that nothin' would 'appen if they 'ung together. But Fredericks had an accident...Cannon came loose and rolled over both his legs. Killed 'im...and Pierson...he was with Fredericks when 'e had the accident. Didn't see him for two days, and then it was 'Mr. Simpson if you please'. He didn't want anythin' happenin' to him."**
Horatio stopped pacing and squeezed his eyes shut, and another image came, Archie starving himself to death in a Spanish prison rather than hamper Horatio's plans at an escape attempt. Was there any doubt that he would now rather stay silent and hang than risk his friends' well-being at the hands of ruthlessness and power?
You must save yourself, Archie, Horatio begged to the empty air as he gazed at the faraway gaol, and I must honor my promise to Terry and help you. But I cannot even get close enough to shout at you, and even if I could you would never say what really happened, never reveal the true nature of Creps' corruption, just as you never revealed it on Justinian, or for years after. You must speak, and you feel you must not, and I do not know how to cross that bridge for you.
What am I going to do?
At that moment someone else appeared at the other end of the courtyard, and Horatio turned away so whoever it was would not see his face. Then he turned back again, slowly, and felt his rage rise again with a barely-suppressed growl.
It was Lafferty.
Lafferty had taken a few steps into the courtyard, but as soon as he saw Horatio he stopped and stared wide-eyed. Every horrific image of the last four days came rushing through Horatio's imagination in streaks of black and red, and wordlessly he strode toward Lafferty, his hands clenching almost without his knowledge.
Lafferty took two quick steps backward and raised both hands."Hornblower, wait!"
Horatio stopped a few feet from him and looked at him with loathing. He fought for enough control to speak for quite a few moments; then he said, in a low and dangerous voice, "You are indeed fortunate that I have been brought up as a gentleman, or as God is my witness I would strike you down right here."
Lafferty's eyes got wider, and he spread his hands a little wider and gulped.
As he did so, Horatio glanced down and saw the bloodstains on Lafferty's shirt. Something inside him snapped, and without thinking he grasped Lafferty's collar to prevent him from running. Lafferty almost jumped out of his skin, but Horatio's grip was firm. "Who commanded you to attack Terry Whitehall?"
"What?! Oh, no!" Lafferty struggled to free himself from Horatio's grasp, "No, Hornblower, I didn't attack Whitehall! My God, I couldn't do that, Jesus!"
"Coward!" Horatio gave his collar a rattle. "Liar!"
"No!" Lafferty cried. "I swear to God, I never laid a hand on him! I helped him, you can ask that prostitute that helped me take him to the Inn!"
Horatio paused, and pushed Lafferty away a little. "Rose?"
"Whatever her name is," Lafferty stammered, "Yes, she'll tell you! I ran his attackers off, got his blood all over me and now you taking my head off to boot! But I helped him, I swear to God, I didn't hurt him."
There was a note of terrified sincerity in Lafferty's voice, but Horatio was not ready to let go just yet. "You saw his attackers? Who were they?"
Lafferty paused for the briefest moment, then shook his head, "They had hoods and cloaks on, I - I don't know."
"Your shipmates, no doubt."
"Oh - I don't know, I really don't, but could you let go of my neck, I can't breathe!"
Horatio gradually relaxed his grip, surprised at how tight it had been. Without apology he let go completely, and said, "If I ever discover that you are lying to me about this, I promise you you will regret it."
"Like I would risk getting the man who single-handedly stopped a mob from taking over my ship angry!" Lafferty rasped, rubbing his throat.
Horatio's eyes did not soften as he looked Lafferty up and down scornfully. "Why are you ashore? With Mr. Whitehall incapacitated it would appear your duty here is done."
"Will you STOP that!" Lafferty cried, and Horatio recoiled a little in surprise out his outburst. "Christ, do you think I like this? Do you think I'm happy that my captain is - is - that he's the kind of man who everyone thinks would do this kind of thing? Do you think I enjoyed finding out that a friend of mine was a bully and a traitor? That this all some kind of - "
Horatio frowned. "What do you mean, 'traitor'?"
Lafferty stopped,and turned white. "What?"
"You said a friend of yours was a traitor. Did you mean Creps?"
Lafferty's eyes flicked back and forth, very fast. "No, I didn't."
Horatio's mouth fixed itself in a thin line, and he stared at Lafferty.
After a few moments of this, Lafferty backed up a step and said, "Oh, damn! Damn! All right, I did, but I was - sworn to secrecy, Hornblower, for the love of God don't tell anyone else. Morgan would have my head on a plate."
Horatio thought for a moment. "The dispatches - the ones Captain Pellew and Morgan had been getting. The one passing letters to the French, to La Belle Celeste?"
Lafferty nodded miserably, looking around to be sure they weren't overheard.
Something was dawning in Horatio's mind, something he couldn't name yet. "Creps was doing those things?"
"Yes!" Lafferty almost wailed, "I found the letters while I was cleaning out his cabin."
"Does Captain Morgan know?"
Lafferty flinched, for some reason. "Yes, he knows. He and Pellew, I think - I think they don't want word to get out because of the court-martial. Morgan's probably afraid they'll go easy on Kennedy if they know he killed a traitor."
Horatio had a sudden insight, an idea so pure and perfect that he almost yelled at the discovery of it. Instead he controlled himself and looked at Lafferty seriously. "So no one else knows of this?"
"No. Well - one of my shipmates, but Morgan swore him to silence as well."
Horatio nodded, and looked at the gaol. "Mr. Lafferty, am I correct in assuming that right now you are very much in my debt?"
"Uh - you mean for not killing me earlier, or telling anyone about Creps?"
Horatio nodded; it was not in his nature to behave this way, but he was desperate, and there was nothing else to be done. "I am calling in that debt, for I have need of you. See those marines over there?"
Lafferty looked over and nodded.
Horatio took a deep breath. "I must see Mr. Kennedy and talk to him, and for that I need to get past those guards, and the gaoler inside."
Lafferty looked back at Horatio, stunned. "But no one's supposed to see an accused man without - "
"His lawyer, but his lawyer is indisposed as you well know!" Horatio said, and the tartness of his words startled him. "I will get in there, Mr. Lafferty, and the price of my silence is your cooperation. For you, sir, will kindly do me a service and distract the guards."
The gaoler was leaning back in his chair, pistol in his lap, just about ready to go to sleep.
He started, looked at the door. It was almost completely dark in the gaol - just the way the gaoler liked it, at least he could get some sleep. Grunting an obscenity, he got up and went to the door.
It was another lieutenant, one he hadn't seen before, standing straight as a fence post and looking very serious.
"Whatchoo want?" The gaoler groused.
"My name is Lieutenant Smith of the Courageous," the lieutenant said, "I've been sent to see how you were faring."
"Huh! Well enough," The gaoler answered with a sour look, "Considerin' I got a murderin' pervert in my gaol and more murderers without."
The lieutenant nodded, then peered into the gaol. "How is the prisoner?"
"See for yourself," The gaoler responded, opening the door wider and letting the lieutenant in.
The lieutenant took a few steps inside, then said, "I can't see a thing in here."
"Aw right." The gaoler groused, and reluctantly lit a lantern.
"Thank you," The lieutenant responded, and resumed peering into the gloom.
"He ain't moved in an hour," The gaoler said as he lifted the lantern and handed it to the lieutenant, "When he heard about the lawyer I thought he'd bust apart, then he started pacin'. Then he sat down just where he is now. He ain't right in the head, if you ask me."
"Oh, be quiet," the lieutenant said as he shone the lantern into the cell. After looking for a moment, he lowered the lantern and turned away.
"Crazy bastard." The gaoler grunted toward the cell
The lieutenant set the lantern back on the desk and said, "Captain Morgan has seen to your remuneration, has he not?"
The gaoler turned towards him, puzzled. "Me wot?"
"Remuneration. Repayment for your expenses while housing the prisoner."
"Oh - hmph! Well, not hardly."
"Hm," The lieutenant frowned and drew a purse out of his cloak and jingled it. "I've been authorized to repay you for food and necessities, but - well, do you mind if we do this outside? It smells rather bad in here."
The gaoler cast a quick look over his shoulder, then shrugged, "Naw, it ain't like 'e's goin' anywhere. And we got the marines anyhow."
"Yes, we do, although I have some - repayment - for them too so likely they'll be somewhat distracted for a moment. You don't mind?"
"Do I ever mind getting money? Lead the way, lieutenant."
Horatio peeked his head around the corner as he heard the door of the gaol opening. He was in a perfect hiding place, just to one side of the gaol where a narrow alley dead-ended some two dozen yards away. He was flat against the gaol's outside wall, under a narrow window which had afforded him a perfect way to hear every word Lafferty had been saying.
So far his plan was working. So far...
And now the door was opening, and carefully easing his gaze around the corner Horatio saw Lafferty talking to the marines, and showing them the bag of money. It was every shilling either of them had, but if it would help Horatio was willing to lose it. Willing to lose everything...
Lafferty led them away from the door, and if he kept to the hastily devised plan he would divert them to the corner pub, just for five minutes. Horatio had no idea what state Archie was in, and knew he could not leave without knowing that everything was going to be all right. He didn't know how long it would take, but he probably had five minutes. Five minutes.
You can do it, he told himself. You must.
As soon as the little group was around the corner and out of sight, Horatio quickly approached the door and put his hand on the latch. A deep breath, a look around to make sure he had not been sighted, and then Horatio pushed on the door and slipped through the crack.
He was inside.
It was very dark in the gaol, and close. Horatio's mind raced back to the prison in Spain, and for a suffocating moment he was there, before he brought himself back around. There were two candles lit, one a mere guttering stub and the other setting in a lantern on a table. It took Horatio's eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness, but he knew where Archie was and swiftly, quietly made his way to that corner.
For a long moment Horatio didn't see anything in the cell, and he stared at the jumbled blankets on the cot in confusion. Then the jumble formed itself in the dim light, and Horatio stared for a moment in shocked dismay before he took the bars in his hands and whispered, "Archie!"
The thin lantern light fell on a solitary figure huddled in the farthest corner on the filthy cot, his knees drawn up and his hands listlessly sitting in his lap. His eyes were open, but did not look at Horatio or the light, or respond to his name. He seemed to be in a daze.
Damn it, Horatio thought, and shook the bars a little to get his friend's attention. "Archie!"
Archie's head jerked up, and he squinted toward Horatio for a moment, then looked away again.
"Archie, listen," Horatio said in a loud whisper, "I haven't much time, I made a devil's bargain with Lafferty just to get in here. Archie, it's about Terry - "
At that name Archie made a small noise and brought both hands up to his face, bringing his legs in even tighter. "Oh, God, Horatio," he whispered, "I'm so sorry - you cannot possibly hate me more than I hate myself right now - "
"Hate you - ?" Horatio paused in confusion, then said, "No, Archie, listen to me! Terry sent me to talk to you, he's very worried about you."
Archie peered at Horatio, still not moving from the cot. "He's not dead?"
"Dead? No, Archie, he's going to be fine, but he wanted me to tell you - to make sure you knew - he says you must testify tomorrow, and not run away from this. Your testimony will break Morgan, he's sure of it."
It was the truth, plainly spoken, and Horatio prayed that Archie would take the words without argument. There wasn't time for one.
Archie, however, shook his head and went back to staring at the wall. "My testimony will not break anyone save myself and - and anyone who tries to help me. Go, Horatio, you shouldn't even be here."
"No, Archie," Horatio said, firmly enough that Archie looked at him again. In that moment Horatio realized that this was the first time he'd talked to Archie alone since the night before the Peddler's Pig. Almost desperately he said, "Archie, I know you aren't a murderer. I know that - if even half of what Matthews said today is true, you took Creps' life in self-defense. And you were defending me as well."
Archie made another soft noise, like a barely-suppressed sob, and wiped one hand across his face with a shiver.
"I know..." Horatio swallowed, paused a moment to decide how best to continue, "I know what you were facing that night, and you did what any upright heart must do. You're no murderer, Archie. You were being my friend."
Archie brought his hand down and vaguely shook his head. "You can't know...no one can know what happened that night. You don't understand, Horatio."
"I do," Horatio took a deep breath, and tried not to think of Justinian, of the shadows there, "And I know it pains you to speak of it, but you must, Archie. Terry would gladly speak for you, but he has been hindered, and we both know by whom. He was injured attempting to uncover the truth, and now it is our responsibility to see that his suffering is not in vain."
Archie was shaking his head. "I can say nothing that will not besmirch us both."
"Yes, you can," Horatio knelt at the bars, so he was at Archie's height, and whispered, "Archie, listen closely. I have -found out - that Creps was actually a traitor to the British crown."
Archie's surprise was genuine. "What?"
Horatio nodded. "It's true, but few people know it. He was smuggling information to the French. If you are - uncertain - about the court-martial's sympathy, tell them you discerned that Creps was a traitor, and cornered him to confront him about it."
Archie stared at him.
"Don't you see?" Horatio continued, "The captains will be furious that Creps betrayed them, and your crime will be forgiven in an instant. It's the only way, Archie. You must take it."
Archie was still staring, blinking slowly. "You are asking me to lie?"
"Dammit, Archie, this is not the time to play cock and bull!" Horatio gripped the bars in frustration. "Yes, I am asking you to do what is necessary to save your life!"
"But - Horatio - are you encouraging me to swear that my testimony is true, and then deliberately lie?"
Horatio couldn't stand the way Archie was staring at him, and standing up he blurted, "Archie, it's the only way! Morgan will bring a hundred witnesses to befoul your name and not think a thing of it; the only way to gain the captains' sympathy is to engage in the same game, one notch higher. And it's not a lie, Archie, it's the truth - Creps was a traitor."
"But that's not - not what happened. I didn't know - "
"Oh, Archie, who cares what you knew! If you will not say what really happened, you must say something! It's the noose, Archie, the noose! Are you so unwilling to take the obvious path, to tell one small falsehood that will lead to freedom? Are you so eager to let Morgan take your life?"
Archie's expression was one of absolute astonishment. After a long pause he said quietly, "Horatio, what's happened to you?"
Horatio merely blinked. "Why?"
"Why! The Horatio I know would never encourage a lie, never encourage the easy path. You abhor corruption, and you know - Horatio, you know if I lied, even if it secured my freedom, I couldn't live with myself. It would destroy me."
Horatio blinked again,and went cold all over. My God, he thought, and his words came back -
**the easy path leads to corruption, to deviance, to a future that would be dark if it were lit with a thousand suns. I could not prosper in such a future, sir. It would destroy me.**
His own words, to Morgan. To *Morgan*.
Archie turned away. "I'm sorry, Horatio, I know you mean well, but there would be no victory if I gained my release by dishonest means..."
"No," Horatio whispered, half to himself, and then licked his lips and looked at Archie in complete contrition, "No, Mr. Kennedy, it is I who must apologize. I - you are correct, of course, we must always hold ourselves to the truth. I forgot that for a moment, thinking that I might lose your company. Please forgive me."
Archie looked at him again, warily, and softly said, "You want to save my life, Horatio, how can I not forgive you for that? But you don't know - I will not burden you, but you are only fighting this because you think death is the worst thing that can happen to a man. It's not." He turned back toward the wall. "It's not."
Horatio looked down and bit his lip. He knew what Archie was speaking of, what he was thinking - the horrible pain of Justinian, the cruel sundering of his innocence by Simpson, the endless agony of waiting alone for a rescue that was too long in coming. Then a brutal return to his past, a terrifying moment where he was once again twelve years old and crying aloud for help, and there was no help except for the long, cold blade of a knife -
- Archie was thinking all of these things, Horatio knew, and knew also that Archie still thought him ignorant. It must stay that way, but how could he persuade Archie to tell the most painful secrets of his life without letting on that he knew what those secrets were?
It was Archie who broke the silence first. "I am glad to see you, Horatio."
Horatio started a little, and looked at him. Archie was regarding him with calmer eyes that glistened in his bruised and beaten face.
"I was thinking," Archie continued, very quietly, "Last night, of how you pulled Davey Williams down to the surgery during our first real battle. The men were very surprised."
Horatio shrugged, at a loss. "He was part of my crew. I would have done no less for any other man."
"Yes, but that's it, you see," Archie said tiredly, "You fight, Horatio, you always have. You fought for your men when that ship sank, you fought when you thought you all might have plague. When you found me in Spain, you..." Archie paused to blink away tears. "You would not give up on me, when I all but begged you to. You have an iron grip, Horatio, and it's a gift. And I shall always be grateful for it."
Horatio didn't know what to say. Stammering an attempt, he said, "Archie, I - "
"Let me finish," Archie said in the same quiet tone, "You fight, Horatio, but you do not know the world. You do not see what lurks in dark places, so you have no fear of it, the sort of fear that takes a man and makes an infant of him. Never look for it, Horatio, never. Because if it sees you, it will consume you. And I would weep to know you gave yourself to the flames for the likes of me."
They were heartfelt words, and Horatio winced at the brokenhearted sincerity of them, but with a flash of spirit he grasped the bars again and said, "Archie, look at me."
Archie's eyes stayed on the floor.
"Mr. Kennedy, look at me!"
Reluctantly, Archie raised his eyes to meet Horatio's and stayed there.
"Now," Horatio said adamantly, "I want you to listen to me, Archie, I'll have no more talk of dark places, do you understand? We have both been there, you and I, and I tell you right now that there is but one thing I fear about going there again, and that is not having you by my side to travel that road with me."
Archie's eyes widened.
"You think me naive, but Archie, I have been to the Courageous, I have met her men, and I have seen enough of the world to know what kind of abominations exist in mankind. And I know what I need to fight them, but I do not have everything I need. I need your humor, Archie, I need that dry wit that welcomed me into the Navy. I need that tremendous courage that pulled me over the bridge at Muzillac, and the looking upward that set us both on the tops of the Indy's masts. You cannot deprive me of these things, Mr. Kennedy, for I will not be able to survive without them."
Horatio's eyes never left Archie's, never wavered for a moment, and when he once again saw tears standing in his friend's eyes he dared to hope that he was getting through. In a pained whisper Archie said, "But what if that man is gone, Horatio? What if he doesn't come back?"
"He will," Horatio said with a smile, "He is not far, I know it. He needs only a star and a post for reference, and we will see him on the horizon. I know I will be looking, day and night, until that time comes."
Archie finally broke eye contact then, glancing down as a tear dropped onto the cot. With a sigh he shook his head. "I know - you want me to speak of that night, Horatio, and I owe it to your friend, but - it will be very difficult - if you knew - "
"Archie," Horatio said softly, "I will not debase our friendship by saying I know what you fear, but I suspect what you fear, and your worries are groundless. Neither I nor Pellew nor anyone who knows you will think less of you for defending yourself against an attack. Think of our friendship, Archie, and the safety of others who may be brutalized by the wickedness of those men if you stay silent. Your duty is clear."
Archie took another deep breath and raised his eyes to Horatio again. This time they were full of dull wonderment and pain. "Mr. Whitehall said the very same thing to me."
Horatio smiled. "They are good words, and he has the same confidence in you that I do. You can do this, Archie. I know you can."
Archie squeezed his eyes shut, and Horatio suddenly became aware that his time was running short. Glancing up at the narrow window that told him it was now fully night, Horatio got to his feet and said, "Archie, I have to go - "
"I'll do it."
Horatio stopped, looked at Archie.
Archie's face was tight with emotion as he said, "I'll - for the kinship I bear you, and the crosses you've taken on for me, I - I will try, Horatio."
Horatio smiled, and he nodded understanding. "The kinship is warmly returned, Mr. Kennedy."
"But there is one condition," Archie said, and his voice hissed with intensity, "I will *not* dishonor you, Horatio, no matter what happens to me. To do so would be worse to me than death."
Horatio gazed at Archie, saw the determination in his eyes, and whispered, "May providence grant that dishonor eludes us both." He heard footsteps approaching, and Lafferty talking very loud so Horatio would hear him. Turning back quickly he said, "Godspeed to you, Mr. Kennedy. May we meet again under sunnier skies."
He smiled and almost turned to go, but before he could move Archie suddenly jumped from the cot and extended his hand through the bars. Horatio grasped it, startled by the desperate urgency he saw in Archie's face.
"Godspeed, Mr. Hornblower," Archie whispered, tears still in his eyes, "And - remember me."
Horatio looked down to hide the embarrassing tears in his own eyes. Archie quickly released his hand and whispered, "Get out of here, Horatio. Hurry!"
The voices were louder, and Horatio knew his time had run out. Without a backward glance, he darted to the door, cracked it open, and as soon as he knew it was safe slipped out of the gaol and back into the darkness of the street.
The tavern was quiet.
Rose shifted on the chair next to Terry's bed, watching him sleep. She had laid a cool cloth on his forehead, the third one in half an hour, and after she had done so leaned back in the chair and had nothing to dwell on except the single thought: I don't belong here.
The tavern room was very nice, too nice to be comfortable in. The walls were plastered and painted, the linens were clean, and there were fine tapered candles gently illuminating the room, not the stubby globs of wax Rose was used to. The chair was soft and didn't squeak, and the air held the light scent of vanilla and soap, not beer and other noxious odors Rose was more familiar with.
Rose had helped them bring the young man in, did what she was told, and stayed to see if the doctor needed anything. But after the lieutenant had left, the doctor abruptly stood up and declared that there was nothing else he could do, and left.
Well, what could she do? It was obvious this man should not wake up alone. So Rose had stayed.
It was dangerous, she knew that. For him, not for her - having a prostitute walk out of one's room was cause enough for scandal in any town, even if one was unconscious. Not only that, but every idle minute waiting for the man to wake up gave Rose occasion to study her surroundings, and every time she did so she came to the same melancholy conclusion.
She did not belong here. She should leave as quietly as possible.
But the young man had not awakened yet.
The minutes passed by, the moon's pattern on the wall changed. Rose felt the young man's forehead, changed the cloth, checked to make sure he was not bleeding anywhere, then leaned back in the chair and idly fingered one corner of the coverlet, savoring its nubby softness. She thought of the prisoner Archie Kennedy, and wished there was a bed for him, a real bed, and someone to dress his hurts and keep him from the pain she knew he held inside. There should have been, she thought forlornly as she bit her lip against sudden tears and wiped at her eyes. There should have been...
"Oh!" Rose jumped and stared upward at the old man who had come in so quietly she had not heard him.
"I'm sorry," The man said, backing up a bit. Rose noticed he was carrying a bag, and walked bent over a little, as if he was used to cramped spaces. "Don't worry, I won't hurt you. I'm here to look after Mr. Whitehall."
"Oh," Rose blinked her eyes rapidly and looked at the man in confusion.
The doctor took the seat opposite her and frowned at Whitehall's battered face. "My God."
Rose stared at the man for a moment, then took in a sharp breath. "You were in the gaol the night they brought Mr. Kennedy in. You're the surgeon off that ship."
The doctor flicked a glance at her, then carefully pulled the coverlet away from Whitehall's chest to better see the bandages. "Yes, ma'am."
Rose leaned back in the chair, gazed at the doctor keenly. "Did *he* send you here?"
The doctor grimaced, but kept to his work.
"To check his handiwork?" Rose felt herself getting angry. "It was very brave of him, to send five men after one unarmed civilian. You can go back to your mighty Captain Morgan and tell him he's done a right nice job of it."
The doctor swallowed noisily, and gently pulled the bandage up to look at the wound beneath. "Madam, I would very much appreciate if you did not mention my captain's existence while I am working."
His tone was cold, bitter, like an iron cemetery gate in winter. Rose furrowed her eyebrows for a moment, then saw the look on his face, the nausea and disgust that filled his eyes while he tended to Whitehall's injuries. She had seen that expression before, when he had tended Kennedy in the gaol, but then it had been hidden; here it was brazen, thrown out on the doctor's face like an eruption from a long-strained crack in the earth.
After a silent minute of watching this change, Rose said quietly, "You weren't ordered here, were you? You came on your own."
The doctor patted the bandage down, then moved to check another swath of cloth on Terry's arm. He looked at Rose, but said nothing.
Rose remembered the large captain this man served, his voice and his threats. Very gently she reached across the bed and put a hand on the doctor's arm. He looked up.
"You're a very brave man, sir," she said in a low whisper. "Thank you."
The doctor cringed away as if she'd struck him. Keeping his eyes on Whitehall he said, "If you knew me you wouldn't say that. I'm a coward, the worst kind there is. I don't belong here."
Rose smiled a little and gave his arm a slight squeeze. "That makes two of us, doctor. But I've nothing else to do at the moment. Shall I get you some clean water?"
Horatio made his way back to the Dove, hoping against every hope in his heart that no one saw him near the gaol. His mind was pained, disoriented, and he tried to think of a dozen things at once and failed. Seeing Archie had wracked him.
He must fight, Horatio insisted to himself as he neared the inn, if only I was strong enough to convince him! Did I use the right words, the right meaning? What if Archie gets to the admiralty tomorrow and his courage quits, simply because I did not bolster it enough? Damn, if only I'd had more time! More time...
And Lafferty, what of that? Did Horatio dare believe his tale of saving Terry? Even if he was telling the truth, had Horatio been a fool to trust him? Would Lafferty inform Hood or Morgan of his misdeed, throwing an aspersion to all he was trying to accomplish? No, Lafferty was too timid for that, surely his complicity would bring Morgan down much harder on him than on Horatio. But still...
And then there were Archie's words, those words that still echoed in Horatio's mind and tore his heart apart, the horrifying words -
- Horatio, what's happened to you? -
Even as he made his swift way back to the inn, Horatio was still shaken and appalled at what those words meant. He had asked Archie to lie. He had scorned Morgan's attempts to corrupt him, then turned around and tried to bully his friend into becoming the very thing they both detested most, a traitor to himself. Horatio had seldom been so ashamed of himself in his life.
What *had* happened to him? He was desperate, he was angry, he was frantic with helplessness, and all those things conspired to rob him of the self-control he needed so badly to maintain. Was it so easy, then, to slip from one world into the other? Had it been that easy for Creps, for Morgan, for Jack Simpson? Had there been a day, a moment, when two paths had presented themselves and each man had taken the more deviant one, because it helped them attain a goal that otherwise could not be attained? Oh God, was it that thoughtless, that painless? Horatio shuddered; he had never known that he could step that close to the abyss.
And Archie had seen that. While Horatio was practically willing himself to fall into that black oblivion, Archie had seen what was happening and stopped it. He had not merely accepted Horatio's sudden deceit as a new fact and grasped it to save himself, but had fought it because he could see very plainly what Horatio had been stubbornly blind to: That it was wrong, and taking that path would damn them both.
Archie had seen that, and had brought Horatio back to himself. Archie had saved him.
But would he save himself? Horatio tried to focus on the faltering hope he had seen in Archie's eyes as they parted, but again and again his mind slipped to the blank stare that had greeted him, the forlorn voice that had whispered brokenly, what if that man doesn't come back, Horatio? What if he's gone forever?
Oh, God, Archie! Horatio sighed as he rounded the corner that would take him to the inn, how will I get through what comes after if you hang? If all our efforts come to nothing, how will I survive if you're not here to help me? And Terry, he wanted to help you, and he has fallen into the same snare that was set for you - if he does not get well, what will I tell Trudy? How can I live with this, when it is all my fault for not going with you to the tavern that night, for forcing you to endure cruelty to protect me? God, what am I going to do?
No. Dammit, dammit, no.
Horatio pressed one fist into his other hand and unconsciously set his mouth in a determined line, taking a few deep breaths as he did so. No, it could not end that way, *would* not end that way. He refused to accept that Archie would falter, that Terry would not be all right, that Morgan would win. He was not some helpless babe, with no strength and no guidance. He knew what was right, what was true, and so did Archie. He had slipped, almost fallen, but he was upright again, and knew his course. As long as his eye was true, he would not fail. Not this time, not after Muzillac, he could not bear to fail again. So he would not. It was that simple.
A little ways down the street, Horatio passed the street that housed the Peddler's Pig. He glanced down the avenue, saw the lantern lights and heard the noise that signaled that another night was in full swing, despite the damp weather. He paused, stopped, then impulsively walked a little way down that street, then further. People were about, but no one minded him; it was almost like he was walking in a dream.
Horatio came to the high stone wall that edged the outdoor courtyard, and the iron gate that led into it. He peered down the stairs, the very steps Creps had died on. He could not see far; the steps went down a ways, then angled to the right, making what lay beyond invisible from the street.
Horatio shuddered; he could feel Archie's fear, as if the attack was still happening; If he closed his eyes he could imagine it, some hot exchange, probably Creps made a horrible threat, and then, a struggle, Archie pinned against the wall, then lashing out, the final frantic attempt to save himself -
"Get away from there!"
With a snap, Horatio opened his eyes, amazed to find that he had in fact closed them. Curse it, he was exhausted and did not even know it. But that command had not been close enough to be directed at him...
Looking around, Horatio saw some distance away a man standing at the door of the tavern, facing down three scowling officers. Horatio recognized the man from the trial - Mr. Cobb, the owner of the Peddler's Pig. The three officers, all young and somewhat disheveled, were strangers to him.
"I already told you boys to take your filth elsewhere," Cobb was saying, waving his hand at them, "Now get out and leave my girls alone, before I call the beadle on you."
The largest lieutenant stepped forward, one hand curling into a fist. "You can't keep us out! We paid to use that courtyard, damn it!"
"It's my tavern and I'll do as I please," Cobb retorted hotly, "And as for your money - " he dug into his pocket and threw a handful of coins at them, "I don't want any part of it, or you. I put up with it for too long as it is, and now nobody wants you here. So get out."
The largest youth advanced again, and only stopped when he heard the distinct hiss of steel being drawn.
He looked up to meet Horatio's flashing brown eyes, and a swordpoint hovering directly toward his heart.
"Good evening, gentlemen," Horatio said, taking a step closer. As he thought, the three youths took a larger step back. "Are you having problems understanding English?"
One of the other youths narrowed his eyes. "Look, it's one of Pellew's puppies. You don't have authority here, lieutenant, and you know it!"
Horatio took another step. "I have all the authority I need to deal with the likes of fellow officers behaving in a disgraceful manner towards civilian folk. And as I am certain Mr. Cobb would have no objection to my running all of you through, I would suggest that you respect his wishes and take your business and your money elsewhere."
The glares he was receiving from the three young men might have scorched him, but Horatio noticed out of the corner of his eye that a few of the other tavern patrons were approaching behind him, glaring back at the young men. Horatio braced himself; a brawl may erupt at any moment...
...but no. The largest boy glanced at the small crowd advancing on him and shrank back a bit, shooting Horatio a resentful scowl as he did so. Leaning down to pick up the thrown money, he muttered, "We'll be back, don't worry. This place has always been ours, and you can't keep us out forever. We'll be back."
"Then I'll have my blunderbuss handy!" Cobb spat, and Horatio watched tensely as the three youths scrambled away from the tavern's light, and down the rainy street.
"My thanks, lieutenant," Cobb said as Horatio sheathed his sword, "I was afraid for a minute there that they were going to cause trouble."
Horatio accepted the thanks with a nod. "From the Courageous?"
"Yes, and they're not the first. Been coming here all night, but after what I heard today, I've had enough of them. They're not welcome here anymore, I don't care how much money they have or who their captain is."
Horatio raised his eyebrows at this; he had not thought that the testimony would have any effect except on Archie. "That is a bold move, sir. Officers on shore leave could fill your coffers handsomely."
"Not them," Cobb said, his eyes growing dark. "Not after a murder, not after what was said today. I'm only sorry I didn't have the courage to get rid of them years ago, after what happened to Jimmy. Might have saved people a lot of grief."
Horatio saw the regret in the man's face. "For what it's worth, I commend you for your decision. It's a very brave thing to do."
Cobb nodded, and looked back through the open door into the tavern. "Nah, I'm a coward. It's them, my other customers, they don't want no part of those men any more. I guess once they were behind me, made it a little easier to do it."
Horatio smiled, knew that was true. Suddenly he felt a lot better about what was to happen tomorrow. "Do you need any further assistance, Mr. Cobb?"
"Hm? Nah, I got hands to help out, and the beadle's just down the street. People used to be afraid of those men, but not anymore. They'll stay out of here if they know what's good for 'em."
Horatio felt his heart lift a little more, and then remembered he needed to be on his way. "Good evening, then."
"Yes, and thank you again, lieutenant. I hope everything turns out all right for your friend and his lawyer."
"They will, Mr. Cobb," Horatio replied as he turned back toward the street. "They will."
Captain Pellew's coach was just down the street, and Horatio hurried to catch up to the captain before he went upstairs. Saluting as he drew near Horatio said, "Captain, sir."
Pellew looked at him in surprise, then peered at him closer. "Mr. Hornblower? What are you doing down here?"
"I was - taking some fresh air, sir, clearing my head. Sir, I have some interesting news to report - "
Pellew turned his iron gaze to the second floor of the Inn, "Very well, sir, but first we must see to Mr. Whitehall. We will talk later, Mr. Hornblower, have no doubt about that."
"Yes, sir," Horatio replied, and felt ashamed for concealing from his captain the truth of his errand, that he had gone to see Archie. Later, when all of this was settled, he would tell him. Later.
As they went up the stairs, Horatio noticed some iron rust from the prison bars on his hands. Wiping his palms on his cloak, he thanked God Captain Pellew was too preoccupied with current matters, and had not noticed a thing.
The room was dark, just as Horatio expected it to be, and he entered quietly behind Pellew, to keep Terry from waking.
As soon as the captain was inside, Horatio removed his hat and looked first at Rose, who smiled encouragingly at him, then at the doctor bending over Terry from the closer side of the bed. "How is he?" Horatio whispered, his eyes on Terry's battered, sleeping face.
The doctor turned, and Horatio looked at him. Then he started in surprise. "Dr. St. John!"
It was the last person he expected to see there. The doctor looked down, as if he was embarrassed by his presence, so Horatio looked to Pellew for guidance. But Pellew seemed just as mystified.
Then Rose gave Horatio a conciliatory smile and said, "The other doctor left, he was scarcely worth the shilling they pay to employ him here. This kind man stepped in and saw to Mr. Whitehall's injuries. You don't have to worry, he didn't hurt him."
The captain was still looking at St. John uncertainly. "I'm happy to hear it, ma'am, but - doctor, does Captain Morgan know you're here?"
Horatio was thinking the very same thing, astonished that St. John would help Terry, when he had been almost rude to him before. But it seemed to be a night of changes, why not accept this one as well?
St. John's eyes flickered to Hornblower and he took a deep breath before saying, "No, sir, he doesn't, it was...I was merely ashore, and hearing of the young man's injuries, I felt - I know of the doctor here, that's all. Now if you'll excuse me, it's late, and I should be going back to my ship." He looked in the captain's direction, but did not meet his eyes. "Mr. Whitehall is all right, despite his injuries. If he does not exert himself he should make a full recovery."
Hornblower leaned past Rose and gently lifted the coverlet to look at the bandages. He gave an approving nod and said, "Thank you, doctor. I doubt my father could have done better."
The doctor glanced at Hornblower, just for an instant, then began gathering up his things. "Just look after him, and keep him warm. There's nothing else that - "
"Doctor," The captain interrupted softly, "Do you have any ideas who might have done this to Mr. Whitehall?"
There was a heavy silence in the room just then, broken only by Whitehall's even breathing. The doctor looked around like a mouse caught in a trap, then rapidly shook his head. "No, I'm sorry. Thieves probably. I have to get back to my duties."
Suddenly inspired, Horatio looked at his captain earnestly. "With your permission, sir, I will accompany the doctor to his boat. I can see Mr. Whitehall is in excellent hands here."
He smiled at Rose then, and received a warm, appreciative smile in return.
The captain sighed and regarded Whitehall with eyes that seemed to blaze with frustration. He gave a curt nod. "Very well, Mr. Hornblower, I will attend to matters here and meet you at the dock in fifteen minutes."
Hornblower nodded and came around the bed, to where the doctor was standing and looking at him warily. Wary, but did not protest; together they passed through the patterns of light and dark that the candles made, and leaving the room closed the door behind them.
Rose watched Hornblower and the doctor leave with a trace of anxiety. She was glad she could help, glad that this young man would be all right, but still...
She did not know what to say in the presence of the captain. She certainly never dealt with men that high in rank, in fact the high amount of authority they had intimidated her, so to hide her fluster she kept her attention on Whitehall instead. To occupy herself, she dipped the cloth in the washbasin and wrung it out, laying it on his forehead as carefully as she could.
She heard the captain sit down in the chair on the other side of the bed , and cautiously she raised her eyes to meet his, ready to duck them back down again if she was being in any way too forward. He was not looking at her, however; his eyes were on the young man in the bed, and the distress was evident on his face. Leaning forward she whispered, "Don't worry, sir, he'll be all right,even if he's only got me tendin' 'im. I won't - well, you know, try nothin'. I'm just repayin' the lieutenant's kindness is all."
The captain's eyes went to her then, and she thought how incredibly kind and open they were, not like some captains she knew and definitely not like Morgan's. Very quietly he said, "I'm certain that your care is excellent, ma'am, rest assured that does not worry me. Your help is most appreciated."
Rose smiled her thanks, and patted the cloth onto Whitehall's forehead in silence. She knew a lot about men, and knew the captain did not want to talk; still, she noticed that as he gazed at the young man, the captain's eyes smoldered, and his fists clenched, the only outward signs that there was a tremendous amount of anger inside, anger and disgust that the whole affair had come to this. And helplessness that he had not been able to stop it.
He couldn't say so, of course, Rose knew that. Men were proud, captains moreso than most, and helplessness was not something any captain admitted to. But she knew what feeling that way was like, and so impulsively leaned over and whispered, "I'm here to help till there's an end to this, just so you know. I won't leave. I'll help the lieutenant all I can."
The captain turned those amazing eyes to her again, and this time Rose saw gratitude in them, and he gave her a slight smile that made her heart melt.
"Thank you, ma'am." was all he said. And then they sat in silence.
Dr. St. John walked from the Dove quickly, Horatio right on his heels. They were about two blocks from the inn when Horatio blurted out, "You know something."
The doctor glanced behind him, then kept walking.
"Doctor!" Horatio said, a little louder, and catching up to St. John took his arm and made him stop. "Please, you know something about what happened to Terry - to Mr. Whitehall."
St. John shook his head. "I'm sorry, lieutenant, I don't. Nothing that could help." And turned around to resume his journey.
Horatio was right behind, his voice low and insistent. "Doctor, I have every reason to believe your captain was behind the attack on Terry. Even if there is no evidence, I am convinced of it. I know you fear him, but you were not in court today, his power is fading, I can feel it. You sense it too, or you would not have taken the risk to come and tend to my friend."
St. John stopped slowly, and turned to Horatio with a weary sigh. "Lieutenant, I came to look after your friend because - because I heard some of the men talking on the ship, and I knew he would need help. Your friend thinks Morgan can be brought down, and I guess he made me feel ashamed of myself, so, yes, I came to help him because I felt terrible that anybody who thinks like he does can be brought down by the kind of wolves that prowl around here. It made me sick."
Horatio nodded encouragement, his face stern.
"But that's all," St. John said solemnly, the weariness in his eyes battling the righteous anger that he saw in Horatio's. "I felt sorry for him, I don't want him to die. He has a sister who depends on him, I suppose. I want him to get well and go back to her. There's nothing else I can do."
Horatio smiled a little. "First you helped Archie, and now you are helping Mr. Whitehall. That is no small accomplishment, doctor. I know what you fought to do this, and I'm grateful. But I know it is not all you can do."
St. John shrugged, and resumed walking. Before long he and Horatio were at the dock, the mist-laden town behind them and a blanket of rolling water and dim lights stretching out before them into infinity.
Horatio looked at the water for a few moments, listening to it lap up against the docks. It was hypnotizing, almost, until he heard St. John say, "I'm sorry this happened to you."
Surprised, Horatio turned to see a soft melancholy in the doctor's eyes. "What do you mean?"
The doctor shrugged again, a little, and said, "It's you Morgan wants. You're bright, talented. He was going to use Kennedy's conviction to force you to join the Courageous to get him freed."
"I know," Horatio said bitterly, remembering his conversation with Morgan the night before.
The doctor shot Horatio a small look of surprise, then said, "Whitehall showed up, and I think - he must be a very good lawyer. He must have been close to getting Kennedy freed."
"So you *do* know that he was behind it." Horatio said in a tight, angry voice.
St. John shook his head, "I'd never be able to prove it, and Morgan would see me dead first, or worse - worse than dead. With Whitehall gone, Morgan will get his conviction, and you'll have to join the ship to save him. Don't," St. John turned to Horatio then, and there was a dark, apprehensive look in his eyes, "Whatever choice he gives you, don't. It won't be worth it, not even to save your friend's life."
Horatio felt another surge of confidence, and said softly, "Don't worry, doctor, I have already made that promise, and I intend to honor it. And as for a conviction, I would not make that wager if I were a wagering man. Mr. Kennedy is a stronger man than you take him for."
"He's not that strong," St. John said sadly, looking out at the water as if he wanted to lose himself in it. "If he talks, if he tries to defend himself, Morgan will have him torn to shreds."
"He will not get the chance," Horatio said, the triumphant scene already forming in his mind, "Mr. Kennedy is an eloquent speaker, and the sentiment is already against Morgan and his men. Tonight I have seen them turned away from public houses, not welcome anywhere."
St. John looked at him, and Horatio savored the surprise on his face. "You have?"
Horatio nodded, almost giddy with happiness. "You see, doctor, Morgan is not infallible. By this time tomorrow he and his crew will be shunned by all decent people, and Archie will be free. I am certain of it."
There was a long silence during which St. John stared out at the water, and Horatio thought perhaps he was contemplating telling everything he knew, finally shaking off Morgan's suffocating mantle and freeing himself from its oppressive bond.
But instead the doctor shook his head and murmured, "No."
Horatio blinked. "Dr. St. John?"
"No, it can't be," the doctor turned weary, leaden eyes to Horatio, "It won't last. The people here, they'll forget and the next time the Courageous comes back, they'll be welcomed as if nothing ever happened. And Morgan - I know the man, lieutenant, I know what he wants, and he'll get what he wants. He always does, no matter what it takes. He wants you on the Courageous. And he wants Kennedy dead."
Horatio shivered; he could not hide it. "He won't have it. Not if there's a breath in my body to fight him."
"You won't win if you fight him," St. John said in despair, looking away, "He'll destroy you."
"Then what would you have me do?" Horatio asked in exasperation.
"Forget Kennedy," St. John said firmly, looking back at Horatio with eyes that burned with intensity. "Go back to your ship, don't go to the trial tomorrow. Sever your ties with him and Morgan can't use his death to goad you."
Horatio set his jaw defiantly. "I would sooner put my own neck in a noose than to do what you so cravenly suggest."
St. John looked at Horatio aghast for a moment, then said, "Lieutenant, please, listen to me! I've sailed with Morgan for years, I know what he can do to a man. Is Kennedy's life worth that much to you, that you would give up your career, your future to help him?"
"I would give up my life," Horatio rejoined hotly, "As he would do for me. I fear nothing except failing him."
St. John looked at Horatio, his eyes wide. Then he sighed, and his shoulders slumped as he turned back toward the water. "Oh, God, lieutenant. You call what I say craven, and perhaps it is. But you're young, I forgot I was young once. You think everything has to turn out all right because that's the way it's supposed to be. You think because Kennedy and Whitehall are good and decent people and Morgan is the scum of the living earth, that they will win and he will lose. And you think," he finished, looking once more in Horatio's direction, "You think that no matter what, somehow you and you alone can make everything the way it should be." He finished in a voice tinged with tears as he faced Horatio with mournful eyes.
Horatio struggled against this wave of gloom, and lifted his chin a little, looking back at the doctor with what he hoped was a purposeful expression.
"Oh, God," St. John said, and there were tears in his eyes then, "Look at you! I was like you once, lieutenant, that's why this is breaking my heart so much. Of course you won't listen to me, and maybe you shouldn't. I sincerely hope you don't end up living with forty years of regret and shame, as I have. There's no good end out of this, I suppose, except - " He broke off, and staring at the dock put a hand over his face.
Horatio was almost angry now, angry at the heart-wrenching way the doctor was talking. It was not what he wanted to hear, not at all. "Except?"
St. John straightened up and took a deep breath, composing himself. Facing Horatio one last time he said calmly, "There's no good way out of this, lieutenant, except to hope that Mr. Whitehall recovers, and you can learn to forget under the guidance of a good captain and a worthy crew. And that the men of the Courageous don't take their anger out on Mr. Kennedy when they haul on the rope."
Horatio stared at him, speechless.
St. John looked down at the planks, his voice a desperate gasp. "Now I - I have to return to my ship. Good evening, lieutenant."
And with that, he was down the stairs to where the boats waited, and Horatio was left on the docks, alone.
Dawn came the next day, bleak and sunless, casting its cold, indifferent light without caring who noticed it, or with what trepidation.
At the Morgan estate, it filtered through the lace curtains where Elise was just waking from another night's heavy sleep. She wiped her eyes blearily, and squinting at the grayness outside vaguely wondered if it was going to storm.
There was a light knock on her door, and then Violet appeared with her breakfast tray. She paused and looked at Elise closely, as she had yesterday when Elise had not risen from her bed all day.
"Still feeling poorly, ma'am?" She asked, setting the tray down on the small table near the bed. "It's this weather, isn't it? What I wouldn't give to see the sun again - "
Elise struggled to get herself into a sitting position while Violet opened the curtains. There was really hardly any light, but still it dazzled her, and she shielded her eyes.
"I'll get you a nice cup of tea," Violet prattled on, "And then you'll feel better."
"Thank you," Elise whispered, but she hardly meant it. A heavy melancholy had set upon her, a 'mood' as Morgan called it, and thank God Violet knew her well enough to know what to expect. Yesterday she had stayed in bed with the curtains drawn all day, had barely enough energy to eat; today it was the same, Elise felt as if great weights had been put on her body, her soul, and tethered her to the earth. She would never break free of them, but die if she attempted it, as her little bird had.
But no, she didn't want to think on that. She wanted to go back to sleep...
"Oh, I heard some news this morning," Violet said in a congenial whisper as she prepared the tea, "About that trial the captain's involved in? Great goin's on, my young man said. Told me there's been some witnesses, said terrible things about the captain's ship, and the men on it."
Elise blinked blearily, wiped the tangled hair out of her face. "They did?"
Violet nodded, "Can you believe it? I never would have thought anyone would dare say a word, but from what Jack told me the captain was fit to be tied."
Elise considered this, but thinking was difficult. Someone had spoken out against Morgan? Was that possible?
Then she thought to ask, "What happened to the young man, the one who was being tried?"
"Oh - " Violet poured the tea while she thought, "Jack said it was beginning to look like maybe he'd get off, but then someone set upon his lawyer, beat him black and blue. Well, without anyone to defend him we all know how that's going to end up!"
Someone, Elise thought dimly, and slumped back onto the bed. Someone...
"No, come on, ma'am," Violet urged gently, putting a hand on Elise's shoulder, "Have some tea, and I've got a scone for you with strawberry jam. Then I'll wash your hair for you, you'll feel so much better, I promise."
Elise sighed and sat back up reluctantly, resting her back against the mountain of pillows on the bed.
"That's better," Violet soothed, picking up the tray and setting on the bed so Elise could eat. "Who knows, perhaps we can take a trip into town today, would you like that? I can lay out one of your nice dresses and we could go visiting, there's lots to see..."
Elise shook her head. All she could think of was the trial, the crowds, the funereal air of a man condemned to die. A young man, who had only the misfortune to cross the one person in the world who could not be assuaged. And would pay for that with his life.
"...perhaps we'll see someone important," Violet chattered, buttering a scone as she talked, "There's lots of important people in town with the trial going on, captains and magistrates - "
Captains. But there was only one captain Elise wanted to see, and that could never happen. Any room Pellew would be in, Morgan would be in also. But to be able to be with him, just for a moment! To look into those great brown eyes and take some of his pain, for Elise knew how it tore at him to see one of his men so cruelly sent to the gallows. She could do nothing, she could not stop or hinder the relentless crush of destiny, but to ease his suffering, just for a moment -
Morgan would be furious. But it would be worth the bruises, later.
"...and who knows, maybe even the weather will improve. Hm?"
Elise looked at the teacup on the tray and felt something defiant stir within her. Sluggishly, true, and slowly, but definitely awake and plotting. Gliding one hand toward the teacup she said quietly, "Perhaps."
Elise took a deep breath, tried to pull some spirit back into herself from wherever it had gone. "A trip to town. Perhaps. Later."
Violet smiled, and Elise knew she was congratulating herself on drawing her mistress out. Well, let her think that way, there was no harm. "Yes, ma'am. Anything you'd like."
"Fine, then," Elise said, her voice as thin as paper, and with a hand that only trembled slightly picked up the scone and began to eat.
Miles away, the gloomy dawn edged its way around the drawn shutters at the Dove Inn, and tapped impatiently at Roses' closed eyelids. She stirred and opened her eyes, did not remember how but she was sitting curled up in an overstuffed chair in the corner of Terry Whitehall's rented room.
God! She thought in alarm as her mind snapped awake, and she leapt to her feet in dismay. The sun was up, she should have been gone hours ago, while it was still dark. Curse it, now everyone would see her leaving Whitehall's room, and there would be talk - talk he did not deserve -
Rose turned toward the bed, furious at herself for being so careless. Furious -
Whitehall was awake. Awake and watching her.
"Oh," She said in surprise. Whitehall was still lying on his back, his head cushioned by mountains of pillows, and his bandaged arms still lay where they had the night before. But his eyes were open, and he was looking at her curiously.
Rose quickly went to Whitehall's side, noticing how his eyes followed her every movement. Bending close so she would not have to speak loudly she said, "Can I get you anything?"
Whitehall smiled a little and whispered, "I suppose if I said that when I first woke up and saw you over there, that I thought maybe you were my guardian angel, that you'd tell me that was the stupidest thing you'd ever heard."
Rose's eyebrows went up and she smiled at the tone in his voice. Then she said, "To tell you the truth, it would be the nicest thing anyone's said to me all year."
"Oh, well, I'm glad I didn't keep it to myself then." Whitehall replied, and tried to rise. "OW!!"
"Oh, no, don't do that!" Rose put a gentle hand on his shoulder. "You're s'posed to rest, doctor says so."
Whitehall groaned and sank back on the pillows, putting one bandaged hand to his head. "But I can't! The trial - "
Rose's eyes flickered to the nightstand, and she snatched up the folded paper lying there. "Here, I'm supposed to give you this. It's from that captain, I think it's about that trial."
Whitehall took the paper carefully and unfolded it. Rose quickly stood and opened the shutters to let in some of the meager light, then went about lighting a lamp.
Not waiting for her, Whitehall squinted at the paper and began reading it.
The first thing Rose heard was another groan. She turned from the lamp, thinking Whitehall was in pain, but in reply he grimaced at the letter and said, "Oh, no, not Admiral Hood!"
Abandoning the lamp, Rose went to sit beside him again, "Is it something bad?"
"Probably!" Terry said with only slightly less venom, then slapped the paper down on the coverlet with a sigh. His eyes narrowed in thought and after a moment he whispered, "It can't end this way, I'll be damned if I let it!" He tried to rise again, and jolted back with a hiss before Rose could even move. Letting out a huge growl of frustration, he stared at the wall for a few moments. Then he turned to Rose and said, "Do you see those books over there, on the table?"
Rose turned and looked, then nodded.
"Could you get them for me please? And something like a breakfast tray to set them on?"
Rose hesitated. "Shouldn't you be resting?"
"I'll rest after this is over. Until then my brain is very much pounding on the inside of my skull for entertainment. Now if you would be so kind."
Rose hesitated a moment longer, but something told her if she did not get the books Whitehall would find a way to get them, even if he had to drop himself to the floor and drag himself over to the table. She did as he asked.
"Thank you," Whitehall said gratefully as she lay the books on the bed beside him and sat down again, "I'm being a disgrace to my mother, I haven't thanked you for helping me last night yet. That was very kind of you."
Rose looked down at the floor and shrugged, "No need to thank me. Just helpin' the lieutenant out is all."
"Yes, Horatio does inspire that in people, doesn't he." Terry lay back against the pillows and gazed at the ceiling. "This whole thing stinks. But it's not over yet."
Rose didn't know what to say to that, and so merely nodded.
Terry sighed, "The hottest fires forge the truest metals."
Rose cocked her head. "Who said that? A poet?"
Terry smiled, "No, my sister. Trudy. And she should know."
At that moment there was a knock on the door, and an instant later it opened. Rose looked up at the same moment Terry said, "Lieutenant Lafferty!"
Lafferty! It was, that young man who was there the previous evening. Rose supposed she was staring, but she couldn't help it - not only was this a man she had written off as a coward until very recently, completely changing her opinion of him, but at the moment he seemed very uncertain and pale, and looked as if he had spent the night in a ditch.
Glancing outside the door, Lafferty closed it quickly and nodded very nervously. "Hello."
Rose stood, slowly, as Terry said, "I don't understand, what are you doing here? I thought you'd be back on your ship. And why do you have blood on your uniform?"
Lafferty opened his mouth, then shut it again. Realization dawning, Rose said quickly, "This young man saved you, Mr. Whitehall."
Terry turned his head quickly, even though it made him wince with pain. "Him?"
"Yes, him!" Rose said, allowing a little annoyance to creep into her tone, "He beat those men off that were trying to kill you, and stained his uniform dragging you up these bloody great stairs."
Obviously still confused, Terry turned his head - more slowly - back toward Lafferty. "You did?"
Lafferty nodded wearily.
Terry's expression revealed his puzzlement. "I confess, I still don't understand. Why?"
Lafferty ran one hand through his hair, and shrugged. "I don't know, I suppose it all - just - " He took a deep breath, and stepped closer to the bed. "Listen, I can't stay, I just wanted..." He took another deep breath, closed his eyes briefly, then opened them again. "Mr. Hornblower would want you to know, he - he delivered your message. Last night."
Terry puzzlement turned to surprise. "He did?"
Lafferty nodded. "That's all. I thought you'd probably want to know."
A slow smile worked its way across Terry's face. "Thank you, lieutenant."
Lafferty looked at the floor.
"Mr. Lafferty," Terry continued, "Would it be safe to say you are no longer under the thrall of Captain Morgan?"
Lafferty's head snapped up quickly, as if to argue the point. Then his shoulders slumped a little and he said, "I'm still his first lieutenant, I think. But he's - something's wrong."
"Lieutenant, I need you to testify against him."
Rose saw Lafferty shudder, and he turned pale as he shook his head. "I can't."
"Mr. Lafferty, please at least consider it!" Terry cried, sitting up as much as he could, fire in his eyes. "If I am reading you correctly, your loyalty to Captain Morgan has been sorely tested, and Mr. Kennedy needs a friend right now. You could be that friend."
Lafferty looked as if he might shatter. "I don't think I can help him, and Morgan has already said what he'd do if I tried."
"Well, Morgan *did it* to me, and I'm still fighting! Your conscience is newly sprouted, lieutenant, don't kick dirt over it and kill it already. Please, just consider it, that's all I ask."
"All right!" Lafferty said, a little loudly, then looked around fearfully as if Morgan was standing right over his shoulder. "All right, I'll - think about it."
"Thank you," Terry replied in weary satisfaction, then peered at Lafferty more closely. "May I ask where you slept last night? I'd like to avoid that lodging in the future."
Lafferty looked up again, and this time his eyes fell on Rose. He really does look awful, she thought, but saw that there was something in his eyes that had not been there before. Regret? Shame? Looking at her steadily Lafferty said, "Ma'am, I - when you're ready, I can escort you away from here. The inn doctor will be here shortly to look after Mr. Whitehall."
Terry shifted in the bed indignantly, "I'll gladly fight a duel with anyone who challenges this woman's right to be anywhere she damn well pleases."
Rose put out her hand in warning at the same time Lafferty looked at Terry seriously and said, "No, Mr. Whitehall, you don't want her here, you don't understand. I will gladly acknowledge that she has a character that far outshines mine, but in this town - any hopes you have of saving Kennedy will end if word gets out that you had a prostitute in your room all evening. The wagging tongues will rip your reputation to shreds by sundown."
Terry made an angry noise, and looked at Rose.
She looked back without a hint of shrinking or self-pity. "It's true, sir. I was worried about it myself."
"No one saw me come in," Lafferty said, "We have to go now, before the doctor comes."
Rose nodded, and made her way around the bed. As she joined Lafferty at the door Terry picked up one of the law books and asked, "Mr. Lafferty?"
Terry smiled as much as his bruised face would allow. "The hottest fires forge the strongest metals. Don't give up."
Lafferty returned the smile, unsteadily and with a face as white as plaster, but returned it just the same. Then he opened the door, checked to make certain no one was near, then with a parting nod escorted Rose through, and closed the door behind him.
Horatio was up with the dawn, and noted with some dismay that Bracegirdle had made certain that he had plenty of duties to occupy himself during the morning hours. There would be no idle pacing the deck today, only supervising, accounting, and standing watch, all under Bracegirdle's and Bowles' hawklike gaze. Drat it!
Despite his duties, Horatio found he had plenty of time to worry and wasted no time in doing so. Dr. St. Johns' words of the previous evening bothered and sobered him, although he tried to temper their gloom with the reassurance that the doctor did not know he had talked to Archie, and that Archie would most likely testify on his own behalf. Then everything would be all right.
Fortunately, the captain also did not know Horatio had talked to Archie, and that was a minor miracle in itself. Horatio considered this as he watched over the ratings laundering and wrapping the sails, and thanked God that his secret had not slipped. In fact, Pellew had been very quiet on their way back to the ship last night, and Horatio could see the simmering anger over what had happened to Terry Whitehall burning behind Pellew's eyes. They both knew Morgan was behind it - why not just say it?
There was a general bustle to his left, and Horatio saw Captain Pellew walking up the stairs to the quarter-deck. Tapping his hand to his hat he said, "Good morning, captain."
Pellew gave a tired smile, and returned the salute. "Mr. Hornblower. Is everything well."
"Well enough, sir." Damn! Why did he feel so guilty about the captain not knowing his errand last evening? "Sir, if I may ask - last night - did you see Lord Admiral Hood?"
"I did," Pellew said, his tone even as he clasped his hands behind him and gazed out at the water, "And, not surprisingly, he expresses his regret over Mr. Whitehall's misfortune, but has decided on the crown's behalf not to postpone Mr. Kennedy's trial."
Horatio nodded; he had feared as much.
"He has also decided," Pellew said, in a tone that reminded Horatio of Muzillac, "to employ himself as Mr. Kennedy's defender, and address all remaining witnesses in that fashion."
"Himself?" Horatio said, and could not keep the surprise from his voice.
"Yes. He has authority to do so, and I pray God the insight to manage it as well. Unfortunately, Mr. Kennedy's enemies still have all of their cannons, and we are nigh well dismasted."
Horatio tried to keep his chin up. "Come, sir, the trial is not over yet. Mr. Kennedy may come to his own defense, and they will never convict him then."
"Perhaps," Pellew allowed, still gazing into the weakly glimmering water, "But we must remember, Mr. Hornblower, that we are bound to the facts and the court's ruling on them, and even if Mr. Kennedy testifies the court may still find him guilty of murder. All sympathies must be put aside."
Horatio did not like this, and tried to think of a diplomatic way to say so. "With all due respect, captain, any jury that would convict Mr. Kennedy and leave a blackguard like Captain Morgan free would have my utter contempt - "
Pellew's face changed then, swiftly, to one of cautious anger. "Mind your tongue, Mr. Hornblower, if you please."
Horatio forgot himself and looked Pellew full in the face, astounded. "You would defend that man, sir, who had Mr. Whithall beaten - "
"I said mind your tongue, sir!" Pellew hissed, his voice low and tense, "That man is still your superior officer, and to make accusation against him without evidence will put you in irons if those words are spoken ashore, and I could do nothing to prevent it. I will not tolerate such reckless behavior from my officers. Do I make myself clear, Lieutenant?"
Oh, God! Horatio thought with a sudden stab of fright, and fixed his eyes straight ahead. "Aye, sir."
Pellew kept his voice pitched low, and looked at the deck. "Whatever our personal opinions of some people, we must be ever mindful that those feelings do not interfere with protocol. But rest assured that once this current matter is settled the villians who assaulted Mr. Kennedy's lawyer will be dealt with, if there is any justice and I am within prosecuting distance when they are found. Will that be satisfactory?"
"Aye, sir." Horatio believed him; Pellew's word was worth more than gold.
"Very well," Pellew said, and turned to continue his journey through the ship.
Horatio hesitated, then said, "Permission to speak, sir."
Pellew looked back, one eyebrow cocked in surprise. Turning around slowly he said, "Yes, lieutenant?"
"Please - accept my apologies, sir, I did speak in haste and out of turn. It is only - I am concerned for my fellow officer, and my friend. I am afraid it has made a child of me."
Pellew did smile then, a little, and said quietly, "No, Mr. Hornblower, your compassion has made a man of you, a man I imagine has been there since you were very young."
Horatio blushed under the unexpected praise, and cast his eyes toward his shoes.
Pellew's voice still came, and it had a hint of gentleness to it. "But I will not shield you from the pain that you must face, if you should ever desire to put on a captain's coat. My thoughts are with this day, Mr. Hornblower, and I have spent most of these past hours on them, so please hear me and do not interrupt."
The words were soft, earnest. Horatio stared at Pellew and nodded.
Pellew took a deep breath. "Mr. Kennedy took a life, the life of a fellow officer, and there are few crimes which elicit so little sympathy in the Royal Navy. And he has confessed this crime, and accepted its punishment in front of superior officers. That he was pressed to commit this sin I have no doubt, but the jury will likely see him as dangerous and uncontrolled, and his execution would to them be a blessing for His Majesty's men, a return to their safety."
Their safety! Horatio almost choked out the words, alarmed to tears by Pellew's words. What the devil was he talking about?
Pellew nodded. "And if there is nothing to contradict it, if there is no corroboration for Mr. Kennedy's words...Mr. Hornblower, you must prepare yourself. I will not allow a show of weakness in that courtroom should the verdict go against us."
Horatio stared at Pellew open-mouthed for a moment, a nightmare vision of Archie condemned forming in his mind. It was always a possibility, but now it seemed almost a certainty. "It cannot go against us. Sir, if I have an ounce of will to prevent it, it must not."
"Your will is not law, Mr. Hornblower," Pellew said softly, putting a hand on the young man's shoulder, "How I wish sometimes that it were! But your affection for Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Whitehall is blinding you to the dangers of capricious action, and I ..." Pellew paused, and pursed his lips for a moment before saying, very quickly, "Mr. Hornblower, I have already lost one promising young officer to incidents I could not prevent, and I cannot afford to lose another. Give me your oath, now, that you will do nothing further to endanger your own self for anyone else's sake without first coming to me."
A prickly feeling formed at the base of Horatio's neck. Nothing *further*? "Of course, sir. You have my word."
"Thank you, Mr. Hornblower," Captain Pellew sighed in relief, then glanced down at Horatio's hands before turning away with a little half-smile on his face. "Do not forget to make yourself prsentable, before we go ashore."
Presentable? Horatio looked down at his uniform, but everything looked fine. His jacket was spotless, his sword straight as it should be, his hands -
- his hands still had faint iron rust stains on them. Iron rust, from the bars he had gripped so tightly the night before at the gaol.
Oh, damn! Horatio thought, and looked at Pellew in shock. Pellew had stopped on the stairs and was looking back at him silently.
He knew as soon as I saluted him last night, Horatio thought guiltily. Damn!
Horatio felt himself blushing to the roots of his hair, dumbstruck with horror as he stared at his captain. He was completely caught out, and deserved whatever punishment Pellew decided to rain down on him.
But there was no anger in the brown eyes that faced him, only stern, sad knowledge and the unspoken promise that they would talk of this later. For now, there was the day to think of.
Horatio lowered his hands and accepted the silent rebuke, thanking whatever God there was for his captain's discretion. Then as he watched, Pellew nodded with the same sympathetic smile on his face, then turned and continued his journey up the quarter-deck stairs.
As Horatio feared, the carnival-like frenzy of the previous day's proceedings only intensified as a result of the attack on Terry. Whereas the day before the streets had been crowded, today they positively teemed with masses of humanity, all eager to get to the courthouse and watch the trial as best they could. Horatio was pleased to see, once they got inside, that someone at the courthouse had the foresight to draw all the drapes so no one could see in.
The mood in the admiralty was hushed and nervous, a marked contrast to the excited throng that surrounded the building. There were many fewer officers than yesterday, and those who were there were all of high rank. Horatio remembered Pellew's words and kept his silence, vowing that whatever happened, he would rather die than embarrass his captain.
That vow became very difficult to keep once Horatio laid eyes on Julius Morgan.
Morgan was easy enough to spy, the small crowd milling outside the courtroom parted for him, as if he were Moses before the Red Sea. Morgan was talking to Uscher, and did not seem to notice the nervous eyes and whispered comments that fluttered about him. But Horatio noticed. It's exactly what he wants, Horatio thought hotly, to be feared and yet unaccused, known to be a villian and yet respected for his rank and his ability to conceal his wickedness. There is not a soul in this room that does not lay the guilt for Terry's beating at Morgan's door, yet he stands above it unassailed. That bastard -
- unexpectedly, as Horatio was looking Morgan glanced in his direction, and caught his eye. Horatio started a little, but Morgan kept talking to Uscher as if he were looking at nothing remarkable, did not even acknowledge Horatio's existence. Except, just for a moment, he smiled a little.
**my offer still stands. Mind the day, lieutenant.**
Morgan's words of the previous day came back, and Horatio turned his back on the man with an involuntary shiver. That marginal smile, almost unnoticable, was as apparent to Horatio as if Morgan had shouted it for London Tower: he was expecting to win. And he was expecting Horatio to humble himself as a result, and become a member of Courageous to save Archie's life.
The prospect was chilling, never moreso than now. For a moment, Horatio drowned in dread of it.
The doors to the courtroom were opened, and the officers filed in to take their seats. Horatio kept himself close to Captain Pellew without even noticing he was doing it, although he did become aware that he somehow felt better when he knew the elder man was beside him. It was as if he knew he may be called upon to lose that luxury, and was desperately taking in as much comfort as he could. It was very unsettling.
Everyone was seated, and the doors to the chambers opened. Hood came in first, followed by the captains, and last of all came Archie, escorted by two marines. Horatio studied him, tried to discern some signal that would tell him what decision Archie had made, but it was difficult - Archie kept his eyes down, his lips pressed into a thin but determined line, as if he was concentrating on something very intently. All talk ceased as everyone watched Archie enter, and take his place in the seat of the accused. His head came up, his shoulders came back, and Horatio saw him open his eyes wide and take a deep breath.
He's gathering his courage, Horatio thought with a twinge of hope, and glanced surreptitously at Morgan.
Morgan was peering at Archie as well, as if he were trying to study him. He's looking for signs that Archie's given up, Horatio thought to himself, and felt his stomach drop when he thought Morgan might find them; Archie looked shaken, unsure, and did not look out to meet anyone's eyes but kept within himself. Horatio glanced back over at Morgan, saw the man sit back in his chair with an almost imperceptible change of expression - not gloating, or smugness, but rather a kind of satisfaction. Rather like -
- rather like Simpson's expression just after he had been given permission to join the mission where he shot Horatio and cast Archie adrift.
For a stunned moment Horatio looked down at his hands. No, he thought, no! Dammit, that's ancient history, that ghost has been banished. Morgan thinks he's won, but he hasn't. Horatio looked up at Morgan again, his eyes narrowing... Morgan had no idea that he had talked to Archie, no hint that Archie might have been given aid in his lonely struggle - that is, unless Lafferty told him, and while Horatio did not like Lafferty, he did not think the young man would do such a wretched thing.
No, Horatio mused as he watched Morgan settle back in his chair, he has the air of confidence, although he is controlling it so he does not look inappropriately exultant. He thinks he's won. He has no notion that the lion has yet to come out and fight.
Hood cleared his throat and picked up a sheaf of papers in front of him. "Gentlemen, let's get these proceedings underway. Firstly, as I've no doubt you are all aware, last evening Terry Whitehall, Mr. Kennedy's attorney, suffered an attack by brigands on his way home and will be unable to appear in court. We are all aware of the peril of Portsmouth streets; the unruly fires of men's beastly passions are the reasons we are having this trial today."
Horatio saw that Archie had gone a little pale and closed his eyes. Looking down, he then noticed that he had unconsciously clenched his hands.
"As a result of this dastardly occurrence," Hood droned on, "It has been decided that the remainder of this hearing will be conducted with as limited an audience as possible, to prevent undue excitement, and that Mr. Kennedy's defence will be taken on by myself, as circumstances warrant."
There was a slight murmur at these words, and Horatio looked around to see the same look on every officer's face: Kennedy is doomed. Perhaps these men always thought so, but now it was plain, in every eye and countenance.
But Horatio did not believe it.
"Now then," Hood continued, in his oblivious way, "I believe when we recessed last, there were still a few witnesses yet to testify..."
Uscher stood then, in a way that reminded Horatio of a snake uncoiling itself, and with a somber expression said, "My lord, in an attempt to assist you in the grave matter you have taken on, I endeavored to secure those witnesses who had heretofore agreed to be interviewed."
"Oh, did you?" Hood squinted at Uscher.
"Well, yes," Uscher replied, "But unfortunately last night's attack has frightened them such that they longer wish to testify."
"What!" Hood snapped as Horatio's blood ran cold. "Did you not inform them that this was a King's matter of the utmost urgency, and that by refusing they have wasted these officers' valuable time?"
"I tried every manner of persuasion I knew," Uscher said with a mild shrug, "They are simple people, I'm afraid, and frighten rather the way cows do. Once alarmed, they will not budge."
Horatio clasped his hands together, fighting the simmering anger that was building inside him. A sideways glance at Pellew revealed that his emotions were mirrored in his captain's face, though tempered with knowing resignation. There was nothing they could do.
Hood gave an exasperated grunt and studied his papers. "Well, gentlemen, in the event that there are no further witnesses, the next order of business would be to conclude this hearing, and render a verdict."
No further witnesses...Horatio peered at Archie anxiously, but his friend did not move, keeping his blue eyes fastened on his folded hands. Horatio knew that likely Archie would be acquitted without his testimony - The captains at the table did not seem to regard Archie with the same scorn and indictment they had yesterday, and the other testimony had made things come out even - a little in Archie's favor, in fact. The innkeeper, Matthews, Bracegirdle - they had all decried Creps as a profligate, while praising Archie to the skies. Uscher's attempts to slur Archie's name had so far not come to much.
But still...still the facts remained that Archie had taken a fellow British officer's life without explanation or excuse, and that alone could damn him. It could still go either way...
And there were no further witnesses.
Dr. St. John spent the morning cleaning up the sick berth. It was a comforting, mindless task, one he could do without giving it any thought. Pour vinegar on the deck to remove the stench of blood and disease; take the hammocks down for the ratings to wash; holystone away the stains that stubbornly clung to the floorboards, although that was the truly useless task - they always remained, no matter how hard he tried to take them out. Today he tried more ardously than usual, down on his hands and knees with his shirtsleeves rolled up to the elbows, but it was no use - the stains remained. Sighing, he shook his head in resignation and stood up.
And looked right into the eye of Philip Lafferty.
St. John grunted in surprise and pushed the holystone away with the tip of his shoe. Turning to get another bucket of vinegar he said, "Can I help you, lieutenant?"
There was no answer, and St. John picked up the vinegar and went about his work. Experience had taught him not to ask questions twice. Perhaps Lafferty would leave him alone.
But no. Lafferty paused, took a breath and said, "Doctor, can I - can I ask you something?"
St. John shrugged.
"You've been at sea a long time, I feel stupid for asking but - well, did you ever know anyone who - who deserted?"
St. John started at that, turned around and eyed Lafferty sternly. "Deserted?"
Lafferty had gone pale, and was twisting his jacket in his hands while he stared at the floor. "I - if you desert, where do you go? What happens if they catch you?"
"If they catch you, you get hanged!" St. John snapped, suddenly frightened for himself. "It's treason. Why, do you know someone who's thinking of deserting?"
Lafferty's eyes shot up to him, wide and terrified, but then he caught his breath quickly and said, "Yes - yes, I do, a friend. He's - things are going badly for him. He can't stay on his ship anymore."
St. John frowned, and began sprinkling the vinegar on the holystoned deck. "Lost his nerve?"
"No," Lafferty shook his head, looking at the deck with his head cocked, "No, it's not that, but - things are happening, things he used to be able to live with, but he can't anymore. And he doesn't know what to do about it."
"He should tell the captain."
"He can't. He's not sure...the captain wouldn't do anything."
St. John felt a tightness between his shoulders, an ache of tension. "Then he needs to deal with it himself."
There was a slight pause, then quieter: "That's the trouble, he's kind of a - he's a coward. He's afraid of what might happen if he tries to deal with it."
The ache intensified, and St. John tried to ignore it. "What might happen?"
"He might die. Or wish he was dead."
St. John shuddered then, felt a goose walk on his grave. Pausing with the vinegar bucket he turned to Lafferty, saw that the young man had gone absolutely white, and had backed himself against the bulkhead. Looking at him evenly St. John asked, "Lieutenant, do you know what this young man's troubles are, what it is he's trying to deal with?"
Lafferty swallowed and looked at the floor again, struggling to find his voice. "He knows things - things about...well, about a powerful person, and they're terrible, they're not right, and he knows he should stand against them but he's never done anything like that before and nobody else is taking a stand, well - well - "
"Some people are." St. John interjected.
"Yes!" Lafferty agreed, "They are, but they won't win, they can't, and he knows it's a lost cause but a part of him keeps telling him to stand up anyway because it's the right thing to do. The right thing to do! I've never - he's never thought that way before, it's so stupid, it doesn't get you anywhere but something happened, when I saw Whitehall lying on that bed and I knew Morgan had him beaten something - "
St. John grabbed Lafferty's arm then, so tightly the young man jumped. "Lieutenant!"
Lafferty stopped talking and stared at him wide-eyed.
"I know what you want from me," St. John continued, his eyes never wavering, "But I can't give it. Your friend...your friend is finding out how the world works, and I'm sorry it's so hard for him but the sooner he finds out, the better for him to not make the kinds of mistakes that will cause him regret. There's nothing else, I'm sorry."
Lafferty began shaking his head. "But there is - the ones who are fighting - "
"Are fools," St. John said, releasing Lafferty's arm. "Noble fools, but fools just the same. Lofty ideals will always be crushed by harsh realities. Your friend needs to learn that."
Lafferty sniffed loudly, looked down once again at the floor. It took him a long time to reply, but when he did St. John's heart leapt with hope, then froze with despair.
"I don't know..." Lafferty said quietly, "I don't know if I want my friend learning that."
Lafferty was almost shaking. St. John looked at him sympathetically.
"The men who he knows, that didn't," Lafferty continued, "He rather wishes he could be friends with them."
St. John paused, then asked, "Lieutenant, do you think your friend will end up deserting?"
Lafferty shrugged. "I don't know. There's something he should do first, right away, but - he wants to run away from it. After that..." Lafferty sighed dejectedly, then looked at St. John with exhausted, suspicious eyes. "Why? Would you tell on him?"
St. John looked at Lafferty for a long time, looked at that face full of frightened innocence, the fragile first seeds of integrity waiting to bloom or be destroyed.
Then he sadly shook his head against the tears of remembrance that stood in his eyes and whispered, "Just let him know...I wish him all the luck in the world."
And as soon as Lafferty was gone, went back to cleaning the sick berth with its stains that would never come out.
"Now then, gentlemen," Hood harrumphed, standing before the court with a paper in his hand, "Since Mr. Whitehall is indisposed, it is my intention to relay any arguments he might make on behalf of the accused. Please bear in mind that these would be his thoughts, and not mine! I am a dragon of propriety and have no partiality when it comes to matters which I am trying."
Horatio listened to these words and fought the urge to bury his head in his hands.
Hood nodded to himself, and consulted the paper, "Now then, Mr. Kennedy here - " Hood indicated Archie, who was watching him with a kind of detached fascination, " - did on the night in question take the life of Lieutenant Trevor Creps of the frigate Courageous. Those are facts, undeniable by prosecution or defense. Mr. Whitehall maintains, and has produced some corroboration, that Mr. Creps was something of a bully and an upstart, and that Mr. Kennedy was most likely defending himself against an attack, rather than taking a life indiscriminately. This theory was produced through interviews with persons who have known Mr. Creps to be violent in the past, and was presented by Mr. Whitehall as a most credible theory." Hood paused, glancing over his papers. "And that would seem to conclude the matter."
He sat down again, and Horatio fought his uneasiness. Hood's speech had none of Terry's style, true, but it was straight and to the point, and more importantly it indicated Creps' reputation as a brawler and abuser. Archie's eyes followed Hood to his seat, and Horatio thought that although it looked as if Archie would not testify after all, perhaps he did not need to. Perhaps...
Uscher stood and cleared his throat. "My lord?"
Hood looked at Uscher as if he'd forgotten he was there. "Oh, yes, Mr. Uscher, I believe you have the floor. Please continue, sir."
"Thank you, my lord," Uscher said with a smile, and then turned to face the court and the officers by turn. "Gentlemen, it breaks my heart as much as it does yours to hear Trevor Creps described in such a cold and unseemly manner. If these suggestions are true, then he is very much deserving of our contempt, as Englishmen and human beings. But did he deserve to die? And are his sins the only ones at play here? These are the questions we must ask ourselves today. And the answer to both of these questions is, no."
At the word 'sins', Horatio noticed that Archie's eyes flickered a little. Then he was still.
"No," Uscher continued, pacing back and forth as he spoke, "No one deserves to die the way that Trevor Creps did, stabbed through the heart in the dark stairway of a dockside inn. We have all been in such dark places, and want to feel safe in them - "
Archie blinked, and as Horatio watched he raised his head,very slowly, and looked straight ahead. As if he was remembering their conversation. **We have both been to the dark places, you and I...**
" - but that will never be," Uscher declared, "As long as we allow evil to go unpunished, and murderers to wander free. There have been enough threats to our peace and health and prosperity to tolerate the threats that come from within. We must send a message, and that message must be: no more."
Horatio held his breath. Uscher's speech was designed to be convincing, and it may very well succeed. Archie had not moved, but his head turned a little toward Horatio, and his eyes seemed to be searching the air for something only he could see. Horatio tried to still the pounding of his heart, and waited.
"Trevor Creps may not have been the perfect gentleman," Uscher said with a slight smile, "But he wore the uniform of a British officer, an officer of His Majesty's navy, by God! His heart, his mind, his talents were as worthy as any man's here, and who knows what wonders he may have performed in service to the King."
Horatio thought of Creps' treachery, and nearly choked.
"To be cut down in his prime, his life taken away, torn away! And by a brother, a fellow officer who wore the same Navy blue and professed to holding the same ideals..." Uscher stopped and shook his head. "It makes me ill, gentlemen. For we all know that life is precious, and when it is taken there is only emptiness and loss."
Archie's eyes slid over a little more, and then he looked at Horatio.
"And what must we be willing to pay, to save others from suffering the same loss? To protect our king, our country, our men from the savagery of those who would so brutally disregard the common rights of others? To offer acquittal is to say the crime did not exist! And that is to perpetuate the crime, for if we turn a blind eye surely the wickedness will return to destroy again and again."
Horatio stared into Archie's eyes, saw his own words mirrored there. **Think of our friendship, Archie, and the safety of others who may be brutalized by the wickedness of those men if you stay silent. Your duty is clear.**
Horatio almost gasped at the clarity he saw in Archie's eyes. He scarcely dared to hope.
"And that is why," Uscher concluded, going back to his seat with a satisfied smile, "There can only be one just and reasonable end to this case. Thank you."
Hood nodded absently; Horatio was not even certain he had been listening. "Very well, Mr. Uscher. I think our business is concluded..."
Archie was still looking at Horatio, his blue eyes burning with some newfound anger. Very quietly he said, "I would like to speak."
It was so quiet, Horatio barely heard the words. Hood caught them, however, and looked up at Archie in surprise. "Pardon me, Mr. Kennedy? You said something?"
Horatio saw Archie square his shoulders and look at Hood without flinching. "Yes. I would like to speak, on my own behalf."
There was a surprised stirring in the courtroom, and glancing to his left Horatio saw that even Pellew looked mildly amazed. He did not dare look at Morgan.
"You mean you wish to testify?" Hood asked incredulously.
"Precisely." Archie replied crisply.
Hood blinked quickly, sat up a bit and shuffled some papers around. "Well, I'm certain that can be arranged - "
"It will require no arranging," Archie said, standing, his shoulders back and his head held high. Horatio saw no cringing there, none of the fear or uncertainty of earlier days, only a determination that must be fulfilled at all costs. "And if it please the court I will need no interviews or questions. I must - there are things that must be said, that have not been, and I must say them now or another chance may never come."
Everyone was still, and stared at Archie in shock. Horatio tried to hide a proud smile.
Archie's eyes were blazing as they swept the courtroom. "I cannot sit here, wearing this uniform and knowing my duties to my king and my country, and abide the words that have passed here. This uniform is *not* given as a reward for godliness, and it is *not* a shield from the evils of the world. And there are men wearing it who have no more value than the carrion rotting in the streets."
The fury in Archie's quiet words made Horatio shiver.
"They would use this uniform," Archie lamented, smoothing his hand over his lapel, "as a mask to hide the blackness of their hearts, and as a weapon to intimidate and abuse. We have all seen this, and please God there are men - " Archie's voice caught, and he swallowed before saying, "There are men who have sought to stop this blasphemy. I cannot count myself among their hallowed company, but if I can make it known - " His eyes locked with Horatio's again, excited and anxious, "If you listen to me just for a moment, perhaps those who would mock the crown and all decent Englishmen will be defeated. It is my only hope and prayer."
Archie looked down for a moment, and Horatio took that opportunity to glance over at Morgan, and was astounded at the anger he saw on the captain's face. No, not just anger, but pure, unbridled fury, and Horatio got the sudden feeling that if Morgan could have gotten up from his chair and throttled Archie, he would have. It's as if no one has ever challenged him before, Horatio thought, he's too astonished to be careful about hiding his surprise. Horatio turned his eyes back to Archie, secretly relishing the triumph.
With a deep breath, Archie looked back up and continued, "On that night, we...my ship, the Indefatigable, made port here, and I came ashore with some of my comrades to share in some drink and food. I was tired - we were all tired - and all of us here know how much good food and ale are longed for, when one is out at sea. I shared a table with Mr. Bracegirdle and some of the other officers from our ship, and passed the evening quietly. That is, until I encountered Lieutenant Trevor Creps."
Hood was peering at Archie inquisitively, like a bird which has encountered some strange species of worm, and all other eyes were riveted on the slight blond figure in manacles and Navy blue. Horatio watched Archie gather some kind of inner strength for a moment, then he went on.
"I did not recognize Lieutenant Creps at first, and when he introduced himself to me it was revealed that we had never actually met, but he did know of my existence through a mutual acquaintance of ours - Mr. Jack Simpson."
Archie did stumble at the pronouncement of that hated name, and Horatio saw the color of his cheeks heighten. But he did not stop, kept his head straight and high, and Horatio smiled his encouragement. Whether Archie could see him or not, he did not know.
Archie took another deep, shaky breath and ran one hand through his blond hair. "After Lieutenant Creps made his association to Mr. Simpson known to me, I sought to remove myself from his company as quickly as possible. It was then that - " Archie swallowed thickly - "He had overheard me asking about Mr. Hornblower, and made a threat against him, a craven cowardly threat that I could not tolerate. I approached him and demanded he retract his vile words, and he refused, and threatened Mr. Hornblower further." Archie's gaze dropped once more to the floor and he whispered, " - I regret my memories are not too clear of the next moments, but we did fight. And it resulted in the loss of Lieutenant Creps' life."
Archie paused, then fixing his eyes on the officers in the court he said, "Sirs, I put this before you: there are those who don this uniform, claim these colors, who have nothing but malice and evil in their hearts. They cloak themselves in the British flag, claim authority through its stripes and precepts, but have only their own selfish and ignominious ends in mind when they do it. Their victims are never few enough, but their accomplices are many - fellow officers who wink at their improprieties, superiors who are too weak or self-involved to take action. Mr. Matthews has told you about Jack Simpson, and I can attest as an officer and the son of landed gentry that every word he has told you is true. I have seen it, firsthand, and I know. Thievery - beatings - rapes - " There was another catch in Archie's voice, and Horatio looked down, ashamed. Archie shook his head and almost whispered, "Mr. Simpson is dead now, so his crimes will not be punished here on earth, but his disciples live and flourish on every ship in this navy. I beg of you, even if you do not excuse my crime, please take care that you do not excuse his. There are good men who cower, innocent boys who fear for their lives, who look to you for guidance and protection. Please, for the love of God, please do not forsake them. Our country cannot afford such a loss."
There was a deep silence in the courtroom, too heavy and significant for words to penetrate it. Horatio realized he'd been holding his breath, let it out softly, felt tears in his eyes. Archie had done it. Horatio had seldom felt so proud in his entire life.
He turned to look at Pellew, and was surprised to see some cautious relief in the older man's eyes. Pellew did not share Horatio's youthful certainty - well, that was to be expected. Pellew knew about Archie's strengths mostly secondhand, had not seen him running across the bridge at Muzillac, had not witnessed the unbridled joy in his eyes at standing on the topmast with the world at his feet. Pellew's eyes said, this is well but the day is not over. Horatio's eyes answered, the day is not over, but I have already seen tomorrow's dawn. Somewhat foolishly, Horatio wished his captain did not always look so sad...
And Morgan - Horatio risked another glance toward the powerful captain, and saw that Morgan had leaned back in his seat, one hand on his chin, his eyes narrowed in Archie's direction. Horatio shuddered; no doubt Morgan was plotting something, but how could he take those words and put them back from whence they came? Everyone suspected Creps was a coward, and now it was known for certain. There was nothing Morgan could do.
For his part, Archie looked absolutely spent. He took a step backward toward his seat, running one hand over his flushed face. Hood noticed this and quietly cleared his throat.
"Very well, young man, you have said your piece. After such a pronouncement, may I suggest a short recess for us all to compose ourselves, then we will return and Mr. Uscher may question you as he sees fit."
Uscher! Horatio almost grimaced as he stood, but caught himself. Uscher was nearly as odious as Morgan, but Archie's blood was up, and Uscher did not stand a chance. He could ask any question he might, but Archie had his sword in hand now, the sword of Horatio's friendship and the knowledge that he was right, and there was nothing he would not risk to see this matter through. Of that Horatio was certain.
With that reassurance rumbling pleasantly in his mind, Horatio managed to catch Archie's eye one last time, just long enough for them to exchange tired, tremulous smiles. Then he followed Captain Pellew out the door onto the walk, and began to think about what would happen once the trial was over, and they finally got Archie home.
The air outside the courtroom was cool and refreshing, and Horatio stood in the gray afternoon for a moment and simply breathed. Around him, other officers were coming onto the walk, and some distance away Horatio saw the marines and local constables keeping the curious townspeople well away from the building. They were doing a good job of it, although the townspeople didn't look too appreciative. Oh well, just so he could get some fresh air...
Looking about him, Horatio saw Captain Morgan standing at the top of the stairs leading inside, his arms crossed and his expression intensely thoughtful. Horatio glanced away quickly, for it seemed that Morgan was looking at him, and as confident as he was of victory Horatio did not like being stared at. Morgan probably hated him right now, hated that Archie was stronger than he thought and would likely bring his cruelly won empire crashing down about him. He's probably never brooded in his life, Horatio thought with some satisfaction, and he is certainly not used to being defeated so publicly. Yes, Morgan's enmity was likely running very deeply, and for a moment Horatio was a little afraid. Then he spied Captain Pellew, and all such nonsensical nervousness vanished.
Captain Pellew had walked away from the officers at the front of the building to stand by himself, alone, at the side of it. Concerned, Horatio approached him and saw the troubled look on Pellew's face, and an unexplained fear in his eyes. "Sir, what is it?"
Pellew glanced at him, just for a moment, then looked away. "Mr. Hornblower, I trust you are as encouraged as I about the testimony Mr. Kennedy has given."
"Aye, sir," Horatio said sincerely, "A little more and he will have won them over, I think. He was provoked to his actions, I am sure of it. Never moreso than now."
"That is for the jury to decide," Pellew cautioned gently, then turned away from Horatio and said, "Mr. Hornblower, there is something Mr. Kennedy said that troubles me. Do you know what he was referring to when he mentioned seeing Mr. Simpson's wrongdoing firsthand?"
Horatio felt a stab in his stomach. "What do you mean, sir?"
Pellew glanced behind himself, quickly, but they were alone on the walk. "There are few things a captain dreads hearing more than that his men are in danger on board his own ship. Tell me honestly, did Mr. Simpson bring any of that foulness aboard Indefatigable?"
There was the reason for the fear in Pellew's eyes. Horatio swallowed, remembering words half-heard through a cabin door -
**Jack's missed you, boy **
And what might have happened if he had not been there to stop it...but no, there was no reason for Pellew to know that. With a reassuring smile Horatio replied, "Truthfully, he might have attempted it, sir. But he knew you would tolerate nothing of that nature on board your ship."
Pellew sighed and looked at his shoes. "Aye, he knew well enough to wait until he was out of my reach! But still to hear of men like him never answering for their crimes makes my blood boil, Mr. Hornblower, it truly does."
There was something else in Pellew's voice, and Horatio caught it. Speaking softly, he said, "You've nothing to blame yourself for, sir. You could not know of Mr. Simpson's nature any sooner, and when you did know it you took action that saved my life, and who knows how many others' who would have otherwise fallen to Jack Simpson's hands. I know Mr. Kennedy has never uttered a word of anger against you."
"Then I utter it against myself," Pellew whispered bitterly. "Anger that I would be so blind when the warnings were likely right in front of me. Anger that I apparently put myself so out of reach that one of my midshipmen would rather have placed himself in danger than speak to me. If I had simply been more astute, this entire circumstance might never have taken place."
Horatio thought of Archie's past, of Archie's dead friend Fredericks and the disastrous result of his interview with Captain Keene, and setting his jaw said, "With all due respect, captain, you're wrong. Mr. Kennedy himself would say it, if he could. He would say..." Horatio thought a moment, then continued, "That far from blotting out his future, you have been the beacon of his inspiration. You are the pinnacle, sir, the absolute summit of all any of us wish to be. Mr. Kennedy's struggles were his own, and he no more holds you accountable for his fate than - than I do for what happened at Muzillac."
Horatio did not know he was going to say those words until they had already been uttered. But they were absolutely true. Pellew looked at him in mild surprise, and Horatio realized that his captain had been carrying a heavy burden as well. Emboldened, he plunged on. "Did you not once tell me, sir, that some men choose to cast themselves adrift? Mr. Kennedy closed himself off from all of us, including me, and his decision to stay silent was a desperate decision he barely had time to think of. This will come out all right, sir, believe me. And look to your triumphs, which I will be happy to elucidate if you will not."
"Perhaps another time, Mr. Hornblower," Pellew replied, looking away in some refined version of embarrassment.
Horatio looked down, afraid he'd gone too far in his boyish attempt to console Pellew. Perhaps it was overly effusive of him, but at the moment Horatio could hardly help himself. If this entire affair had shown him anything, it was how lucky he was to have Pellew as a captain, and Horatio decided the older man would know it, dammit. There was too much appreciation in Horatio's heart for it to go unsaid. And Horatio was glad he had said it. Even if it shamefully embarrassed both of them.
Still, Horatio could see that he had made his captain uncomfortable. In an effort to assuage that he said, "Mr. Kennedy's words were very moving, sir. He will be acquitted, I am sure of it."
Pellew looked back at Horatio, his expression openly concerned, and sighed as he looked back toward the admiralty house. "Let us pray so, Mr. Hornblower. And let us hope Mr. Kennedy has more moving words to explain his actions. That in the end will be what decides his fate."
"He will have them, sir," Horatio said certainly, remembering the promise that was made the night before, and the hand that clasped his in the darkness. To himself he added, I have done everything I can to make certain of it. Archie would say his words, be acquitted, and that would be the final triumph of Horatio's visions of right and honor over Morgan's world of corruption and dishonest gain. With this renewed hope, Horatio turned to look at Morgan as if to say, this is my captain and my world, and you will never take it from me.
But in this bit of gloating Horatio was disappointed, for Morgan was no longer standing on the stairs, looking at him with greedy eyes. He was gone.
Lord Admiral Hood was in his office on the second floor, shaking his head and sighing in disgust at all the work that was piling up while he was occupied cleaning up other peoples' affairs, when there was a knock on his door. Without looking up he said, "Yes, what is it?"
"Your pardon, my lord," came his attendant's voice, and Hood waited for whatever was coming, his eyes on a letter that demanded urgent attention to a matter concerning spoiled beef. When no further voice came, Hood paused for a moment, considering whether to give his attendant any of his time; finally his curiosity got the better of him, however, and Hood looked up.
The first eyes he met were not those of his attendant; that young man was standing by the door some distance back. The eyes he was looking into at this moment belonged to an extremely nervous-looking youth in a freshly-brushed lieutenant's uniform.
The youth turned his gaze straight ahead and effected a smart salute. "My lord, my name is Lieutenant Phillip Lafferty of His Majesty's Ship, the Courageous. I - wonder if I might beg a moment of your time."
Hood pursed his lips in annoyance and went back to the letters. "Yes, my boy?"
The sound of a deep breath, then, "If I may ask - is Mr. Kennedy's court-martial over yet?"
"No," Hood replied, only halfway involved in the conversation, "If that is your mission you may return to your ship, and tell your comrades that a courier will be sent as soon as a verdict is reached."
"Oh - no, I'm not a messenger, my lord. I..." A very long pause here, another deep breath. "I've come to offer testimony."
Hood looked up then, frankly surprised. "You have? Were you a witness to what happened between Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Creps?"
Lafferty looked at the floor. "I'm afraid not, my lord, but still I - I would like to come to my countryman's defense, provided you have no objection."
"Why would I have any objection? You are only doing your duty, after all! And if you feel compelled to come to the aid of the Courageous and Mr. Creps it is only - "
"Oh!" Lafferty cried out sharply, turning a little paler, "My apologies, my lord, but - I'm afraid I did not make myself clear. I'm...I'm speaking in support of Mr. Kennedy."
Hood straightened up in surprise. "Mr. Kennedy? You said you served on Courageous."
"I did - I do - but nevertheless what I know will be of more benefit to Mr. Kennedy."
Hood stood there for a moment, blinking his beady eyes. Then he said, "Very well, if you wish you may speak next, after Mr. Kennedy's testimony is completed."
Hood saw Lafferty's expression change to one of amazement. "Kennedy's testifying?"
"Yes, and you may go sit among the other officers in the courtroom and when he is done then you may speak."
Lafferty looked at the floor again, and Hood wondered if he was going to be sick - he certainly looked it. Annoyed, Hood said, "Is there something else, lieutenant?"
"No, my lord," Lafferty said quickly, "Well - if I may ask, sir, would it be acceptable if I waited in the hall until it was my turn? I would prefer it to being in the courtroom, I need to..." Lafferty looked away and licked his lips in thought before continuing, "Gather my thoughts."
Hood shrugged. "That is not against policy, although it is very unusual." Hood peered at Lafferty keenly and said, "Lieutenant, you seem very uneasy. Are you certain that you wish to offer your testimony today?"
"Oh, yes, my lord," Lafferty said, and Hood thought he saw a very adult anger burning behind all that youthful nervousness, "Very certain."
"All right then. You may say your piece, as soon as Mr. Kennedy's testimony is over."
One one side of the courthouse there was a small dirt courtyard formed by an L-shaped nook in the building and bound on the remaining sides by a high wooden fence. In the outdoor area was a privy and a barrel of rainwater for washing, and as soon as he was able Archie obtained permission to use both. The guard stayed behind at the door since escape was impossible, and Archie debated whether to use the privy first, or wash his face. He decided to wash his face.
God, the water felt good! It was cold and sweet-smelling, with a slight taste of iron. Archie's heart was pounding, and he could feel the flush in his face cooled by the water as he splashed it on his face again, and took a deep breath. He was shaking, he knew it, but seldom had he felt so alive, and the force that surged through his veins was invigorating. He had been sluggish too long! Too long. Horatio was right.
Archie chuckled at that, and studied his face in the rippling water of the rain barrel. Of course, Horatio was right. How did he know what liberation it was to speak the truth? How did he, who never quailed before an enemy, know what triumph could be had by swallowing one's fears and thus defeating them? Well, Archie would ask him later. Later...
The privy door opened, which gave Archie a start - it never occurred to him that someone might be using it. Then he saw who it was and hastily looked away in disgust. It was Uscher.
"Pardon me," Uscher said politely, astonishingly so, and with a glance at him Archie stepped aside and stood there for a moment while Uscher took the dipper and scooped up some of the cool water to drink it.
I should leave, Archie thought, and turned to make his way back inside.
"Just so you know," came Uscher's voice behind him, "I think you're a very brave young man."
Archie stopped, his eyes fixed on the half-closed door that led back inside. Had he heard correctly? The tone was almost...admiring. Slowly he turned back around.
Uscher was lowering the dipper, his eyes on Archie's and full of sincerity. "I'm sorry, I know we're not supposed to talk to each other alone, but I wanted to tell you. I had no idea when I took this case that Captain Morgan's men were the way you've described. And I know I'd never have the nerve to reveal it."
Archie was confused, and wary. He looked Uscher up and down without speaking.
Uscher pursed his lips and looked at the muddy ground. "I'm a city lawyer mostly, don't get around ships and sailors much, but from what I've heard...from what I've seen it's a very dangerous life. And to hear of a young man such as yourself attacked in a public place by another officer, and traumatized to the point where you can't even remember what happened next - well - it's a frightening thing to hear of."
Archie felt his skin prickle, tried to ignore its warning. He turned to go.
"It's also a lie. Isn't it?"
Archie caught his breath, closed his eyes, and remained absolutely still.
"The part about not remembering, I mean," Uscher said in the same low, conversational tone, "The part where you said your recollections were hazy. You actually *do* remember them, don't you?"
Archie turned back toward Uscher, his heart pounding faster still. "Why not wait and ask me in court?" he hissed, his voice full of disdain.
"I'll get to that," Uscher said, his eyes flicking to the half-closed door. "The truth is, Mr. Kennedy, much of what I'm finding out about the navy I find extremely distasteful, you might even say disgusting. And as an Englishman I am loath to air rumors about unholy unions and pederasty in a king's courtroom. Aren't you?"
Archie thought he couldn't breathe. He forced himself to, and kept his eyes on the ground.
"Of course, I can speculate on what *might* have happened," Uscher continued, his voice close and unfriendly, "Perhaps you and Creps had a lover's quarrel. Perhaps he wanted to try something you didn't like, or could it be the other way around? In any case, the captain and I would much rather not drag the nobility of England through such slime if it can be in any way prevented."
Archie looked at Uscher then with eyes that burned white-hot with rage. "You can go back to your bloody captain and tell him you may ask me whatever questions you will. I will give you and him such revelations as will make your ears burn for a hundred years. I am not afraid of you."
For a moment Uscher stared at Archie, and Archie thought he saw fear. He took a step backwards, involuntarily it seemed. Then he swallowed, glanced down at the ground and said, "Well, you see, that is the issue I wish to address with you. For you see, as much as I admire your principles I'm afraid my client does demand a conviction, and when the time comes I'm afraid I will be forced to do my job. I will ask questions of you, and I will make statements. And I might name names. I thought I should warn you."
Archie squinted in puzzlement. "Names?"
Uscher nodded, his self-assurance apparently back. "Names, Mr. Kennedy. Names of others with whom you may have had back-street affairs. Names you've mentioned before. Friends of yours. One - particular - friend of yours."
Archie's eyes widened as his heart plummeted with understanding. He could feel blood draining from his face. Then he tried to swallow his fear, shook his head. "You have nothing to gain by such slander."
Uscher's response was a diffident smile. "I have a conviction to gain. Whatever truth you think you will be telling, I can destroy and unravel with just a handful of words. And to what end? The outcome will be the same as if you'd said nothing, except that while you will only lose your life, your friend will lose everything."
Archie felt as if the world was spinning. He could only stare.
Uscher leaned forward. "Mr. Kennedy, you have fulfilled your mission. The words you said were touching, I'm certain those captains will take this case as a warning and ensure that their young men are protected from the likes of Creps. And you. But you took a life, and even if Creps' soul was just as filthy as yours, murder is still a hanging offense. And I'm afraid Captain Morgan is very much prepared to do whatever it takes to make certain justice is done. So here is my bargain: say nothing further, and spare us all the tawdry spectacle of your most intimate, shameful secrets being eviscerated for everyone to see. And your friend will escape any damage that might have been done to him."
Archie's glare was hateful. "And if I refuse?"
Uscher sighed sadly and shrugged. "You know what Captain Morgan and his men are capable of. I'm certain you can figure it out." He gestured to the privy. "I believe you're next."
Archie closed his eyes as Uscher walked past him, hearing only the slap of his shoes against the muddy ground, and the creak of the courtroom door opening and closing again. And mixed within those sounds, the distant rumble of far-off thunder.
At the very same moment, Terry Whitehall was trying to find a way to balance a book, four sheets of paper, and a quill and ink container on his bed without every nerve in his body erupting in pain and everything spilling onto the floor. It was a daunting task, but he thought he might have it and was resuming his work and listening to the approaching thunder when he heard a knock on the door.
"Come in," he said, wincing at the pain in his jaw.
The door opened, and a young girl of perhaps twelve, dressed in the rough clothes of a servant, poked her head in. "Pardon me, sir. You're Mr. Whitehall?"
Terry frowned. "Yes, that's me. Can I help you?"
The girl smiled and took a step inside the door. "Young lady gave me a shilling to come talk to you, she said she was your guardian angel. You know who it is?"
Terry thought a moment, then grinned. "Yes, I believe I do."
The girl's eyes lit up at Terry's smile, and she took a deep breath. "She wanted me to give you a message, Mr. Kennedy's tes...tess-tiff-eyein', she said. She wanted you to know."
Terry sat up eagerly, winced at the pain. "Testifying? That's the word she used?"
The girl nodded, her eyes saying she liked it that this news made Terry happy.
"My God." Terry looked down at the books in front of him, "Did she say anything else?"
The girl thought for a moment, then shook her head. "It's not over yet, she said. She didn't look as happy as you."
Terry sighed. "Well, it's not easy for some people to be happy." He glanced over at the bedside table, then very slowly reached over to pick a handful of coins from it. Looking at the girl he said, "What's your name?"
"Agnes. I work in the kitchen."
"Well," Terry handed her four of the coins, "This is for you, Agnes, you did your job very well."
Agnes took the money with a shy smile and a curtsy, "Thank you, sir."
"And if you see the lady who gave you the shilling," Terry handed her two more coins, "Give these to her, from me. Tell her I said I'm glad she thought of me."
Agnes nodded and put the two coins in her pocket. "I have to go now."
Terry nodded and waited until the girl had shut the door before laying back in the bed, into the mountain of pillows, his brown eyes looking out the windows onto the rainy street.
Kennedy was testifying. It was miraculous, that the beaten youth Terry had met just a few days ago would find the strength and courage to look into the dragon's mouth and not be afraid. It was miraculous, but still...Terry's eyes were worried as he gazed at the raindrops that were beginning to fall against the window, because he knew what emotions were running through that court right now. He could picture it, as if he was there, Kennedy nervous but determined, the officers surprised, Hood complacent, and Horatio...
...Horatio would be happy, ecstatic even. Terry could see his face, reserved as it always was but with that slight uptilt of his mouth, the glimmer in his eyes that betrayed a euphoria that would shout if it could. It will turn out all right, that's what Horatio was thinking now, and Terry ached with frustration that he could not be there to warn him. Warn him, because Terry knew, as Rose knew, that it was indeed not over yet. That even if Kennedy told everything he knew, he would not be free unless Morgan surrendered, and Morgan was not a man to surrender easily, not with his ship's honor and his own corrupted vainglory at stake. But Horatio's confident optimism would blind him to that, and he would see only a certain victory, not the dark and sinister eyes that saw his potential and his talent, and coveted them. And knew the surest way to win that prize.
"Watch your back, Horatio," Terry whispered to the empty room, even though he knew his most ardent prayers could not make his childhood friend hear him over the distance and the thunder which was growing ever louder. "For God's sake, please. Watch your back."
The recess was over quickly, and Horatio noticed the swiftness with which everyone was taking their seats in the courtroom. There seemed to be an expectation that the court-martial would end today, and with Kennedy testifying that excitement seemed to multiply. Horatio himself could scarcely contain himself, certain despite Pellew's warning that Archie would tell everything he knew, disgrace Creps and the defilement that was the Courageous, and they would all be home by sunset. Perhaps even this accursed rain would clear up...
Morgan appeared, stone-faced and solemn, and Horatio felt that he must know his corruption was coming to an end. It almost seemed...Horatio cocked his head as he thought. At bottom, it had not been terribly difficult to bring Morgan down, for all that Dr. St. John and Lafferty and even Terry were worried about him. **He wants you**, St. John had said, but that was not going to happen. Horatio knew how badly Morgan wanted him on the Courageous, had in fact tried everything from friendly coaxing to downright threats to lure him aboard, but in the end - in the end it had come to nothing. Once Archie was acquitted Morgan would have nothing to hold over him, and he would walk away with his captain and his friend with nothing more to ever fear from this once-imposing man. So why had everyone said Morgan always got what he wanted? And why on earth had no one ever defied him before?
Horatio's thoughts were interrupted by the appearance of Hood and the other captains, and finally Archie surrounded by the marines. There was a stir in the courtroom, and Horatio tried to smile at Archie, to catch his eye, but Archie's head was down and he was not looking in Horatio's direction. Oh well, Horatio consoled himself as everyone seated themselves, he's no doubt concentrating on his testimony. There will be plenty of time for talk later.
Hood sat down and took a deep breath, and consulted the papers before him. "Very well, gentlemen, let us proceed. Mr. Kennedy, do you have anything further to say before you are questioned?"
Archie's head came up then, and Horatio was struck by his expression - utterly calm and controlled, but somehow vacant, like it used to be on Justinian when Simpson was around. Like Archie was not inside himself. But few people would notice it, and after a moment that look disappeared, replaced with a slight smile. "No, my lord."
Hood nodded. "Very well. Mr. Uscher?"
Uscher stood and faced Archie, his hands behind his back. "Mr. Kennedy, let me begin by saying that we all sympathize with the hardships you described earlier. Surely no proper Englishman can listen to such an entreaty and not be moved. But surely you would not use your own difficulties - or the difficulties of anyone else - to excuse murder. Would you?"
Archie's posture was very straight, his eyes diamond-hard as he answered, "No, sir. I would not."
Uscher nodded. "Good, that would certainly be a cowardly thing. Now, sir, tell us whatever you remember about what happened in the stairwell."
Archie hesitated, for just a moment, and his gaze shifted as if he was looking inside himself. Horatio felt his pulse quicken.
"It was - dark," Archie said, the tremble in his voice unmistakable, "There were lanterns, but the light didn't travel that far. Creps had...we had exchanged words, and he was standing in the stairway, waiting."
"Waiting for what?"
Archie's eyes flickered, just a little. "I don't know."
"You mentioned threats to Mr. Hornblower earlier. Was he waiting for him?"
"I don't know."
Creps *was* waiting for me, Horatio realized, and shivered. But he did not know why Archie did not say so.
Uscher tilted his head toward the floor. "Please continue."
Archie took a deep breath. "I remember being in the courtyard and seeking Creps out. I found him standing in the stairway and...and I demanded that he leave the stairwell."
"Why? Were you afraid for Mr. Hornblower's safety?"
Archie's eyelids fluttered downward, as if the question surprised him. "Yes."
"What happened then?"
"He refused to leave. He - " Archie swallowed loudly. "We began to fight."
"Do you remember who started it?"
"Are you certain?"
Archie hesitated again, but his eyes came up again and never left Uscher's. "It's possible we struck each other simultaneously."
Uscher's head came back, and despite his anxiety Horatio found himself stifling a grin. Leave it to Archie to give the enemy no quarter!
It was at that moment that Horatio noticed that the side door to the courtroom, which was next to and well behind the gallery of officers, had not been closed as it was before but had been left ajar. Surprised, Horatio peered at this, then realized that someone was standing in the hallway looking in. My God, Horatio thought after a moment, it's Lafferty. What in blazes is he doing here?
Then Uscher spoke again, and Horatio's attention was diverted to the scene at hand. "Do you remember anything about the fight?"
Archie took a very deep breath, and Horatio saw his cheeks glow crimson from remembrance. "As I said, it was very dark, almost black in the stairwell. We...he...had his hands on my collar and threw me against the wall, and I pushed him back."
"Did you exchange any words?"
A flicker of fear in Archie's eyes then, too swift for anyone but Horatio to see it. "I don't remember."
"Then what happened?"
Archie looked away a little and pursed his lips, then said, "I don't recall very much, but...Creps had a small knife and the handle was sticking out of his waistband. I saw it and - "
Horatio felt hot and cold all over. The knife - what happened next -
Uscher took a quiet step forward. "Yes, Mr. Kennedy? You saw it and...?"
Archie's eyes locked with Uscher's again, damning the man even as he confessed, "I pulled it out of his waistband and I stabbed him straight through the heart."
No, Horatio thought in a sort of shock, that can't be true. Archie, tell them everything, you know that's not the whole -
"Mr. Kennedy," Uscher persisted, "Did you say you stabbed Mr. Creps with his knife?"
"And then what happened?"
"He pushed me back against the wall and I stabbed him again."
"You stabbed him twice?"
"And he had no weapon?"
"And you stabbed him twice."
No! Horatio's mind shouted in disbelief, dammit Archie, tell him the truth! You were frightened, you were being threatened, Oh God, the worst violation! You did not murder that vile creature in cold blood, you were protecting yourself, protecting me, dammit, tell him! Tell him!
But Archie was not telling him, not telling anyone, and Horatio had no idea why.
Unless what he had believed about Archie and that terrible night had not been true.
Out in the hall, Lafferty listened to Archie's testimony with his heart in his throat, wincing at every self-condemning word. He couldn't let it weaken his resolve, but still - it was going to be very, very hard...
Hearing a noise down the hall, Lafferty looked up to see an elegantly dressed woman walking toward him, her maid in tow. As the woman drew closer, he recognized her and gasped quietly, "Mrs. Morgan!"
The lady put her finger to her lips, her grave expression allayed somewhat by the light in her eyes. Without a word, she stood by Lafferty's side and they watched the scene unfolding before them together.
"So you stabbed Lieutenant Creps, who had no weapon, twice with his own knife," Uscher said loudly, looking at the captains and the gallery as he spoke. "Is that correct?"
"And what happened next?"
Archie's eyes remained fixed on the man. "He fell into me, and we both fell to the pavement."
"Was he dead?"
Archie hesitated. "Not right away. Soon after."
"How do you think he died?"
"He bled to death."
"Did he say anything as he died?"
"Are you certain?"
From across a universe it seemed, Horatio noticed tears in Archie's eyes. "Yes."
"How can you be so certain?"
God, how pale Archie looked! "His throat was cut."
Uscher looked at Archie in surprise. "You slit his throat?"
"His throat was cut."
There was a huge, ominous silence in the courtroom. Horatio heard thunder outside, close, menacing, but was so overwhelmed the sound barely registered. No, it wasn't possible, Archie couldn't have done such a thing. He couldn't have -
The captains apparently thought the same thing, and so did Hood. They were all looking through the papers that lay in front of them, and Horatio thought with a sickening jolt that one of those papers had to be St. John's report on Creps' injuries, and he had to be complete and detailed. Had to be -
Horatio saw Hood frown deeply, and felt his world begin to tilt out of balance. No -
"So," Uscher said, turning with solemn eyes to the captains who would decide Archie's fate, "You encountered Lieutenant Trevor Creps in the stairwell of the Peddler's Pig."
"And you both fought."
"You grabbed his knife, and even though he had no weapon, you stabbed him."
"Then you stabbed him again."
"And his throat was slit."
"And he died."
"And you killed him."
Horatio knew he was drawing breath, but he felt like he was suffocating. Archie's words were true, but they were not true, and the words that would make the difference were dying unsaid on Archie's lips. Dammit, Archie, save yourself! Horatio pleaded silently, and he wanted to scream so Archie would look at him and see that frantic message in his eyes. But Archie would not look at him, would only look at Uscher, as if nothing else existed.
Uscher looked at the captains and sighed. "Gentlemen, I have no further questions for Mr. Kennedy. Dispense justice as you see fit."
Horatio knew he sat down, but did not see it. He felt numb.
One of the captains leaned toward Hood, then another, and Hood was nodding to them impatiently. Then he said to Archie, "Young man, do you have anything to say before we retire to consider a verdict?"
Archie sadly shook his head. "I have said all that I thought would make a difference."
Hood blinked at that, then addressed the gallery. "Gentlemen, the court-martial will now retire to the chambers across the hall to decide its verdict. We will announce when it is ready."
The marines surrounded Archie, and he was whisked away before Horatio could even think of a protest. It was all going too fast, too fast, and suddenly Horatio felt as if he was standing on the Muzillac bridge with Mariette dead in his arms, it had all happened so fast and before he knew it there was nothing but mourning and regrets. He had screamed, he had cried, but it had happened just the same.
And now it was happening again.
Lafferty was in front of the doors before Hood was even out of them.
"My lord!" he cried as soon as Hood was in view. "My lord, with all respect, you aren't finished yet, my testimony - "
Hood peered at him with a scowl, as if Lafferty were a stranger, then his eyebrows shot up in remembrance. "Oh, yes, lieutenant, your testimony! Well, we don't need it. Unless you are a a witness?"
Lafferty's mouth hung open for a moment. "No - no, but I knew Creps, sir, he was a terrible person! You must hear me - "
"We've already heard all about that," Hood waved Lafferty away, "This trial has already taken up too much of the king's time. Thank you very much for your courage, young man, but save it for the frogs and dagos. We have no further need of it here."
"But - " Lafferty sputtered, but Hood was already across the hall and into the private chamber, and the door slammed in Lafferty's face. He stood there for a moment, utterly lost, looked at the doors to the courtroom but they were shut, and guarded by two marines. Finally he turned, slowly, and met the eyes of Morgan's wife, who was standing in front of the now-closed courtroom door. He sought solace in those eyes, or hope, but found neither. She simply looked at him sympathetically, and quietly turned away.
"Sir, this is wrong!" Horatio hissed as soon as the captains were gone. "There must be some mistake."
Pellew's put one hand on Horatio's arm and held it there, his eyes grim and sad as he looked at Horatio. "That will do, Mr. Hornblower."
"But sir!" Pellew was Horatio's last hope. "Archie - Mr. Kennedy, he is innocent, I swear it!"
"That is for the court-martial to decide," Pellew's tone was consoling and stern at once. "We have done all we can, Mr. Hornblower, more than that. It is up to providence now."
Horatio made a hugely impatient noise and looked away, blinking back tears as he shook his head. "No, sir, it is - there must be something more to be done. There must."
Pellew's voice was a whisper in his ear, gentle and commanding, "You gave me your word there would be no childish displays, lieutenant. Hold fast to that promise, and remember you are an officer."
Horatio heard those words, that tone, but at the same time his eyes fell on Morgan, still seated a few rows away. Morgan's head was down, and he looked solemn and reflective, but Horatio barely noticed that. He was remembering words...
**Here is my hand, Mr. Hornblower, for you and Mr. Kennedy. Take it.**
**...bear in mind that my offer still stands.**
**mind the day, Mr. Hornblower. Mind the day.**
Horatio felt Pellew's hand, still firm on his arm, but could not bear to meet his captain's eyes. He closed his eyes and felt utterly alone.
The door to the hallway opened again, and the captains came in, and Hood.
Archie was brought in from the back chambers, his head down but his shoulders straight.
Hood stood with the other captains, and waited until Archie stood in front of him. He picked up Archie's dress sword and looked at Archie sternly. "Mr. Kennedy, are you prepared to receive the verdict?"
Archie's head came up, a little, but Horatio could not see his face. "Aye, my lord. I am."
His face an officious mask, Hood held Archie's dress sword in front of him for a moment, then placed back onto the table.
The sword's point was toward Archie.
He had been found guilty.
Horatio felt Pellew's hand tighten on his arm, but found himself unable to move, even though every muscle in his body wanted to leap in protest. No, he thought, over and over, no -
Archie looked up then, toward the gallery, toward Horatio. Their eyes met, and Horatio saw a thousand things at once -
"Acting Leftenant Archie Kennedy, you have been found guilty in the murder of Leftenant Trevor Creps - "
- that Archie's eyes warned Horatio away, even as they pleaded for help -
" - and it is the decision of this court - "
- that he was beyond help, beyond reach -
" - that at five o'clock tomorrow morning you will be taken from here to a place of execution - "
- that he was trapped -
" - and there you will be hanged from the neck - "
- and that he was going to hang for murder -
" - until you are dead."
Mind the day, Mr. Hornblower.
Mind the day.
End of Part 7