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Another Way to Serve
Part VII

Prologue

Commander Horatio Hornblower stared bleakly through the bars of his cell. How could this have happened? It had been a routine patrol - just a quick jaunt to Gibraltar and then a rendezvous with the Jewel and then Indefatigable. It hadn't worked out that way, and now he had failed his men and lost his ship. He was disgraced.

"It's not your fault, you know, Horatio," came a voice from behind him.

"No, Archie?" retorted Horatio. "How can you possibly believe that? My ship. My men. Twenty-three of those men are dead, Archie, and the enemy now possesses Retribution. It can be the fault of no one else."

Archie Kennedy, Second Lieutenant of Retribution, put his hand on Horatio's arm and turned him away from the barred door. "It was our duty to try and rescue any survivors, Horatio. There was no way we could have known those ships were waiting."

Horatio looked closely at his Lieutenant, studying the man he called his best friend. Archie's face reflected a steadfast calm and determination, and his blue eyes looked at Horatio with trust and confidence. Archie was holding it together much better than Horatio himself, and he was almost embarrassed by that. He turned back to the barred door.

"I should have known it was a trap, Archie. I should have known."


Chapter 1

Two days earlier........

Second Lieutenant Archie Kennedy paced the deck of Retribution, his compact, muscular body coiled with a nervous energy. Commander Horatio Hornblower, Captain of Retribution, watched him with amusement. Heading aft, Archie looked almost as if he were going to dance a jig, but when he turned around and headed the other way, he looked as if he wanted to bolt over the side and start swimming for home. Horatio watched him circle the ship a few times, then shook his head and moved to meet him on his next time around.

Archie, his head down, never saw Horatio until it was too late, and he very nearly crashed into his commanding officer. Startled, he screeched to a halt and raised his eyes to meet Horatio's.

"My apologies, sir!" he gasped. "I did not see you there."

"No, Mr. Kennedy, I don't imagine you did. You seem to be studying the deck rather intently - is there a problem? Shipworm, perhaps?"

"No, sir, not that I know of sir," said Archie, flushing a bit.

"I see," said Horatio, fixing his best "commanding officer" look on his face. "I thought perhaps you had discovered a hole in the planking of the deck - you've certainly paced up and down enough to have put one there yourself."

Archie gave Horatio a "don't give me that" look, and turned to the railing. "I am merely performing my duties as Officer of the Watch, sir."

"Mr. Kennedy," said Horatio, desperately trying not to laugh. "Mr. Bush relieved you 15 minutes ago."

"What?" said Archie, glancing around. Indeed, there was First Lieutenant William Bush, watching the two men with a quizzical look on his face. Archie looked back at Horatio, who almost lost his composure at the blank look on his face.

"You don't remember turning over the deck to Lieutenant Bush?"

"NO!" Archie said, almost in a panic. "I have absolutely no memory of that....." He turned around and gripped the rail, staring out to sea. "Please tell me I'm not losing my mind."

"Hmm," said Horatio thoughtfully. "Perhaps we should have Dr. Stuart take a look at you."

"Oh, really, sir, that's not necessary," Archie insisted, glancing around to see if any of the crew were listening. "It's just, um, I'm tired, sir. I didn't sleep well last night."

"And why is that, Lieutenant?"

"Must there be a reason?" Archie said, his panic full-blown now. "Maybe I just couldn't sleep!"

Horatio rested against the railing, and leaned in close, peering at Archie and shaking his head.

"Tsk, tsk," he muttered. "You DO have rather dark circles under your eyes, and, let me see," he put his hand on Archie's forehead. "You are rather warm. A touch of fever, perhaps?"

Archie batted Horatio's hand away. "Will you belay that, Horatio?" he asked exasperatedly. "I've been out in the sun, is all. I'm quite all right."

Horatio regarded him, a slight grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. "I think not, Mr. Kennedy. Perhaps Doctor Stuart should bleed you."

"AH!" yelped Archie. "I've had more than enough of THAT in my life, thank you very much! All I need is some sleep. If you'll excuse me, sir, since I don't appear to be needed up here, I'll just retire below and get some rest."

Horatio nodded. "Very well, Lieutenant. Are you sure you remember where your quarters are?"

Archie didn't answer, but threw Horatio a dirty look as he went below. Horatio watched him go, his brown eyes twinkling with amusement. Lieutenant Bush joined him at the rail.

"Is everything all right with Lieutenant Kennedy, sir?" he inquired.

Horatio turned to face his friend and First Lieutenant. "Why would you ask that, Mr. Bush?"

Bush looked out to sea, then back at Horatio, indecision on his face. "I'm not sure if I should mention this, sir - I'm certain it's just an honest mistake, but....."

Instantly, Horatio became serious. A mistake, honest or otherwise, could be extremely dangerous while at sea. "A mistake, Mr. Bush?"

"It's just, when Lieutenant Kennedy turned the deck over to me, sir, his course findings, well, they're sort of - off, sir."

"Off? By how much?"

Bush didn't answer, but instead handed Horatio the slate. Horatio looked at it for a few minutes, then raised his eyes to Bush's. Bush wasn't quite sure what to expect - anger, disappointment, even confusion. What he did not expect at all was for Horatio to laugh.

But laugh was exactly what his captain did. Horatio couldn't stop himself, though he struggled valiantly to do so. "Oh, Mr. Bush," he finally gasped. "This is priceless - simply priceless. Mr. Kennedy seems to have found the sources of the Nile! I had no idea we were in Central Africa!"

Confused, Bush leaned over and looked again at the slate. "Um, actually, sir, he has us in American waters."

Horatio laughed once more. "Sorry, Mr. Bush. I forgot you weren't there. Mr. Kennedy would understand the reference, I believe, though he would not be at all pleased with me for remembering it. It involves a former shipmate of ours."

Bush looked at Horatio, worried. "Sir, it's not like Mr. Kennedy to make a mistake like this. He's usually very meticulous with his logs. Are you not concerned, sir?"

Horatio shook his head, amusement still on his face. "No, Mr. Bush, I am not. I will, however, go speak to Mr. Kennedy and find out what ails him."

Still shaking his head and chuckling, Horatio headed below. He found Archie sitting at the table in the wardroom, staring at a piece of paper clutched tightly in his hands. Horatio paused in the doorway to study his friend. His humor slowly died away. He'd not seen this kind of panic in Archie for a very long time, but it was lurking there, in the wide blue eyes, the tenseness of his body, and the shaking of the hands that gripped the paper. This was not the Archie Kennedy who'd served aboard Retribution and Renown, and who'd had a very successful career as a spy in France. This looked more like the scared boy from Justinian. Horatio's breath caught in his throat. Perhaps the nightmares had returned. Maybe that was why Archie couldn't sleep. Horatio knew that Archie had never truly escaped from the lingering malevolence of Jack Simpson, but he'd been doing so well lately. Having Kathleen in his life had helped enormously, and Horatio found himself wishing she was here now. He didn't know how to broach the subject with Archie, but he did know that he had to say something. He took a breath and moved forward.

"Lieutenant," he said quietly.

Archie's head jerked up, his eyes wide, and his face flushed. Horatio's heart dropped. He'd seen this reaction too many times before.

Archie paused, and put a hand to his chest, as if trying to still the heart beating frantically there. He could feel it, like a bird attempting to escape, and he tried desperately to calm himself. "Apologies, sir," he said, rising to his feet. "I didn't see you there."

Horatio stepped forward into the wardroom. "Well, Mr. Kennedy," he said lightly. "I seem to be invisible today, at least to you." He met Archie's eyes. "Please, Lieutenant, sit down."

Archie dropped back into his chair, a slight groan escaping him. Horatio sat down across from him, both of them resting their arms on the table.

"Talk to me, Archie," he said quietly.

Archie shook his head, fear evident on his face. "I can't, Horatio."

"Why not? It's never been a problem between us before. You know you can discuss anything with me - ANYTHING. Why would you feel you can't talk to me now?"

Archie lowered his gaze to the table. "I just can't, Horatio. If I say it out loud, then it will be true."

"What?" said Horatio, confused. "What is that supposed to mean?"

Archie raised his tormented gaze to Horatio, struggling with himself. "It's Kathleen," he finally whispered. He picked up the sheet of paper, then dropped it back on the table.

"Archie, I know you received some correspondence while we were at Gibraltar. Was it a letter from Kathleen?"

Archie nodded miserably.

"Can you tell me what was in the letter?"

Archie shook his head.

Horatio felt as if he were talking to a very small, very stubborn child. "Tell me what was in the letter, Archie. Has something happened to Kathleen?"

Archie clasped his hands tightly and stared intently at them. "She, she got confirmation of something," he said hesitantly. "Something she suspected before we set sail, but didn't know...." His voice trailed off.

"Archie, for God's sake, tell me!"

Finally, Archie looked up. "Oh, God, Horatio. What have I done?"

Chapter 2

 

Horatio fought back his own fears as he looked at Archie's flushed face and wide, frightened eyes. "Archie. I'm quite sure you haven't "done" anything to Kathleen - nothing besides love her, and make her happy."

Archie looked away. "You don't understand, Horatio," he whispered.

Hell and damnation! thought Horatio, his temper rising. "Mr. Kennedy, it is a statistical certainty that I CANNOT understand something if I do not have the facts! We are sailing in circles here, Lieutenant, and I cannot help you find your course if you do not tell me the problem. Out with it, man."

Archie looked at him, startled, and then his gaze slipped away. He stood up and walked to the other end of the wardroom. He leaned against the table and stared at the wall, arms folded across his chest, saying nothing, the silence between the two men lengthening into uncomfortable-ness. Finally, when Horatio could stand it no longer, Archie spoke quietly.

"I'm going to be a father, Horatio."

Horatio stood up so quickly that his chair crashed to the floor behind him. Archie turned around at the sound, to see Horatio grinning at him, his smile so wide it HAD to hurt.

"A father! Truly, Archie? But this is wonderful news! Why, you had me thinking it was something horrible - maybe Kathleen was ill, or you were, or something like that, but this is good news! My heartiest congratulations, my friend." He looked closely at Archie. "There's something more, isn't there."

Archie nodded, and sat back down in his chair, picking up the letter. "Kathleen and I have, well, we've been having difficulties.."

Horatio bent over and picked up his chair, then put it next to Archie and sat down. "I am sorry to hear that, Archie. Can you tell me about it?"

Archie stared again at the letter in his hand. "There's really not much to say. We seem to be fighting a lot lately. I know that all couples do that at some point, but we cannot seem to resolve one major issue."

"And that issue is?"

Archie placed the letter on the table, unconsciously smoothing out the wrinkles where he had gripped the paper so tightly. "My father."

Horatio was silent for a moment. He had been completely surprised when Sir James Kennedy had shown up at Archie and Kathleen's wedding, knowing the history of father and son as he did. He knew that Kathleen had insisted on inviting the man, and Archie, out of love for her, had finally given in. To both Archie and his father's credit, they had tried to mend the rift between them, but it hadn't happened. There was too much bitterness, too many years lost, and neither side had been able to forgive the other. It had ended badly, with a huge fight between the men, and the senior Kennedy had left London and returned home, vowing never to speak to Archie again. In fact, in front of Horatio and Marc Jeffers, James Kennedy had disowned his youngest son. It had been an ugly, ugly scene. Archie had not spoken to Horatio of his father since, and Horatio had respected his unspoken wish by never mentioning him, either. Apparently, though, Kathleen had no such compunctions.

Searching for something to say to his friend, Horatio looked around the familiar wardroom. The two of them had spent so much time, in so many rooms like this, and they had shared so many confidences, and joys, and sorrows. He knew what Kathleen meant to Archie. He looked again at his friend.

"Surely this is nothing that the two of you cannot work out. You tried to mend fences with your father, but it didn't happen. Does she think you did not try enough?"

Archie shook his head. "She thinks I did not even WANT to try. And you know what, Horatio? Maybe she's right. Maybe I don't want to forgive him. Maybe I can't forgive him. When I needed him the most, he abandoned me and sent me off to sea to die, simply because he was embarrassed by me. What kind of father wants his son dead?" Archie took a breath, and raked his hand through his hair. "Kathleen doesn't believe me when I tell her that, but she wasn't there. She doesn't know that nothing I ever did was good enough for him - I was a failure from the start. When I told her I wanted nothing further to do with anyone from my side of the family, she accused me of not being able to let go of my anger against those who had hurt me. She thinks that maybe our fundamental differences are too great." He sighed. "It's not always bad between us, Horatio, only when we fight about my father. She just can't accept that I don't want him in our lives. And now, to bring a baby into this - she thinks it's wrong."

Horatio watched him, then sat back further in his seat. "I'm sorry, Archie," he said quietly. "I had no idea."

Archie snorted softly. "Neither did I."

"Forgive me, but I find it difficult to believe that she would not want this child as much as I'm sure you do. I have seen the way she looks at you, Archie - it near takes my breath away. I know she loves you."

Archie nodded slightly, his fair hair brushing against the deep blue of his uniform. "She does. That's the problem."

"I don't understand," Horatio answered. "Why is that a problem?"

"Because, Horatio, when it comes right down to it, she doesn't think herself worthy of me."

Horatio's mouth fell open. "Not worthy - "

Archie closed his eyes. "Not worthy, because of who - of WHAT - she used to be. The reasons for her past are irrelevant, she says. The fact is, I am the son of a lord, and she was a prostitute." Archie looked at his friend. "Isn't that the grandest irony, Horatio? Someone thinks they are not worthy of me, when it has always been me who has been the unworthy one."

"That is not true, Archie."

"Oh, yes it is," said Archie bitterly. "And now, when I have found the one person I want to be with forever, our pasts - BOTH of our pasts - try to conspire to make it impossible. Only this time, it is the past of my lineage, not my past since Justinian that seeks to destroy my chance at happiness."

"Archie," Horatio said, choosing his words very carefully. "Surely she is aware that even if you are - estranged - from your family, it needn't cause problems for you. The two of you could truly build a new life together - a new beginning."

Archie smiled sadly. "That is what I tried to explain to her before we sailed. I know that we will get through this, Horatio - we will. Our marriage will be fine - in fact, it was just wonderful before I left for this voyage, because we were both careful not to bring up my father. I shouldn't even have said anything. Kathleen and I love each other, and that's what matters. It's the other - issue - that has me worried."

"And what issue is that?"

Archie looked away from Horatio and sat back down at the table. He picked up Kathleen's letter, then dropped it back down on the table. Leaning forward, he put his head in his hand. A small sound, somewhere between a laugh and a sob, escaped his lips. "I cannot do this, Horatio."

Horatio leaned forward in his chair. "Cannot do what, Archie? Be a father? Of course you can, and you will be wonderful at it."

Archie raised his head, his anguished blue eyes meeting Horatio's calm brown ones. "I don't know how! What kind of experience do I have - none. I was the youngest child, no younger brothers or sisters to help raise, no cousins - nothing. And I certainly cannot look to my own father as an example - " Archie's voice turned bitter " - for it was he
who consigned me to the hell of Justinian, in the hopes that I would die at sea. Not exactly a good example to follow."

"Then don't," Horatio broke in. "Use him as an example of how NOT to be a father. Archie, your strength and compassion, and all your other wonderful qualities, will stand you in good stead when the time comes to raise your child. You will know what to do, do not fear."

Archie sighed. "But that's just it - I DO fear. I fear so much, Horatio. I'm just not ready for this yet - it's too soon. I though perhaps several years down the road, maybe, but not now. Not now."

Horatio leaned back, his eyes twinkling. "Now surely, Archie, you had to realize it could happen at any time, assuming you love Kathleen as much as you say you do. Unless, of course, you still have fears in that area - "

Archie blushed. "No, Horatio, you know better than that. Kathleen and I are fine together. We have just been, um, careful."

Horatio raised an eyebrow. "Careful, Archie? That doesn't sound like you at all. Care to elucidate?"

"Blast it, Horatio," Archie said, now blushing furiously. "What do you want me to do, draw you a picture?"

Horatio pretended to consider that suggestion. "Hmm. That might be very interesting, Archie. Well, on second thought, perhaps not. I've seen some of your drawings, and I've yet to decipher what a single one of them is supposed to represent. Why don't you just explain it to me, instead."

"I will not, Horatio, and this is damned inappropriate!"

"But I'm curious, Archie. How could you have prevented this, short of never seeing your wife? Since I'm QUITE sure that is not an option - " he waggled his eyebrows at Archie - "there must be some other way you were trying to prevent this from happening. I would very much like to know how."

"Good God, Horatio," Archie said, beginning to laugh despite himself. "You truly are incorrigible, do you know that?"

"Incorrigible, but curious. Really, Archie, what did you do? Or not do?"

Archie leaned back in his chair and grinned at his best friend. OK, he'd asked for it. "You seem to forget what Kathleen did for a living, Horatio, for a short while, at least. She learned some methods of prevention then - and lest you not remember, I, um, patronized that type of woman quite regularly for several months, and learned a few things myself. So, if you must know, Horatio, we quite often used an 'English riding coat.' See - "

Horatio blanched. "All right, Archie, I was teasing. I really didn't mean for you - "

"No, no, Horatio, you asked. Of course, that's just the most familiar name for it, though there are others. Did you know that the Roman Legions would use muscle tissue of their slain enemies?"

Horatio stood up, clearly uncomfortable. "Archie, that's enough."

Archie grinned wickedly. "Ah, but Horatio, this is something every sailor should know, do you not agree? Including yourself. I mean, you want to avoid catching - "

"Archie!" Horatio held up his hands in defeat. "I concede. You win. I do not wish to discuss this further."

Archie shrugged. "You're the one who wanted to know."

Horatio sat back down and looked at Archie. "What I wanted, Mr. Kennedy, was to ease your fears about your impending fatherhood. You and Kathleen will be wonderful parents, Archie. The only requirement is for you to love your child, and I know that the both of you have that in abundance."

Archie heaved a sigh, and looked at the letter lying on the table. "I hope you're right, Horatio, I truly do."

Horatio reached out and clapped a hand on Archie's shoulder as he stood up. "I am, my friend, I am. Now, I suggest you drag yourself off to your bed and get some rest. Tomorrow we rendezvous with the Jewel and then Indefatigable in a day or two, and I'm sure you'll want to share this news with Commodore Pellew."

Archie looked up, panicked once again. "Pellew," he whispered. "Oh, no."

Horatio laughed and withdrew, leaving Archie to ponder yet another bridge he had to cross.

Chapter 3

Despite his best efforts, Archie still did not get very much sleep that night. Finally, he resigned himself to the fact that he would not get any rest, so he arose, dressed, and went topside.

The sky was leaden and gray, and Archie pulled his pea-coat tightly around his body. The early October air was damp and chilly, and a light fog brushed the darkened sea, but it looked to be the kind that would burn off by mid-morning, when the sun had risen higher in the sky.

Acting Lieutenant Jeffers, the Officer of the Watch, moved to meet him.

"Morning, sir," he said, his voice echoing eerily through the gray dawn.

"Morning, Mr. Jeffers," Archie answered stifling a yawn. "Anything to report?" He stopped, and peered closely at the Acting Lieutenant. "Marc. You shaved your beard."

Jeffers flushed a bit. "Well, sir, it seems that the young lady I've been seeing didn't really care for it, so off it went."

Archie was intrigued. "Young woman? You never told me any of this, Marc. Who is she? Do I know her? Where does she live? Is it serious?"

Jeffers laughed. "When did you become my big brother? Her name is Elizabeth, and she lives in Gibraltar, and no, it is not serious. We are not even really courting, and with my being away at sea all the time, there just haven't been many opportunities for us to see each other. She's just someone I spend a little time with when I'm ashore."

"Well," said Archie. "Fancy that. And you never said a word."

Jeffers shrugged. "Like I said, sir, it's nothing serious. Mostly we're just friends."

"Hmm," mused Archie. "Friends. If you say so, Mr. Jeffers. Now, on to business. Is there anything to report?"

Jeffers shook his head. "Not a thing, sir - it's been quiet as a church out here. The wind is calm, and I fear that we have fallen a bit behind because of it, sir." He glanced at Archie as he yawned again, and grinned. "Beggin' your pardon, sir, but you look rather tired this morning. Did you by any chance sneak a certain green-eyed Irishwoman aboard while we were in Gibraltar?"

Archie scowled at him. "Mr. Jeffers! Damn your impudence, sir! That would be most unseemly for an officer, and I resent your inference!" His laughing eyes belied his true temperament, though, and Jeffers laughed in return. The two men had become quite good friends during their voyages, and especially during their adventure in Corsica, and Jeffers had often been a guest for dinner at Archie's London townhouse. Archie genuinely liked the young man. Marc Jeffers had started as a Midshipman aboard the Conqueror, under Israel Pellew (Edward's brother) and was considered very competent and professional. When transferred to Retribution, he had immediately distinguished himself, both under fire and in the day-to-day business of running the ship, and it had been a relatively short matter of time before he was promoted to Acting Lieutenant. Like his Commander, he lived and breathed the sea. He could be fiery and passionate, but Archie could think of no one better (besides Horatio) to have around when things went wrong, for he also had a very cool head when disaster struck, and he was a natural leader. He was very popular amongst the crew, and well-liked and respected by his superior officers.

Archie leaned against the rail and looked at his friend. "So, Mr. Jeffers, I understand your name has been put forward for the Lieutenant's exam. My sincere congratulations, my friend."

Jeffers beamed. "Thank you, sir. I look forward to becoming a commissioned officer."

Archie laughed. "Confident, aren't you? It's not an easy thing to do, passing that exam, you know. Going up there, before three grumpy captains who generally WANT you to fail - it's destroyed many a promising career."

Jeffers shrugged. "I'm not worried, sir. After all, they passed you - "

Archie swung around, his jaw dropping open. "Mr. Jeffers! I am insulted, sir!"

"Best be careful, Mr. Jeffers," came an amused voice through the fog. "Mr. Kennedy has been known to call men out, to defend his honor." Commander Hornblower moved forward and stood next to the two officers, who immediately straightened.

"Good morning, Commander," said Archie.

"Morning, sir," from Jeffers.

"And a fine morning to the two of you. At your ease, gentlemen, please. Anything I should know about, Mr. Jeffers?"

"No, sir," replied Jeffers. "Awful quiet, sir. We're a bit behind because of the lack of wind, but we should make most of it up today."

Horatio nodded and looked out to sea, unconsciously judging the wind and waves, and the feel of his ship as she glided through the water.

Jeffers threw a glance a Archie, then looked at Horatio. "Is that true, sir? Mr. Kennedy fought a duel?"

Horatio turned, surprised. "You never told him, Lieutenant?"

Flushing, Archie shook his head.

Oh, I'm going to enjoy this, thought Horatio. Laughing, he recounted the story of Archie's challenge to Bush, and the early morning duel in Eden Park. Jeffers' eyes grew rounder and wider as Horatio went along. When the story finished, he turned to Archie.

"You challenged Mr. Bush to a duel? Over Mrs. Bush?"

"Hey!" Archie laughed. "She was not Mrs. Bush at the time - she was my fiancée!"

Jeffers just gaped at him. "But she was HIS fiancée, too!"

Archie waved a hand, dismissing that. "They all thought I was dead. Emily and William got engaged. I showed up, alive, and wanted her back. So did Bush. I over-reacted and challenged him to a duel, which didn't happen, not really." He glared at Jeffers and jabbed the Acting Lieutenant's collarbone with his index finger. "You see what kind of trouble being a hot-head can get you into? I could have killed a very good friend! So you just learn to keep that temper of yours under control, sir, or it'll cause you no end of grief, certain sure!"

Horatio shook his head. "Speak of the blind leading the blind! You, Mr. Kennedy, are an incurable "hot-head", sir."

Archie frowned. "I am not."

Horatio laughed quietly. "Indeed you are, sir, but it is one of your most endearing qualities."

"Name me one instance, Commander. Besides the duel."

Now Horatio laughed out loud. "Only one, Mr. Kennedy? I can name you dozens! Challenging Mr. Bush to a duel. Slugging me in the pub, and again in your room at the Sea Serpent. Kicking the Commodore out of that very same room. Racing across a bridge in France. Coming after me at the fort at Santo Domingo. Defending Wellard against Randall. Fighting with Mr. Bush at the docks. That time in Portsmouth - "

"Enough!" Archie laughed. "I concede to your superior wisdom. You win again, oh my Captain."

Jeffers watched the two men, marveling at their ease with each other. He could not conceive of ever being so irreverent with his Captain, but obviously Archie had no such problem. He remembered Styles talking to the crew after Archie had gone overboard and supposedly drowned, and telling them how close Archie and Horatio had been - closer than brothers. That had shocked Jeffers. He had gotten to know Archie pretty well after the Lieutenant joined Retribution, but never had there been any hint of friendship between the other two officers, at least not on Archie's part. Jeffers recalled sometimes catching a glimpse of his Captain watching Archie work, and he'd been struck by the sadness he had seen there. He hadn't understood it then - not until after he'd talked to Styles. When Archie returned to them, things had been very different. Although he always showed his Captain the proper respect, Archie never hesitated to needle and tease Horatio when they were out of earshot of the crew, and though Horatio had tried valiantly to resist, Jeffers could see his amusement at, and affection for, his Second Lieutenant. They were an excellent team, mused Jeffers. The Commander's seriousness and sense of duty were countered by the Lieutenant's lightheartedness and compassion. Lieutenant Bush, with his thoughtful deliberation, rounded out the triumvirate. It made for a happy, well-run ship, and Jeffers was proud to be a member of her crew. There was only one thing that saddened him. When he passed his exam and became a commissioned officer, he would have to leave Retribution as soon as an opportunity presented itself, for there would be no room for three lieutenants aboard her. Jeffers was not looking forward to that day. Not at all.

Now with that depressing thought echoing in his mind, Jeffers excused himself and returned to his duties. Horatio and Archie watched him go.

"I'll regret losing him, Archie," Horatio sighed. "He's one of the best I've ever seen."

"Hmm," Archie mused. "ONE of the best, indeed. You believe he'll pass his examination, then?"

Horatio nodded. "With flying colors. Now doubt they'll ask him what he should do when he's close-hauled on the port tack beating up channel, with a nor'east wind blowing strong, and Dover bearing north two miles, when the wind veers four points, taking him flat aback, and he is dismasted with the cliffs of Dover under his lee, and he'll come up with such a brilliant strategy, they'll just skip commissioning him a Lieutenant, and make him a Commander. Maybe Captain."

Archie laughed. "Better watch your back, my friend - he just may end up as YOUR commanding officer!"

"I've no doubt, Mr. Kennedy. Now," Horatio said, changing the subject and looking closely at his friend. "You do not appear to be any more well-rested than the last time I saw you. I thought you were going to sleep."

Archie sighed. "That was the plan, at least. I'm still not really able to."

"Still worried about Kathleen and the baby?"

Archie nodded. "There's so much to think about, Horatio. I just can't seem to get it right, in my head."

Horatio patted him lightly on the shoulder. "Well, Mr. Kennedy, I do have one thing that may help to ease your mind a bit. In the dispatches from Gibraltar, there was some information on the Indy. Apparently, Commodore Pellew has been delayed in the East Indies, so we will not rendezvous with them at this time. That will give you more time to prepare what you wish to say."

Archie sighed. "I have no idea what I'm going to say. He will no doubt think me irresponsible, and not ready for fatherhood."

Horatio shook his head. "No, Archie, you're wrong. Why would you even think that? Commodore Pellew only wants what is best for you, and Kathleen IS what is best for you. He grinned at his friend. "I, for one, cannot wait to see his face when he hears the news. He will no doubt be even more excited than you or Kathleen!"

Archie put his hand over his heart, and bowed slightly to Horatio. "Ah. Thank you, Commander," he said sardonically. "That does, indeed, ease my mind a bit." He chuckled, shaking his head. "Delayed, hmm? Looks like Oldroyd FINALLY got to go to the Indies, eh?"

Horatio's eyes widened. "That's right! I'd forgotten about that! And now he's there, as a gunner on the Indy....."

Archie shook his head. "Poor devils. They'll never know what hit them."

Horatio cocked his head and looked at Archie. "Do you mean the enemy, or the Indy?"

Archie stared, then laughed delightedly. "Oh! Horatio! A joke! At last! Finally, my influence is getting to you! I do believe there just may be hope for you yet!"

A cry from the fore lookout interrupted them. "Sir! Leeward! Smoke!"

Horatio grabbed a telescope and went to the rail. Yes, there it was, a dark cloud visible through the thinning fog. He couldn't see the source, but it did not appear to emanate from the shore - it was too far out. He called up to the lookout.

"Can you see anything else? The cause?"

Seaman Walters, the lookout, searched for a few moments, then took the glass from his eye. He looked down at Horatio, his face drawn and tight. "It's a ship, sir, flying the British ensign. Can't tell her number through the fog."

Horatio felt a knot in his stomach. There should be no other fleet ships in this corridor, except for the Jewel, the ship they were to meet with yesterday.

Lieutenant Bush appeared at his side. "We've changed course to intercept, sir, and the sails are being taken in."
"Very good, Mr. Bush," replied Horatio, his voice steady.

Retribution sailed towards the cloud of smoke. As she drew nearer, the deck became deathly quiet, as the crew caught a glimpse of the source of the smoke. Even through the fog, they could see.

It was, indeed, the Jewel. She lay gutted and smoking, trapped on a reef. Her sides had been raked with shot, her masts splintered. It was a sight to horrify any British sailor, but the true horror lay in the waters surrounding her.

Bodies. Hundreds of bodies of His Majesty's sailors, floating around the ruined ship. The sea was red with their blood, and the smell was enough to test even the strongest man's stomach. The smell of death. And fear.

Horatio felt his stomach turn, but he did not look away from the sight. The Jewel. He knew her commander - Captain Reginald Douglas, a rugged man from Cornwall, a fierce and loyal man. He and his ship would not have fallen easily. Horatio took a deep breath, trying to keep the nausea at bay. Had he left Gibraltar as scheduled, instead of dawdling for a few hours in the hopes of getting some extra stores, and had Retribution had any kind of wind behind her, they would have met as scheduled. Perhaps the two ships together could have defeated the attackers, and saved the Jewel and her crew. All these dead. His fault.

Horatio gripped the railing. "Mr. Jeffers. Mr. Witt. Launch boats and look for survivors."
Chapter 4

Standing beside Horatio on the deck, Archie was pale, but composed, his mind working furiously. "Commander," he said. There was no response. Archie turned to look at Horatio, and swore to himself. How well he knew that look. Quietly, so no one could hear, he tried to divert Horatio's attention from the scene before them.

"This is no fault of yours, Horatio."

Horatio's voice was equally quiet. "We were supposed to be here with her, Archie. Two ships together - "

" - could just as likely have been beaten as one," finished Archie. "We don't know who or what did this, Horatio, but I'll wager it was not the French."

Horatio's attention sharpened. "Why do you say that, Lieutenant?"

Archie waved an arm at the bodies in the water. "Look at this, Horatio. These men were killed aboard the Jewel, then thrown overboard. If the French had control of the ship, they would have taken prisoners, for ransom or exchange, not murdered the entire crew in cold blood, and left the ship behind. She never struck her colors, either. No, this had to be someone else."

"Privateers, then?" suggested Bush, moving closer.

Archie shook his head. "I just don't know. Privateers, pirates - they'd at least go for the ransom, too. I just can't figure it. Perhaps - " Archie broke off and stared at the shore.

"What is it?" Horatio asked.

Archie didn't answer, but continued to watch the shore. "I thought I saw something. A flash..."

"Musketfire?"

Archie shook his head. "More like a signal of some sort." His eyes widened. "Damn! Oh, damn!"

"Archie? What is it?"

Archie, already heading aft, didn't answer, so Horatio took off after him. "What's going on, Lieutenant?"

Archie leaned over the rail. "Jeffers!" he bellowed. "Return boats. NOW!"

 

Horatio took Archie's arm and turned him around. "Mr. Kennedy. What are you doing? I ordered those boats out to find any possible survivors - "

"You won't find any, sir," Archie said grimly, wrenching his arm out of Horatio's grasp and heading back to the rail. "Dammit," he said softly, his hand beating on the rail. "Come on, Marc, where are you?" He peered through the fog, as if hoping to disperse it with the fire of his eyes.

"Archie," Horatio began, but was interrupted by the splash of oars in the water, and the sound of Jeffers' voice.

"Retribution, ahoy!"

"Thank God," breathed Archie, closing his eyes briefly.

Horatio moved to where Jeffers' boat was returning. "Mr. Jeffers. Any survivors?"

"No, sir," returned Jeffers. "We did find Captain Douglas' body, though, sir. We'll bring it aboard."

"Hurry, Mr. Jeffers," said Archie, looking around. "Where is Mr. Witt's boat?"

Jeffers came up over the side and stood before his superior officers. "He was further out, sir, quite a bit. We stopped to pick up the Captain's body, but they kept going. Is there a problem, Mr. Kennedy?"

Horatio broke in coldly. "I do believe Lieutenant Kennedy was just about to make a report, Mr. Jeffers, on why he called the boats back, and why he suddenly seems in a panic."

Archie looked at him. "That flash I saw, sir. It WAS a signal."

"A signal for what, Lieutenant?"

Archie squared his shoulders and looked Horatio in the eye. "For whatever it was who sank the Jewel to return."

Chapter 5

"Damn!" Horatio exploded. "You're right." He looked up to Walters in the fighting top. "Walters! Can you see Mr. Witt's boat?"

Walters took a minute and swept the area. "I'm sorry, sir - the fog is pretty thick where he was headed. Can't see anything over there."

"Well," Archie said quietly. "That's done it."

Horatio looked at him, his brow furrowed. "What exactly does that mean, Lieutenant?"

Archie shrugged. "We all know your history with fog. Walters better start watching for the entire Spanish fleet."

Horatio fought back the urge to slug his 2nd Lieutenant. "Mr. Kennedy. Now is not the time for your pathetic attempts at levity." He turned to his 1st Lieutenant. "Mr. Bush. Your voice will carry the farthest. Call for Mr. Witt to return."

Bush nodded and moved to the rail. "MR. WITT!!" he bellowed, causing Archie to jump. "Return boats! Now! Mr. Witt!"

There was no answer. Horatio began to pace the deck. With only 18 guns, Retribution ran more than she fought, but he did not want to just abandon Mr. Witt and the others. The Jewel had twice as many guns, and she had fallen to - someone. He hated this uncertainty. His men would fight bravely, he had no doubt, spurred by their anger at what had happened to the Jewel and her crew, but if all the men on the Jewel had not been able to repel the attackers, the cause was lost before it was begun.

Dammit. Where was Witt?

Horatio knew he could wait no longer. "Mr. Kennedy." Archie turned toward him, expectantly. "Prepare to sail."

Archie's mouth fell open. "What?"

"We are getting out of here, Lieutenant."

Archie's voice was hard. "You're just leaving them behind? YOUR men? Do you know who's in that boat, besides Mr. Witt? Matthews is out there, sir - a man you've served with for - "

"Lieutenant!" barked Horatio. "Did you not understand my order? Rest assured, Mr. Kennedy, I have no intention of leaving Mr. Witt and the others behind, unless it is absolutely necessary. We are no match for whatever sank the Jewel, and we WILL run. Mr. Bush will continue to call for Mr. Witt, but we will prepare to flee."
He gave Archie a hard look. "If need be, Lieutenant, I WILL leave them behind. The safety of the ship and the majority of the crew outweighs the risk of waiting for eight men, no matter WHO those eight men are. Am I understood?" Horatio's voice brooked no argument.

Archie turned to the deck. "Aye, sir," he said, then moved forward. He cupped his hands and yelled "Loose the heads'sl! Hands aloft!"

The hands scurried up the lines, and Horatio walked back to Bush. "Anything, Mr. Bush?"

Bush shook his head, frustrated. "He can't have gone out that far. He HAS to be hearing me."

Horatio leaned against the rail. "He's very young, Mr. Bush, and perhaps just a little overzealous in wanting to make a good impression."

"Aye, sir," said Bush quietly. "That's why I put Matthews in the boat with him - kind of a calming influence, if you will."

Horatio nodded absently, still staring into the fog, which appeared to be dissipating just a bit. He hoped it would be enough. Of course, once before the fog had lifted, only to reveal that he was right smack in the middle of the Spanish fleet. Mentally, he cursed Archie for bringing that memory to mind. The Spanish fleet was nowhere near this place. But someone else was, someone unknown and very dangerous.

"Retribution, ahoy!" came a faint voice.

"Mr. Witt!" roared Bush. "Return boat! This instant!"

Like a phantom, the small boat glided out of the fog, a black shadow against a gray background. Horatio drew a deep breath and looked at Bush. "Get them aboard, Mr. Bush, and quickly, so we may depart."

"Aye, aye, sir," said Bush, almost smiling, but well aware of the danger still lurking.

"Deck there!" came Walters' frightened cry. "Sail in sight! Weather bow!"

Horatio's heart dropped. This was it. He glanced up at the masts. Archie's crew was working furiously, but there wasn't time. He called aloft.

"Walters! What do you see?"

"Two ships, sir! Closing in fast!"

Horatio swore.
Bush appeared at his side. "Everyone's aboard, sir." At Horatio's questioning glance, he shook his head. "Mr. Kennedy was right, sir. No survivors." He looked around the deck of the ship. "We can't outrun them, can we, sir."

"I sincerely doubt it," said Horatio grimly. He turned aft, watching his men as they beat to quarters. "Mr. Jeffers!" he yelled. "Prepare - "

One of the other ships fired, and Horatio ducked as the shot tore into the foretopgallant mast, then rose and looked at his Lieutenants. "Lower the ensign." He was looking at Archie as he said it, aware of how difficult this would be for him, to be taken prisoner yet again.

Archie returned his look, knowing what his friend was thinking. With a half-hearted smile, he said, "I'm not so sure prison will be an option this time, Horatio."

Horatio's resolve strengthened. "It will be, if I have anything to say in the matter. No doubt Captain Douglas and his men went down fighting, but I do not intend to give our attackers that opportunity. We will surrender quietly."

"Aye, aye, sir," said both Lieutenants soberly.

Matthews' voice came through the clearing fog. "He's grappling, sir!"

Horatio took a deep breath, and looked around the deck of his ship. How he'd grown to love her over the years! Small but quick, she could fight if she had to, and she sailed like a dream, for she truly loved to race before the wind. Her crew was the finest to be had anywhere. Other captains thought the same about their own crews, he knew, but he was absolutely convinced there was no better team in all the fleet. His men were brave, strong, and resourceful. True British sailors. They would get through this somehow.

His dream of a peaceful surrender was shattered, as more than a hundred and fifty men swarmed over the side from the enemy ships and fell to fighting with his men. Shouts and cries, and the clang of steel against steel rang out. Desperately, Horatio searched for an officer among the boarders, but the enemy wore no uniforms, and he could not discern any rank. Once again, Mr. Kennedy had been correct. It was not the French. So who was it? Horatio was not able to ponder this dilemma for very long, as in short order he was forced to fight for his life against the attackers. With a great deal of effort, he
dispatched two of them, then took a minute to look around. His chest tightened.

His men were fighting bravely and fiercely, but they were losing quickly. Walters lay dead beside him, his shirt soaked crimson with blood. He could see others of his crew on the deck, dead or dying, and frustration welled up in him. He glanced forward, and his breath caught in his throat.

Archie was pinned against the rail, fighting off three attackers and losing. Every instinct Horatio possessed screamed at him to get over to his friend, to fight by his side. Unfortunately, the deck between them was teeming with fighting men, and he didn't see a way to get to Archie in time. As he watched, one of the attackers struck a glancing blow to Archie's arm, and blood darkened his uniform. With a cry, Horatio pushed his way
toward Archie. He would not let his friend fall again in battle, not alone this time. They would stand together, or they would fall together.

He never reached Archie's side. The crush of men kept pushing him back, away from the railing, and he could make no headway through the masses. He pulled one attacker off of Mr. Witt, and the boy, covered with blood both his own and his enemy's, gave him a grateful smile. Horatio turned back toward Archie, but felt his heart stop. Archie was down on one knee. He wasn't going to make it.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, Marc Jeffers appeared behind the men attacking Archie. Screaming like a banshee, he hacked away at the boarders, his cutlass flashing in the slowly growing sunlight. He felled two of the men, and Archie, rising to his feet, heaved his sword out and up, gutting the third man. He saw Archie grin at Jeffers.

The sound of gunfire roared through the haze. Jeffers stumbled and fell, Archie putting his arms out and catching him as he slid to the deck, blood from a single musket ball staining the back of his uniform. Archie eased him to the deck, then jumped to his feet, his face flushed and furious. He searched the deck for the shooter, but it was almost impossible to tell where the shot came from. His eyes met Horatio's across the deck.

An explosion of rifle-fire rang through the smoky, foggy air. Horatio tore his gaze from Archie's, and turned to the rail where they had been boarded.

Here at last was the man in charge. Full of self-importance, he stood surveying the fighting men below him, his whip-cord thin body held tall and straight. Horatio's lip curled slightly at the sight of a man who would stand back and let those under his command do all the fighting for him. He was guarded by eight men carrying rifles. He spoke something to the guards, and four of them pointed the rifles in the air and fired.

The deafening noise finally got through to the men on deck. Most of them fell back, but there were still many scuffles going on throughout the ship. Horatio took advantage of the slight lull.

"Retributions!" he yelled. "Hold. HOLD!"

He saw Styles push away the man he was fighting with, and then go after him again.

"I said HOLD!" Horatio commanded.

The deck fell silent as everyone turned to face Hornblower. The other man in charge - Horatio refused to think of him as an officer - also turned to face him. He nodded imperiously to the men who guarded him, and they began clearing a path through the men on deck, moving towards Horatio as they did so.
Horatio's contempt for the man grew as he noticed the guards did not discern between their own men and his, as everyone in the way was shoved aside. The man in charge followed, and two guards brought up the rear.

Horatio stole a glance across the deck. Archie had dropped to his knees next to Jeffers, and was pressing a hand to his back, trying to slow the bleeding. That had to mean the Acting Lieutenant was still alive. He drew a shaky breath and looked back at the leader of the invaders, who now stood before him.

"Who are you?" barked the man, his voice shrill and grating. Horatio ducked his head slightly, then looked the man in the eye.

"Commander Horatio Hornblower, Captain of His Majesty's ship Retribution. Whom do I have the honor of addressing?" Horatio kept his voice level and respectful.

"Bah!" spat the man. "You are not worthy of knowing my name. Know only that I am your captor. We claim this ship as ours."

"And who are "we", sir?" said Horatio curiously. "If I may be so bold."

"You may NOT," answered the man contemptuously. "Do you surrender, or do we shoot you all now?"

Slowly, Horatio turned the pommel of his sword to the man, and bowed slightly. "I surrender my sword and my ship, sir." He could feel the anger of his men, but he ignored it. Better to be in a prison and alive, with a chance at escape, than dead and floating in the water.

Horatio had no idea how completely wrong he was.


Chapter 6

Sneering, the man grabbed Horatio's sword and heaved it over the side. Horatio raised his eyebrows. This man must be a privateer, for he had no sense of the rules of war. He didn't look wealthy enough to have been very successful at it, or else he was just another underling working for someone else. That was far more likely, concluded Horatio. He would not waste his time trying to barter with this toady.

"Where are you taking us, sir?" he asked, struggling to keep the contempt out of his voice.

The man's arm snaked out, and he struck Horatio hard against his face, knocking him slightly off balance. He heard an angry roar behind him. Instinctively knowing it was Styles, he held up a hand, holding the seaman back merely with the strength of the gesture. Standing straight, he turned back and looked his captor in the eye.

"It was a fair question, sir," he said evenly.

He was prepared for the blow this time, so he did not lose his balance as the man hit him again. He returned his eyes to the other man's, noticing that his captor's face was furious. He'd obviously expected Horatio to be completely cowed, and had no idea how to control his own temper. More than likely, he'd never led any kind of men before. He probably thought that the only way to lead the men was through force and intimidation, by beatings and brutality. Well, he obviously did not know British sailors. Not HIS British sailors.

The man grabbed Horatio and dragged him over to the rail. "There!" he crowed victoriously. "That is where we take you!" He pointed to the second ship, which lay just beyond the ship grappled to Retribution. Despite himself, Horatio was impressed. She was a sleek beauty - the size of a 36. He could see her guns, and the men who crewed her, and he was very grateful that he had been able to stop his crew from fighting when he did. They were no match for the two opposing ships.

His captor spoke belligerently to his guards in French, ordering them to round up the prisoners. Horatio watched helplessly as his men were roughly pushed around. The dead were picked up and tossed overboard, and Horatio mentally cringed with every splash, counting them as they happened. Twenty-three. Twenty-three men dead, and he didn't even know which men, except for Walters. He looked across the deck to where Archie still knelt beside Jeffers, his hands now covered with the Acting Lieutenant's blood. He hadn't been thrown overboard. At least he was still alive, but Horatio had his doubts about how long he would be, without medical attention. He turned again to his captor.

"Sir, many of my men are injured, and I would request my surgeon be allowed - "

"Silence!" screamed the man. "They are no longer YOUR men. You all now belong to Le Bienfaiteur."
Horatio frowned. The Benefactor? Who was that? "Regardless, sir, the injured - "

"Will be taken aboard his ship, L'enfer des Mers. If they may easily be saved, they will stay, otherwise they will be shot and dropped overboard." The captor turned his back on Horatio and walked over to one of his guards, and spoke to him in French.

Horatio turned as someone stumbled against him, and he reached out to steady the man.

"Sorry, sir," said Matthews, glaring at the guards who had pushed him. "They ain't none too gentle."

"I think that is an understatement, Matthews," said Horatio dryly. He turned to look at his crew, when he was suddenly struck by a thought.

Where was Bush?


Chapter 7

Worried now, Horatio searched the men milling about the deck. No Bush. Oh, God. What if he was one of the bodies thrown overboard? He continued to scan the men, praying that he had just missed him the first time.

Matthews, knowing his Captain very well, leaned over to Horatio and spoke quietly. "Mr. Bush is aft, sir. He's hurt."

The simple words were like a knife stabbed into Horatio. "How bad?"

Matthews shook his head slightly. "Don't rightly know, sir - his leg was bleedin' pretty bad. I tried to get to him, but those bloody pirates wouldn't let me."

"Easy, Matthews," cautioned Horatio. "We do not want to anger them. I'm certain you did all you could. Do you know who fell?"

Horatio listened soberly as the Bosun listed names. Matthews had been down in the thick of the fight, so he'd seen a great many of the men who'd died. Horatio nodded, committing the names to memory. There were several splashes unaccounted for, but he would figure out the rest of the dead later. He and his Lieutenants were still alive, as were Mr. Witt, Mr. Beckett, and Mr. Jeffers. Matthews and Styles and the surgeon, Dr. Stuart, were all with them yet.

Horatio looked up as the sound of angry, slightly raised voices reached him. Doctor Stuart was standing by some of the guards, his legs braced apart and head thrown back to look up at the taller man who stood in front of him.

"Get OUT of my way!" yelled the doctor. Horatio couldn't hear the man's reply, but it was obviously not to the doctor's liking, for he bellowed in return, "I said, get out of my bloody way! I have injured to tend to, and no time to waste with the likes of you! MOVE!"

Despite himself, Horatio grinned. He'd been on his share of the receiving end of Dr. Stuart's tirades, and the guard had best give it up now. He'd never win.

Horatio briefly considered the doctor. He was extremely lucky to have the man aboard his ship. Educated at Surgeon's Hall, the man was, unlike so many doctors aboard ships in the fleet, very competent and caring, and not a drunk. His patients' welfare meant everything to the man. Despite his fussing and grumbling, the men liked and respected him, and they were never afraid to seek treatment from him. Horatio could not afford to lose the doctor. He was about to intervene, when the guard stepped aside. The doctor brushed past him and knelt at Jeffers' side.

Matthews laughed quietly. "Looks like we ain't the only ones afraid of the doc."
Horatio nodded. The man was certainly a force to be reckoned with.
He watched as the doctor said something to Archie, who stood up and made his way over to Horatio, wiping Jeffers' blood from his hands on a piece of sailcloth as he went.

"How are you, sir?" he said quietly as he reached Horatio.

Horatio grinned ruefully. "Not a scratch, Mr. Kennedy. How is Mr. Jeffers?"

Archie shook his head, looking back at his friend lying bleeding on the deck. "It looks pretty bad, but I believe the doctor can save him." He turned to face Horatio. "How many?"

Horatio knew what Archie meant. "Twenty-three dead, I don't know how many injured. Mr. Bush is one of the wounded."

Archie's breath caught in his throat. Emily -

"How bad?"

"I haven't seen him. Matthews saw him aft, with a bleeding leg. That's all I know." He looked more closely at Archie, then untied his stock from around his throat. "Mr. Kennedy. When you are injured, you must learn to speak up." Gently, he removed Archie's left arm from his uniform jacket. Blood stained the white shirt beneath it.

"Hmm?" said Archie absently, looking back at Jeffers and the doctor. "Oh. Really, Horatio, it's nothing."

Horatio shook his head as he carefully tied the cloth around Archie's arm. The man never liked to admit to any pain, and sometimes that irritated Horatio no end. As long as he lived, he would never forget Archie saying "It's just a scratch" as he sat dying on the deck of Renown. He did hate to confess his injuries. This one, at least, was not serious. He finished covering the wound, and looked around. Their captor had finished his conversation with the guards, and was moving back towards them. Horatio dropped Archie's arm and turned to face him.

The captor sneered at them. "You and the rest of the men will be moved to L'enfer now. You are the property of Le Bienfaiteur, but your ship belongs to mon Capitaine, Pierre Dumontier."

Horatio's ears perked up at that. "You do not work for Le Bienfaiteur? You and your captain are independent of him?"

The man glared contemptuously at Horatio. "Le Bienfaiteur supports our efforts with cash and resources. We bring him men, he gives us money. It is a fine arrangement, since you British are so weak and easily taken."

 

Horatio beat back his anger and said, "Obviously the men of the Jewel were not easily taken. Tell me. Does your patron pay you for dead bodies, or just live ones?"

That almost earned Horatio another slap across the face, but the man held back, his face creasing with an evil leer. "Oh, sir, you will find out in short order just what the patron has bought for his money. I do not think you will be amused."

Horatio's comment was cut off, as the men of Retribution were gathered up and herded like animals off the ship. They were transferred to the other ship, and placed in the hold. Horatio's spirits sank even lower as he looked around the ship. The hold had been completely refit, and was obviously used strictly for transport of prisoners - there was only one way out, and the door there was heavily barred and locked, with armed guards outside. There would be no escape from here.

Sighing, Horatio turned and looked at his men. There were a lot of minor injuries, including a broken leg belonging to Midshipman Beckett, but the only truly serious ones seemed to belong to Bush, Jeffers, and Seaman Harper. Archie and the doctor were with Jeffers, so Horatio moved over to Bush, who was being tended by Matthews.

"How is it, Mr. Bush?" he asked, his voice low.

Bush looked up at him, his face white with pain. "Hurts like the blazes, sir, but the doc got the slice itself stitched up as best he could. Just temporary, but it stopped the bleeding." Bush's right leg had been slashed by a sword, midway between knee and hip, and he'd been unable to walk unassisted to the boat carrying them to L'enfer.

Horatio looked closely. Yes, the bleeding appeared to have finally stopped. He nodded. "I leave you in Matthews' capable hands, but I will return shortly. I wish to see how Mr. Jeffers fares."

Bush looked over at the Acting Lieutenant. "How bad is he?"

Horatio shook his head slightly. "A bullet in the back. Not exactly a simple wound. I will let you know as soon as I know more."

With that, Horatio moved over to stand beside Archie, who was watching the doctor work. Jeffers, lying on his side, was pale and unconscious, his dark blonde hair plastered against his sweaty face. His uniform had been removed, and Horatio caught a glimpse of the bullet wound as the doctor treated him. He looked at Archie.

"Any update?"

Archie ran a hand through his hair, still staring at Jeffers as he did so. "Doctor thinks he'll be all right, if he can get him somewhere more stable to get the bullet out. It's too delicate to do while at sea." He drew his eyes away from Jeffers and looked at Horatio. "How's Bush?"
"He'll be fine," said Horatio, feeling extremely grateful for Doctor Stuart's expertise. "It was a deep cut, but very clean. He may not be able to stand on it for awhile, but it should heal nicely." Horatio's gaze bore into Archie's. "How are YOU, Lieutenant?"

Archie shrugged and looked away. "It was a small cut, Horatio, really. Nothing to worry about."

"That's not what I'm talking about, Archie, and you know it," said Horatio quietly.

"Dammit," Archie said, just as quietly, looking back at Jeffers. He felt the sting of tears behind his eyes, and he angrily brushed at them with the back of his hand. "Why did he do it? He was shot trying to help me. He should have been protecting his OWN back, not mine. If he dies, what am I supposed to tell his parents? And his sister? And, God help me, what do I say to Michael?" Michael Jeffers was Marc Jeffers' twin brother, currently serving as a Midshipman aboard the Dreadnought, and the two were extremely close.

Horatio placed a hand on Archie's shoulder. "He behaved as an officer, Archie - protecting his shipmates. His superior officer. I seem to recall you yourself doing something akin to that a time or two." He was rewarded with a wry grin from Archie, and he smiled at him in return. "I trust Dr. Stuart, Archie. If he says Mr. Jeffers will be all right, then that is good enough for me."

Archie nodded. "All right, Horatio," he said soberly, then turned his gaze across the hold. "How about Seaman Harper? How is he?"

Horatio, too, looked across the hold at Harper, being cared for by Styles and Mr. Witt. Able Seaman Harper was forty-two, a pressed man who had come to love his place aboard ship. He had suffered a multitude of injuries during the fight, and though the doctor had done what he could, it didn't look good.

"I don't know, Archie," he said unhappily. "He's not in very good shape."

A day passed, and then another. Horatio could do nothing but speak quietly to his crew, assuring them that they would escape from this as soon as they found a good opportunity. Periodically, he checked on Jeffers, Bush, and Harper, but their conditions remained the same. Eventually, he returned to stand beside Archie. They went over every possible plan they could come up with, but until they knew where they were going, nothing could be done, and they were both becoming extremely frustrated. They were no longer even sure what time of day it was, or how long they had been in the hold.

"Horatio, we've got to DO something!" Archie said angrily. Horatio nodded in agreement.

"Yes, Archie, but what would you suggest?"

The two men looked up as they felt a slight change in the ship around them.

"She's coming about," said Archie.

Horatio nodded. "I wonder, though, if this means another ship, or if perhaps we have finally reached our destination."

Archie listened carefully for a moment, then shook his head. "They're not running the guns out, and I don't hear a lot of shouting, like you would if they were preparing to fire. My guess? We've arrived."

Horatio grinned to himself. Leave it to his Gunnery Officer to listen for the cannons. His smile faded, though, as he heard the guards open the door. Their captor stood there, disdain written plainly on his face as he surveyed the hold full of sailors. His contempt heightened as he spied Horatio.

Horatio was not going to let the man have any advantage. He stood still; strong and proud, he let the man come to him. Archie stood beside him. Together, they waited for the captor, needing no words between them, with each man drawing strength from the other. It was as it should be, thought Horatio. Whatever happened next, they would face it side by side.

Chapter 8

Their captor pushed his way over to Archie and Horatio. The guards remained by the door, muskets leveled at the men. Horatio prayed that someone like Styles wouldn't try to rush the guards, for it would be suicide. He glanced over and caught Matthews' eye. Matthews nodded and put a hand on Styles' arm, speaking quietly to him. Styles was angry, Horatio could see, but he looked over at Horatio and nodded his head almost imperceptibly. Horatio breathed a sigh of relief. Good. They would bide their time, and somehow gain the upper hand over their captors. Only then would they attempt escape.

The captor finally reached Horatio and Archie, his anger simmering plainly on his face. He tried to gain ground by using a very haughty and imperious tone as he addressed the two officers.

"We have reached your doom," he said melodramatically. Archie snickered at the complete absurdity of the statement, and the man glared at him. "I do not think you will laugh for long, little one," he sneered. "You probably least of all."

Horatio's eyes narrowed. What kind of cryptic remark was that supposed to be? He never got the chance to voice the question, though, as the guards began taking groups of his men, twenty at a time. One of the remaining guards stood next to Horatio, a pistol pointed at the Commander's head. The implied threat was very clear - should any of the men try to escape, Horatio would be killed.

Ignoring the pistol pressed against his temple, Horatio looked at their captor. "Where are you taking my men, sir?" he questioned.

The man laughed. "The same place we are taking you and your officers. The home of Le Bienfaiteur."

His home? Archie and Horatio exchanged a glance. That didn't sound too awfully bad. Still, thought Horatio, it's best not to get our hopes up too high before we know what awaits us.

Horatio and Archie were in the last group of men to exit the hold. They came up on deck, and Horatio took a deep breath, filling his lungs with crisp sea air. Being trapped in a hold with slightly over a hundred sweaty sailors was not exactly a pleasant olfactory experience.

The guards shoved the group of Retributions over to the rail, where they climbed over and got into the waiting cutter. As they were rowed to the shore, Horatio noted another cutter keeping pace with them - one filled with armed guards who kept their muskets pointed at the boat of prisoners. There would be no chance for escape here.

"Horatio," Archie said quietly. Horatio turned to him, and Archie nodded towards shore. "The Benefactor's home, I presume."
Horatio looked at the shore. They were rowing towards some cliffs, and his gaze was drawn up to the top. Set back just a little bit from the edge of the cliffs was a castle. Constructed from gray stone, it rose like a fortress, with twin turrets at either end. It looked cold and forbidding, and Horatio felt Archie shiver beside him. He looked at his Lieutenant.

"Are you all right, Archie?"

Archie nodded, never taking his eyes from the castle. "Yes, it's just - I don't know. A feeling. This is a dark place, Horatio." He turned his gaze from the cliffs and looked apologetically at Horatio. "Sorry, sir. Not exactly the response of an officer."

Horatio briefly put his hand on Archie's shoulder. "I understand, Lieutenant. It does look - cold."

The cutter was rowed to a cave in the cliffs, directly below the castle, and the men were ordered out of the boat. With the guards continuing to cover them with their rifles, they were herded into a corridor. After a few minutes of walking, Archie and Horatio were stopped by two of the guards, while the rest of the men continued down the passageway.

"Wait," Horatio said. "Where are you taking my men?"

A door beside them opened, and their captor appeared. "They are joining the rest of Le Bienfaiteur's men, Commander. You and your officers are to be kept separate from them." He jerked his head at the guards, who shoved Archie and Horatio through the door that the man had come through. The door slammed shut behind them. They heard a key turn in the lock, and then the sounds of the guards moving down the hall.

Archie heaved a sigh and looked around. The cell was spacious, with four cots arranged against the walls. He looked at Horatio, and a small grin played at the corners of his mouth.

"Well, Horatio," he said. "Here I am in prison yet again - I seem to be making a career of it! Although I must say, I do believe this is the first time I've actually been a prisoner in a real dungeon."

Horatio looked over at him, feeling a dark depression beginning to steal over him. "Dungeon, Archie?"

Archie nodded and walked over to the wall to their left. "Look, Horatio." Three sets of irons - leg and wrist - were bolted to the wall there, and Archie reached out and jingled one. "They would actually hang people from these - keep them manacled to the wall,
usually until they died of thirst or starvation." He looked at Horatio. "Not a pretty way to go."

 

"You should know," snapped Horatio, his nerves beginning to fray. "You came damn close to it in El Ferrol."

Archie dropped the irons, which clanked against the wall, setting Horatio's teeth on edge. He walked over to his commander. "Horatio? What brought that up?"

Horatio sighed. "I'm sorry, Archie." He gave his friend a lopsided grin. "It's just" - he gestured helplessly - "been a bad day." He walked over to the barred door and looked out, his hands grasping the bars as if they were a lifeline to the outside world.

"It's not your fault, you know," said Archie from behind him.

"No, Archie?" retorted Horatio. "How can you possibly believe that? My ship. My men. Twenty-three of those men are dead, Archie, and the enemy now possesses Retribution. It can be the fault of no one else."

Archie put his hand on Horatio's arm and turned him away from the barred door. "It was our duty to try and rescue any survivors, Horatio. There was no way we could have known those ships were waiting."

Horatio looked closely at his Lieutenant, studying the man he called his best friend. Archie's face reflected a steadfast calm and determination, and his blue eyes looked at Horatio with trust and confidence. Archie was holding it together much better than Horatio himself, and he was almost embarrassed by that. He turned back to the barred door.

"I should have known it was a trap, Archie. I should have known."

"I don't know how, Horatio. The Jewel was sunk, her crew dead - why would anyone be waiting around? You could not have known."

Horatio turned to face him. "YOU knew, Archie. As soon as you saw that flash, you knew it was a trap."

"But not UNTIL I saw the flash, Horatio. Even if you had my experience from my espionage days, it wouldn't have mattered. I didn't realize what it was until it was too late, either." He sighed, and looked around the room. "I don't think assigning blame is going to help us, Horatio, so let's not. We need to come up with a plan."

Horatio and Archie sat on one of the cots and began to discuss their options, going over what information they would need to acquire before formulating any plans. An hour passed, and then the door to their cell opened. William Bush was shoved through the
door, and he fell to the floor with a curse of pain. The door was closed and locked behind him, and the guards who had escorted him left.

 

Bush looked up at Horatio and Archie on the cot. "If you two gentlemen are finished there," he snarled, "I'd appreciate a hand getting up."


Chapter 9

Abashed, Archie and Horatio jumped to their feet and moved to assist the First Lieutenant. They helped him to his feet, then moved him over to the cot against the far wall. Bush sat back with a groan, stretching his injured leg out in front of him.

"Thank you," he said hoarsely.

"How are you, William?" asked Horatio solicitously. "That was a rather nasty slice you had on your leg."

"They let Dr. Stuart clean it and stitch it up properly," said Bush. "Doesn't hurt quite so much now, but I still can't stand on it."

Archie looked at him. "I am glad to see you here, Mr. Bush. Any information on Mr. Jeffers, or Seaman Harper?"

Bush looked away. "I don't rightly know about Harper. Doctor didn't say anything, but I'm not sure there's anything he can do. The guards took him to wherever they're holding the rest of the crew." He raised his head and met Archie's gaze. "They were letting Doc operate on Mr. Jeffers, which is what he was doing when they brought me here. I'm sure he'll be all right, Archie - Dr. Stuart seemed pretty confident." Bush shook his head. "That fool doctor near tore those guards to shreds with his words. I think they wanted to shoot him, just to shut him up. The one in charge told them to leave him alone, at least until he'd finished the surgery, but I'm worried about what will happen when he's done." He looked at Horatio. "You know him, sir - he won't take anything from anybody. He'll get himself killed, he's not careful."

Horatio sighed, then stole a glance at Archie. "Yes, William, just what we need - another hothead."

Archie glared at him, while Bush looked back and forth between them, confused. Finally, he sighed, thinking it was probably just another private joke between the two. There were times when he still felt like an outsider around them.

"If you don't mind, sir," said Bush with a yawn. "I could do with a bit of rest."

"Of course," said Horatio. "In fact, perhaps that is something we should all do. We must keep up our strength."

Archie giggled. "Yes, William," he said, his smile showing in his voice. "You're going to drink. You're going to eat, and you're going to get better." He grinned at Horatio.

Horatio rolled his eyes. "Archie - "

 

Archie shrugged, laughter still showing in his eyes. "Well, you're the one who brought it up earlier."

Bush groaned in frustration. Sometimes he just had no clue what those two were talking about. "Can we please shut up and get some sleep?" he grumbled. "I'm tired, and my leg hurts."

The three men lay back on their cots and tried to get some rest. Within minutes, soft snores began emanating from Bush's cot. Archie lay on his back, hands interlaced behind his head, staring at the ceiling. Sleep would not come easily, he knew. Despite his attempts to cheer up Horatio, and his light-hearted teasing, he was very worried about their situation. He was trying mightily not to think about the other prisons he'd been in, but it was a losing battle.

The worst, of course, had been after the raid on the Papillion. After Simpson had cut him adrift, he'd eventually been captured and taken to prison. Like a good King's man, he had made multiple escape attempts, but had been thwarted every time. After each of the first four attempts, he had been beaten - flogged like one of the ratings on Justinian, and then transferred to a new prison, but still he wouldn't give up. It had taken Don Masserado's throwing him into the oubliette for an entire month to finally break his spirit. And it had broken - completely. He'd wanted to die, even before Horatio had shown up in El Ferrol - in fact, he had tried to, the only way he could, by attempting to slash his wrists with a sharp stone he found in his cell. It had been a poor attempt, and Don Masserado had been very angry. Four days later, Horatio had shown up. It had been Hunter who showed Archie the best way to slip this mortal coil, and he had grasped at the chance. It had been so easy to just stop eating. No pain. Just a growing weakness and exhaustion, really not much different than he felt already. Seeing Horatio, so well and strong, and already rising in the ranks - without him - had utterly destroyed Archie. And then Horatio had kept carrying on so about going back to his precious Indefatigable, without a thought for how Archie would feel about returning to her. Returning to Jack Simpson. Archie's bitterness had finally spilled out, and Horatio had been horrified with himself. To not have told Archie immediately that Simpson was dead - he'd been wracked with guilt for a very long time, and Archie had a feeling that Horatio would carry that guilt to his grave.

Archie sighed, and tried to stop thinking of the past. This wasn't El Ferrol, and he was not the same man he was then. Well, he thought wryly, a part of that man still lived inside him, at least. Ever since his month in the oubliette, he had been unable to bear confined spaces for very long. His tiny cabin aboard ship had, strangely enough, not bothered him - perhaps because he could feel the ship around him, always moving, never landlocked. He glanced around his latest cell. He was very glad they all had individual cots, and not bunks. The few times he'd had to share quarters, and ended up in the bottom bunk, he'd suffered such panic attacks that he could barely breathe, and each time, he'd ended up moving outside and sleeping under the stars.

 

Archie found himself fervently wishing for that opportunity now. He couldn't shake this feeling of dread that engulfed him. He just knew, somehow, that this was an evil place, and he desperately wanted out of here.

Archie rolled over onto his side, propping his head on his hand, and looked across the room at Horatio. He'd felt something too, Archie knew, and that bothered him more than his own concern. Horatio never operated on "feeling" - his mind was too precise, too orderly, too - mathematical. For him to admit that the atmosphere of this place was troubling him, worried Archie a great deal.

Archie sighed again, and rolled onto his back. He had to get some sleep, if he was going to be any help in getting them out of here. He slowed his mind and his breathing, gradually falling asleep.

Only to dream of being in irons, chained to a wall, with a man with a whip standing beside him. And standing in front of him was the wellspring of all his nightmares.

Jack Simpson.


Chapter 10

Horatio awoke in the gray dawn, chilled to the bone. He lay on his back for a moment, gathering his thoughts. Had he simply awoken, or had something dragged him from his slumber? He listened for a few minutes, but heard nothing, so he pulled his blanket more closely around himself and turned over, hoping for a little more sleep.

A soft whimper reached him, and he turned over and looked around. Bush was still sleeping soundly, no doubt a result of the laudanum the doctor had given him for the pain. He turned his attention to his Second Lieutenant.

Archie's head was moving back and forth, his golden hair, loosened from it queue, falling across his face. His eyes were closed, and soft moans escaped his lips. Horatio's stomach contracted. Not a fit, certainly. A nightmare. Archie had not been troubled by either for so long, but it was plain to Horatio that he was in the grips of a full-fledged nightmare now. He jumped from his cot and padded over to his friend's side. Gently putting a hand on Archie's shoulder, he quietly called his name.

"Archie. Sssh. Archie. Wake up. It's just a dream."

Archie's eyes snapped open, and he took a gasping breath. He drew himself up to a sitting position, and then looked at Horatio through wide blue eyes.

"Thank you, Horatio," he said softly.

Horatio sat on the end of Archie's cot and looked at him. "Do you want to tell me what it was?"

Archie looked away. "Just a dream, Horatio. It's already fading." He laughed softly. "I can't even remember what it was about," he added, still not meeting Horatio's eyes.

Horatio regarded him for a moment. He knew Archie was being evasive - was purposely lying to him, but he would not force the man to talk about it. They all had enough to worry about.

Nothing at all happened that day. They were fed three times, and given plenty of water to drink, but they could get no response from the guards when Horatio inquired about the welfare of his men. The Commander was thoroughly frustrated. They could make no plans until he knew the whereabouts of his crew, but he had no idea on how to get that information. Angry now, Horatio banged his fist against the bars on the door, then looked ruefully at his hand. That hurt.

Archie spoke from where he sat on his own cot. "Horatio."

Horatio turned to face him. "Yes, Archie? What is it?"

Archie had an intense look on his face. "Why isn't Mr. Witt with us?"

Horatio was puzzled. "He was aboard L'enfer. I would assume that he is with the rest of the men, wherever they may be."

Archie shook his head. "No, Horatio. Remember what that little toady said when he shoved us in here? He said "you and your officers are to be kept separate." We know Mr. Beckett is injured, and probably being held in the infirmary, or some such place. Mr. Witt is an officer. Why is he not here?"

Horatio closed his eyes, then looked at Archie. "Oh, God. You don't think he did something stupid, and got himself shot for it, do you? I told him, when we were aboard L'enfer, that we would find a way out of this. I know he is very impulsive and anxious to make a good impression, and I wanted him to be careful. If he tried to be a hero - " Horatio's voice trailed off. "He's so young, Archie."

"Don't worry yourself about it, Horatio. We have no idea if anything happened. I was just posing the question."

"A question I should have thought of myself," said Horatio bitterly. "What kind of captain am I, to not see something so obvious?"

"The BEST kind," came Archie's firm reply. "You would have asked it yourself, in time, but you had other priorities."

"My men ARE my priority, Archie," said Horatio, still feeling angry at himself. He was about to launch into a litany of self-recrimination, when three guards appeared at the cell door. One of them unlocked the door, then pointed his musket at the prisoners, while the other two guards carried the body of a man into the cell, dumped him on the open cot, and left the cell. Horatio and Archie looked at each other, and then at the body on the bed.

It was Marc Jeffers, and he wasn't moving.

Chapter 11

Archie and Horatio moved to Jeffers' side, and Bush, awakened by the arrival of the guards, drew himself to a sitting position on his cot. Horatio put his hand alongside the Acting Lieutenant's throat, then nodded at Archie.

"He's alive. His pulse is strong."

Archie breathed a sigh of relief, then sat on the edge of the cot by Jeffers' head. "Marc," he said softly. "Can you hear me? Marc?"

Jeffers opened his eyes, groaning slightly as he did. "Sir? Where am I?"

Horatio and Archie exchanged small grins, then Horatio looked back at Jeffers. "You are here with Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Bush, and myself. We appear to be in a dungeon below the castle of Le Bienfaiteur."

Jeffers frowned slightly. "The Benefactor? Who the bloody hell is that?" He grimaced in pain, trying to shift into a more comfortable position, and caught sight of Bush as he did so. "Mr. Bush? You are injured, sir?"

"Just a slight leg wound, Mr. Jeffers," came Bush's voice across the room. "It's nice to see you here with us."

Horatio, sitting at the foot of Jeffers' cot, put a hand on the booted foot next to him. "How is your injury, Mr. Jeffers? Mr. Bush said Dr. Stuart was going to operate."

Jeffers nodded. "He did. Got the bullet out, but they wouldn't let him stay around afterwards - they shoved him out the door soon after I awoke, from what I was told."

Worried, Horatio glanced at Bush, remembering their earlier conversation. He needed the doctor. If the fool had gone and gotten himself shot -

"What happened to the doctor, Mr. Jeffers?" he said evenly.

Jeffers frowned. "Happened, sir? Nothing. They took him back to his cell, then let him check on me this morning to make sure I could be moved. He was none too happy that I was coming here without him - you should have heard him cursing out those guards. If they hadn't been the enemy, I would have pitied them. He finally shut up when the guy in charge agreed to let him check up on me occasionally."

"The guy in charge?" broke in Horatio. "You've seen him?"

"No, not really," said Jeffers slowly. "He was there, but I was pretty out of it. Doc gave me quite a bit of laudanum for the pain."

"And how IS the pain, Marc?" said Archie softly, looking closely at his friend. "That was a pretty nasty wound."

Jeffers swallowed. "I won't lie, sir, it's pretty bad. It feels like someone heated up a sword, and is shoving it into my back and down my legs, while they're twisting it. Doctor Stuart says that's normal, but it hurts something fierce."

Horatio could tell Archie was about to give Jeffers a dressing-down lecture about risking his life for someone else's, so he broke in before it could start. "Archie," he warned. "Now is not the time. Mr. Jeffers needs to rest."

Archie nodded and stood up. "You're right, Horatio," he said. "I believe both Misters Bush and Jeffers could do with a bit of rest." He looked down at Jeffers, and a soft smile touched his features. "I am very glad you're back with us, Marc."

It was another long, tedious day for the imprisoned sailors. The injured men slept. Horatio, totally frustrated at his inability to do anything, paced back and forth in their cell. Archie stood next to the barred door, and leaned back against the wall. He folded his arms across his chest, then raised one hand to his mouth and rested it there, as he stared intently at the ground and considered their plight. They needed a plan. Soon.

His reverie was interrupted by the arrival of several men. Archie didn't move, but remained leaning against the wall. Horatio stood to face the men at the door. Two guards were there, along with a third man.

Horatio looked curiously at the new arrival. He was well dressed, but not ostentatiously, with dark hair pulled back in a neat queue, much like the sailors. He was extremely good-looking, but there seemed to be a very hard edge about him. Horatio distrusted him on sight. Nevertheless, he stood tall and straight before him.

The man gave him an appraising look, and seemed to approve of what he saw. He moved closer to the barred door, and spoke to Horatio, his voice strong and melodious.

"Your name, sir?"

Horatio looked him in the eye. "Commander Horatio Hornblower, of His Majesty's ship Retribution."

The man nodded. "I do believe, Mr. Hornblower, that you may drop the use of your title. Your ship is long gone from here."

Horatio felt his heart drop, but he refused to let the man see any reaction from him. "And my men, sir? Where are they?"

 

 

The man waved the question away. "They are here. For now." He moved a little to the side, glancing at the injured, sleeping men, and then back at Horatio. "No doubt you are wondering what you are doing here, and what is to become of you."

Horatio shrugged slightly. "The thought had crossed my mind, sir. If I may ask, to whom am I speaking?"

The man bowed slightly. "My name, sir, is Armand LaTour."

Horatio glanced briefly at Archie, then looked more closely. The Lieutenant was frowning, a look of concentration on his face. Had the name meant something to him? Archie looked up, caught his glance, and shook his head subtly. Horatio turned back to LaTour.

"Monsieur LaTour. Are you the one they call Le Bienfaiteur?"

LaTour laughed. "No, Mr. Hornblower, I merely - attend - Le Bienfaiteur." LaTour seemed a bit disappointed, and Horatio wondered if his name was supposed to be familiar to him.

"Sir, if I may," he began. "I would like to see my men, to know that they are well."

LaTour shook his head. "No, Mr. Hornblower, that is out of the question. With a possible few exceptions, you will never see your men again."

Horatio went cold, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw Archie slowly stand up straight against the wall. His voice low and angry, Horatio nearly hissed, "What does that mean? Are they to be butchered, like the men of the Jewel?"

"Ah," said LaTour breezily. "The Jewel. Her captain and his men were too stupid to surrender - it was rather unfortunate. No, Mr. Hornblower, your men will not be killed, unless they do something foolish. A few of them will remain here, and the others? Simply sold into slavery. There is quite a demand for strong men, and yours should all fetch a fair price."

Archie finally moved to stand next to Horatio. "And the rest of us? What are your plans for us?"

LaTour looked Archie up and down, and his smile widened. "The rest of you will stay here, and become - have ALREADY become - the property of Le Bienfaiteur." He chuckled deep in his throat, and Horatio suppressed a shiver. He had seen evil before, but this ran deeper. He could feel the tenseness in Archie's body beside him, and knew his friend felt it, too.

LaTour and the guards turned to leave. Archie moved to the door, and called to the man, his voice very hard and cold. "LaTour."
LaTour turned back to the cell, his eyes glittering with anger. "You, sir, will address me with respect."

Archie clenched his jaw. "I have one question for you - sir. How fares your previous benefactor?"

Horatio looked at him, surprised. So the name HAD been familiar to him.

LaTour smiled, a cold, predatory smile. "Ah. At last, someone who recognizes my name. Does it disappoint you to know that my previous - benefactor - is still where they put him, and has been for many years?" At Archie's disgusted look, he shook his head. "Pity. You are such a pretty one. I had hoped you would be a follower, as is Le Bienfaiteur. Perhaps in time..." LaTour turned again and left, the guards following in his wake. Archie slumped against the wall.

Horatio turned to him. "You know this man, Archie?"

Archie nodded, then slowly shook his head. "I only know OF him, and not much." His eyes met Horatio's, and Horatio saw something in those blue depths that he had not seen for years. A shutter was descending. Archie was burying his emotions, as he had tried to do so many years ago in Justinian.

"Who is he, Archie? Who was his previous benefactor?"

Archie looked at the floor. "The word "benefactor" is not quite appropriate. LaTour was a valet for a French aristocrat, who was eventually arrested. The last I knew, he was in the asylum at Charenton."

Horatio frowned. "Asylum? Who is this aristocrat, Archie?"

Archie raised his eyes to Horatio's.

"The Marquis de Sade."

Chapter 12

Horatio felt a chill wash over him. He wasn't familiar with the entire history, but he was aware that de Sade had been imprisoned, and of the reasons why. The man was a deviant of the worst kind.

"So LaTour worked for de Sade," he mused aloud.

Archie snorted softly. "He did more than work for him, Horatio. He usually participated in the Marquis' - activities. I would have thought he would have been imprisoned along with de Sade as well, although I suppose I never gave it much thought."

Horatio crossed his arms and leaned against the barred door. "So, Archie. Do I even WANT to know how you know so much about the Marquis de Sade and his valet?"

Archie glared at him. "Don't be ridiculous, Horatio. Remember, I served in Napoleon's army for some time before I became Le Compte de Favreau's aide. De Sade's book, "Justine" was practically unofficial required reading in the troops. Same for his eulogy of Marat. It was because of his works such as "Justine" that he was committed to Charenton, but his - exploits - were well known." Archie turned away from Horatio, his voice subdued. "All manner of exploits."

Horatio could see that this was pulling Archie back to his past, and he couldn't let his friend descend once more into that pit. He needed his Lieutenant.

"This is all well and good, Archie, but I do not see how knowing of LaTour and his previous employer can possibly help us get out of here. It alters nothing. We must find a way to get to the rest of the men, before they are sold and transported away from here. I think our best hope - "

Archie turned back to face Horatio, his eyes dark and hooded. "Did you not hear what LaTour said, Horatio? He said Le Bienfaiteur is a follower of de Sade, and that we now belong to him. Surely you know what that means."

Horatio reached out and put a hand on Archie's shoulder. "All it means, my friend, is that we must find a way out of here all the sooner."

Archie took a deep breath. "You're right, Horatio, as always. Now what were you saying about our best hope?"

"I think our best hope lies with the doctor. Mr. Jeffers said that the man in charge - I assume he means LaTour - would allow the doctor to come here to check up on his patients. The doctor will have to be our contact with the men."

"All right," Archie agreed. "At least it's a start."

Horatio looked at Archie, then moved over to his cot and sat down. He glanced at Bush and Jeffers. Both men were still sleeping. Horatio groaned and dropped his head into his hands. "Oh, God, Archie. It's not much of a start at all, is it?"

Archie sat down on the cot next to Horatio. "Horatio? What's wrong?"

Horatio's head remained buried in his hands. "I lost my ship, Archie. Even if we DO get out of here, I will be court-martialed. Again. Two times in under five years. Must be some kind of record."

Archie thought for a moment, pondering how quickly their roles had reversed. One minute Horatio was cheering him up, and then his mood changed, and Archie was the one put in the same position.

"Well, you know, Horatio, I've had two, and I'm still in uniform. AND, I was found guilty at both! Mutiny, attempted murder, and murder - losing your ship is nothing compared to that!"

Horatio raised his head and looked morosely at Archie. "You may have been found guilty each time, Archie, but in both instances, you were actually innocent. You did not murder Lieutenant Creps, and you did not push Captain Sawyer down the hold in order to take over the Renown. I, however, HAVE lost my ship."

"And it is not a hanging offense, Horatio. You did the right thing. Had you not surrendered, we would all be floating dead in the water, and those bastards would still have Retribution. You will not be held accountable." He grinned at Horatio. "I think it is one of the laws of the universe, or something. No matter what madness he undertakes, Horatio Hornblower will come out of it unscathed, and probably better than he went into it. Something like the "coefficient of expansion", perhaps?"

"Archie, the two have absolutely NO relationship to one another - "

"Aha!" laughed Archie. "So you DO agree that there is some force in the universe that helps you to lead such a charmed life!"

Horatio scowled at him. "I agree to no such thing, Lieutenant. If there WAS such a force, surely it would remove this constant thorn in my side - a thorn named Archie Kennedy. Why one man should be forced to suffer so at the hands of another...." his voice trailed off, and he looked at Archie, mortified. He'd meant it as a joke, but it could so easily refer to the abuse Archie had suffered at Simpson's hands. "Archie, I'm sorry."

"Sorry for what? Poor Horatio, always such a martyr. Forced to endure constant haranguing by his Second Lieutenant, always compelled to be subjected to said Lieutenant's superior wit and charm - oh, what a dreadful burden you must bear. 'Tis I who should feel sorry for you."

Despite his mood, Horatio laughed. Thankfully, Archie had taken his remark in the spirit he'd intended him to. "All, right, Mr. Kennedy, that is quite enough. You have done your duty and raised my spirits. Now, let us get back to working on a plan to get us all out of here."

Chapter 13

Archie and Horatio sat back down on Archie's cot, but almost immediately rose to their feet again as they heard voices coming down the passageway towards them.

".......the most bloody stupid thing I've ever heard of! Can you imagine making a living by selling other human beings! The Admiralty will hear of this, I assure you. Why, Admiral Nelson HIMSELF will no doubt come here and blow you all to pieces. Hah! And I shall NOT be the one who tries to put those pieces back together, I promise you!"

Archie and Horatio tried valiantly to smother their grins, but it was impossible. Dr. Stuart was in rare form, blustering at the men who escorted him down the hall. He continued to complain as they unlocked the cell door and pushed him inside. As they locked the door and left, the doctor yelled through the bars after them.

"I'd be out on that cliff, watching for the Victory if I were you! Or maybe you should just run now! You'll never stand a chance! Run, you buggers! Run!"

The doctor turned away from the door. "Humph," he said, straightening his vest and moving towards the cots. Ignoring the two officers at his side, he dropped a bag in the floor and began examining Jeffers.

Archie and Horatio exchanged amused glances. Horatio bent over and picked up the doctor's bag, opening it and looking inside.

"Don't bother," said the doctor without turning around. "There's nothing in there that could be used as a weapon or a tool - LaTour made sure of that. If I have need for any instruments, the patient will be moved to the infirmary. It's really quite a nice facility - I get the impression that it is used quite frequently." He didn't notice Archie wince. "It's well stocked with medicines, too, should we be in need of any." He gently turned Jeffers back over, and patted his shoulder.

"You're healing very nicely, Mr. Jeffers, but you must continue to stay abed and rest. The swelling should go down within a few days, perhaps less." Dr. Stuart stood up and went over to examine Bush's leg. He frowned slightly. "Hmm. This is still rather inflamed." He glared at Bush. "Mister Bush. Have you been walking around on this leg? Well?"

Bush held up his hands in defense. "No, doctor, I swear. I've only gotten up to use the chamberpot." The doctor continued to glare at him, and Bush felt himself shrink about three feet. "Commander. Please. Tell him I haven't gotten out of bed."

Horatio folded his arms across his chest and raised his eyebrows. "Now, I'm just not certain about that. Mr. Kennedy? Can you vouch for Mr. Bush?"

 

"Oh, I don't think so," Archie said, walking around the foot of Bush's cot. "I heard an awful lot of noise in the middle of the night - sounded like someone walking, or limping, rather - back and forth for hours! Now, I don't believe Mr. Jeffers is capable of that yet, and I KNOW it wasn't Mr. Hornblower or myself, so it had to be Lieutenant Bush. Sorry, William. Can't help you."

Bush drew himself up to a sitting position, glaring at Archie as he did so. "And just HOW do you know it wasn't Mr. Hornblower?"

Archie looked at him, his blue eyes wide and guileless. "Why, Mr. Bush! For most of the night, Commander Hornblower and myself were sound asleep! The sleep of the innocent, you know - very deep and restful. It's a wonderful thing."

"Innocent?" growled Bush. "You, Mr. Kennedy, are as far from innocent as I have ever seen! Sleep of the innocent, indeed. Hah!" He looked back at the doctor. "Dr. Stuart, I swear - I've put no weight on this leg at all. I don't know why it's so inflamed." He glared again at Archie. "Could be all the pests crawling around in here."

Archie choked. Laughing, he looked at the doctor. "All right. Dr. Stuart, I confess. I didn't hear Mr. Bush moving around last night." He glanced at Bush, who looked back at him triumphantly. "Of course," Archie continued, shrugging as he walked away from Bush, "we all know my history of confessing."

Bush groaned in frustration. Dammit! The man NEVER let him win an argument!

Horatio laughed as he watched his two lieutenants spar and banter. It was a good thing to see. They had not always gotten along, due to their very different personalities and various rivalries, but they had worked past those differences, and Horatio was very glad for that. He relied very heavily on Bush's experience and calm nature. And Archie....Horatio smiled fondly as he looked at his Second Lieutenant and longtime friend. Though Archie would scoff at the notion, Horatio knew that he never would have made it this long and this far without his fiery blond companion. He'd only been teasing when he called Archie a thorn in his side, and Archie knew it. Horatio desperately needed someone to keep him from being too serious and introspective, and Archie fulfilled that duty admirably. For just a moment, Horatio felt his depression returning.
If - no, WHEN - they got out of here and returned home, he was a bit worried about what would happen to his men if he were to be court-martialed and never given another command. Bush would be fine, he knew; with his experience and expertise, any Captain would be glad to have him. Quite possibly, he would be given his own command. But Archie was a different story. Another Captain might not appreciate his irreverent and irrepressible wit. They would never know all the obstacles he had struggled to overcome to reach the place he was in now. Horatio sighed. Maybe Commodore Pellew would take him back aboard the Indy. That would please both of them, Horatio knew, if it could somehow be arranged.

 

Dr. Stuart finished changing Bush's dressing, and looked at Horatio. "How are you doing, sir?"

Horatio nodded. "We're fine, doctor, but I need something from you."

"Of course," said the doctor. "Name it."

"I need you to act as a courier with the men. LaTour will not allow me to visit them, and I will need to contact them when we have an escape plan."

The doctor nodded slowly. "I will do what I can, Commander, but keep in mind that these men we are dealing with are vicious, with no conscience. And no compunction when it comes to killing." He glanced at his two patients, then took Horatio's arm and drew him to a corner of the cell. Archie followed.

Dr. Stuart took a deep breath, all his bluster replaced by a simmering anger. "They shot Seaman Harper, sir. They decided he was too old and too badly injured to bother healing, so they murdered him in cold blood. And they made certain that they did it in front of the crew, so the men would witness their own enjoyment of the murder."

Horatio closed his eyes for a moment, fighting back the anger that roared through him at the news. He looked at the doctor, his eyes cold and dark. "They will pay for that, doctor, and pay dearly. Harper was a good man, and well liked. I would not wish to be in our captor's shoes when we gain our freedom - especially when Styles regains his freedom."

The three men were silent for a moment, and then Horatio spoke again. "Doctor. Is Mr. Witt with the men?"

The doctor nodded. "Yes. LaTour mentioned something about keeping the officers separate, but apparently he doesn't know that Witt is an officer. Sometime during the fighting aboard ship, he lost his Midshipman's jacket, and they took him for regular crew. So far, he hasn't seen any reason to disavow them of that notion."

"Good," Horatio said briskly. "Tell him to continue on that tack. When we make our escape, we will need an officer to lead the men, until we can meet up with them." He paused for an instant. "Make sure that Matthews stays close to Mr. Witt. I will trust him to temper the boy's enthusiasm if necessary." He looked up as the guards reappeared at the door.

The doctor moved to the door. "Aye, aye, sir," he said quietly. He glared at the guards. "This is unbelievable! Putting these men so far apart, and forcing me to walk this distance! Disgraceful! Why, if we were in England...."

Horatio and Archie could hear the doctor's voice, still browbeating the guards as they moved off, and they exchanged grins.
"He'll never change," sighed Archie.

"Oh, I hope not," agreed Horatio. "I rather like him the way he is." He scowled at Archie. "And if you EVER tell him I said that, I'll have your commission revoked, and get you transferred as a Midshipman to the Dreadnought."

"Oh, no!" Archie yelped, holding up his hands in mock surrender. "Not Captain Foster! I won't breathe a word, I swear!"


Chapter 14

The rest of the day passed slowly and uneventfully for the prisoners. They'd discussed several different options for an escape attempt, but nothing really worked out. They didn't have enough information yet.

"Dammit," Jeffers swore angrily, slapping a hand against his cot. "I wish I could DO something!" He looked at Horatio. "I'm sorry, Commander. If I hadn't gotten myself shot, you wouldn't have to wait for me to get stronger before you escaped. Please, sir - if the opportunity presents itself before I am healed, you must leave me behind."

Horatio was shaking his head before Jeffers even stopped speaking. "No, Mr. Jeffers, I'll not leave you behind. We go when I say we go."

"Good God," groaned Archie. "Horatio, you know I love you like a brother, and I think you're a brilliant Commander, but you have GOT to stop using the same phrases all the time - over and over and over. You must learn to be more original. Quips and sallies, didn't the Duchess say?"

Horatio stared at him balefully. "Well, YOU, Mr. Kennedy, seem to have no trouble repeating my own words back to me. Perhaps it is YOU who does not have an original thought in that pretty little head of yours."

"Oh, Horatio," gasped Archie dramatically, putting a hand over his heart. "You have wounded me to the quick. The only reason I repeat your words back to you is because you have uttered them so many times that they are branded into my brain! I cannot help it!"

"Archie - " warned Horatio, but he was stopped by the collective chuckling of Bush and Jeffers.

"You two," laughed Bush. "You're so full of yourselves, and each other..."

That set Bush and Archie off into gales of laughter, with Horatio grinning right along with them. Jeffers watched them, amazed.

"Begging your pardon, sirs, but how can you be laughing at a time like this? These men mean to hurt us, and sell us - "

"Yes!" yelled Archie. "They mean to kill us, Horatio!" He collapsed back onto his cot, holding his sides. "Oh, Horatio, it hurts to laugh this much. Make it stop, please!"

Horatio grinned even wider. "But Archie, Mr. Jeffers is right. They'll kill us, certain sure!"

 

"Oh, God," Archie gasped. "I cannot take this anymore. Please stop." He wiped tears of laughter from his eyes with the back of his hand. "Mr. Jeffers. Was there something else you would care to discuss?"

"Well," grumbled Jeffers. "Maybe something where I wouldn't feel so left out."

Archie stood up and walked over to Jeffers' cot. He sat down and looked at the injured man, his eyes huge pools of blue, and a sad look on his face. "I'm sorry, Marc," he said contritely. "Maybe we could talk about our adventure - yours and mine - in Corsica. Would that be better?"

Jeffers grinned despite himself, and he shoved Archie's shoulder playfully. "Don't give me that look, Mr. Kennedy. It's never worked before, and it won't work now."

"I salute you, Mr. Jeffers," came Horatio's voice. "You are a stronger man than I. When he turns those big blue eyes on me, and puts THAT expression on his face, I'm lost. I just can't deny him whatever it is he wants."

Archie leaned close to Jeffers and said in a stage whisper, "It's a potent weapon, Marc. I've worked for YEARS on that expression." He sat up and batted his eyes at Horatio, who promptly threw a piece of bread at him.

"Boys," scolded Bush. "No wasting food."

"Oh, all right," sighed Archie, standing up and moving back to his own cot. "Mr. Bush, you simply MUST learn to loosen up." He looked around at his captive audience. "So. Who wants to hear the tale of Corsica, and my brilliant rescue of Le Comte de Favreau, AND of Commodore Pellew's sister-in-law?"

A chorus of groans greeted his words. "Archie, we all lived through that - we do not need to hear it again." Horatio was leaning back on his own cot.

"Well, then, any requests?" said Archie.

"Who elected you storyteller?" growled Bush.

Archie turned his dazzling smile on the First Lieutenant, who groaned and buried his head under his blanket.

"Why, Mr. Bush! It only makes sense - after all, I have lived such an exciting life! I have so many stories. How about something from the backstage of Drury Lane?"

"How about something from when you were spying in France?" asked Jeffers. "You must have a tale or two from then?"

 

"Well," Archie said. "One, certainly." He glanced at Horatio, who shook his head and smiled at him.

"Yes, Archie, I caught the reference. Another time when our two companions were not there. Do you have stories from then that you care to share?"

Archie considered. "Well, once I became de Favreau's aide, it really wasn't much more than simply passing on information. Before that, though, there were a few, um, interesting missions. Like my first one." Archie settled against the wall and began to tell his tale.

"It was during the Peace of Amiens. I came into some information about a British Captain who was being held prisoner at Toulon. At the time, there was a garrison of French and Spanish there, and they were holding Captain Hallowell prisoner." Archie looked around at his audience. "I'm sure you all know Hallowell - former Captain of the 74 Swiftsure? Well, he is a very close, personal friend of Admiral Nelson, so I considered it my duty, when I received the information, to rescue Captain Hallowell and return him to England." Archie sighed. "It was a good plan, except for the unexpected arrival of more Spanish troops. I had to - improvise - at the last moment." He glanced at Horatio and Bush. "It was rather like the fort we took out. I set off some powder kegs in the garrison, and blew their living quarters to hell as they slept. Thirty-nine Spaniards died in the explosion, or so I read later." Archie stopped and looked down. He shrugged. "Well, it really wasn't a hard choice - save British lives or enemy soldiers. I did what had to be done."

There was an uncomfortable silence in the cell. Bush and Horatio exchanged glances. Horatio looked back at Archie, then down at the floor, not exactly sure what he was feeling. He'd known that Archie's training as a spy had changed him, and made him harder and deadlier, but this -. This was almost akin to cold-blooded murder. Just how deep did Archie's training go? He looked up to find Archie's gaze fastened on him.

"The raid was successful, Horatio," he said quietly, his eyes never leaving his Commander's face. "None of my men died, and Captain Hallowell, as well as other British prisoners, returned to England safely." He smiled, a tight sad smile that never quite reached his eyes. "So, what do you think of your friend now? It's not a pretty picture I painted you."

Horatio returned Archie's gaze steadily. "I still think my friend is one of the bravest, most honorable men I have ever known. Despite what you said, Archie, I know that cannot have been easy for you, and I admire you more now than I did before. I know that I could never have lived that life, but you not only lived it, you were very successful at it. It is most commendable, Archie."

Archie ducked his head, then looked up at the others, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. "I do have other tales, should you care to hear them. There was the French girl - oh, lord, she was so beautiful! - who was the daughter of a French Army colonel...."

Archie went on, regaling the men with his romantic exploits. He soon had them all laughing again, and the pall that had descended over the cell began to lift a bit.

Chapter 15

Two more long, boring days passed. The doctor visited regularly to check on Bush and Jeffers, and to bring word from the men. Midshipman Witt seemed to be doing an admirable job of keeping the men occupied, although, the doctor sighed, if he had to listen to "Heart of Oak" one more time, he swore he would not be responsible for his actions. He was able to give Horatio a list of all the men who'd died in the fighting aboard Retribution, as well as a list of the injuries sustained by those now imprisoned.

Shortly after breakfast, LaTour appeared at the door. The guards unlocked the cell, and LaTour came inside. Horatio rose to his feet, glancing behind him. Jeffers was asleep, and Bush was sitting up on his cot. Archie stood beside Horatio.

"Good day, monsieur," Horatio said politely.

"And to you, Mr. Hornblower." LaTour walked around and looked at Bush and Jeffers. "How are your injured men?"

"They become stronger every day," answered Horatio.

"But they are still weak," broke in Archie, "and will not regain full strength for quite some time."

"Ah," said LaTour, losing interest in the injured men, and turning around and walking back to the front of the cell. "I have come with a message from Le Bienfaiteur. He is bored and lonely, and wishes some - companionship."

Archie drew in his breath sharply. Oh, God, this is what he had been dreading ever since he heard LaTour's name.

LaTour turned abruptly and pointed at Horatio. "You will come with me."

Horatio hesitated, and Archie took that second to step in front of his commanding officer. "He goes nowhere with you," he said coldly.

LaTour's eyes widened slightly in surprise. Archie didn't flinch, although his stomach was tied up in knots and he was breaking out into a light sweat. He couldn't let the man take Horatio away, for Archie well knew what awaited him.

"Le Bienfaiteur is desirous of some amusement, and he told me to choose one of the prisoners. I had thought to begin with the Commander, but if you wish to volunteer - "

"Yes," Archie said, not allowing himself to think. "I will go with you."

Horatio couldn't believe what he was hearing. He knew what this would cost Archie. "Mr. Kennedy," he said. "You will not go in my stead. You will remain here."
Archie shook his head, glancing at LaTour, who turned his back and walked out of the cell. Archie drew Horatio to the far wall, which was where Bush's cot was. "You cannot go, Horatio. It is my duty, as your junior officer, to do whatever it takes to protect you."

Horatio was beginning to feel sick to his stomach, as what awaited them began to sink in. "Archie, I cannot let you do this - the price is too high. If you will not think of yourself, think of Kathleen. How would she feel about this?"

Pain flashed in Archie's eyes, but he looked steadily at Horatio. "Kathleen is more likely to understand than any future sweetheart or wife of Horatio Hornblower would ever be. Horatio, I'll not let you be - despoiled - like that. Better someone already used in such a manner, than one innocent of it." His eyes met Horatio's. "It'll be all right, Horatio. I'll just - go away - like I learned to do in Justinian. I'll be fine."

Horatio didn't know how to react. Once again, his friend was offering to sacrifice himself for Horatio Hornblower, and this sacrifice could well cost him his mind, as well as his life. "Archie," he whispered.

"Time enough," said LaTour angrily, coming back into the cell. "You get no vote. Le Bienfaiteur has a preference for blondes, anyway." He grabbed Archie's arm and steered him out of the cell.

Archie gave Horatio a small smile and a nod, then turned to follow LaTour. Horatio, trying to follow him, was stopped by the cell door slamming in his face, the clang of metal echoing through his frozen heart. He gripped the bars and watched as Archie was lead down the passageway.

Silence filled the room. Horatio was gripping the bars so tightly that his fingers were turning white, but he never noticed the pain. He kept staring down the passageway where Archie had disappeared, questions and emotions boiling through him. Disgust filled
him - disgust at the Benefactor, and at LaTour, but mostly with himself, for not ordering Archie to stay here. Questions screamed through his mind. Would Kathleen ever be able to forgive either of them - Archie for going, and Horatio for not stopping him? Horatio knew she loved Archie, but would she be able to overlook what happened? Would this cause Archie to fall back into the pit of despair and desolation that he had lived in during Justinian? Yes, he was much stronger now than he had been then, but would it be enough? Would the ghost of Jack Simpson never leave them alone? Horatio had no answers.

There was a soft rustle behind him as Bush moved on his cot. "Commander - "

"No," said Horatio, gritting his teeth. "Do not say anything, Mr. Bush."

Silence once more fell over the prisoners, and then Bush tried again. "Horatio - he knows what he is doing."

"Yes," hissed Horatio. "And that makes it all the worse."

Bush glanced at the still-sleeping Jeffers, then moved his feet to the floor, wincing at the stiffness still present in his leg. "I don't quite understand, sir," he said hesitantly. "He spoke of being already used that way. Mr. Kennedy has - known - men before?"

Horatio shook his head violently, trying to erase the image of Jack Simpson's face from his mind. "He would never do so willingly."

Bush frowned, a memory prodding at him. "The day he "died" in Kingston, when we stood at the jetty and looked out to Retribution, I remember you mentioning someone - a Simmons, or Sampson, perhaps? - and hinting at something, but I believed it to be the drink and your grief speaking."

Horatio closed his eyes, but the hated name slipped out. "Simpson." His voice was filled with revulsion and loathing, and Bush was slowly beginning to understand why.

"No," Horatio continued. "I will not speak of this, Mr. Bush. If Mr. Kennedy wishes to tell you, that is his decision. I will not make it for him."

"I understand, Horatio," said Bush softly. "Archie is very strong and resilient. He'll make it through this."

Horatio, still staring blankly at the floor outside the cell door, said nothing. Bush sighed, then pulled himself to his feet and limped over to Jeffers' cot. The doctor be damned, he thought. I need to DO something. He sat down on the cot.

Jeffers awoke slowly. Opening his eyes, he looked at Bush. "Morning, sir," he yawned. "How late is it? Doc gave me so much laudanum, I slept like the dead." He stretched slightly. "Ow! Not quite myself yet, I guess." He looked around. "Where's Mr. Kennedy?"

Bush glanced at Horatio. The Commander hadn't moved, and he gave no indication that he had heard Jeffers' question.

"He's gone to meet Le Bienfaiteur," said Bush quietly.

"Really?" said Jeffers, surprised. "Why him and not, oh, I see. With Archie's espionage experience, he might be able to learn something. Not that you couldn't, Commander, but he HAS done things such as this before. You were smart to send him."

"Oh, God," groaned Horatio, burying his face in his arms. "No, I was not smart."

Jeffers, confused, started to say something, but Bush laid a hand on his arm and shook his head. Jeffers, completely puzzled, lapsed into an unhappy silence.

That unhappy silence remained in the cell for the rest of the day, which passed unbearably slowly for the three men. Archie never returned to the cell. Horatio, nearly out of his mind with worry, practically assaulted the guards when they brought dinner, and was only stopped by Bush physically holding him back. Horatio continued to yell at the guards as they left, demanding to see LaTour.

Jeffers watched in disbelief. He had never seen the Commander so out of control, and he found it very disconcerting. After all, Archie was only getting information to help them escape, wasn't he? Why should Mr. Hornblower be in such a panic? Quietly, Jeffers called Bush over to him.

Bush limped over and sat down. "Yes, Mr. Jeffers? Is there something you need?"

Jeffers glanced over at Horatio, who was once again standing by the cell door, peering down the corridor. "Yes, Mr. Bush," he said quietly. "Some information would be nice. Where is Mr. Kennedy, and why is Commander Hornblower so upset?"

Bush looked down at the ground. "We told you. Mr. Kennedy is with Le Bienfaiteur."

"And why does that upset the Commander so? Mr. Bush, Archie is my friend. If something has happened to him, I believe I have the right to know."

Bush sighed, and looked up. "Look, Marc, Archie will be fine. It's not my place to tell you anything about what he's doing."

"And this is supposed to make me feel better? Sir - "

"Mr. Jeffers," Bush said, low but firmly. "This will not be discussed. Is that clear?"

"Aye, sir," said Jeffers unhappily. Just then, the doctor arrived to check on his patients. Horatio followed him over to Jeffers' cot.

"Well, Mr. Jeffers," the doctor said breezily. "How are you feeling today?"

"It's still sore, sir, and I can't stand up for but a minute or two - my back and legs still hurt."

"Not to worry, not to worry," the doctor said genially. "Perfectly normal. It will take some time for the swelling to go down." He removed the bandage and peered at the wound. "It's looking well. I'd give it another week or so, if possible, before you try any strenuous exercise."

Horatio's heart dropped at the doctor's words. A week? A week where Archie would have to suffer, or maybe some of the other men..... "Doctor," he said.

 

"Yes, Commander?" The doctor continued to clean Jeffers' wound and began to re-bandage it.

"Has LaTour removed any of the men from their cell?"

Dr. Stuart stopped and looked up at Horatio. "No, not to my knowledge. Why?"

Horatio ignored the question. Glancing at Jeffers, he said quietly, "Doctor. Do you know who Armand LaTour is?"

Slowly, the doctor nodded. "Yes. Mr. Kennedy mentioned it when I was here yesterday. He thought some of the men might eventually need my aid - " His voice broke off. "Commander. Where is Lieutenant Kennedy?"

Horatio took a breath. "He's with Le Bienfaiteur."

Anger flashed into the doctor's eyes, and then a weary resignation. "I see. So I will have three patients when I come here next."

Horatio's composure faltered. "He's been gone all day. All day, doctor."

Dr. Stuart nodded. "I'll bring what I can to treat him, next time, and do what I can. I can treat the body, but the mind is something entirely different."

After examining Bush, and grumping at him for standing on his injured leg, the doctor left with the guards. Night fell, and the lanterns in the passageway were extinguished, leaving the cell in almost complete darkness, with the only illumination coming from the pale light of the quarter moon, which lit the end of the corridor. Bush and Jeffers drifted off to sleep, but slumber was something which eluded Horatio. He sat on his cot in the dark, his back against the wall, and stared at Archie's empty cot. Where was he? What could Le Bienfaiteur possibly be doing all this time? Horatio groaned and dropped his head into his hands. He knew full well what was happening.

At the sound of a key grating in the lock, Horatio's head snapped up. It was so dark in the cell that he could not see clearly, but he made out a dim form walking, no, shuffling, across to Archie's cot. Horatio's heart leapt into his throat. This was the exact same walk as when Archie had gone up the aisle in Kingston - the same slow, painful movement. He got up off his cot.

"Archie," he said softly, placing his hand on his friend's shoulder.

Archie shook it off. "Please don't touch me. Just leave me alone, Horatio."

"Please, Archie, talk to me," Horatio begged.

"I do not wish to discuss it," answered Archie. "Go back to bed, Horatio."

Horatio fell silent as he watched his friend lie down on his cot, and then he returned to his own. He resumed his previous stance, sitting on his bed, staring at Archie's back. His heart began to break as he heard muffled sobs - a sound he knew all too well from countless nights in Justinian's Midshipman's berth.

In the darkness, where no one could see, Horatio's own hot tears silently fell .

Chapter 16

Horatio slept not at all that night, and he doubted seriously that Archie did, either. When they arose the next morning, Archie would not meet any of the other officers' eyes. He seemed to have withdrawn inside himself, and would not speak to the other men. Jeffers tried to draw him out with some light-hearted teasing, but Archie refused to join in. Finally Jeffers, hurt, turned away from Archie and just stared at the ground. Horatio took a deep breath and stood up. Slowly, he walked across the cell and stood in front of Archie.

"Archie," he said softly. Archie didn't raise his head or respond. Gently, Horatio sat on the cot and turned to face his friend. He'd expected Archie to flinch away from him, but the Lieutenant didn't move an inch.

"Archie," he said again. "Are you all right? Should I send for Dr. Stuart?"

"No," Archie choked. "Please, Horatio, let it go. I just want to forget yesterday ever happened."

"Can you, Archie? Can you pretend it didn't?"

"No," whispered Archie, as he finally looked at Horatio, his anguished gaze tearing at Horatio's heart. "I want to, but I can't." His eyes flickered across the room, and Horatio followed with his own. He looked back at Archie.

"Marc doesn't know, Archie. He doesn't know who LaTour is, or why you went to the Benefactor yesterday."

Archie's voice was muffled. "Bush?"

"I think he knows. I did not say anything, but he figured it out. You know that neither of them will judge you, Archie - they are your friends as well as your fellow officers. What happened will never leave this room."

Archie answered, looking at the floor again, his voice subdued. "Not only what happened, Horatio, but what WILL happen. Le Bienfaiteur has ordered me back today. And tomorrow. And any other time he pleases."

Horrified, Horatio stood up. "Dear God. No, Archie, I'll not allow it."

Archie looked up at him. "If you do not, he will take one man each day and torture him until you capitulate. He made it very clear, Horatio. He will do it. I must return."

"No. No." Horatio said, shaking his head vehemently. "There must be another way. ANY other way. I will go myself - "

"No," Archie said sharply. "You cannot."

"Archie, as your commanding officer, it is my duty - "

"Damn your duty," Archie hissed. "This has nothing to do with who is in command, or what your honor dictates. This is about survival, Horatio. I will do this, and I will continue to do this, until you can get us out of here. We each have our roles in this little drama, and we cannot change them now."

Horatio looked down at his longtime friend, once again at a loss for words. "Archie, this isn't right..."

Archie looked up at him, a ghost of a smile touching his lips. "No, it isn't. But it is the only way." He again glanced across the room, and sighed. "I have to tell Marc."

Horatio nodded, still feeling ill. "I understand."

Archie focused himself, gathering all his energy, then moved across the room to stand in front of Jeffers. "Marc," he said quietly. "I apologize for being so rude to you earlier. We need to talk. I think there are some things happening that you should know about. May I sit down?"

Jeffers nodded, and Archie sat down beside him. Horatio watched as Archie began talking, then turned around and went over to sit beside Bush on his cot. They both watched as Archie explained what was going on, and they both saw the look of horror and disgust cross Jeffers' handsome face. Horatio sighed and looked down at the floor.

"I hope he understands that Archie does not want this. God, William. How could this have happened? To think that just two days ago, we were here laughing and teasing each other, and now this. I don't know how he can bear it."

"He can bear it because he must, Horatio," said Bush quietly. "He knows what is at stake, and I think he knew it was coming, in one form or another. That's why he was teasing us, and making us laugh at stupid things, and listen to his stories. He knew there were dark times coming."

"Dark times, indeed," whispered Horatio, looking back up across the cell. "Oh, no."

Bush looked where Horatio was staring. Jeffers had both hands up in front of him, and he was shaking his head. "No, Archie," they heard him say. "That's enough. Just - go, please."

Archie stood up and came back to Horatio and Bush. "That went well," he said, softly sarcastic.

"Surely he doesn't blame you," said Horatio, his anger beginning to rise.
Archie sighed. "It's not a matter of blame, Horatio, it's a matter of content. Marc's never been exposed to anything like this. I think he just needs time to absorb it, to get used to what's happened." He looked at Horatio and Bush, a determined light in his eyes. "I'll not have either of you force him on this. He will either accept it or he won't, but it is a decision he must come to on his own."

Voices came to them down the corridor, moving towards them. LaTour's voice. Horatio shoved back the hate and anger he felt towards the man. Losing his temper would only make things worse. Archie was right. He had to think of all the men, not just one Lieutenant, no matter how difficult that was. He looked at Archie, and his resolve wavered, just a bit. Archie had his back to the door. His eyes were closed, and there was such a look of dread on his face that Horatio could scarcely bear to look at him. As if feeling Horatio's gaze on him, Archie opened his eyes. "It's all right, my friend," Archie whispered. "It won't last long."

The men stopped outside the door. "Good day!" said LaTour happily. "I trust you have all been well fed and rested. Le Bienfaiteur is most anxious to see his favorite Lieutenant again. He is in a most enjoyable mood this morning - so much so that he has invited me to join the festivities. We shall have a lovely time." He beamed at Horatio.

Horatio felt as if a vise were clamping around his chest. This couldn't be happening. He looked once more at Archie. His friend's eyes were closed again, and he was visibly pale beneath his tan. No, thought Horatio. This is too much. He looked at LaTour.

"The Lieutenant is not going with you. I will go instead."

Archie's eyes snapped open and he swung around. "No, Horatio - "

"No, indeed," laughed LaTour. "Le Bienfaiteur was most pleased with the Lieutenant, and as I told you, he much prefers blondes. Come, Lieutenant. The games begin."

Archie again turned away from the door, drawing a series of quick, deep breaths. Thank God, he thought. Not Horatio. Never Horatio.

Another man came down the corridor just then. "Monsieur LaTour," he called.

Archie froze, and looked at Horatio. "It can't be," he whispered.

"Archie, what is it?" said Horatio. Archie just shook his head and turned around to face the new man, who was just reaching LaTour's group.

"Those British sailors are a very good lot, sir," said the new man. "They should do very nicely. Who do you have in here?" He turned and faced the cell.

Archie and Horatio were both rooted to the spot. This wasn't possible.

LaTour waved a hand dismissively at the cell. "These are not for sale, not yet anyway. They are Le Bienfaiteur's playthings."

The new man reached the cell door. He stopped for a moment as he stared in surprise at the officers inside.

LaTour, ever shrewd, saw the look. "You know these men?"

The man shook his head, with a quick warning look to Horatio and Archie. "No. They are just extra fine specimens. Perhaps we may negotiate for their sale, also? My Capitan would be willing to pay more for such officers."

"Well," said LaTour, looking appraisingly at the me behind the bars. "Perhaps the two dark-haired ones, but I rather need them right now. It is only the threat of their being harmed that keeps the blond in line. No, they will not be available for a little while yet." He rubbed his hands together, and looked at the man. "So, tell me. Do you truly like the selection we have in the other cell?"

"Yes," the man said, his smile gleaming in the sunlight. "My Capitan will be here within two weeks, and he will be very pleased. Shall we go and discuss your price now?"

LaTour grinned. "No, no, I have other activities planned for this time. Tomorrow will be time enough. Please enjoy Le Bienfaiteur's hospitality." He motioned for one of the guards, who escorted the new man away from the cell and down the corridor. LaTour turned his attention back to the prisoners.

"Come, come, Lieutenant. A delightful day awaits us. I am sure Le Bienfaiteur grows most impatient, so we must go now." The guard unlocked the door. LaTour took Archie's arm and escorted him out, all the while chatting to him, as if they were going to a simple dinner engagement.

Horatio stood at the door and watched them go, feeling positively miserable. He'd failed Archie. Again. What kind of man was he, what kind of friend, who would not put up a fight for his officer, but instead would let him be taken away by someone who wished only to do unspeakable acts to him? I am a failure, thought Horatio. I have failed the man who is almost as my other half - the friend who never deserted me in my times of trouble.

His gloomy thoughts were interrupted by Bush, who now stood in front of him. His eyes were cold and furious.

"Did I hear that right? They have a buyer for our crew?"

Slowly, Horatio nodded. "Apparently so, William, but it may not be as bad as it seems. That man - the one representing the captain who is purchasing the men? I know him."

"What?" exclaimed Bush and Jeffers in unison.

"Yes," Horatio said, moving closer to Jeffers' cot and speaking quietly. "I met him once, but Archie knows him quite well. He was one of his contacts when Archie was spying in France." Horatio almost smiled as he looked at his men.

"His name is Marco Montoya."

Chapter 17

"Montoya?" frowned Bush. "The same Marco Montoya who was supplying laudanum to Lieutenant Kennedy? I thought you did not trust him."

"I didn't," Horatio replied. "I don't, but Archie does. If Montoya is here to purchase men, then we stand a good chance of getting out of here soon."

"Two weeks," Jeffers said bitterly. "He said his Captain would be here in two weeks. Are we just supposed to sit here and wait?"

Horatio looked down at him, then sat down at the end of Jeffers' cot. "Marc, it will likely be two weeks before you are ready to travel, anyway. I told you I would not leave here without you." Horatio smiled, thinking of Archie. "I said it, and I meant it."

Jeffers looked at him, his hazel eyes full of anger and recrimination. "No, you'll not leave without me, but you'll send Mr. Kennedy to the devil's own lair, to be used and - "

"That's enough, Mr. Jeffers!" roared Bush. "You will not speak to your commanding officer like that!"

Horatio held up his hand. "William. It's all right." He lowered his hand and looked steadily at his Acting Lieutenant. "Mr. Jeffers - Marc. It was Archie's decision to go. You KNOW him - once he sets his mind to something, you do not wish to stand in his way. I tried to exchange myself for him, but he would not allow it. Even if he had agreed, LaTour was adamant that it be Archie who went. This is an ugly situation, Marc, and I would give anything that this not happen to him, but the damage is done. He - "

"Damage?" broke in Jeffers, a flush staining his cheek. "You speak as if he is a mizzenmast, or a, a chair. He is not a piece of property to be bartered for our freedom, or ransomed to ease your guilt over our predicament. God. He's not even a man anymore. Not after this."

Horatio clenched his hands, fighting back his fury, but he could not let that remark go unchallenged. His voice low and dangerous, he spoke to the angry young man.

"You will NEVER speak such of Mr. Kennedy. He is more of a man than the entire
crew - including everyone in this room - put together, and I will not have you dishonor his name. Ever. He has made a great sacrifice for us. You have no idea of the courage it took for him to do this, and the demons he now confronts because of it. And I do believe, Mr. Jeffers, that you have overlooked one thing."

"And what is that?" Jeffers said icily. "Sir."

"When LaTour was telling Montoya that he would consider selling some of the officers, he mentioned the dark-haired ones. If you remember, LaTour has twice mentioned Le Bienfaiteur's preference for blondes." Horatio stopped, and stood up. "What color is YOUR hair, Mr. Jeffers?"

All the color drained out of Jeffers' face. "Dear God."

"Yes, Mr. Jeffers. Archie offered himself to protect all of us, but especially you. Perhaps you should consider that before you condemn him." With that, Horatio turned and went back to his own cot. Bush, with an angry look at the Acting Lieutenant, did the same.

Jeffers sat back on his cot, shaking. He'd never considered that he might be forced to endure what Archie was going through at this very moment. Marc tried to wrap his mind around that, but he couldn't. The thought of what Archie was doing sickened and disgusted him, no matter what his motives for doing so were. He knew he could never look at Archie the same way again, and as for their friendship? As far as Jeffers was concerned, it was over. How could he respect a man who would debase himself so?

Stop it, another part of him begged. He is the same person he was last week - the same man you were willing to die for aboard Retribution. The man who would risk everything - life, family, career - for those he cared about, including you. This was just a different kind of sacrifice.

Jeffers lay back on the cot and stared at the ceiling. He couldn't silence either voice in his head, and he was thoroughly confused. Out of the corner of his eye, he looked over at Horatio. Good job, Marc, he thought to himself with a sigh. With one careless sentence, you have angered and antagonized your commanding officer and his 1st Lieutenant, and insulted a man you once called a friend. So much for your Naval career. Well, maybe he'd become a blacksmith. He'd always been rather fond of horses.

It was shortly after dinner this time when Archie was returned to the cell. Horatio jumped to his feet as soon as he saw his friend at the door, and he put a hand under Archie's elbow, and guided him to his cot. Archie sat down with a sigh. Horatio carefully sat down next to him.

"How are you, Archie?" he said gently.

His voice very quiet and still, Archie answered, "I'm fine, Horatio."

Horatio studied his friend. Archie was even more pale than he had been previously, but there was no trace in his eyes of the panic and despair that Horatio feared.

Archie almost smiled. "This time really wasn't so bad. I told you, Horatio, I just - go away - for a bit. It was the one valuable skill I learned at Jack's hands."
Jeffers couldn't help himself. He was still so angry and confused that he couldn't think straight. "Jack? Just who is Jack?"

"Not now, Mr. Jeffers," said Horatio sharply.
Archie looked back and forth between the two men, sensing the tension. "What's going on?"

Horatio shook his head. "It's nothing, Archie."

"It's not nothing, Horatio - the three of you look like you're going to explode. What is it? What happened?"

Only silence greeted his questions.

"Horatio?"

Horatio looked at Archie. "It seems Mr. Jeffers is having a hard time dealing with your efforts to protect us."

"Dammit, Horatio, I told you not to push him on this!"

"Archie, we do not have the luxury of worrying about prejudices and fear, both of which Mr. Jeffers seems to have in abundance." Jeffers sat up in protest, and Horatio glared at him as he continued. "We need to put this behind us, and begin to plan - "

"No," Archie said, looking across the room at Jeffers. "There are issues here that need to be addressed. And I think that in order to properly address them, we need to start at the beginning." He turned his gaze to Horatio.

"We need to go back to Justinian."


Chapter 18

"Archie, you cannot mean that," protested Horatio. "She lies at the bottom of the sea where she belongs, and her memories should stay buried there with her."

Archie looked at him with a small, sad smile. "I would like nothing better, my friend, but I think this needs to be said. William and Marc do not know the story, not entirely." He paused, and looked at Jeffers. "Marc, I have no idea if this will help you understand or not, but I hope it will. For all I know, though, it may cause you to despise me, but you need to be told. Whatever you decide, whether we remain friends or not, I will respect your decision. Know this, Marc. My opinion of you will not change either way. Not ever."

Horatio sat down on the cot next to Archie, a sign of support and solidarity that did not escape any of the men in the room. Archie balled his fists in his lap as he stared at the ground, gathering his thoughts and his courage. He had thought never to return to that place, but here he was. Forcing himself to keep his voice calm, he began.

"I was 12 years old when I arrived in Justinian. My father could not get me out of his life fast enough. With my mother dead, and Abby married and living in Scotland, he wanted this stain on the Kennedy name to be erased as completely and as quickly as possible. So, he sent me to sea. He found a place for me aboard Justinian, and he had me carted off. He never even said good-bye - he arranged to be otherwise engaged when I left. So, it was the servants who packed my sea-chest and bundled me off to my new home. I was actually happy. To be away from my father's constant disapproval, and my brothers' tormenting, to have a chance at a new beginning - it was a dream come true. I was too young and too naive to know how quickly dreams can turn into nightmares."

Horatio and Archie exchanged a look, and then Archie continued. "I will not bore you with all the details, but you must understand what kind of ship Justinian was. Captain Keene had been a fine captain for a very long time, but now he was sick. He was dying, slowly, bit by bit, over years. It took all of his energy and focus just to get through the day. His lieutenants were forced to take on more duties than they could really handle, and it took everything they had to keep things running smoothly abovedeck. They didn't have time to worry about what went on belowdecks. They weren't bad men at all, for the most part, just overworked. Mr. Chadd, in particular, was very kind to me when he came aboard much later, but by then it was too late. I no longer trusted anyone."

Archie stopped, dreading the next part. Horatio, understanding, stood up and went to the bucket of water. He brought back a cupful for Archie, who took it gratefully, and then continued his tale.

"There was a senior Midshipman there, a bitter, twisted man named Jack Simpson. He ruled the mess absolutely. He levied a toll upon the other Midshipman's sea chests for shirts, and he took our best cuts of meat, and our spirit rations, but his favorite pastime - well, second favorite, actually - was the Proceedings of the Inquisition. Beatings. Until he found out what your "dirty little secret" was. Even if you didn't have one. Every Midshipman was subjected to this, but for me, he reserved a special kind of inquisition.

"I don't know why he chose me for this, and it really doesn't matter. I'm sure there had been many others before me, but once I came aboard, there was no one else. I was only 12, and I couldn't fight him. I was rather small, but even had I been stronger, he so completely terrified me, it wouldn't have mattered. He beat me quite regularly, but eventually he turned to something else. It began one night when I was hiding in the cable tier. I just wanted to be alone, to feel sorry for myself. My family didn't care if I lived or died, I had no friends aboard ship, I was hopeless at mathematics, and I feared I'd be a Midshipman forever. Just like Jack."

Archie's voice faltered, and Horatio reached over and gently rubbed his shoulder for an instant. Archie took strength from this small gesture and continued.

"I never heard him. Suddenly, he was just there, smelling of drink and sweat, his hands grabbing at me, one clamped over my mouth, and the other grasping at my clothing. He, he - " Archie's voice broke again, and Horatio put a hand on his friend's shoulder.

"It's all right, Archie. You don't have to say it."

Archie looked over at Bush and Jeffers, and realized Horatio was right. The shock on their faces showed that they grasped all too well what he was saying. But for himself, he needed to say the words aloud.

"He raped me," Archie said quietly, not meeting the eyes of the other men. "He used me, and beat me, and very nearly killed me. But it wasn't enough for him. He needed more. After that night, Jack had his way anytime he wished. And he - wished - often. Eventually, I just became numb to it, to just about everything. My life was pretty much reduced to duty and Jack.

"I'll never forget the first night after Simpson had me. The heavens themselves broke open, as I had broken, and rain poured down on Justinian as if seeking to flood her and send her to the bottom where she belonged. I sat on the deck in the rain, and cursed a cruel God who could allow such a foul person to visit this earth. I'd never known pain such as that. I was so numb, I never even felt the rain, though it soaked through my uniform and washed some of the blood away. I don't know how long I sat there - hours, probably. It was Matthews who found me." Archie looked directly at the two men sitting across from him. "He wasn't the man you know now, William, Marc - he'd been hardened by too much time in the cesspool of Justinian, and he'd become immune to the suffering of others - even delighting in it at times. But he found me, and somehow he knew instantly what had happened. He reached out to me, the first friendly hand I'd seen there, but I didn't trust him not to hurt me, and I wouldn't let him touch me." His gaze flickered to Horatio. "I - panicked. I tried to escape, even to jump over the side, but he caught me. I was too scared to fight back - I thought he wanted what Jack had taken. Of course, he didn't. He knelt down next to me and talked to me, and although I remember nothing of what he said, I do remember how gentle his voice was. When I could finally bring myself to look at him, I almost thought I could see tears in his eyes, but I knew I was mistaken - it had to be raindrops. No one cried in Justinian. No one but me." Archie paused for a moment, the familiar far-away look in his eyes as he remembered the past. He continued, "Matthews just kept talking to me, for a very long time. Finally, he heard Styles come by, and he convinced him to carry me to see Hepplewhite, not that the good doctor did anything but wash away the last of the blood, and put in a stitch or two."

Bush broke in, disbelieving. "Matthews and Styles knew? From the beginning they knew, and they did nothing?" His voice was filled with anger and disgust. "A 12-year-old boy, and that monster, and they LET it happen?"

Archie shook his head. "There was nothing they COULD do, William. You cannot conceive of what that ship was like. Had they gone to the Captain, Simpson would simply have denied it, or turned it around so that I was making advances toward him. I was too scared to speak against him, and Dr. Hepplewhite was in Jack's pocket. Where do you think our spirit rations went when Jack took them? Most of them were used as bribes. Jack was Caesar. It was that simple."

Silence filled the cell, as each man was busy with his own thought or memories. Finally, it was broken by Jeffers' strangled voice.

"How long?"

Archie looked at him steadily. "Close to six years."

"Dear God," breathed Bush. "And no one spoke for you."

Archie shook his head. "No. Clayton, rest his soul, did his best to help me, once he knew, but Jack would have killed him if he'd tried to stop it." He sighed. "Saying it like this, it's hard to convey the absolute hold Jack had over everyone. If you weren't there, you couldn't know. It wasn't until Horatio came aboard that things began to change. He was the only one with the courage to stand against Jack."

Horatio snorted. "It wasn't courage, Archie, it was youthful stupidity and foolhardiness. I simply didn't know any better."

"No, Horatio," Archie said softly. "It was the bravest thing I'd ever seen, and I was humiliated by it. I was senior - I should have protected you, but I was too frightened."

"With good reason," Horatio said, just as softly. "Had I known then what he had done to you, I would have killed him as he slept. No remorse."

Jeffers' voice came again, this time not angry or disgusted, but merely curious. "And how long did you know, sir? When did you find out?"

Horatio and Archie exchanged a glance. "I didn't find out until shortly before we left Justinian for Indefatigable. All that time, I thought Simpson did the same thing to everyone - the beatings, the tormenting. I was too innocent to think that he could do worse." Horatio smiled sadly. "Despite what was going on, one good thing came out of that time. Archie and I became friends, good friends, a friendship born out of mutual suffering and adversity. Even though I didn't know that Archie's suffering ran much deeper than my own, it still brought us together. Two scared, lonely boys, who had no one else to turn to. Archie's friendship was a gift in those dark days, and it is still the gift I treasure above all else."

Archie blinked back a sudden, unexpected tear. "Well, Horatio," he said. "Ya see? When you are not constantly repeating your own words, you can actually come up with some very nice thoughts." He grinned at Horatio. "You know I feel the same way, my friend. Your friendship was a Godsend at the bleakest time in my life, and I am forever grateful for it."

The discussion was halted by the arrival of the doctor, grumbling and grousing as usual. He examined Bush and Jeffers, and pronounced himself pleased with their progress. Horatio took his arm and guided him to the corner furthest from the door. Archie joined them.

"Doctor. How are the men?" asked Horatio.

The doctor sighed. "Bored. Restless. There have been a few fights, but Mr. Witt has managed to keep them in line for the most part. They're anxious to get out, sir."

Horatio nodded. "As are we all, doctor. You may tell the men that we may possibly have a potential ally in our group of captors, and Mr. Kennedy has been gathering information as best he can when he leaves the cell."

The doctor looked at Archie with compassion. "Mr. Kennedy. I am very sorry for your trials. Do you require medical attention?"

Archie flushed. "Ah, no, doctor, I'll be fine."

"Don't be embarrassed, Mr. Kennedy. I can be very discrete in my examination."

"No, really, doctor," said Archie, his voice growing colder. "I'm just fine."

Horatio and Dr. Stuart exchanged a look. "Very well, Mr. Kennedy," said the doctor. "Let me know if you change your mind." With that, he moved to the door and called the guards, who escorted him down the passageway.

Horatio turned to Archie. "Archie - "

 

"No, Horatio, I'm fine. What I want to know is, why did you say we "possibly" have an ally? Marco must be here to get us out."

"I'm not convinced of that."

Archie went very still. "Why not?"

Horatio sighed. "The more I think about it, the less sure I am he is here to help us. You saw his face when he found us here. He was not expecting us."

Archie frowned. "He was probably not expecting us in particular, just British sailors in general. I'm sure it was just that he was surprised to see familiar faces, that's all."

Horatio shook his head, unconvinced. "No, I don't think so. I know you trust him, Archie, but there just seems to be something wrong there. The more I consider it, the more I am not sure we can trust him."

"Well, you're right about one thing, Horatio. I DO trust him. I'm sure he's here to get us out - why else would he be posing as a buyer of sailors?"

"Unless he's NOT posing."

"Horatio, I've known him longer than you. I've worked with him. He was on our side then - why wouldn't he be now?"

"Archie, le Compte de Favreau thought you were on HIS side - why couldn't Marco be doing the same thing?"

"Because he ISN'T," Archie said with exasperation. "The information that he passed to me was legitimate every time, and saved British lives, and cost French - and Spanish - ones. Had he been working for the other side, something would have gone wrong, somewhere, sometime. It never did. Can't you trust my instincts on this?"

Horatio met Archie's gaze. "Can't you trust mine?"

There was an uncomfortable silence, which was finally breached by Bush.

"Pardon me, sir, but I think the only way we'll know for sure, is just to see what Montoya does, if he approaches us in any way. In the meantime, we should continue to develop our own plan of escape."

Archie smiled crookedly at Horatio. "Ah. The voice of reason."

Horatio grinned in return. "Whatever would we do without him?"

 

"No doubt," growled Bush, "You would be doing nothing but pointlessly bickering about nothing all the time, and we would not get anything accomplished. Do either of you have any ideas?"

Horatio sat down next to Bush. "Just a few - nothing that I'm sure will work." He looked up. "Archie? How about you?"

"Hmm?" said Archie distractedly, as he looked across the room. "Oh, no, not anything. You two keep working at it. I'm going to talk to Marc."

Horatio nodded, his good humor evaporating. If Jeffers cut himself off from Archie, there could be all sorts of repercussions, none of them good. Well, thought Horatio with a slight smile, Archie could charm the fins off a mermaid. Surely he could win over one Acting Lieutenant.

Archie made his way over to Jeffers' cot. Jeffers was sitting up, his back against the wall, with one leg out in front of him, and the other crossed underneath it. He was frowning as he stared at the floor, obviously lost in deep thought.

"Marc?" said Archie quietly. "How's the pain?"

Jeffers glanced up at him, then looked quickly away. "Shouldn't I be asking you that?"

"Not if you don't want to," Archie said evenly. "I appreciate that this is hard for you to understand, Marc. This isn't exactly a situation you would have run into on either the Conqueror or Retribution, and I imagine that you probably don't think much of me anymore."

"I don't know what I think," muttered Jeffers, still staring at the floor. "And I just can't understand how you could have put up with Simpson for so many years and not fought back. How you can not fight back now."

Archie crouched in front of Jeffers. "If I fought back now, Marc, one of two things would happen. Either the Benefactor and LaTour would like that and require even more of me, or, more likely, they would get angry, and take it out on someone else. You. Or Horatio. Or Mr. Witt. Do you remember how young Mr. Witt is? The only ship he's ever served on is Retribution, with a fine crew, and the best Commander around - he's never been hurt or severely punished in any way. Neither have you. I'll not let something like this happen to ANY of you, not if it is within my power to stop it. For now, it is. And so I do my duty."

"Your duty?" snapped Jeffers. "What you're doing is a hanging offense, according to the Articles of War."

"Yes, it is," said Archie. "And if you feel you must turn me in when this is over, I'll not fight you on it. But before you do, Marc, remember that there are others who know of my past - Horatio, Matthews, Styles, even Commodore Pellew - who have never spoken of it. If I hang, their names will be sullied, also. They may not hang beside me, but whispers and innuendo would destroy their careers as surely as if they had. So, I ask you to think of them, not me, when you make your decision." Archie stood up. "Just, think about it." He turned to leave.

"Archie?" said Jeffers in a small, quiet voice. Archie turned back to him. "I didn't mean that I would turn you in." He finally looked up at the other man. "This is just so hard for me to fathom. I need more time."

Archie grinned at him, the sunshine of his smile lighting up the darkest corners of the cell, and reaching through to touch Jeffers' heart. "Well, Marc, time seems to be something we all have in abundance. Use what you must, and we will work it out."

Jeffers nodded, and lay back on his cot. He was ashamed of himself for feeling the way he did, but he just couldn't seem to help it. Archie had always been a good friend to him. Why couldn't he return the favor? He vowed he would make the effort, starting tomorrow. They DID have time to work this out.


Chapter 19

The four men returned to their own cots and tried to get some sleep. As Horatio listened to the sounds, he could tell that Bush and Archie fell asleep quickly, but Jeffers seemed to be having a tough time of it. Eventually, though, Horatio could hear his breathing deepen, and knew the young man had finally fallen asleep.

Sleep did not come to Horatio, though. Memories of Justinian flooded his mind. Like Archie, he'd fought to put those memories of that time behind him, but hearing his friend talk about it tonight had brought everything rushing back.

Horatio turned on his side, propping his head up on his hand, and looked across to where Archie lay sleeping. He would never know where Archie got his strength. It hadn't existed in Justinian, not that anyone could see, but something had gotten him through the nightmare of Jack Simpson. And now, it had to get him through this new nightmare.

Morning came, damp and chilly, and as dreary as the spirits of the men as they arose. Their inability to do anything to get themselves and the crew out of their predicament was wearing at them, and they were all uncharacteristically silent as they ate the breakfast brought to them by the guards. Afterwards, they all returned to their cots and lay down, just staring at the floor or the ceiling.

It was midmorning when the guards and LaTour arrived back at the cell. The door was unlocked and opened, its screeching setting Horatio's teeth on edge. LaTour entered the cell and looked at the men.

"My, my," he said cheerfully. "Such a lively crew! I suppose you are all bored. Well, it is of no consequence. All that matters is that Le Bienfaiteur has requested the presence of his favorite Lieutenant again - and myself, of course. I do believe he has a very happy day planned for us, so come, Lieutenant Kennedy, we must not keep him waiting. He would be most displeased." He moved over to Archie, who was sitting on his cot, and took his arm, pulling him to his feet.

Archie looked over to Horatio, who could see that he was trying to keep a brave front, but not completely succeeding. Horatio hated feeling so helpless. He watched as LaTour took Archie out of the cell and down the passageway, all the while trying to convince himself that something good would come out of this. Somehow, Archie would get the information that they needed to break out of this prison.

Night fell, and still Archie didn't return. Horatio paced the cell, not caring how he appeared to the other men. They were worried, too, he realized, but they didn't know. They couldn't know what this was doing to Archie, how terrified he had to be, despite his assurances to the contrary.

 

 

Bush watched Horatio pace, wishing he could ease his friend's worry. He sighed quietly to himself. He'd often wondered just what had created the deep bond between Archie and Horatio, and though he'd known it had developed in their time together in Justinian and El Ferrol, he'd had no idea of what it was. He fervently wished he didn't know now. His respect for Archie Kennedy had only grown with the Lieutenant's revelations. To have risen from that hell, and then to willingly turn around and walk back into it, just to protect his friends - it was a sacrifice Bush wasn't sure he himself could make. Leaning back, he thought of his wife. Did Emily know? Yes, he decided, she did. Archie had loved her so deeply and so completely, that he must have told her. And knowing his wife as William did, he knew she would never have turned away from him, but probably had loved him even more. God, he missed her. They had to get out of here.

Jeffers watched Horatio pace, feeling more guilty with every circle the Commander made of the cell. What right did he have to judge Archie? Jeffers hadn't gone through the experiences that Archie had, hadn't lived the horrors of those times. He knew of the depth of Archie's love for Kathleen - surely he could not want what he was doing right now. No, he decided, I will not turn my back on him again. If this is hard on me, it surely is a hundredfold worse for Archie, and he will need the support of all his friends.

Ignoring the shooting pains in his back and legs, Jeffers got to his feet and moved stiffly across the room to intercept Horatio. Bush watched him warily.

"Commander, sir," Jeffers said quietly, standing as straight as his pain would let him. Horatio stopped his pacing and regarded the Acting Lieutenant.

"Should you be standing, Mr. Jeffers?" he asked, the tone of his voice noncommittal.

Jeffers swallowed. "Yes, sir, for this I need to, sir."

"Very well," said Horatio neutrally. "What is it?"

Jeffers squared his shoulders and looked Horatio in the eye. "I wish to offer my apologies to you, and to Lieutenant Bush, and also to Lieutenant Kennedy when he returns, for the disparaging remark I made regarding Mr. Kennedy's - character. I was wrong, and there is no excuse for what I said."

Horatio looked at the officer before him, knowing how difficult it probably was for him to swallow his pride and admit to being wrong. Well, it spoke volumes about the young man's own character.

"At ease, Mr. Jeffers," he said quietly. "Your apology is accepted - " he glanced at Bush, who nodded, " - by both of us. I do understand how hard this is for you. I struggled with it, myself, when I first found out in Justinian."

Jeffers relaxed a bit, but didn't take his eyes from Horatio's face. "But you never turned your back on him, sir. I did."
Horatio sighed, and a small, sad smile drew up the corners of his mouth. "Those were different times," he said, wishing Archie was there to tease him about repeating himself yet again. "We needed each other back then, as I still need him now."

"Aye," whispered Jeffers, looking at the ground. "As he will need all of us when this is done."

"Yes," replied Horatio, clapping Jeffers briefly on the shoulder. "He will indeed. And I, Mr. Jeffers am very glad that you have joined us again. It will mean a great deal to Archie that you do not hold him to blame." He looked closely at Jeffers, noting the pallor of his skin and the lines of pain around his eyes. "Please, Marc, sit down. You need to continue your recuperation."

Jeffers returned to his cot, feeling better and more optimistic than he had in days. His pain was receding, Archie would be back soon, and they would all be getting out of here shortly.

But Archie didn't return. Again, the lanterns in the corridor were extinguished, but no one appeared at the cell door. Horatio was worried sick. What was wrong? Had Archie finally had enough and fought back? Had Le Bienfaiteur retaliated by killing him? The uncertainty was driving Horatio mad, but what could he do? Nothing. Only wait.

He must have fallen asleep, for next he knew, the cell door was opening, and there was the sound of Archie walking slowly to his cot. Horatio sat up quickly.

"Archie?" he whispered through the darkness.

Archie's voice was tired and strained. "Go back to sleep, Horatio. I'm back."

"Are you - "

"I'm fine," snapped Archie. "Leave me alone."

Horatio lay back on his cot, but he was unable to sleep. He listened carefully, but heard no sound coming from over Archie's way - no sobs. He allowed himself to finally relax. Maybe it hadn't been so bad this time.

When the pale light of dawn barely lit the cell, Horatio sat up and looked across the room. Archie was huddled under his blanket, and Horatio couldn't tell if he was awake or not. Quietly, he arose and went to sit on the cot by his friend's side. Gently, he put his hand on Archie's side.

A sharp hiss of pain greeted him, and Horatio snatched his hand away.

"I'm sorry, Archie, I didn't mean to - " he broke off, staring at the hand he'd just touched Archie with. There was blood on it.
"Archie? Is that your blood?" he said, realizing too late what he'd just said, remembering all too well the first time he'd said it.

Archie choked back a sob. "What did I tell you about repeating yourself?" he answered, with a touch of hysteria in his voice.

At the sound, Horatio went cold. Reaching out, he pulled the blanket away from Archie's body.

His mind screamed at him as he saw the sight before him. Archie's shirt was in tatters, his back criss-crossed with whip marks, the sores still open and bleeding. He'd been flogged. Viciously. Horatio fought back a wave of nausea. "Dear God," he whispered.

Bush, hearing the exchange, limped over to Archie's cot. "Horatio? What - " he stopped as he spied Archie's back. "Oh, my God." His eyes met Horatio's anguished gaze.

Jeffers sat up. "What is it? What's going on?" He started to get up.

"Belay that," barked Bush. "Stay where you are, Mr. Jeffers. You don't need to see this."

"The hell I don't," sputtered Jeffers, struggling to get up. "I have an obligation - "

"No, Marc," came Archie's voice, still with a touch of hysteria. "Please don't get up. Please."

Jeffers sank back onto his cot, as Horatio gently pulled the remains of Archie's shirt away from his body. Bush brought over what was left of the water, then went over to the cell door and started banging on it.

"Guard!" he bellowed. When no one responded, he snatched up a metal cup and began hitting it against the metal bars, still yelling for the guard. Still, no one appeared. Frustrated, he flung the cup down and went back to Archie's cot, where Horatio was doing his best to clean Archie's wounds.

"Why, Archie?" Horatio asked, a break in his voice. "Why did they do this?"

Archie sighed, trying to relax under Horatio's ministrations, but his pain was not easing. "Why? Because they wanted to, Horatio. Because they could. Because it is something
that de Sade enjoyed doing - although he was arrested after one particular time with a prostitute - and the Benefactor wants to be just like him."

"Archie," Horatio said hesitantly. "What - " He couldn't go on.

"What exactly did they do, is that what you were going to say?"

"I'm sorry, Archie. You don't have to tell us."

"Well, why not?" answered Archie, the hysteria creeping back into his voice and scaring the three men. "What did they do? Well, after they'd had their usual fun with me, they put me backwards in a chair and tied me there. Then Le Bienfaiteur heated up one of his well-used "cats" in the fireplace. When it was ready, he proceeded to beat me with it - you see the results. Then, just for fun, LaTour took a bottle of liquor and poured it over my back, over the open welts...." Archie's voice trailed off, as the other men stared at him in horror. Then he giggled, the hysteria back in full force. "Well, Horatio, it seems I covered the Navy's reputation of rum, sodomy and the lash, all in one night."

"God," choked Jeffers, then rolled over and was quietly sick into the chamberpot. Bush, too stunned to stand, sat down on the bed next to him.

Horatio knelt down next to Archie, and placed his hand over that of his friend. "Archie. I swear to you, Le Bienfaiteur will pay for this with his life, as will LaTour. I wish it could be more."

Carefully, Archie rolled over and sat up, with Horatio assisting him. "What - would you wish to treat them as they did me? That would make you no better than them, Horatio, and you ARE better than they are." He sighed, and looked down. "At least I won't have to do this much longer. Surely Marco is close to getting us out of here."

"Archie, you will not have to do this at ALL. I'll not allow them to take you back there again, no matter what the cost. I WILL go in your stead."

"No," Archie said sharply, looking up. His expression gentled, and he placed a hand on Horatio's arm. "Do you think that will change anything, Horatio? Do you think it will ease things for me, knowing what you are enduring? I would rather die than see you touched by this, my friend." He dropped his hand back into his lap.

"No," Horatio said, shaking his head. "I will not let you do this any more."

Archie smiled sadly at him. "Horatio. You have to stay strong and - whole. The men will need you to lead them, to lead US, out of here."

"Archie, the men will - "

"No, Horatio. Mr. Bush is injured. I am injured. Mr. Jeffers is injured. Mr. Witt is too young and inexperienced. You are the only one fit. They are your men, and it is your duty to lead them to safety."

Horatio looked at Archie, pain haunting his dark eyes. "At what price, Archie? The price of you losing everything you have fought so long and so hard to put behind you?"

"Yes," Archie said simply.
"I cannot," whispered Horatio.

"Then we are all lost," answered Archie. "And this time, it truly WILL be your fault." Again, Archie put a hand on Horatio's arm and looked into his eyes. "I'm not the boy I was then, Horatio. I have something to live for now. Even if Kathleen cannot accept what I have done here, there is still the child - MY child - and I want to watch that child grow up. I want to give him, or her, the happy childhood I never had."

Horatio frowned. "Why do you think Kathleen could not accept this? It was all done against your will."

"But I went there willingly, Horatio, more than once. That will not be easy for her to understand or forgive. She is not a Naval officer, Horatio - she does not understand duty. But betrayal is something she does understand, and I do not believe she can accept that. Perhaps she could get past what was actually done to me, but the fact that I volunteered to go is an entirely different matter."

"She loves you, Archie."

"Yes. But sometimes, Horatio, even love is not enough."


Chapter 20

The guards arrived with their breakfast. As soon as they entered the cell, Bush jumped up and grabbed the arm of the nearest guard. Instantly, the second guard raised his rifle and pointed it at the two men.

"Put that bloody thing down," growled Bush, "and get the doctor here. Now."

"We don't have orders to do that," answered the guard, not lowering his rifle.

Bush swore, but Horatio stepped forward. "Sir, it would be greatly appreciated if you could escort the doctor here. One of my men requires his attention. I'm sure that if you inform Monsieur LaTour that it is Mr. Kennedy who is injured, he will allow the doctor to treat him. I'm sure Le Bienfaiteur would not wish harm to come to Mr. Kennedy." He smiled a little at the guard, even though he felt sick at his own last statement.

The two guards snickered, looking across the room at Archie. "Oh, so he's the chosen one, is he? Well, you're right. Le Bienfaiteur hates for his toys to be broken. We will bring the doctor." Laughing, the guards left the cell.

Archie grinned ruefully. "Well, that was rather mortifying."

"I'm sorry, Archie," Horatio said contritely. "I didn't know how else to get the doctor here."

Archie waved his apology aside. "It's all right, Horatio. My pride's already taken a beating - a little more humiliation won't matter."

After some time, the guards returned with the doctor. They unceremoniously shoved him inside, then locked the door.

"I'm not stayin' for this," said one of the guards. "I'm hungry."

"Nah, why wait," answered the other. "Let's just send that new guy - what's his name? Perry? He can take the doc back." The guards turned and left.

Carefully, Dr. Stuart sat down next to Archie and began to inspect his wounds. After a moment, he looked up at Horatio, his eyes flashing with anger.

"Le Bienfaiteur did this?"

Horatio nodded. "With help from LaTour." Briefly, Horatio described what the two men had done to Archie. Archie himself contributed nothing to the narrative, merely lying on his stomach as the doctor inspected his back.

 

"Those bastards," spat the doctor, his voice shaking, but his hands steady and gentle as he tended Archie. "Mr. Kennedy, I am sorry. Perhaps we should move this to the infirmary, where I can examine and treat you more completely. Are you able to walk?"

Archie nodded. As the doctor stood up, a new guard appeared at the door, one none of the men had seen before. As Horatio helped Archie to his feet, he looked at the doctor.

"Dr. Stuart. I will trust that none of this," he nodded at Archie, "will get back to the men?"

"Of course, Commander," answered the doctor as he moved to help with Archie. "You do not need to ask."

Horatio nodded and released Archie's arm. He watched as the doctor aided Archie in leaving the cell with the guard, then went back to sit on his cot. Bush joined him.

"Sir, I'm not meaning to be thoughtless, but what does this mean to our escape? Will Mr. Kennedy be able to travel?"

Horatio sighed. "First of all, Mr. Bush, we still do not even HAVE a plan for escape. When we do, Mr. Kennedy goes with us." Dear God, he was repeating himself again. Archie was right.

"That's not even a question, Horatio, not after what he's done for us. I don't think there's a single member of the crew who would consider leaving him behind, even without the knowledge of what he's going through. As for the plans - are you not even considering Montoya?"

"He's made no effort to even see us, William. I find it hard to believe that he would be working to get us out, without at least letting us know."

"Perhaps he just hasn't gotten the chance," mused Bush. "No doubt he'll have to be very careful that he not be seen talking to us. And if his plan is simply to purchase us and then give us our freedom, there would really be no need for him to tell us ahead of time."

Horatio sighed again. "Maybe. Just maybe. But if that is the case, I come back to one question. What's his gain in all of this? To pay all that money, and receive nothing?"

"Could be that he's just doing his job. No doubt the money is not his - or, his Captain's, rather - but instead comes from the Crown. Obviously, we are not the first crew to be abducted and sold. Could be that the Admiralty or the Crown is aware of this situation, and sent Montoya here to infiltrate the operation."

Horatio smiled wryly. "I hope that is the case, William." He leaned back against the wall. "If you don't mind, I'd really just like to be alone for awhile. I need to think."

"Aye, sir," said Bush as he got to his feet. He looked across the cell to where Jeffers still lay on his cot, staring at the ceiling, and decided to see how the young man fared. He headed across the room.

"Marc," he said quietly as he stood beside the cot. "How are you holding up?"

Jeffers moved his head to look at Bush, his eyes reflecting his torment. He pulled himself to a sitting position, still hampered by the pain from his wound, and bowed his head.

"This is beyond anything I could imagine, sir. How *I* am seems so inconsequential. It's Archie who is suffering."

"Yes," Bush said quietly as he sat down on the cot next to Jeffers. "But that does not mean that the rest of us are unaffected by this. We all lost something here, Marc, whether it's something tangible or not. For so long, we have been fighting an enemy, but it was a faceless enemy. We fire at them, they fire at us - it's ship against ship, or army against army, where all we see is the enemy. Not individual men. But here, the enemy, the evil, has a face, and we have seen that he can hurt us in ways we never dreamed. But he WILL be defeated, Marc, and as the Commander said, they will pay with their lives for what they have done to Mr. Kennedy."

"And will that be enough?" said Jeffers quietly. "Will that erase the memories from Archie's mind, or help Kathleen to understand why he had to do this? Will that heal the wounds on his back? Yes, Mr. Bush, I saw them. I cannot imagine the pain, the agony, he had to feel as that was being done to him, on top of everything else. Archie is strong, but every man has a breaking point. What happens when he goes beyond his?"

"I don't have an answer for you, Marc. I wish I did. I would give anything to spare Archie from this horror, but I fear it is too late. Horatio already tried offering himself. Le Bienfaiteur is simply not interested in anyone except Mr. Kennedy. I fear all we can do now is pray that they don't come for him between now and the time for escape, so that his body has a chance to heal a bit."

"Pray?" said Jeffers bitterly. "Pray to a God that would let this happen to someone like Mr. Kennedy, who has already suffered enough for ten men throughout his lifetime? I see no use in that, Mr. Bush. We cannot rely on anyone except ourselves."

"Perhaps you're right, Mr. Jeffers," said Bush. "But I also will not give up hope that somehow, somewhere, someone else is working to bring us home. We just need to keep our eyes open, and we will find a way out of here."

Horatio, across the cell, listened to the conversation as he leaned against the wall, his eyes closed. He'd never quite believed in God, himself - he much preferred the religion of science and mathematics; that which he could see, and touch, and analyze. Jeffers was right. How could a God who purported to be loving and merciful, ever let something like this happen to a good man like Archie? It wasn't right.

Horatio sighed quietly to himself, and turned his thoughts away from that. This was no time for a philosophical or theological debate. Escape was the priority. He needed a plan, and he needed it now.

Chapter 21

Archie and Dr. Stuart reached the infirmary and went inside. Gently, the doctor helped Archie up on an examining table, where he lay on his stomach so that the doctor could clean and stitch his wounds. As the doctor began his work, he looked up, to see the guard staring in horror at Archie's back.

"Well?" barked the doctor. "You see what your employer is capable of? Treating men worse than animals - simply unbelievable! Does the sight of this torn and bleeding flesh fill you with happiness and make you grateful for your job?"

"Doctor - " warned Archie.

The guard continued to stare at Archie's back, and then he finally raised his shocked eyes to the doctor.

"I didn't know," he whispered. "I swear. This is my first week here - they told me this was just a holding place for captured prisoners. I thought it strange that it was not in England, but I never allowed myself to question it. I didn't know they did this."

"Now you do," sneered the doctor as he bent over Archie's back again. "What are you going to do about it?"

The guard shook his head. "Do? I can't do anything. I just got here, I don't know anything, I, I....." He stopped and looked at Archie's raw back, and then again at the doctor.

"You are Dr. Stuart, aren't you?" he said finally. "Doctor Alexander Stuart, from Sussex?"

Both Archie and the doctor looked at the guard.

"Yes, I am," replied the doctor. "Do I know you?"

"Yes, sir," said the guard, nodding. "My name is Perry Seagraves. Three years ago, you saved my wife's life. She was giving birth - it was a breech, she was bleeding to death, but you saved her. And the baby. I thought I was going to lose them both, and I would have, except for you."

The doctor put down his instrument. "I remember," he said quietly. "Your wife - Amelia, correct? She had a baby girl - healthy and beautiful."

"Yes," whispered Perry. "We named her Victoria, after my sister."

"They are well?"

"No," said Perry unhappily. "Victoria has fallen very ill, and Amelia is again with child. My work did not pay enough for us to live on, so I took this job, after one of LaTour's men approached me in a tavern. He said I could earn a great deal of money very quickly. I had to take this job, doctor - I had to! For Amelia and Victoria."

"So you sell your soul to provide for your wife and child," said the doctor with a trace of sarcasm in his voice. "Do you think that a noble sentiment?"

"I told you, I didn't know they treated men like this!" Perry cried. "I didn't know!"

"But you do now," said Archie. "And the question remains: what are you going to do about it?"

"What should I do?" said Perry. "Sneak you out of here under my jacket?"

"No," said the doctor. "But there IS something you can do."

"They'll kill me if I help you, I'm sure of it. All I have to do is look at what they did to Mr. - "

"Kennedy," Archie supplied. "Second Lieutenant Archie Kennedy, of His Majesty's ship Retribution. And you needn't fear - they don't do this to just anybody. I seem to be rather special."

"Mr. Seagraves," said the doctor sternly. "Do you remember what you said to me after I saved your wife's life? What you told me when I refused what little payment you could offer, because I could see that it was all you had to your name? Do you remember?"

Perry hung his head. "Yes. I remember it very well, doctor."

The doctor pressed on. "You said if there was ANYTHING you could EVER do for me, all I had to do was ask. Well, I'm asking."

Perry looked back and forth between Dr. Stuart and Archie, the look on his face reminding both men of a trapped animal. "What can I possibly do?"

The doctor beamed.

"I have a plan."


Chapter 22

Horatio stood up as he heard Archie and the guard approaching. Finally. He'd been gone for hours. Horatio noticed that the guard appeared extremely pale as he let Archie back in the cell and locked the door, but he really didn't pay it much attention. No doubt the man had seen Archie's back. Good. Let him dwell on the cruelty of his employer for awhile.

Horatio moved to Archie's side. "How are you?" he asked solicitously.

Archie gave him a small, half-smile. "Can we just say that I've been better? Dr. Stuart is a fine doctor, but that whole episode was rather - uncomfortable. And embarrassing. Having a complete stranger watching as the doctor did his repair work was not exactly my fondest wish." He shook his head. "Horatio, we need to talk."

They all gathered at Jeffers' cot, Archie sitting on the cot with Marc, and Horatio and Bush dragging Bush's cot next to them. Archie looked around at all of them.

"I know how to get us out of here."

Hope leapt into the faces of all three men, but it was Horatio who spoke.

"You have a plan! Tell us, Archie."

Archie grinned at him. "Well, believe it or not, it's not MY plan. It's Dr. Stuart's."

Bush groaned. "The doctor? You cannot be serious. What does he know about - "

Archie broke in. "It's not WHAT he knows, William, but WHO he knows." He smiled at the blank look on the faces of the other men, then continued on. "Our newest guard, Perry, is an acquaintance of the doctor's, one who owes him a rather large favor. He is going to help us."

Horatio frowned. "What good is one man? Even if he just opens the doors and lets us out, we still have no weapons to defend against the other guards."

"But what if there ARE no other guards?"

"And just how would that be arranged, Mr. Kennedy?" asked Horatio, still doubtful.

"That, Horatio, is where the doctor comes in. There are drugs at his disposal in the infirmary. Sedatives. Perry will simply drug the other guards' food and water."

"That sounds a little too easy, Archie," Horatio said, shaking his head. "Surely the guards do not all eat at the same time."

"Ah," smiled Archie. "This is where luck plays into it. All but a handful of guards are going on another raid - they know of a Spanish ship nearby, and plan to take her. Perry is going to play the part of the new guy - eager to please, and to make friends. He'll have the cook make up something special for the remaining guards, and he'll take it to them, along with the drugged water and spirits. Then he lets us out, and we commandeer one of Le Bienfaiteur's ships. It's a great plan, Horatio. Simple. No fighting or loss of life. Foolproof."

Horatio shook his head again. "No plan is foolproof, Archie, you know that. What about LaTour? And Le Bienfaiteur?"

Archie sobered, and a shadow passed behind his blue eyes at the mention of his two tormenters. "LaTour will be going on the raid to capture the Spanish ship. Le Bienfaiteur never comes down to this level - can't be dirtying those aristocratic hands of his, you know." Archie's voice was bitter and filled with pain.

Horatio leaned forward and captured Archie's gaze with his own. "We will not leave here without Le Bienfaiteur, Archie. I promised you he would pay with his life, and so he shall. LaTour, also, somehow. They will not get away."

Archie looked at him sadly. "Thank you for that, Horatio, but the important thing is that we all get out of here as quickly as possible. LaTour and the other guards will not be gone long. You remember how quickly they captured us."

"Oh, thank you, Mr. Kennedy," said Horatio with acrimony. "Thank you so much for reminding me of my failure."

Archie sighed. "I didn't mean it that way, Horatio, and you know it. I simply meant that this is an extremely well-organized operation, and they will waste no time in returning here. We must act quickly."

"When do the guards and LaTour leave?" asked Bush.

"According to Perry, tomorrow morning."

Horatio looked at Archie. "Another night..." he said quietly.

Archie, understanding, shook his head. "Don't worry, Horatio. Le Bienfaiteur has promised me today and tonight off - he thought I would need an extra night to recover from our last time together. I won't be going anywhere."

"Excuse me, Archie," said Jeffers slowly. "There's just one thing."

"What's that, Marc?"

 

"Are you certain we can trust this guard, this Perry? Perhaps it is a test by LaTour. If we try to escape and fail, the punishment could be rather - severe."

Archie looked at him steadily. "I did consider that, Marc. However, I honestly believe we CAN trust him. He doesn't want to be here, and he doesn't belong here. All he wanted was to make some money to help his family." He turned to Horatio. "We'll have to take him with us, Horatio. They'll kill him if we don't."

Horatio nodded absently, his mind already at work on the plan. "Yes, of course. Does he know anything about sailing? We'll be short-handed. What size ship does Le Bienfaiteur have available for us? I assume the doctor is informing the crew. Do they have an armory here? We'll need weapons."

"Slow down!" laughed Archie. "Your mind goes much too fast for me to follow! Let's see. No, Perry is not a sailor. I don't know what ships Le Bienfaiteur has, but I know there are several anchored in the cove. Armory? Yes. Perry will help us get what weapons we need. What else did you ask? Oh, Dr. Stuart. Yes, he's informing the crew. Mr. Witt will have them ready to go, and the doctor will get Mr. Beckett to the ship. Anything else?"

Horatio just looked at him. "It seems far too easy, Archie."

Darkness lurked behind Archie's eyes before he looked away from Horatio. "I, for one," he said quietly, "would very much like to see SOMETHING in this whole damn mess go easily." He stood up and turned away from the others. "If you don't mind, my back hurts like hell, and I'd like to try to get a little sleep before dinner." He went over to his cot and lay down, his back to the others.

Sobered, the other three men watched him, realizing once again what the Lieutenant had endured to protect them. Guilt swept over Horatio as he watched his friend settle painfully into his bed. How could he have let this happen? Why was it always Archie who had to pay the price? In letting Archie be the one to go to Le Bienfaiteur, Horatio had shirked his duty and failed his friend. He deserved to have his command taken away.

"Horatio?" came Archie's voice softly across the room.

"Yes, Archie?"

"It's not your fault. Let it be."

Horatio shook his head. Archie always knew what he was thinking. Had he become that predictable? No, he decided, it was just that the two of them knew each other so well, they could usually finish each other's sentences, or not even have the need to communicate verbally. Horatio thought that if ever he lost Archie again, he would surely go mad.

Archie slept until dinner was delivered. After they'd eaten, they all lay back on their cots, wanting to get as much sleep as possible, in order to be well rested for the escape the next day.

Horatio was up before the others, nervously pacing the length of the cell. This WAS an easy plan. There weren't even that many variables to consider. It would work. Bless the doctor for coming up with the idea. He smiled wryly at that. No doubt, he would never hear the end of how the doctor's brilliance saved the crew. His smile faded. Well, he would only have to endure it until Gibraltar. After that, they'd take away his command, and split up the crew, and the doctor would serve aboard someone else's ship.

No one appeared with their breakfast. Horatio paced some more, his uneasiness being transmitted to the other officers. Finally, at mid-morning, Perry appeared at the door.

"I'm sorry, Commander," he said breathlessly as he unlocked the cell door. "I had to make sure everyone was out cold, and then I decided I'd better tie them all up, just in case. Had to tie up the cook, too, poor guy. Didn't want the others to think he'd been in on the escape."

"Very good, Mr. Seagraves, thank you," said Horatio. "Now take us to the rest of my crew, please."

"Um, I'm sorry, sir. I've already let them out. I thought they could start supplying the boats - I'm pretty sure Le Bienfaiteur's ships won't have any food aboard. The doctor is also stocking up from the infirmary."

Horatio stopped and looked at the man with respect. "That was very good thinking, Mr. Seagraves. Are you certain you're not a British officer?"

Perry flushed, then grinned. "Well, not yet, anyway!" He turned and let the way down the corridor. The men had to move rather slowly due to the pain and stiffness of Archie and Jeffers, but they weren't very far from the passage to the sea, so it didn't take them long. Shortly after they arrived, the rest of the crew began to appear, carrying vats of water and food.

Horatio smiled as he watched the men load the stores into several rowboats. The men all looked in good shape. Apparently, LaTour had wanted them to appear strong and healthy for any prospective buyers. Well, he was going to be disappointed. Horatio really would not want to be any of the guards here when LaTour returned and discovered that his merchandise was gone. For an instant, he felt a twinge of guilt. He could very well be consigning those men to death. Then he thought of Seaman Harper, and the crew of the Jewel, and all guilt washed away. These men were murderers. They did not deserve mercy, for they had shown none themselves.

Turning, he spied Matthews entering the room. "Matthews! A moment, please."

The older seaman made his way over to Horatio, and knuckled his forehead in salute. "Good ta see ya, sir."

"You also, Mr. Matthews. Are the men all right?"

"Yes, sir," said Matthews. "The few cuts and scrapes are pretty much all healed up - Dr. Stuart took care of everyone. He's already gone out to the ship, with Mr. Beckett."

"Where is Mr. Witt?"

Matthews' grin flashed. "He be in the kitchen, sir, supervisin' the restock. He done a fine job, sir, a fine job keepin' us together." Matthews looked behind Horatio, and his face clouded over slightly. "Sir, where's Mr. Kennedy? Is he all right?"

Horatio turned around. Bush and Jeffers were helping to load some of the lighter stores into the boats, but Archie was nowhere in sight. He'd come into the room with them. Where was he?

Suddenly, Horatio was hit with a moment of utter clarity. "Dear God," he whispered, his knees almost buckling.

"Sir?" said Matthews, alarmed.

Horatio could barely force the words out. "He's gone to kill Le Bienfaiteur."


Chapter 23

"Seagraves!" shouted Horatio, all pretense of decorum gone. "Perry!"

Perry appeared at his side. "Commander? What is it?"

Horatio grabbed his collar, frightening the poor man. "How do I get to Le Bienfaiteur's living quarters?"

Perry blanched. "Sir, you don't want to see him. Besides, there's no time. We still have to get all these supplies aboard - "

"Mr. Seagraves," Horatio hissed. "One of my officers is with Le Bienfaiteur right now, and we are not leaving without him. Mr. Bush is perfectly capable of supervising the loading and transfer. We must go NOW. Matthews, with me."

Helplessly, Perry allowed Horatio to drag him out into the corridor. Once there, he shook Horatio's hand off his arm, and led him to a door at the far end of the corridor.

Racing along behind Perry, Horatio prayed he wasn't too late. Archie had no weapon. The men had not yet raided the armory, so Archie would be defenseless, with only his anger to protect him.

"Wait!" he shouted.

Perry stopped and turned around, breathing hard from their race. Matthews nearly plowed into Horatio's back as the Commander stopped.

"What is it?" Perry said impatiently.

"Where's the armory? We need weapons."

Perry shook his head. "It's too far! I sent some of your men there with the key when I let them out, but it's far from the cells. It would take too long to get there from here."

"Dammit!" Horatio cried in frustration. "There must be something!"

Reaching behind his back, Perry pulled out a pistol. "I have this, sir - kept it under my jacket, just in case."

Horatio grinned as he took the pistol. "Good man, Mr. Seagraves. Lead on."

It was a long way from the dungeons to the living quarters. Horatio kept expecting to see Archie in front of them - he should have been moving much more slowly than his group was, due to his injuries, but they never saw him. Finally, after climbing yet another flight of stairs, Perry stopped and looked at Horatio and Matthews.
"This floor is comprised of his living and guest quarters. I've not been up here before, so I'm not sure just where to go from here. Maybe we should split up and - "

"No," Horatio said emphatically. "I don't want anyone finding Le Bienfaiteur when they are alone. He's far too dangerous."

Moving as stealthily as possible, they began to investigate every doorway they came to. Horatio was appalled at what they came across. Many of the rooms were simply normal guest rooms, exquisitely furnished and decorated, but adjacent to most of them were rooms that were clearly used for torture. All manner of paraphernalia adorned these rooms, with uses Horatio did not even care to contemplate. Perry got paler and paler as they moved through the rooms, and even Matthews looked rather nauseous.

"My God," Perry finally whispered, his voice shaking. "I swear to you, Commander, I never knew about this. I never knew!"

"What kind of man would use this stuff ?" said Matthews as he picked up a slender silver object. "What's this fer?"

"Matthews," hissed Horatio. "Put that back."

Matthews dropped the object back on the table and looked steadily at Horatio. "Sir. Why is Mr. Kennedy out to kill this man?"

"Not now, Matthews," said Horatio quietly. "We must find Mr. Kennedy as quickly as possible." He left the room they occupied, and proceeded to the next one.

Matthews followed him, feeling a cold lump growing in his stomach. Aye, there could only be one reason Mr. Kennedy would have murder on his mind. Mr. Kennedy, who under normal circumstances would never cause harm to another man except in battle, could only be driven to murder by one thing. And Matthews was one of the few who knew what that one thing was.

Horatio came to a stop, holding his hand up to signal the others to be quiet. He listened again. There were voices coming from down the hallway. The three men crept forward, doing their best to be absolutely silent. They reached an open doorway, where the voices could be heard clearly. Easing himself around the corner, Horatio looked inside.

Archie was there, his back to the doorway where Horatio lurked. He stood tall and straight, empty hands at his sides. No weapon, Horatio noted automatically, and then he turned his attention to the other man in the room.

Le Bienfaiteur. Easily six feet tall, muscular yet refined, good breeding reflected in his fine, aristocratic features. Full, light brown hair with a touch of gray pulled back into a perfect queue. Pale, golden eyes that lent his handsome face a feline air, which was reinforced by the elegant grace with which he moved. His every fiber and movement bespoke aristocracy and breeding. But Horatio knew what evil lurked beneath that smooth veneer.

Le Bienfaiteur's eyes did not leave Archie's face as he spoke. "Well, my sweet, it seems your friends have arrived." The voice was low, cultured, and smooth.

Archie turned around, his eyes widening in surprise. "Horatio." A veil dropped over his eyes. "Please leave. I have some unfinished business to attend to."

"Archie," Horatio spoke slowly and calmly. "This is not the way. I promised you he would pay with his life, and so he shall." He tried to smile at his friend, and failed. "I said it, and I mean it." No reaction from Archie. "He will pay, Archie, but not like this. Not murder."

Archie's eyes flickered back to Perry and Matthews, now both visible in the doorway. His eyes met Matthews', and he saw the understanding and compassion reflected there. Archie felt sick. Matthews knew. Did everyone? He turned back to Horatio.

"No, Horatio," he said with determination. "You suggest a trial? A public trial, where everything, EVERYthing he's done is laid out for the world to view? You would also be consigning me to death, Horatio, and Kathleen and my child to a life of shame and abuse. I'll not have it."

Horatio shook his head. "Archie, it wouldn't be like that."

"It would be JUST like that," shot back Archie. "And how many times have we had THAT particular conversation?"

Le Bienfaiteur was watching them with amusement. "My, how you bicker," he said, laughing. "You two must be very close."

Archie swung around, fist raised, but Horatio grabbed his arm. "Archie, he's trying to provoke you. Ignore it."

"Ah," said Le Bienfaiteur, his eyes upon Archie's face. "I see. This is the one you risked everything for - the one you would protect at all cost." He turned his golden eyes upon Horatio. "I owe you a great deal of thanks, monsieur. Because of his feelings for you, this one volunteered to come to me, and I am grateful. Those days were the most fulfilling and gratifying I have ever known."

"Bastard," spat Matthews, moving forward. Perry grabbed his collar, holding him back.

Le Bienfaiteur laughed. "My, what loyal friends you have. I, personally, have no use for friends, only those who may help me in some way. As my mentor, the inestimable Marquis de Sade one said, "Friends are like women: when put to the test, the goods often prove defective." It's quite true, you know. They will always, in the long run, let you down or betray you. But your friends do seem to be rather loyal to you. Tell me - how DID you earn such loyalty? But, perhaps I already know. Your talents are many, and great. It is a pity I shall see them exercised no more."

Le Bienfaiteur turned to Horatio. "There will be no trial, monsieur. I will not be consigned to prison, for to be locked up would be the death of me." He turned his back to the men and walked over to the dresser against the far wall.

"Stop where you are," instructed Horatio, raising Perry's pistol and aiming it at Le Bienfaiteur's back. His hand was steady. "I do not wish to shoot, but rest assured, I shall if necessary."

"Horatio," Archie said quietly. "Give me the pistol. I need to do this."

Still watching Le Bienfaiteur, Horatio shook his head. "I'll not let you hang for murder, Archie, not for someone as worthless as him." He cocked the pistol.

Archie turned back to Le Bienfaiteur, and moved to stand behind him. "There are other hanging offenses I am already guilty of. At least let me die for something I wanted to do. I was denied my revenge against Simpson, Horatio. I must do this myself." He placed himself between Horatio and Le Bienfaiteur, standing behind the aristocrat.

Horatio stared at him, lowering the gun. Archie was directly in his line of fire.

"Archie - "

Le Bienfaiteur chuckled softly. "You still deny you took any pleasure in our time together?" he said, his eyes meeting Archie's in the mirror atop the dresser. "Such a shame." He turned around, one hand behind his back, and captured Archie's eyes with his own. "You are almost worth going to prison for, my sweet. Almost, but not quite." He reached out and caressed Archie's cheek. "Au revoir, mon cheri." His other hand jerked from behind his back. Too late, Horatio saw the pistol in his hand.

"NO!" he yelled, as the muzzle flashed and the gunshot roared through the room.


Chapter 24

Horatio had no time to fire his own shot, but through the smoke, he saw it wasn't necessary.

It had not been Archie who fell, but Le Bienfaiteur. He had put the pistol to his own head and fired, his eyes never leaving Archie's face until his body fell to the floor. Horatio could hear Perry behind him, trying desperately not to be sick. He turned to Archie, and put a hand on his shoulder, drawing him away from the carnage which lay before them.

"Come, Archie," he said quietly. "It's finished. He got what he deserved, and you are free of him. We must go, now. We don't know when LaTour will return, so we must get underway immediately."

Archie turned around for a final look at his tormenter, then turned to Horatio. "Thank you, my friend," he said softly.

Horatio nodded, and the four men left the room. They went down the hallway and descended to the dungeon level in absolute silence, none of them wanting to talk about what had occurred. When they finally reached the door leading to the room where the crew was loading the stores, Horatio stopped and turned to Perry.

"Mr. Seagraves," he said. "I would consider it a great personal favor if you would mention nothing of what has transpired to the crew. They do not know - "

"Please," Perry said, looking at Archie. "I would never consider discussing this. Ever. I believe Mr. Kennedy has suffered more than enough already."

"Thank you, Perry," said Archie. "We owe you a great deal already - our escape would never have been possible without your help."

Perry grinned. "Think nothing of it, sir. I gave the doctor my word three years ago, and I'm just glad I was finally able to keep it. And it is I who owes you gentlemen, for getting me away from here before I became like the rest of the men here, and for giving me free passage back to England. I desperately want to see my wife and daughter."

Archie grinned back at him. "Well then, Mr. Seagraves, consider us even."

Matthews opened the door, and they all went inside. Bush, seeing them enter the room, moved to meet them.

"Everything's loaded, sir," he addressed Horatio. "Most of the men are aboard, along with Misters Jeffers and Witt, preparing to get underway. We've just been waiting for your return."

 

"Very good, Mr. Bush," said Horatio, all business now. "Let us leave this wretched den of iniquity and return to Gibraltar. I long to breathe the sea air again."

As the men prepared to leave the room, the door at the end of the chamber opened, and a man stepped into the room. Horatio raised Perry's pistol and pointed it at the door. Had one of the guards recovered? Had LaTour returned early, or perhaps not even left on the raid at all? He would not let this man stop them, but if the worst happened, at least his men were safely away. Mr. Jeffers could get them to England, Horatio knew.

Spying the pistol in Horatio's hand, the figure at the end of the room stopped, and raised his hands away from his sides. "There is no need for that, Mr. Hornblower," he said, stepping into the light so they could see his face.

It was Marco Montoya. Archie grinned and moved to greet him.

"Marco! I was wondering what had happened to you - I thought perhaps you had left the castle already." He shook hands warmly with his ex-contact.

Marco shook his head. "No, I overheard LaTour discussing with the guards the raid they would be going on today, and I thought that with most of the men gone, it would be a good time for me to speak to you and the Commander. I hadn't tried earlier, because there were always so many guards around, and I did not wish for them to know my plan. Imagine my surprise when I found your cell empty!"

Lowering the pistol to his side, Horatio moved to stand next to Archie. "And what was your plan, Senor Montoya? To purchase us for your Captain?"

Marco regarded him, his dark eyes showing that he realized the Commander didn't trust him. "Yes, Senor, that was my plan. However, it would not have been as slaves, but done in order to secure your freedom. You would have been returned safely to England."

"You see, Horatio?" said Archie. "Didn't I tell you he was on our side?" He turned to Marco and grinned. "Well, Marco, it looks like we saved you and your Captain a great deal of money - the rest of the men are already aboard, and we are ready to get underway. Do you wish to join us?"

Marco shook his head. "No, Archie, I must stay here and retain my cover. When LaTour returns, I will feign ignorance as to your escape."

Horatio looked at him, still unconvinced. "Your cover, senor? And just what IS your cover?"

Marco looked at him steadily. "Just as it appears, Commander Hornblower. A member of a ship in need of men, which Le Bienfaiteur supplies for us. They would then be released after we have safely left France."

"That seems rather an expensive way to do things, senor. Why not just arrest LaTour and Le Bienfaiteur, and be done with it? Why go to all the trouble and expense of posing as a buyer?"

Marco sighed. "Because, Commander, there are other things at stake here, other players in the game, and more information we must gather first. Le Bienfaiteur is very wealthy and powerful, and he has been more than careful that there be no evidence against him."

Still unconvinced, Horatio continued on. "I assume then, that the Crown is backing you? Or is it the Admiralty? They will support your explanation?"

"Oh, for Heavens' sake, Horatio," said Archie with disgust. "What else does the man have to do to convince you? If he'd wanted us captured, all he had to do was free the guards and raid the armory, and we would all be back in our cells right now." He turned to Montoya. "I'm sorry, Marco. Sometimes the Commander is just a little overly suspicious."

"Can you blame me, Archie?" said Horatio. "The first time I meet this man, he is supplying you with a drug, and an excess of rum. And now he shows up in a castle in France, wanting to purchase men to use as slaves. That does not exactly inspire my confidence. You are not a sailor, Senor Montoya - you prefer to skulk in the shadows, and I would wonder what your true purpose here is."

"Horatio!" exclaimed Archie. "That is totally uncalled for. Marco is my friend, and I'll not have you slander him so. I believe him when he says he was going to help us, and I see no reason why you should not do the same."

"Thank you, Archie," said Marco softly, "but I do not think we will be able to change the Commander's mind. And there is not time to attempt to do so. LaTour may return soon, and Le Bienfaiteur may decide to come down here and check on you and your men, just in case."

Archie and Horatio exchanged a look. "That will not happen, Senor Montoya," said Horatio quietly. "La Bienfaiteur is dead."

Marco looked at them in shock. "Dead? How?"

Horatio shook his head. "It doesn't matter how. But I am curious, senor. Are you not staying here as a guest of Le Bienfaiteur? If this is so, you would already know of his death, for the gunshot which killed him could surely be heard all throughout the guest rooms. Perhaps you are merely trying to protect yourself, by pretending to be on our side, now that you know Le Bienfaiteur is dead."

"Dammit, Horatio!"

 

"It is all right, Archie," broke in Marco. "The reason I did not hear this gunshot you speak of, Commander, is because I am not staying in the guest rooms in the main castle. I have no inclination towards Le Bienfaiteur's - deviances - and so I have been staying in the west wing of the castle, far from the main living quarters. If Le Bienfaiteur is indeed dead, that changes many things, but there is still LaTour to deal with. My superiors will need to be notified of what has happened here." He looked at Archie. "I will have to return, and report to them. I regret we are unable to spend any time together, Archie. Perhaps we shall meet up again sometime when you are in port?"

"I hope so, Marco," Archie said warmly. "I would very much like for you to meet my wife."

"Wife?" said Marco, astounded. "You did not tell me of this, my friend. What a wonderful occurrence! I am most pleased for you."

"I hate to break up this little reunion," said Horatio impatiently, "but we really must be going. LaTour may return at any time, and we wish to be well away from here when he does." He looked at Marco. "Senor Montoya. Mr. Kennedy believes in you, and that is good enough for me. If you wish to sail with us, you are most welcome to. We sail for Gibraltar immediately."

"Thank you, Commander Hornblower," said Marco as he shook his head. "However, I must return and report to my superiors, and you travel in the wrong direction. I thank you for your confidence - Mr. Kennedy has said you are a very fair and just man, and I see he is correct."

Horatio snorted softly. "Yes, isn't he always?"

Marco laughed at that, while Archie tried to decide if he was flattered or insulted. He finally decided it was the latter. He turned his back on Horatio and held out a hand to Marco.

"Until we meet again, my friend," he said. "Take care of yourself."

Marco shook his hand. "You also, Mr. Kennedy. May you always have calm seas."

With that, Marco left the room, and the men of Retribution climbed into the shoreboat and were rowed out to their ship. Bush had chosen the biggest and best of the three that were anchored there for Horatio, who quickly placed Mr. Jeffers in command of one of the smaller ships, and Mr. Witt in charge of the other. Witt's face flushed when Horatio informed him, and he nearly jumped over the side and swam there himself.

Archie laughed as he watched Witt arrive at his ship. "His first command. I seem to remember you being that excited when Pellew gave you the Marie Galante."

 

"Now, Archie," Horatio said in mock reproach. "If *I* remember correctly, I was not nearly as excited as Mr. Witt - in fact, Captain Pellew yelled at me for dawdling!"

"Ah, but that was only because I stopped you to congratulate you. I thought you were riding so high you could have flown over there, and I didn't want you to fall in front of the Captain."

Horatio shook his head. "You do have an interesting take on the past, Mr. Kennedy."

Archie sobered, and glanced at the deck. When he looked up again, Horatio saw the veil behind his eyes once more. "It's not only the past that concerns me, Horatio, it's also the future. It's much more uncertain."

Horatio smiled. "Now who is repeating himself?" He placed his hand on his friend's shoulder. "The future is full of possibilities, Archie, and I promise that Kathleen will welcome you with open arms, and I shall look forward to the birth of your child. Will the world be blessed or cursed, I wonder, to have a little Archie Kennedy running about it?" He patted Archie's shoulder. "The past is past, my friend. Leave it behind."

Archie looked at him sadly. "I wish it were that simple, Horatio, I truly do. But every time I think I've moved beyond it, something happens that brings it all back." He turned and looked out to sea. "I grow weary of the struggle, Horatio."

Horatio was at a loss for words. What could he possibly say to someone who had been hurt as badly as Archie had all throughout his life? He sighed. The only way he knew to get Archie to forget about his own troubles, was to get him thinking of someone else's. Fixing a melancholy look on his face, he too turned and faced the sea.

"I do agree that it is the future which concerns me. I do not wish to arrive in Gibraltar."

Archie turned to him. "You still fear a court-martial?"

"You know there has to be one, Archie. I lost my ship."

Archie gestured toward the two ships beside them. "And you bring home three new ones! Surely that will be taken into account, as well as the fact that you brought your crew home safely."

"Not all of them, Archie," Horatio said softly. "Not Harper, or Walters, or Lyon, or - "

"Enough, Horatio. I mourn them as much as you, but as a very wise man once told me, the past is past. Your moping about cannot bring them back."

Horatio glowered at him. "Moping about, Mr. Kennedy? I do no such thing. It's undignified."

Archie snorted. "You mope more than anyone I've ever known, Horatio. It gets rather annoying at times, always having to cheer you up, and tell you not to feel guilty. You have this irritating habit of always believing it is up to you to protect and save the world. I have a revelation for you, my friend - it's not."

"No," Horatio replied, shaking his head. "It is up to the mighty British Navy."

"Oh, no," groaned Archie, putting his face in his hands. "Please tell me I'm not going to have to suffer through a Pellew-style inspirational speech about how there is no power on earth that can withstand the might of the British Navy. I don't think I could bear it." He peeked out at Horatio. "Please?"

Horatio laughed. "Oh, very well, Archie. How about we just agree that neither of us will mope? The future will bring what it may. We will just accept whatever it brings us, good or bad."

Archie sighed and leaned against the rail, again looking seaward. "I hope it's good, Horatio. I'm very tired of the bad."

Both men turned as they heard Bush approaching.

"Begging your pardon, sir, but we are all set to sail. Jeffers and Witt are also ready."

Horatio nodded. "Very well, Mr. Bush. Next port, Gibraltar."


Chapter 25

Two days removed from Le Bienfaiteur's castle, with Gibraltar nearing. Archie sighed as he leaned over the railing, watching the sea he loved glide beneath the smooth hull of the commandeered ship. It was a cool late October day, but the sun shone brightly, its beams dancing upon the waves and making them glisten like jewels strewn across the crests. Despite the beautiful day, Archie could not shake the feeling of melancholy that blanketed him. Memories of the past week kept rising in his mind. He pushed them away, but they still lurked there, right beneath the surface, coloring his every mood and thought.

Archie stood up straight, resting his hands lightly on the railing and gazed at the horizon, a far-away look in his eyes. Horatio kept telling him that he had nothing to worry about, that Kathleen would never hold him to blame for his decision to go to Le Bienfaiteur, but Archie knew better. The two strongest elements of his relationship with his wife were love and trust. He had betrayed that trust completely, and Kate would not easily forget that. Nor would she forgive. Horatio didn't believe that, but Archie knew. He knew his love completely and intimately, better than he had ever known anyone, with the exception of Horatio himself. She had been betrayed too many times in her life already.

The fights had damaged their relationship, but not beyond repair, Archie knew that. It just was so hard sometimes, not being able to make Kate realize that there was nothing left to salvage in his relationship with his father. It hurt when they fought. He knew Kathleen felt the pain as much as he did. For an instant, he wondered if she, realizing the depth of his pain, would think that he had willingly thought to seek solace with Le Bienfaiteur, but he dismissed that thought. She knew him better than that. At least, he hoped he did.

Horatio had carefully broached the idea that perhaps he should not tell Kathleen what had happened, but Archie knew he had to. There must be no secrets or lies between them. Besides, he'd grinned ruefully, he couldn't exactly hide the whip-marks on his back. She was bound to notice them sooner or later.

"Hmm," Horatio had mused, grinning at him. "If I know the two of you, and I DO, it would be much sooner, rather than later!"

Archie smiled at the memory, but the smile quickly faded. Memories of Kathleen may be all he had left. And memories would be small comfort in the cold winter months ahead.

Footsteps approached, and he turned to see who his visitor was. William Bush stood there, a smile on his face.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Kennedy."

Archie nodded. "And to you, Mr. Bush."

Bush moved forward and stood beside him at the rail. "I hope I am not intruding, Archie. I'll leave if you want me to."

"No, please stay," said Archie. "I was just standing here feeling sorry for myself. I could really use someone to make me feel otherwise."

Bush turned to him, his pale blue eyes searching Archie's face. "Archie," he said quietly, "I do not think there is anyone on the face of this earth, who has more right to feel sorry for himself than you. And I just want you to know how much I respect you. What you did to protect us was above and beyond the call of duty, and I shall never forget it."

Archie looked back out to sea. "I wish I could forget, William. I desperately wish I could forget."

Bush dropped his head, hearing the pain and grief in Archie's voice. How much was one man supposed to endure? Raising his head, he looked at his friend, and put his hand on Archie's shoulder. Time to change the subject.

"Well, I understand that congratulations are in order, sir," he said, removing his hand.

Archie looked at him blankly.

Bush grinned. "Horatio tells me that you are to be a father. That's wonderful news, Archie!" He sobered. "I hope you are not angry with him for telling me. He is so very worried about you - it just came up in conversation."

Archie tried to smile and failed. "So, you were discussing me. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Is he afraid I'll do something stupid and impetuous, like throw myself overboard, or decide to take a climb and jump from the mainmast? I'm all right, William. Really."

Bush shook his head. "He thought no such thing, Archie. He knows you would never do that, especially now, with a child coming." He smiled. "It does give us something in common, does it not? And with Emily and Kathleen becoming such good friends, our children will grow up together, and hopefully become as good of friends as their parents."

Archie did smile at that. "Ah, a new generation of Kennedys and Bushes - I rather like that. But, something's missing. We have to get Horatio a wife, so that he may begin adding to the brood."

Bush laughed outright. "Can you imagine our Commander married? It baffles the mind."

"It does indeed, Mr. Bush," answered Archie. "I cannot imagine him married to anything besides the Navy!"

Grinning, Bush clapped a hand on Archie's shoulder. "It would be rather difficult to introduce that particular wife at parties."

"Not to mention," Archie said, his eyes sparkling with laughter, "damned difficult to breed any children!" The two men roared at the absurdity of that, as they leaned against the rail and looked at each other.

"Excuse me, gentlemen," came Horatio's voice. "This is not exactly the image I wish to present in Gibraltar - my two lieutenants collapsed in a bout of hilarity. Perhaps a little more decorum, sirs."

"Oh, Horatio," said Archie with an impish grin. "You are beginning to repeat yourself again. I thought we had discussed this."

Horatio assumed an air of superiority, and looked down his nose at his junior officers. "The reason I repeat myself so often, Lieutenant Kennedy, is because my words are so profound and wise that they bear repeating."

Archie looked at Bush, a look of faux-sorrow crossing his features. "Ah, Mr. Bush. I believe we have the answer to our question. Can you imagine any woman putting up with THAT attitude, no matter how pretty the package it is tied up in?"

Bush shook his head. "No, I fear you are right, Mr. Kennedy. There shall be no little Hornblowers to add to our group. Such a pity."

Horatio looked back and forth between them, confused. "Woman? Package? Little Hornblow - " he broke off, aghast. "You are trying to marry me off? What a thought! No, thank you gentlemen. I have enough troubles trying to run my ship - I have no time for a wife." He sobered, and looked across the sea. "Well, for now anyway. Once we reach Gibraltar, I may not have a ship to worry about."

"Horatio, would you stop that?" said Archie, exasperated. "Did you not promise me that you were not going to mope about this? Yes, you lost Retribution, but it was for a greater good. There are other ships. Commodore Pellew will never let them take away your rank or your command."

Horatio looked at him steadily. "Commodore Pellew will not be there, Archie. No doubt he is still in the East Indies."

Archie shook his head. "No matter, Horatio. You needn't curry anyone's favor for this. These things happen. What matters is that you brought your crew home safely, with the additional benefit of three prize ships. How often does THAT happen?"

They were interrupted by the lookout. "Land ho!" Horatio looked toward the shore, then back at Archie. "Well, Lieutenant," he said quietly. "It seems we shall soon have our answer."
Chapter 26

The harbor bustled with activity, far more than normal. Taking a break from his duties, Horatio looked around at all the ships. Spying one in particular, he smiled widely.

"Mr. Kennedy," he called. Archie looked up from his securing of the bowchaser, and Horatio gestured to starboard. "Have a look, sir!"

Archie joined him at the rail. Horatio watched as the light died slowly from his eyes.

"The Indy," Archie said quietly. "So Pellew is here."

Horatio was puzzled. "I thought you would be pleased, Archie."

Archie turned to him. "Pleased, Horatio? Pleased that he will find out what I did? How I was used? I cannot face him, Horatio, I cannot. Not yet."

Horatio looked at his friend for a moment. Pellew had become the father that Archie had never known, a man who knew of his past and still respected and cared for him. Horatio did not believe for a moment that Pellew would think any less of Archie because of what had happened, but he understood Archie's insecurities. He'd had a lifetime to build them.

"Archie," he said quietly, so no one else could hear. "Your role in this does not need to be known. As far as I am concerned, Le Bienfaiteur captured us all in order to sell us to the highest bidder, and had no other use for us. Those who need to know are well aware of your sacrifice. The Admiralty will not be told."

Archie sighed. "I appreciate your not telling the Admiralty, but Pellew has the right to know. He HAS to know, Horatio. After everything he's done for me, this cannot be kept from him."

"Archie, I fail to see the point in him knowing - "

"The POINT, Horatio, is that he deserves to know. I know that he will not see me hang for it, but I could not live with myself if I didn't tell him the truth. I owe him that."

"Very well, Archie, if you must. But I do think it would be best for all of us, if you do not tell him before the court-martial. Even if he is not on the presiding panel, I do not think it wise."

"You're right, of course, Horatio," said Archie, his eyes back on the Indy. "Besides, it'll take me that long to find a way to say it." He looked back at his friend. "It's going to be so hard, Horatio," he whispered. "I don't know how I'll get through it."

 

Horatio smiled gently. "You will get through it with the strength and fortitude you have within you. The Commodore has seen it, as have I. He will understand, Archie, I know he will."

Archie looked down at the deck. "Will he understand when I break down in front of him? Because I will, Horatio, I know it. I'm not as strong as you think I am, not when I have to confess my - misdeeds - to someone like Commodore Pellew. He and I have never even discussed Jack Simpson. How can I tell him about this?"

"I wish I could help you, Archie, but only you will be able to find the words. Maybe this would be a good time for the two of you to talk about Simpson - it might be a good starting point. You will know what to say when the time comes. I promise you, Archie, the Commodore will not think less of you because of this, and I guarantee, when he finds out that LaTour still lives, he will hunt him down himself and dispose of him. He cares a great deal for you, Archie - more than you even realize, I think. Just - trust him, and don't be afraid to show him your pain." Horatio thought back to his own emotional breakdown in Pellew's office, following the debacle at Muzillac. "You'll find that, beneath that bluster he oftentimes adopts, he can be very understanding and compassionate."

Archie sighed. "Well, he's seen me fall on my arse enough times in my career. What's one more?"

Horatio shook his head. "You have not fallen, my friend. You stand taller than any man I know." He glanced at the smaller man. "Well, figuratively, at least."

Archie glared at him. "Back to your lack of sense of humor again, are we? I should have known it was just a one-time occurrence."

Horatio laughed. "Mr. Kennedy, I have never presumed to be your equal in that area. Now. It appears everything is secure here, so it is time for me to go ashore, and file the report of the loss of Retribution. I request your company, Lieutenant."

Archie frowned. "Why not Bush? He's senior."

"No," said Horatio. "Mr. Bush will get his turn ashore, and the chance to speak to the Admiralty if they desire. Jeffers and Witt will also remain aboard their ships until notified." He spied Matthews aft. "Mr. Matthews!"

Matthews approached them. "Aye, sir?"

"Please report to Lieutenant Bush that Mr. Kennedy and myself are going ashore, and he is to await further orders."

"Aye, aye sir," said Matthews, knuckling his forehead in salute and moving off. Archie watched him go.
"I never asked you why you told Matthews about what I was doing with Le Bienfaiteur and LaTour," he said quietly.

"What?" said Horatio in puzzlement. "I never told him."

Archie turned back to him. "But he knew."

Horatio considered. "Well, he was with Mr. Seagraves and myself when we were searching for you in the castle. He saw those rooms, with all those - implements - in them, so maybe he figured it out from those." He noticed the look on his friend's face. "Archie, Matthews would never speak of this to anyone, you know that. I don't believe he would even mention it to Styles. The crew doesn't know, Archie. I swear it."

Archie nodded. "All right, Horatio. I'll take your word for it." He looked up at Horatio with a sly smile. "So, are you prepared to meet your doom?"

Horatio groaned. "Oh, must you remind me of that little buffoon? I still cannot believe that men under his "command" defeated us. We shall have to hunt down this Captain Pierre Dumontier when this is over, and show him how to win a fight fairly."

Archie ducked his head, hiding his grin. Horatio hadn't even noticed, but this was the first time the Commander had shown any kind of optimism about surviving his upcoming court-martial and holding on to his command. He took a deep breath.

"Ready to go?"

Horatio nodded. The two men went over the side and were rowed to shore. As they walked through the streets, both men were struck by the atmosphere that pervaded the town. It was an odd mixture of grief and elation.

Archie looked at Horatio, a frown creasing his brow. "Something's happened, Horatio."

Horatio nodded. "Yes. Something important, from the look of things. We'd best find Commodore Pellew - perhaps he can shed some light on the matter."

The two men hurried down the street, but before they reached their destination, they spied Commodore Pellew about to enter an inn.

"Commodore," called Horatio.

Pellew stopped and turned around. Surprise crossed his features, quickly followed by a look of relief. He waited for the two officers to reach him.

"Commander Hornblower. Lieutenant Kennedy. It is good to see you. I did not expect you in Gibraltar, but I assume you can as soon as you heard the news."

Horatio and Archie exchanged a glance. "News, sir?" said Horatio.

"You don't know?"

Horatio shook his head. "No, sir, we have been out of contact with anyone for a couple of weeks. May I ask, sir, what news?"

Pellew sighed, and for the first time, Horatio and Archie noticed the shadows under his eyes, and the fatigue etched in deep lines on his face. "Why don't the two of you join me for lunch, and I will tell you what has happened."

Horatio and Archie nodded, and the three men went inside and sat down. The serving girl took their order and left, and Pellew settled himself back against the wall of the booth that they occupied.

"Well, gentlemen, the British Navy has won a great victory," he began.

Horatio and Archie smiled at that. "A victory, sir!" said Archie. "That's wonderful news."

"Indeed," said Horatio. "But sir, if I may, if it was a great victory as you say, why is there no celebration going on? In fact, everyone seems rather subdued."

Pellew looked down. "It was a great victory, but at a great price. Over 1400 British sailors were lost, though that was nothing compared to the enemy's losses. However, there is more. One of those lost was Admiral Nelson."

Shocked, Horatio and Archie stared at the Commodore. "Admiral Nelson?" Horatio finally asked. "How, sir? How did it happen?"

"Trafalgar," Pellew said quietly. "Napoleon believed Nelson only had a small blockade outside Cadiz, so he ordered Admiral Villenueve into the Med. Nelson's fleet was waiting. His plan was brilliant - absolutely brilliant. Two lines of ships headed towards the in-line French and Spanish fleets. Even though it opened up the fleet to enemy broadsides, it greatly reduced the odds, and our men took the enemy apart. 18 enemy vessels destroyed. No British ships lost, not one. Word is 14,000 French and Spanish lost - ten times, ten TIMES what we lost, gentlemen." Pellew paused.

"But we lost Nelson," Horatio said quietly.

Pellew nodded. "Yes. He was shot by a sharpshooter, as the Victory passed by the Redoubtable. He died several hours later."

The news sobered Horatio and Archie. The greatest leader the Navy had ever known was gone. Archie looked at Pellew.

"What now, sir?"

Pellew sighed. "Now, we go on. We have won a great battle, but the war is far from over. Napoleon still lives. France and Spain are still our enemies, though greatly weakened." He shook his head, and looked at Horatio. "So, tell me, Mr. Hornblower. I know where I was during the battle - on my return from the Indies, but where were you?"

Horatio and Archie exchanged glances, and for the first time, Pellew looked closely at them. Hornblower was his usual solemn self, but there was an air of uneasiness about him. He turned his attention to Kennedy, and felt a coldness steal over him. Something was wrong there - very wrong. He could see it, in the lines of pain around the eyes, the dullness of those normally startling blue eyes. He was sitting up straight and not leaning against the back of the booth, as if it would pain him to do so. Archie turned his head and caught Pellew's gaze. Instantly, his eyes dropped to the table, as if he could not bear to look at the Commodore. Pellew turned to Horatio.

"Commander? A report, if you please."

Horatio forced himself not to glance at Archie again. It wouldn't do to have the Commodore suspect that something ailed Archie, not before the court-martial was over. He sighed.

"Sir, we have much to tell you, but I do not feel it should be discussed in public."

Pellew nodded. "Very well. When we have completed our meal, we shall return to Indefatigable, and you may tell me there." He looked at Archie, and raised an eyebrow. "Mr. Kennedy. Does that meet with your approval?"

Archie flushed, and looked up from the knot on the table he'd been studying intently. "Aye, sir."

"Very good," said Pellew. "Now let us finish our meal. I am anxious to hear your report."


Chapter 27

The Indy. Archie drew a deep breath as he stood at the railing. They'd been aboard for a few minutes now. As soon as the three men stepped on deck, Pellew had excused himself to go speak to his 2nd Lieutenant, Jacob Crane. Archie smiled sadly as he watched the two men converse. Crane had been promoted to Archie's old position when he'd been posted to Retribution, and by all accounts was doing an excellent job, but Archie still felt a little resentment, not that he would ever let anyone know that. It wasn't his nature. Still, though he hated to admit it, it bothered him a bit, seeing Crane again, here on board.

He sighed as he looked around the deck of the Indy. His gaze lingered for a moment on Horatio as he talked to the 1st Lieutenant, then continued on, up to the quarterdeck. That had been his place, once upon a time. He found himself drawn to the place, his feet moving there of their own volition. Well, he reasoned, they were at anchor, so Pellew probably wouldn't have any objection to his being up there.

He stood atop the quarterdeck, watching the crew as they went about their duties. As always, she was a happy ship - her men well-treated, her decks gleaming. Archie knew from experience that was not always so. He'd been very fortunate to have served under Pellew and Hornblower, two of the best commanding officers in the fleet, and he knew it. He wondered what would happen now, how things would fare after the court-martial. Would the crew be split up, to cover the vacancies created by the losses at Trafalgar? Would he be transferred to a ship with a Captain whose idea of discipline was to apply the lash? Would he be separated from Horatio? The thought was like a kick in his stomach. He couldn't bear that. They'd been through so much together, and had lost so many years while they were separated, that he was actually filled with fear at the mere idea of them being parted. He closed his eyes. Please, he thought, let us stay together. I need him. I know it can't be forever, but right now, I need him.

Pellew completed his business with Lieutenant Crane, then looked around his ship. He spied Horatio speaking animatedly with his 1st Lieutenant, and he grinned. Those two were a pair. No doubt they were deep in a discussion of some theory of mathematics that was well out of the range of Pellew's understanding. His eyes continued to wander, until he found Archie on the quarterdeck. He watched him for a moment. The lad looked like he'd been born to that spot. He looked - natural. Almost happy. Then Pellew remembered the shadows he'd seen behind those eyes, and he knew Archie wasn't happy, not at all. It was time for him to find out why.

Archie turned around and walked around the quarterdeck, running his hand gently over the rail. God, how he loved this ship. He stood and looked out to sea, his mind awash with memories of his life here - as a Midshipman, then briefly as a Lieutenant before being posted to Renown, and then his return, after his reinstatement, as 2nd Lieutenant. That had been all too brief, but that had been his own fault. He flushed a bit as he remembered how he'd thrown away his life in Indefatigable because he was hurting and weak, and had succumbed to drink and drugs, very nearly losing his career in the process. He smiled wryly. Not one of his shining moments.
"You look like you belong there," came a quiet voice behind him.

Archie turned. "Forgive me, sir. I hope I didn't overstep by coming up here. I just... wanted to look around a bit."

Pellew waved that off. "Nonsense, Mr. Kennedy. You are always welcome here. I still look upon you as a member of my crew."

Unexpectedly, tears sprang to Archie's eyes, and he turned away so Pellew wouldn't see. "Thank you, sir," he said hoarsely. "That means a great deal to me." He looked around the quarterdeck, still not meeting Pellew's eyes. "I always loved it here. It was the first place where I ever felt safe, and it still feels that way to me. There haven't been many havens in my life, sir, but this ship has always been one for me. The best one."

Pellew watched him, his heart aching for the man before him, who was so obviously hurting. He glanced around the quarterdeck. They were alone.

"Archie," he said softly. "Can you not tell me what is troubling you, lad? Clearly, something has happened. Perhaps there is some way I may help, some assistance I may offer."

Archie shook his head. "Thank you, sir, but I'll be all right. We're not here to talk about me - Commander Hornblower has quite enough to discuss with you."

Pellew nodded, noting that Archie had not denied that something disturbed him, but had instead deflected his inquiry. They would discuss this at another time.

"Very well, Mr. Kennedy. Shall we see if we can pry Mr. Hornblower away from his fascinating discussion with Lieutenant Savard?"

Archie rolled his eyes slightly at that. "I'm quite sure I wouldn't understand a word they were saying, sir. They may as well be speaking in a foreign tongue."

Pellew chuckled quietly. "I heartily agree, Mr. Kennedy. Shall we attempt to remove him anyway?"

Mere minutes later, the three men gathered in Pellew's cabin. Horatio and Archie were silent for a moment, each man lost in his own memories of their time aboard Indefatigable, while Pellew poured them each a brandy. He noticed that Archie did not refuse his, as had become his habit since his days at the Sea Serpent. That in itself was quite telling to the Commodore. Whatever had happened, it had affected Archie deeply.
He sat down behind his desk. "Please, gentlemen, sit down," he said, indicating the chairs before them. The two men sat. Pellew noticed that Archie sat very gingerly, very carefully, almost as if it pained him. Could it be that he'd been mistaken, and Archie's pain was purely physical and not emotional? No, he thought, looking again at the

Lieutenant. That pain behind his eyes was not physical. He filed that away, to be discussed at another time, and turned to Horatio.

"Commander Hornblower? Your report?"

Horatio squared his shoulders and looked directly at the Commodore. "I realize it is a bit unorthodox to handle it this way, sir, but I am here to submit myself for court-martial."

Pellew's jaw dropped. "Court-martial, sir? On what grounds, may I ask?"

Horatio took a deep breath, and met Pellew's eyes. "I lost my ship, sir. Retribution is gone."

"Gone?" barked Pellew. "Gone where?"

Speaking clearly and firmly, Horatio told him of the trap set by Captain Dumontier, of the death of the Jewel and her crew, and of their own capture, imprisonment, and eventual escape. He was very careful to leave Archie's role out of their ordeal, but praised the resourcefulness of Dr. Stuart and the invaluable help of Perry Seagraves. He told of the presence of the valet LaTour, and Le Bienfaiteur's intention to sell all of Retribution's men to the Spanish Captain, and of Le Bienfaiteur's death as he resisted their attempts to capture him and bring him to justice.

Pellew's face was aflame with fury. "They capture British sailors and sell them? Like animals?"

"Yes, sir," said Horatio slowly. "And not just British sailors, I believe, but anyone they can overpower. You were not aware that someone was doing this?"

"NO!" thundered Pellew. "Or by GOD, we'd have done something about it!"

Horatio and Archie exchanged glances yet again. Archie didn't know what to think. If the Admiralty hadn't sent Montoya, who had? He knew Marco was on their side - knew it down deep in his bones, but why wouldn't Pellew know about it? He abandoned that area of thought as Pellew continued.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Hornblower," Pellew said quietly. "There will, of course, have to be a court-martial, no matter what the circumstances. I will be honest with you. You needn't fear a severe reprisal. With the loss of Nelson, there will not be any interest in punishment to such a promising officer, not to mention that you bring us three prize ships. Not all ships of war, but they will be well used. As you can see, there is no shortage of captains in port, so we should be able to convene by tomorrow morning, the next day at the latest. Does that meet with your satisfaction?"

"Aye, sir," said Horatio somberly.

"Come, come, Mr. Hornblower," chided Pellew. "It will only be a formality, I'm quite certain. We'll have you back on the ocean in no time."

Horatio smiled faintly. "I pray that is so, sir."

"As do I, sir," nodded Pellew. "I shall have word sent to you as soon as it can be arranged."

"Thank you, sir," said Horatio, as he and Archie rose to their feet. "I shall be waiting."

Pellew watched them leave, then sighed as he looked down at his desk. His words had been meant to reassure Hornblower, and he hoped he'd succeeded, for he truly did believe there would be no consequences. But the man certainly did have a knack for losing ships. He'd have to be very careful about which Captains sat on the panel.

Horatio and Archie came back abovedecks. "Well, Mr. Kennedy, are you ready to return to our ship?"

"Aye, sir," said Archie, and turned around to leave, bumping into a sailor as he did so.

"Pardon me," said Archie. "I wasn't - " He stopped, a wide grin splitting his face. "Oldroyd! How are you?"

Oldroyd, gunner on Indefatigable and former shipmate of the two men, stood there. His face lit up as he recognized the officers.

"Mr. Kennedy! Mr. Hornblower! Good ta see ya, sirs!"

"And you," laughed Horatio. "Look at him, Mr. Kennedy - he hasn't aged a day!"

Oldroyd blushed. "Pardon me sir, but you look right smart in that Commander's uniform. I allus knew you'd make it, sir."

Horatio dipped his head. "Thank you, Oldroyd. Mr. Kennedy tells me you've become a very fine gunner aboard the Indy."

Oldroyd's smile faltered a bit as he looked at Archie. "Thankee, Mr. Kennedy, sir, but it just ain't the same without you here. Mr. Crane, he's a good Lieutenant, and the men all like him, but, but, well, he just ain't YOU, sir."

Archie was touched. Things had never been very comfortable between the two of them, ever since their return from El Ferrol. Oldroyd had always felt guilty about joining with Hunter, who'd wanted to leave Archie behind while they escaped. Archie had never quite been able to get Oldroyd to believe that he carried no animosity toward him, that he well understood the desire to escape. But Oldroyd still blamed himself, especially for Horatio having been thrown into the oubliette for a week because of that failed escape. Oldroyd had grown up a lot because of that, and there had been times when Archie missed his child-like simplicity.

"Thank you, Oldroyd," he said quietly. "I appreciate that, more than you know."

"Aye, sir," said Oldroyd. "Now, if you'll be excusin' me sirs, I have to get back to work." He knuckled his forehead in salute, and went belowdecks.

Horatio and Archie watched him go. Archie cleared his throat. "Well," he said. "That was - unexpected."

Horatio clapped him lightly on the shoulder, then cursed himself as Archie involuntarily winced in pain. "You see, Mr. Kennedy? You have touched a great many people in your short lifetime." He shook his head in amazement. "Oldroyd misses you! Will wonders never cease?"

The two men laughed, then went over the side and into the waiting rowboat. As they were rowed back to their ship, Archie took a moment to look around. He grinned. "Horatio, look!" he said, pointing to one of the ships lying at anchor.

Horatio turned around, and a look of dismay crossed his face. "Oh, lord. Dreadnought. You don't suppose Foster will be on the panel, do you?"

"What?" said Archie. "Oh, for heaven's sake, Horatio, no, he won't, not if Pellew has anything to say about it."

"But, Archie, he is - "

"Horatio, would you stop it?" asked Archie in exasperation. "Would you please stop imagining the worst? As Pellew said, there is a plethora of Captains to choose from, and you know how he despises Foster. He won't be there. Good lord, Horatio, the thought never even crossed my mind until you brought it up!"

Horatio glared at him as they climbed aboard their ship. Once on deck, he turned back to Archie.

"Then why were you so quick to point out the Dreadnought, Mr. Kennedy, if not to gloat over Foster being on the panel?"

Archie stared at him, his mouth hanging open. "Gloat? Horatio, I would do no such thing. Good god, man, not everything is about you! I pointed out the Dreadnought because Michael Jeffers serves aboard her, and I thought maybe Marc would enjoy seeing his brother. All right?"

"Oh," said Horatio, chagrined. "My apologies, Mr. Kennedy."

Archie moved off, shaking his head, and Horatio could hear him muttering to himself as he headed belowdecks. "Man thinks everything I do or say is about HIM! As if I don't have ENOUGH to think about in my miserable life...." He disappeared down the steps.

Horatio grinned as he watched Archie descend. Looked like the good doctor was beginning to rub off on his 2nd Lieutenant. He turned around as Bush approached him.

"Welcome back, sir. I trust your trip ashore was successful."

Horatio sighed. "Yes, Mr. Bush, I suppose you could say that. We met with Commodore Pellew, and he will attempt to convene the court-martial tomorrow. The next day, at the latest."

Bush was silent for a moment. "Any indications, sir, of his impression of the outcome?"

Horatio looked at him. "Actually, he was quite positive, but it remains to be seen how the others will feel." He stopped as he realized something. "The Commodore also gave us some news I would share with you. Shall we retire to my cabin?"

"Aye, sir," said Bush, and they went below, where Horatio told him of the battle of Trafalgar, and the fall of Nelson. Bush was shocked at the loss.

"I remember Nelson well," he said, staring at the floor. "I mean, I didn't actually know the man, but I remember him from the night of the reception, when Mr. Kennedy was reinstated into the Navy. He was quite - amazing."

Horatio nodded slowly. "He was indeed, Mr. Bush. A great loss for the British Navy."

The two men were silent for a moment, each one busy with his own thoughts. After a couple of minutes, Bush rose to his feet. "With your permission, sir, I'll go back on deck."

Horatio nodded again. "Very well, Mr. Bush. Oh, and please send word to Misters Jeffers and Witt that they may go ashore if they so wish."

"Aye, sir," said Bush, and then he grinned. "I doubt you'll be able to pry Mr. Witt away from "his" ship, sir."

Horatio laughed. "I fear you are correct, Mr. Bush, but at least make the offer."

"Aye, sir," said Bush, and he left the room, closing the door behind him.

Horatio put his head in his hands. Tomorrow. Tomorrow he would know if his career was over or not; whether he would ever have a command again. He took a deep breath, and reached for his log. He'd best make sure everything was in order before it began.

Chapter 28

Matthews stood up and looked down the street, first one way, then the other. Where was Styles? They'd come ashore together, intending to sit in on the court-martial of their Commander. When they had reached there, though, they had been informed that it was a closed session, and only the officers of Retribution and various members of the Admiralty were allowed inside to view the proceedings. The clerk had said something about it being kept low-key out of respect for Admiral Nelson, but Matthews hadn't really cared. He'd felt angry, and slighted. The men under Hornblower's command had a right to be there, to support their commander. "Well," he'd growled to Styles, "If we can't be there during it, we'll just make sure we're right here when it's over." With that, he'd gone outside and settled himself on a bench right outside the building. Styles had followed him. After sitting on the bench for about ten minutes, the big man got to his feet. Complaining that he wasn't going to sit there all day, instead of enjoying his shore leave, he'd left, promising Matthews he would only be gone for a little bit.

Matthews sighed. That had been over three hours ago. Lord only knew what trouble the man had gotten himself into by now. He sat back down, and leaned against the side of the building, wondering how things were going inside. He wished he could have a chance to speak. He wanted to tell those Captains that Commander Hornblower was the finest officer ever to walk the deck of a ship, and that his men would follow him straight into the jaws of Hell if need be. He'd saved their lives by surrendering. Maybe he HAD lost his ship, but he'd kept his crew alive, and to Matthews' way of thinking, that was more important than a ship. Unfortunately, he knew it wasn't always the Admiralty's way of thinking.

He closed his eyes and lifted his face to the noon-time sun, as he contemplated his commanding officer. Mr. Hornblower was not only the finest officer Matthews had ever served with, he was also a good man. Perhaps inclined to be a bit stuffy at times, but fair, honest, and just. He treated his crew like men, unlike some of the Captains that Matthews had served under, and they all, down to the very last man, respected him for that. Discipline was well maintained, but there was an ease, a familiarity between officers and crew that was rarely present aboard ship.

Matthews smiled as he thought about that. To be honest, that didn't come from the Commander, but was more the result of his friendship with his 2nd Lieutenant. Mr. Kennedy kept Commander Hornblower from becoming too rigid and formal, for the Lieutenant was about as far from those traits as Matthews could imagine, and that helped in the Commander's relationship with the crew. Matthews had never served on a tighter ship, and he prayed the crew would not be split apart, especially the officers. He knew how close Hornblower and Kennedy were. Each needed the other for balance.

Matthews' smile faded as he thought about the Lieutenant. When he'd realized why Mr. Kennedy had gone to kill Le Bienfaiteur, he'd felt sick. Memories of all those years in Justinian had come rushing back, along with the guilt he still carried. He'd never forgiven himself for not standing up to Simpson, for not trying to protect the young Archie Kennedy, but instead allowing Simpson to terrorize and brutalize the boy for so long. It was a miracle Lieutenant Kennedy had survived that. But he had. And he'd become a good man; a good officer. Maybe not your typical officer - for one thing, he was extremely protective of and compassionate towards those who were mistreated, no doubt because he'd been so cruelly used himself - but still one of the best Matthews had ever known. He'd been right proud of the lad, for everything he'd accomplished. For growing beyond the horror of Jack Simpson.

Again, Matthews began to feel sick. He knew what had passed between Mr. Kennedy and Le Bienfaiteur - knew it without a single word being spoken. He'd seen those rooms. More importantly, he'd seen Mr. Kennedy's eyes, when they were in that bastard's room. They had been the eyes of that 12-year-old boy he'd found on the deck of Justinian in the rain. Matthews had wanted to kill Le Bienfaiteur with his own hands, but instead the man had taken the coward's way out, leaving Mr. Kennedy with all the memories of what had been done to him. Those memories had eaten away at the Lieutenant. Matthews had seen it. Lieutenant Kennedy had been pale and withdrawn during the whole voyage to Gibraltar, never joining in with the crew, barely eating, and, from what Matthews could tell, not sleeping at all. Occasionally, in the company of the other officers, some of his old personality had peeked out, but those instances were rare. He'd spent a lot of time in the Commander's cabin, and for that, Matthews was grateful. At least this time, the Lieutenant had a friend to talk to. That would help. If anything COULD help.

Matthews stood up again, trying not to think about Mr. Kennedy and his ordeal. Where was Styles? At that moment, the man in question came sauntering around the corner, whistling as he ambled down the street.

"Where you been, ya big idiot?" demanded Matthews. "That weren't no "little bit" you were gone."

Styles smirked at him. "Where ya THINK I been, Matty? I ain't seen no woman since we left London! I been to Mizz Dorothy's house - you know the one. Then I stopped in the pub for a few."

Matthews looked at him with disgust. "You jes' make sure ya go see Dr. Stuart when we's back aboard."

"Ah, for Chrissakes, Matty, I don't need to see that - "

"Styles!" growled Matthews. "Just do it."

"Oh, all right," grumbled Styles. "I swear, Matty, you're worse'n an old lady. What you need is a trip to Mizz Dorothy's yourself - you'll feel better, ya know."

Matthews glared at him. "Not if I have to be treated for the pox, I wouldn't! 'Sides, I'm waitin' for Mr. Hornblower, and so are you. Sit down!"

"Aw, but Matty, ain't telling HOW long they're gonna be! I aint' gonna waste my leave sittin' here on me arse. Come on - there's a pub right around the corner, where we can drink a few, and still be right near when they's done."

"NO!" said Matthews. "We ain't goin', and that's that!" The two sailors stood in the street and glared at each other.

"You ain't changed a bit," came a soft voice from behind them. "Still arguin' all the time."

Matthews and Styles turned around, and instantly forgot their argument.

"Oldroyd!" they exclaimed in unison. Styles stepped forward and grabbed the younger man in a bear hug, nearly squashing the life out of him.

"Ow!" Oldroyd laughed. "Put me down!" Styles dropped him to the ground, all three beaming at each other.

"Oldroyd, you old bugger," said Matthews. "We ain't seen you in forever!"

"Yep," agreed Oldroyd. "Not since Mr. Bush's weddin'. He still with you?"

"Yep," said Matthews. "An' Mr. Kennedy, too."

Oldroyd sobered. "Yeah. I seen Mr. Kennedy when he 'n' Mr. Hornblower came aboard the Indy. He looked pretty - tired, I guess. He worried about the court-martial?"

Matthews looked away, not meeting either man's eyes. Styles was surprised - Matthews was always the first to jump to either Hornblower or Kennedy's defense, no matter what. Huh. He found that rather interesting. What did Matty know? He was just about to pose the question, when the door to the building opened, and out came the officers of Retribution. All three sailors turned to face them.

Matthews immediately looked at Commander Hornblower's face, but he could read nothing there. Horatio's face was set and impassive. Matthews looked at each of the others in turn - Kennedy, Bush, Jeffers, even Commodore Pellew. All wore the same expression. Matthews felt cold. This didn't look good at all.


Chapter 29

Archie looked up as he came out into the bright sunshine, and was momentarily blinded. He waited for his eyes to clear, then spied the trio of sailors awaiting them. His discipline fell away, and he grinned at them.

"Good news!" he called to them, ignoring the disapproval emanating from Hornblower and Pellew. This was too good not to share with the men, and too much of a relief not to be happy about it. He stopped in front of the men from their crew, and looked at Horatio. "Well? Aren't you going to tell them?"

Horatio shrugged, looking curiously abashed. "It is over," he said, almost sounding apologetic about it.

"Oh, for heaven's sake!" exclaimed Archie. "Can you not ever allow yourself to be even just a LITTLE bit excited?" He turned again to the sailors. "Yes, indeed, it is over. In fact, it was practically over even before it began! We spent most of the time discussing any missing ships that could possibly have fallen into Le Bienfaiteur's hands, not what punishment should be meted out to our Commander."

"Mr. Kennedy - " warned Horatio.

"No, Commander, I will not be quiet. Once again, you are being hailed as a hero, for ridding the world of a cretin like Le Bienfaiteur and for bringing your crew home, along with three prize ships, and you refuse to enjoy it! All you do is wonder what you could have done differently to avoid this in the first place, or how you could have gotten us out of there sooner - it's quite irritating."

"Mr. Kennedy!"

"Sorry," Archie said, smirking. "Quite irritating, SIR."

Pellew turned aside with a cough, trying to cover his amusement, but Jeffers and Bush laughed aloud as Horatio glared at Archie.

"If I still had a ship, Lieutenant, I would see you on bilge duty for a month."

Archie merely grinned, his eyes sparkling with mirth. "But you don't, do you? Not yet, anyway, but since you still keep your rank, I'm certain sure they'll find you something to command. Am I right, Commodore?"

"Oh, we shall see," said Pellew gravely, but his eyes smiled back at Archie. "I'm sure there is something available somewhere." He looked at Horatio. "Mr. Hornblower. Congratulations, sir. Another narrow escape from the noose, hmm?"

Horatio's eyes bulged. "Sir? You believe it could have come to that?"
"Oh, for God's SAKE, Horatio!" sputtered Archie. "Must you take everything so seriously? He was TEASING! Losing your ship is not a hanging offense, as you well know. I'm beginning to fear for you, Horatio - that sense of humor of yours is positively abysmal. I think there's something wrong with you."

Horatio glared at him for a moment, then turned to Pellew.

"Commodore. Am I correct in assuming I will have a say in the selection of my officers, should I be given a new ship?"

Pellew nodded. "Of course."

"Thank you, sir," Horatio said smugly, throwing a superior look at Archie. "Then I know who I shall NOT choose." He turned away with a sniff, and started up the street.

Archie stared after him for a moment in disbelief, and then trotted after him. "H'ratio? You're teasing, right? You wouldn't do that, would you?"

Horatio merely gave him a sidelong glance and kept moving.

Archie stopped in his tracks. "Well! I never!" He watched Horatio moving down the street, then yelled after him.

"So much for your promise never to leave me behind again!"

Horatio stopped and turned around, a stricken look on his face. "Mr. Kennedy, I would never leave you - " He broke off as he caught sight of the huge grin on Archie's face. Shaking his head, he walked back towards his friend. "You KNEW I was jesting."

"Oh, Horatio," Archie laughed. "Of course I did! It's the one thing in the world that you do excruciatingly poorly! Now, enough of this. I do believe there is a pub just around the corner, so I think we should all head over there for a celebratory tot of rum. What say you?"

Horatio bowed slightly. "I do believe that this the correct thing to do. Lead on, Mr. Kennedy." He turned to Pellew, who had just caught up with the duo. "Commodore. We would be honored if you would join us."

Pellew shook his head. "Thank you, Mr. Hornblower, but I have a stack of paperwork awaiting me on my desk in Indefatigable, and I fear I must return there. We will speak later." He watched as the small group moved off, and smiled a sad smile. He was overjoyed that the court-martial had gone so smoothly, but his instincts told him that the complete story had not been told. It wasn't anything he could put a finger on, but there was something in the interaction between Hornblower and Kennedy. It wasn't there all the time, but just enough for him to have noticed it. And he had not been mistaken about the shadow he had seen behind Archie's eyes - he was hiding something.
It wasn't something that would have had a direct bearing on the outcome of the court-martial, for he knew that neither Hornblower or Kennedy would keep anything like that concealed, no matter what the cost. They'd learned that lesson the hard way. Still, there was something. And that something was affecting the two men. Although Kennedy appeared to be his usual ebullient self, to someone who knew him as well as the Commodore did, he seemed to be forcing himself to act that way, and was in actuality holding himself back. And Hornblower was acting - Pellew's eyes widened. Why hadn't he noticed this before? Hornblower had slipped back into the role Pellew had first noticed when he came aboard Indefatigable as a Midshipman. The role of Archie Kennedy's protector.

What in God's name had happened in that castle?


Chapter 30

The party in the pub had been going on for several hours, and all the men were feeling pretty good. Styles and Oldroyd had captured two of the barmaids, and were holding them in their laps, regaling them with stories of the sea. The girls greeted each yarn with giggles and screams of disbelief as each tale grew subsequently larger and wilder than the previous one. Matthews just watched them, shaking his head the whole time. He was sitting at the table with the officers, none of them caring about distinction of rank, and now he turned his attention back to the officers and away from his mates in the corner.

"So, what do you think, sir?" Bush was asking. "Do you think they'll split up the crew and place us all on those ships that lost men at Trafalgar?"

Horatio shook his head. "Unfortunately, Mr. Bush, I cannot predict how the Admiralty will act. I truly hope I may choose my officers, but it would really be unwise to speculate at this point. I do not even know for certain that I will be given another ship. However, I do wish to state, right now, that I would want all of you with me - my Lieutenants, and Acting Lieutenant, and my Bosun." He gave a fond glance at Matthews as he said the last. "I had the best officers and crew in His Majesty's Navy, and I want you all to know that."

"It starts at the top," Archie said softly, his eyes fixed on Horatio's face. "It's why the Indy was always the finest ship in the fleet, and it's why every man who came aboard Retribution was happy to be posted there. I am honored to have served with the two best commanding officers in the fleet." He raised his mug. "To our own Commander Horatio Hornblower."

The other men quickly raised their own mugs and agreed with Archie. Horatio flushed slightly, uncomfortable as always with praise. "Thank you, Mr. Kennedy."

Archie nodded, and then the expression on his face changed slightly as he looked up at the doorway. Horatio turned around to look. Lieutenant Crane from Indefatigable stood there. As he spied Horatio's group, he made his way over to the table.

"Good evening, sirs," he said to all the men at the table, and then he turned to Archie. "Lieutenant Kennedy. It is good to see you again, sir." He seemed a little uncertain, thought Horatio. I wonder why?

Crane, a young handsome man with gleaming jet black hair and an easy way of carrying himself, spoke again to Archie. "The Indy's not the same since you left, sir. I know that Retribution is gone" - Horatio winced at that - "but I'm sure you'll quickly be posted to a new ship, and I hope all will go well for you."

Archie looked down at the table, completely ashamed of himself. He had no right to resent the man. It had been Archie who had thrown away his 2nd Lieutenant position aboard Indefatigable, and he could not blame Crane for taking over his job.
Crane had always been a good man, and a very able officer, and he knew that Commodore Pellew was very happy with him. Archie looked up and grinned at the other Lieutenant, a lopsided, self-deprecating smile.

"Thank you, Mr. Crane. That is most kind of you to say. Please, will you join us for a drink or two?"

Crane smiled, the light of that smile reaching his pale blue eyes. "Thank you, sir, but I cannot. I was sent here by Commodore Pellew." He turned to Horatio. "The Commodore requests and requires your attendance upon Indefatigable, along with both of your Lieutenants. I have a boat waiting, if you are ready, sir."

Horatio looked at the other men and stood up. "Of course, Lieutenant Crane. Mr. Jeffers, if you and Mr. Matthews will return to the prize ship, we will proceed directly to Indefatigable." He looked over in the corner and sighed. "You'd best take Styles with you. I'll not have him running the streets loose, especially with Oldroyd at his side."

Matthews grinned. "Aye, aye, sir." He and Jeffers watched the four men leave, then went to drag Styles away from his yarns and his woman.

The small boat was silent as the officers were rowed out to Indefatigable, each man wondering to himself just what the Commodore wanted with them. It was Archie who finally broke the silence.

"What do you think, Horatio? Orders?"

Horatio nodded, not looking at the other men. "More than likely, Archie. I don't know why else the Commodore would want to see us."

Bush stared at the Indy as they approached her. "It seems awfully quick," he said quietly. "Do you think this means we've all been reassigned?"

"I just don't know, William," Horatio said with a sigh. "It does seem a little too soon, but then again," he glanced at Archie, "when they gave me Retribution, it happened very quickly." He looked down at his hands, feeling that old, soul-crushing pain. "Not that I was in any shape at the time to celebrate."

Silence fell again over the small boat. Very soon they reached Indefatigable, and were ushered to Pellew's quarters. Horatio knocked on the door.

"Come," they heard Pellew say. As they entered the cabin, Pellew rose to his feet from his seat behind his desk.

"Good evening, gentlemen. I trust you enjoyed your celebration today?"

"Yes, sir," Horatio nodded.
"Good, very good," Pellew said, all business now. "I have your new postings here, sirs."

He looked at Horatio, Bush and Archie in turn, noting the uneasiness on each man's face. After what they'd been through the past couple of weeks, he had no desire to prolong their agony. He smiled at them.

"I think it will please you to know that the three of you will remain together." He watched all three faces light up, Horatio's somewhat more reserved than the others, and knew that the right decision had been made.

"Thank you, sir," began Horatio, but stopped as Pellew raised a hand.

"I am not finished, Mr. Hornblower. You will not be able to keep all of your crew, but I assume there are several men you will wish to retain, such as Matthews and Styles. Oh, and Dr. Stuart will remain with you as well, although I am sure there are many ships who would gladly exchange their surgeon for yours."

Horatio grinned. "Yes, sir. But please, sir, don't tell HIM that. He would surely be unbearable."

Archie spoke up. "Commodore. What of Mr. Jeffers? He is due to take his examination for Lieutenant shortly, and should he pass, where will he be posted?"

Pellew looked at Archie, knowing of the friendship and respect between the two. "Well, Mr. Kennedy, he will originally be posted with the three of you. Should he pass his examination," he paused, enjoying the look of near-torment on Archie's face. Easy, Edward, he cautioned himself. No need to be overly dramatic here. He continued. "Should he pass, he will remain with you, as Third Lieutenant."

Horatio frowned. "Third Lieutenant, sir? What size ship are we being posted to?"

"Oh," said Pellew guilelessly. "Did I forget to mention where you were being posted? Must have slipped my mind. Perhaps I am getting doddering in my old age." He glared at Archie, who was about to make a comment. "Not a WORD, Mr. Kennedy." Pellew picked up a packet from his desk and handed it to Horatio. "Congratulations, sir."

Horatio looked down at the elegant handwriting on the packet.

Commander Horatio Hornblower
Captain, HMS Indomitable

His eyes met Pellew's. "The Indomitable, sir?"

Pellew nodded. "Yes, Mr. Hornblower. Her commander, Paul Harwell, has just been promoted to Captain of the 36 Illusion, and is taking his Lieutenants with him. Three lieutenants is not unusual for her. She's a fine ship."
"Yes, sir," said Horatio, almost dazed. Indomitable was indeed a fine ship - a 24, and known for her speed and ease of handling. And there was one more thing. He looked back up at Pellew.

"She is part of your squadron, is she not, sir?"

Pellew nodded, his dark eyes twinkling. "She is indeed, sir. Since the three of you seem to have a knack for finding trouble, I thought it best to keep you where I may keep a closer eye on you."

"Excuse me, sir," said Bush, a little eagerly. "Is she here at Gibraltar?"

Pellew smiled at him and shook his head. "No, Mr. Bush. She lies at Portsmouth, where she is undergoing some repairs for damage she suffered at Trafalgar. I had thought, Mr. Hornblower, that you and your crew would sail back to Portsmouth aboard Indefatigable, and join her there. We shall also be taking the two smaller prize ships you brought with us, so your crew may be split between those two ships. The officers, of course, are welcome aboard Indefatigable for the voyage home."

"Thank you, sir," said Horatio. "It would be an honor to sail with you again, even as passengers."

Pellew chuckled softly. "Oh, you shan't get off that easily, Mr. Hornblower - I shall certainly be able to find some work for your men to do." He glanced at Archie. "Unless, of course, some of them suffered some injuries in your latest adventure?"

Archie flushed and looked at the floor. He knew the Commodore was giving him an opening, but he just wasn't ready quite yet to talk about what had happened. He looked beseechingly at Horatio.

Horatio took the hint. "Any injuries sustained, sir, were well treated by Dr. Stuart. Mr. Beckett has a broken leg and will not be of much assistance, and I do think that Mr. Jeffers should rest as much as possible, and Mr. Bush should not stand for very long periods of time."

"I'm quite all right, Commander," argued Bush. "You needn't molly-coddle me - I can do my share."

"Mr. Bush, I would not care to be around when the doctor found out you were over-exerting yourself. You know how he can be."

Bush rolled his eyes. "Oh, don't I. Nevertheless, sir, I'm sure even Dr. Stuart would agree that my leg has healed very well, and he would pronounce me fit for duty."

Pellew watched the two officers during the discussion, but out of the corner of his eye, he looked at Archie.
He knew perfectly well what Hornblower and Bush were doing - they were trying to deflect his attention away from Kennedy. That, of course, only made the Commodore more curious. All three officers were hiding something from him, and he did not care for that. Not one bit.

"All right, gentlemen," he finally said. "Mr. Bush will only do light duty, and only when necessary. It is but a short sail to Portsmouth, so I do not think any of you" - another glance at Archie - "will be forced to overexert yourself. We sail at first tide tomorrow morning, gentlemen, so I suggest that you return to your ship and transfer your dunnage to Indefatigable. I trust that will be time enough for you to divide up your crew amongst the two ships, Mr. Hornblower?"

"Aye, sir," said Horatio, nodding. "We shall return as soon as everything is set."

Pellew watched as the three men exited the cabin. He would be pleased to have their company for the journey home. Perhaps he WAS getting doddering in his old age, but more and more, he found himself feeling lonely while aboard ship. He had always kept a distance between himself and his men, as per Naval tradition, ever since he had gotten his first command. That had always been easy enough, since the crew always regarded the Captain of the ship as someone akin to God, but lately, he found himself wishing for a friend amongst his crew. A friend like Hornblower had in Kennedy. Pellew sighed. He missed Anthony Bracegirdle a great deal. The Lieutenant - now, Captain - had been the closest thing he'd ever had to a friend aboard ship, and the only one who had ever had the courage to talk back to him, in private, about non-shipboard related issues. It had been Bracegirdle who pointed out Pellew's proprietary feelings for Hornblower and Kennedy, when Pellew had been unable to recognize those feelings in himself. Yes, it would be good to have those two young officers aboard his ship once again.

And maybe, with any kind of luck, he would be able to find out what had caused that look of pain and desolation he kept glimpsing in Archie Kennedy's eyes.


Chapter 31

Indefatigable sailed for home, the red of the setting sun tingeing her sails the color of fire. Archie stood at the rail, watching the sun as it set, his mind filled with conversations he did not want to have. He leaned against the rail, staring at the sun as it lowered itself toward the sea, and wondered what lay ahead for him. One day had passed, bringing them closer to home. Closer to him having to break his lover's heart, ripping his own out in the process.

Archie dropped his head and stared at the ocean beneath the hull of the Indy. He still wasn't sure how he was going to tell Kathleen about Le Bienfaiteur and LaTour. He'd pictured so many different scenarios in his head, but they all ended the same way, with Kate staring at him, tears brimming in her emerald eyes, and telling him she didn't understand how he could offer himself like that. How he could betray her so completely. And then she would walk out the door, taking his heart, his very life, with her. He'd tried to envision another scene, where she took him in her arms, crying as she kissed him, telling him she understood, and she didn't blame him, but that just never rang true. She would be horribly hurt. He would rather hang himself from the Indy's yardarm than cause her any pain, but he could not, he would not, lie to her. Not ever. Just as he knew he could not lie to Commodore Pellew.

Archie closed his eyes. Pellew. He had yet to speak to the Commodore, and time was running out. It had to be done now, aboard ship, but he still hadn't found the words he was going to use. He knew the Commodore suspected something was wrong. Opening his eyes, he watched as the red-gold sun touched the edge of the horizon and began to sink beneath the sea. He would tell the Commodore tonight. He, Horatio and Bush were all to have dinner with Pellew this evening. It was the perfect opportunity.

Up on the quarterdeck, Horatio watched his friend. He could tell Archie was wrestling with the same problems he had been for days - how to tell Kathleen and the Commodore. From the slump of the Lieutenant's shoulders, he hadn't gotten very far in his pursuit. Glancing around, he noticed the deck was relatively empty, so he moved down to stand next to Archie.

"Good evening, Lieutenant," he said.

Archie turned from his contemplation of the ocean, and a smile lit his features, matching the glow of the setting sun. "Commander. Are you ready for our dinner with the Commodore?"

Horatio stood beside him at the rail, watching the sun slowly sinking. "We still have a few minutes, Archie. I thought to enjoy the sunset."

The two men stood quietly side by side, watching as the sea seemed to turn to fire as the sun slipped down. Archie lowered his head.

"I'm going to tell him tonight, Horatio," he said, his voice muffled. "I don't think I can wait any longer."

Horatio turned and leaned against the rail, watching his friend. "Would you like me to be there with you, Archie?"

Archie looked up quickly, and Horatio could see the gratitude in his eyes, even through the approaching darkness. "Thank you, Horatio, but I think it best that I do this alone. I think I would not like you to see me in that state - it will be bad enough that Pellew will. But Horatio, it means the world to me that you offered. When all is said and done, your friendship may be the only thing I have left."

Horatio shook his head. "Archie, you will always have that. Always. And I do not think that you will lose anything in the telling. Not Kathleen. Not Commodore Pellew's respect."

Archie gripped the rail. "You're wrong, Horatio. Kathleen will be hurt and angry, and the Commodore will be disappointed. Again." He sighed. "I have yet to tell him that Kathleen is going to have a baby. That, I believe, will be the finishing stroke for him, that I could have gone to Le Bienfaiteur, knowing that my wife carried my child. You know what a strong family man he is, Horatio. He will be angry."

"No, Archie - "

"Yes. But it doesn't matter, Horatio," Archie interrupted. "What's done is done. I cannot go back and change anything. I will tell the Commodore after dinner tonight. I would greatly appreciate it if you and Mr. Bush could find some reason to excuse yourselves when we have finished, so that I may be alone with him." He looked out to sea. "I just want to be finished with this, Horatio. Now."

"All right, Archie," said Horatio softly, putting his hand on his friend's shoulder. "But you must promise me one thing."

"Name it."

Horatio smiled. "When you are done with your discussion with the Commodore, whatever the outcome, you must come see me. I will wait up for you, Archie - all night if necessary. I'll be there if you need to talk, or if you need someone to get drunk with, or if you just need someone to sit quietly with you. Promise me you'll come."

Archie gazed at him for a moment, wondering what he had done to deserve a friend such as this. "All right, Horatio," he said quietly. "I promise."

As one, the two men turned back and looked over the sea, to where the sun had burned so brightly, but now lay sleeping.

Together, they watched as the stars began to appear, one by one, like diamonds tossed up in the sky by a playful child and left there to sparkle against the black backdrop of the heavens. Archie searched for one in particular. Abby's star. When he found it, he looked at it for a long time. Finally, he turned, to find Horatio watching him, his deep, dark eyes showing his compassion and understanding, and his feelings for his friend. Archie smiled a little.

"So, Horatio. Shall we join the Commodore for dinner?"

Horatio nodded. "An excellent suggestion, Mr. Kennedy."

The two men turned and headed down to the Commodore's cabin. Archie paused for a moment at the top of the stairs, and turned once more to search the heavens for Abby's star. He fastened his eyes upon it. "Help me, Abby," he prayed. "Please help me to find the strength, and the words, to do this." A soft breeze sprang up, tousling his hair, and he could almost hear Abby's voice whispering on the wind, saying the words she'd left for him in her letter. "You have the strength, my brother, and I will always be beside you. Even now. Those we love are with us until the end of time."

Archie smiled, and turned to follow his best friend, who was waiting for him. Together, they went to see the Commodore.