Red Sky at Morning, Part 8a
by Sarah B.
For Horatio the next minutes seemed to exist in a vacuum, and he was never able to remember clearly exactly what happened after Archie had been convicted of murder.
There was some noise in the chamber, but it sounded strange, like it was under water. Horatio found he was paralyzed, could not even breathe, blinked his eyes and only barely saw Archie being led away. All the while the blood was pounding in his ears, one frantic rhythm, no, no, no -
Hood was standing, thanking everyone for their time, but Horatio could hardly hear him. People stood, chairs screeched, but Horatio could not rise, could not put a finish to it, no! Pellew's hand was still on his arm, and without thinking Horatio jerked his arm away as if Pellew was burning him. He realized that he was trembling.
A hundred years had passed. No, a second. They were still in the courtroom...
"Mr. Hornblower," came Pellew's voice, unceasingly gentle, "We must go now."
No, Horatio thought frantically, and stared at the door Archie had gone to, a door which was now shut. Archie would come back through. One of the captains would come back through, say that there had been a mistake. Terry would come through, to stop this monstrosity, or perhaps Lafferty would come through to say he had some secret that would make a difference.
Something. Oh God, *something* -
"Mr. Hornblower," Pellew said again, even more gently, and Horatio felt the hand on his arm again. He blinked, looked around, realized they were nearly alone in the chamber now, and shivered. He felt like he was sitting in a graveyard.
He looked at Pellew, saw an unfathomable sympathy in the older man's eyes. "Sir, I - I cannot leave yet." But why? To move, to rise and leave, meant acceptance, that what had just occurred was all right. No, Horatio could not break the fragile spell of hesitation that yet hung in the air. He could not move.
He heard Pellew's sigh, sensed the captain sitting down again. Did not look at him, but heard his words, like a blanket for his sick and shattered soul. "Mr. Hornblower, there is nothing more we can do here. Let us retire with dignity to the ship, come now."
The ship! Horatio felt himself begin to shiver, for he could think of no ship at that moment that did not have a noose hanging from the yardarm, and - and -
He could not do it. He could not move.
Captain Pellew sat beside Hornblower for a moment, unsure what to do. He was reeling himself from the court-martial's verdict - perhaps just from a purely judicial standpoint, but a travesty from every other viewpoint Pellew knew. Kennedy committed the crime, he confessed to it, and by all rights under English law his condemnation should have stirred nothing in the captain's soul - murder was a wrong that must be punished for society to survive.
But how could Pellew not hurt for the young man at his side, who had risked everything on the one simple thought that his friend, his shipmate, should not be condemned to die? Even as a hardened man of the sea, how could Pellew watch the wrenching of this young man's heart in twain, and not be moved himself? And he, Pellew, had looked into Kennedy's agonized blue eyes, had heard that unnatural calm voice proclaiming his own guilt, and how could he not ache for the life wasted, the potential unrealized, the brilliant promise squandered on one impulsive act? Pellew had seen too many of these sad scenes played out to not mourn the sad repetitiveness of them.
Hornblower, however, had never experienced this, so much suffering piled on at once. First the hopeless mission in Muzillac, so distressing it had brought the stoic youth to tears, then the terrible beating of his childhood friend, and now this - for all that Pellew knew it was justice, it was still so heart-wrenchingly wrong that he wanted to weep himself.
If only he could buy another chance, Pellew thought helplessly as he kept one hand on Hornblower's arm, to steady him. If only a way could be found that could at this late hour offer hope, Pellew knew he would grasp it with both hands, to save his lieutenant from sinking into a despair from which he may never recover. The verdict had been read, the sentence set, but if only there was a way -
Then Pellew glanced toward the door, and saw salvation gazing at him with beautiful violet eyes.
He had not expected to see Elise, had no inkling she was there. She was standing in the back doorway to the chamber, only halfway in, looking at him. He stared for a moment, dumbstruck, for her expression was one of such sympathy and understanding that it was like looking in a mirror. They had not spoken a word to each other in twenty years, but it was as if she was healing some forgotten hurt of yesterday with that forlorn gaze and those amazing eyes, was touching his soul with her own and for that moment taking on some of its burden - and by extension, some of Hornblower's as well, although she could not have known it.
Pellew opened his mouth, astonished at this apparition that had come from nowhere to ease his soul. Then Morgan appeared behind Elise and took her arm to draw her back into the hallway, and at the same time Pellew felt Hornblower move in the seat next to him.
The spell was broken. Pellew turned to Horatio and met that unhappy youth's pale and sallow gaze. "Mr. Hornblower?"
Hornblower took a deep breath, two. "Aye, sir, please forgive me. I'm - "
Pellew nodded slowly, fixed his eyes on Hornblower so he could see them. "Let us return to the ship, it would not do for anyone but us to deal with these tidings."
"Yes - yes, you're right. The men - my crew must be told..." Hornblower's brow suddenly creased, and tears threatened in his eyes. "Sir, I'm - I'm not certain I can do this."
Pellew tightened his grip on Hornblower's arm, and made ready to stand. "Come, Mr. Hornblower. We will do this together."
Hornblower looked at him, the pain and loss almost spilling through the fragile mantle of manhood he had crafted for himself. For a moment, Pellew feared.
Then the moment passed, and with another deep, shaky breath Horatio stood and nodded with all the self-command that his trembling heart could carry. "Thank you, sir."
Get the boy out of here, Pellew thought urgently, and without stopping to look for the apparition that he knew was long gone, the captain herded his faltering young lieutenant to home and safety, and left the admiralty behind.
Terry was huddled over his books when he heard footsteps pounding up the stairs, pounding up two at a time like the building was on fire. He looked at the door in alarm just as it flew open, and Lafferty burst in, pale and out of breath. Casting great frightened eyes at Terry, Lafferty gasped, "They convicted him."
Terry sat up, forgetting the pain. "Oh, God."
"Hood wouldn't even let me speak!" Lafferty shouted, stomping into the room and slamming the door closed. "I tried, I - he said they'd heard it before. The old fool!"
Terry reached for a book in front of him, opened it. "Damn. *Damn*. Kennedy testified?"
"Yes, but that bastard Uscher turned everything around, and it was like Kennedy didn't want to fight it anymore. Like he'd said his piece and was done with it."
"Damn," Terry muttered again, and flipped through the book.
"What are you doing?" Lafferty asked.
Terry looked up at him. "When is Kennedy sentenced to die?"
"Five o'clock tomorrow morning."
Terry glanced at the clock on the mantle, then went back to the book.
"What are you *doing*?!" Lafferty cried more urgently, "He's been sentenced already, it's over! There's nothing else we can do!"
Terry's eyes were sharp as he raised them to Lafferty. "You don't say that in my family, lieutenant. At five-oh-one tomorrow morning, there's nothing else we can do. Right now I have the better part of a day to find something, or for someone to step forward, or for a miracle to happen. I don't have much control over the last two, so I'm concentrating on the first. Where's Horatio?"
"Um - I saw him leave with his captain, just as I was coming here."
Terry nodded to himself, as if satisfied that Horatio was in good hands. Then he bent back over the books.
Lafferty stood there for a moment, panting, watching the little lawyer with the bruises and bloodied bandages leaning over the battered books that lay scattered on his sickbed. After staring at him for a short time Lafferty said softly, "It was amazing."
Terry looked up. "What was?"
"When I told Hood I was going to testify. What it felt like. I - it was amazing."
Terry's smile was slight but appreciative. "I'm glad."
"No, I mean - I want to help. I can't go back to Courageous, if Morgan finds out I was going to testify against him my life won't be worth a shilling. I'll resign my commission, but right now - can I do anything to help you?"
Terry looked at Lafferty seriously, then straightened up in the bed and said, "Lieutenant, I hope you mean that question sincerely. The next twenty-four hours are probably going to be the hardest in Horatio's life, and if all else fails he will need your help much more than I will. And if a miracle occurs and we find a means to free Kennedy, with Morgan opposing us it won't be easy and it won't be pleasing to look at. Still want to help?"
Lafferty hesitated, but only for a second. "Yes. Whatever you need."
Terry's smile was appreciative. "Thank you. First of all, find that worthless doctor and get me some willow bark tea. My head is killing me!"
Elise did not see Captain Pellew leave the admiralty with the lieutenant; by that time she found herself being unceremoniously herded from the building by Morgan, who still had one hand on her arm and looked positively furious.
Elise was not afraid; she had given up on that luxury a long time ago. Still, it was worth a try to make amends. "I'm sorry if my presence displeases you. I thought - "
"Be quiet." Morgan said shortly, and nodded brusquely at the officers meandering about the hall, waiting to congratulate him on his triumph. Without even slowing down he walked quickly outside, Elise still at his elbow, to where his enclosed carriage was waiting. He let go of her then, and without protest she climbed into the plush prison and took her place.
Morgan sat across from her and slammed the door, and Elise waited for the shifting of the carriage that meant her maid was clambering up to sit next to the driver. The shifting occurred and a moment later there was a slight lurch, and the carriage was on its way.
Elise listened to the clopping of the horses' hooves for a moment, then raised her downcast eyes to study her husband quietly. He had won - she had so hoped he wouldn't, for Edward's sake and the sake of the serious-looking youth with him, who seemed to take it so hard. But of course, Morgan had won. And yet his expression was not one of happiness, or even satisfaction. He was very angry, and it wasn't with her. If it had been, he would have struck her by now.
After a few more minutes, when no words were forthcoming, Elise tried to smile a little and said quietly, "Congratulations. You must be relieved that justice was had for your men."
Morgan grunted in a preoccupied way, and scowled out the window of the carriage. More silence.
Elise thought to herself that she should be grateful; at least he wasn't throwing things. "What should I have the cook make for dinner tonight?"
"I'm not eating at home tonight." Morgan said, again in that preoccupied, angry voice.
Elise sat up a little. "Oh." Secretly, she was glad.
Morgan flicked her a little glare, then shifted in the seat. "I need some things from the house, then I'm dining at Regent's. Then I'm going back to the ship."
"To prepare for the execution." Elise said. She thought her own voice sounded hollow.
"Yes," Morgan frowned to himself, and put a hand into his coat pocket to get his watch.
Elise studied him with a small twinge of worry. "I thought that this victory would cheer you."
Morgan pulled the watch out, snapped it open and looked at it without replying.
Now even more perplexed, Elise tilted her head a little. "It's what you wanted, isn't it?"
Morgan replaced the watch, then stared sullenly out the window.
Elise looked at her hands, twisted together in her lap; if she did not get her husband in a better mood, the rest of the journey would be like treading on eggshells. But she did not understand his melancholy. "You should be happy, Julius, you got everything you wanted. The boy will hang, and you bested Captain Pellew. Everyone is in awe of you, and I doubt that you will ever be crossed again."
"Crossed!" Morgan hissed, suddenly glaring at Elise with white-hot eyes.
Elise started, surprised that Morgan would choose that word to spit out. After a moment she asked, "Julius?"
Morgan's ire retreated a little, and he slowly leaned back to glower at the passing scenery. "Yes, that's it. He crossed me. He knew what would happen, what I can do to him, and still he crossed me. He thinks he's safe because he's Pellew's pet. Such insolence is not to be tolerated."
Elise blinked at this, wasn't sure what Morgan meant but guessed that something had happened at the trial that had made him upset. With a conciliatory shrug she said, "It isn't being tolerated. Tomorrow morning you will hang Kennedy, and once again the world will know the consequences of opposing the great Captain Julius Morgan."
Morgan glared at her again, and Elise wondered if he'd caught the subtle sarcasm that had unconsciously crept into her voice. She expected some rebuke, perhaps more, and steeled herself against it.
But there was no rebuke, no shouted reprimand. Instead, Morgan turned to stare out the window again, his next words full of smoldering animosity. "I'm not talking about Kennedy."
Elise started a little. "Who else is there?"
But there was no answer. Morgan's expression had become cold and inwardly turned. Elise knew that look, and knew the conversation was over. She leaned back in her seat to watch the buildings and trees go by, and wondered who her husband could possibly mean.
Horatio thought the trip back to Indefatigable seemed to take forever. Time began to move strangely, and the people around him seemed to be only phantoms with no will or substance of their own. He vaguely saw people milling about, running, and clusters of shop girls and merchants standing on the sidewalks talking, talking, talking, but he could hear no sound. It was very odd.
The carriage he and Pellew rode in lurched toward the dock, and every once in a while a jolt would bring Horatio out of his stupor, to the sudden harrowing realization that he had failed and Archie was going to die. Mariette, Simpson, Montcoutant, Clayton all blazed in front of him, for a moment only as if they were flashes of lightning, and then Horatio would see Archie's face among them and realize dully that he had failed again, and Archie was going to die. Then he sank back into the protective stupor, and linger there awhile longer.
A week later - no, an hour only, not even that - the carriage stopped, and the door opened. Horatio stepped out, winced at the brightness of the thin cloud cover overhead. Should it not be night?
Pellew was right beside him, one hand on his arm. "This way, sir."
I'm not a child, Horatio wanted to protest, but speech was for the moment difficult. How could Pellew even stand to look at him, even deign to be around someone who could not save his dearest friend from a cruel and unjust fate? Archie was counting on him, they were all counting on him -
No. He could not go back to Indefatigable, never. The sight of the ship, riding anchor far out in the harbor as if waiting for a homecoming, made Horatio sick. He froze.
Pellew's hand was insistent. "Come, sir. They are waiting for us."
Yes. Yes, they were. Matthews and Styles, Bracegirdle and Bowles, they were waiting. He had a responsibility to them, one he could not shirk, and he himself would tell them. It was his punishment for failing Archie, the beginning of his penance. But not the end...
Unwillingly, Horatio's eyes trailed over to the Courageous, anchored not far from the Indefatigable, a ghostly and menacing shadow in the misty afternoon. There was still one chance, one hope of saving Archie's life, and Horatio knew he must take it, even though the very thought made him feel faint and homesick. He was responsible for this tragedy, and only he could make amends for it.
**my offer still stands**
Courageous could never be home. It would be purgatory, or hell, where Horatio would dwell to exchange his soul for the one life he could still save. Mariette was gone, the souls of Muzillac were far above his head and unredeemable, but one life, and that most precious to him, was still his to recover, and he would. Whatever the cost, whatever the sacrifice, Horatio vowed to himself that he would.
But not yet.
Horatio knew that at the moment he did not have the strength to take it. He could not leave Pellew, could not abandon the only refuge he had left, not now when he needed it to keep from flying apart. He had duties, responsibilities, and they must be seen to. Later, that evening, that would be the time. He would go to Morgan, offer himself, and in so doing set Archie free. And then he would leave Indefatigable, and the ghosts would rest forever; forever, while he...
Horatio swayed on his feet, and Pellew steadied him. Pressing his lips together, Horatio cast an embarrassed look at his captain, who merely patted his shoulder and walked on. Horatio cursed his own weakness, and once more stared at the Courageous, waiting for him in the water like a venomous snake.
You will have my blood, Horatio promised as he followed Pellew to do his duty, but you will never have Archie's. I promise you that on the grave of the dead at Muzillac.
Archie was amazed that he had just been condemned to death, and felt nothing at all.
He was being led back to the gaol, surrounded by the marines and staring at the back of the guard in front of him, astounded that in twenty-four hours he would be dead and could not bring himself to care about it. It was raining, a little, he felt that; There were people in the street, curious mostly, perhaps they were surprised he wasn't more upset. He heard voices, some asking for pity, others sarcastically wishing him a happy voyage and calling him vile names. Archie heard the voices, but they were muffled and far away; he didn't care about them either.
The gaol was reached, he was shown in and put back in the cell. The same cell, the same filthy cot and haphazard collection of straw. Archie walked in without protest and curled himself up on the cot, completely spent and numb in every sense in his body.
The gaoler's voice came to his ears: "So the little bastard's going to hang, eh? It's all over the street."
I am? Archie thought. Oh, that's right. I am.
The sound of the door opening again, footsteps. Archie looked up, but it wasn't anyone he knew, an unfamiliar officer and four marines. He turned his face back to the wall.
An unfamiliar voice, haughty and smug. "I'm First Lieutenant Christopher Stephens of the Courageous."
The crinkle of paper. The gaoler's voice again. "What the 'ell is this?"
Well, perhaps it's not so bad. I did my part, even that rotter Uscher said so. God, I hope one of them listens. They probably don't know how bad it is. No one would know, unless someone speaks up, but that's so hard. But - well, if only one of them takes it to heart it won't be a total loss. Not a total failure, anyway.
That Stephens fellow's voice again. "Captain Morgan has ordered these marines to keep watch on the prisoner until tomorrow morning. You'll be paid, of course, but you're excused from your duties here tonight."
Poor Horatio. He really wanted this to come out all right. But it wouldn't have, even if I'd said everything I knew Morgan would have taken us both down, and while I can bear it, it would destroy Horatio, and he hasn't the walls to block it out. If only he'd found out about the world when he was younger, like I did. That some things just can't be gotten over, that sometimes it's better to just let go and decide the race won't be won this time. That sometimes, you set yourself in the straw and hide, and wait for someone to come and find you, and they never do. They never do.
"Well, that's a bit of all right then. Certainly don't mind gettin' paid for not workin'!"
And Captain Pellew. I wish I hadn't let him down. I think - perhaps if this hadn't happened I might have been all right, serving with him. He made me an acting leftenant, he trusted me, didn't care that I've had fits and almost killed myself in the Spanish prison. What would I have become under his command, I wonder. But no use thinking on that.
The rustle and clink of money changing hands, Stephen's voice again. "Off you go. Come back tomorrow morning, after this has been taken care of."
Archie opened his eyes a little, and his gaze fell on the small red book Horatio had lent to him just before they made port. He felt a twinge then, wrapped his arms around his legs and hugged them close. I'm sorry, Horatio. I'm sorry you had to go through this, I'm sorry I didn't turn out to be the hero you thought I could be. At least we had a chance to talk together one last time, even if it didn't turn out to be as old men in front of a fireplace with brandy snifters in our hands. I've done all I can, and I hope you remember me without too much regret. And don't worry, I'm not afraid...well, probably I will be after the sun goes down, you'll never know why but I really don't like the dark. But that's all right, it won't last long. And after one more black and hopeless night...
The screech of a chair, the creaking of the gaol door opening and the gaoler's happy voice. "Tell the captain thankee, from me and the tavern wench at Gilly's!"
...the sun will come up and shine on the sails of the Indy, just like it did when we stood on the topmast together.
God, I wish I could see it.
Just one last time.
Horatio felt like a sleepwalker as he stood on the poop-deck with Captain Pellew beside him, and all the men of the Indefatigable arrayed below. Bracegirdle was there too, solemn and downcast, as he had been since their return. Pellew's orders had been brief - assemble the men as quickly as you can - and Horatio wasn't quite certain what happened next, only that Pellew had listened politely while Horatio insisted that he be the one to break the news to them, that it was his failure as an officer and therefore his responsibility alone. Pellew had listened to him, then just as politely reminded him who the captain of the ship was. Horatio did not have the strength to argue.
And now - now everyone was gathered, and Pellew was speaking. He was using his command voice, and Horatio knew it would not be a long speech, just a few words informing the assemblage that Archie Kennedy had been found guilty at his court-martial, and would be hanged tomorrow morning at 5 o'clock, and all were commanded to witness the event. Horatio's ears were ringing horribly, and he felt faint, but remained where he was to receive the hateful looks that he knew would come. He was prepared for them, and as Pellew finished the brief announcement sought out the three men he knew would hate him the most - his crew, Matthews, Styles, and Oldroyd. Matthews and Styles especially, they were relying on him to use the terrible truths they had spoken to free Archie from his prison, to give him a coveted second chance, and he had failed so of course they would -
- but wait a moment.
Horatio found Matthews first, and was surprised to see sympathy and sadness on the old man's face, but no hatred. And Styles, standing right next to him, of course he looked angry but the eyes he turned to Horatio were not resentful or bitter towards him. This was very peculiar.
And Oldroyd - Horatio spied him last, standing a little away from his companions, and for some reason he looked the most upset. Certainly *he* blames me, Horatio thought, but when Oldroyd looked at him Horatio saw a kind of dismayed surprise, but none of the burst-of-temper impulsiveness that Oldroyd was capable of. He mostly looked shocked.
But it was only for a moment. Then Styles had a hand on his shoulder, and the three men clustered together and stopped looking in Horatio's direction entirely. Horatio blinked, amazed at the effrontery to Pellew, then realized everyone was wandering away and Pellew had finished talking. Good Lord, he hadn't even noticed.
Horatio shook his head, thought the world went grey for a moment. Turning to Pellew he saluted. "Aye, sir."
Pellew's smile was small and sad. "Your conduct this morning has been commendable, in the most trying circumstances a naval officer can endure. Go below and get yourself some rest. I'm giving you leave until tomorrow morning."
Horatio thought dully of the world tomorrow morning, and nodded dully. "Aye aye, sir. Thank you, sir."
Then, gripping the handrail as if the ship was in a storm, Horatio made his way down the companionway stairs, and without removing his clothes fell onto his bunk as soon as he opened the cabin door, and fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.
As soon as Horatio was out of sight, Pellew turned to Bracegirdle and whispered, "Mr. Bracegirdle, come with me to my cabin if you please."
Bracegirdle noticed the tight, hissing tone of his captain's voice, was very aware of the tension that was humming through every inch of him. Fearing what he knew must be coming, Bracegirdle gave a curt little nod and followed Pellew as the captain hastily exited the deck.
Once inside the safety of his cabin, Pellew walked to his desk and slumped into the chair, running both hands over his face with a low groan. Bracegirdle felt his anguish, and approaching the desk said quietly, "Can I get you some brandy, sir? Or something to eat?"
"No, thank you, Mr. Bracegirdle," Pellew said, his hands still on his face, "I haven't the stomach for either at the moment, or any other earthly pleasure for that matter."
Bracegirdle took a seat in the chair facing the desk and looked at Pellew with sympathetic eyes. As the captain slowly lowered his hands Bracegirdle said, "I'm very sorry, sir."
Pellew nodded, slightly, his handsome face a wretched map of despair as he gazed wearily at the ornate woodwork on his desk. After a long, heavy pause he said, "Anthony, it is at times like these that I look at the uniform I wear and wish to tear from my body in disgust and loathing."
Bracegirdle heard the enmity in Pellew's voice, and dropped his eyes with a nod.
"There can be no faulting the court-martial," Pellew continued quietly, "Yet I have never heard a verdict which I have so vehemently wanted to deny, argue, and contradict. It makes me sick to even think of it."
"I apologize, sir," Bracegirdle said quickly, "If my testimony had been more able, perhaps - "
Pellew held up a forgiving hand. "No, Mr. Bracegirdle, your words were honest and capable, as all words said in Mr. Kennedy's defense were. He even spoke himself."
Bracegirdle's eyebrows raised. "Indeed, sir."
"Indeed." Pellew's eyes grew misty as he stared at the bulkhead wall. "And I tell you plainly, if I had been sitting on that court-martial and heard such sincerity and torment as came forth from that young man, I would have to excuse myself from judgment."
"Yet it was not enough?"
Pellew shook his head sadly. "I hoped it would be, but few courts-martial would excuse murder no matter how eloquent the accused. And with no witnesses and no words of self-defense..." Pellew trailed off, and sighed. "And now I must contend with a ship and crew who hates this whole lamentable affair as much as I do."
Bracegirdle sighed as well. "Yes, Mr. Hornblower in particular. We shall have to watch him very closely, I'm afraid."
Pellew frowned deeply and closed his eyes. "He is learning the most difficult part of a captain's life, accepting that there are some things which are outside one's control. As his captain I must only see that he follows orders and does not disrupt the proceedings, but I confess my concern for him goes deeper than that. I fear for his soul."
Bracegirdle cocked his head. "Sir?"
"I looked into Mr. Hornblower's eyes, after the verdict was read. There was desolation there, the kind that is does not heal easily. I was reminded of a young bird that thinks it is ready to fly, and only finds out the folly of its ambitions as it is falling helplessly to the earth."
Bracegirdle attempted a grim smile. "I beg your pardon, sir, but that doesn't sound at all like Hornblower. If I know him, he'd be batting his wings faster and faster, trying his damnedest until he met the cold, hard ground. That's one thing I've learned about the lad - he never surrenders the fight. I'm afraid if he does, it will kill him."
"I know," Pellew said very quietly, his dark brown eyes full of apprehension as he gazed at the hated gold braid on the sleeve of his jacket. "That is what concerns me most of all."
Bracegirdle studied his hands for a moment before saying, "It's a far reach I suppose, but if I remember correctly Captain Morgan does call himself a friend of yours. Perhaps there can still be some clemency to be had, for that friendship's sake...?"
"Clemency!" Pellew spat the word, and pushed himself out of the chair to pace. "Morgan has been baying for Kennedy's blood since this began, he would sooner burn his own ship than grant Kennedy clemency. And after this I can call him no friend of mine, ever."
Bracegirdle nodded at these words, sobered. "It's too bad we don't know of any other angels of salvation. I believe Mr. Kennedy could use one, right now."
Pellew paused for a moment, and it seemed to Bracegirdle he was remembering something, something that made his face soften and his eyes acquire a kind of reminiscent glow. Pellew walked to the bank of windows behind his desk, where a quietly restless sea rippled beneath the gloomy afternoon skies. "There are very few times in my life that I have admitted to feeling helpless, Anthony, and it tears my heart out that this should be one of them. Although I know Mr. Kennedy is guilty and should be hanged according to English law, some illogical part of me tells me I do not know the truth of the matter."
Bracegirdle frowned. "It does seem a terrible waste, although Mr. Kennedy would not be the first young man to surrender to less than honorable impulses."
Pellew shook his head as he studied the changing waters outside. "Be he *would* be the first young man whose character I so completely misjudged, if we are to believe Mr. Uscher and the court-martial finding. Mr. Bracegirdle, you have known Mr. Kennedy for as long as I, has he ever shown the kind of beastly impulses that he has admitted to?"
Bracegirdle shook his head. "Never, unless it was in the face of the enemy."
Pellew turned around now, his face a mixture of anger and keen thought. "There is no denying he committed the act, of course, but given that he has never shown displays of temper or rash thought, how can it come to be that they should erupt so unexpectedly?"
Bracegirdle shrugged. "What are you getting at, sir?"
"This, Mr. Bracegirdle," Pellew said sternly, tapping the desk with his hand as he spoke, "That I am being asked to hand over to death a young man whose potential and character I know to be worth more than a hundred prize ships laden with Spanish gold. And unless I am absolutely convinced that it is the right and just thing to do, I cannot in good conscience proceed with such an act. And I am not convinced."
Bracegirdle's eyebrows flew up. "But the court-martial and Hood - "
"The court-martial believes what it is told, and Hood wants a swift and cautionary end to what he sees as an embarrassment to the crown. That Morgan himself had a hand in Mr. Kennedy's conviction I would not be in the least surprised, although I could never prove it. But I do not believe we have heard all of Kennedy's story, and we need time for him to tell it."
Bracegirdle knew the look in his captain's eye. "What do you intend to do, sir? Storm the gaol and demand Mr. Kennedy's release?"
"Not quite," Pellew said with a shallow smile, "But there is one avenue that has not been tried yet, one chance at clemency that I would not ordinarily even consider, except that it may be Kennedy's only hope. I will need your assistance, for I cannot go alone, and we will need to leave soon because if memory serves it is a journey of some distance. It is not proper etiquette, true, and it is probably a futile cause but come tomorrow morning I must be able to say there was nothing more I could do, or else never look my men in the face again."
Bracegirdle winced in confusion, leaned forward with both hands on his knees. "A journey of some distance? Sir, where are we going?"
Pellew's eyes met his, anticipation and dread mixed together. "To pay a call on the only person who may yet have some influence on Captain Morgan's sympathies. His wife."
Dr. St. John had two sailors down with stomach ailments, and had just sent his assistant out with the slop bucket when he looked up to see Christopher Stevens enter. He had heard rumors, and seeing the look on Stephens' face knew they had to be true.
"There you are," Stephens said gruffly, hands on his hips, "I have some orders for you from the captain."
St. John frowned. "Why isn't he telling me himself?"
Stephens tilted his head angrily. "When the captain's not on this ship, you will behave as though I *am* him, understood, doctor?"
St. John looked at the floor. "Aye, sir."
Stephens let out a small, impatient sigh. "That's better. You're to prepare a canvas bag weighted down with shot, and have it ready by tomorrow morning at five o'clock. You're also required to be on deck and at the mainmast for the execution."
St. John's heart sank. "Then Kennedy was convicted."
Stephens snorted at him. "Of course he was. We're going to send that little bastard flying, and the whole navy gets to watch. You have your orders, doctor."
Stephens turned to go, but St. John stopped him with, "I'll need to go ashore for sinew thread, sir. Permission granted?"
At that moment another officer swung himself into the doorway, obviously drunk. "Christopher, come on! You said you'd join!"
"Coming!" Stephens said jovially, turning away from St. John as if the old man wasn't there. "Do what you like, St. John, but you'd better be at the mainmast tomorrow morning."
"Aye, sir," St. John said to Stephens' back, then stared sightlessly at his stores of medicines for a moment. Kennedy had been convicted. After everything that Hornblower and Whitehall had tried, Kennedy had been convicted anyway. Well, it was a foregone conclusion, St. John had been telling them that from the start. Kennedy was doomed from the moment his crime was committed, nothing could have saved him once Morgan decided he should die. And anyone who tried to save him was doomed too. St. John shivered; he could almost feel Morgan's power growing, feel the iron grip he held over everything tighten. Soon it would crush Kennedy, and Hornblower, as it had crushed him and everyone who had ever come under Morgan's influence. It was only a matter of time.
St. John prepared to go to shore, wondered idly if Lafferty had decided to desert. He hoped not, for Morgan would certainly make him suffer if he was caught. But St. John knew, from experience, that it would be impossible for Lafferty to remain on the ship knowing what Morgan was, and keep any shred of his humanity. And Lafferty was clutching his humanity very, very tightly.
Best to let it go. There are places where it did not serve to keep it.
St. John sighed in resignation, and taking his bag with him left the sick berth in the care of his assistant. He walked through the gun deck, where already several boisterous celebrations were in progress, past men slinging prostitutes on their shoulders and others wagering how long it would take Kennedy to die once they had hauled him up. One enterprising seaman had already composed a song about the hanging, and St. John closed his eyes against the viciousness of the lyrics, and hastened up the companionway to fresh air as fast as he was able.
The sea air was cool, and St. John looked at the setting sun against the glimmering lights of the town ashore, and knew that there were demons afoot that night. Certainly there were no angels; they had fought, and lost, and were in hiding, licking their wounds. And he...
...he knew he was a coward, and had lost his soul a long time ago. But there were still things he could do.
Without another word to anyone, Dr. St. John found a boat and went ashore.
When Horatio next awoke, it was well past dark. He started awake from a formless dream, some nightmare of feelings and darkness that had him gasping himself awake and clawing at consciousness like a drowning man desperate for salvation. What was the dream? He didn't remember, but it had been horrible -
And now he was awake, and his cabin was dark.
Horatio slung himself from the cot, and fumbled to light a candle. He brushed his hands through his hair, the day slowly coming back to him. Archie had been condemned to die. He had less then twelve hours left.
Unless Horatio could find the courage to save his life.
Wait - was that his dream? There had been fear in it, a heart-stopping, terrible fear. He was alone, in a small tight room, like the oubliette in the Spanish prison...
No. He had been in that room, but then he was outside of it, and it was midnight and pouring rain. The sky was black and green...
Horatio sighed, saw that he had slept in his clothes and groaned at how wrinkled they were. He opened his chest for a fresh shirt.
I don't want to leave the Indy, he thought.
Was there any other way? Morgan had made it clear that he would save Archie's life if Horatio joined the Courageous, but before he committed that vile act Horatio had to know it was the only avenue he had to redeem his earlier failure.
There's a shirt, damn, there's a rip in the collar. I could go to Captain Pellew, tell him of the threats Morgan's made. But that wouldn't save Archie's life, the verdict's already been given against him. Perhaps it could delay it a little...but no, even if Pellew believed me the only man who can overturn the conviction is Hood, and he wants this thing over with. I would need witnesses, anyone who had seen Morgan tampering with the court-martial, and then I would need proof that his influence weighed in their decision...and they could always say it was Archie's self-damning testimony, and no one would question it...
Horatio found a clean shirt and began to put it on. Archie, I have to talk to Archie. Find out why he didn't talk about how he was attacked...Horatio sighed in frustration, let his hands drop away from the buttons he had been working on. How Archie was attacked....it had been hopeless from the beginning. Archie had done his best, had gotten further than Horatio could have dreamed with his eloquent words at the trial, but what King's man would admit to being nearly raped by a fellow officer? With only his word as evidence, no man would open himself to such easy derision and ridicule, with no real hope of his words making any difference. And Archie was already suspected...
Horatio shuddered, began buttoning the shirt again, more angrily this time. No, he thought, he could not allow this to happen, could not allow Archie to die slandered and forgotten. It must be stopped, by any means possible, even if it meant -
- even if it meant -
But he did not want to leave the Indy.
Horatio had finished buttoning his shirt and was reaching for his jacket when there was a soft knock at the door. Straightening, he said, "Yes?"
The door creaked open a little, and Matthews' face became visible in the low candlelight. He opened the door wider, and Horatio saw Styles standing behind him.
"Beggin' your pardon, sir," Matthews said in a somber, quiet voice, "Don't mean to disturb what you're doin'."
Horatio felt his heart clench at seeing these two men that he had let down so badly. Looking at his jacket so they would not see his eyes, he cleared his throat and said, "Yes,Matthews?"
"Well, sir," Matthews took a half-step into the cabin, "I hate to bother ye, but we was wonderin' if ye might have a word with Oldroyd."
Horatio frowned; he was expecting - or dreading, rather - words of sympathy, the kind of 'don't worry-it-wasn't-your-fault', 'there-wasn't-anything-you-could-have-done' banter that had never helped him, not even when Captain Pellew said it. He wasn't expecting this. "Oldroyd?"
Styles nodded. "'e's takin' it awful hard, sir. Don't know why, 'e won't talk to us."
For the merest moment Horatio pressed his lips together at this distraction; he needed to focus, to think, and didn't want to be in command. But he was, dammit, and one of his men needed him. Looking up at Matthews he asked, "Where is he?"
"In the mess, sir, don't tell 'im we saw ye. He'd be terrible embarrassed."
Horatio looked at Matthews, at Styles, at the compassion and understanding in their faces that marked how far they'd come. I can't leave this, Horatio thought, where would I find such men again? But that would have to wait for a few moments. "I'll be right along, thank you for letting me know."
"Aye,sir," Matthews said as he and Styles backed out of the tiny cabin.
They were almost gone, when Horatio suddenly said, "Matthews!"
Matthews ducked back in, Styles right behind. "Yes, sir?"
Horatio looked into those eyes, and for a moment couldn't speak. He wanted to apologize, wanted to say he'd done his best and still could not save their superior and friend, wanted to say that he appreciated everything they'd done for him, but for some reason when Horatio looked into the knowing, world-weary eyes of the men facing him he knew that words were feeble and useless, almost an insult. He stared at them silently.
Matthews gazed back at Horatio, and after a moment said quietly, "I know, sir. No need for that."
Horatio's heart swelled at those words, at the incredible empathy Matthews had, and had always had. Styles had never been that keen, but he turned his head away as if in respect for Horatio's grief, and Horatio felt a tug of pride. He would never find men like them again, never. And one of them needed his help. He nodded understanding, and as soon as Matthews closed the door finished getting dressed.
The mess was dark and deserted when Horatio found it, except for one lantern lit at the far end. By its frail light Horatio saw Oldroyd sitting at the rough-hewn table beneath it, his shoulders hunched as if he was hugging himself very tightly. Swallowing hard, Horatio walked over to him, careful to make enough noise so the seaman could hear him and not be alarmed. As soon as he was close enough, Horatio saw that the young man held a rag in both hands, that he was twisting back and forth. After a moment Horatio said, "Oldroyd?"
Oldroyd turned his head quickly, gave a loud sniff. "Oy! It's you, sir, beggin' yer pardon. Just sittin' 'ere, sir, not doin' nothin'. I ain't got watch, sir."
"I know." Horatio said softly and sat down opposite Oldroyd carefully. The man looked very ruddy, his usual color when he was upset. "I was passing by and wanted to make certain everything was all right."
"Ow, don' mind that," Oldroyd said with a little laugh, "I know Matthews and them went to y', sir, I knew they was gonna do it. They sat 'ere for 'alf an hour, then just gets up and leaves wi'out another word, they ain't never done that before."
Horatio raised an eyebrow, but decided not to argue the point if Oldroyd would talk to him.
Oldroyd took a deep breath and twisted the rag tighter. "I knew they'd get y'."
Horatio studied Oldroyd a little more, saw how tense he was, the beads of sweat on his skin. "Is it about Mr. Kennedy?"
Oldroyd nodded quickly, squeezing his eyes shut then opening them again, very wide, as if to clear them.
Horatio took a deep breath and damned himself again. To Oldroyd he said, "We all feel a great deal of affection for him, Oldroyd, but he - he murdered an officer and he cannot escape the punishment for that crime."
"I know," Oldroyd gasped, in a strange, half-crying kind of voice, "But - I never knew anyone that was 'anged before."
"I haven't either." Horatio admitted. "Is that what's bothering you?"
The rag kept twisting, and after a moment Oldroyd said, " 'e tried, Mr. Kennedy did. Nobody else ever did, y'know? Not till you, I mean."
Horatio nodded. "Go on."
Oldroyd peered at the rag with a great intensity. "I know I ain't smart. Didn't no officers ever try wit' me, till he come along. Oh, 'e's jus' a boy, y'know, but once on the beach I kind of, well, blew my temper Matthews would say. I gotta temper, y'know, keep it hid most of th' time."
Horatio noticed Oldroyd's slight smile, and echoed it. "You do a very good job."
Oldroyd nodded. "Thank y', sir. Anyways, I was gonna get killed I guess and Mr. Kennedy, 'e pulls me back and says I must keep my 'ead or I would lose it. 'e did it a couple of times, risked 'is own 'ide to pull me down, I ain't never seen that before."
Horatio smiled again, remembering the strong hands that guided him back over the bridge. "Mr. Kennedy is a very brave man."
"Yeh. Yeh, 'e is," Oldroyd said with some excitement. "An' he kinda yelled sometimes, but 'e never hit me, not like - not like - " His face suddenly fell, and he seemed to shrink a little bit.
A cold wave hit Horatio and he whispered, "Not like Mr. Simpson?"
The twisting stopped, and Oldroyd stared at the rag. "Yeh, no' like him." There was a long silence, then Oldroyd said, "People think I'm stupid, but I ain't, not about some things. Matthews and them, they thought I din' know what it meant, when - when 'e would ask where Mr. Kennedy was, or we'd come across 'im hiding someplace."
Horatio tried not to let the dismay he felt show. "You knew?"
The rag twisted again, a little,and Oldroyd nodded. "Yeh, been asked a couple of times meself, but - but I don't go f'r it, sir, honest! Know some lads do. But - But Mr. Kennedy, 'e din't."
"No." Horatio could think of nothing else to say.
"I sor' of figured," Oldroyd said with a shrug, "Everyone t'inks I'm stupid, why make 'em right, eh? So sometimes 'e'd ask me, 'e'd say, you know where tha' lit'l bastard's got to? No, I'd say, 'e'd never ask twice, I'm too stupid to lie, right?"
"But you *were* lying." Horatio said, an awestruck respect growing in him.
Oldroyd pursed his lips with a nod. "I s'pose it's insubord'nation, I'd'a been at the gratin's if 'e knew. But 'e din't, so there were a few times - now and then - " Oldroyd finished with another shrug.
Horatio felt a shiver of realization. "Oldroyd - "
"An' it ain't right, y'know?" Oldroyd suddenly burst, looking at Horatio with anguished eyes. "'e made it t'roo that, saved my life, 'e's an all-right sort, it ain't right." Oldroyd paused again, began twisting the rag once more. "T'at Creps, the one Mr. Kennedy killed, 'e was like - like 'im, y'know."
Horatio's shoulders slumped in further dismay. "Yes, Matthews said so. You know about that as well?"
Oldroyd gave a sad snort, and blinked at the rag with a fierce grimace. "Well, somebody 'ad to clean up after 'em, din' they?"
Horatio could not suppress a shudder. Oldroyd had known. Oldroyd had always known. And Oldroyd had saved Archie, probably at times when no one else could.
"When Simpson was gone," Oldroyd continued, "I t'ought, hooray, that's the end of him then! Then Matthews told me who Mr. Kennedy 'ad killed, and I thought - I thought - " The eyes came up again, light-lashed and terrified. "It weren't murder, I don't think, sir. Wha' happened in that staircase, knowin' 'im, it - it weren't murder."
Oh, God. Horatio reached across the table and laid a steadying hand on Oldroyd's arm. "No, Oldroyd, it wasn't murder, I'm sure of it. And you're correct, it's not right that Mr. Kennedy should hang for something he did out of self-preservation. I'm going to get him back to be your officer again, do you understand?"
Oldroyd blinked, looked at Horatio in blatant confusion. "Wha'?"
Horatio sighed slowly, tried to calm himself. Yes, he had to do this. Whatever the cost, there was no earthly reason why Archie should be so removed from the people who needed him. Not when there was a way to prevent it. "Listen very carefully, I'm going ashore now. Tell the captain and anyone else who asks that I'm going to visit Mr. Whitehall and see how he's doing. I'll be back before the - before tomorrow morning, all right?"
Oldroyd's face said he didn't understand much of what Horatio said, but did catch a few things. "Ye're getting Mr. Kennedy back, sir? 'ow?"
Horatio stood up, knew he must leave now before he lost his nerve. "Thank you for being honest with me, Oldroyd, your help on Mr. Kennedy's behalf is very much appreciated. You've done very well."
Oldroyd smiled. "Thankee, sir."
Horatio's eyes flickered toward the darkened companionway stairs, and the captain's cabin that lay beyond it. Would Morgan let him come back to say goodbye? No time to think about that now. "When Mr. Kennedy comes back, I'll need you to look after him again, in case I cannot. I trust him to you, I know you won't fail me."
Oldroyd sat up a little straighter. "Oh, no sir, I'll do me best. You can count on that."
Horatio couldn't help smiling. "Yes, indeed I can. Carry on."
Horatio stood then, and walked away from the table, turning back after a dozen paces to see Oldroyd still sitting there, no longer twisting the rag but staring at it as if he was concentrating on something, very hard, a lonely-looking figure haloed in a circle of lantern light, surrounded by encroaching darkness. It made Horatio shudder, thinking of other darkness that light could not push back. He turned away, and made his way up the companionway stairs.
Archie was afraid.
He didn't want to be, and certainly didn't show it to the marines who were milling about the gaol, now the last home he would ever know. None of them paid him much mind, but every now and then one of them would glance his way, just to make sure he was still there, and Archie would stare back, his chin up, his eyes defiant and clear. He would be damned if he would let them see that he was frightened.
But he was.
Archie's resolve had lasted as long as the daylight. As long as he could still see everything, even the gray patch of sky outside the high gaol window, he was all right; he knew that past that sky was the sea, and in the sea was Indefatigable, and it was close and safe, which meant that Horatio was likewise safe, and everything was where it was supposed to be.
But the daylight had not lasted, of course. Gradually the grayness dimmed, the light faded, and the comfort and security Archie was grasping at, however tenuously, dwindled until it was a mere speck, then vanished entirely. The Indefatigable became hazier, further away, as if it was leaving port without him; then it was gone. The officers, his superiors and friends, they were gone too, first substantial, then misty and ghostlike, then ... nothing. It was as if they never existed at all. There was nothing but darkness.
Which left Horatio.
The marines lit a few candles, and in that sputtering light Archie saw Horatio's book, the last reminder that there had been a life before this one, a time when things could have turned out all right. He picked it up, gingerly as if it too might dissolve like sand in water, but it didn't. He opened it, flipped through the pages, set it on his bunk. It felt real, warm, and Archie leaned his back against the prison wall and closed his eyes. He could almost imagine that if he opened them again, he would be back in his cabin with Horatio knocking at the door, laughing because Archie had dozed off while reading that book. No head for anything but Shakespeare, eh, Archie?
The worst Shakespeare would be preferable to this! Archie answered to himself, and then they would laugh together and go ashore for a mug and some conversation.
Ashore, and Archie would know not to go to the Peddler's Pig, they would go somewhere else, and years from now, when Horatio was an admiral and Archie was...well, whatever he was, they would meet and Horatio would ask, why didn't we go to the Peddler's Pig that night, Archie? What was there that would have been so terrible to encounter?
You don't want to know, Horatio -
** first you, then your friend **
A flash of pain, his face slammed against the wall, the rough voice in his ear, you think you're above it? That you're so high and mighty, well we'll see about that -
- no -
- and when your friend comes, you can watch -
- NO -
Archie gasped himself awake.
The marines outside the cell looked at him quizzically, but Archie didn't move despite his heart hammering against his throat. He just stared at them, and after a few moments they looked away, and continued their quiet conversation.
Archie looked down, wondered what was in his hands. The book. Of course.
And it was night.
Slowly, carefully, Archie laid down on the cot, drawing his knees up and curling himself into the tightest ball he could manage. Horatio's book still lay in his hands, and he clutched it like a talisman, but knew it would be a poor shield against the nightmares that had so far found a way to slip past all his defenses, even in the good times. The night had come, and he knew of no salvation now except a death that would release his soul and keep the horrible secrets he knew from harming anyone else. Perhaps his words in court had saved a few other, more innocent souls - perhaps he had, at last, done some good with this miserable existence...perhaps, but he would never know.
He only knew the darkness.
Archie pressed the book against his chest, a poor shield but the only one he had, and closed his eyes to sleep.
At that moment, far away at the Morgan estate, Elise was in the drawing room, listening to the thunder rumble outside the windows.
Dinner was over, the candles had been snuffed out except for a few, and she was tired and melancholy. The stress of the day - traveling to Plymouth, seeing Edward, hearing the dreadful verdict announced when there was nothing she could do to prevent it- had depressed and saddened her, and she wanted escape.
At least Morgan was gone - he was gone, and the house was quiet. She would have this peace tonight, she knew, and likely tomorrow as well. Morgan would be all over town, toasting his victory with all the important politicians and captains, and everyone would want to be seen with him. They would celebrate the great court-martial system, decry all murderers and upstarts, and he would come home tomorrow night drunk on his power and a day's worth of meat and ale.
Tomorrow night would be very hard. But she had tonight still.
The stillness was becoming irritating. Bored, Elise picked up a book, but it didn't hold her interest. She toyed at the spinet, but was in no mood for music. Sighing, she wandered through the drawing room, wondering what she could do with the evening.
Then her eye fell on her sewing basket, and she stopped.
On the top, still crumpled and dirty, was the embroidery that Morgan had ruined the other day when he trampled it in the garden. Elise had washed it and laid it out to dry, but the stains of dirt and grass had remained. Still, she could not bear to throw it out and had set it in her sewing basket. And now here it was.
Sitting in the chair beside her basket, Elise picked up the embroidery and looked at it. It was still stained, true, still imperfect, but now in the low candlelight and after a few days' reflection the damage didn't seem quite so bad. The mud and grass was muted, had left small traces on the floss but had only served to add a texture that had not been there before. Idly, Elise wondered what might happen if she finished the piece anyway, added new and untarnished floss to the sullied material that was already there. The work would be uneven, but whole, and certainly it would be unique. And perhaps - perhaps Morgan couldn't destroy *everything*...
Somewhat amused by her own groundless optimism, Elise picked up her kit and began to sew.
The serving-girl brought Terry's dinner tray up as he listened to the local church bell chime nine o'clock. Frowning to himself, Terry handed the girl a copper and continued bending over the array of legal books that littered his bed, the floor, and the nightstand beside him. He paused to stretch, and tried to work the crick out of his neck. It was going to be a long night.
There was another knock on his door, and Terry glanced at the tray, thinking the girl had forgotten something. "Come in."
The door opened, and Dr. St. John stood in the doorway.
Terry sat up in surprise.
"I'm sorry if I disturbed you," St. John said softly, his face serious, "May I come in?"
Terry nodded. "Please."
St. John entered with his bag, set it down on the floor and took the seat next to Terry's bed. "How are you feeling?"
"Better," Terry said absently, going back to the books.
"Are you having any dizziness? Any fainting, double vision? Sharp pains anywhere?"
Terry shook his head, very carefully. "Mostly I'm very busy at the moment, doctor, so you'll forgive my distraction."
St. John had been pulling medicines from his bag, but now stopped with a sigh. "I'm very sorry, Mr. Whitehall."
"Don't be sorry yet," Terry said sharply, "We have until five o'clock."
"Have you seen the lieutenant today?"
"You mean Horatio? Not today, but I have my suspicions as to why. Don't worry, I'm doing what I can to take care of him. No one should ever have to go through something like this alone."
"And what about Kennedy?"
Terry paused, sat back against the mountain of pillows and ran one hand over his face. "They'll double the guards, let no one in...he's a convicted criminal now, I'm afraid. I only hope whatever words he exchanged with Horatio, that they will carry him through. Sometimes that's enough."
St. John stared at the floorboards morosely. "Mr. Whitehall, have you known the lieutenant a long time?"
Terry looked at him with a remembering smile. "My entire life, sir."
St. John continued to stare at the floor. "When I first met him - he was bringing Kennedy a book to read, directly after he'd been arrested. Kennedy was the lowest being on the earth just then, forgotten by every living thing I thought, and here was this young man risking everything to bring him a book. I thought he was a fool not to abandon Kennedy, as almost everyone else had."
Terry nodded. "Well, that's Horatio - "
"You don't understand. On the Courageous - in my world - men don't do that for each other. Life is precious only as long as it can help you attain something, and friendships are forgotten as quickly as they are made. Morgan had Kennedy marked, and from that moment he ceased to be a human being to everyone - except Hornblower. And he didn't even seem to notice."
Terry smiled a little wider.
"I don't understand," St. John said mournfully, "He had to know Kennedy was doomed, and yet he never gave up on him. He saved him from the mob, kept asking me if he was all right, he never surrendered, never! That astounds me. I don't understand it."
"Horatio is - a very loyal individual," Terry admitted, setting the law book aside for a moment, "He'll jump in to save a drowning man who's tied a rock to his own ankle, just because he can't see that the world should be any different. And he's a wonderful friend."
"Yes," St. John said, almost sadly, reaching into his bag, "And I want to help him, by helping Kennedy. I want to give him this."
He held up a small small vial. Terry looked at it curiously. "What is it?"
"Opium," St. John answered matter-of-factly, "I make my laudanaum with it. I won't be able to give it to Kennedy on the ship, but I don't want him to suffer. And I know - if they hang him, he'll suffer. It's all I can do."
Terry looked at the drug, then at St. John. "Doctor - "
"We only have to figure out how to get it to him in the gaol," St. John went on, "And let the choice be his. Please, Mr. Whitehall, I've seen men hang. You don't want the lieutenant witnessing that."
Terry eyed the vial for a moment longer. Then he leveled his gaze to St. John and said, "Doctor, you're assuming Mr. Kennedy will hang. Even though he's been convicted, as you can see, I am not giving up. Even at this late time, if new evidence were presented, if someone came forward who saw what happened - "
St. John shook his head and said quickly, "No one will. Morgan's more powerful than he ever was, and he will destroy anyone who tries. You couldn't prevent it."
Terry let out an exasperated breath. "Still I aim to try! I owe Horatio that much. And if you're still hiding behind those walls we spoke of earlier, doctor, if you've decided to bury your compassion and run because it looks like Morgan has won and there's nothing you can do...well, I'm sorry for you, but I'm not ready to give Mr. Kennedy laudanaum and say goodnight. Now if you'll pardon me, I have work to do."
Dr. St. John looked at Terry for a moment, then nodded sadly and put the drug back into his bag. Quietly, he rose from his seat and went to the door, and turned to give Terry one last look before he left.
"I've been serving with Captain Morgan for most of my life," He said softly, "I've seen what he's capable of. This is the only way I know how to make things better."
Terry's gaze was sympathetic. "I know, doctor. But it's not *my* way."
St. John nodded, and left the room.
Terry watched him leave, then glanced over at his dinner tray, still untouched. Then with a sigh he gazed out the window, and hoped that wherever he was, Horatio was not alone.
Horatio was surprised that he found it so easy to get to shore. He thought that Pellew would certainly attempt to detain him, afraid he would do something desperate, which of course he fully intended to. However, when he went topside Horatio discovered that both Pellew and Bracegirdle had gone ashore, and he was able to secure leave from the second lieutenant without any difficulty. Horatio hesitated before going down the side ladder - he had wanted to talk to Pellew, to make whatever farewells he could without being conspicuous about it, and now the chance may be gone forever. But there was nothing else he could do.
Horatio took his cloak and hat, and bundled himself into the longboat going ashore. He hoped that he would not run into Pellew, as that would delay him, and he had to find Morgan. He had to make the bargain that would save Archie's life.
It was not such a bad thing, Horatio tried to convince himself as the jollyboat pulled away from the grand ship and toward the misted shore. I'll strike the bargain, Morgan will have Archie freed or commute his sentence...who knows, perhaps it will be as he said that night, and we will meet sometime in the future, and it will be like no time has passed at all. Archie will understand, I cannot stand by and let him hang when it was my responsibility to save him. He warned me away from Courageous, but it can't be that bad. Certainly, it can't be that bad...
The Indefatigable was growing dimmer now, fading gradually into the light rain as if she was made of the water that surrounded her. Behind her, Horatio could just barely make out the outline of the Courageous, still sitting as if waiting for him.
It's just a ship, Horatio reminded himself, disregarding the shudder that coursed through him. Men, stock, gunpowder, she is at base like any other ship of the fleet, and who knows? Perhaps in time I can bring some of the less reputable men about, I've done it before. I can change that ship. I will make it my duty to do so.
Both ships were shrouded now, not even their lantern lights visible as the jollyboat neared the shore. Horatio took a deep breath, thought, I got away, then looked at the grey curtain that stood between himself and the only home he had known for the past five years, and suddenly felt bereft. It was as if he had been left alone, not intentionally but abandoned, and had only just realized that his source of security was gone.
Come back, he thought, then checked himself. He had not been abandoned. He was the one who was leaving.
The boat came to the dock, and Horatio disembarked. He looked around, but there was a quiet hush to the deserted dock, a ghostly, eerie quiet. Horatio thought, where would Morgan be? He's not on his ship, because the ensign is not raised; he is likely at dinner, at that restaurant, what was the name? Horatio remembered, and began to walk in that direction.
Horatio stopped, his hand instinctively flying to his sword as he whirled about. The voice came from a nearly alley, which Horatio peered into, but then realized that he recognized the voice even before its owner stepped out into the flickering lamplight.
It was Lafferty.
Horatio gave him a dismissive glance before turning back around. He had no time to waste with Lafferty.
"Hornblower!" Lafferty said again,and Horatio heard running footsteps. In a moment, Lafferty was walking beside him.
Horatio didn't spare him another look. "What do you want?"
"Whitehall sent me to look for you," Lafferty explained, keeping one eye on the streets around them, "He was afraid you might get into trouble, that you might come ashore with some scheme in your head. I see he knows you fairly well."
Horatio picked up his step a little, knowing that with his long legs to match, Lafferty would have a hard time keeping up.
Lafferty quickened his pace as well, which is to say he was almost running. "You should go talk to him, Horatio, he's very worried about you."
"Later," Horatio said quickly, "After I've attended to my business. Please leave me alone."
"Dammit!" Lafferty grabbed Horatio's arm and forced him to stop, unafraid of the withering look he received. "Dammit, Hornblower, don't do it."
Horatio set his jaw, tried to intimidate Lafferty into leaving him alone. "Mr. Lafferty, unless you have some urgent news of Mr. Whitehall or Mr. Kennedy I would suggest that you see to your own affairs and leave me to see to mine. Good night!"
He tried to go, but Lafferty grabbed his arm again. In extreme irritation Horatio turned on him and said, "By God, if you do that again I'll run you through!"
"I wish you would!" Lafferty rejoined, "Anything would be preferable to what I've been through the past few days! Listen, Hornblower, I know where you're going, I can guess what you're about to do..."
Horatio glared at him and crossed his arms.
Lafferty saw the challenge, and lowered his head to meet it. "You're going to accept Captain Morgan's offer to join the Courageous. You think if you do that, maybe he'll spare Kennedy's life."
Horatio felt the blood rushing to his face. With a grunt of impatience he turned, and started walking again.
"I know I'm right," Lafferty panted, running after Horatio until he was caught up. "Whitehall said you might do this, he said you would take the world on your shoulders and wouldn't be satisfied until it crushed you. But he's still working on it, he's at the Dove right now and says if you just wait - "
"For heaven's sake, wait for what!" Horatio skidded to a half and rounded on Lafferty angrily. "Wait for them to tie the noose and put it around Archie's neck? Wait until my last opportunity disappears with the sun, and a good man dies? Leave me alone."
"No, listen to me!" Lafferty put himself in front of Horatio, ignoring the heated glare he was getting. "I never, ever thought I'd be saying this, but *don't* join the Courageous. You don't know what it's really like."
Horatio leaned back and cocked his head. "Well, that's certainly a change, First Lieutenant Lafferty, but you're wrong. I've been on the Courageous, and I have known the men that inhabit her decks. Like you, for example."
Lafferty closed his eyes and sighed. "All right, I deserved that. I'm as self-centered and cowardly as any of the men on that ship, and two weeks ago I would just as soon have stabbed you in the back as looked at you. But I know it's not like that on your ship. Your captain isn't like Morgan, and the men you know aren't like the men on Courageous. They'll flay you inside of two minutes."
Horatio took one step back and gave Lafferty a long, cold stare. Then he said, "Do you know the hell Kennedy's life has been for the past four days? Do you know what it feels like to be beaten, caged, and tried for murder? Can you comprehend what it is to wait in the dark, waiting to die, horribly, for defending yourself against a crime so degenerate its name cannot be spoken? When faced with the knowledge of that pain, how in God's name can you ask me to fear anything? How dare you ask me to surrender my friend's life for my own pathetic comfort!"
Lafferty fell back, startled by the tears in Horatio's eyes, and for a long, furious moment Horatio stared at Lafferty. Then he quietly stepped away and began to walk with slow and deliberate steps toward the restaurant.
A few soft steps behind him. "Hornblower, wait. Please."
The voice was very quiet, almost pleading. Horatio turned around.
Lafferty was looking at him with joyless eyes. "I'm sorry, you're right. I - Whitehall doesn't want you to go to Morgan because he knows what kind of a man Morgan is. I do too, now. You're a good man, and - Morgan doesn't appreciate that the way your captain does. But - I've never had a friend like Kennedy, I have no idea what it would be like if someone who was that close to me was in the kind of trouble he is. And if it was me, nobody would try to save my life the way you're trying to save Kennedy's. No one's like that on Courageous, no one watches out for each other. I suppose I'm - I'm kind of jealous. His friendship is really worth that much to you?"
Horatio smiled, a little, and nodded. "His life is worth more than even he knows."
Lafferty nodded, almost to himself, and staring at the cobblestones beneath their feet said haltingly, "Then - then I can't keep you from doing what you feel is right. But can I ask you for a favor?"
Horatio became aware that time was passing, and nodded impatiently.
"When you come aboard Courageous, will you let me watch out for you?"
Horatio stared at him, surprised.
"I didn't think I could go back," Lafferty said quickly, "But if you're coming aboard, I can't let you go alone. Not now that I know - what goes on there, I couldn't live with myself. I can watch your back, make certain the bullies leave you alone. Agreeable?"
Horatio's mouth hung open for a moment. Finding his voice he said, "Thank you, but I am quite certain I can manage on my own."
"You think so?" Lafferty said archly. His gaze traveled past Horatio's shoulder, and he gave an indicating nod. "Look over there."
Horatio turned and looked. Behind them, some distance away, a small tavern was in the midst of it evening entertainments. And there, sitting at rough-hewn benches behind a ironwork fence, sat several drunk young men in Navy uniform, having the time of their lives.
"Morgan's at the height of his power now," Lafferty said soberly as Horatio watched, "His men may not be welcome at the Pig, but they are everywhere else. And they'll go hard on anyone who was Kennedy's friend. Or a friend to anyone who helped him. Like Whitehall."
Horatio thought of Terry, of the injuries he had suffered, and gave Lafferty a searching look.
Lafferty shook his head. "I wasn't going to tell you, but now you've got to know. You were right, Whitehall was set upon by my shipmates. I recognized one of them, Stephens. He's Morgan's first lieutenant now, and he's vicious and cruel just like the captain is."
Horatio turned pale. "You must - "
"Report him?" Lafferty said with a grim smile. "To who? Morgan? I have no evidence, and I already know what will happen if I tell anyone else. The only reason I'm telling you is - I want you to know. What he did to your friend is nothing, believe me - "
Horatio turned paler yet, and he stared at Lafferty with startled eyes. "I don't know half what he's capable of?"
Lafferty looked at Horatio, puzzled, then said, "Whatever impulse is leading you to do this thing, you won't be helping Kennedy at all if you get yourself maimed or killed. You'll need someone to look after you."
Horatio thought about this, turned back to the boisterous officers. "Are all men on the Courageous like them?"
"No," Lafferty admitted, "But the ones who aren't know better than to interfere."
Horatio felt a lurch in his stomach, thought of Justinian and the officers who didn't interfere, and a man who was capable of every evil known to man. After a long pause he gazed at some distant spot down the cobblestoned road and said, "You are aware that should Morgan honor my request, I cannot stay silent and witness the brutality that I have heard occurs on your ship. I will do my utmost to change it, or suffer death in trying."
"I know," Lafferty said, almost sadly, then added, "Maybe helping you will make me feel better about not being that kind of man."
Horatio was silent then for a few moments, listening to the carousing officers' voices mingle with the wind that whistled down the stone street, telling of coming storms and wicked weather. He looked up at the sky, and could see the burgeoning blackness of the clouds overhead. Not knowing what else to say to Lafferty, he merely ducked his head and said, "I'm going to see Morgan now."
Lafferty nodded, his eyes full of reluctant acceptance and, behind it, a very tiny spark of hope. "I know," he said, and followed him.
Regent's was far away from the docks, but to Horatio it seemed that time had somehow collapsed, and was going too fast. His mind felt tight, it was difficult to think. Perhaps it was the thick air of an approaching storm, or his irritation that he could not do this alone. Lafferty was still behind him, and would not be shaken off. Well, fair enough, Horatio thought glumly. If Terry were able, you could not shake him off, either.
Terry would not understand. Lafferty had said he didn't, and perhaps it was a difficult thing to comprehend, but try as he might Horatio saw no way out of it. He was at a crossroads, a time of dreadful decision-making, and what he did now would affect the rest of his life. It was too late for appeals; too late for clemency; and if he did nothing Archie would die. And he was not going to do nothing.
Regent's was approaching, and far too fast.
I must think, Horatio berated himself, and as they neared the grand-looking building he felt his nerve slipping a little. He remembered his other conversations with Morgan, the veiled threats, the hands that grasped and choked, like Simpson's. Lafferty was right, Courageous would be difficult to live on, but Horatio could not let his determination falter. Not now.
Now Regent's was just across the street. Damn. Brusquely, Horatio turned to Lafferty and said, "I'm going in alone."
Lafferty paused, then looked at the restaurant and nodded reluctantly, and stayed in the shadows as Horatio crossed the cobblestone street, his boots making too much noise.
Noise! Why was everything so loud all of a sudden? And had it gotten colder? Horatio stopped in front of the building, looked at the elegant etched glass and lace curtains, and felt himself shudder. He couldn't do it, couldn't leave Pellew and his crew, there must be another way. He glanced over his shoulder, Lafferty was gone. He began to pace.
I must do this. Archie will die if I don't. But to serve under Morgan, after what you've seen...but he cannot hide his villainy forever, someday he will be found out, perhaps I can find a way to trap him in his snare, or watch him self-destruct as Simpson did. I must do this, there are too many deaths on my head as it is to add another...and this death should make earth and heaven weep for the injustice of it.
Dammit, Archie, I wish I could have helped you! Why the bloody hell wasn't I at that tavern? I could have taken Creps, I'm certain he could not have been more vile to me than Simpson was. Why did you feel that you had to come between us? You knew what Creps was, it sickens me that you would so willingly surrender yourself on my account. I'm not worth it, Archie. No one is.
And curse it, you're still protecting me! You feared for my reputation and did not speak out, not even to save your own life. As if my reputation was so worthy! You will die with the truth unsaid, with Creps' vile nature unknown, but dammit Archie I will not let that happen!
Horatio began to pace faster.
No. I will offer my services to Morgan, and win your life, if not your freedom, but that will be temporary. And I will join Courageous, this time as an officer, not as a lowly midshipman. I will look sharply and feel the air, and do what good I can, and it will all be for your sake. Wherever Morgan sends you, Archie, I will find you, and once out of harm's way perhaps I can persuade you to write a letter, a long and truthful letter in which every detail of Creps' degeneracy is known. Your name must be cleared, my good friend, and it will take great strength to do it, but I will help. And it will be done.
And oh, what a triumph it will be then! Creps exposed, Morgan and his ship humiliated, no amount of secrecy will save him then! Perhaps he will resign, or be court-martialed, and then every threat he has given will come back to pin him down. Then I will resign my commission and find you, and what a reunion that will be! We will have won at last, Archie, Simpson and the ghosts of Muzillac and all my dismal failures put to sleep forever. Forever.
Horatio stopped, pressed his lips together and squared his shoulders. Archie, you risked certain death to rescue me at Muzillac's bridge. Putting aside all thought of danger and early death you saw only what was true and clear, and setting your eyes on it ran on the wings of your own unfathomable courage to bring me home. Now I must repay that debt.
Now I must do the same.
Squaring his shoulders and lifting his chin against whatever adversity should face him, Horatio took a deep breath and walked toward the Regent's front door.
It was well into dinnertime, and Regent's was full of its usual complement of exquisitely dressed women and their dashing companions, but Horatio hardly spared a moment to look at them. He knew where Morgan was, and removing his hat made a quick and graceful journey through the crowded rooms, to the curtained French doors that were closed against the noise and bother of the outside world.
But not closed to him. Horatio was sure of it.
He stepped up to the door just as one of the Regent's staff approached him. Giving Horatio a curious look he said, "Can I help you, lieutenant?"
Horatio blinked, hoped he didn't look too terribly nervous. "I would like to speak to Captain Morgan."
The man looked a little surprised at Horatio's effrontery. "Your name?"
"Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower."
The man's expression changed again, this time to one that Horatio interpreted as awed recognition. "Ah! Please do go in then, Lieutenant. He's expecting you."
He is? Horatio thought, then reconsidered. Of course he was. "Thank you."
The man nodded with an unreadable smile, then grasped the gilt handle of the French door and opened it for Horatio. Horatio stepped through.
And was once again facing Captain Julius Morgan.
The room was dim. Only two candles were lit, one on the small dining table Morgan was sitting at, and two on the fireplace mantle behind him. There was food on the table, but Morgan was not eating it, Instead, he was sitting straight up, the candlelight glinting from his shoulders but hiding his face in shadow. He did not speak, but gazed at Horatio steadily. The silence in the room was deafening.
Horatio could hear his own heart beating furiously, but thought of what was at stake and did his best to quell it. Bowing a little, he said, "Good evening, captain."
Morgan nodded, slowly.
For a moment Horatio was overwhelmed by the memory of everything he hated about this man; his proud spirit rebelled at being forced to be subservient, to bow in the presence of such low and mean character. The air was heavy with malevolence, of a kind Horatio had not experienced since the days of Justinian, and Simpson; still, this was Archie's only way out, and the only way Horatio could see to ending Morgan's villainy, once and for all. Courage, he reminded himself. This sacrifice will not be in vain. Horatio took a deep breath.
"I've been waiting for you, lieutenant." Morgan said.
Horatio paused, considered his words. Try as he might, he knew he could never grovel to this man. But he had to say *something*. Taking a deep breath he said, "Captain, I will not insult you by suggesting that I come here entirely of my own free will. You remember the words that have passed between us, and I cannot in good conscience take a letter of those words back."
Morgan nodded, and Horatio could swear the man's eyes were glittering. "Understood."
"Yet I - " Horatio looked down, felt his resolve slipping a bit, frantically pulled it back into place. "I am mindful of the opportunity that has been set before me, and the consequences should I not act. I feel Mr. Kennedy has been done an egregious wrong, but there is nowhere I can go for appeal, no court or jury that can save him. I have no options except one."
Morgan smiled greedily, his face barely visible in the gloomy room.
Horatio suppressed a shiver, and pressed on. "You once mentioned that if - if I were to accept a commission to serve aboard your ship, you would release Mr. Kennedy from any sentence of death that might bind him. I am here, sir, to accept that offer, to extend to you my service and my industry for as long as you should deem necessary, in order that Mr. Kennedy's life may be spared. In short, sir, I would be - honored - to serve with you aboard Courageous."
Horatio felt tears come to his eyes, stinging and unbidden. His heart hurt, he knew he was trembling with the wrongness of what he was being forced to do. He could almost feel Captain Pellew's heart breaking, the sadness of his crew, the hollowness that would fill his days away from the Indefatigable. All these seemed to swirl through the dark and shadowed room, flying through the air like ghosts, and he squeezed his eyes shut against them. I must make this right, no matter the cost, he thought. There will be time for sorrows later.
He opened his eyes again, and saw that Morgan was regarding him with a covetous smile on his face. Very slowly, the captain stood and extended one large and powerful hand, but Horatio found he was rooted to where he was standing and could not move. Then, with the greatest effort he could muster, Horatio made one foot go forward, then the other. No room had ever seemed so long, but too soon he was standing before Morgan, eclipsed by his dark frame, and staring into those sharp and ruthless eyes. Steeling his heart for all that would come after, Horatio took another deep breath and put out his hand.
Without warning Morgan grabbed it, his grip painfully strong, and pulled hard so that Horatio was jerked forward over the table. Gasping, he righted himself, to find that Morgan was staring into his eyes, their faces mere inches apart. Morgan gave him a chilling smile and said one word.
Horatio blinked. "Sir?"
Morgan straightened up and pushed Horatio's hand away. "You heard me. No."
Horatio shook his head, this wasn't right. "I - I don't understand - "
"Then let me explain it to you," Morgan growled, sitting down again and folding his hands to stare at Horatio contemptuously. "When I first saw you there wasn't anything I wouldn't do to have you on my ship. Dr. St. John said you were a troublemaker, but I'm used to those. I can break the proudest man, and I have, many times over. I thought if I had you, I could break you too."
Horatio began to tremble again, for an entirely different reason.
"Then that blasted trial began," Morgan continued, "I thought I would have no trouble, but Pellew had to bring that lawyer in. He called my ship's integrity into question, exposed my crew and officers to accusation. I don't *tolerate* that."
Horatio felt like throwing up. "You had Terry beaten." he whispered.
Morgan's eyes narrowed. "You say that again and I'll have you for treason, boy."
Horatio stared, and tried to breathe.
"After Whitehall was incapacitated, that should have been the end of it. I knew Kennedy would never have the courage to come forward on his own, never risk my wrath and open his slimy little mouth." Morgan's eyes grew bright with rage as he looked at Horatio. "But you got to him, didn't you?"
Morgan slowly stood, his anger evident. "I don't know how, but you talked to him. He'd never have the guts to speak on his own, you must have talked him into it. After everything I told you, after warning you to stay out of my way, you defied me. And that's when I realized Dr. St. John was right. You are a troublemaker. And I'd never be able to break you."
Horatio had no words to say. He simply stared.
Morgan moved gracefully from behind the table. "Kennedy's conviction was much more difficult to get than I was prepared for, I was forced to resort to base and desperate measures to achieve what should have been given to me easily. For that I blame you, lieutenant, I hold you utterly and absolutely responsible. To take you on my ship now would be like bringing a fire into a powder magazine."
Horatio began to feel desperate. "Sir, I - give you my word that I would make no trouble - "
"Ha! Do you take me for a fool, lieutenant? Now that I see what you're capable of, do you honestly think that I believe you would come aboard my ship and not seek to create mutiny and disorder among everything you touched? Now that I've sent your best friend to the gallows, can you look me in the eye and say your opinion has changed?"
Horatio felt hot and cold at once, thought the room was crashing around him. He tried to look Morgan in the face, but failed. He was terrified.
Morgan shook his head menacingly. "No, Mr. Hornblower, I won't take you on my ship, not if you were plated in gold with the secrets of the Spanish fleet shoved in your pocket! I cannot break you, Mr. Hornblower, so I will do the next best thing which is destroy you. From this night forward you may count your career as forfeit, every promotion will be denied and if ever I find a chink in that holy armor you insist on wearing you may be sure I will use it to drum you out of the service. Even Pellew will be ashamed to look at you."
Horatio was aghast. "Sir - you cannot - "
Morgan grinned again. "You vain child! I've brought down men twice your age, with six times your experience. Do you think I'd let you stay in the fleet to torment me again, when you came so close to obstructing me once?"
Horatio felt the floor slipping beneath him, whispered, "Sir, I am prepared to do whatever is necessary - I will...quit the service...but you must honor your promise. If I offered myself as an officer on board your ship, Mr. Kennedy's life would be spared."
Morgan laughed, a terrible sound. "Hornblower, you astound me! Let Kennedy live? Let that murdering little whoreson live, just to humor your childish ideas of justice? No, I will relish his death as I relish your defeat, because he is as much a troublemaker as you are. He will die, and you will be destroyed, and I with my easy life and easy money that you would not share for half a sixpence will remember this night, when you offered me everything you had, and it still was not enough."
Horatio thought frantically, there must be something - there must be something -
Morgan sat down again, and picked up his fork. "Now if you excuse me, lieutenant, my dinner is getting cold. Good night."
No! Horatio thought wildly, there must be something. There must be -
- but he could think of nothing.
Morgan looked up, his eyes ice cold. "Get out, lieutenant."
Horatio felt numb, exhausted, bewildered. He had run out of choices. Archie was going to die.
And he could not stop it.
Suddenly unable to breathe, Horatio turned and left the room as fast as he could. He did not close the door, but heard it close behind him, as if someone was waiting outside, but he did not look back. He felt as if he was choking, began to go toward the front door but remembered Lafferty was waiting for him.
Lafferty! Horatio could not face him, could not face anyone, could not even think let alone articulate what had just happened to him. The carriage entrance, he thought, and walked as swiftly as he could toward the back of the restaurant, where there would be no one to stop him and ask terrible, agonizing questions. The door was there, was opened for him, and in a moment he was outside in the cool night air. He took a deep breath, still could not think.
Nearby, a clock chimed, deep and ominous.
In seven hours Archie would be dead.
Horatio drew his cloak about him, and with a mind frozen in shock walked away from the restaurant and the light, and into the darkness that stretched out forever around it.
The carriage containing Pellew and Bracegirdle rumbled on through the night, lurching this way and that over the deep ruts that had been made by the days of rain that had turned into nights of coldness and frost. Every so often Bracegirdle would open his watch and check the time, and Pellew would inquire after it. That was most of the conversation they shared.
The carriage hit a particularly nasty bump, and Bracegirdle grunted as he once again pulled out the watch.
Pellew glanced over at him. "Time, Mr. Bracegirdle?"
"Just past ten, sir," the lieutenant answered as he replaced the timepiece. "Are we close?"
Pellew nodded, "Another few miles, I think. I only hope this is not folly, I would hate to think that I gambled on Mr. Kennedy's life and wasted my time on a foolish chance."
"You've done all you could," Bracegirdle replied sympathetically, "And this is not such a foolish bet, sir. I've known many wives could turn their husband's opinions, if they were persuasive enough. And if you admire her, then I daresay she must be an extraordinary woman indeed."
It was dark, and difficult to see Pellew's face in the dimness of the carriage, but his voice carried emotion enough so Bracegirdle could use his imagination to fill in the rest.
"The woman that I knew, Mr. Bracegirdle," he said softly, his voice untouched by the rough road they were traversing, "Was extraordinary. Beautiful, charming, intelligent..."
Bracegirdle shifted, uncomfortable at asking but curious to know what had happened between his captain and the Lady Morgan, and why they had not ended up together. He knew Pellew was far too much of a gentleman to tell, but still...oh well. Perhaps someday. For now...
"Don't worry, sir," Bracegirdle said as the carriage rumbled on through the misty night, "I'm certain you'll sweep her off her feet once more. She'll give us the help we need."
"I hope so, Mr. Bracegirdle," Pellew said with a sigh, looking out the window into the blackness, "For I know what it is like when the light goes out of the world, and she may be the only means of keeping it. If that should fail..."
There was a sad silence, until Bracegirdle asked, "Sir?"
A sad sigh, the rattle and creak of the traveling carriage. Then, a voice of infinite weariness. "I don't like to think on it, Mr. Bracegirdle. I really don't."
Horatio did not know how long he had been walking.
He listened, like a sleepwalker, as the nearby clock tolled the quarter hours, but they rang hollow in his ears, had no meaning. Was time passing? Had it stood still, to arrest his soul in agony forever? He neither knew nor cared. He kept walking.
He wasn't sure exactly where he was; down some godforsaken street. He looked around, nothing seemed familiar, but it seemed nothing existed but the words that ran through his head, no feelings existed but the pain and the hopelessness that had strangled his heart, and left it to die.
By dawn's light, Archie would be dead. And there was nothing he could do to stop it.
Horatio pulled his cloak tighter, kept walking. It was a humid night, heavy with approaching storms, but he could not stop shivering. His head ached from frantic thinking, his eyes stung with the brutal jolt that came at each conclusion he reached: there was nothing, nothing he could do. Everything had been tried, and everything had failed.
Archie was going to die.
The night was heavy, ponderous; Horatio thought of Justinian, of the first days Archie had spent there, and the hope that had been so viciously torn from him. How could it be that such misery could not be comforted, that the injustice Archie had suffered would never be rectified? No, Horatio thought wearily, that was not the world he knew. Archie's wounded soul should recover, his sad and broken song should be made whole, not harried to an early grave and lost to the light forever. That was not how it was supposed to be.
But that was how it was. And that knowledge was slowly driving Horatio to despair.
The clock chimed, midnight. Horatio blinked wearily, had he been walking that long? He took a deep, shaky breath, saw the dank light of the Peddler's Pig shining in the distance, and slowly walked to it. The inn was deserted, closed out of respect, Horatio guessed, and the place was dark and quiet, like a tomb. Feeling a numb and clutching dread, Horatio walked to the stairwell and looked through the iron bars, clutched at them as he stared at that great dark hole, thought he could see the murder scene brought to life. Was it his imagination, or did the memory live there still, the panic and lashing out, the awful moment of death, lingering in the air like sulfur, to echo forever and never be put to rest? Jesus, Archie, what happened down there? Why will you take that burden to your grave, and give it no voice or chance of justice on this side of paradise? If only I knew what you went through, if only you would give me the chance to say that it makes no difference what your misfortunes are. But, oh God! You will die ashamed of yourself, because I could not intervene. You will die cursing yourself, because I could not raise you high enough to trust in your own salvation -
It was too much. Horatio felt tears slip down his cheeks, turned away from the stairwell and walked on down the street, his limbs tight and painful, like an old man's. It began to rain.
A carriage went by, and Horatio watched it with grim and staring eyes. Archie would die, be lost in the sea forever and forgotten, but Morgan would survive. Not only survive, but thrive, his villainy and avarice rewarded a hundred times over. He would be toasted and dined all about town, the hero who kept the streets safe from the vermin who would corrupt it! And he, the most corrupt of them all, would drink and celebrate and then sail his filthy ship to corrupt others, and no one would stop him. Horatio would disappear, the Indefatigable would turn to rust and splinters, but by God the Courageous would last forever, its soul gone to the devil like Faustus, its gleaming timbers rotten to the core, but no one would know. No one knew, or cared, because Morgan had power and Horatio, who knew what he really was, had none. And Archie...
...Archie, who needed mercy and would get none, who needed redemption and had been denied, who needed to feel a compassionate touch and know that he would not die forsaken and alone, but who was locked away from his friends and left with only memories of darkness and pain in the last godforsaken hours of his life...
Horatio did not know where he was, but he no longer cared. He sat down in a darkened doorway, buried his head in his hands, and wept.
They were hot, bitter, hopeless tears, wrenched from depths Horatio was unaware he possessed. He could not stop them, they were pouring from his soul in unceasing torrents, the shame and helplessness of Muzillac rolling into the frustration and anger of the past week culminating in the sheer and utter despair of knowing he was powerless, powerless, and it was all so wrong and it hurt so deeply he thought he might die, and still the tears would not abate. He felt bereft and utterly alone.
And then...someone's hands were on his shoulders.
Horatio was still lost in his misery, thought he must be dreaming. He let out another sob, felt the hands, warm and gentle, wrap around him, and knew who it might be. He opened his eyes and squinted into the flickering lamplight.
It was Rose.
"Oh - " Horatio choked, struggling to compose himself. "I - "
"Shh," Rose whispered, kneeling beside Horatio and keeping her arms round his shoulders, "It's all right, no need for words. You just need someone to be here."
Horatio closed his eyes again, felt the arms tighten around him and wept again, this time because this woman reminded him of his mother. The same tender care, the same affection that did not ask questions or diminish his manhood by chiding away tears. He rested in that embrace for a few moments, until he felt he could speak and not lose himself. Then, he opened his eyes again and gently drew away from her.
"I...thank you, ma'am," Horatio said, wiping his eyes as best he could, "I'm...afraid I..."
"Now didn't I tell you to hush?" Rose said with a smile, using the end of her tattered scarf to dab away Horatio's tears. She sat close by him. "I looked for you, I knew you might be here somewhere. And I was right."
Horatio took a deep breath, another one, felt himself calming down. "My apologies, this is not - how I would wish you to remember me. It's just that - that - "
"I know," Rose said, laying a sympathetic hand on Horatio's arm and gazing down the street, toward the gaol, "It's made me cry too. He's golden, you know, I can tell just by looking at 'im."
Horatio listened to the night around them for a long moment, then sniffed and said, "I owe him my life, more - he has stood with me, followed me, saved me when I wanted to die, and I cannot save him from the darkness and the nightmares that will come for him! And when he is gone, what happened will never be known, and what help he could have gotten by revealing even its smallest part will be forfeited forever. He will die wretched, ashamed, never knowing how much he will be missed - " Horatio choked the last word, and violently shook his head at the rush of anguish he felt. "I cannot bear it."
Rose laid a soothing hand on Horatio's head, smoothed his hair as she whispered through her own tears, "You have the noblest heart I have ever seen, gallant knight! But do you know, I think there might be a way I can help you."
Horatio pulled away and looked at her.
"It's not much," Rose admitted, her eyes shining as she took both of Horatio's hands in hers, "But he did it for me, and I always repay a kindness. We're of a soul, he and I, and he'll talk to me. Perhaps he may even confide something that we can take to the Admiral, and save his life. Dry your tears, lieutenant, I promise you your friend won't be alone tonight. He'll have someone to help him, when the nightmares come."
The journey to the Morgan estate was long and trying. Pellew and Bracegirdle exchanged more than one uneasy glance as the night grew older, a glance that said, will we make it in time? Finally the lights of the mansion came in sight, and Bracegirdle anxiously checked his pocket watch.
"Just after midnight, sir, " he said to his captain, "Longer than I would have liked, but still timely."
"Thank you, Mr. Bracegirdle," Pellew nodded tightly. His nerves were stretched to the breaking point; he was very aware of the impropriety of such a meeting, even with someone along to prevent word of a scandal. But it was the last option he had, and he would be damned if he let it go for the sake of preventing gossip. If all went well...
...and he had not seen her in over twenty years.
"So this is the Morgan estate, eh?" Bracegirdle said appreciatively, drawing aside one curtain to look at the grand house, the circled drive, the ironwork gate. Pellew listened as the tenor of the horses' hooves changed, marked the passage from dirt to cobblestone to brick. The rattling of the bridles and workings of the carriage changed also, became slower then clattered to a stop.
They were there.
Bracegirdle moved to leave the carriage, as Pellew expected he would; it would never do to just walk right in, Pellew would have to be announced first, to be certain he was welcome.
He prayed he was.
Elise had just finished another section of stitching when one of the servants entered softly and said, "Ma'am?"
Elise looked up. "Yes, Delia?"
"There's a gentleman here to see you."
Elise looked around the girl, and saw a man she didn't recognize, in a naval uniform. He looked at her in somewhat flustered manner, and said, "My apologies, my lady, I realize the uncommonness of this situation. However, I am the emissary of a man who would very much like to speak with you, but does not wish to intrude unless he is welcome. I have been sent to ascertain whether this is so."
Elise set the embroidery aside, and smiled benignly. "How very gallant of your employer. Who is he?"
"Captain Sir Edward Pellew, ma'am."
Elise turned absolutely white, just for a moment. "Edward - Captain Pellew - is here?"
"Yes, ma'am. But he begs your forgiveness, if this is at all inappropriate - "
"No," Elise said, rising to her feet, a little too swiftly - she felt suddenly dizzy, as if all the blood had rushed to her head. After taking a deep breath she said, "No, that...won't be necessary. Delia, I will go and make myself presentable. Please show the gentlemen to the sitting room."
The servant curtseyed and said, "Yes, ma'am."
And Elise went upstairs, on shaking legs, to change.
Terry had not realized he had fallen asleep until he heard the door to his room rattle, and opened his eyes.
Good lord! He thought as his mind sprang awake, what time is it? He wiped his eyes, didn't even look at the door to see who was coming in but instead glanced at his open pocket watch, which was sitting on the nightstand.
Midnight, about fifteen minutes past. God - less than five hours -
Only then did Terry think to look towards the door, and was surprised to see Philip Lafferty standing there, looking terrified.
"I lost him!" Lafferty blurted.
Terry blinked, still coming awake. "Lost him? Horatio?"
Lafferty nodded, pacing nervously. "I found him at the docks, he insisted on going to talk to Morgan. I couldn't stop him so I - I went with him, but he never came out! I don't know where he is!"
Terry pursed his lips. "Did you see Morgan?"
Lafferty grunted his disgust. "Yes, he came out of Regent's about ten-thirty, but Horatio wasn't with him. I looked in the restaurant, on the streets, I even went back to the ship! He's vanished."
"Did you try the gaol?"
Lafferty sunk down on the edge of the bed, one hand raking through his dark hair. "Yes, I went there first! But it's like a fortress now, there's marines around every inch of the place. He'd never get close."
"Hm." Terry scooted himself up in the bed and hunched over the book that had slid almost off the bed. He glanced at the nightstand, picked a pitcher from it and held it out to Lafferty, "Could you get me some water, please?"
Lafferty blinked at the pitcher, then sputtered, "Can't you think of anywhere else for me to look? I've got to find him, if he goes on Courageous without me they'll kill him!"
Terry withdrew the pitcher a little. "Without *you*?"
"Yes, I - well - well, someone has to look out for him! You know that. All those lofty ideals, and he doesn't know two ticks about how the world really works! What the hell are you smiling at me for!"
"Nothing, lieutenant, forgive me. Get me my water, and then you can go find Horatio. Hm. See if you can find the lady that was in here earlier, Rose. She knows the streets, she might know where he is."
"Oh..." Lafferty took the pitcher and looked down into it, crestfallen.
Terry noticed this, of course. "What is it?"
"Um...well, I wasn't going to tell you, but she must have been arrested, because I went back to the gaol just before coming here, and they were taking her inside. I don't think she can help us much from in there."
Terry gazed down at the books on his bed, his brow creased in thought. Then, very slowly, a knowing smile spread across his face, and he nodded to himself.
Lafferty saw that expression and said, "I don't know what's to be happy about. I've been in that gaol, it's a horrible place. And now the only person who could help us out is trapped in there right alongside Kennedy."
"Yes, I know, lieutenant," Terry said wistfully, quietly, almost to himself, "But that's the perfect place for a guardian angel to be. Especially when there are demons out tonight."
The whistles and pipes sang as Captain Morgan came back aboard Courageous, and First Lieutenant Christopher Stephens smiled in appreciation at the cheers and waves that greeted their return from shore. He had never felt so good in his entire life.
What a party there had been in town! Stephens was still reeling from it. Some people glared at them, true, but let them glare. He was serving the richest ship in the navy, under the most powerful man in gold braid, aside from the Admiral himself. And who knew how long those coattails were...
Yes, it had not been especially easy to find a tavern that would serve them, but they finally found a place, and then Stephens and his friends had had a feast. Nothing was too expensive or lavish, and by the time Morgan came to collect them Stephens was about the only one who could still stand with any dignity. Morgan had expected this, of course, threw gold coins after the drunkest of the lot so they had lodging for the night, and brought the rest home. How grand it felt, to swagger through the streets and see those still abroad point and stare at them as they went by! Yes, Stephens felt he was going to like this, very much.
His joy had been clouded only a little, for sometime in the night he saw Lafferty walk by, and desperately wanted to kill him. That little snitch had gotten him in trouble with Morgan, and if it weren't for the wonderful victory of the afternoon to distract Morgan, Stephens knew he might be pulling bilge duty for a week. His eyes narrowed; how sweet it would be to slam his fist into Lafferty's face, just once! He'd make sure Lafferty never questioned the way the world worked again.
But, the opportunity had passed. One of the barmaids had chosen that moment to plant herself in Stephens' lap, and he let Lafferty go, although it was just for the moment. As soon as the weather cleared, they would set sail again, and then...well, Stephens thought to himself with a smirk, there were plenty of dark places where a boy could be taught a lesson. If the learning didn't kill him.
And even if Lafferty survived, his life would surely be over after Morgan finally went to the Admiralty about those letters they found in Creps' cabin. Stephens hadn't said a word about the letters to the Belle Celeste, of course, but had been very careful to distance himself from ever knowing Creps, and at the same time ingratiating himself to Morgan at every opportunity. He wanted that captain's coat someday, and traitors' friends never got that opportunity. When Creps' treachery was known, anyone who knew him would be suspected and hated as well, and Stephens wanted to make very sure that did not happen to him. Whether it happened to Lafferty, he could not possibly have cared less.
But that was in the future. For tonight, for now...the pipes ceased, and the returning officers were greeted by their comrades. Stephens waited at Morgan's side, relishing the feeling of importance that coursed through him, and lifted his chin as the captain turned toward him, satisfaction and delight beaming from his face.
"Go get some rest, Stephens," Morgan said, almost jovially, "Come four-thirty I want you to go get Kennedy and bring him aboard. There are eight marines stationed at the gaol, take four more and you'll have enough to do the job."
"Aye, aye, sir," Stephens returned smartly. "Anything else?"
Morgan looked up, just as the sky was lit with a bolt of lightning, far off into the sea. "Have the ratings set up the tackle off the mainmast yardarm, and get a length of rope. I want him hanged as high as possible."
"Oh, yes, sir. Don't worry about that."
"Hm." Morgan grunted, and began to walk away.
"If I may, sir," Stephens said, his enthusiasm bubbling over, "I haven't said it, but - congratulations. It is an honor and a privilege to serve with you, truly."
Morgan's look was less than grateful, but he smiled nevertheless. "Thank you, lieutenant, just carry out my orders. You can polish my boots in the morning."
Damn! Stephens thought, but at least the captain seemed to take his toadying in good humor. He nodded and looked around quickly as Morgan walked away, but thankfully no one had heard the exchange. Then he went to find some ratings to rig the pulley that would be used to hang Kennedy, humming to himself happily, the first lieutenant to the most powerful captain of the most prodigal ship in the entire British fleet.
When the fit came, Rose was ready.
It was no easy matter, getting into the gaol in the first place. Since relieving the regular gaoler, the marines had already had to deal with one unruly drunk, and when Rose bit the constable again she was afraid for a moment that they wouldn't put her in the gaol at all, since both cells were occupied. But the marine in charge was irritated and testy, and finally waved at Kennedy's cell and said, "Oh, throw her in there. The worst that can happen is they'll kill each other, and then maybe I can go home and get some sleep!"
So Rose had been put in Kennedy's cell, but he had been asleep when she arrived, and had not moved since. She sat very still, in the opposite corner of the cell by the wall, and watched him very carefully. He was curled upon his cot, facing the wall, flinching every once in a while in his sleep. Rose risked a glance behind her, but the drunk was asleep as well, mostly covered by a rough blanket and snoring softly. Rose turned away from him with a small smile of satisfaction.
The long minutes dragged by; Rose edged a little closer to Kennedy, listened to him whimper out some nightmarish distress. When it happened, as the lieutenant told her it might, Rose wanted to be ready. If nothing else ever went right in her life again, she wanted to accomplish this one small kindness for a soul that had never had enough.
A noise startled her, the sound of a chair roughly hitting the floor. The marine in charge was stretching and yawning loudly.
"Dammit," he grumbled to the younger marine standing watch at the door, "If I don't get some fresh air Morgan'll have me shot for falling asleep at my post." He got up and sulked to the door, pausing long enough to say, "I'm going for a turn around the square. Keep an eye on things until I return. And if that drunk wakes up, for God's sake get him out of here. Let him go sleep the rest of it off in the street."
"Yes, sir," The youth replied, and the older marine was gone.
Rose watched him go, shifted a little closer to Kennedy. It would go easier if there were no one here, she could talk freely, but it wasn't bad that the only witnesses to what was to happen were the drunk in the cell next door and a bored youth who was too far away to hear anything clearly. No, if she were asking for miracles, this would do very nicely indeed...
A little more time passed, and Rose heard thunder echo in the distance; rain coming, a storm perhaps. The air was thick and humid, oppressive in its weight. A faraway, faint flash of lightning; long moments later, a faint rumble.
Archie moaned in his sleep.
Rose edged closer, glancing over at the sentry as she did so. He was scuffing the dirt floor with one boot, and yawning, not even looking at her. Good.
Archie moaned again.
"Take it easy, love," She whispered, reaching out one hand to stroke his long blond hair. "It's all right..."
Archie's response was a small and choking sob, and he shrank away from her touch. She accepted this, sat back against the wall and waited in the gloom for what the lieutenant said might happen next.
Archie's moans increased, became deeper and more frantic, and he began to thrash around on the rickety cot. Rose was ready, put her arms around his shoulders and held him tight as the spasms increased and he began to cry out loud.
"What's going on?" The young marine asked from his corner. He didn't want to come closer.
"He's having a fit," Rose explained matter-of-factly, "D'ye have any water?"
"I-I'll go get some," The marine said, and almost ran out the door.
He's not coming back anytime soon, Rose thought hastily, and laid a soothing hand on Archie's forehead as the tremors continued. "Ssssh, love, it's all right, it'll be all - "
With a sharp cry Archie rolled off of the cot and onto the hard dirt floor. Rose caught him halfway down and cradled him in her lap until the seizure eased, then stopped. She glanced behind her; the drunk had moved a little, but now was absolutely still.
Archie's eyes were still tightly closed, and both hands were to his face, as if warding off some terrible nightmare. Continuing to stroke his hair, Rose whispered, "It's all right, love, you're safe now. Come on, open your eyes for me."
The hands came away, slowly, and Rose saw how red Archie's face was, glistening with newly sprung tears. He blinked at his hands for a moment, and swallowed raggedly. Then he turned his head and saw her. "Rose?"
"Yes, that's me. Seems I been misbehaving again," Rose answered with a gentle smile as he relaxed back into her arms, "Just lie quiet, love, you had a nightmare is all. That's all."
"Oh - " Archie raked his hands through his hair, and curled up a little, closing his eyes. Rose thought he might be trying to go to sleep again, until she noticed the tears that were stealing from underneath his closed eyelids.
Wrapping her arms around him a little tighter, she sat with
him in the dank and gloomy silence for a few minutes, then very
softly asked, "Did somebody hurt you, love?"
"No - " Archie answered quickly, then half-opening his eyes said, "I mean, yes, a...a long time ago."
"Still yesterday in your heart though, isn't it?" Rose said sympathetically, "Just like you could reach out and touch it."
Archie looked up at her then, amazement in his bleary eyes. "How do you know?"
"Because that's how it is with me," Rose answered quietly, "Somebody hurt me too."
Archie's eyes widened a little, and after staring at her for a moment he asked, "How do you bear it?"
"I have my ways," Rose replied, gently stroking the tight lines from Archie's forehead, "It isn't easy sometimes, but...the people who do those things, they like to think they can steal your soul when they do, but they can't. I've still got mine, a little beaten, but I can still use it. And yours..."
Archie pulled away from Rose's touch a little and made a small noise, but she persisted. "I've seen your soul, Archie Kennedy, and it shines like the mid-day sun. They didn't get yours either. I can tell."
Archie was silent for a few moments, then said, "Do you know I'm to be hanged in the morning?"
Rose continued to try and calm him down, said nothing but nodded.
"In a way, I'm almost glad," Archie said softly, "I'm so tired, I think - I think you understand what I mean. Life comes so easily to others, it's always been so hard for me, it seems almost a relief to have it done with."
Rose tilted her head. "You sure you quite mean that? Ain't you had no happiness at all?"
"I have," Archie replied, "But it's all so fleeting, so...temporary. I think I've found a home and then..."
"Then the pain comes back."
"Yes," Archie half-cried, rolling to a sitting position so Rose couldn't see his face. "Sometimes I think it will stop, but it doesn't. I think I can protect my friends and I can't - I can't - "
"Are you certain of that, love?" Rose reached out to touch his back.
Archie flinched away. "Yes! I tried - perhaps I succeeded, I don't know. I thought I could make him leave Horatio alone..."
Rose took in her breath sharply, then moved a little closer to Archie so he could sense her, even if she didn't touch him. "You did what you had to, I'm sure. Only what you thought was right."
"I thought..." Archie ducked his face into the shadows, and his voice came as a fractured sob, "You talked before of being - hurt - I have a friend who knows nothing of that kind of hurt, who would rather die than have willful knowledge of it. He's not like me, he can't be broken, and people have tried. When Creps talked about - what he wanted to do, I couldn't - "
"Shhh," Rose soothed, scooting a little closer and brushing her hand, very lightly, over Archie's hair. "You don't have to talk about it, love - "
"No," Archie choked, "Someone should know, it can't save me, but someone should...I thought I could turn him, I thought if - if he took me, Horatio could get away."
Archie's shoulders were trembling, and Rose silently placed her hands on them. He drew his knees up to his chest, as if holding in a universe of wailing agony, and his breath came in hitching gasps.
"I never thought - I don't know where it came from, how I found the knife, it was - it was so dark, and there were these hands, they pushed me and it hurt and I thought oh God, what if he gets Horatio? He'll never live, he'll kill himself, and I can't stop it. I can't - and he said, first you, then your friend, and he'd let - let me watch, and - "
Rose groaned in sympathy and put her arms around Archie's shoulders. He didn't resist, was shaking so hard she thought he might fly apart.
"It happened so fast, it was like I could see Horatio lying - bleeding - dying from the shame - oh, God, not him! My own soul is of no account, what's one more black mark on a life already charred to cinders, but to take his innocence, I couldn't - I couldn't let it - "
Archie was weeping, but still holding it in, his words punctuated by great gulping breaths and the rasp of unshed tears. Rose was still behind him, but held him as he bent his shoulders forward into his crossed arms and shuddered in depthless agony.
"Of course you couldn't," She whispered, although she wasn't certain he could hear her, "And I'm certain he knows. I'm certain he understands."
"How can he?" Archie lamented, "I could say nothing of this, nothing! Horatio thinks I'm a coward and a murderer, he cannot know the truth. He will be destroyed if he does, and I will not allow that to happen. I will gladly give my life to save his, but he'll never know why... that is the worst, that I must go to my grave knowing he thinks me the most wretched villain on the face of the earth, and I can never undeceive him, never!"
"Archie, listen to me - Horatio knows the truth," Rose said, holding Archie as tightly as she could to alleviate his violent shaking, "He knows you killed Creps to protect him, and yourself. Even if no one else knows, he does, and he forgives you."
"No, you don't understand," Archie whispered, tears escaping his tightly shut eyes, "He can't know - Creps...wasn't alone. Someone else - came, and they - "
Rose felt Archie tremble, said, "Someone else? Who?"
A small, shattered sob, then: "Morgan."
For the briefest moment, Rose froze. The name was so unexpected - then she thought, of course. Of course.
"He came upon us in the stairwell," Archie whispered, his voice as thin as paper, his face deathly pale, "He - knew Horatio's name somehow, said they would - hurt me, and then I could watch them hurt him - I had to do something, *something*, oh God! As soon as I saw his face I knew it was too late."
Rose felt numb, horrified. She didn't let go, but was afraid Archie would have another fit at any moment. She held him as close as she could.
"Morgan knew if I said anything, he could discount it, and he did not have to tell me what would happen to Horatio. I tried to warn Horatio away, but he - God, he wouldn't give up on me! I only wish I didn't know how much he suffered on my account."
"He would say it was worth any effort," Rose said as Archie slumped into her arms. She cast a furtive look into the next cell, but the drunk was still apparently asleep.
"Promise me someday you'll tell Horatio," Archie whispered, his voice quaking in a vain effort to keep still, "Not now, not while Morgan is living, but - tell Terry Whitehall, he can write Horatio a letter. Just so they know I did not die a coward. Just so they know there was nothing else I could do."
Rose felt Archie relaxing against her, exhausted in body and spirit. She tenderly stroked his hair and said, "I promise, Archie, I'll tell your story. And don't you worry, your friend knows your heart, and the spirit that lives in it. You're not alone, Archie. You're not alone."
Archie sighed, and Rose felt him grow heavy against her. Blinking tears from her eyes she rocked him, very slowly, until she knew he was asleep. Even then she did not let go, but kept her arms tight around him, her eyes wandering over to the next cell, where in the dim and uncertain light the drunk rolled from under the rough blanket and stood up, horror and fury on every line of his face.
It was Horatio.
At that moment the gaol door opened, and the young marine came in with a pitcher of water. Seeing Horatio standing he said, "Oh, you're up, huh? Well, out with you."
He grabbed the keys and opened the door, but Horatio merely stood there, staring into Rose's eyes. It had been his idea to play a drunkard, to be brought close enough to hear Archie's words without being known. And now he had heard, words that obviously seared his heart and choked his soul. He stared at Rose, and she looked back at him, the even stern glare of a soul that had seen too much evil to put up with it one moment longer.
Her eyes said simply: You wanted to know, and now you do. Save him before it is too late.
"Well, come on!" The marine said impatiently, "Get out."
Horatio took one last look at Archie's huddled form sleeping in Rose's arms, took a few shaking steps toward the door.
The older marine saw the gaol door open as he returned from his walk, and the long-legged young man they had arrested earlier for drunkenness run out of it like his jacket was on fire. He grunted in disgust and shook his head, walked a few feet toward the gaol and paused, noticing someone sitting at the side of the gaol, under the window.
It was a young man in a naval uniform, with straight dark brown hair. He was just sitting under the window, but he had his arms folded and looked like he was shivering. Jesus, another drunk, the marine thought, and stepped toward the officer.
Then he stopped. Hell, was he supposed to arrest every drunken sailor in the town? He had enough problems, as long as this one kept to himself, who cared where he worked out the demons of liquor.
And so the marine shrugged and went inside, leaving Philip Lafferty alone to sit beneath the window where one could hear every word that was said inside, and tremble as if he was about to fly to pieces.
Pellew tried not to betray his nervousness while he and Bracegirdle waited in the drawing room for Elise. He was an officer, a captain, had commanded squadrons of life and death, and yet he found he was as fidgety as a sixteen-year-old youth who had never been in female company before. He avoided Bracegirdle's gaze, took deep breaths, and reminded himself that whatever his feelings, this woman was another man's wife, and he was on a very serious mission that left no room for anything other than decorum and straightforwardness.
Then Elise entered the room, and for a moment Pellew forgot his age and dignity, and simply stared.
She was not dressed elegantly or extravagantly - a simple blue dress, no jewelry, and her hair was down. She was all plainness and subdued tones, but something about her, silhouetted against the candlelight, reminded Pellew of another time, when their lives hadn't happened yet and anything was still possible. He lived in that time for a moment, and that moment only, for as soon as he looked into Elise's eyes he saw an ancient sadness there, that had no heart for remembrance or fantasy. Her eyes grounded him; he came back, and gave her a courtly bow.
"Madam," Pellew said gravely, "I apologize for disturbing you at this late hour."
Elise accepted the bow with a graceful tilt of her head. "It is very late."
Pellew glanced at Bracegirdle before saying, "I would have called tomorrow, but I have a matter of utmost urgency that could not wait. May I beg your indulgence for a few moments?"
Elise opened her mouth, closed it again, and Pellew noticed she was no longer looking at him directly. She had a fan in her hand that she opened and closed repeatedly, and casting her eyes in a corner she said, "You may, but there is - if we are to speak, I would prefer it be alone."
Pellew looked at Bracegirdle again, unsure. "Ma'am, I would not wish any scandal upon you - "
Elise's eyes were diamond-hard as she turned to Edward, her face as stone. "You know my husband, Captain Pellew, you should know that there would be no scandal. None that either of us would outlive. Now kindly humor me."
Pellew read Elise's face, then nodded to Bracegirdle who understood, God bless him. With a conciliatory smile, he quietly left the room, closing the door behind him.
Pellew waited until he was certain Bracegirdle was gone, then said, "Now, madam, about my mission - "
Elise turned away sharply, and put a hand to her face. Startled, Pellew took a step closer. "Lady Morgan?"
"I'm sorry," Elise moaned, "I didn't know how long I could keep...a moment, please, then I shall be myself again."
Pellew drew his gaze to the floor, his heart aching as he watched those slender shoulders quiver for a few moments in a losing effort to keep still. Sorrowfully he said, "I'm very sorry, the fault is mine. I should have had respect for your position, and not come."
"Oh, don't be silly," Elise said, wiping her eyes as she half-turned toward him, "How could you help but come? When I saw you this morning, I should have known - Edward Pellew would move heaven and earth to right any wrong possible. He would think nothing of coming to me to plead for his officer's life. Am I right?"
Pellew gazed at her in surprise for a moment, then allowed himself a small smile. "You have always known me too well."
Elise gave a tiny sob, and shook her head. "How can you say that! I never knew you at all, not when it mattered. Not when I could have changed things. I only knew you afterwards, when I'd made my choice and saw that what I grasped so greedily for was worthless."
"Madam, please," Pellew said, coming to her side, as close as he dared, "It is not my desire to cause you pain or regret, and it grieves me - Elise, please! It tears my heart to see you in such pain."
Elise turned around then, tears shimmering in those faultless violet eyes. She looked at Pellew for a moment only, then sank down on one of the embroidered chairs and wiped her eyes. After a moment she valiantly lifted her head and cleared her throat.
"My - apologies, Captain Pellew, I forgot myself for a moment. It - I'll try not to let it happen again, it's just..." Elise faltered, and looked down at her hands, "It's so good to see you again."
Pellew slowly sat down on the couch next to the chair, and gazed sadly at that care-worn face. "You'll pardon me for saying so, madam, but I had indeed forgotten that you were so beautiful."
Elise smiled through her tears, and dabbed at her face with her handkerchief. "You have become a flatterer, Sir Edward. That is something new."
Pellew returned the smile, and said, "I'm sorry, Elise, but my time here is short, and I must ask - this boy who is going to hang tomorrow, I believe if I had more time I could secure some clemency for him. The hour is late, and I must implore - do you know, can you tell me what would sway your husband's heart to spare Kennedy's life, even for a week?"
The smile faded. "You know my husband, Sir Edward. He has no heart."
Pellew saw the weariness in Elise's posture, the defeated nature that echoed in her every movement. With an anxious heart he said, "Please tell me it is not that bad for you."
Something closed over Elise's face then, a mask came over it, and when her eyes met his they were the mirrors of a retreating soul. "I'm sorry, Sir Edward, but Kennedy's death is something my husband has been insistent on from the first. If I knew of any entreaty that would work, any way to help your officer, believe me I would do it. I know...I am sympathetic to the plight of trapped things. I would do anything to set them free."
Pellew shivered at the sight of that mask, all that unrelieved loneliness. "Elise - "
"You should go," Elise said quickly, and stood, her face falling into shadow as she did so, "We should forget we ever laid eyes on each other, for both our sakes, it is easier. It's the way it must be."
"Yes, of course," Pellew agreed, although he was uncertain why he was speaking those words rather than begging Elise to leave that cage, that prison she called home, "I'm - please, I'm sorry, Elise, believe me when I say I never meant to hurt you. All I want is a chance for a condemned man, the opportunity for justice to be truly done. Just as all I wanted was your happiness, with whomever you chose, those many years ago. I'll collect my first lieutenant and bid you good night, I apologize again for disturbing you."
He half-believed those words, and was in fact a few steps from the door when Elise said, very softly, "Wait."
Elise stood still, turned half away from him so he saw her profile, that perfect English profile that he loved. Quietly she said, "I know you must go, I just...there are days, you know, when it rains, like it does now, and I look outside and I can still see that garden, the one where you proposed to me. When it's misty, you know. You look so serious and proper, in your plain clothes and your earnestness, but it's always me I'm looking at, I'm so silly. All ribbons and lace, and that foolish fancy that must have shown on my face, how could I ever love you! You had none of the high spirits and dashing air I wanted, you did not court or flatter or cajole. How could I ever be happy with you?"
Pellew shivered. "Elise - "
"But look there," Elise whispered, nodding a little as if gesturing out a window, "Look closely, and you'll see a lacquered carriage, the finest horses outside of London. See that dashing, handsome man, the one in the latest fashion with the perfumed hair? He knows how to treat a lady, how to wine and dine her and dance with until she's quite out of her senses. He's the man I'm going to marry. All the girls want him, but I'm going to get him, and I'm happy. Because he's beautiful, and he's rich, and I'm foolish and vain and stupid enough to believe him when he tells me he loves me."
Elise was crying now, great sad tears that trailed down her cheeks and hung there, a brief star in the dimly lit room, before falling gently on her dress. Pellew took a step toward her, but Elise flinched away, burying her face in her hands. After a long, torturous minute she raised her head and whispered, "Not a day goes by that I wish I could go into that garden and put an end to that foolish, stupid little girl. Not a single day."
"And yet, what a jewel the world would lose if ever that were to happen." Pellew said softly. "Elise, if there's anything I can do - "
"He has a mistress, do you know that?" Elise said with an odd little laugh, looking at the closed doors. "He thinks I don't know, or perhaps he knows and doesn't care. I'm like good silver, you see, only to be brought out when the occasion warrants."
Pellew winced at the bitterness in her voice. "Elise - "
"It doesn't matter," Elise said in the same acid tone, "He's even written to her, when he was home tonight I found one of his letters. He hides them very carefully, but I know about the walking stick he has with the false knob on it. Likely he'll be cross when he sees the letter missing - " She reached up and very carefully drew a rolled-up letter from her bosom, "But at least I have the comfort of knowing he'll never ask me where it is."
She stared at the letter sadly, and Pellew felt his heart break as he watched her hold it in her trembling hands. "Elise, don't torture yourself."
"I can't help it," Elise whispered, "It's almost a relief, to know his - attentions - are not limited to me alone. And why shouldn't he attract beautiful women wherever he goes?"
Pellew had no answer. He looked down and sighed.
An ironic smile touched the corners of Elise's lips. "Perhaps someday I shall even have the courage to open it. Then I'll know for certain who this Belle Celeste is."
Pellew shook his head, something was wrong. "What?"
"His mistress," Elise said sadly, and held the letter up so Pellew could see it.
In small letters, across the top, distinctive handwriting.
Pellew stared at the letter, took it, felt his mouth go dry, tore the letter open and read it.
French. Ship descriptions. Troop movements. Secrets.
Oh my God.
At first he didn't know where he was running to, only knew that the horror and revulsion and white-hot anger he felt was pushing him onward, like a strong wind does a ship. He was running, running away from truths so terrible and burning that he wanted to die for hearing them. No, he thought wildly, I heard wrong, it could not have been on my account that he suffered, not to protect me that he would allow that - man - to use him as Simpson had. No, I can't accept it, it isn't possible -
But it was true, he knew it, he heard it. Horatio kept running.
How could he have been so blind! Archie had tried to warn him from the very beginning, had been frantic that Horatio not go near Morgan, not be anywhere near Courageous. Horatio had thought he knew why, thought the danger was only from Creps who was dead, had never dreamed - dreamed that Morgan -
But now, it was so obvious, how could he have missed it! Morgan was every inch the bully Simpson was, thinking nothing of threats and intimidation, but so smooth and cunning that of course he would never be discovered - oh God, except by Archie! And Morgan had seen to it - had taken great and laboring pains to make sure - Archie would be dead at five o'clock.
Now four and a half hours away.
Horatio stopped running, leaned against a wall and frantically sought to catch his breath. God, what could he do? Archie's words, his cries, his abject and forsaken acceptance of all that had happened to him tore at Horatio's heart, something had to be done! Archie could not die with this locked in his soul, could not be fixed for a murderer when it was plain - damnably plain - that any hope of self-defense would have been doomed from the start. Morgan would have shot Archie in the courtroom rather than have him reveal what had happened that night, but he didn't need to - a sly word, money for services rendered, was all it had taken. Horatio felt nauseated.
But God, what could he do? Pellew - go to Pellew - but Pellew was gone, and there was no telling when he would be back. Hood - but Hood was likely asleep, and Horatio had nothing on paper, nothing to save Archie's life but the awful words that would not stop hammering in his head -
**he came upon us in the stairwell, said they would - hurt me, and then I could watch them hurt him **
Oh, Christ! Horatio buried his face in his hands for a moment, wishing he could rend the memory from his mind. Then another memory surfaced, clear and calming -
**"...even a great wall has cracks for mice to slip through. Morgan may be powerful, but we're right, and that's going to make a big difference***
Without hesitation, Horatio ran as fast as he could to the Dove Inn.
Terry did not think much of the footsteps that came pounding up the stairs, in fact didn't even look up from the legal book he was reading. The candle was burning low again, and he had just reached over to move it closer to the bed when the thundering steps came to his door, and it was flung open.
"Horatio!" Terry cried, somewhat alarmed by his friend's appearance. "Are you all right?"
"Terry, you must help me!" Horatio gasped, quickly shutting the door but not taking off his coat, pacing throughout the room in a state of high agitation. "I know what happened to Archie. In the stairwell, in the - oh God, Terry, the vilest cruelty! We must do something, there must be - "
Terry didn't take his eyes off Horatio, but reached for his inkwell and quill without looking at it. "Horatio, please calm down. Tell me what happened."
"We were - " Horatio gulped, did not stop pacing but ran his hands through his hair as he talked. "Rose, you remember her, she - found me, she wanted to help Archie, and we contrived that I should play a drunkard and be taken also, because they don't know who I am, and we - Archie, he started talking - "
The words were sobs almost, and Terry looked at Horatio in plain concern. "Horatio, sit down."
"No!" Horatio said loudly, "No, Terry, please listen to me! Archie, he - he told Rose what happened in the stairwell and it was - worse, worse than we thought - "
He finally stopped pacing and looked at Terry with such huge, pain-filled eyes that he quietly set the inkwell down on top of the book and said quietly, "How much worse?"
Horatio took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "Morgan."
For a moment Terry sat as if frozen, but when he blinked his eyes again they were not filled with fear, only with an iron determination. "Sit down and tell me what you know."
Horatio knew that tone, and set himself down in the nearest chair, shaking off his cloak as he did so.
"It's not as good as a witness," Terry muttered to himself, "But we can at least take this to Hood and show him that Kennedy was likely intimidated into silence. I'll bet we can find some cracks in Uscher's armor as well."
"But Archie wasn't testifying," Horatio said weakly, "How can we prove anything?"
Terry looked at Horatio with conviction-filled eyes, "All we need is to delay the execution until it can be determined whether any tampering was going on. Before dawn I *will* be getting out of this bed and I can *promise* you, I'm going to find tampering! With Morgan's self-interest involved, it's - well, I'm sure you would say - it's a mathematical certainty!"
Horatio nodded, and relaxed a little bit.
"Horatio, you and Rose may have just saved Mr. Kennedy's life," Terry said as he found what he was looking for and laid the book open, "By the way, did you happen to see Mr. Lafferty while you were around the gaol? That's where I sent him to find you."
Horatio had been looking at the floor, but at Terry's words glanced up in weary confusion. "Lafferty?"
After he left Whitehall's room, Dr. St John did not know where he should go. He did not have the stomach to return to the Courageous, even though he knew eventually he would have to. It was too late to find a tavern or inn where he could hide himself, and he did not much fancy wandering the streets. So, finally, he decided to return to the ship.
He was halfway to the docks, crossing down a dimly-lit alleyway between two buildings, when he heard a strange sound and stopped to listen to it. It was a metallic sound, something clinking against something else, coupled with hoarse and rasping breathing. It confused St. John until he left the alleyway, found a lantern burning by the side of building, and carried it back to investigate.
The sound continued, and St. John realized it was coming from one of the deep doorways that lined the alley. He stepped quietly, and discovered that the sound had gotten muffled, as if someone was trying desperately to hide. But the sobbing breaths continued, and after a few moments St. John found his target and lifted the lantern.
It was Lafferty.
He looked terrified, furious, almost beside himself. He was crouching in the doorway trying to load his flintlock pistol, which in the dark was nearly impossible. He had spilled half the powder on his white uniform.
"Lieutenant!" St. John exclaimed, alarmed at what he saw. "What are you doing?"
Lafferty squinted at him for a moment, then shook his head as if he could not explain, and went back to trying to load the pistol. His hands were shaking so hard the shot was scattering everywhere.
St. John put the lantern down, truly frightened by what he was seeing. Advancing on Lafferty slowly, he reached out to touch his arm. "Mr. Lafferty, are you all - "
"Leave me alone!" Lafferty hissed out, loud, ragged words. He jerked away from St. Johns' touch and shook his head again. "I don't want anyone with me."
St. John lowered his arm. "As your ship's doctor, I'm responsible for your well-being, and you're clearly disturbed. Why are you loading your pistol?"
Lafferty stopped what he was doing for a second, and just breathed, great gulping breaths that hinted at the turmoil that was raging within him. Then he hissed, "I'm going to kill Morgan."
St. John was shocked. "Lafferty - "
"I am!" Lafferty turned to St. John then, and the doctor saw the furious anguish that was blazing there. "Try to stop me and I'll - I'll kill you too. Nobody should get away with what he's done, I don't care who he is."
St. John's shock faded a little, to extreme anxiousness. "What do you mean?"
"He's a - he's a - " Lafferty gestured with the pistol, could not get the words out. "Jesus, St. John, Jesus! God, it hurts too much to even say it!"
St. John stepped closer to Lafferty; the boy was almost purple with rage. "We both know what kind of a man Morgan is. But killing him will only get you hanged alongside Kennedy."
"It would be worth it," Lafferty growled, shaking his head again as if there was something in there he desperately wanted to be rid of. "You *don't* know what kind of a man Morgan is, but I do. I do now, and I'm not going to let him - let him - " Lafferty stopped trying to load the pistol, dropped both his hands and stared morosely at the other side of the doorway he was in, as if some horrible thought had occurred to him and he was only now absorbing its meaning.
"You know," he whispered, very softly, St. John could hardly hear him, "I never had a friend like Hornblower, or Kennedy. Never. I didn't think people were like that, thought we were all just a bunch of greedy bastards just getting what we wanted and to hell with everyone else."
St. John thought Lafferty was wandering. "Lieutenant - "
"No, dammit, let me finish! I never - people just don't die for each other anymore, that's so - but Kennedy is going to die for Hornblower. I was sitting outside the gaol, listening to him talk to that prostitute, Rose. He let - he was going to let Creps - hurt him so he would leave Hornblower alone, I can't even imagine someone doing that for me! And then - and then Morgan got involved, and Kennedy knew what would happen to Hornblower if he told the truth, so he didn't. And - and Morgan's going to let him hang for being Hornblower's best friend, and to keep his own filthy goddamned secret!"
St. John had turned white. "Mr. Lafferty..."
"But that's not even the worst of it," Lafferty gulped, tears running down his face, "I saw Hornblower tonight, you know where he was going? He was going to offer himself to Morgan, to save Kennedy's life. My God, I'll never be brave like he is! He knows what kind of a man Morgan is, the hell that draws breath on Courageous, but he was willing to give up his old ship, his crew, his captain - " For some reason Lafferty choked on that word, and it was a moment before he could go on. "Jesus, give up his life, for a friend! For someone who could never advance his career, never make him rich, but what he had to give was so - so precious that Hornblower was going to give up everything just to make sure he didn't lose it."
"Did Morgan accept his offer?"
"I don't know, and I don't care," Lafferty hissed, turning his attention back to the pistol, "I can *not* stand by and watch Hornblower walk onto that drifting pestilence, and I can *not* stand by and watch Kennedy hang for the crime of protecting his friend. And Morgan is responsible for both. I can't let him get away with it. It's not...it's just not *right*, dammit. I'm sick of being a coward, of letting men like Morgan and Creps and - and that Simpson win. Someone's got to fight them, dammit. The only...the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
St. John was staring at Lafferty, staring with a kind of awestruck stupification. Very slowly he took Lafferty's arm and looked him in the eye. "Mr. Lafferty?"
"I told you, don't try to stop me! I can't - "
"I know," St. John said, and his voice had a curious weight to it, "I'm not asking you to give up, or not fight Morgan. But right now I need you to do something for me. I need you to go back to the ship."
"I am! Oh, believe me - "
"No! Not to do that! Listen to me. In a few hours they'll be taking Kennedy to be executed. Go back to the ship and keep your eye out for him. If they bring him aboard, look after him. If Morgan tries to hang him, then and only then do you use your pistol, but only to defend Kennedy. You won't be charged with murder, I promise you."
Lafferty looked at St. John as if the older man had lost his mind. "What do you mean? Where will you be?"
St. John looked down the street. "I have a mission of my own to perform, but if they take Kennedy aboard it will mean I'm behind my time. I need you to make certain that the tragedy we both see coming does not happen. You're right, it's time to stop being a coward. Some things are worth dying for. Now hurry, back to the ship."
"You're still not making sense," Lafferty said with a sniff, as he put his powder away and picked up his cloak. "Where the hell are you going, anyway?"
"To the right side of the wall, Mr. Lafferty," St. John said, and turned to walk out of the dark alleyway, toward the distant and uncertain light.
"Faster, dammit!" Pellew bellowed out the window, over the furious rattling of the carriage as it bolted down the rutted road toward Plymouth.
"Captain, please!" Bracegirdle said, speaking a little louder than usual to be heard above the noise. "We're about to fly apart as it is!"
Pellew shot his first lieutenant a piercing look, then waved the letter Elise had given him in one clenched fist, his eyes glowing with fury. "All the time, Bracegirdle! The dispatches, the letters from the admiralty, and all the bloody time Morgan was laughing in the face of the Crown! Selling secrets, endangering and ending honest British lives! By God, he will answer for this! By all that's holy he shall have the most gruesome, humiliating death legality can devise!"
Bracegirdle nodded. "Did you tell Elise?"
Pellew shook his head, "No, for her own protection. I only told her that I needed the letter, and it was not what she thought it was. I promised to return as soon as I could, with further news."
Bracegirdle sighed, his own face a pale contrast to Pellew's maroon anger. "I don't understand, Captain Morgan sank Spanish and French ships, it's where he got his prize money - "
"Aye, likely they were rewards for his diligence in supplying them with information!" Pellew spat, "Blood money, soaked with English hearts and lives! The most rigorous keel-hauling will not be satisfactory."
Bracegirdle shivered; Pellew seldom relished punishment, but he seemed to be bending quite a bit of imagination towards this one. "Do you suppose his crew knew?"
"Dear God, I hope not!" Pellew answered, "He used one of them as a ruse, the murdered man, Creps. Brought me another letter, claiming it had been found in his cabin."
"Good Lord! Really?"
"Yes, but upon reflection, it's just as possible that he planted the letters there, hoping their discovery would satisfy the Admiralty that the traitor had been found, and stop searching. And by God, he chose a dead man who had no recourse to negate such a heinous allegation!"
Bracegirdle began to understand. "My God."
"Yes, and then brought me the letter and begged me to keep the information from Hood, hoping to spare Kennedy the wrath of the court-martial's anger for killing the traitor! Christ, Anthony, he played me like a toymaker's marionette."
Bracegirdle shook his head sympathetically and checked his watch. "It's a pity this information can't be used to help Mr. Kennedy."
"No pity, indeed!" Pellew shot back. "When Hood learns of this you may be sure he will take interest in anything else Morgan may have done, including using Creps' death to cover his treachery. I shall demand an investigation into every part of Mr. Kennedy's court-martial, and by God I will get it! And I am certain a means will be found to clear him."
"Yes, I've no doubt," Bracegirdle said with some admiration as he put his watch back. "Well, we're making good time at any rate. We should get to Plymouth long before five o'clock - "
"And then we shall see about saving Mr. Kennedy's life," Pellew said, his flashing eyes moving down to the letter which was still grasped in one white-knuckled fist. "And ending Julius Morgan's, by whatever means the Crown deems fitting."
Christopher Stephens was sleeping off his drunkenness when he was awakened by a knock on his cabin door. Grumbling, he rolled over and mumbled, "What do you want?"
"Captain's order's, sir," An anonymous voice said on the other side of the door, "He wants to see you right away."
"Tell him I'm asleep!" Stephens responded irritably, rolling back over. "He doesn't get me one second before four o'clock."
The knock again. Stephens raised himself up on his elbows and said, "God dammit, go away!"
A pause, then, "I'm afraid he told me to bring you, sir. He told me if I came back without you to save him time and just - " Another pause. "He told me to bring you, sir."
Stephens sighed hugely. "Oh, all right, dammit! One minute."
Ten minutes later Stephens was dressed - well, mostly - and standing inside Morgan's cabin.
"You sent for me, sir?" He said, not bothering to hide the annoyance in his tone. His hangover was starting.
Morgan had been sitting behind his desk, and looked up with a slight smile. "Yes, Stephens. I've decided to avoid the carnival atmosphere this hanging has encouraged, that it would be safer for all parties concerned if we brought Kennedy aboard now, and hanged him further out to sea."
Stephens blinked slowly at this. "Are you certain, sir? After all, a public hanging would show everyone how powerful you are, and the seas are becoming a little rough for setting sail - "
"Yes!" Morgan said, a bit of a loud yell that made Stephens jump a little. Then, "Yes, lieutenant, I'm certain. Have Kennedy brought aboard, and let's get this over with."
Stephens thought this was very strange; however, he knew better than to argue with Morgan - that's how Lafferty had lost this coveted position. Scratching his head he sighed again. "Aye, sir, I'll do it, it will take me a while to rouse the marines, but I'll bring Kennedy aboard. Anything else?"
Morgan smiled again. "That will be quite enough, lieutenant. We will set sail as soon as you return. Thank you."
Stephens saluted and left, trying to figure out two things: what possible benefit could Morgan gain by hanging Kennedy out in the middle of nowhere where no one could watch?
And why on earth did Morgan spend the entire conversation turning a walking cane in his hands, staring at the top with what looked like - but of course couldn't be - very frightened eyes?
The lights were burning low at the Dove Inn, and Terry was fighting off the drowsiness that sought to claim him. He closed the last of his legal books, and leaned back against the pillows, aching in every bone in his body.
But now there was hope. Horatio had told him what he had overheard in the gaol, and he had manipulated it into a legal draft that Horatio was even now taking to Admiral Lord Hood. It wasn't much - Horatio's account of Kennedy's words, not taken under oath and revealed under covert circumstances - but there was enough there that reasonable doubts could be raised, and there was also Horatio's sterling character and obvious interest in justice to take into account. Hood would listen, and delay Kennedy's execution. He had to.
But my God, the things Horatio heard! Terry shook his head, wishing he could take the astonished sadness out of Horatio's eyes, the knowledge that what he thought was very bad was actually much, much worse. Terry had seen that look, briefly, in his sister's eyes when she found out she would always walk with a limp, and would never have children. She had gotten over it, but it was difficult, and there was a small, irreplaceable piece of her that was left behind when she recovered. Perhaps she would reclaim it, one day. Terry didn't know.
And Kennedy! Good Lord, to take the noose to save Horatio from Morgan's fury! Terry shook his head, unable to understand that kind of desperate sacrifice. No wonder he never talked about that night, and no wonder Morgan did everything he could to make sure the truth would never come out. Terry idly rubbed his still-sore neck and winced. Yes, he tried his damnedest...but he won't win. Terry would make sure of it.
Then Terry dropped his hand to his lap and sighed, a small sense of apprehension welling up within him. He would do his best, but he had to admit to himself that the draft would likely gain Kennedy only a reprieve, not a vindication. Without any witnesses, it was still his word against Morgan's, and there was no reason to think that Kennedy would be any more willing to put Horatio in danger even if his friends knew the truth. It might still end the same way, in a few weeks or a month, whenever a new court-martial could be convened. Even if it was impartial, with Morgan kept away and under watch, it still came down to Kennedy's word against the cold hard facts. And the facts were very cold and hard indeed.
Terry sighed again, and closed his eyes. He needed sleep, but at the moment he needed something else even more. His family had always been very spiritual, and as Terry looked at the night sky outside his window he thought, God, I need some help. We're so close, and I can't believe you think this should end with Archie Kennedy's death. But it still might. I need some help.
He closed his eyes, and dozed off.
It seemed not thirty seconds later, he reawakened to someone knocking on his door.
"Well, that was fast, God," Terry muttered with a sleepy smile, "How come I don't get that kind of response all the time?" A little louder he said, "Come in!"
He thought it was Horatio returning from the admiralty; in fact, it was Dr. St. John, and the doctor did not look well.
"Mr. Whitehall, my apologies," He said solemnly, coming in and sitting down. "I need to talk to you, right away."
"Oh?" Terry sat up a little, and rubbed his eyes. "What's the matter?"
"I saw Lafferty in the alleyway a little while ago. He told me he overheard Kennedy talking to someone about what happened to him."
"Oh - Mr. Hornblower was in here a while ago, telling me he had heard it too. Good lord, how did Lafferty hear it?"
"I don't know, but - what did Hornblower say?"
"Well, that's confidential, doctor, but I can tell you it affects Mr. Kennedy's conviction. I drafted a letter and Horatio took it to Lord Admiral Hood, asking for a postponement until an investigation can be made. Why do you ask?"
Dr. St. John took a deep breath and looked at the floor for a long time. Without looking up he said softly, "Mr. Whitehall, ten years ago I was a surgeon on a ship called the Byzantine. I was headstrong and cocky, and a drunk. One night I decided to perform surgery on a sailor who had broken his leg, and I was so intoxicated I amputated his leg. The wrong leg."
Terry's face revealed his shock. "Dr. St. John - "
"I was in the brig, certain I would be court-martialed for negligence," St. John said in a low, mournful voice, "The dead man was a relative of the captain's, and it was evident that I was a poor excuse for a man, let alone a surgeon. But while in the brig the captain, who was Morgan, visited me, told me he would keep my secret if I agreed to be surgeon on his ships alone, and never transfer anywhere else. I was terrified to die, and it seemed a small price to pay, an easy path. I agreed."
Terry's expression changed to a confused anger. "Why are you telling me this?"
"Because I am ashamed of it," St. John replied, "If I had been a man, I would have accepted my responsibility, taken my punishment even if it ended my life. But I did not want to die, and I thought living under a captain who knew my secret would be easier than facing death, or a horrible and lingering imprisonment. I was wrong. But until tonight I did not have the courage to change it."
"What changed your mind?"
St. John breathed in and out again, a long and wistful sigh. "I am not touched by many things, Mr. Whitehall. Once Captain Morgan bound me, I knew anything kind and gentle would wither in his path, and I was chained to his path forever. So I killed whatever hope and compassion remained in myself, and turned my eyes from truths that should have been told, because Morgan made it clear that if I ever defied him, I would certainly wish I was dead, but I would not be allowed to die. And I believed him."
"But your Mr. Hornblower did not have my fear, and when he came to see Kennedy that first time I was shocked that anyone could walk onto the Courageous shining his kind of light, and survive. Kennedy was beaten, condemned, and I thought certain that Hornblower would eventually abandon him, as I had abandoned my humanity. When he didn't, and kept fighting for him...it shamed me."
"And Kennedy...I'm a doctor, and I know what he's been through. Perhaps you don't, and that's just as well. He could have saved himself, and didn't, choosing instead to die and protect his friend's honor and innocence. That's remarkable, Mr. Whitehall. And it shames me as well."
Terry nodded and said nothing, saw a strange light in St. John's eyes and watched it.
The older man straightened up in his chair and spoke in a clear voice. "For ten years I've lived with my secret, knowing that if I ever defied Morgan he would reveal it and I would go to prison, or some other horrible place, for the rest of my life. For ten years nothing has been worth risking that. But the friendship those two share, the honor and integrity and faith that I have been witness to these past days - that is worth it, Mr. Whitehall. That should not fade from this earth, not if I must suffer to the end of my days to prevent it. I am ashamed that I have not helped you before now, and I hope someday you can forgive me for my selfishness."
Terry narrowed his eyes. "Helped me?"
Dr. St. John nodded solemnly. "Mr. Whitehall, I had shore leave the night Mr. Kennedy was attacked. And I saw it happen."
Terry's eyes widened. "You - "
Dr. St. John looked into Terry's eyes with unblinking, unflinching resolve. "I was a witness."
Horatio ran as quickly as he could to where Lord Admiral Hood was lodging, but until he reached the door of the fine inn did not realize that he was going to wake up the most powerful man in the British navy. He held Archie's life in his hands, knew every moment counted, and still when he came to the interior of the building he hesitated, for a long moment, because he did not want to make Hood angry and he had not thought of what he was going to say.
Then a tiny clock chimed in the inn somewhere, three o'clock. And Horatio knew he was running out of time.
The interior of the inn was dark, everyone had long gone off to bed. There was one candle burning, on the small desk where the guest ledger was kept, and Horatio had a desperate thought. Quickly he tiptoed to the ledger and opened it, scanning the names and numbers until he came to one he knew.
Not a minute later, he was knocking on Hood's door.
Oh God, let me not be wrong in this! Horatio was not a spiritual man, but the thought of what would happen if Hood did not listen to him, if he was sent away with loud words ringing in his ear and the unread draft in his hand, was so terrible Horatio could not think of it without his heart beating fast with dread, and he was desperate enough to seek whatever help he could. No one was coming, so Horatio knocked again and winced at how loud the knocking seemed. Oh lord, if I am wrong and Hood tells Pellew I awakened him at three in the morning...
Footsteps now, irritated grumbling. The door opened a crack, but it was not Hood, but a tired-looking manservant. "What'choo want?"
"I must speak to Lord Hood," Horatio gasped, "I have a letter for him, it's urgent!"
The manservant looked peeved. "Are you daft? It's three i' the mornin'!"
"And in two hours an innocent man will die, and it will be on His Lordship's head!" Horatio responded, sudden fear making him bold. "Please, I must - "
"Hold on," The manservant opened the door a little wider, a knowing smirk on his face, "This ain't about that trial, is it?"
Horatio blinked. "Yes, it's - "
"Wha' happened? Don't tell me someone else confessed to the killin'?"
Horatio was appalled at the manservant's voyeuristic curiosity, but after half a moment's thought leaned back a little and looked the man in the eye. "Wake your master, and you shall find out."
Archie was dreaming.
It was not a dream like before, when he had been afraid; that dream had been a nightmare, painful reds and hollow blacks cascading into an endless, swirling storm of hateful voices and clutching hands, and hell had been at the bottom of it. And Archie was falling towards it to be swallowed up, separated from all love and safety and alone forever -
Archie had cried himself awake, to discover that despite his deepest fears he was not alone, that the prostitute Rose was somehow with him. It was a comfort to him, for he had been very sure he would die abandoned and forgotten, indeed had not thought anyone would care what happened to him now that he had been condemned and cast off. But Rose had been kind, had soothed his trembling and eased his terrified heart, until he told her things, things he had vowed to take to the grave, but it seemed so natural and she seemed to wanted to help him so badly. And it did help, to tell someone. It did help, to know that someday, maybe when Horatio was older and more powerful, the truth would be known and he would not hold Archie's memory as one of cowardice and betrayal. It helped. Archie was no longer afraid to die.
So he slept. He was exhausted in his heart and in his soul and in every mortal part of him, so while Rose calmed him with a touch of her compassionate hand, Archie relaxed against her and slept. And dreamed.
It was only a little frightening, and only at first. Archie knew he was going to die, knew that soon his time on earth would be over, so there was grayness around him, the blue-black looming of something that would be painful despite gentle ministrations, that would hurt despite comforting words and all the reassurances in the world. Dying would hurt, and Archie feared that if nothing else.
But there was something...the fear was still there, as it had been before, but there was something else too, a place where Archie could tuck himself and know that the pain he had lived with all his life, and the pain that was to come, would not reach him. It felt something like Rose's arms around him, but more than that - it stretched further, wider, not confined to the gaol or to Plymouth or even to England. It was vast and endless, and in his sleep Archie knew it was safe and warm, and it would never leave him. He embraced it, and floated with it for a while.
But what was it? Archie tried to fathom it, but the images that came before him were confusing, made no sense. It was his mother - it was Horatio - it was Captain Pellew, Rose - anyone who ever cared for him or wished him free from harm was in it, but it was not something Archie recognized. All he knew was Simpson was not there, nor Morgan nor Creps nor anyone else who had ever hurt him. It was as if they never existed.
I don't want to die, he realized in his dream-state, and clutched at the feeling tightly. He saw the life he would not live pass before him, goals unrealized, hopes unfulfilled, and it angered him. He knew what others had gone through for him, Horatio's determination, Terry Whitehall's skills, Rose's compassion, and he wanted to repay that debt, to live and prove himself worthy of such gifts. His resolve strengthened with this realization, I don't want to die, and somehow he knew that if he did not die, things could change for him, the debt could be repaid. But he did not yet know how.
Then, with the kind of crystal clarity that dreams often hold, he knew. There are plain truths that cannot be seen in the daylight but only in the darkest night, with one beam of pure light shining on them like a beacon and there is no time for hesitation or second thoughts. In that bottomless night Archie saw his soul, and he knew what he wanted.
He wanted to be strong. He wanted to be whole. He wanted to stand firm and not be afraid, to face the demons who had held him down for so long and defeat them. He wanted them to never claim another living soul, never. And he wanted to live.
It was as if a whirlpool had opened to the bottom of the sea, laying bare to the skies treasures that had been hidden for centuries. Archie knew these things, did not know how he could bring them about in the short span left to him, but knew he did not want to die as Archie Kennedy, Simpson's whore and Morgan's victim, forgotten of the Justinian and disappointment of everyone else - he wanted to stand and not quaver, to rise and never mind the falling. That was what he wanted. And to live a hundred more years.
Archie felt himself being pulled upward, knew the vision was fleeing but grasped at it with all his might, because he did not want to lose it, did not want it to fade when he opened his eyes. Miraculously, it came with him, and did not depart; he remembered it, as he fled upwards towards the world, the one shining simple truth that he had been shown over and over, and never seen. Not until now, the morning of his death.
**I want to be strong** he thought desperately, still fearing a little the cruel light that would take him.
An answer came back, like a rush of wind that lifted him upward and pierced through the light, you have always been strong, for yourself; be strong for those who need you. They need you.
For a few moments he lay still, uncertain of where exactly he was. It was dark, and quiet. A single candle burned somewhere, and he was lying on his side on a bed of straw. Someone's arm was around him. Rose.
Memory came flooding back, and Archie curled up a little and sighed, idly grasping the hand that was near his as he did so. The hand moved, and in an instant Rose was next to him.
"Another bad dream, love?" she whispered.
"No," Archie answered, and he thought it wasn't, it really wasn't. He cleared his throat, answered a little stronger, "No, just - strange. What time is it?"
"A little past three, I think. The church bells chimed a few minutes ago."
"Oh." Archie lay in the straw a few moments, biting his lip. What had that dream meant? Maybe nothing. But...his eye fell on the small red book Horatio had lent him, and he reached for it, sitting up as he did so.
"It's not time," Rose said quietly, nodding at the dozing marine at the desk. "You got more time to rest, if you want."
"I know," Archie replied, just as quietly, wrapping both hands around the book. Looking over his shoulder in the dim light he said, "Would you do me a favor, Rose?"
Rose nodded. Of course, she would.
"This belongs to Horatio, the friend you heard me speak of," Archie said, holding the book out to her, "It's helped me, through all of this, and I'd like you to return it for me."
"Is it a Bible?" Rose asked, opening it.
"No," Archie said with a small smile, "But it might as well have been."
Rose looked at him with serious eyes that were full of sadness. After a moment, she leaned forward and put her hand over his. "He's still fighting for you, I know he is. He won't give up."
Archie blinked a little, then smiled again. "No, I don't suppose he has. He wouldn't - wouldn't be Horatio then. But there's little he can do, and I won't have him risking himself on my account." He looked down and swallowed hard. "Can you do something else for me?"
Archie pursed his lips, then said, "After - I fear it might be very hard on him. You'll seek him out, won't you, and try to help him? He...he doesn't open up much, and I'm afraid he'll drive himself to despair if he dwells on this and blames himself."
Rose's grip on Archie's hand tightened, and her eyes shone with tears.
"He needs to know," Archie continued, his voice growing thick with emotion, "that I have always held him as the noblest heart, the bravest soul, and the truest friend that ever drew breath, and I have counted the days of our friendship as the happiest of my life. Tell him I am only sorry we did not grow to be old men together, to sip brandy in front of a fire and recount our days of glory. But tell him I will be waiting for him, when he follows me."
Rose bit her lip, and looked down.
"Oh, and one...more thing," Archie said, the dream coming to his mind along with a angry sense that it should all end this way, "Rose, you know...I'm very grateful you came along to help me. I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't been there when the world was growing dark..."
"Shh," Rose said softly, and laid one hand on Archie's arm, "Horatio would have been here if he could. And you'd do the same for me."
"I wish I could," Archie replied sincerely, moving a little so he could take both of Rose's hands in his, "But in case I cannot, could you do something for me? There are others - like me, who need your touch and your generous heart. If you should happen upon one, someday after I'm gone, will you think of me and help that wounded child find a way home? You have no idea what it's meant to me, and I could die satisfied if I knew..."
There were tears on his face now, and Rose reached up and gently wiped them away, "How can I help but honor such a request, Mr. Kennedy? I can never turn away from a soul in pain. I live with one every day."
Archie embraced her then, relief and gratitude flooding through him as he held her tight, tighter, and felt once again the warmth and safety that had permeated his dream. It would hold him, however briefly, until morning came.
Christopher Stephens swaggered through the streets, and loved his life.
True, it was very early, and there was almost no one to see him leading a small troop of marines toward the gaol to take Archie Kennedy to the Courageous. But still, what a feeling to hear those boots marching behind, and know that they followed him! To walk right down the middle of the cobblestoned street, shoulders back, head up, cape billowing around him, and know that someday he would be more powerful than this, and people would look at him with the same fear they now reserved for Morgan. Stephens wanted that fearful respect more than anything else, and the taste he was getting at the moment only made him hungry for more.
It was still dark out, but there were a few people out in the streets, and they stared wide-eyed as Stephens led the marines to the gaol and waved the guards at the door aside.
"We've come to get the prisoner," he said importantly, and without knocking pushed on the door and made his way inside.
There were more marines inside the gaol, and Stephens drew himself up a little taller and gazed down at the marine sergeant, who was doing some paperwork at the desk. He only spared a glance at Kennedy, who was sitting with some ragged-looking woman and not minding him. That would soon change!
The sergeant looked up at Stephens and said, "Yes, lieutenant?"
"You're to come with me," Stephens replied sharply, sparing no courtesy for this man, "Morgan wants Kennedy brought to the ship now."
"Now? But the execution isn't until - "
"If you would like to go argue with him, be my guest!" Stephens snapped with an angry frown, "You may voice your objections when we are back aboard the ship. But I have my orders."
The sergeant shook his head and stood, the keys in his hand. The gaol was dark, but there was enough light to see Kennedy look up as the sergeant approached, and to see him turn his head to survey the scene before him. He's noticing me now, Stephens thought to himself. That's better.
The door was opened, and the sergeant began to enter the cell, but Stephens brushed him aside and strode in himself, cape swinging as he glared down at Kennedy. "Get up."
Behind him, the sergeant had moved the single lit candle so Stephens would have a better view of his prisoner, and Stephens waited eagerly for that look of terror in Kennedy's eyes, that beaten expression that Morgan had always inspired in other men. Kennedy wasn't looking at him, though, was instead exchanging glances with the hag in the cell with him. He moved to stand, but far too slowly; with a grunt of impatience Stephens grabbed Kennedy's collar and hauled him to his feet. "I said get UP!"
Kennedy let out a surprised gasp, but when he had righted himself and his eyes met Stephens, there was no fear there. No fear, only a kind of deliberate calm that looked at Stephens but did not see him, or the master he served.
Stephens was furious, and saw no reason not to take it out on Kennedy. "When I give you an order, boy, you'd better jump to obey it."
Kennedy said nothing, only gazed at Stephens evenly, and it was then that Stephens looked down and noticed that Kennedy was holding the woman's hand. Scowling, he put out one boot and roughly pushed her away.
"Lieutenant!" The marine sergeant warned.
But Kennedy was quicker; before Stephens knew it the prisoner had one hand on his chest, his fingers spread out in a halting motion, and was holding him at arm's length away from both himself and the woman. Stephens glared at him, shocked, but Kennedy's face was still one of utter and complete calm.
"Leave the lady alone," Kennedy said quietly, his blue eyes burning into Stephens', "You have no claim to her."
Stephens was momentarily flabbergasted, but he would be damned if he let this weakling know it! Shoving his hand away he growled, "Oh, don't I! Don't you know what kind of woman she is? After I'm through with you I can come back and 'lay claim' to her as many times as I want, and are you going to stop me?"
Kennedy took a deep breath, his cheeks coloring, then said, "You may lay claim to her body, just as you may lay claim to mine, but there's something else you want, and you'll never get *that*. Never."
Stephens' eyes widened at Kennedy's insolence, and without thinking he brought his hand up to strike him down. Instantly he felt a hand grab his wrist, knew without looking it was the marine sergeant, and heard that man's voice say, "Lieutenant, that's enough! Control yourself before you shame all of us."
For a brief moment Stephens stood there, his hand back, staring into Kennedy's eyes wildly. He wanted to feel Kennedy's face shatter beneath his fist, to watch him crumble and beg for mercy, and could not understand why he was being denied. But... Stephens relaxed, felt the hand holding his wrist let go, and as he brought his arm down smirked at Kennedy and said, "Do you know what's going to happen to you? We've already talked about it on the ship. We are going to haul you up so slowly, it will take you a week to die."
Dammit! He was sure that would do it. Stephens himself didn't want to die like Kennedy was going to, and was glad his new powerful position ensured that he would never have to worry about it. But damn it, it was going to happen to Kennedy! It was set, sure and certain, yet even this threat did not make Kennedy flinch. He merely blinked at Stephens, and gave him a look that almost looked like - pity?
Behind Stephens, the sergeant sighed hugely and said, "Lieutenant, let's not keep the captain waiting. Come on, son."
And Stephens felt a hand grab his shoulder and pull him backwards, out of the cell. Infuriated, he turned on the sergeant and spat, "How dare you handle me in that fashion! Do you have any idea who I am?"
"A squalling brat?" the marine rejoined dryly, "Listen, lieutenant, when we're on the ship I can't govern your behavior, but since we're not on the ship yet, let me give you some advice: Learn some common humanity, or else IF you ever get your own ship you'll have as much to fear from your own men as you do from any Frenchman! Thompson, please get the prisoner ready to go."
Stephens watched in outrage as another marine, a much younger one, stepped smartly into the cell and handed Kennedy his jacket and manacled his hands. And Kennedy still didn't look afraid! He was smiling at that - that prostitute, taking her hand again, how was it they were allowing this? Kennedy should be beaten, shoved, shown who was the master of his fate, and that they could take whatever they damn well chose from him! Blocked by the sergeant, Stephens could only stand and fume, but made himself a silent promise that Morgan would hear all about this when they got back to the ship. Then the sergeant would be well and truly sorry.
"Ready, men?" the sergeant said as the other marines gathered around Kennedy. Everyone seemed to be, so the sergeant turned to Stephens and said, "The prisoner is yours, lieutenant. Tell Morgan I'll be on board as soon as I fetch the gaoler. And watch yourself."
Stephens just snorted in reply, but not loud enough for anyone to hear it but himself. He tried to ignore the parting look between Kennedy and the prostitute and took the exalted position at the head of the small group, and as he did so he relished one all-consuming thought: before the morning was over he would make certain he got his fondest wish: he would see fear in someone's eyes. And he didn't much care whose.
Horatio paced, paced, paced back and forth in front of Hood's closed chamber door. He sat, he stood, he even tried leaning against the wall for a period of time, but nothing worked; he was once again back to pacing.
It had seemed like an eternity since Hood had taken his letter to his chamber to read it, an eternity since the old man, clad in his dressing gown and wearing a look of extreme irritation, had ordered him to "wait here". Some minutes after that, one of Hood's personal attendants had hurried through the door to some unknown destination, but after that, there had been no movement or sound from within the shuttered room. Dammit, Horatio thought impatiently, did Hood not know a man's life was at stake? Every minute's passage was another chance to save Archie gone, and Horatio was on pins and needles at his inability to catch those minutes and hold them, for Archie's sake.
The tiny clock in the hallway chimed, four o'clock. Good heavens, only an hour to go! They would be coming for Archie in another half-hour. And still Hood had not emerged. Horatio continued to pace.
After a few more minutes he heard the Inn door open downstairs, heard voices, then someone coming up the staircase, slowly. He stopped, wondered who it was, then ran forward with a cry when he saw it was Terry, being helped by of all people Dr. St. John.
"Terry, good God!" Horatio exclaimed, alarmed at how pale his friend looked as he struggled up the stairs, "What on earth are you doing?"
"Horatio!" Terry looked up, and Horatio saw the iron-clad determination in the younger man's eyes as he held a letter in one bruised hand, "Give this to Hood, now!"
"What is it?" Horatio looked from Terry to the doctor, confused. Why did St. John look so relieved and frightened, all at once?
"It's Kennedy's freedom," Terry gasped, his face bright with happiness despite his obvious pain, and he took Horatio's jacket lapel in his hand as he spoke. "I must speak with Lord Hood, there was a witness to Kennedy's attack. He'll be cleared, Horatio, completely, I swear it! Cleared!"
Horatio blinked in amazement, a million questions on his lips. But now was not the time; as St. John helped Terry to a nearby chair Horatio ran for the door and knocked on it, loudly, never minding that he could be disciplined for doing so.
After a moment Hood himself opened the door, still in his dressing gown and wearing an astounded, disgusted expression. "Lieutenant, were you not informed that I would tell you when I am ready for you? Good lord - is that Mr. Whitehall?"
"It is, my lord," Horatio stammered, looking back over his shoulder at where Terry sat.
Terry's brow was glistening from his exertion, but at Hood's appearance he stood shakily and said, "My lord, you must read the missive I've delivered to Lieutenant Hornblower's hands. A witness has come forward to substantiate everything put forth in the other letter, and then some."
"Can this be possible?" Hood exclaimed, taking the letter from Horatio's hand. "Mr. Whitehall, I must say that what you are suggesting in this earlier letter is remarkable! At first I thought it some demented fantasy, a captain in His Majesty's navy taking part in such brutalities - but now you have a witness?"
"Yes, my lord, with your indulgence," Terry glanced at St. John, who looked white as a ghost but seemed to be taking some of Terry's vitality into him; his face held a purpose to it that Horatio had never seen before, "Dr. St. John and I need to speak with you, right away, and secure a stay of execution for Mr. Kennedy before five o'clock."
"Oh! Indeed," Hood seemed to only at that moment realize that they were under any kind of deadline. "Come in, at once, and tell me everything. Lieutenant, see that we are not disturbed."
Terry hurried past Horatio, now seemingly oblivious to his injuries, and Horatio's mute surprise. Only when St. John was inside with Hood did Terry lean back a little, and give Horatio a broad smile.
"Kennedy will be fine, Horatio, I promise!" Terry whispered, putting one hand on Horatio's arm and giving it a reassuring squeeze, "I'll explain it to you later."
Then he was gone, and the door was shut. Horatio tried to contain his bafflement, and felt only a kind of perplexed joy at Terry's words. It was wonderful to hear that a witness had been found, and Archie would be freed, but - Horatio glanced at the hall clock, which now read 4:05, and only wished that they did not have to cut it so confounded close. But all would be well, as long as they reached Archie before he left the gaol.
With great and pulling strides the jollyboat hauled itself toward the waiting Courageous, its tiny form bobbing and dipping in the climbing waves. Stephens watched the choppy waters with a shake of his head; the weather was worsening, the thickness of the air and occasional flashes of lightning in the distance told of an approaching storm. It would not be ideal sailing weather; in fact, it would be downright dangerous. But it was Morgan's decision, and all Stephens wanted was to see Kennedy hang.
The jollyboat drew closer, and Stephens looked back to where Kennedy was sitting, his hands still manacled, in the back of the boat. It was still very dark out, a sputtering lantern gave the only light; but Stephens could see Kennedy looking at the ship, his head tilted back, his eyes wide open. What expression Kennedy wore, though, Stephens couldn't tell.
"Shore boat ahoy!" Came a voice from the deck.
Stephens turned. "Returning with the prisoner! Inform the captain!" he shouted back.
The boat thudded alongside the great ship, the rough waves making it slam into the hull with the uncertain gait of a drunken man. Kennedy was hustled to the front of the boat, and a marine unchained him so he could climb. Stephens secretly hoped he would jump or slip; it might be more fun to watch him drown...
But Kennedy made it up the ladder, and soon Stephens joined him and the other marines on the Courageous' windswept deck. Everywhere lights flickered and ropes swayed as the ship rocked on the stormy waters; Stephens looked up and saw that the pulley was still there, where he had rigged it some hours before. Swinging from it, tied at the bottom of the mast to hold it till ready, was a neatly tied noose.
Kennedy was looking around too, and Stephens noted with some smugness that his composure had slipped, a little. A short distance away, one of the mates had a dark-haired cabin boy by the collar and was yelling at him for something, and Stephens knew Kennedy was watching as the mate shook the boy angrily, then dragged him off. When Kennedy's eyes came back to face front, he still looked unnaturally calm, but he was a little pale too, and it wasn't due to the chill in the sea air. Good, Stephens thought; he's remembering where he is at last.
As the marines gathered around Kennedy, a few of the crew appeared on deck, but kept their distance; they began to shout things at Kennedy, but the wind was coming up strong and Stephens couldn't make them out; he hoped Kennedy could, though; they would be shouting the same things as they hanged him.
There was movement at door to the captain's cabin, and Captain Morgan appeared, wearing his great dark cape and hat, his every movement one of supreme power and authority. Standing as straight as he could Stephens smiled his widest and piped, "Sir, the prisoner has been brought aboard."
Morgan approached, and Stephens saw him give Kennedy a soul-piercing glare as he stood not ten inches from the condemned man. Kennedy met his eyes with what Stephens thought was unforgivable nerve: head up, chin high, his own eyes staring right back at Morgan's in what could only be called defiance. Morgan must have seen this as well, for he scowled deeply at Kennedy, who didn't flinch. Then he said to Stephens, very quietly, "Stow him somewhere until I'm ready for him."
Stephens blinked, followed Morgan as he turned back toward his cabin. "Sir, aren't we going to hang him?"
Morgan paused at the doorway, made sure no one else could hear them, then said, "Get us underway, Mr. Stephens. Mr. Kennedy needs to be taught respect. When we're certain he's learned, then we'll hang him."
Stephens grinned. "Just what I was thinking,sir. And with us so far from shore, who's to know?"
"Lieutenant, I'm shocked at your suggestion. Just put him somewhere safe until I'm ready for him," Morgan replied, and was gone.
The tiny clock in the hallway chimed 4:15. Horatio had stood twisting his hat in his hands for a quarter-hour, and knew if Terry did not come out of Hood's chamber with news in the next thirty seconds he would have to break the door down, or possibly burst with anxiety. Or perhaps both.
Just as Horatio put his hand on the door he heard more footsteps coming - no, running! - up the stairs behind him, and turned just in time to see Captain Pellew and Lieutenant Bracegirdle, their clothes spattered with mud and both looking utterly exhausted.
"Captain, sir!" Horatio stuttered, throwing him a hasty salute.
"Mr. Hornblower," Pellew responded, and without blinking or asking an explanation stepped past Horatio and pounded on Hood's door. Pounded, as if he had not a fear in the world of Hood's wrath! Horatio stared at him, stupefied.
"Blast it!" Pellew cried in frustration, and banged again. "My lord?"
"Captain Pellew!" Hood exclaimed as he opened the door, and this time Horatio noticed that he was fully dressed. "Why, you're just in time, man. I have been the recipient of the most startling and appalling news - "
"My lord, I'm sure you have," Pellew replied quickly, and Horatio could see him taking in the sight of Terry and Dr. St. John, who were standing behind Hood, and trying to deduce what had happened. "And I have further news to add to it."
"Have you!" Hood opened up the door a little wider, and pointed at St. John. "Does it relate to Captain Morgan aiding and abetting a cowardly attack on your Mr. Kennedy, during which it seems he was forced to fight for his very life, and this man was a witness to it? For that is the news I have, sir!"
Horatio started at the impact of Hood's words, and tried to see St. John, but that man had hidden himself in the shadows. Pellew was absolutely thrown; his expression changed, very slowly, from amazement to such fury, indignation, and barely-contained rage that Horatio was certain that if Morgan were there, Pellew would have shot him in a heartbeat.
Then, his voice thick with emotion, Pellew held out a fistful of paper toward the startled Hood, "Is there no depth to this creature's corruption! My lord, with my news and yours I am certain we must hasten to the docks without delay, and stop the Courageous from sailing - "
"I have already seen to that," Hood said imperiously, his tiny eyes darting to the staircase, "One of my men has already gone to where Kennedy is incarcerated, to halt his execution until a thorough investigation can be made."
Pellew nodded, his face an open map of urgency, "Excellent, my lord, but we must detain Captain Morgan as well, for the good of England. I cannot stop to explain how I found this, but - "
Hood took the papers, and his eyes grew wide. "Why, Captain Pellew, these are letters to the Belle Celeste! You don't mean to say - "
"Yes, my lord," Pellew replied, and as he spoke his eyes glowed, and his voice was lit with a furious fire, "I have found the coward, the villain, the killer of countrymen you have been seeking. I have found your traitor, and he is Captain Julius Morgan!"
Horatio felt as if a lightning bolt had shot through him. He stared open-mouthed, first at Pellew, then at Hood, whose face had gone white as he stammered, "Are you absolutely sure?"
Pellew nodded, "We must detain him, my lord, without delay - "
"Yes, yes, by all means I - "
There came a loud sound then, someone running up the stairs two at a time, and Horatio turned to see Hood's attendant appear, worn and out of breath. The attendant staggered forward two paces and gasped, "My lord!"
"Yes, what?" Hood barked, "Did you see Mr. Kennedy?"
Horatio's eyes flicked to the clock, 4:20. There was still time -
But to his horror the man shook his head and panted, "No, my lord, he was taken to the Courageous an hour ago. I went as fast as I could to the dock but - " At this point the man lost his wind, and leaned forward with his hands on his knees.
"But what, man!" Hood thundered, taking a step out of his room. Horatio felt a hot fear stab through his stomach. Oh, no -
"The Courageous is gone, my lord," the attendant finally breathed, "I was told she made sail half an hour ago - "
"Damn!," Pellew growled, then said quickly to Hood, "My lord, with your permission - "
Hood was scowling at the letters in his hand, and nodded severely, "Of course, Captain Pellew, you may apprehend him with all speed."
"Come, Mr. Bracegirdle, Mr. Hornblower," Pellew commanded as he turned swiftly toward the stairs, "We must make sail immediately!"
Horatio followed without looking back, his mind numb and blank except for the words that refused to stop echoing through his head:
**the Courageous is gone, the Courageous is gone, the Courageous is gone - **
And Archie is on it.
With forceful and coercive strides the Courageous plowed through the choppy waters of Plymouth harbor toward the open sea. On deck, several officers and many of the ratings were wandering around in the dim early morning light, waiting for Kennedy's execution, asking one another every few minutes when it was going to start. Near the forecastle, two ratings were working furiously with some broken ratlines, and one of them turned his face away from the salt spray to look at the milling crowd and shake his head.
"Whu'd ye think this is all about, eh?" He asked his companion, who was knotting the lines. "First we're gonna have an execution in the 'arbor; now we're going t'sea, an' in this weather yet! Captain finally gone mad?"
The second rating shrugged. "'e looked it this mornin', didnt 'e? With all the fuss over the 'anging, ye'd think 'e'd be in a better mood!"
"Mebbe 'e found a girl whut ain't willin'."
"As if that'd stop 'im!"
"Well, I 'ope we turn back for shore once this is done wit'. Y'know we ain't even got everybody on board on account o' nobody knew we was leavin' so quick."
"Some of the ratin's, a few of the officers I think. An' the surgeon too."
"Ow, dammit! Oh, don' worry 'bout losin' 'im. He was bloody useless anyhow."
The first rating looked about him again, counted the bells as they were sounded off. One, two, three.
"Hm, five-thirty. No wonder they're restless." he said with a grin at his companion. Then he went back to his work.
"'ere, whut wazzat?" The first rating said, at the same time some one of the lookouts called out, "Ship to larboard!"
The second rating squinted into the rising dawn and said, "Looks like a ship comin' up."
The spray and mist made it difficult to see, but the first rating made a valiant attempt anyway, and peered at the small, ghostly ship that was steadily making its way toward them with only the vaguest of curiosity. "Huh. Wonder what they want."
Archie settled himself where he had been thrown and waited to die.
They had not been gentle, the men who had dragged him here, but Archie had expected that. I know just where to take him, one of them had said in a knowing way, and Archie shuddered at what would happen to him now. They had not rebound his hands - probably out of carelessness, but what difference did it make? There was guard posted close by, and there was nowhere for him to go. But it was where he was - where they had put him - that made him shut his eyes and turn away from the darkness, because it was the one place on that ship he did not want to be.
They had put him in one of the empty holds.
Of course, it made sense, just as it had made sense all those years ago, on Justinian. It was out of the way, private, and there would be no one to hear -
No. Archie stopped that thought before it could form itself into ghastly memories, took deep breaths and fought to remember things that would help, things that would make his last minutes on earth pleasant rather than terrifying. He remembered the strong, reassuring feel of Rose's hand in his, her promise that she would look after Horatio, and he felt a little better. Yes, she would not forget him. She would take care of the things he could not. That was good to know.
And Horatio...Archie thought of their last conversation, Horatio had been so confidant then! Was Rose right, that he would understand and forgive Archie for not being the hero Horatio had always been? Perhaps...but he was all right anyway, he had been spared and he would be a captain someday, more than that - a commodore perhaps, or an admiral. Archie pictured Horatio, his hair white and his face lined with age, in a grand uniform, his destiny fulfilled and his head crowned with stars. The image made Archie smile, a little.
The darkness was close, getting closer. Archie huddled against the corner, listening to the creaks and groans the ship made as it plowed through the water. Unbidden, pieces of the information he had read in that book Horatio had given him threaded through Archie's mind and he grasped at them in a desperate attempt to occupy his mind.
Creak! Archie made a mental map of the ship's interior, its hull and compartments, tried to determine where the noises were coming from. That was from the front, near the forecastle...
Creak! Hm, far behind him, probably back near the quarter deck...
The black air was full of groans and squeaks, and Archie lost himself in them, tried to imagine himself on the Indy, perhaps sleeping in his cabin...perhaps in a moment he would hear Horatio come into the cabin, and hear that scolding chuckle when he saw he was still sleeping...perhaps this was all a dream...
...no. No use in that. It was real, and very shortly Archie knew his time on earth would be over.
Archie stirred a little at that sound and he thought, cannon fire? A salute perhaps, or a signal from another ship that the execution would begin. They had been moving, he could feel that, and he reasoned that they were probably no longer near shore. Both pointless facts that meant nothing to him.
He sighed and shifted against the wall, listening to the noises around him and feeling a curious peace come over him. It was all right to die, now; Archie knew he had done all on earth that he could, knew that his onetime dream would not come true and that no one had found him in the darkness, not this time. He had tried, he had failed, he had succeeded sometimes. And now there was nothing left to this life but to leave it, and hope that there was something after - his mother perhaps, or some other sympathetic soul, and a God who would understand why Archie had alternately prayed to Him desperately, and hated Him with all the energy he possessed...
I did try, he thought tiredly as the final weary, hopeless, surrendering tears stung his closed eyelids and he could feel the oppressive darkness claw its way around his soul to consume it. I did try. I don't know what else I can do...
**you have always been strong, for yourself; be strong for those who need you.**
Archie ducked his head onto his knees with a sigh. It was too late. There was nothing now but to let the ship take him, take his life as Simpson had so nearly taken it, take his hope which had run with his blood into the Justinian's splintered and rotting wood, take his voice which once echoed among the creaks and groans of a ship that now lay at the bottom of the sea, but he could still hear it, *still* hear it, now, as if it had never stopped. As if it had never...
Archie opened his eyes and lifted his head.
Among the creaks and groans of the ship around him, it was not his imagination or a horrible memory. He could hear it.
Someone was crying. On the Courageous. Very close. Right now.
Archie shivered, listened again. It was a very soft noise, one that he knew well - the muffled, gulping sound of someone trying not to be heard in their anguish. He frowned, unsure what he was hearing, and unable to see anything in thick gloom. Finally, figuring he had nothing to lose, Archie cleared his throat a little and whispered, "Is someone there?"
A surprised noise, then the crying became even more suppressed, but still audible. Archie felt a lurch in his gut; of course, he thought dully, it would happen here. Of any ship in the navy, what happened on Justinian would happen here. Oh, God.
He moved out of the corner into the blackness, tried to find whoever was suffering by listening, and edged a little closer to the sound. "Who's there? I promise I won't hurt you."
A shuffling noise, like someone moving away in fright. Archie stopped. Whoever it was would run away in a moment.
God! "Please don't hide. Don't." Archie struggled for words. The crying had sounded frightened, hopeless, like an echo of his own memories. But what could he do?
Something. Anything. "Are you hurt? Answer me, please. I'll come help you if you are."
Silence. Then, a quiet, tentative voice, "I'm all right. I - I just don't like the dark."
Archie frowned. "What's your name?"
Another pause, then, "Thomas."
"What are you doing here, Thomas?"
A longer pause. "I like it here. No one sees me."
"What are you hiding from?"
No answer. Archie suddenly felt very cold.
There was a metallic sound then, and the noise of someone shifting in that suffocating space. Archie saw a spark, and a moment later he saw the lantern that had been hanging by a hook in the hold burning, and a young boy of perhaps eleven standing next to it, holding a sulfurous match. A young boy, dark hair and eyes, very serious-looking, his innocent face haloed in the light...
... then he turned his head, and Archie saw the bruises there.
"I found a light." Thomas said matter-of-factly.
Archie's breath came very quickly. "Thomas, who beat you?"
Thomas' eyes darted away, and he said quickly, "No one. I fell out of the ratlines. I'm very clumsy."
It wasn't true, Archie knew it. Almost without thinking he said, "I was too, when I first came on board ship. It made the officers very angry. They would hit me."
Thomas looked at Archie with wide, startled eyes, as if to say, you too? Then he turned around and sat down resignedly, and Archie noticed a long cut going down the left side of his face.
"Did you cut yourself when you fell?" he asked.
Thomas seemed to be fighting back tears, and shook his head as he sighed in youthful despair. "The captain wears his rings, and they cut when he hits me."
Oh, God. Archie felt his insides tighten.
"I was insub - insubordinate," Thomas continued, his voice quiet and methodical, "The bosun was beating one of the loblolly boys, and I wanted him to stop, it was Jenkins you see and he can't help he's slow, he just can't think right sometimes. The bosun wouldn't stop hurting him so I - I bit his hand, and he reported me to the captain. He was very angry about it, said I had to learn obedience, that he'd teach me." Thomas' voice trailed off, and he stared into the shadows for some kind of salvation. Archie knew he wouldn't find it there.
**you have always been strong, for yourself; be strong for those who need you.**
For the swiftest moment Archie was paralyzed in panic and dread, horrified because the childhood in those large and guileless eyes would soon be stripped away, torn as it had been torn from him, and there would be no one to stop it -
- then, like a heartbeat, three words.
No. Not again.
Archie looked at the young boy, thought very quickly and said, "Thomas, do you know who I am?"
The boy looked Archie up and down for a moment, then said, "You're the prisoner they brought in a few days ago. I saw you in the brig, once. You killed Lieutenant Creps."
Archie nodded. "Yes, I - I did."
Archie thought the boy might be afraid of him; instead, Thomas merely looked down and said, "Don't tell anyone, but I'm glad you killed him. He was mean to all of us."
Archie shivered at those words, at the way they were said, flatly, as if it made no difference. "Did he ever hurt you?"
Thomas paused for a moment, then nodded, and bit his lip.
Oh, no, Archie thought, and felt a rush of despair that it should be happening all over again. He had to do something, even if he was going to die. He could see it in Thomas' eyes, his soul had not been ravaged yet, not yet, but it would be someday unless Archie did something. But he had no time -
Suddenly heavy footsteps approached, and without warning the door to the hold opened with a crash.
It was Morgan.
Without thinking, Archie stood up and put himself between Morgan and the boy, who instinctively jumped behind him. He knew enough to be afraid.
Morgan smiled in repulsive amusement and said, "What do you think you're doing?"
Archie planted his feet more firmly, and shook his head. "I know what you want. I won't let you take it."
Morgan frowned, and as he did so Archie heard another cannon fire, closer this time. "Back to your corner, boy."
Archie felt a tremendous surge of -he wasn't sure what, perhaps it was courage. He looked straight into Morgan's eyes and said, "No."
For the merest instant their eyes locked, and Archie was astounded that he could look into those eyes and not be afraid. Morgan's eyes were like Simpson's, bottomless and cold, but Archie wasn't afraid to look at them, he felt - strong and sure and alive, and as Thomas' small hand grasped his for protection Archie suddenly felt a tremendous power, like a hundred cannons firing at once, or the strongest gale he could ever imagine, and knew without question that he would die to protect this child and not mind it.
Morgan stepped into the room, filling the doorway with his size and menace, and Archie took an involuntary step backward, his heart pounding at what he saw on Morgan's face. Another scene flashed in his mind, full of ghosts and shadows, another dark hold awash in terrible pain and horrible noise, but Archie stood firm. If this is the last act of my life, it will be worth it, he thought desperately as Morgan loomed closer and raised one hand to strike him. Only let the boy escape. Please let there be a way for him to escape -
The hand curled into a fist. Archie closed his eyes.
The sound of a pistol cocking, very close and very loud. Archie opened his eyes.
Morgan was standing absolutely still, his hand still raised and his eyes looking sideways at the large pistol held firmly against his left temple. Holding that pistol, and trembling with a rage that seemed to scream from his body like a separate soul, was former first lieutenant Philip Lafferty.
The Indefatigable pitched and bounded through the churning water, and Horatio had to keep one hand on the rigging so he wouldn't fall overboard as he stood next to Pellew on the quarterdeck. Blast it, he couldn't see anything!
A glance to his side told him Pellew was just as tense; the normally calm and placid captain was as florid as a man burning with fever, and as he glared at the mist-enshrouded ship in front of them Horatio was certain he had never seen such fury in his captain's eyes.
"Bring us closer, dammit!" he barked, "Prepare to fire again if she does not heave to."
The crew scattered to obey his commands, Horatio cast a worried eye at the churning sea about them. Lightning was flashing overhead, and the early morning sky had no light in it; they were endangering their very lives by venturing to sea, and he hoped this would not be a futile action. The thought that Archie might already be dead sickened him, but he could not see through the light rain and thickening mist to know for certain. And he had to know.
"Is she hauling down her colors?" Pellew demanded of the lookout who was perched - very bravely, in Horatio's opinion - in the fighting top.
"No, sir!" Came the hollered reply.
"Damn him!" Pellew growled, and looked at Horatio with enraged eyes. "Hornblower, when we're close enough, board her with as many marines as you need. Find Morgan and bring him here, is that understood?"
Horatio nodded, swallowing his host of anxieties as he wiped the rain from his face. "If he will not come peaceably, sir?"
"Then drag him, Mr. Hornblower," Pellew replied through clenched teeth, "By his hair, if necessary. By - "
Pellew stopped suddenly, and stared at the Courageous, and Horatio followed his anxious gaze. The wind had shifted, had cleared the mist from the air a little, and frantically Horatio sought the masts, the yards, and what he was terrified of seeing there -
- his glass! Horatio brought it out quickly, without even breathing, and held it to his eye, his heart pounding.
The Courageous was heaving through the waves, and it was hard to see, but there - there -
- a rain-soaked yard, with an empty noose swinging from it. Empty.
"We're not too late, sir," Horatio said, unable to keep the joy out of his voice, "Mr. Kennedy's sentence has not been carried out."
"Very good, Mr. Hornblower," Pellew said evenly, but Horatio saw his eyes and knew that indifferent tone was an absolute falsehood, "After you've bound Captain Morgan over, kindly locate Mr. Kennedy and bring him home, if you please."
"With much pleasure, sir," Horatio replied, and left the deck.
For a few moments the hold was absolutely still, the heaving and rocking of the ship the only movement. Archie stared at the enraged young man who was holding a loaded pistol to Captain Morgan's head, and held the boy Thomas slightly behind him, shielding him, and watched.
"Lafferty, have you lost your senses?" Morgan rumbled, being very careful not to move, "I could have you skinned alive for mutiny!"
"Be quiet," Lafferty hissed, taking Morgan's collar in his left hand and pressing the barrel of the pistol into his temple, "And don't move or I swear to God I'll blow your filthy head off."
"By God!" Morgan thundered, shaking from either fear or anger, and opened his mouth to say something else when a cannon roared, very close now, and his eyes flicked upward curiously.
"That's the Indefatigable," Lafferty said in an even, but barely-controlled voice, "She's signaling us to stop, and do you know why, *captain*? There's a traitor on board, and we're to surrender him immediately. Now you can come quietly, or I can take your goddamned head to Pellew in pieces, gladly."
Thomas made a small, whimpering sound behind Archie, and as he put his arm around the boy's shoulders more tightly Archie saw Lafferty blink and look at them, as if he had just noticed they were there. His eyes locked with Archie's for the swiftest moment before he whispered, "Get him out of here."
Archie needed no second prompting. As Lafferty held Morgan fast, Archie took Thomas' hand and guided him out of that awful place, and away from the scene that was unfolding.
"First mutiny, then you help a condemned criminal escape," Morgan said in a low voice, but there was a bit of an edge to it now, "Damn it Lafferty, is this all because of what Pellew's saying? He's jealous, Lafferty, jealous of my power and ashamed that one of his men is a murderer. Now put that pistol down and we can come to an agreement - "
"No!" Lafferty cried loudly, jamming the pistol against Morgan's temple even harder, his face turning red with unshed wrath, "Never again! You miserable son of a bitch, you perverted whorehouse of slime and desecration! I know what you almost did to Kennedy, and you framed Creps for treason. But you will never touch another soul, never!"
For a second Morgan didn't move. Then he almost laughed, "Lafferty, you fool, do you think that would ever stick? You're like Hornblower, neither of you knows how the world works. Take me ashore, put me in front of a court-martial, who would convict me? I hold all of England in my pockets."
"Not any more," Lafferty said, his voice full of a tragic joy, "The crown may turn a blind eye to your profanities, but treason? By now I'm certain every drunk and former shipmate is waiting for you to come ashore so he can kill you. And every unfortunate you ever ruined or cajoled is telling truths that till now have been hidden."
Morgan's expression changed, very slowly.
"You are trapped, Captain Morgan," Lafferty said with a terrible grin, "And please God you will stand trial for your crimes, and repent of them."
Morgan took a deep breath, then said, "Lafferty, you were once the brightest star on my ship. If what you say is true, and the tide has turned against me, don't be persuaded that these jackals can bring me down. Remove the pistol, and I'll forget you ever challenged me. Help me find a way across the channel to France, and I'll make you the richest man in the world. You have my word."
Lafferty took a heaving breath, and tightened his grip on Morgan's collar, leaning forward to hiss in his ear, "I spit on your word, *captain*. I already know that sailing with you has made me the poorest man any continent has ever known. So what would I care for your riches?"
The ship heaved again, and Lafferty pushed Morgan against the bulkhead, and held him there. Then the sound of running feet reached both their ears, and before either man could react a gunbutt flashed through the air, a dull thud was heard, and Lafferty fell to the deck, senseless.
Rubbing his neck, Morgan turned around and looked first at Lafferty, to make sure he was truly unconscious. Then he looked up, and saw Lieutenant Christopher Stephens standing there with a triumphant smile, casually turning a pistol around in his hand.
"Stephens, thank God," Morgan said, shaking his head. Behind his first lieutenant, he could see several marines running up. "Take Lafferty to the brig, and find Kennedy. And get us away from that damn Indefatigable! At least you remember who's running this ship."
"Quite right, sir," Stephens returned jovially, and shot him.
Horatio winced as the lightning and thunder broke overhead, hunching over in the increasing rain as if that would shield him from its fury. The storm was worsening; huge waves were breaking against the ship, and great bolts of lightning ripped through the mottled sky, followed by deafening gales of thunder. And they were right in the middle of it.
Bracegirdle hurried to where Pellew was standing on the quarterdeck and had to shout to be heard above the wind. "We can't get any closer, sir!" he said, motioning to where the Courageous lay in the churning waters, still some distance away. "The wrong wave could send us crashing into each other and we would all be lost. We're rigging up the boats!"
Pellew nodded,as his eye fell to where the hands were lashing empty barrels to the jollyboats for buoyancy. Then he looked back to where Courageous faded in and out of the mist. "Blast it, why will she not haul down her colors?"
Bracegirdle shook his head, "The ship's in chaos, sir, I don't think anyone's commanding it. The hands are beginning to abandon the ship."
Pellew frowned and looked through his spyglass. Sure enough, through the wind and the rain he could see men scurrying around the deck, but without purpose or direction; some of them were even fighting. And Morgan was nowhere to be found.
"Let's get this over with quickly, Mr. Bracegirdle," Pellew called out, "I don't wish to be out here one moment longer than - "
The noise was deafening, the light blinding. When Pellew and Bracegirdle had blinked the shock from their eyes, both men looked toward the Courageous, and Pellew let out an angry curse.
The topmast was splintered, charred and useless. And Courageous was burning.
Morgan heard the lightning hit too, as he lay on the deck of the hold clutching the bleeding shoulder wound and staring at First Lieutenant Stephens with wide and startled eyes.
"Damn it, lieutenant, are you mad?" he bellowed.
Stephens was unfazed, however, and merely lowered the pistol with a smirk. "Pardon me, sir, but the commander of this vessel has been ordered under arrest by Lord Admiral Hood. At least, that's according to the signal flags of the Indefatigable. As such, your first lieutenant takes command. And that's me."
Morgan sat up with a painful grunt. "I am not under arrest, you arrogant little cur! Those charges are groundless! Marines!"
Stephens glanced over his shoulder smugly, "My apologies, captain, but they're not obeying you anymore. Actually, no one on this ship is, although you do have some loyal shipmates who are somewhat reluctant to accept the circumstances. But the marines are dealing with them as well."
"I'll break you for this, Stephens!" Morgan cried out as he tried to struggle to his feet, "I'll set you down so low the worms won't find you!"
Stephens shook his head. "I doubt it. As one suspected of treason, you are scarce above the worms yourself, and anyone allied with you will be similarly suspected. On the other hand, anyone who helps in your apprehension and conviction will be forgiven everything and looked upon as a hero by His Majesty and all those lovely, glittering titled heads. So pardon me if I'm not intimidated by your threats."
Morgan stared at Stephens in speechless shock.
Stephens stepped back out of the hold and looked at the marines. "Keep Morgan here until we can hand him over to the Indefatigable. Get a lantern, it looks like we'll have to see our own way out. Oh, and put Lafferty in the brig. I'll deal with him later."
As the marines moved to close the door, Morgan finally made it to his feet and roared, "God damn it, after all I've done for you, Stephens! How can you do this to me?"
Stephens paused, and turned around to face Morgan with an unreadable face. "Do you mean, how can I stab you in the back and hand you over to your enemies because it fits my purpose? That is very simple, captain. I studied under an excellent teacher."
Then he slammed the door in Julius Morgan's face.
Horatio had seldom been so frightened in his entire life.
The jollyboat was as secure as it could be, with great empty barrels lashed to the side to prevent it from capsizing, but still it bobbed in the water like a fragile cork, and Horatio clung to the sides like a barnacle to keep from being washed over. The rain was heavy now, slashing and cutting, and as his crew rowed as close as they could to the Courageous Horatio saw the topmast burning, and knew they did not have much time.
Archie could be dead. That thought ran through Horatio's mind over and over, and he fought wildly against it, beat it away with his iron will. He had to find Morgan because it was his duty, and he dearly wanted Morgan to pay for all the wrongs he had done; but that was his highest wish, even though the order had come from the captain. He needed to find Archie, and tell him he was safe.
The Courageous was like a wounded animal that would not keep still; it thrashed in and out of the water, making it almost impossible to gain a hold on the ladders that led up its side. The splintered topmast dropped large, jagged pieces of wood into the water, and crewmen were casting themselves over the side of the ship with abandon, without looking. Horatio yelled at them to stop, but knew he was not being heard.
"Closer!" He yelled to Matthews, who was rowing in the miserable weather with Styles and Oldroyd beside him. The marines were half-standing in the boat, but looking dubiously up at the tall and heaving ship that they would be forced to climb onto.
Matthews shook his head at Horatio and said, "You'll have to jump for it, sir! Any closer and we might be dashed against her!"
Damn! Horatio thought, and looked up the endless, rain-slickened side. It dove, drew itself up, dove again; it was not sitting still and would not. Lightning and thunder flashed around it as if Armageddon itself was happening. It was impossible, he might be killed...
And in that moment, with the deafening tumult of the storm about him and a perilous journey ahead, Horatio suddenly thought of Muzillac, of the terrible responsibility he had borne that had ended in tragedy. If he should fail now - if it should all go wrong, now -
-No, he thought, never again. He would not let it!
He knew his mission, and his duty. Find Archie, capture Morgan, right the terrible wrongs that had been done and sink this abomination to the bottom of the sea. The chilling memory of all that had happened, of the cold and venal men who sailed on that ship, of the malice and hurt and pain that its men had caused, made Horatio's blood rise up until he thought he could fly to the deck if he had to. "Come on, men!" he cried out, and made a lunging grab for one of the footholds, and caught it. Then, with his heart racing, Horatio began to climb onto the Courageous.