THE RENOWN TRILOGY
by Meanjean

Part Two

September 1, 1801--LONDON

Archie Kennedy arrived at the door of his father's townhouse in London, a man dying of thirst who has found an oasis. Or perhaps a mirage. In any event, his brisk rap on the door was greeted by the butler.

"Lieutenant Kennedy, Sir! Er...your father is out." A momentary flicker of surprise passed over the man's face, disturbing the normal equilibrium of the well-trained servant.

"Good day, Trellawny. Well, then, I don't suppose I have the good luck to find my wife at home?" Archie wondered if he sounded as desperate as he felt, and wondered why he should expect his blasted luck to be any better on land than it had been on sea lately?

"Archie!" Alicia cried out, running in from the breakfast room. "Oh, I had thought I was dreaming when I heard your voice."

Discretely the butler withdrew, as the tiny young woman threw herself into her husband's arms.

"My GOD, you are home; my dear...I had convinced myself that I would find you out calling." He murmured through her hair, for he had buried his face in the sweet-lavender scent of its spun gold. "I have but three hours, before the boat takes me back to Portsmouth." Three hours, he thought, to remind himself that there was a life outside of the ungodly hell of Renown.

Alicia looked up at him, her hand stroking his bronzed, tired face, her eyes reading something of his despair and need. "Then let us not waste a moment, love."

***

Two hours later, he held her, tight in his arms, the two of them entwined in a twist of bed-sheets. She nuzzled in his chest and he sighed deeply.

"Thank God for you, Alicia. I think I should have died if I had not found you at home."

"Well, you did, Archie. I had no idea you were even in the vicinity of England, and am astounded that the Captain gave you leave."

He laughed shortly, a laughter without mirth. "He sent me with a message to the Admiralty. He expected it should take some hours to complete. Instead, it took me only five minutes for Hood to read whatever request he sent and dismiss it curtly. Sawyer will be most displeased to see me when I return, I fear. I may hang."

"Archie!" She gasped, sitting up in alarm, and he silently cursed himself.

"No, my dear, I jest, and in very poor taste, too; Captain Sawyer will not shoot the messenger." He pulled her down to him, not giving voice to the rest of his thought...that the Captain instead would put him on interminable watch until he, like Kymper, fell asleep on duty, and faced a firing squad. But he could not cause his dear, dear wife any worse worry than she had already.

"I am glad..." She whispered, stroking an old scar that ran down his arm, "...that he sent you, anyway, Archie." She kissed his shoulder. "I have been worried."

"My fault. I ought not write such unpleasantness." And yet, he reserved the worst of his problems for her brother...there was so much more that he had never told her.

"I would think, love, that it would be better for you to not experience such unpleasantness. That you are, it is my duty to share your burden."

His eyes stung with tears. "Have I told you lately, Mrs. Kennedy, how very much I love you?"

"Not in the past five minutes." She perched her chin on his chest. "Do you want to talk about it at all?"

Did he? Should he rejoice in the escape of a few hours, or try and relieve some of the terrible fear that rested in his heart.

"What of that boy?" She asked, taking the initiative. "I know you were worried about him, and Drew is about sick over his well-being."

"Ah." He'd forgotten about the attempt Horatio had made, with Drew's aid, to wrest poor Wellard from Sawyer's clutches. "Actually, it has been better for him of late; I did write to Drew, though lord knows if he's gotten the letter. I think Sawyer just got tired of torturing him." A whole two months it had been, since Henry's confinement in the riggings, and not beaten once since.

"Whom does he torture in his place?" Alicia asked, eyes drilling in to him.

"What makes you think he is torturing anybody?"

"I know his type, Archie. Is it YOU he devils now?"

"Not me more than any other man; he's spread around his acid bile equally to all the officers." Except for Horatio; no, poor Horatio received more torment than any other. A strange, flickering light would come into Sawyer's eyes; for a few seconds he would be a normal man looking an officer, and then there was a jealous anger that gave way to rage.

"You're worried." She accused, still not taking her eyes from his face.

"I am, Alicia. I do not see any good coming out of this ship. We have been sent down a slippery road to hell, and though I claw and I grab, I cannot prevent myself from sliding further." He rose slowly, reluctantly. "You said earlier that you were astounded that I should receive leave. I can tell you why; he is hoping to drive Horatio mad with jealousy; to put a wedge between us, so that we cannot hold ourselves together against him. He sent me to torture Horatio, and no reason more."

Alicia blinked back tears, grasping her dressing gown. "Archie...is it so bad? Is there nothing to be done?"

He kissed her sweet face, her cheeks salty with moisture. "You are mine, love, and I can tell you that is a powerful incentive for surviving this madness. And Horatio...thank God he has Angelina. And a letter from Captain Pellew that he re-reads constantly. It reminds him, I think, that a better man regards him highly. He has never been loaded with confidence, whatever face he presents to the outside world." He held her softness to him. "What did I ever do to deserve you, Alicia?"

She laughed, forcing herself to bring some lightness into the room, some relief from the life he was living, and started to dress herself. "As I recall, Sir, what you DID was come to my house to save my baby brother from torture and despair. A worthy enough cause to earn my love, I think." She tossed his neck-kerchief to him. "You came to save him, and ended saving us both, and you ask how you are deserving? Mr. Hornblower is not the only man with modesty problems, I see."

Archie flashed a grin at her, traces of his old mirth showing. "Touché, Alicia. I guess we shall have to simply put up with each other, and sustain each other through whatever nonsense life has thrown us."

Her eyes sparkled. "That is what marriage is supposed to be, Archie. I can require nothing more."

***

He stood in the foyer, preparing to leave, when his father called to him from the library.

"Father. I had believed you to be out." Archie walked in, knowing his father would understand his need to see his wife first and foremost.

"I returned about half an hour after you did." The old man rose from the high-backed leather chair and leaned on his cane. "But I elected not to disturb you, son."

Archie blushed, but smiled affectionately at the man whom once he had worshiped in terror. He'd long since learned of his genuine humanity. "Thank you, Sir."

"Mm." Lord Bridgeleigh scrutinized him. "Bad ship, I hear."

"I will survive." Archie tried to look nonchalant.

"Well, you do seem to have a knack of doing that, Archibald." His father's face wrinkled in a grim smile. "Captain probably has underestimated you in that regard."

Archie held out his arm, and his father used it to steady himself, as they returned to the foyer together. "I know how strong you are, son. Just temper that strength with prudence. I nearly buried you once. I have no desire to do so again."

"Nor I to be buried." Archie smiled at Alicia, waiting for them. "I have far too much to live for."

***
September 1, 1801--RENOWN

"Mr. Hornblower, Sir!" Styles whispered to me, his second request hissed. "Sir, I need to see ye down below, in th' cable tier."

I felt my stomach lurch....ever since Justinian, the cable tier has held a certain terror for me. "What is it?" Thankfully, I was not on duty; the day was still young.

"Follow me, Sir." His eyes were pleading, and I know and trust Styles; he would not lead me to harm.

We snaked our way through the ship, moving quietly and trying to attract as little attention as possible. Finally, having wormed our way into one of the ship's darkest recesses, I saw Matthews standing protectively over a blanketed bundle.

Wellard.

I knew it before I saw it, and I felt anger rage through me. "Matthews?"

"Found 'im here, Sir. Midshipman Tomlinson, he mentioned as Mr. Wellard hadn't been in 'is hammock this morning. I had a bad feelin' Sir...an' the boy's on duty in an hour. Din't want him to be late. It's been nigh on two months since the last time, and I din't want the Capn to be reminded of him, as it were."

I knelt beside Henry, pulling the blanket from his face. It was unmarked, but his eyes were screwed shut, and he shrank back from my touch. "Mr. Wellard." I said, kindly. "It is Mr. Hornblower."

His eyes opened wide. "Sir?" Voice shaking. "Sir...I haven't missed...my watch..." His face went paler, freckles standing out against his white cheeks. "...have I?"

I smiled in what I hoped would be reassurance. "No, Mr. Wellard; still plenty of time left." I went to touch him again, stroking his bangs off his forehead, and this time he didn't back away. "Do you wish to tell me what happened?"

He gulped, mouth agape, and cast his eyes downward. Seeing he would not answer, I continued. "I know, you fell, right? I fell once, on my first ship. Onto both sides of my face, as my first Lieutenant commented. The truth is, I was brutally attacked by a fellow midshipman. Now, between you and I, eh, is that what happened here?"

"I don't know, Sir." His voice cracked slightly. "I was walking into my berth, and someone threw a blanket round me, and bound me with it. Couldn't see nothing, Sir; couldn't cry out. They dragged me here..."

"They?" I asked.

"Were at least two of em, Sir." He struggled to sit up, and I helped him. He winced when I touched his shoulder. "They started punching me and kicking me, until I thought it wouldn't end, Sir. Till I blacked out."

"I see." I felt a thousand pounds slip off my shoulders, relieved that it hadn't been worse. Lord knows it was bad enough. "They were smart enough to not touch your face. Come, let me see that shoulder."

Matthews and I together coaxed him to remove his shirt, with Styles standing guard. He was a mass of bruises, skin broken in some places. I swallowed hard as I let his shirt fall back into place. "Take a breath, Mr. Wellard. Does it hurt?"

"Not bad, Sir." He struggled to his feet with our assistance.

Matthews looked at me. "Do we take him to Dr. Clive, Sir? He oughtn't be on watch."

With a gasp, Henry turned to me. "Please, NO, Sir. Dr. Clive will tell the Captain, Sir!" He blinked rapidly. "You know he will."

I took a deep breath. On Indefatigable...I would immediately over-ride his protests, bring him to Drew, and notify Captain Pellew. Then, the Captain and I would together form a holy-war to rout out the culprits, so that Mr. Wellard could see them soundly punished for their unacceptable actions.

Here? Forget Eccleston sending me to the riggings on Justinian. Wellard would receive a dozen at least, for the audacity of being attacked. And worse, this would in all likelihood reawaken Captain Sawyer's interest in tormenting him.

I turned to Styles. "Hurry. Get me a few rags to bind his chest up with, and some cold water." I looked back at Henry softly. "You must be strong, Mr. Wellard, and stand your watch well. If you fall or make an error, the captain will have your ailment out of you as surely as if I'd delivered you to him myself."

"I understand, Sir." He nodded imperceptibly.

"Good lad. We'll see you through this yet."

***
Somehow he did get through his watch. I made no move to assist him (having learned that anything I did to call the Captain's attention to Henry was a bad idea) but somehow the Captain was too self-involved to notice his quiet and his slowness. Once the watch changed, our eyes met briefly, and he stumbled away, no doubt in search of his hammock.

I was just moving away myself when Midshipman Tomlinson approached. "It wasn't us, Sir."

I stared out to the horizon. "I beg your pardon, Mr. Tomlinson, I do not take your meaning."

"Yes, Sir." He went on quietly. "Don't have much use for the boy myself, but I'm not cruel. Wouldn't condone it. So I asked around about it."

"Ought I know of what you are speaking?" I said, still not looking at him. I am at the point where I believe that everything is a trap.

"Of course not, Sir. I am talking nonsense, is all. Just thought you should know...not another mid, Sir."

"When I was on Indefatigable." I started, still keeping eyes trained on the horizon. "The midshipmen stood together. Even when we didn't care for each other. The midshipmen...stood...together."

"Yes, Sir." His voice had no emotion. "The midshipman will watch, Sir. It won't happen again."

I nodded briefly. "Good day, Mr. Tomlinson."

Well, at least that was something. I do not dare look out for Wellard myself. But the other mids should be able to do that. As Tomlinson said, as they are all older, in their late twenties and early thirties, the boy had been greeted largely with suspicion. But Tomlinson was the leader; if he sought me out to say he was not responsible, then I believed him.

Archie is due back from London any moment now. I don't know what fool's errand Sawyer sent him off on, but I do hope he managed to get to see his wife. I know Sawyer wished to make me jealous of him for it. The man doesn't know what he's up against there. Our friendship is made of stronger stuff than that. In any event, I am glad it was ME here to handle the situation with Wellard today. With Archie's past, he might not have behaved so prudently. Action first, with Archie. The last thing Wellard-or any of us-needs, is some kind of fuss thrown up around the Captain. No, better far for me to deal with this.
***

August 14th

 

 

I laid miserably in my cabin, the ship pitching and rolling miserably beneath me. The shortened sail had eased our movement somewhat eased. But still my stomach was knotted, almost painful. And this pain, I knew, was not caused by seasickness for once. The ginger brew Drew had taught me to make would not assist me. My nausea was the result of the horrible sight I'd just witnessed, the death of a boy not more than twelve, his blood on my hands.

Figuratively. Morally, as well. I am poison to the men on this ship.

I was the officer of the watch. It was a miserable little trip, down channel to Plymouth and back, for what reason I cannot fathom. But a storm came up suddenly, and it had increased drastically in intensity during my time above decks. I knew we had to take in sail. Now, Captain Sawyer's orders are clear: he is to be notified when we take in sail (or perform any other maneuver of such drastic nature). I am no idiot. I have been at sea for eight years now. I preferred we not capsize. So I called to take in sail and sent Wellard down to notify Sawyer. Heavens knows, had any other man been available, I would have sent them, but he was there, and so he went.

Captain Sawyer, of course, went crazy at my decision. Said I should have notified him BEFORE I took in sail, and then announced that the last man off the mast would be flogged. But only after he took pain to ensure that it was MY division of men up there. Again, he cannot physically harm me, so he punishes me by punishing those who would be loyal to me.

Naturally, none of the men wished to be flogged. And somehow, in the scurry, a boy who was just pressed fell to the deck.

Poor Wellard. Never seen a man die that way before...he threw right up. And then the Captain...the Captain bade me throw the boy overboard.

I nearly lost it. Oh, it was close; the burning anger, the fury; the waste of a life. He was just a child; Styles had made rather a pet project of him. And he'd been scared, but terrified, when I'd ordered him up the ratlines. He'd never done it at night before, let alone in a storm. He hadn't even wanted to be here. Why should he die? And if dead, what harm in giving him decent rites?

I threw my head against the pillow, wondering why I was even alive myself.

There was a tentative knock on the door.

"Enter." I muttered, though I was in no mood for the company.

"It's me, Sir...Wellard." He spoke cautiously. "I wanted to see if you were alright."

"Go away, Mr. Wellard." My voice was devoid of all emotion, but only by the most brutal force. "You are endangering yourself by being seen here."

"Captain's back drinking with Doctor Clive, Sir, and Mr. Hobbs is on duty..."

"Damn it man!" I snapped. "Have I not got enough guilt on my head? Do you think I want to watch you suffer again because the Captain considers me a threat? GET OUT."

Wellard flinched; I don't believe I have ever yelled at him before. "Sorry, Sir...I wanted to help..I...sorry..." And looking mortally wounded he made a clumsy attempt to leave.

"Wellard." I called out. "Wait."

I rose and went to the door, standing next to him. "I do understand why you came down here, Mr. Wellard." I exhaled slowly. "And I am glad to consider you a friend...but I...do not care to put my friends in harms' way."

He straightened up, and to my surprise, held his chin out a little bit, a slight smile on his face. "I am honored, Mr. Hornblower, that you would even wish to consider me a friend. It is more than I could have hoped for."

I tried not to smile at him...it was absurd to see him so pleased over something so useless to him as my friendship. "You ought to question your sanity. My friendship has not proven valuable to any man here so far."

"But your leadership has, Sir." He looked at me very seriously. "You and Mr. Kennedy, Sir...you're the only men who care here. Without you..." He swallowed hard. "THAT is why I came down here. I know you were upset about what happened to that boy. And I don't want you to stop caring."

I ran my hand over my forehead. "Mr. Wellard, once you care about the men and about your duty, you cannot turn that care off and on at will. It would be so much easier if you could." I patted him once on the shoulder. "You'll learn that someday, when you yourself are a Lieutenant." I caught his quick flush of pride. "Now, for both of our sakes, get yourself to your own berth. And thank you, for your concern."

"It is I who thank you, Sir." He said, and with a salute, he turned and walked away.

I returned to my bunk, somewhat relieved. My service here was not a total loss, after all.

***

August 18th

"Well, Mr. Hornblower..." The Captain's voice oozed up to me as I stood watch on the quarterdeck. "Here we are, back in Portsmouth. Perhaps you wish to have a little leave, like your friend Kennedy, last time, hm?"

I inhaled sharply, swallowing once. "I am at your disposal, Sir. If you wish to grant me leave, I will take it."

He smiled tightly. "I do not wish it."

Damn.

"But I will grant it all the same. On one condition...you must take young Wellard with you."

Wellard stood beside me...this is the first time since the storm that the Captain has even spoken his name. He glanced down at his feet, and kept his eyes fixed and open, his lips pressed tightly together. We were, perhaps, of the same mind. What game was the Captain playing at now?

"As you wish, of course, Sir."

"Yes, it must be as I wish, Mr. Hornblower." His smile became rather more pronounced. "You must keep him with you at all times. I will know it if you do not."

What was he going to do, have Hobbs follow me? Besides, it was not likely, was it, that I'd leave the kid to roam Portsmouth?

"So...Mr. Well-ard..." His voice ambled on; Henry flinched. "At the end of this watch, you will accompany Mr. Hornblower, as he calls on his lady. That will not make you popular, I am certain."

Henry's face burned a deep red, but I felt myself calming. So that was it, eh? As he tried to drive a stake in my friendship with Archie, by granting him leave the LAST time we were in port, so he tries to make me despise Wellard, by saddling me with his company. It won't work. I am not so petty as to blame a midshipman for the decision made by his Captain.

"I will do as you wish, Sir." I said, evenly, hoping my voice had a hint of restrained disappointment. It is imperative to let the Captain believe I am peeved, and let him vent his spleen.

"Ah, Mr. Well-ard. Your last friend, I fear, has deserted you." He looked at the boy and then came right up in his face. "The next punishment, I'll wager, will be at HIS request!" He whispered.

I could have counted the freckles on his face, they stood out so. And then, as quickly as he'd appeared, Captian Sawyer melted away. I heard Henry exhale, but he kept his face from me, and I kept my own gaze straight ahead. To say anything now was risky. Besides, I had what I wanted: an afternoon with Angelina, even if it was not alone.

***

Wellard and I maintained silence as we walked along the streets, a silence that had continued from our watch through our boat-ride. Only as we were well on our way towards the Mews, did I trust myself to speak.

"I hope you understand, Mr. Wellard, that I in no way blame you for your presence here today." I still didn't look at him, but kept my eyes scanning the street, certain I would see Hobbs' lurking figure at any moment.

"Thank you, Sir. I had been afraid you did...you have been so quiet."

"It is best for the Captain to think I DO resent you, Mr. Wellard. Makes him happy to think we're miserable." I nearly spat as I said the last word.

"He's not far off from actually making me miserable." Henry admitted, head hanging down.

"Now, none of that. You're doing a good job, Mr. Wellard, one that would see you praised on any other ship. I know things have been hard here. But you've escaped his wrath neatly for the past couple of months. If we can keep it that way, perhaps we can see your promotion yet." I could not keep a smile from creeping up on my face, as we approached the house, and I put a friendly hand on his shoulder. "Come, Sir...let's get you properly fed. We shall enjoy our afternoon, eh?"

He looked up at me. "You are too generous, Sir."

Angelina had spotted us coming up the drive, and was at the door, smile trembling. "Horatio...I had thought it was you...but oh, it was more than I'd dared hope." She reached for me, and I kissed her hand tenderly. Our eyes met, and I felt my heart melt once more.

"Good day, Mr. Hornblower." Violet also stood in the doorway, a slight smile gracing her face. "You've brought company, I see."

"Indeed I have, Miss Violet. May I present Midshipman Henry Wellard of HMS Indefatigable? Mr. Wellard, this is Miss Angelina Danini, my fiancée, and Miss Violet Morris."

"No, Mr. Hornblower." Violet corrected me, even as they both curtseyed. "It is Mrs. Brandon."

I gasped. "You were married? When? Didn't Drew write? Who was there? Does Archie know, and he didn't tell me?"

Both woman laughed, in a very knowing way. "Come in to tea, gentlemen...and let us tell you the story..." Angelina linked her arm through mine, and then, to my amusement and his shock, did the same with Henry. He looked again at me, sheepishly, to see if I was angry, and I gave him a smile and a wink.

***

"Biscotti, Mr. Wellard? You do not look as though they've fed you properly on that ship at all." Angelina plied him with both food and kindness, and I watched her in gratitude. What an amazing woman I have found; what a wife she will be! How fortunate our children! I felt the harsh realities of Renown fading into the background in the comforts of home-life.

Violet, as she poured tea, was giving explanation to her surprising nuptials. "You see, Mr. Hornblower, Impetueax has been ordered to the Indies. Commodore Pellew is now in charge of that fleet, and will have several illustrious Captains reporting to him." She looked up at me, her eyes twinkling with mirth. "Of course, he will also have Captain Hammond."

I coughed on the tea, as I had started laughing. Angelina swatted me on the back.

Violet went on. "So the orders came down, and they were to leave in three day's time, possibly for as long as two years service away from England. And he swept in here like a hurricane, hair all on end and in quite a state, stuttering out that we HAD to be married before he left, because he could not spend two years without having something secure to return to."

"But..." I stammered. "The time, Miss...er...Mrs. Brandon. With but three days...how did you make the arrangements?"

"Impetueax has been lucky with prizes. I believe that Drew bribed the clergyman!"

I laughed and cringed at the same time. I had no prize money...Renown has seen little action. Bribery was not an option; and besides, I was lucky to have four hours ashore, let alone three days.

Wellard found his voice finally, perhaps sensing my discomfort. "Mrs. Brandon, I believe I had the pleasure of meeting your husband when last we were in port. He seemed a most pleasant man."

"He is that, and more, Mr. Wellard." She smiled, and passed a tray with pastries to him. "He's a fine seaman and a better doctor."

I explained, for Henry had raised his eyebrows. "Mr. Brandon joined Indefatigable as a midshipman when he was about your age, or a bit younger. But we were in dire need of medical assistance at the time, so he began training. He soon proved to be more than adept...a protégé, if you will. Yet he was able enough above decks to pass his Lieutenant's exam when he was but sixteen."

"Sixteen, Sir?" Henry's eyes were wide. "I've never heard of so young a man passing. Why then, does he not use his rank?"

"Because..." I said, my mind wandering to a happy time. "The only way he could remain with Captain Pellew was to resign his commission, and sign on as a doctor."

Violet caught my eye. "Drew would do anything for Captain Pellew; follow him to the ends of the earth even." She grinned wider. "But he prefers his work as a doctor, anyway, so it was all for the best."

Henry sighed. "I should very much like..." His voice trailed of, and he looked at me, a quick darting glance, and shrugged. "It sounds as though Captain Pellew is an excellent man."

"None better." I said, wishing to God I'd been successful at getting him onto Impetueax, and glad that I'd never explained to him my attempt. It could only be painful to him now.

Angelina must have understood, for she reached over to me and squeezed my hand. I met her eye, and found myself lost in her touch and her look. Vague voices came to my ear from what seemed a great distance indeed.

"Mr. Wellard...I think perhaps I could use your assistance in the kitchens. Do you mind?"

"Not at all, Mrs. Brandon. I've washed a dish or two in my day."

"Quite. We should be well occupied for an hour or so, Miss Danini...come, Mr. Wellard." And with tremendous discretion, Violet ushered the young man into the kitchen.

***

"It will take a few moments for the water to boil. Perhaps you'd be so good as to fetch me that wash-tub?"

"Of course, Ma'am." Wellard stretched to his full height and grasped the tub from the hook where it was kept, somehow avoiding causing an avalanche of other cooking tools from raining down on his head.

"Thank you, and don't call me Ma'am! I may be married, but I'm only seventeen." She teased him.

Henry smiled at her, taken by her warmth. "Mrs. Brandon it is, then." He assisted her deftly with gathering dishes, and together they waited for the heavy pot of water to boil.

"You're handy about a kitchen, Mr. Wellard." She quipped, mopping back a few stray wisps of hair from her brow.

"My Ma was a cook on a estate in Devonshire. Used to help her about, sometimes, if I could." He looked wistfully about him. "Always liked being in the kitchen. It was rather homey to me."

"And how do you like being out to sea?" She said, pretending to be absorbed by the not-quite boiling water.

Wellard didn't answer right away; he stretched his hands out before him, remembering what it was like to have Styles holding them, holding him down over the gun while... "I like serving with Mr. Hornblower and Mr. Kennedy." He said abruptly. It was the only truth he could find.

"Aye, so did my husband. Mr. Kennedy is married to his sister, you know."

"No, Mrs. Brandon...I hadn't known that. Mr. Kennedy speaks often of his wife, of course...they seem very much in love."

"They are." She smiled at him. "Water's boiling."

Henry rose quickly to lift the heavy pot and pour the water in the tub, over the dishes, retaining some to be used to rinse. "That'll need to cool a spot, Mrs. Brandon."

"Aye, aye, Mr. Wellard." She wiped her hands on a towel. "What about you, Mr. Wellard? Have you a sweetheart somewhere?"

His pale face went a healthier shade of rose. "Who, me? Er, no, indeed; I'll only be fifteen this month...hardly old enough."

She dipped soft soap into the still-steaming water. "Mr. Brandon was but fifteen the first time I saw him...though he WAS sixteen by the time he'd asked my father permission to write me. Fell in love with him right fast though. Didn't have much time to think about it, even." She began to scrub the plates, and the young midshipman fell in beside her, rinsing and drying them. "I miss him terribly, Mr. Wellard, though I am glad he is so happy and doing so well."

"Can I ask, Mrs. Brandon, why you have not chosen to relocate to his family?"

She looked at him from the side. "My husband was not on the best of terms with them. His father is dead now, and good riddance to him. But his eldest brother is gone more often than not, and the other brothers don't bear mentioning."

"At least he had a father." Wellard muttered before he could stop himself. Then he began to pay studious attention to drying a teacup.

"You think so?" Violet kept her voice gentle. "His father was a man of great violence. Drew survived only because of the miracle of his friends. I can imagine that living without your father must have been very difficult for you, but believe me, I would not wish my husbands' childhood on any man."

Henry kept silent, still drying. He remembered Mr. Brandon, and the careful look the young man had given him, that day on the docks, when he'd been recovering from yet another beating. He remembered the kindness and understanding in his face. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Brandon, I didn't mean to judge."

"You couldn't know, now could you?" Her voice was sweet, and she playfully flicked some water at him; Henry laughed, the first time he'd laughed since he'd set foot in the Navy.

"Where is your Ma now?" She asked, suddenly.

"She died...of fever." His voice became somber once more. "And I was packed away to the Navy, courtesy of Mr. Wicks, the steward of the estate I lived on. Suppose I should be grateful he paid some support. He might...well, never mind, I don't KNOW anything."

"It must be frustrating." She pulled the last dish from the water, and handed it to him.

He shrugged. "Sometimes. I was hoping that once I got to the Navy, things would change. It was a good chance, and I'm not stupid or anything; I don't mind hard work, either. Instead..." He placed the dish gently on the counter-top.

"Instead you ended up serving on that hell-hole with Captain Sawyer." She caught his startled glance and continued. "Archie writes Drew; Drew writes me, and anyway, Horatio writes Angelina. We know the sort of ship you serve on, Mr. Wellard. A pity that transfer never worked out."

Wellard stared, then blinked, afraid he was being rude. "Oh, um, the transfer?" He asked, hoping to not sound too puzzled.

"Yes, I know about that too. Horatio and Drew worked so hard to try and get you over on Impetueax. Had Captain Pellew make a formal request and everything... that Captain Sawyer of yours!" Her voice was harsh. "Refusing in such a manner. Bah!"

"Of course. It was rather bad luck." Wellard's mind reeled. A chance...Mr. Hornblower had taken a chance...and Mr. Brandon had tried to assist...to get him off Renown. Get him safely with a Captain whom Mr. Hornblower obviously regarded as a true leader of men. He felt his eyes mist up at the kindness...even if it had cost him a day of torment in the riggings.

Violet sighed, recalling himself to the present moment. "Forty-five minutes, Mr. Wellard. I don't suppose you'd care to take a turn in the garden, so Mr. Hornblower and Miss Danini can have a few more moments together?"

"It might not be wise, Mrs. Brandon. The Captain said...he'd know if we separated. And somehow I believe him." Wellard swallowed hard at the thought.

"Then we shall remain here. How are you at chopping vegetables?" She began to pull potatoes from the bin behind her.

"At your service, Mrs. Brandon. At your service."

Lucky bugger, that Brandon fellow, he thought, with perhaps a trace of jealousy. A fine wife, a happy life, a good ship. Still, Brandon'd MADE it, managed to get past his problems and succeed. Maybe he should find hope and comfort in that. Granted, Mr. Brandon had Captain Pellew on his side, and he had only Lieutenants Hornblower and Kennedy. Still, they CARED, which was more than anybody else in his life did. And Mr. Hornblower was trying to help. Maybe, just maybe, he'd survive, like Mr. Brandon had.

It was the most comforting thought he'd had in three months.

***

November 20th Plymouth

"Let's get this loading finished before the Captain returns, Mr. Wellard."

"Aye, aye, Sir...Mr. Hobbs, get ready with that tackle there..."

I hid a smile at the young man behind a stern and worried look. The Captain's plan to drive me to despise Wellard had failed, miserably. We obeyed the letter of the law he'd laid down for us; our stoic silence with each other, his solitude and my taciturn disapproval, were on display. We had made Sawyer believe that we were both miserable.

I remember well enough that day in August, when last I'd been able to visit Angelina. Drew's young wife had smartly pulled Mr. Wellard into the kitchens for an hour and a half and left Angelina and I to a stolen slice of bliss. The Captain had never been the wiser, and yet he must have sensed some failure, for he had not made such an offer since. Neither Archie or I have had a second's shore leave since that period, though while beating up and down the channel we had been in Portsmouth more than once.

I blushed, remembering with frustration those secret, furtive moments with Angelina. Oh, How I wished I'd been able to marry her in this time. Now, it seems certain that our next mission will take us away from England. Part of me is happy to be doing something more active. But another part believes that Captain Sawyer is not fit for this journey.

He's been up and down, sort of. The thing is, his "up" period is not really all that grand. Lucid, yes, but with biting sarcasm that flays his officers to the bone. Only Dr. Clive is in his good graces, and why not? Clive keeps the man in laudanum, driving away whatever ghosts haunt his past. No more has there been evidence of the man I saw earlier this year, the Captain with whom I felt I had a certain rapport. Drew is right; the cumulative drug has perhaps permanently altered the man he used to be.

I am glad that Wellard and I had been able to have a brief conversation during that day. We'd quietly agreed to make certain that no evidence of anything even broaching friendship should be displayed on the ship. Sawyer had, for whatever reason, decided to go after me, and if I showed any favor towards Henry, he'd go after him...with a vengeance. He understands, and that is the important thing; I would have been concerned to turn a cold shoulder on him when he is already feeling so friendless. Archie plays along with us, although not so successfully as I do. He sometimes has difficulty masking his feelings.

"Shore boat ahoy, Mr. Hornblower!"

"Is it the Captain, Mr. Wellard?" I asked, startled.

"No, Sir...another officer." He replied.

"Very well, prepare to assist him on board." I said, smoothly.

During his last leave, Archie had been sent on a fool's errand by Sawyer, inquiring about a replacement Lieutenant for Kymper. None were to be had, and the Captain had lit into Archie something fierce, although it all rolled off him like oil on water. After all, Archie's dealt with far worse demons than Sawyer.

Perhaps, though, this new gentlemen was the unlucky victim...second Lieutenant? Or third, behind me, depending on the date of his commission.

Time would tell.

***
November 17th

"Just what we need, another Buckland." Archie threw his hat to the side of the ward room in disgust.

"Archie!" I kept my voice low, in a gentle warning. "You must not speak so. While Lieutenant Bush is on duty, Lieutenant Buckland might arrive at any moment, and we cannot be seen to not fully support a superior officer."

"Oh, Horatio, come on, be honest with me for once! Can you honestly LIKE the man?"

"Whether I LIKE the man or not, Archie..." I protested, trying to keep my cool, "He is still the second Lieutenant aboard this ship, and we owe him every courtesy of rank, that we should give."

Archie twisted his mouth into a lopsided grimace. "Oh, I know, Horatio, but damn it all, to listen to him! So damned pleased to be here. Surely he cannot be so stupid?"

"Why not? Once, we were of his mind!" I pointed out, patiently.

"...and so damned formal, too! I felt like he had disapproval for us in his very marrow!" Archie tapped the table before me insistently.

"Perhaps he did disapprove." I replied, as I thought out our behavior above decks. "We can be very informal with each other, Archie. After all, he does not know that we have served together for so long."

"So, would you rather I started addressing you as Mr. Hornblower?"

"Bite your tongue!" I said, quickly, managing a small smile. "Your friendship is all that is keeping me sane, Archie. I keep reminding myself that it looked blacker than this on Justinian, and we survived."

"So we did." He sighed deeply. "But no Indefatigable on the horizon to save us this time." He stared out past me, over my shoulder. "Wonder how Captain Pellew is getting by on Impetueax?"

"You have had no letter from Drew?" I asked.

He shook his head. "Not since the letter announcing his marriage. And no further information from my wife, either. It seems certain they are well on their way to the Indies." He sighed, and smiled. "I do wish we could have been at the wedding, Horatio. We missed a golden opportunity to have some sport with him. Alicia can only bedevil him so much, you know."

"Indeed, we should have had a grand time. And it would have been nice to see the other men as well. Reg must have stood up as his best man, I imagine..."

Archie nodded. "And Captain Pellew would have been there, if there was any way. And of course, Morris himself...what a good man he was."

"No better ship's carpenter I've ever seen."

We began to dangerously wax nostalgic for our days on the Indy, for a time long over. A few tots of rum, and we might have become very maudlin indeed.

"And Hether? Remember Hether, Horatio? Whatever became of him?"

"Of to serve as master on the Apollo, last I heard. A diligent man. He is doing well, I am certain."

"D'you remember when, Horatio..."

And we were off, lost in another world, indeed, in a world which had not been happy much of the time. But there was that period, on Justinian, before Simpson's return, when there had been this rare camaraderie between Cleveland, Hether, Clayton, Kennedy and myself, a time when we were simply young men with an unknown future, serving in a day without war. Idle, and left to our own devices, there had been much mischief to be had.

A sudden sound of footsteps came upon us, and Archie and I immediately lapsed into stony, watchful silence, as Lieutenant Bush entered the ward room.

"Gentlemen." He said, by way of greeting.

"Lieutenant Bush." I said, with neither rancor nor joy.

"Lieutenant Bush." Archie also replied, unable to keep a hint of sarcasm from his voice.

Bush came forward. He placed his hat to the side, and he sat, a few feet away from the table, and poured himself a moderate helping of sherry. Archie and I looked at each other in silence, and deliberately, Archie picked up the book he had been reading before my arrival.

"How is the weather above, Sir?" I asked, unable to come up with any other reason for communication.

"As you can no doubt feel, Mr. Hornblower, it is quite calm."

Well, hell, of course I could feel it was a calm sea. But what else could I have asked him?

Several more minutes went by, when the bells alerted us to the upcoming change in watch.

"I am due above decks, Horatio." Archie rose quietly.

Bush turned to us both, eyebrows raised. "Mr. Hornblower is your senior Lieutenant, Mr. Kennedy, and yet you call him by his Christian name?"

We all stared at each other, each one no doubt wondering what the next man would say. Archie spoke first.

"Please excuse me, Mr. Bush. It was unconscionable." He looked at me, unable to keep the hint of a twinkle from his eye. "Good day, Mr. Hornblower. I shall see you when next you are on watch."

"Good day." I replied, with stiff formality, and had to choke back a laugh at his expression.

After Archie was gone, Bush cleared his throat. "I am intrigued, Mr. Hornblower, that you find the formality of rank so amusing."

I tried to clear the air. "Forgive me, Mr. Bush. Mr. Kennedy and I have long been in service together..."

"So Lieutenant Buckland has told me. It seems that perhaps you have developed some bad habits along the way."

This man would not be easy. I know not what sort of officer he is...if he is worth anything, it will not take him long to know Buckland for the ineffective fool we have found him to be. But he seemed certainly to be a stickler for regulation.

"We mean no offense, Sir." I tried one last time to smooth things over. "And there is no better officer with artillery than Mr. Kennedy."

"That we shall see, when next we are in action."

I considered explaining to him how long it had been since we had seen action, and that the Captain had forbade us to conduct exercises with the men in all the time since. Something peevish in me kept me from doing so.

Besides, he had brought up Buckland to me, and I was still rankled by the exchange from earlier today. Buckland, avoiding any decision making labor, was well away from me when Bush had boarded. Captain Sawyer was most aggrieved that the new Lieutenant had reported to me, and not to him or to Buckland. Yet had Buckland backed me up, that I had only accepted his arrival as I had been the nearest officer? No, he had not, instead he had deflected the criticism to Bush himself. Who had very smoothly patronized the Captain with his reply. Did Sawyer bite his head of? No, he ate it up, indeed.

I cast a sideways glance at Bush. He was making some notes, no doubt detailing the ship and what changes he might make, perhaps trying to find where he fits in here.

Damned hard lines on him, I thought suddenly.

Yes, it must be hard indeed. To fit in with an aged first Lieutenant, who has shown no desire for solitary command? To fit in with a Captain whom you want to respect, but who has nothing left to command with? Or to fit in with the two younger officers, bound by years of experience with each other, and by mutual disfavor in their superior officers' minds. No, how hard it must be for him now...and what bitter disappointment might he find. That feeling, I remember well.

I cleared my throat. "Lieutenant Bush, I do believe we might have gotten off on the wrong foot. A very wise man once told me that he judged a man on what he saw him do. I would very much appreciate, Sir, if you would not judge me until you have known me longer, and I shall extend the same courtesy to you."

Bush raised an eyebrow. "I have seen you, Mr. Hornblower. I saw you right as a flying tackle nearly took my head off. And in but seven days on this ship, I have taken my measure of the men on board here. They are not exemplary. Indeed, they are barely restrained. And they have not even been exercised. That does not speak well of any officer."

I forced my anger inside, and remained impassive. "I see, Lieutenant Bush. I...apologize. By all means, if you have suggestions to improve the behavior of the men, I would be more than willing to listen. With one caution, of course...you must take up any changes with the Captain first. Perhaps he will accept YOUR suggestion for exercises. He did not feel inclined to accept MINE."

Bush shook his head. "I can understand why...it is very doubtful you were respectful when you made it, from what I have seen of you."

I stood abruptly. Bush's eyes never left my face. Seven years ago, I'd have challenged him do a duel over the insults. I have learned some prudence in the time since.

"I believe I will take in the air above decks, Lieutenant Bush. Good day."

***
November 20th

We were going over orders with the Captain, all Lieutenants together. Archie and I, from long experience, have kept our mouths shut, as we learned of another pointless trip up channel.

Sawyer's eyes were gleaming. "They are afraid to turn us lose, gentlemen. But turn us loose they shall...soon, yes soon. And then we shall make a grand show of it, shall we not, Mr. Bush? Come, let's hear your opinion, Mr. Bush."

Bush smiled ingratiatingly. "The enemy fears us, I am certain." Pause. "Perhaps they can be made to fear us even more."

Sawyer smiled widely. "A suggestion? You have a suggestion, Mr. Bush? That is good to hear, Sir, for I have not seen many of those lately."

I swear, I could FEEL Archie rolling his eyes behind me, and I almost stamped on his foot.

"Indeed, Sir, I think it might be beneficial if we ran some gun exercises with the men...keeping them sharp. They seem to have been allowed to be rather lazy."

Oh, dear God, here it comes...

Three seconds went buy. Ten seconds.

"You think my men are lazy, Mr. Bush?" Sawyer's smile froze tight on his face.

Bush blushed. "Indeed, not, only that perhaps their officers have not stimulated them well enough...it was only an impression."

"You think the officers should...stimulate the men?" Sawyer looked down, and then up sharply, as with one step he came forward into Bush's face. "Tell me, Lieutenant, what gave you that impression?"

"Nothing specific, Sir...I had a conversation with Mr. Hornblower a few days ago..."

I closed my eyes, as I heard Archie draw his breath in sharply.

"WITH Mr. Hornblower! Ah, so NOW I understand." Sawyer let lose with a laugh that was anything but jovial. "Poor Mr. Bush, so honest, so trusting...this man is not to be trusted with any opinion he may have given you."

Bush's eyes were wide and his mouth agape. "Indeed, he did not give me an opinion, Sir...the opinion was mine..."

"And here you are trying to cover for him. But you see, Mr. Bush, I know Hornblower here...oh, yes, I have known him for some time. Always after me to exercise the men...never is their work good enough for him. He'd exact their very blood if I let him. No, it was an honest mistake on your part, no doubt."

Sawyer then turned to me, as I knew he would. "But you...seeking to underestimate me with a new man...I am not shocked, Mr. Hornblower, no not shocked at all. Let us see how you do with another period of extended watch, hm? Perhaps a week of watch and watch, this time. Four hours on. Four hours off. For seven days. If I keep you from being idle, perhaps you will no longer be able to foment mischief. Do you understand, Mr. Hornblower?"

"Yes, Sir." I said, tonelessly.

"Then get to your watch, Sir."

"Aye, aye, Sir." I saluted, and went off, leaving a fuming Archie behind. I quelled him with a look and walked out the door.

No more than five minutes after I arrived on the quarterdeck, Bush approached me.

"Hornblower..." He started.

"For God's sake, man..." I hissed through clenched teeth. "Do you want to see us both in any worse graces than we already are? He shall think I am maligning him, to see us speaking."

"It was an honest mistake..."

I wonder what he meant? That Sawyer's punishment of me was an honest mistake, or that his speaking to Sawyer was an honest mistake. Unfortunately, I fear it is the former.

"Judge me on what you see me do, Lieutenant Bush." I looked to the horizon. "And I suggest, Sir, that you judge the Captain the same way."

***
November 27

Matthews and Styles watched as Lieutenant Hornblower, on his seventh day of watch and watch, wearily paced the quarterdeck. Mr. Hornblower didn't show much...he never did...but with eyes as experienced as theirs were, they could see the wear on him. His shoulders not quite so straight as they usually were. His chin not so determined. And circles under his eyes, circles that grew darker with each watch. And his voice had a rough quality to it, not usually there.

"'e'l kill him, the bloody bastard will, Matty." Styles snarled, working on the ropes before him.

Matthews looked around cautiously, but nobody was near to them. Normally he'd hush Styles properly for the impropriety; not this time.

"I don't like it, Styles. Never felt like this in all my years here, not even on Justinian." He admitted, under his breath.

"Warn't this bad on Justinian, Matty. Simpson, he was pure evil, but he wasn't the Cap'n. And we warn't at war. Can you imagine, Matty, going into battle with this lot 'ere?"

Matthews looked around the deck again, this time assessing the various men around him. "Wouldn't put money on our odds as we are. No training, less discipline, and I'm not certain the Captain knows up from down."

"Aye." Styles quieted as the gunner Hobbs...the Captain's loyal toady...came within ten feet of them. Only after he passed did he go on. "Were me bein' abused, wouldn't care so much. But I can't stand to see 'im torturing Mr. Hornblower. It's wrong, Matty."

Hiding a smile, Matthews opted not to point out to Styles that Mr. Hornblower would likely feel the same way if it WERE Styles being abused. Then, as he spotted young Wellard, slinking about his duties in the way least likely to arouse attention, his smile faded. "It's that boy got me worried, Styles. Captain's forgotten him, fer now. But then what?"

Styles studied the boy for a moment, and with a little grunt nodded. "'e's a good lad. Got the makings there fer a good officer, ifn' he doesn't get it beaten out of him first. Reminds me a bit o Mr. Cousins, he does."

"A bit, when he's allowed to BE an officer." Matthews allowed. "Me, I keep thinkin' of Mr. Brandon, hidin' in his own shadows on the Indy when he first came on board. Course, it were alright with Mr. Brandon eventually..."

"Aye, but this ain't the Indy." Styles snarled once more.

"A little less talk there and a little more work, men." Lieutenant Bush spoke sternly, having arrived above decks from out of nowhere. "And wipe that look off of your face, man."

Styles scowled more deeply, and Bush came forward with ire to match. "Do not cross me, man...what is your name..."

Matthews meaningful look sank into Styles' skull, as much as it could. "Styles, Sir. Bosun's mate."

"Well, Styles, if you want to maintain that rank, not to mention avoid the gratings, I suggest you change your attitude around here. Do I make myself clear?"

"Aye, aye, Sir." Styles answered, keeping his anger down, if only to keep any further difficulties from being thrown at Mr. Hornblower.

Randall, about five yards away, laughed at the little scene out-loud, and Hobbs looked on with a smirk. Matthews seethed.

But Bush surprised him.

"You, MAN!" He whirled about. "What is your name?"

A cheeky grin. "Randall, Sir."

"Wipe that smile off of your face, Randall...you've just lost your spirit ration for a week."

Styles almost smiled. Nothing, he knew, would hurt Randall more.

"Now, Lieutenant Bush..." Hobbs started. "Randall here didn't mean nothing by it. Captain Sawyer likes a bit of laughter from the men."

"I did not ask for your opinion, Hobbs." Bush said shortly. "The punishment stands, and it will be two weeks if I get another reaction from either one of you." And with a face as dark as thunder, Bush strode up to the quarterdeck.

Matthews nodded in approval before returning to his work. "He's a tough one, he is, but he's fair, right enough." He whispered.

Styles might not have agreed, but knew better than to continue with any conversation, with a now angry Hobbs' eyes on him.

***

I raised tired eyes to Bush as he approached me, looking like Captain Pellew after a visit with Admiral Hood. "A problem, Lieutenant?"

"The men..." He shook his head. "Ill disciplined rabble, the lot of them."

I disagreed quietly. "Actually, most of them are very good men. They lack for exercise, as you've noted, but there isn't anything we can do about that." He knew that as well.

Bush was frustrated, I could see it. "I can't see any good in them." He scanned the deck, and then bent a little. "The bosun. Matthews, I'll grant you; he seems to take direction well."

'Gives direction well' might be a better statement. I do not know where in this service I would be without him...I know I learned more from him than in a thousand text-books. "Matthews is a very good man, and he has been at sea for longer than I've been alive. I have served for many years with both him and Styles. I know Styles can be a bit wild, but there is no man I would more want at my side in a tight spot. And he is loyal, Mr. Bush. You could trust him with your life."

"Perhaps you could." Bush frowned. "It is doubtful he would defend me in the same manner."

"He would, when it came down to it. Not that he might not grumble about it afterwards."

Bush shrugged. "What about the other two? Hobbs and Randall."

"Hobbs..." I took a deep breath, knowing this was a fine line to walk. Bush had unbent towards me slightly since his ill-advised suggestion got me punished, but he still was not in a place to hear me speak too badly of the Captain. "Hobbs is exceptionally loyal to Captain Sawyer. Exceptionally loyal." I repeated. "Beyond idolatry." Let him take my meaning or not.

"And Randall?"

"Ah..." I could not but shake my head. "I do not care for Randall, Mr. Bush, not that my opinion matters. Should any serious trouble arise here, I would expect him to be at the bottom of it."

Bush met my eye with a little nod. "My impression exactly. He's a rogue, and that is bad...very bad for morale."

For a second or two we actually found common ground, and it was comforting. Then Bush went on to Wellard, who was working his men to repair a bit of damage forward.

"What is his story, Mr. Hornblower? He's far too timid to ever make it as an officer. The men will have his liver for lunch."

"Wellard..." I started, and then looked about me, nervous as always to have Sawyer even hear me speak his name. "The Captain was a bit overzealous with the cane when he first came on board, and it has made him rather hesitant. He is afraid to make a mistake." I kept my voice low, even as sweat beaded on my brow.

Bush stared at me blankly. "Midshipmen are beaten all the time. I do not understand why that would be exceptional in this case."

Of course not, because he hadn't been here. It wasn't discipline, it had been abuse and injustice, pure and simple. "It's rather complicated." I added, lamely.

Bush turned away, hands behind his back. "I hadn't thought you soft, Mr. Hornblower. Discipline on board ship must be maintained."

"I agree, Mr. Bush." I said, turning tiredly to the Horizon. Bush would obviously not understand that I believed there to be better ways of maintaining it. A wave of exhaustion and worry came over me, and I wavered.

"Are you well, Mr. Hornblower?" Bush asked, in what seemed to be genuine concern.

"I am looking forward to the end of this watch, Mr. Bush." I admitted.

He flushed slightly. "I am...sorry."

"You could not have known." 'Of course he could have', I could hear Archie in my ears. 'You told him how it was here...we both did...and he went ahead anyway. Stupid git.' It was what Archie regularly fumed about when we were alone together. It is quite doubtful I will ever see the two of them laughing over a couple of pints of ale.

Still done was done. There was no malice to Bush, and I can not blame him for his frustration in the training of the men. It is something we share. Unfortunately, he has not yet realized that we share the futility as well.

***
Bush saw Hornblower away at the end of the watch with a strange mix of emotions. Buckland had come above decks, and technically Bush himself was free. But he felt that his presence bellow would not be welcome; he would be intruding between Kennedy and Hornblower; invading their little private club.

He felt a tweak at his conscience. Why should it bother him that they did not appear to like him? When had being liked ever mattered? Not that it had ever been much of an issue...he'd always been considered an affable man. He'd be jolly over a pint or two in port; but on the ship he'd always been efficient and stolid. So why did the Kennedy-Hornblower friendship irk him so much?

Hornblower. Yes, that was it. He rather liked young Hornblower, in spite of everything that had happened that ought to make him not like the man. But there was something there, behind him, behind those close and careful eyes. This man would make a powerful ally. Were he choosing men to stand behind him, he rather thought he'd want it to be this one.

Kennedy, though, was everything Bush had ever disliked about the service. Sawyer had already remarked more than once about Kennedy's status as the son of a powerful Lord. And here he was, with all the sarcasm and snideness that Bush had seen once too often. A sense of right that overcame regulation...that it was his RIGHT to call Hornblower by his first name, or to have sport with Bush over the dinner table. He feared very much that Hornblower would be lead down the wrong path if he wasn't careful.

Buckland...there was no disguising it. Buckland was not the brightest star in the sky. And he seemed to have no more backbone than a jellyfish. Still, a jellyfish could sting (Bush's first ship had sailed off the coast of New South Wales). And he wasn't sure he could trust Buckland, not a jot. He sighed, feeling suddenly very alone.

Looking over the ship, he saw something that did make him smile a bit. Young Wellard, who's watch had also properly ended, had opted to stay above decks, to complete his repair task with some of the men. He was a diligent young man; Bush would give credit where he saw it due. As he saw the boy rising from his duties, he called out to him.

"A word, if you please, Mr. Wellard."

The boy looked up, and Bush wondered not for the first time how he could have been at sea for nearly six months now and still be so pale.

"Yes, Lieutenant?" His voice was quiet but sure.

"I noticed that you remained above decks to complete your work..

"Yes, Sir...I did not want Mr. Tomlinson to have to finish it; I felt it was my duty."

The words 'well done' were on his tongue when the Captain spoke from behind him.

"Lieutenant Bush, still above decks, I see."

Bush didn't flinch--he had no reason to; the Captain had always been fair to him. Wellard, though...he positively froze at the man's arrival...surprising, when he had been called forward to be praised.

"I notice Mr. Wellard is still above decks also." Sawyer dragged the boy's name out so it was practically two words.

"Indeed, Sir." Bush, ever generous, thought it might put the lad at ease to be praised before the Captain. "I was just saying that it was well done of him to stay past his watch to finish up some work."

"Oh?" The Captain smiled at the boy, a smile that turned to a sneer. "Perhaps if Mr. Wellard had finished the work in a timely manner, he should not have had to do that."

Wellard swallowed hard, and looked straight forward, body held rigid. Bush was aghast, and spoke up quickly. "Indeed, Sir, it was repair to a section for'ard, and was not expected to be completed in one watch."

"Tcha." The Captain slowly turned his head. "A bad example, Mr. Bush, for us to not expect our petty officers to get work done in a timely manner. We shall perhaps make a better example of Mr. Wellard now, shall we?"

Dear God...if he'd thought the boy pale before, whatever would you call him now? Translucent?

"Shall I send for the bosun, Sir?" Buckland said, almost eagerly. "A good dozen might cure his indolence, I think."

A dozen? For doing praiseworthy work? Bush, not quickly enough, sought to find some way to diffuse the situation.

But Sawyer had turned to Buckland, with something akin to loathing on his face. "YOU think so, do you? That is what YOU think?"

For a few terrible seconds Wellard's fate hung in the balance. Then Sawyer turned to Hobbs, who was standing just behind him. "See Mr. Wellard confined in the riggings for the next watch." Wellard and Bush both exhaled together.

"Aye, aye, Sir." And with a smirking glance at Bush that he couldn't understand, Hobbs marched the relieved young man off.

It was still not right that the boy be punished. But somehow or other Bush felt that they had evaded something worse, and knew better than to pursue the injustice.

"Now, as for you, Mr. Bush..." The Captain looked him sternly in the eye. "Mr. Hobbs tells me that you have denied Randall his spirit supply, for laughing above decks. Is that so?

"Not for laughing, Sir..."

"Is that so, Mr. Bush?" The Captain repeated.

Bush inhaled. "It is true that I denied his spirit rations, but for insolence, Sir. He mocked me while I was speaking sternly to another man."

"Tut, Mr. Bush, I had not expected you to be so thin skinned. Hobbs tells me Randall is a good man, and meant no harm. And the men, Mr. Bush...they have so little joy in their lives." The Captain did not seem angry with him, but disappointed, and took on the tone Bush might take with his five-year old nephew! "One must wink at small crimes, as Shakespeare said. I have removed the punishment. Remember, one must always think of the men."

"Yes...Sir." Bush stuttered out, aghast.

The Captain had just undermined him. Undermined him badly with the crew. How the devil could he lead them if they knew his words carried no weight? How could any officer lead them?

Shakespeare. That passage he mentioned, from Henry V. When the traitorous officers encourage the King to punish a man more severely for an errant tongue. "How shall we punish crimes more Capital?" The king asked, knowing full well that the perpetrators of more capital crimes were before him. Ironic, wasn't it, that Hornblower and Kennedy had lately been debating aspects of that very play. Somehow, the thought made him shiver.

And here it was: a young officer, harshly punished for doing his duty. An insubordinate man, forgiven for his behavior.

What the devil was happening on this ship?

***
Archie and I were together in the ward room; I was downing a fast meal before I headed to my quarters for much needed sleep. I had begged Archie to cease with the complaining about Bush, for there was only so much I could take. So the conversation, these past days, when I was awake enough to have one, had dealt with our most common interest: Shakespeare. But today I am too tired, and in quiet sympathy Archie had left me to myself.

Bush came in, face impassive. "Gentlemen." He sat slowly down at the table.

"You have nearly missed your dinner, Mr. Bush." Archie said, attempting pleasantry for my sake.

"I was with the Captain." Bush tentatively reached for some chicken. "I had best tell you gentlemen, before you hear it from another; I am afraid I inadvertently got Mr. Wellard in trouble with the Captain."

I looked up sharply at the mention of Wellard's name. I saw Archie crumble his biscuit in his hand. "Oh?" I asked.

"Yes." Bush shook his head, and then looked from Archie to me. "I meant only to praise his work, but the Captain seemed to take it the wrong way."

Archie leaned forward, eyes wide. "What did he do? Dear God, not another beating?"

"No...no, the Captain settled on the riggings."

Archie was momentarily relieved. Then, with a look of disgust, he pushed away from the table and rose quickly.

"Archie..." I gasped. "Where are you going?" I feared he would confront the Captain and get himself clamped in irons.

"To my cabin." He answered, looking back at me from the doorway. "I fear the air in here grows stale." And he stormed off.

Bush rubbed his temples in slow circles. I took a deep breath. "I am sorry for that, Mr. Bush. Mr. Kennedy has taken a keen interest in Mr. Wellard's well being, and we do what we can to shield him from the Captain's vagaries." I wondered if that were saying too much.

He looked up at me, and I wish Archie could have seen his face, for he was certainly not happy for what had occurred. "Tell me...how do I keep this from happening again, Mr. Hornblower? I am not a cruel man."

"I know." I said, understanding him somehow. "The only thing I can tell you, is try not to call attention to Mr. Wellard."

"I understand now, Mr. Hornblower. I must seem terribly dense to you."

I shook my head, rising to retire and, finally, get some decent sleep. "No, Mr. Bush. You are a man in a very difficult position. I understand that. And deep down, so does Mr. Kennedy. He is inclined to let his emotions get the best of him sometime. You must understand, we have both of us been in Mr. Wellard's shoes, a long time ago. Nobody spoke for him. He does not wish to become like those officers who let him down. Does that make sense to you?"

"I believe it does. I...thank you, Mr. Hornblower. I wish you a pleasant rest. Perhaps everything shall appear better once our new orders come in."

I doubted it very much, but then, I have become bitter about my service here. If we live long enough for Bush to amass two years of service under Sawyer, no doubt he will become jaded as well.

***
December 17

A Letter to Angelina Danini, from Horatio Hornblower

Dearest Angelina...

At long last we are to have a meaningful assignment. Not too long ago, it is what I would have hoped for. Now, I fear it.

When last we were in port I had read of the slave rebellions in the Indies. Now we are to be sent to quell them. We departed yesterday, and the Captain explained our orders to us today.

Foolish me, I made the mistake of mentioning that I was aware of the uprising. It was a harmless enough comment; Captain Pellew was always more than pleased to know that his officers had some sense of the world around them. Captain Sawyer, naturally, bit my head off rather sharply, with a biting comment that, had I been the man I was seven years ago, would have sent me cowering.

Lieutenant Bush remains an enigma. The other day I had the feeling that he had begun to understand the Captain's vagaries. He had witnessed some of the Captain's cruelty towards Mr. Wellard, and indicated he had no great liking for it. But still, he keeps his guard closely, watching with wary eyes the events that unfold. He, also, made a comment during our meeting today, one which the Captain found worthy of praise and delight.

I should be lucky not to be Buckland, I guess. He was on the worst end of the abuse. And afterwards, I think I actually saw Sawyer collapse mentally. He had a hard time finding his tongue, and was shaking. As we were dismissed, I saw Dr. Clive medicating him. But if he is so ill that he cannot retain his senses, he OUGHT to be removed from duty! Surely Dr. Clive can see that?

Archie and I had a few moments for private conversation this evening. He is most concerned, and I am concerned...for reigning him in. He is liable to go off and do something rash, I fear, and yet I do see the truth in his arguments. "It is the future I fear, Horatio." He said to me. And the future frightens me to. The officers, every Lieutenant and every Midshipman, are on eggshells, fear of a miss-step rending a crack in their footing. Poor Wellard seems to be trying to sink into the deck-boards themselves. The men do not respect him, and I can see why...the Captain has made it clear that his standing is less than that of a powder-boy.

Of course, there is no reason for them to respect me, either, for much the same reason.

I do not know when I shall get to post this. Perhaps not until we reach Kingston itself, a week or more from now, depending on the weather. Remember my love for you always, should the worst happen...and I fear that it might. Perhaps this is maudlin, but we are not prepared to face the enemy as we are. So I send you my undying love, and my wish that, should I be killed in action, you shall eventually find a way to love again.

But always, always keep a spot in your heart for the happy man you knew in Gibraltar, whose life you set alight with love. You are my everything, dearest; you have given me joy beyond my wildest dreams, and most of all, hope; hope that I cling to even now, at my most desperate hour. Keep me in your prayers, love, for I am ever...

Your beloved, Horatio Hornblower.

December 21st

Archie Kennedy was frustrated. He wasn't sure which way to turn, or what to do next. He only knew that the situation was deteriorating very rapidly, and could not decide how best to handle the problem

Horatio. Now suffering through his what, twentieth hour of watch? A watch that included him forced to witness the unwarranted vicious beating of a valued young man not once, but twice. And a watch that saw them all take part in an extended battle where by Horatio proved himself at every turn to be most capable, only to be utterly scorned and disparaged by Sawyer.

Archie peaked tentatively into the midshipman's berth. Most of the men were gathered around the table, enjoying their meal. Only one hammock was occupied, and it was in that direction he headed.

Henry Wellard lay splayed over the hammock, one arm dangling over the side, resting on his stomach, the only way he feasibly could. He'd taken one unjustified beating this morning...twelve full strokes with Matthews' heavily knotted rattan cane. It was the first time the boy had ever received a full dozen; and Matthews had not dared go easy on the lad. From past experience, Archie knew what sort of pain he'd been in...despite the protection of clothing, Wellard's skin was probably broken by the last few blows.

When he'd come above decks, pale, stiff, and miserable (a condition Archie was far too understanding off) Archie had done what he could...assigned him a simple, non-physical task that would keep his mind from other problems. Wellard was nothing if not diligent, and he set to, only to have the Captain come down on him again. Another beating ordered, but the Captain was temporarily put off (saved by a fool-hardy frigate captain attacking them). Then when battle was over, that fool Bush goes and opens his mouth, mentioning Wellard in-an off-hand way, and the Captain positively gleamed. The boy had passed out before the full dozen was issued.

And so Wellard found himself where he was now...alone, ignored by his fellow midshipmen, and no doubt so very scared. The Captain's persecution of him the last time had gone on for more than a month...now that it was reawakened, who knew it how long it would last?

Archie stood over Henry and sighed. He'd promised Horatio he'd look in on the lad; Horatio being helpless as he struggled through thirty-six hours of watch. Archie gently laid a hand on Wellard's back. Henry's eyes fluttered open.

"Mr. Kennedy." He whispered. His eyes were darker even than normal, and flooded with tears still, though he didn't let a whimper escape his lips. The lower lip was swollen...Styles said the boy'd bitten himself in an effort to not scream the from the last blow. And dear god, he was shaking, in fear or shock or pain, Archie could only guess.

"Hullo Wellard." Archie pointedly pulled a blanket up over the boy's shoulders in an attempt to silence the shaking. "Lolling about in the corner again, I see." He tried to tease him.

"C-c-captain's not looking for me again, is he, Sir?" Those eyes became wider, terror stricken.

"No, no, not at all." Archie hastened to sooth him. "Mr. Hornblower asked me to look after you, so here I am." He gently rubbed the boy's back. "The pain will ease, Mr. Wellard."

"I...I passed out." He stuttered.

"It's not surprising...and nobody thinks the less of you for it." Archie replied, mindful that such things were of paramount importance to a fifteen year old boy.

"W-will the Captain resume punishment tomorrow, Sir?" The boy was pale, even his lips seemed so white as to be translucent. A thin sheen of sweat broke out on his brow. "I am not sure I can take it."

Damned, the thought hadn't occurred to Archie. Wellard had passed out at four...another eight coming, if the Captain was in a mood to order it. Hell, when WASN'T he in the mood? "We will take pains not to remind the Captain of your presence, Mr. Wellard. If there's a way of avoiding it, we will find it." Small comfort. Small hope.

"Thank you, Mr. Kennedy." Wellard whispered, blinking slowly, resigned to his sorry fate. He rustled within his coat, moving slowly and with caution, and pulled out a small brown bottle.

Archie stifled a gasp as the boy took a quick swig. "Laudanum, Mr. Wellard?"

Henry blinked. "Yes, Sir. Doctor Clive...gave it to me. For the pain, Sir." His voice broke slightly, and he looked imploringly at the officer.

*I should take it away from him. I should.* Archie knew it did more harm than good long term. If only Drew were here...with some willow bark and perhaps a cool compress or some of that salve of his. But there was no Drew, Archie was out of willow bark, and how could he deny Henry the only relief available? Still, he couldn't believe Clive had given the boy a whole bottle, to use at will.

Archie managed a smile. "Use it sparingly, Mr. Wellard. Its long term effects can hurt you more than another beating." He doubted the boy would believe him, but he had to try. "Now get yourself to sleep, Sir. There's no pain in your dreams." He stood over him, stroking the lad's back, until those eyelashes fluttered briefly, and his breathing became even.

With a sigh, Archie pulled himself away, and turned out of the berth, not even bothering to look behind him at the other, older, midshipmen, still laughing their way through dinner without concern for their unfortunate comrade. It would never have happened on Indefatigable.

*Useless, Archie, for you to keep reminding yourself that these things wouldn't happen on the Indy.* He thought bitterly. *For that matter, the Indy as you knew it doesn't exist any more. You must cope with the Renown, and an insane Captain and incompetent Doctor, and provide relief for an abused boy, and you and Horatio are on your own.*

With that bitter spot top of mind, he strode into the dimly lit passageway.

And ran smack in to Lieutenant Bush.

***
I felt my stomach quaver. Had I eaten recently, I would have lost my food for certain.

At first, as the hours wore on in my lengthy watch, the anger sustained me. Anger about the injustice done to me (which I could bear) and anger at the injustice done-twice over-to Wellard, for the high crime of proving himself to be a very good officer indeed. Beaten for saving a sail from total destruction!

I imagined the same incident on Indefatigable; Captain Pellew standing, dark as thunder on deck. "Report once you have that sail cleared, Mr. Wellard, if you please."

"Yes, Sir?" I could hear his voice wavering, as he returned down from the rat-lines to the quarterdeck, heart in his throat.

Captain Pellew looks him over from head to toe, waiting twenty, even thirty seconds, before continuing. "Good job, Mr. Wellard." A pause. "Very well done indeed." And I could see, in my mind, Wellard's quick flush of joy, the light in his eyes. And Captain Pellew would fake a scowl, even as his eyes would hold a spark of pride. "Enough of your dawdling, now. On about your duties; this ship will not sail herself!"

And my anger that he should be so cursed to be sailing here kept my adrenaline flowing for a while, kept me awake.

Eventually, though, the exhaustion, the strain, the worry, the anger, had all combined to wear my body out. Twenty hours of watch. And all the hell those twenty hours had been. Waves of tiredness kept slipping over me...warm and wearing. It reminded me of being in very warm water. I remembered being with Drew, when we went swimming in the shallow pool near the sand bar that The Liberty had been grounded on. Those happy days, so long ago. They had almost seemed to pull at me.

So it was that I was dreaming, at ease on a sunny day near Madeira, splashing in the water with a friend, when Captain Sawyer came upon me. Asleep on watch. I was in terror; he could have me put to death tomorrow, if he chose. And it's not like he hadn't done it before. In that moment, he owned me. And then...and then... he handed me his pistol.

My God, the man wanted me to shoot him!

I was awake then! Any sign of sleep evaporated with the terror of the feel of metal in my hand.

I watched his eyes...so desperate, so pleading, so expectant. I wasn't sure I understood what I saw there...just that he kept telling me that my life was in his hands ('Actually, Sir, at the moment it's the other way about').

And I was saved by Dr. Clive, come to take him away, taking the gun, no doubt bringing him for more laudanum, the unending laudanum. Sawyers look was reproachful as he was led off.

Good God, how can Clive not see it? I felt myself shaking, despite the warmth of the evening, and I hugged myself. The Captain, what ever he once might have been, is most certainly, currently, unequivocally mad. Could any Captain I have ever known...not only Pellew, but Keane...Foster...Hammond...Harvey...Clark... could any of these men allow themselves to be found parading around in their night shirt, offering pistols to their officers, so that they might be put out of their misery? Cannot Clive understand that he is truly not HEPLING the Captain by allowing him to retain this command? Would it really be better for him to loose his entire ship than to be forced to step aside?

The questions burned my brain, over and over again.

***
Archie stared at Bush, in surprise. What the devil was HE doing here, outside the midshipmen's berth? Bastard. The entire second beating...first Bush had done precious little to dissuade it, and then he'd managed to remind the Captain, unintentionally or otherwise, that the order still had not been carried out. Malicious or stupid, Archie didn't care. The man reminded him far too much of former Lieutenant Eccleston...Eccleston, whom had turned a blind eye to Simpson for all those years, because it was easier to ignore the abuse than to do something about it.

"Mr. Bush." Archie said, not bothering to keep the hostility out of his voice. "Have you lost your way to the ward room?"

"No more than you have, apparently, Mr. Kennedy." Bush's voice was defensive. "And I resent that tone of voice, Sir."

"I am sorry if you find my tone of voice offensive, Sir." He replied in the same manner.

They stared at each other, silent, resentful. Archie was angry still, angrier every second that this man existed. Finally curiosity got the better of him, and he spoke. "Why ARE you down here, Mr. Bush? Come to seek Mr. Wellard for another round with the Captain?" Even as he spoke the words, he felt his pulse quicken...what if that were exactly why he was down here? He couldn't...

"Mr. Kennedy." Bush hissed, letting emotion come through for perhaps the first time. "Do you think I am entirely without compassion in this situation? Do you think I enjoy watching this injustice done?"

"I do not know what you think, Mr. Bush. In fact, you have never given me any indication that you thought about the situation at all."

"And you, Sir..." Bush flushed. "Have never let me. Instead, you are far to eager to wear your emotions for all to see. Do you think you help the boy by siding with him so obviously? Do you think you do any of us any favors by so disdaining the Captain?"

Archie swallowed. That was the second time today somebody had indicated that his attempt at helping Wellard had actually hurt the boy. As the first had been Horatio, he was beginning to believe it might in fact be true. He sighed. "I regret very much if anything I have done has caused harm." He blinked, suddenly feeling overwhelmed with exhaustion. "But you cannot know, Mr. Bush, what it is to be on Mr. Wellard's side of the equation. Bad enough to suffer. Worse to believe that nobody cares that you do." His skin went clammy; his head was hurting...surely, no, not now, he could not be having a fit.

Bush grasped his arm. "Are you unwell, Mr. Kennedy?"

Archie wanted to sneer at the pretense of compassion in the man's voice, but it was not a luxury he had.

"I would appreciate it if you would assist me to my cabin, Sir." He whispered.

***

Half an hour later, he blinked his eyes, surprised to see Bush leaning over his hammock. The cabins of Renown were not fit with solid bunks, as Indefatigable had been; that had been a luxury provided by Captain Pellew's purse, and not the Navy. So the swinging sensation was real, and not a product of his head.

Had he had a fit? He watched Bush warily. Normally, the fits left him exhausted to the bone, and he did not feel that badly. "What happened?"

"I ought to ask you that, I suppose. You seemed to be on the edge of some sort of brain-fever." The language was that of a layperson, not the technical knowledge he'd come to expect from Horatio. "You stiffened, and then collapsed into a faint, if you will. Not eating properly, I suppose."

"That is all...that is all that happened?" Archie asked, afraid to give away too much.

Bush held water up to him. "That is all, Mr. Kennedy. I would ask what it is that you are so concerned over, but I do not believe you would trust me."

Archie swallowed the water, then sank back onto the hammock. "Are you suggesting I should?"

"I would tell you that you can, but that would not work." He sighed, leaning against the bulkhead, arms crossed. "Mr. Kennedy, when first I came on board I judged you as rash, impulsive, and insubordinate. I dare say you are all of those things. But perhaps...you have a reason to be so. I wanted this ship to be my opportunity, Sir, and to have an officer five year's my junior jest at my earnestness was galling."

"I meant it more as a warning..." Archie trailed off, rubbing his forehead. "God, when Horatio and I first got here...we came from the same ship, you know. Indefatigable. Finest men. Finest Captain. Two officers with their entire careers before them, the future limitless. Well, at least Horatio's was...and I was content to be considered a good man, if not the shooting star he is. Anyway, we were excited as hell to be here. That was two years ago. Two years of living on the brink of disaster. Two years is all it took for the Captain to turn me into this quivering pile of sarcasm, and Horatio...god, he just pulls deeper and deeper into himself. Perhaps if you had known us before...your opinion would have been different."

"My opinion is different already." Bush gave him a hesitant smile. "About a lot of things. I was in fact on my way to inquire about Wellard's health when you ran into me. I am not happy to see him tortured. Only I have chosen to play my hand differently."

Archie looked at Bush, wondering for the first time how he had found himself here. "What is your story, Mr. Bush? Why are you here?

Bush looked off into the distance, as if seeing through the cabin wall. "I came late into this service...I was seventeen. And my rise has not been...meteoric, like Hornblower's. Three times it took for me to pass the Lieutenant's exam. And then lengthy service in the North sea, away from the action as it were. Three years before we saw London again. When I heard that there was a chance at commission on Renown....I jumped for it. How could I not be happy to serve instead with a fighting Captain? Second Lieutenant on a ship of the line? A few steps short of commander, and then Captain. I know I can be a good leader, even if I am not brilliant, even if I am not privileged. Now, I doubt my reputation, or any of ours, will survive this mission intact."

"No." Archie sat up slowly. "I have also had a slow rise to get where I am. Time as a prisoner...medical problems. Perhaps I AM what you would call privileged, but I would not call on my father for assistance. He is proud of the fact that I have gotten my way in the world on my own merits."

"You have served for a long time?" Bush turned his gentle gaze on him.

"Since I was twelve, as a cabin boy, on a ship called Justinian." He shook off the name. "That is when I first met Horatio. We were both victims of a violent introduction to the Navy, myself more so than him." He closed his eyes. "None of the officers took steps to rectify the situation, and THEY could have...our tormentor was an older midshipman, not a Captain. So you can see how this situation disturbs me? I cannot condone this. Yet I never planned on not being able to assist, either. I do not know what to do."

Bush blinked. "There isn't anything else for us TO do, Mr. Kennedy. We must hope we get to Kingston, or that Dr. Clive comes to his senses."

Archie sighed. For a bare moment, he'd hoped that Bush was coming over to their side, not that they had one. No go. Still, it was better now, a little, anyway, and that was all he could hope for any more. He rose slowly from the hammock.

"Ought you be doing that, Mr. Kennedy?" Bush asked, concerned.

"The danger has passed, Mr. Bush, and Mr. Hornblower will worry if I do not report on Wellard's condition." They walked out of the cabin together, Archie composing himself, so that even the eagle eyed Horatio would not notice anything amiss with his health.

"Shall I go with you, Mr. Kennedy?" He looked at him quietly, and Archie understood the offer of friendship for what it was.

"I think not. Best if the Captain does not see you becoming tainted by my presence. Horatio and I have long been consigned to the scrap heap. No need for the same to happen to you, Mr. Bush."

"Will."

"I'm sorry?" Archie blinked.

Bush extended his hand. "You may call me Will, please. We are in this together, after all."

Archie took his hand, with a wan smile. "It remains to be seen whether or not that is a good thing. But I am glad to understand you...Will. You may call me Archie."

"When not around the Captain, of course." He smiled.

Archie nodded, as he headed away. "Of course."

They parted bellow decks. Archie made his way above, hoping Horatio was still awake and doing fine. Or at least, as well as could be expected.
***

December 22, one hour before dawn.

 

 

I shook my head briskly. Even the violent disturbance that saw my loyal man Styles brutally beaten at the hands of that idiot Randall cannot keep me awake it seems. I still cannot believe Randall's stupidity. I know, for some reason, Hobbs feels regard for him, but even he cannot condone such a violent attack, can he? Had not Matthews realized the ruse quickly when he was sent to myself and Archie (who was visiting to detail Wellard's health, among other things) Styles would be dead.

Hell, Sawyer with a gun and a suicide wish, Styles beaten, Archie's visit...what else can happen this evening?

"Careful, snotty, it's a long way down."

I started at the voice and looked up. Jack Simpson. It cannot be.

A slight fuzziness and wavering around his outline told me he was mere vision, not flesh. I blinked and blinked but he would not go away. My pulse quickened, fearing that I had in fact fallen so deeply asleep that I could not wake myself up. But I don't think that is the case...it's just the fact that my exhaustion has resulted in queer reactions.

"Well, snotty, punished again, I see."

I will not answer. I will not answer. I will not answer.

"Not moving your lips? What, Cat got your tongue? Better that than the flesh on your back, I always say." He leaned himself towards me and smirked. "You think I can't read your mind, boy? I AM your mind. You'll never escape me. Not really."

Go to the devil. Captain Pellew blew you to hell.

"Well, if he blew me to hell, then I already am at the devil, you sniveling little kiss ass."

I gasped.

"You think I need you to speak words to hear you? No, your mind tells me all. And it tells me that you are every bit of the little coward I always thought you were."

Don't think. Don't think. Scan the Horizon. Don't think. He's not really here.

"Horatio Snotty Hornblower. Man of action. Beloved pupil of Captain Sir Stiff Upper Lip Pellew. Jumping on fire ships to hide a failed exam. Taunting a French Captain to cover up for having your first ship sink beneath you. Dressing like a damned frog to evade capture. Everyone lauds you for your actions, but Pellew never saw the failure beneath them did he?"

Don't insult Captain Pellew, you pathetic bastard.

"I will do as I damned well pleased, Snotty. It's not like you're in any condition to make me go away." He smirked. "And Pellew deserves the insult. Covering your pretty little arse all those times. A rather unnatural fondness for your arse, he had. Perhaps he and I weren't so different after all."

SIMPSON, DAMN YOU...

I strode forward, reaching out for the air, to strangle him once and for all, and he vanished. Midshipman Hastings spoke.

"Sir, are you alright?"

I gasped, my pulse racing. "Quite, Hastings. Quite. Just stretching to keep myself awake."

I settled nervously back into position, and the ship's regular movements resumed. Hastings went on about his duties, and I shivered. The sun will be up soon. Please, let it be up soon.

"Do you think I'm a vampire, that I would fear the sun, Snotty?" He was back.

I will not move. I will not let him provoke me. The sun will rise, and he will go away.

"Tell me, were you more upset that I implied that Pellew had an unnatural liking for you, or that I called your bluff as a man of action?"

I am, and shall remain, a man of reason.

"Oh, rubbish, boy. You say that, and yet were you not always proud of your physical work? Enduring the oubliette. Rescuing those men shipwrecked. Firing your damned BED yesterday. All smirks and grins and superior giggles."

I'm not like that, I'm NOT!

"Yet in a situation worse than any of those so-called dire emergencies, what action have you taken?"

I do not understand your meaning, Sir.

"Here. On this lovely little ship. Rather makes Justinian look like the lap of luxury, eh? Here, when a ship of seven hundred souls is depending on leadership, and you know, YOU KNOW SNOTTY, that the Captain is not capable of providing it, what action have you taken?"

I cannot condone mutiny.

"Mutiny, my arse, Snotty. You're a coward, plain and simple. Even your little friend Kennedy..."

...leave him alone...

"...your little pal Archie has got more guts and common sense than you do. Even HE understands that something has to be done. And simpering idiot that he is, he looks at you, all imploring, 'something must be done, Horatio.' 'What shall we do Horatio?' 'Solve it for me, Horatio, solve it like you like to let everyone think you're capable of doing.' And what do you do?"

LEAVE ME BE!

"Heroic Horatio Hornblower does nothing. Just whistles while his ship is sailing straight into disaster, a mad Captain at the helm. Tell me, how many men do you think will be killed when you finally see action? Do you think you can save even a third of them?"

YOU ARE NOT EVEN REAL.

"And what about that pretty little midshipman you are so fond of? Will he live? Will the Captain beat him to death, do you think, or will the enemy run him through when you are boarded? One shot, neat, to the chest. Like me. Or do you think maybe he'll die slowly, lingering on for days in horrific pain, all because Horatio Hornblower couldn't handle the reality..."

NO.

"...couldn't make a decision..."

IT WON'T BE LIKE THAT.

"...couldn't do more than offer him a sorry shoulder to cry on, and a fleeting thought when he's dead?"

GO...TO...

"Horatio?" Bush's voice spoke beside me, and the mists cleared into pale daylight.

HELL.

"Mr. Bush." I said, barely audible. "I did not hear you approach."

"I brought you some coffee. Keep the cobwebs away." He handed me a steaming cup.

"I...thank you...Mr. Bush." Bless him. Bless his honest heart. "I did not think we had any beans left in the mess."

He watched as I first inhaled the fragrant brew and then took a deep sip. "We don't. I did a little bartering with the cook."

I nearly scalded myself with the hot liquid. The pain is nothing, if it keeps me from Simpson. "I do hope he did not ask too much."

"To much for what, Mr. Hornblower?" Bush shrugged. "My week's spirit ration is a small price to pay for your life."

Mouth open, I stared after him, but with a silent nod he slid away.

***

Wellard rose slowly, his body a mass of aches. He dressed slowly, for more than one reason; because of his injuries, he'd been forced to sleep in a most awkward position, and therefore even lifting his arm above his head hurt. But more importantly, he wanted to make certain his "mates" if that was what he could call the Midshipmen of HMS Renown, had already moved on. He would not be dining at the table this morning; he'd had humiliation enough, thank you very much.

He was pulling his coat on just as the ship rolled. It caught him unawares, and he fell to the floor. Pain shot through him and tears blinded his eyes, though he grasped the hammock and pulled himself up as quickly as he could. Blinking quickly, he sniffled and, hand shaking slightly, uncorked that bottle he'd been given. Another quick sip, and the edge was gone...the pain still there; his body knew enough not to move too quickly, but his reaction to it was dulled, and that was enough.

"Hey...Wellard."

Henry turned abruptly, stuffing the bottle in his coat, holding the hammock to keep from shaking. "Yes, Tomlinson?" He looked into the face of the oldest member of his berth, a thirty-two year old master's mate, formerly a gunner.

"You ought to eat something before you go up on duty." Tomlinson came forward with tea and a biscuit. "I saved you some grub from the table. I know you weren't keen on joining us this morning."

Wellard accepted the tea, and, leaning against the bulkhead, he worked quickly to get that and the stale biscuit down.

"You're shaking." Tomlinson noticed, taking the cup back from him. "You ought to be excused from duty another day."

Wellard shook his head. "Dr. Clive said I would be fine today; therefore, I must be fine." He brushed biscuit crumbs from his uniform.

"I suppose you have no choice." Tomlinson extended his hand; blinking, Wellard took it, and the man assisted him towards above decks.

"I...thank you." Wellard stared down the passageway bleakly, feeling like a man walking to his own execution.

Tomlinson understood. As they got above decks, he gave Wellard's arm a quick grab. "Stay out of Captain's sight-line. Keep quiet. Offer nothing. You could be a fine officer, but not here. You've got a good head on your shoulders, boy. Let's keep it there."

Wellard watched him walk away, his step eased slightly. It was the first sign of any sort of friendship from the other midshipman, and somehow life seemed a very little bit better because of it.

Warily he stepped towards the quarterdeck, glad to see that only Lieutenant Buckland, and, of course, Lieutenant Hornblower, were there, with no sign of the Captain. If he could just get through this watch! Just one watch, without being beaten or abused, or derided. It wasn't too much to ask, was it?
***

Daylight. Full morning now, another change of watch. I am still awake, thanks to my friends and a cup of strong coffee that Lieutenant Bush managed to find for me.

If I survive this ordeal, if I live to see a day beyond Renown, then God help me, so long as I live I will carry an undying gratitude towards Matthews, Bush and Archie. There is no praise too high, no reward to great, for the friendship they have shown. But still, I fear for our future here, and the more I think on my conversation with Archie, and the incidents with Styles last night, the more I wonder if I shouldn't be doing SOMETHING?

Hell, perhaps Simpson got to me more than I realized.

Hallucinating. NOT a good sign, Horatio. Not much better than sleeping. Though perhaps harder to prove.

"Midshipman Wellard reporting for duty, Sir."

I blinked down at his sudden arrival. Yes, it was his watch. God, he looks like death. Of course, I probably look worse.

"Very good, Mr. Wellard." His dark eyes were clouded with pain, and perhaps the remnants of the laudanum that Clive dosed him with. The boy could not bend down to touch his shoe, let alone do most of the work required of a midshipman on duty. I racked my brains for something that would not task him, and would keep him from the Captain's sight.

Buckland, for once, had a bright idea. "Mr. Wellard! The ship's steward has need of your services, Sir. Please report to the hold, if you will, and assist him with inventory."

Henry's face relaxed as I gave him a little nod. "Aye, aye, Sir." He moved stiffly away.

I was surprised that Buckland had shown that much thought, but couldn't think of a good way to phrase it. I tried to conjure up an image of the steward...a rather benign old man by the name of Lee. Transferred here about the same time Archie and I did. I tried to think of a way to phrase a question of whether or not he was trustworthy.

"A new day, Mr. Hornblower, and you are almost through your ordeal. We shall all rejoice then, I know."

"None more than me, Sir." I replied, wearily. "About Midshipman Wellard..."

"Tut, a bad thing, I know." He whispered low, sounding nervous. "I'd hate to see the Captain continue where he left of, if you get my drift."

I felt a brisk panic through my veins...the thought had not occurred to me.

"A very good idea that the bosun had, to send the boy to the Steward. Keep him occupied."

Matthews! Matthews had thought of it? Well, alright then. "Indeed, Sir."

Two more hours to go. And then I think I shall sleep for a week.
***

Wellard painfully stumbled down below. The Steward was there, as was Matthews. He swallowed hard; though he knew Matthews had not enjoyed beating him, he still felt his stomach quake slightly in his presence.

"Aye, there, Mr. Wellard." Matthews touched his arm gently. "This is my friend Lee, here. He'll keep an eye on ye."

An eye on me? Wellard looked confused.

Matthews coughed. "An' I'll be keepin' an eye out fer any visitors. Ye relax now, Sir." And with a wink, Matthews left quietly.

And Lee pointed Wellard's way around a stack of crates, to a cleared area, where a couple of blankets had been thrown together.

"Rest up, lad. Matty'll signal us if anyone is headin' our way. Since we can't sent ye to sick berth, we figured this'd be the next best thing.

Not for the first time today, Wellard felt tears sting his eyes, though not for the same reason. Simple gratitude filled him. "Tell Mr. Matthews, thank you."

Lee nodded, and then he watched Wellard sink down into little nest they'd made for him. They'd do what little they could for the lad. Lord knows, Matthews felt bad enough as it was. Anything to make this blasted sail easier. He hoped, Lee did, that this man Hornblower was as good as Matthews said he was. Because right now that was the only real hope he had.

***

I saw the last three hours of my extended watch drag away. One half hour to go. And yet one question remains. Finally, hesitantly, I broached it to Buckland.

"Mr. Buckland, there had been a...disturbance...below decks last evening. One of my men is still in sick berth, and another man is in irons. Why have I not yet been asked for an explanation?" Not that I particularly wish to converse with the Captain, now or at any time, but it did rather make one wonder.

"Ah, well, the Captain is...the Captain is..." Buckland rolled his lips nervously. "He is, at least, Dr. Clive says he is..."

Good God, it was a simple question, was it not?

"The Captain, Mr. Hornblower, is indisposed this morning."

I stared at him unblinking, my body teetering on the brink of exhaustion and my brain apparently numbed. Indisposed? More than any other day, he means?

"Yes, yes, indisposed." Buckland babbled on. "Rather unfortunate, but the Doctor says he caught a chill last evening."

Yes, well, running about in your dressing gown in the late night begging your officers to shoot you rather did lead to that.

"I see." Was all I said aloud. "So, Mr. Buckland, shall you see to the situation in his stead?"

I might as well suggested he assassinate the King. He gasped and stood a half step back from me.

"Certainly not, Mr. Hornblower. I do hope I know my place here as first officer. The man can remain incarcerated until the Captain is well enough to hear the charges. I would not presume to act on his behalf.

Obviously. No truer words were ever spoken.

"Of course not, Mr. Buckland. I am relieved to know that you do not feel the Captain's illness to be of...long duration."

Perhaps he'll catch pneumonia and die. I could here my father scolding me from the heavens for such an un-Christian thought, but as the man wished to die, I see no better way of him getting his wish without endangering any of the men. For that matter, wouldn't it be saving his soul, as God rather frowns on suicide?

Rationalizing again, Horatio. You really do need some sleep.

"Mr. Hornblower?"

Buckland cut into my wayward thoughts, and I tried to pull my mind together.

"Yes, Lieutenant." I said, trying to pretend like I'd been listening to him all along.

"That was the watch bell."

"Yes, it was." I said, not comprehending.

"That would signal the end of the watch."

I stared at him. Rather slowly, he spoke as if I were a child.

"That would constitute the end of YOUR watch, Sir."

The end. Of my watch. How lovely. "Of course, Sir. I shall...go bellow then. Thank you."

I walked with dignity down below. I would not let anyone catch me running for my berth. Archie, just headed up to watch, patted me on the back as I left.

"Get some sleep, Horatio, you look absolutely ghastly."

"At least I have a reason to, Mr. Kennedy." I tried to tease.

He grinned. "I see your sleep deprivation has not damaged your sense of humor." He turned away, but continued loud enough for me to hear. "Abysmal before, abysmal now."

I opened the door to my blessed quarters, and fell into my hammock, stopping only long enough to take off my shoes. Then, sweet darkness.

***

"Horatio."

I am dreaming. I know that sounds like Archie, but I have only just closed my eyes, and he is on watch for some time yet. There is no reason for me to awaken, anyway.

"Horatio."

I AM dreaming. I refuse to believe otherwise. Archie is my friend. He would not torture me so, not even as a joke.

"HORATIO, for God's sake."

And he says MY sense of humor is abysmal? "Damn you." I muttered grumpily. "Get away, Archie. I have only just fallen asleep. Unless we are at battle, you'd best leave before I kill you."

"I'm sorry." He really sounded it, at least. "However, the Captain is feeling better, and your presence is requested in his cabin in one quarter of an hour.

"My..." This time I really opened my eyes, to find myself staring into Archie's concerned face. "Oh, damn!" I extended my hand, and he helped me rise

"Three hours sleep is not much to face him on, I know." He helped me brush off my jacket with sympathy. "But he is to hear of Styles and Randall."

The cobwebs gradually cleared. I DO feel a little better, at least. "How is Styles?"

"Doesn't look too good, for all he joked about winning." Archie's grin was a frozen and stiff one. "Worse than you did after Simpson got a hold of you." He added, as he headed out of the cabin before me.

Just as well he couldn't see my shiver at the strange coincidence of his mentioning our old nemesis. Whatever else I can talk to Archie about, I cannot ever tell him what visions had plagued me before dawn.

I followed quickly, trying to compose my speech, hoping that the Captain would at least pretend to listen to my version of the situation.

"Archie..." I said, quietly. "Was I mistaken last night, or did I see Wellard about during the fight."

"You did. I noted him as well."

"I meant to ask him about it when I saw him earlier, but my mind was not totally there. He looked rather out of it, himself."

"He was." Archie set his mouth in a very disapproving line. "Clive gave the boy a whole bottle of laudanum. I know he's in a lot of pain, but..."

"...but that's hardly a good idea." I finished his speech. "I shall talk to him later, Archie, and get him to give me what medication he has left. As long as we can keep the Captain's mind off of him, there is no reason he should suffer further."

I stepped into the afternoon sun on deck, and saw Wellard, apparently just returned from his assignment in the hold. He looks better already. Mr. Bush has caught his ear, and seems to be instructing him. If nothing else came of this ordeal, at least I have learned Bush's true character. He can be trusted. With Wellard. With all things.

Steeling my nerves, I headed in to the Captain.

***
December 23, evening

Double hell, and damn the man to pieces!

Darkness is falling on my second round of consecutive watch and watch. I am approaching a second thirty hours. I only had three hours of sleep after my last. Sporadically I start shaking, quaking from head to toe with exhaustion. 'Simpson' visited me once last evening, and I damned near flung myself overboard. It cannot be any worse than this.

I still do not understand what happened. Yesterday, when reporting to the Captain on the Styles/Randall incident, Sawyer, as I might have predicted, refused to believe my version of the events, and enlarged Randall free and clear. I think Hobbs fed Sawyer a version that was more palatable to him. Frustrating, but I held my tongue.

Once outside on the quarterdeck, Archie and Buckland both sympathized with me. We did not say so much that was very bad. A few quiet words of frustration. The entire conversation did not last more than three minutes. But out came Sawyer, flying down upon us, accusing us of conspiring behind his back, fomenting mutiny on his own quarterdeck. Buckland lamely tried to defend us all, perhaps only landing us in more trouble.

Sawyer appealed to Bush. Unfortunately, Bush forgot the lesson I had tried to hammer home earlier about keeping Wellard from the Captain's consciousness. Bush naively explained that he had been busy assisting Wellard with a task. I should have liked to gag him before he got the full words out.

Naturally, Sawyer decided that the conspiracy that wasn't must of course include Wellard as well. The upshot was, I was given another thirty-six hours of watch, and Buckland, Kennedy and Wellard must report to me at the beginning of every watch and at the stroke of every hour, in full uniform. Grossly unfair.

But I could have stood it. Not happily, but I could have. I made it through the sunset that evening and overnight, though Simpson deviled me. I know I dozed on my feet more than once, but was saved by the reporting Lieutenants and Wellard each time. Ironic, isn't it, that the torture Sawyer devised for them may have saved my life.

I made it through a bleary dawn somehow holding myself together. But it was just before noon that the exhaustive numbness, the waking dream that was consuming my body was shattered. Shattered by a piercing scream of a boy.

I shook myself awake to see a pale and furious Archie standing beside me. I do not know how long he had been there.

"Archie?" I asked, shakily.

"Wellard." He said shortly.

Another scream.

"He's already had six without a sound. Just got too much for him I expect." Archie's lips were thin, his eyes flaming with rage.

"Why?" I whispered, as the scream was repeated. That made nine, I guess.

"Sawyer decided Henry was holding out on him. Decided if there was any more to the conspiracy, he'd beat Wellard into telling him."

I had a fleeting vision of a desperate Wellard lying to Sawyer just because he could not take the pain anymore.

"Aaaaiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeee." Ten.

But...but...did my eyes deceive me? "Archie?" I breathed, for Matthews was plainly visible before me.

"The Captain instructed Mr. Matthews to hand the rattan over to Mr. Hobbs."

Oh, Christ...and Hobbs, damn him, is probably enjoying this. A weaker scream sounded. "Why does he not pass out?"

"Asafetida." Archie didn't turn his head. "Sawyer instructed Dr. Clive to place it beneath his nose whenever he seems to be losing his senses.

One final, pathetically weak cry. Twelve. My shivering became more pronounced. Please, dear God, let it end with this.

Silence. Time ticked past with no further screams. Finally Dr. Clive came above decks. He shifted his way past the both of us, not daring to meet our eyes.

As he passed, Archie shook his head slowly.

"This must end, Horatio."

Yes, it must end. For once, Simpson had gotten something right.

"Can we meet, Archie?" I whispered, swallowing quickly. "Sometime very late tonight?"

He met my eyes, our stares locked. Mine pleading; his slowly understanding.

"Yes, it has come to this, hasn't it?" Archie set his shoulders. "Buckland will want in. He's been feeling me out about our options all morning."

"Three are better than two." I whispered.

"What about Bush?" He asked, tentatively.

Four, of course, would be best. Still... "Has he approached you at all?"

"No."

"Then best we leave it be." Archie sighed, as I set my gaze back on the unending horizon.

"I shall take care of it then, and give you the news by the change of the next watch." He took a deep breath. "I can organize the meeting, but dear God, we need your brain, Horatio."

"I shall think it over well, Archie." I gave him a desperate smile. "It is not like I do not have time enough to do so."

***

Hobbs passed a seething, scornful Matthews on his way bellow decks. Once hidden from eyes above, he took a deep drink of grog, and tried to forget the screams.

He hadn't thought he would mind. They were against the Captain, his Captain, the lot of 'em. And if his Captain, his hero, wished a boy beaten, well then, there must be a reason, by God, and beaten he should be. That's what he thought before he wielded the rattan.

His Captain. His beloved Captain Sawyer. Coming on board the miserable little sloop Hobbs had been stuck on as a twelve year old ship's boy. A Lieutenant, that bastard Lieutenant Carstairs, had been beating him again. Beating him senseless for what had seemed to be the hundredth time. And Sawyer, just a Commander, but already destined for greatness, had roared. He'd struck Carstairs, slapped him right across the face, and demanded that Hobbs be transferred to Sawyers' ship. He was not going to stand around and let an officer beat a boy bloody.

He'd served with Sawyer ever since. Three ships. Twenty years. Seen everything with the Captain, he had. Captured ships. Fought valiantly. And the Captain, unlike a lot of others, took pains for his men. Made certain the conditions were the best they could be. And Hobbs learned how to be a sailor; he learned every aspect of the ship from top to bottom, and he was also taught how to read. Promotion to gunner by the Captain...just before that damned encounter with those three frigates...had represented everything Hobbs had ever wanted. And he loved the Captain, more than any father he could remember. As far as he was concerned, the Captain could do no wrong.

Until now?

Wellard. He shouldn't have minded beating Wellard. That boy was in on this, in on everything, on the side of those stupid Lieutenants: Buckland, who was too stupid to be believed, and Kennedy and Hornblower, who disdained the Captain without even knowing him. And what had Hobbs ever seen THEM do to that compared with what he'd seen from Sawyer?

But Wellard...those eyes turned on him in stupefied terror, and then when it was over, and the boy could not even stand, those eyes...full of anger and hatred and pain. Wellard had looked on him the same way he'd looked on Lieutenant Carstairs, all those years ago.

And the Captain, his Captain, for God's sake, licking his lips with a little smirk. "Perhaps he knows nothing after all, eh, Mr. Hobbs?" But the Captain couldn't be enjoying this, could he?

Then Hobbs had seen the Captain teeter, precariously, the bluster gone in a second, the pain there, and the Doctor sweeping upon the man and whisking him away.

Could it be that the Captain...really wasn't fit for command any longer?

HELL! What was he thinking! Hobbs slammed his fist on the deck. He ought to be flogged himself, for even thinking such black thoughts. Of course the Captain was fit. He was just...tired. And none of those Lieutenants making it easier for him. No, beating Wellard might not have been right, but if it was the only mistake in a twenty year career, then it was a small enough one, and Hobbs must forgive it. The Captain was fit, indeed, and woe be it if any of the Lieutenants, or Wellard, tried to say otherwise.

 

***

 

During my interminable punishment, Archie fed me information, bit by
bit, watch by watch. A meeting place decided on, deep in the belly
of the ship. And a risk taken...Wellard would be sent up to relieve
me from watch, for a "call of nature" should anybody ask.

I am wary of involving the boy. And there is the issue of his
physical well being. "Can he even STAND, Archie?" I asked, in a low
voice.

Archie assured me he could. "I wouldn't ask him to climb the
riggings, in his current state. But to stand watch for half an
hour...he should be more than capable."

We had already decided we could not risk meeting for longer than
that. "But what of the laudanum?"

With hesitation, Archie reluctantly spoke. "I took the first bottle
away from him yesterday, convinced him it was doing him no good. But
then..."

"The next beating." I didn't want to think about those screams any
more than I had to. "You gave it back to him?"

"I would have given him a dose but held on to the bottle. But he
informed me that Dr. Clive had already given him some relief."

Relief in the form of an entire new bottle, I wondered? Well, it was
of little consequence, anyway. We MUST meet, and only Wellard is
trustworthy enough and in a position to assist. If we are found out,
I will deny his involvement, merely saying that he thought I really
did have a call of nature, and I had lied to him.

So I find myself waiting, waiting, as the hourglass runs dry, for
Henry to arrive.

And to set in motion something from which I fear there is no return.

***

Clive removed his scratchy wig...the heat was increasing, and with it his discomfort...and rubbed over his bald head. The situation grew increasingly worse, and he was increasingly unsure what to do about it.

Truth be told, the Captain was not fit to command the ship any longer. He'd suspected it for some time, but this afternoon had confirmed it. The vicious beating of Wellard, and the unheard of command that the boy be kept conscious for the entire beating in any way possible. That was not the Captain Sawyer he'd sailed with for fifteen years. James had never been violent in that extreme. He'd ordered beatings, before, but always with cause and never with enjoyment. Not like today.

Afterward, Clive had Wellard carried to the surgery, but he'd first followed Sawyer, and exhausted, fading Sawyer, to his cabin. The man, quite frankly, didn't know where he was. He thought they were in the Med, and was muttering under his breath about the frigates. Then he'd chuckled, and said, "I taught him, I did, who is master on this ship, did I not, Doctor Clive? Yes, I taught Warren well."

"Wellard, Sir."

"Hm? Who is Wellard? No, no, Warren has learned his lesson, and if not, I am not afraid to teach him again, not to skylark by the guns." His eyes danced, but his body shook.

Clive had cringed, and hastily provided his Captain with more laudanum to sooth the tremors, and the brain-storm. Warren had been a young midshipman on board two years ago. His actions by the guns (for which he had been beaten, once, a mere six strokes) had damaged one of them, and caused them problems in the ensuing fight with the trio of frigates.

Warren might in fact have received another beating afterwards, but he hadn't survived the fighting. Blown to bits. A high price to pay for being a fifteen year old boy with a slightly exuberant nature,
who made a mistake.

Wellard was not like Warren. More timid. And yet, a better officer. He'd never seen the boy seriously step out of line. The beatings were unfortunate.

And now Sawyer had confused the two. Damn it all, how could he, as a physician, allow Sawyer to continue when he could not even tell the difference between a living boy and a midshipman now two years dead?

The answer was simple: Buckland.

If he could only bypass Buckland, somehow. Remove Sawyer and hand the reigns over to Bush, who seemed steady and honest and capable, if not dynamic. He didn't know that he'd trust Hornblower or Kennedy (firebrands both) but Bush would be worthy, at least to see them
safely to Kingston.

What then? Well, it would be sticky. His word as a physician versus Sawyer's occasional bouts of lucidity. And then, he wasn't really a physician, he was a surgeon, and barely one of those. But if he
withheld the laudanum...God, it almost seemed like trickery, but when the laudanum was out of his system his outright paranoia was obvious to a twelve-year old powder monkey. He'd hate to do it, but he knew that the James Sawyer he once sailed with would not approve of the
Captain of this vessel.

He'd take the step. He would. But, Buckland...

Buckland was possibly the stupidest man on the face of the earth. Fifty years old, and proud of telling people he'd held his commission for twenty-two years. Proud of not making Lieutenant until the age of twenty-eight, and proud of never having been chosen to command even a supply ship? And any time he'd seen Buckland in action, these past four years, seen Buckland HAVE TO make a decision, the effect was almost comical. Except in the Med it had nearly gotten them all killed. Instead, Buckland only managed to do away with two thirds of the men on board.

In general, Clive felt sorry for stupid people...after all, one could not help not being born with brains. And they meant well. Surely Buckland meant well. The choice to attack and then flee from two frigates, into the arms of a waiting third, were not done with the intent of destroying the ship, but to save it. Trouble was, it was common that while stupid people were meaning well, they were getting others around them killed in their folly. He had to weight the balance...what was worse, a sick Sawyer or a healthy Buckland?

In the end, he went with his gut. The men would follow Sawyer, at least as long as Clive kept him fairly lucid. The men would not follow Buckland, and then they really would have a mutiny, instead of the imagined intrigues of Sawyer's dementia.

As for the rest of the officers, well, hard luck on them. Especially Hornblower...Sawyer had no idea how he'd managed to stay awake. But he'd have to suck it up. They all would. No other choice for it, that he could see.

Wellard, though...he really did feel sorry for him. He'd have to work on the Captain tomorrow, try and convince him that the boy was benign. As it was...Clive shook his head. Poor kid. He'd given him more laudanum...the boy was in such agony. A surprising little conversation they'd had:

"Mr. Kennedy would not approve of my having an entire bottle..." Wellard had whispered, shakily, barely conscious.

"Rubbish. Mr. Kennedy is not a doctor. You are in pain, Mr. Wellard, and I cannot follow you around the ship when it is time for your next dose." He'd replied, without mentioning that it taxed him enough to have to do the very same thing for the Captain. "You're a bright boy. Take what you need when you need it."

Clive sat back, and took a long drink from his flask of gin. Well, at least he could take comfort that he was doing something right.

He meant well, after all.

***

Archie Kennedy, a bundle of nerves, sat with fellow officers Buckland and Hornblower in their hiding place. Something had to be done, to be sure, and yet Horatio was making a good case for doing nothing at all. He recognized well the tactic of playing Devil's Advocate. They had to understand what they were doing; had to know what their crime would look like to unknowing eyes at the Port Admiral's. If only they could get Clive on their side...get him to admit that
Sawyer's behavior had become increasingly erratic.

A shuffling noise startled them all. They found Bush, staring them down, at an impasse. Would he turn them in? Or had he more heart than that, the heart he was beginning to let his brother officers see? The world slipped from Archie's shoulders as Bush begged to join them. They had Bush! The second Lieutenant with the others, and oh, what a difference it made. He'd been prudent about deciding to take action, certain sure, but Archie liked their chances infinitely better with him on their side.

So now, they were four.

***
Wellard swallowed hard, forcing his damned eyes-what was wrong with his eyes-to stay in focus, as Hobbs disappeared with a snarl. Wellard's pulse had increased at Hobbs' approach, after the beating he'd taken yesterday, but that was nothing to the rate of his pulse now, certain that Hobbs was going to the Captain.

Matthews gave him a sharp look. "Go!"

And with a nod, Wellard ran.

Running hurt like hell, he was in no condition to do it, but he owed far too much to the kindness of Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Hornblower to allow the pain to slow him down. He must do what he could, little though it might be, and though it would put him in harm's way. He didn't put much stock in the Captain believing that he wasn't involved in a mutiny, anyway, so he might as well go down fighting like a man, and not hiding from the responsibility like a frightened child.

What then, though? Would there be time for them to scatter to safety? He could only pray that there would be. And it hadn't seemed like God was very good at hearing his prayers lately.

***
HORNBLOWER:

I felt sweat trickle down my back. This is a tight spot, the tightest spot I've ever been in. Forget the Marie Galant and the episode in the ship's boat. I have Archie's head on my hands, and Wellard's and Bush's and Buckland's. We are all a hair's breath away from hanging. Wellard is beside me, always beside me, and I do not know if I should be impressed by his loyalty or amazed by his
stupidity for aligning himself so fruitlessly.

I don't know where Archie went to. I THINK Bush and Buckland made it safely above decks...pray God it is so. Because Hobbs has routed out Sawyer, who gathered the Marines and we are being hunted down. Thank God Henry had the guts to warn us, else we would be swinging by
morning.

I am not certain we won't be anyway.

Sawyer is in the room, and he is panicking. I heard footsteps, and saw Sawyer turn, frightened, witless, and so totally out of control. My God, could any Admiral see this and not know he was unfit to command?

Then I saw it.

The hold was open.

And with great stealth, I stepped out of my hiding place...