Hornblower and the Spanish Doctor
by Sarah B.
Author's note: This story arose from a discussion on the mailing list in which I stated that I did not care for Dr. Hepplewhite and wanted another doctor on the ship. I introduced the 'new' doctor in this story, and he is also found in my Christmas fic, To Hear the Angels Sing.
Horatio Hornblower walked along the decks of His Majesty's
frigate the Indefatigable, his sharp brown eyes taking in the
bright blue sky and sparkling calm seas of a perfect summer morning.
He knew it would not stay that way, however; they were nearing
Spanish waters, and that never happened without some incident.
Well, let it come then; they had all been idle for nearly four
days, and his blood burned for the thrill of action.
But not yet. It was a nice day, and he was content for the action to wait at least until the afternoon.
It was a beautiful day, pleasantly cool and windy, and Horatio smiled to see that the crew was taking advantage of the weather to wash and dry the sails and hammocks. The decks were a billowing canvas ocean it seemed, and it took him a moment to pick out the officer in charge of overseeing the washing. But finally, among the hurrying ratings and the traveling piles of wet and dirty fabrics, Horatio finally spotted his shipmate and friend, Archie Kennedy.
Archie was standing at the front of the poop deck, his hands clasped behind him and watching over the men with a serious-looking frown. With a mischievous grin, Horatio hurried up the stairs and as soon as Archie spotted him, gave him a grave salute.
"Sir, you are adrift in a sea of canvas," Horatio intoned with a mock-concerned expression, "Do you wish to send a distress signal, or shall we give you up for lost?"
Archie smiled back, his blue eyes twinkling in the brilliant summer sun as he answered in desperation, "Alas, sir, I have sent a distress signal, but the call came back that I must remain adrift until every sail is dry. I pray we get no rain, or else I am marooned forever."
"Well, you're safe so long as you maintain your sense of humor." Horatio smiled, then shrugged and gazed out at the men working below. "Not so bad, is it?"
"Oh, well, it beats bilge duty," Archie replied congenially, "And the men are working hard. I imagine we should get a great deal of the work finished today." He grimaced and tugged at the black neckerchief of his uniform. "It could be a damned sight cooler, though."
That statement made Horatio frown and look at Archie a little more closely. It was in fact early in the morning and quite cool, but there was a red flush to Archie's fair complexion that made Horatio ask, "Are you warm?"
Archie's expression changed, as if he'd been caught out at something. He looked down at the deck and gave a small shrug. "It's a hot sun, Horatio - "
"Rubbish," Horatio said sternly, "It's that fever you had last night, the one that caused you to wave aside dinner and retire early, and from those rings beneath your eyes I'll wager you didn't sleep either. Didn't you go see Dr. Hepplewhite?"
Archie squinted into the sun. "Dr. Hepplewhite would proclaim that I had a bad humor in my body and bleed me."
"Perhaps not," Horatio countered, "But he would take you off duty so you can rest in the sick berth and not spread your fever to the rest of the ship. Damn it, Archie, do you want to wait until you vomit on the captain's shoes before you take care of your own health?"
"I'm fine, Horatio," Archie insisted, looking at Horatio with annoyed blue eyes. "I don't need to go to sick berth."
Horatio paused, irritated by Archie's stubbornness. "You know I can order you to go."
"And risk losing the one whist player on the ship who you're always guaranteed to win against?" Archie smiled and removed his hat to wipe perspiration from his forehead. To Horatio's aggravated expression he said, "Don't worry, Horatio, no one on the ship will be swooning from my fever. It's not the traveling sort."
"And how can you be sure of that?" Horatio wanted to know.
"I'd wager a hundred pounds on it." Archie answered as he replaced his hat.
Horatio continued to stare at him.
Finally Archie sighed in exasperation. "Confound it, Horatio, I'll give you my oath that if it isn't gone by this afternoon, I'll go see that drunken butcher and have him remove half my blood from me. Would that make you feel better?"
"Seeing you fit and ready for action," Horatio replied, satisfied that he had gotten Archie's word that he would see to himself, "That would make me feel better."
"Not at all. Simply doing my duty."
"Mr. Hornblower!" Came Bracegirdle's clear voice from below them.
Horatio looked down and saw Captain Pellew's first lieutenant standing on the deck beneath them. "Aye, sir?"
"Captain's compliments, Mr. Hornblower, he'd like a word with you in his cabin, if you please."
"Oh," Horatio replied, then looked at Archie, who was giving Horatio an expectant look.
"Well," Archie said, "Perhaps you would like to come down with a fever, just now."
"Just go see Dr. Hepplewhite," Horatio said, and gave Archie a good-natured punch as he left the deck, and went to go see his captain.
Horatio always had to prepare himself before he went to talk to Captain Pellew. It was not so much that the captain awed him. He awed everyone. Horatio knew of no one on the ship who could withstand those sharp dark eyes boring into them without flinching and thinking that they were looking into the eyes of God.
Nor was it because he was afraid of Pellew. He had been, once, and still there was that anxious desire to succeed in the man's presence that Horatio knew would never go away. But the captain had seen Horatio at his worst, at his most undone, had seen him weeping in his cabin after the disastrous mission at Muzillac had gone so horribly wrong, and not condemned him. Had in fact given him comforting words, strengthening words that bolstered the young man through more than mere physical trials. So Horatio knew that he did not have to be afraid of Pellew.
No, Horatio thought as he wound through the halls that would take him to the captain's cabin, he had to prepare himself because he knew that Pellew would expect him to be at all times the model of the British sailor and officer, and it was a responsibility Horatio took very much to heart. I see great things in you, Mr. Hornblower, the captain had once said, and Horatio never forgot those words. It was a burden at times, but it was also a great honor to be told those words, and Horatio knew it. It would never do to appear before a man who held such high hopes for him in anything less than a completely ready state of mind.
So Horatio prepared himself, and knocked on Pellew's door.
"Enter," came the command.
And Horatio brought himself into Captain Sir Edward Pellew's presence.
Pellew was a tall man, tall and every inch the British captain. His deep eyes snapped to Horatio as the young man entered the room, and his sometimes stern face softened into an expression of welcome. "Ah, Mr. Hornblower. Your attention, if you please."
"Yes, sir," Horatio replied, walking closer to the desk. Spread out over the surface and held in place by a silver candlestick was a map of the coast of Spain.
"We received word this morning," Pellew said as he pointed to the map, "That one of our ships, The Valiant, was recently engaged and lost off the coast of Spain, just here."
Horatio saw where Pellew was pointing, and shook his head. "A tragedy, sir."
Pellew nodded. "Now here's the distasteful part. The survivors of her crew have been captured by Spanish guerrillas who have sent word to all local British ships that they will execute them if not given large supplies of guns and powder, which they will certainly be using against us."
Horatio wrinkled his nose in disgust. "No gentleman would agree to wager his own life for supplies to kill his countrymen with."
"Just so," Pellew sighed as he stood up, "And I'm certain that under different circumstances the captured men would rather surrender their lives than be part of such a travesty, but unfortunately one of them is a favorite friend of King George, and so we have been ordered to arrange a rescue."
Horatio's eyebrows went up. "Indeed, sir?"
"Indeed," Pellew said, in a tone that betrayed his displeasure at the idea. He tilted his head down toward the map again. "Fortunately, we have learned that the party holding the Valiant's men is not very large, and their prison is fairly close to the shore. I predict that with proper planning we can bring these men home safely."
"Aye aye, sir." Horatio replied.
"Now, you have some knowledge of the terrain in this region," Pellew said, "So I will put you in charge of this mission, there are eight men being held so I would suggest a landing party of ten to get them out. You will need at least one other officer, and I would suggest someone else familiar with Spanish terrain. That would be Mr. Kennedy, I believe."
"Yes, sir - " Horatio began to say more, then stopped himself.
Of course, Pellew caught it. "Well, sir?"
Horatio hesitated, but figured he might as well out with it. "Mr. Kennedy may not be fit to go, sir. He was somewhat unwell this morning. I sent him to Dr. Hepplewhite."
"Hm," Pellew stood up again, his face unreadable. "Well, you are commanding this mission, Mr. Hornblower, so it is your decision. If Mr. Kennedy is unfit, then you will have to select another officer to accompany you on your mission."
"Aye, sir," Horatio paused, then after a moment's hesitation added, "I'm certain he will be fine, sir. Dr. Hepplewhite is...well, he is...an ...excellent doctor."
Captain Pellew looked at Horatio, his eyes belying his amusement at the lack of conviction in Horatio's voice. As he leaned down to roll up the map he said,. "Hepplewhite is a ship's doctor, Mr. Hornblower, and I'm afraid in that line of work excellence is a little too much to hope for. Let us hope Mr. Kennedy is satisfied with merely adequate."
Archie sighed as he entered the sick berth. He knew he was going to hate this.
Thank God at least the sick berth wasn't crowded. It was a small, stuffy room, not well-ventilated and rather sinister, and if there were other patients - if there had been a battle, or an epidemic on the ship - Archie knew the cramped area would stink to high heaven. As it was, though, the place was empty and almost eerily quiet.
Archie cleared his throat and looked around. Damn Horatio's sharp eyes, no one else would have thought he had a fever, just to look at him. Maybe if he just went back to his cabin and laid down for a while...
Oh, don't be such a child. Just let Hepplewhite bleed you and get it over with. Just close your eyes and -
Archie jumped. He hadn't realized that he had faded out for a moment, and hadn't noticed Dr. Hepplewhite walking into the sick berth. Now there he was, standing in the doorway with his hands on his hips, a half-eaten piece of mutton clutched in one fist. He was glaring at Archie and waiting for an answer.
Archie hesitated, just for a moment. He didn't like that he hadn't noticed Hepplewhite's approach. Had the fever really made him that groggy? And he had never liked the doctor's brusque manner, and hadn't since their days together on the Justinian. No, not since -
- he's still staring at you, say something, confound it! -
Archie blinked a little and said, "I - Lieutenant Hornblower sent me down here, sir. Bit of a fever."
Hepplewhite let out a small, annoyed grunt and walked a short distance away, Archie assumed he had gone back where he came from. Dreading the next couple of hours, Archie removed his jacket and placed it carefully on one of the empty hammocks.
A few moments later Hepplewhite returned with a few bottles and the cloth that Archie knew held his medical instruments. Without further words he grabbed Archie's head and yanked one eyelid open. Then he asked, "Something you ate?"
"No, sir," Archie stammered, not liking the way Hepplewhite was jerking him around. It made him want to flinch away, but he'd done that once or twice on Justinian until Hepplewhite had rather cuttingly asked him what kind of King's man cowered like a damn little girl. Then Archie had tried to stop flinching, but it was hard. "I haven't had anything to eat since yesterday."
"Hm." Hepplewhite snapped Archie's eyelid down and put one hand on his jaw,pulling it roughly open. "Throwing up?"
"Hao ir," Archie replied, as best he could considering Hepplewhite had a firm grip on his speaking equipment.
Hepplewhite made a confused face and let go. "What?"
"No, sir," Archie repeated, moving his jaw about and trying to regain his composure. "I haven't been sick."
"How about shot? Stabbed? Any wounds, swelling, pus?"
Archie thought for a moment, almost said something, then shook his head.
"Hm!" Hepplewhite repeated, slapping the palm of one meaty hand on Archie's forehead for a moment. "Been after any whores?"
Archie blushed and quickly looked at the floor.
"Oh - right." Hepplewhite said, in a knowing way that Archie hated, because it reminded him of things he'd rather not think about, memories he didn't like bringing back, and more importantly long-ago confused memories that Hepplewhite knew about, because he had been there. He had been on the Justinian, with Jack Simpson. He had known. And done nothing.
"Well, it's not *that* then," Hepplewhite said with a small smirk as he took his hand away from Archie's forehead and turned away, "Thank God, I'm sick of watching sailors rotting away from the filth those whores drag in."
Archie nodded, and felt very self-conscious for no reason he could think of. He crossed his arms over his chest and hugged himself.
Dr. Hepplewhite was busy pulling things out of his cloth, and Archie had to struggle with himself not to make an excuse and leave. But no, it wasn't pleasant but he had to get rid of this fever, and there was only one way to do it. And he wasn't some damn little girl.
But something - "Dr. Hepplewhite?"
Hepplewhite didn't turn around. "What?"
Words flashed through Archie's mind, don't tell him. But Archie cleared his throat nervously and said softly, "I...lately my sleep has been disturbed, and what sleep I've had is troubled by nightmares. Is there something you could give me - ?"
Hepplewhite snorted and turned around. Archie heard the clinking of bottles as the doctor scrounged around in them. "You'd think I was care taking a nursery, the weak minded complaints I get in here. Nightmares! Who sees action in the navy and then doesn't have nightmares?" He turned back around, and thrust a small dark bottle into Archie's hands. "Take some of that."
Archie blinked at the unlabeled bottle. "What is it?"
Hepplewhite rolled his eyes. "Are you a bloody doctor? It's a tonic for sleep disturbance, from a friend of mine in London. I trust that will meet with Your Lordship's approval."
Archie took a deep breath and opened his mouth to ask something else -
"Now look here," Hepplewhite barked, "I'm very busy. Do you want to be rid of that fever or not?"
Archie swallowed and slipped the tonic in his pocket. "Yes - "
Hepplewhite frowned and held up his hands. In one he held a binding cloth, in the other an open razor.
"Then lie down," He commanded, the detachment in his eyes making Archie go cold all over, "And let's get this over with."
As evening neared the clear blue skies gave way to clouds and the hint of rain. Horatio paced up and down the boat deck, waiting for the marines he had selected for the rescue to appear so they could go ashore and get this mission done. As he rubbed his hands together against the chill, he looked up to see Archie coming toward him.
"Good evening, sir," Archie said with a slight smile and a salute.
Horatio returned it, noticing that his friend looked very pale and exhausted. "Lord, Archie, you look terrible. How are you feeling?"
Archie shrugged, squinted at the gray sky. "Fair enough, I suppose. The good doctor bled me and pronounced me healed, and he brooks no argument."
"Well, pardon me, but I'm in charge of this mission, and you look as if you're going to fall to the deck any moment. Go get some rest and I'll get anoth - "
"No," Archie replied fiercely, looking at Horatio with angry, determined eyes. "Please, Horatio, this will pass, Hepplewhite said it would now that he's bled me. You're going on an adventure and I refuse to be the weakling child who must be left behind."
Horatio saw the stern resolve in that haggard face, but hesitated. "I may need your assistance. Are you well enough to offer it?"
With a grim smile, Archie fished in his pocket and pulled out a shilling. Showing it to Horatio, he withdrew his pistol from his belt and tossed the coin into the air. Then he raised the pistol and fired.
The coin hit the deck with a loud jingle, a perfect hole shot through its middle.
Horatio met Archie's eyes with some admiration.
Archie gave him a cocky smile and picking up the coin handed it to his friend. "Well enough, Mr. Hornblower."
Both young men straightened at the sound of Captain Pellew's voice, booming through the twilight silence like a scythe through a hayfield. In a moment Pellew was right in front of them, his dark eyes full of ire.
"Captain Pellew, sir," Archie said, saluting smartly.
"Our objective in this rescue is surprise, Mr. Kennedy," Pellew said in a low voice, casting Horatio a sidelong glance as he spoke, "Would you alert the whole Spanish coast to our presence?"
"My apologies, sir," Archie stammered, turning even paler than he was before, "But I was demonstrating to Mr. Hornblower my readiness for this mission. He expressed doubts, sir."
"As well he should, Mr. Kennedy," the captain replied, looking Archie up and down with a scowl, "If Mr. Hornblower should require aid, it is your duty to provide it, and if he has any reason to think you unfit it is not your place to question his judgment. Is that understood?"
Pellew paused, studied Archie's face closer. "You've been to see Dr. Hepplewhite?"
Archie nodded. "Yes, sir. I've had a bit of a fever, and he bled me. Said that was all I needed, sir."
Pellew sighed, and Horatio could almost hear his thoughts. Hepplewhite is a ship's doctor and excellence is too much to hope for. Let us hope merely adequate will do.
Horatio caught Pellew's eye and said, "With your permission, sir - "
Pellew nodded. "Yes, Mr. Hornblower?"
"Sir, Mr. Kennedy was not questioning my judgment. I was in fact questioning his, because I thought he yet looked unwell."
Pellew's head came back. "And what is your final decision?"
Horatio shrugged a little, and held up the holed coin. "If I were a shilling I should think myself much imperiled, sir."
Pellew smiled almost imperceptibly as he put his hands behind his back and nodded. At that moment the marines arrived, and the captain looked them all over with a sage expression. "Very well, Mr. Hornblower, I leave you to your work. You have your orders, bring our men safely home."
Horatio saluted. "Aye aye, sir."
Pellew took a step away, then turned back. "Oh, and Mr. Kennedy?"
Archie's blue eyes snapped over. "Yes, sir?"
"A little more respect for our currency, if you please. It does bear the symbol of the crown, after all."
Archie nodded, and Horatio saw a little color return to his face as they prepared to launch the boat. "Yes, sir. I'll be certain to keep that in mind."
The Spanish coast was rocky and uneven, just as Horatio remembered it. The boulder-strewn terrain provided perfect cover, for the large rocks and bushes were easy to hide behind, and as they neared the small abandoned convent that Horatio knew housed the captured sailors, he noticed with satisfaction that the two guards standing watch had not seen them. With any luck this would go smoothly, and they could be back on the Indie for supper.
Thunder rumbled overhead; Horatio looked up at the sky as if to answer it. He had marked how rough the waters were on their way to the beach; if a storm broke, they would likely be unable to return to the Indie for several hours, until the winds and seas died down again. Horatio's eyes swept the craggy land around them keenly. They would need shelter...
As if in answer, the dark outlines of a small group of buildings became visible, just ahead of them, about half a mile downshore. There was no light in the windows; Horatio thought it must be an abandoned set of cottages. He marked the spot in his memory; likely they would all need such a haven, after the men of the Valiant had been rescued.
As he crept up the steep hill, pistol at the ready, Horatio glanced behind him and took a count of the other men. The marines were moving slowly, cautiously, and Horatio could barely see them in the gathering darkness. Very well; if he could not see them, neither could the Spanish.
Archie was in the rear, keeping an eye on what lay behind them and maintaining the line's movement. Horatio bit his lip; he was still unconvinced that Archie was completely well, and even from that distance he could see that his friend was struggling to keep up. Horatio cursed himself; if he'd had any sense at all, he would have ordered Archie to stay behind, and brought another officer. But Hepplewhite had declared Archie fit, and Archie himself seemed determined to prove himself well or perish trying.
Horatio sighed into the soft darkness. He was glad Archie's spirit had come so far since the days of the Justinian, but damn! It picked the worst times to be stubborn. Oh well, with any luck this would all be over soon and they could -
Spanish voices above, loud and frantic. A shot, too close, sprayed rock onto Horatio's face, cutting his cheek.
Damn! Turning quickly, Horatio hissed, "Get down!"
Everyone behind him instantly flattened themselves against the rock as bullets sparked all around them. Quickly, Horatio aimed his pistol and fired, bringing down one dim shadow from the wall, then another. Behind him, he heard the marines cocking their muskets,and in a few moments their shots toppled the two other men Horatio could see guarding the prisoners' hold. He reloaded his pistol hurriedly, waiting for the alarm to be raised and a horde of infuriated Spaniards to descend on them. Perhaps they could make it back to the boat -
Precious seconds passed, and Horatio lifted his gaze to the wall, cursed the darkness that was dimming his vision, and waited for the sound of Spanish boots on stone.
There were none.
Horatio tensed, glanced behind him and saw that the marines were leaning out of their hiding places and eying the hill expectantly. It was quiet, very quiet, when the air should have been ringing with warnings and gunfire. Slowly, Horatio stood and squinted at the wall, which was now only just visible against the darkening sky.
It was empty and still. No one was coming.
Horatio frowned. Even as an amateur operation, there should have been more than four men to guard eight English prisoners. Surely they were being surrounded?
He stood very still, strained his ears to listen. They were waist-high in loose rock and tall grass, it would have been impossible to move quietly. There was the sigh of the wind, the distant calls of night birds in the trees, the close rumble of thunder that announced the coming storm. And nothing else.
Horatio heard soft footsteps behind him, and turned to see Archie threading his way up the narrow passage of stone. As soon as he was close enough Archie whispered, "What's happening?"
Horatio shrugged and turned back to the wall. Still no one. "I don't know."
"How long do we - do we wait?"
Horatio caught the stutter in Archie's speech, the pause for breath. "A few minutes more, and be on our guard for attack. Then we'll move slowly to the top and through the gate." He looked in Archie's direction, even though in the near-darkness he could barely see him. "I'll brook no dishonesty, Mr. Kennedy. How are you feeling?"
A pause. "I've been better. Perhaps Dr. Hepplewhite should have removed - a few more pints."
Horatio cursed inwardly. "In that case, you will remain here while we retrieve the pris - "
"Archie - Acting Lieutenant Kennedy - the captain warned you about questioning my judgment."
"Your judgment be damned, who do you think picked off that last guard? I'm fine, I swear it."
Horatio pulled Archie closer to the rock wall, and listened once again for the sounds of hostile forces. When long moments passed and the silence continued, he put his hand on Archie's shoulder to signal an end to their argument and very slowly stood up.
Thunder. Wind. Nothing else.
Horatio turned around and signaled to the men behind him, then gingerly crept through the tall brush towards the wall, all the while listening and watching for more guerrillas. Up through the brush, along the dirt path to the front gate, and still no one appeared to challenge them. The interior of the former convent was lit, and Horatio peered into the small inner courtyard, expecting to see someone - anyone - but the courtyard was deserted. He carefully put one hand on the iron gate, tested it.
It was locked. Damn it.
The marines were clustering behind Horatio now, their guns bristling around him. Archie was at his side, his breathing labored but his eyes almost supernaturally bright. Nodding to them, he lifted up his pistol and put the barrel into the lock. If there were any guerrillas around, this would bring them running.
The sound echoed off the stone walls, through the courtyard, into the warm Spanish air. Horatio quickly swung the gate open and ushered his men inside, his eyes sweeping the weed-choked courtyard for the enemy, and before the last marine was through the gate his fears were finally answered. A door at the far end of the courtyard banged open, and a guerrilla ran out, pistols in both hands and screaming at the top of his lungs.
Ten guns went off at once, and the guerrilla fell in the courtyard dead.
Horatio paused, looked around the courtyard, waited. No more guerrillas appeared in the open doorway, and the courtyard fell once again into an eerie silence.
Horatio turned to the marine to his left. "Have the men fan out and secure the area. Post two marines at the gate." He said in a low voice.
The marine nodded, and as they fanned out Horatio looked around the abandoned buildings, wondering where they should start looking for the captured men of the Valiant.
"Hello? I say, who's out there?"
Horatio's eyes shot to the open door, and he froze where he stood. That sounded like an English voice...
Archie was beside him in an instant, his pistol aimed at the door. "Did you hear that?"
Horatio nodded, watching silently as the marines began to advance slowly toward the open door, and the golden sliver of light behind it. It could be a trap.
"Hello!" The voice said again, louder. The wind was beginning to pick up, and it was difficult to hear.
The marines were closer to the door, their bayoneted guns bristling in the amber light. Horatio took a tense step forward, trying to look everywhere at once. The Spanish could be hiding anywhere, and they all knew it.
The two marines closest to the door suddenly jumped forward and through it, and Horatio immediately stiffened and pulled up his gun to fire, bracing himself instinctively for the explosive roar of musket fire.
Instead of gunfire, however, all Horatio heard was a startled English voice bleating, "Bloody hell! Marines!"
Horatio blinked, and only then noticed that Archie had taken a half-step in front of him, and would have stood square in the way of any musket balls had any been fired. Impressed and unaccountably annoyed, Horatio straightened up and sighed. Archie shook his head a little, as if clearing it, and relaxed.
"On your guard, Mr. Kennedy," Horatio said under his breath as he looked around. "We are not back on the ship yet."
Archie nodded, and glanced toward the gate as Horatio trotted toward the open door. As he came closer, Horatio heard voices within:
"Don't worry, sir, we're from the Indefatigable."
"Oh, thank God!"
Another voice: "How many are you?"
The marine again: "Ten, sir."
Then Horatio was at the door, and looked inside.
The stone room was bare, but well-lit. The men of the Valiant were sitting on the floor, their hands bound with rough rope but otherwise uninjured. None of them were wearing their jackets, however, and Horatio was at a loss as to which of them was the captain. As the marines moved into the room and drew their knives, he cleared his throat and said, "Good evening, gentlemen, I am Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower of the Indefatigable. Are any of you injured?"
One of the men, a tall man with graying blond hair, stood up and smiled. "Ah, Mr. Hornblower, a welcome sight indeed! I am Captain Andrew Turner of the Valiant, and to answer your question we are all well."
"Which you can't say for the Spaniards." One of the Valiant's officers said dryly as a marine cut his bonds.
Horatio smiled a little at this, but said, "We managed to take down four of the men guarding you, and the one who was in this room. How many more may we expect?"
Turner glanced at his officers, then back at Horatio and said, "None."
Horatio frowned. "There are no other guards? No other guerrillas?"
Turner shook his head. "There were, but they're all dead now, or will be soon. It's a long story, Lieutenant, but I think you can rest assured your exit from this place will be much easier than your entrance."
Outside, Horatio could hear the soft patter of rain hitting the stone. He counted the men in the room swiftly, and came up with seven. "I was told there were eight of you. Was one of you lost?"
"No," Turner smiled, rubbing his wrists as he accepted a knife from another marine and bent to cut the bonds of another officer, "he's in the chapel."
Horatio nodded and glanced at the marine sergeant. "Very well. Sergeant, have the men make sure there are no surprises awaiting us while I go get fetch the last of the men."
The marine nodded, and Horatio turned toward the doorway to go -
- and almost ran directly into Archie, who was standing in the door and looked decidedly unwell.
"Is all secure, sir?" Archie asked in a low, tired voice.
Horatio backed up a step and scowled. "Oh, damn it, Archie, you look like hell!"
"A long hike up a Spanish mountain in the rain will do that to a man." Archie said lightly as he leaned against the doorframe and wiped his forehead with one arm. His skin glistened with rain and sweat.
Horatio sighed again. "Look, all's well here and I'm going to get the last of them. Find a quiet spot somewhere and get some rest - "
Archie's eyes flared in protest. "I may be unwell, sir, but I'm still fit to do my work. What do you need done?"
Horatio cursed Archie's stubbornness again. "Nothing, the marines are already searching the grounds for Spaniards - "
Archie straightened up and squared his shoulders, his expression one of almost cocky defiance. "Then with your permission, Lieutenant, I think I'll go give them a hand." he backed up a step and turned around.
Horatio pursed his lips and gave Archie his best aggravated glare. "Mr. Kennedy, I will not be responsible for you making yourself unfit for duty."
They were defensive words, meant in Horatio's mind to make Archie think twice about running himself down until he was too sick to go on. Therefore Horatio was surprised when Archie stopped and turned quickly, as if the words had shocked him. The look on Archie's face was one of wide-eyed astonishment.
"You're not responsible, Horatio." He said softly, desperate absolution in those ill blue eyes.
Then he turned and followed the marines.
Horatio blinked, unable to understand what Archie meant. Then he shook his head; there was ample time for riddles later. Glancing at Captain Turner again, Horatio gave him a small smile. "Wait here, Captain, I shall fetch your missing officer and return presently."
And without pausing again, he hurried out into the rain toward the dimly lit chapel. As he left he heard one of the officers say something to Captain Turner. He barely made out the words,
"You didn't tell him?"
- but he did not understand them in the least.
Horatio made sure his pistol was ready to fire long before he reached the chapel door.
It was still, as it had been ever since they arrived, but that did not make Horatio feel any better. Instead, it put him more on edge - who knew what lurked in the bushes, who may have crept unseen up a hidden road to ambush them all? It seemed safe, but Horatio's eyes still scanned every dark shadow, every rustling leaf. He knew better than to trust in silence.
The chapel door was slightly open, so Horatio sidled up to it as thunder crackled over his head, his eyes straining to see inside. There were candles lit, and in their glow beneath the plain crucifix and simple stained-glass windows Horatio made out several forms lying on the small pews, which had been moved away from the floor to line the walls instead. More bodies were lying on the bare floor, and in the shadows of the candles Horatio could not see if one of them was the missing Englishman.
Someone was kneeling on the floor next to one of the men, and as Horatio watched he crossed himself, and straightened up.
It was a Spaniard.
Sucking in his breath, Horatio felt his heart quicken as he gripped his pistol tighter. Summoning his courage, he threw open the door and before the other man could blink lifted his pistol and aimed it straight at the Spaniard's heart. Alarmed, his adversary threw up his hands and took a step backward.
Horatio looked over the other man quickly. He was tall, taller than Horatio, with sharp black eyes and long graying black hair that was loose, and hung past his shoulders. He was broad-shouldered and strong looking, dressed in an old dark-green coat, and looked to be about 45 or 50 years old.
Horatio glared at him. "I am Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower of His Majesty's Ship, the Indefatigable. I am here to remove the Englishmen you have imprisoned."
It was an earnest declaration, delivered in what Horatio thought his most commanding, Pellew-like tones. Certainly he had used a similar speech, to useful effect, before.
So why was this damned Spaniard smiling?
Fiercer, Horatio thought, and taking a deep breath he said, louder, "I warn you, I am prepared to die myself rather than leave without the Englishman here. I am sworn to my captain that he shall come to no harm."
The Spaniard lowered his hands a little bit and, quirking a smile at Horatio, asked, "Hadn't you better stop aiming a pistol at him then?"
For a very long moment the Spaniard's remark made no sense to Horatio. Then, very gradually, it sunk in that the other man's voice had a distinct English accent to it. Overwhelmed, Horatio lowered his pistol only a little and whispered, "What do you mean, sir?"
The other man shook his head with a smile and said, "I mean, Lieutenant, that I am the Englishman you seek." he lowered his hands and made a graceful bow. "I am Dr. Luis Sebastian, ship's surgeon of His Majesty's frigate the Valiant ."
Horatio's eyes swept over the other man again. His voice - his manner - his bearing suggested England, but the great dark eyes and skin... shaking his head Horatio said softly, "I am not sure I believe you."
"And yet it is true, nonetheless," the other man said lightly, still with the same disarming smile.
Horatio wasn't sure what to do. This man could easily be tricking him. This could all be a trick -
Captain Turner's voice behind him made Horatio flinch, but he did not take his eyes away from the Spaniard, who damnably refused to be intimidated. "Yes, sir?"
Footsteps, coming closer, then Turner's voice almost in his ear. "Oh, now, none of that! I'm sorry, Luis, he bolted out of the room before I had time - "
Horatio's brain swam. Luis?
The Spaniard gave Horatio another glance, then shrugged as he knelt down next to one of the prostrate forms on the floor. "Forgiven, sir, I can see this one has all the impetuosity of youth. I am envious of his energy, in fact. Although I do give thanks that he is not quicker with the pistol."
Oh, God. Mortification began to sink in as Horatio realized that he had, in fact, very nearly shot the Valiant's doctor. Quickly lowering his gun Horatio stammered. "Captain Turner, you mean - am I to understand that this gentleman - "
Captain Turner clapped a hand on Horatio's shoulder and laughed. "Yes, Mr. Hornblower, he's who he says he is, don't worry. We tried to get him to stay with us, but, well..."
Horatio looked around him then, really looked and saw that all of the men who were on the floor were Spanish, and recently dead. But there was no blood. "What happened?"
"Food poisoning," Dr. Sebastian said matter-of-factly as he gently closed the eyes of the man at his feet. Standing, he continued, "When they had captured us, they killed some chickens to celebrate, and everyone ate. Then they began to get sick."
Horatio's expression changed from confusion to wonderment as he looked at Dr. Sebastian again. "And you treated them?"
Dr. Sebastian's dark eyes snapped to Hornblower's, and he shook his head. "They would not let me. I watched them die."
Turner sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "Yes, unfortunately these bastards didn't trust our doctor until it was too late. By this afternoon the whole gang of them were dead or dying, except for the five you killed coming in. Fortunate for you, I suppose."
Horatio stared at the bodies, lined up neatly under flickering candles. "I'm sorry, I don't understand. If they didn't let you treat them, how is it that you are among them now?"
Dr. Sebastian spread his hands wide. "They are fools, Mr. Hornblower, but that is no reason for them to die without comfort or prayers. When they all became very ill I was unbound so that I may care for them."
Horatio's eyes widened. "You were saying prayers over them?"
Dr. Sebastian nodded. "Prayers for the dying. And, ultimately, prayers for the dead."
Horatio blinked very slowly. "I see," he said, but he didn't. Not at all.
Beside him, Captain Turner took a step forward and surveyed the men at their feet. "I suppose they're all dead now?"
Sebastian gave another nod, sadder this time, and lifted his head to gaze around the small chapel. "The last one about half an hour past. We should at least cover them, sir, before we go. It would be the right thing to do."
"We'll find something," Turner said, looking at Horatio expectantly. "Well, lieutenant, what now?"
Just then one of the marines approached and said to Horatio, "Sir, we've located a storeroom stocked with arms and ammunition. We've also found the officers' belongings."
Horatio nodded. "Very well, sergeant, kindly provide the captain here and his men with means to defend themselves should it be required."
"Aye sir." The marine replied, and hurried off in the pouring rain.
Horatio brought himself back from the world of confusion he'd been visiting, looked at the captain with what he hoped was something approaching authority. Eying the rain outside he said, "It would be folly to attempt to return to the Indefatigable in this weather, however we should leave this place as soon as possible. As soon as your men are ready, we will make our way to a place of safety on the shore, and wait for the storm to pass."
Turner nodded with a satisfied look. "I'll go inform my officers."
Horatio looked at the floor as Turner left, uncertain how to deal with his embarrassment at nearly decimating the Valiant's surgeon. As soon as Turner was gone he leaned against the chapel's open doorway and stared glumly into the pouring rain.
He'd nearly shot an Englishman. Thank God Pellew hadn't seen him! How would he have explained it? Well, sir, I regret my impetuousness of course, but he didn't have 'Englishman' hallmarked anywhere visible, so you see I had to shoot him...Horatio groaned. He would have been a hanged man for certain.
And blast this rain! It would delay their return to the ship, and every moment the Indie lingered in hostile waters she risked eight hundred lives. But to set to sea in a jollyboat with almost twenty men in this weather would be madness. Horatio chafed at his helplessness.
And then there was Archie, curse his pigheadedness, there he was now, carrying a load of muskets into the room opposite the chapel as if there was nothing wrong with him at all. He's sick, Horatio thought in frustration, but he'll fall dead rather than admit it. He doesn't have to prove anything, dammit, why is he being so obstinate? Why is he being so -
"Excuse me, lieutenant."
Horatio almost jumped. He'd forgotten Dr. Sebastian was still in the chapel. Turning, he saw that the taller man was standing almost at his elbow, and was regarding him sympathetically.
For some reason, this put Horatio instantly on guard. "Yes, doctor?"
"My work here is done for the moment," Dr. Sebastian said softly, indicating the dead men lying stark in the candlelight, "And I was wondering if I might assist you in anything."
Archie, Horatio thought instantly, then reconsidered. It was unlikely Archie would be any more forthcoming with an unfamiliar doctor than he was with Hepplewhite, and in any case he kept insisting he was fine. Horatio decided against subjecting this physician to his friend's bullheadedness. "No, thank you, sir. Not unless you have control of the weather."
It was a sorry joke, but Dr. Sebastian smiled and put his hands behind his back. "Captain Turner will tell you later that you did a fine job, so before we join my shipmates allow me to outrank him for once and be the first to say, thank you for rescuing us, lieutenant. For one of your age, I am impressed indeed."
Horatio worked his way through the statement, and decided it was a compliment. "Thank you, sir. I only do as my captain bids me."
"As any good officer." Dr. Sebastian replied.
Horatio paused a moment, his mind roiling in shame, then blurted, "Sir, please forgive me for mistaking you for the enemy earlier, it was - it was most rash - "
The doctor's grin grew wider, and for an instant Horatio thought he might laugh, and cringed inwardly. But the eyes remained friendly, not mocking, as the doctor said, "No, lieutenant, it was the English in you, the fierce lion protecting the cubs in its charge. You are not the first man to hold my heritage against me." He turned and gazed wistfully at the grim congregation behind them. "And I am sure you will not be the last."
Horatio was unsure how to read this man, and so said, "Nevertheless, my actions were wrong, and I extend my apologies."
"And I accept them," Dr. Sebastian said with a twinkle in his black eyes as he walked through the chapel door and into the rain. "If only to get you to cease apologizing to me."
Archie fought to keep up with the rest of the men in the pouring rain and cursed his luck.
Horatio had gotten everyone out of the convent, had made sure they were all armed and had food and supplies, then began the walk back to the beach. It was still pouring down rain, so Horatio declared, with that captain - captain, what was his name - with his assent, that they should all go to this old theater until the weather cleared...
Old theater? No, it's a stand of cottages. Damn! Damn this fever...
Archie hated being sick. He hated letting Horatio down. And worst of all, he hated doing it on a mission, where everyone could see his weakness and whisper about it. It was embarrassing, and would have been more so if he could think clearly enough to be aware of his surroundings.
But thinking clearly was getting difficult. And that worried Archie very much.
He closed his eyes for a moment, involuntarily, but when the world began to tilt he snapped them open again. Archie did not want to sleep because in fevers his dreams were always terrible, he always woke up screaming, and that would never do, not here. Not in front of everyone -
- what kind of King's man cowers like a little girl? -
No. He couldn't sleep.
But Archie knew he needed to sleep. His body cried out for it, to mend and heal, but Archie knew if he slept he would only slip into that nightmare world again, and he would rather die than go there...unconsciously, Archie's hand wandered to his side, where the pain was, and he winced when he touched the skin there, through his jacket and shirt; it felt like it was on fire. The pain had started again, that deep, red ache across his midsection which first started after one of Simpson's vicious beatings, many years ago. The pain would be intense, cause a fever, then abate to return again months later. He had thought this time that Hepplewhite should know about it, but Archie was always ashamed of those injuries in front of the stone-faced doctor, because he had been there when the hurt was new, when Archie had come to him doubled in pain and badly bruised, and Dr. Hepplewhite had done nothing but bleed him and send him away. His indifference made Archie feel humiliated.
So this time, like every other time, Archie had retreated to his cabin after he had been bled white, and biting his lip against the pain had curled up but gotten no sleep, only fractured shards of rest singed by the relentless fever. That fever was burning him now, filling his mind and body with delirious, illogical thought. As he walked along behind the other officers, Archie fought to maintain his grip on reality, but at every step it seemed to slip away.
He was walking with the men of the Valiant, back to the Indie. Then his mind would shift, and he was being taken to the Spanish prison where he knew endless nights and the oubliette awaited. Then he was trapped in an endless darkness, somewhere on Justinian, and it was raining, and that was bad because when it was raining Simpson was always bored, he always got drunk, and when Archie was sick it was worse because when the black shadows came he was helpless, helpless -
A flash of lightning made Archie gasp and stumble, and remembering where he was he shook his head and fought to clear his mind. But it was such a dark night, and it was so hot and cold at once, and the men in front of him were no longer men but ghosts, only black and silver shadows in the relentless rain...
I can't let this defeat me, Archie swore resolutely as he trudged along, his bleary eyes barely focusing on the slim figure at the front of the line, leading them on. I won't be a burden, and I'm going to get better. I'm not a child, I'm not helpless, I'm not on the Justinian, it doesn't hurt.
Only it did hurt. And Archie knew all he could do was walk on in the darkness, and hope it would not get worse.
The cottages near the beach were a decaying batch of four thrown-together shacks, perhaps part of a long-gone fishing village. There was precious little useful in any of them, except some broken furniture and dry fireplaces. Horatio chose the largest cottage as their housing, ordered the men to get a fire lit, and set the marines to stand watch for anyone who might see the light and become suspicious.
While the men were breaking up a rotting chair to use for wood, one of the Valiant's officers produced a candle and flint and soon the cottage was bathed in a low golden light. Horatio looked at the thick thatched roof and sighed; at least it wasn't leaking.
While the Valiant's men and the four marines who weren't on watch were milling about the fireplace, Horatio took a head count to reassure himself that everyone was present. When Archie came up missing the first two times, Horatio started to panic; then he spied his friend, standing almost entirely outside of the cracked-open cottage door, and relaxed.
Then he saw Archie lean heavily against the doorpost in a near-faint, and became tense again.
Weaving his way past the small crowd at the fireplace, Horatio made his quiet way to Archie's side and said, "Mr. Kennedy - "
Archie jumped, then turned around, obviously startled. "What? I - I mean, yes, sir?"
In the dim light Horatio was alarmed to see that Archie's face looked horribly pale, and there was an unfocused look to his eyes. He sighed, and hoped that in his weakened state Archie would not fight him further. "Mr. Kennedy, the quarters are secured and we will see no more action until the storm passes. As your commanding officer, I order you to find a quiet corner and get some rest."
Archie's eyes darted to the men gathered in front of the fireplace, which was now flickering with the birth pangs of a fire. He shook his head and looked back out at the rain. "I don't want to sleep."
Horatio frowned. Archie's tone had a petulant, almost childlike quality to it that he didn't understand. Recalling his father's ways with stubborn patients, Horatio said more softly, "Archie, you won't get better if you don't sleep, and I may need your help soon. So please obey my order and - "
Archie shook his head more forcefully, glancing over his shoulder at the Valiant's men. "Not here." He swallowed and ducked his head away, to the cold breeze that was coming in through the door. "God, it's so hot - "
Growing more alarmed at Archie's words, Horatio thought again of his father's methods and put a hand to Archie's cheek, to see if the fever was worsening.
He only managed a light touch before Archie flinched away with a frantic, hissed, "Don't."
Horatio started. It was as if Archie was afraid of him. His voice was trembling, like it did on that night so long ago on the Justinian, after Simpson came back.
After Simpson -
Then Horatio understood.
Archie was almost swaying in the doorway, fainting on his feet with exhaustion. Casting a wary look toward the officers by the fire, Horatio leaned a little closer and said, "Archie - "
Archie half-turned toward him, and Horatio saw that in his fevered delirium Archie's face had gone soft and frightened. Horatio knew then that he was speaking not to an acting lieutenant in His Majesty's Navy, but to the sick, terrified child who huddled within. God only knew what long-dormant terrors were being reawakened in his friend's mind from the fever and lack of sleep. But now he just had to get Archie to take care of himself. His cheek had been hot as a burning brand... "Archie, you don't have to sleep here but you must get some rest. There are three other cottages just nearby, we'll find a quiet spot in one of them and I'll make certain no harm comes to you. Then will you follow my orders?"
Archie blinked slowly, his wavering eyes traveling to another smaller cottage not far away. He squinted at it, then nodded, as if he was dreaming.
"Good," Horatio smiled, relieved that he had gotten somewhere at any rate. "Stay here for a moment, I'll see if I can't find you a blanket and some means of warmth. Then you'll get some sleep."
Archie nodded again, but Horatio wasn't sure just how much of what he was saying was actually sinking in. Cursing himself again for not making Archie stay on the ship, and cursing Dr. Hepplewhite in the same breath for pronouncing an obviously sick man well, Horatio turned and wove his way back among the officers to fetch a lantern.
Archie wasn't sure when Horatio left his side, but that didn't matter because time was expanding and contracting, making minutes into days and hours into moments. Rain, thunder, flashes of lightning - everything seemed unreal, as if he were looking at a painting. Archie leaned against the doorframe and felt himself floating, and fought the sensation long enough to glance behind him, then dig in his pocket for the bottle of tonic Hepplewhite had given him back on the ship. He found it, pulled it out, and stared at it.
Archie didn't want to drink the tonic. It might have laudanaum in it, which would make his nightmares worse, not drive them away. But he knew that he would sleep soon, whether he liked it or not, and without some drug to soothe his fears he knew what would happen. In the rain and the thunder and the razor-sharp stabs of lightning, he knew what would come for him in the night -
Taking a deep breath, Archie uncorked the bottle of tonic and, with one eye on the demons that only he could see, drank half of it down. Then he stared with unfocusing eyes toward the little cottage that seemed half a mile away, hoping he could find rest there, and such sleep as his wary soul could afford.
"Mr. Hornblower," Captain Turner said, shifting away from the officers who were now pulling out flasks of brandy and cigars, "Come and warm yourself, man. You deserve it."
"Presently, sir," Horatio replied politely, picking up the nearest lantern he could find. "I'm afraid one of my officers has fallen ill, and I must attend to him first."
"Oh?" Turner's gaze shifted to Dr. Sebastian, who was standing by the mantel. "Luis - ?"
The doctor smiled. "Of course, I would be honored to see to one of those who secured my freedom - "
Horatio thought hastily and held up one hand. "No, that - won't be necessary, he's already seen our ship's doctor, I'm certain it will pass." That sounded foolish, perhaps, but Horatio didn't know how to tell this obviously kind but unfamiliar man that in his current feverish state Archie might fall into a fit, or cry out something that would embarrass and shame him later. No, Archie would say himself that it would be better if he simply slept it off. "But - sir, if I may beg some provisions to see to his care - "
Captain Turner waved toward the mens' belongings, which were spread out in the corner. "Of course. Help yourself."
Horatio smiled his thanks and made his way to the corner, trying not to notice that although Captain Turner had gone back to the fire, the doctor continued to look at him with a slightly puzzled expression on his face. Horatio did not want to have to explain - to the doctor, Captain Turner, or anyone - that there was another reason he was reluctant to accept this doctor's help. One he didn't like to dwell upon.
The presence of Captain Turner had made Horatio want to seem in command and mature, and his earlier debacle with Dr. Sebastian added to Horatio's anxiety. He had accepted Turner's praise but did not believe it, was firmly convinced that this mission was failing horribly, and did not want to add to the disaster by having a doctor he did not know - and only recently was aiming a pistol at - discover that Horatio was, in fact, not in control of his own mission.
No, Horatio knew he had to handle this himself,unless forced to do otherwise. It was his only hope of ever being taken seriously.
As Horatio moved to locate a blanket, or any kind of covering that wasn't soaked through, he became aware of footsteps behind him, then beside him, and was not surprised at all when he looked up and saw Dr. Sebastian's calm eyes gazing down at him.
The doctor's voice was low and concerned. "Are you certain there is nothing I can assist you with, lieutenant?"
Horatio sighed with impatience and turned toward the man, who was now a flickering ghost in the uncertain light of the fire. "Again, sir, my thanks for your offer, but my men are my responsibility and I will see to their needs - "
Dr. Sebastian's smile was gentle, almost amused as he cocked his head and studied Horatio curiously, but did not say anything. Determined to ignore him, Horatio began sifting through the supplies, but they were mostly soaked with rain. Damn, he thought. Damn -
The doctor had turned around, and when he turned back Horatio saw that he held a large bundle wrapped in oilcloth.
"My blanket," the doctor said, a gleam in his dark eyes but his voice deep and serious, "And my medicines too."
Horatio blinked at the bundle as the doctor untied it with deft hands to reveal a dry blanket and a large well-worn leather pouch, much like the one Horatio had seen his own father travel with. He stared at it for a moment, surprised.
"You have my leave to borrow them, lieutenant," Horatio heard the doctor say, and there was just the hint of humor in his voice, "I promise I will not think less of you."
Horatio shook his head a bit to clear the sudden homesickness from it, and looked up at Dr. Sebastian with a relenting expression. As he reached for the bundle he managed a smile. "I am in your debt, sir, and I swear there was no disparagement meant - "
"And none taken," Dr. Sebastian said with a smile as he pressed the bundle into Horatio's hand, "You would not be the first to think my skin is too dark to be trusted."
Horatio's eyebrows flew up, and he stammered, "Not at all, sir, I merely - I - "
The doctor's smile told Horatio he was teasing, and after a moment Horatio became too flustered to even try to cover his embarrassment, and looked at the floor. When he looked back up again, however, Horatio noticed that the doctor's keen eyes were looking past him, and his expression had changed to one of subtle worry.
"Where is your man," The doctor asked quietly, "the one who has fallen ill?"
Oh, Horatio thought, and turned toward the door where he had left Archie. "He's waiting for me by the d - "
He stopped, and muttered an oath in shock.
The door was open, the warped and broken wood drenched in the pouring rain.
But the portal was empty.
Archie was gone.
As soon as Archie stumbled into the door of the cottage, he knew he was in trouble.
At least, part of him knew. Some small part of him, tucked away from the nightmare world that fever and exhaustion and unknown things were driving him into knew that something bad was happening, that something was wrong and must be stopped, but Archie couldn't stop it, and that small part knew that too.
The rain had chilled him, struck him with razor-sharp intensity. He had scarcely known where he was going when he stumbled out of the doorway into the darkness, knew only that he could no longer wait, and had to rest. The fever heightened every sense, made the rain sound like cannon fire, the chill feel like the coldest winter, tore his reality apart and remade it into bizarre, unrealistic shapes that Archie couldn't recognize. He had staggered the distance between the cottages without knowing he was moving, then shoved open the door to the cottage and almost fell inside. There was almost no light, but the grey murkiness coming through the open windows showed a bare room, a few scraps of broken furniture, and a pile of ratty straw ticking shoved into one dirty corner.
Archie barely made it to the ticking before he collapsed. With a sickening jolt he felt a spasm wrench his body, and turning his head he felt himself throw up onto the cold stone floor. Something was horribly wrong, but Archie couldn't fight it, stared helplessly up at the ceiling as the world spun around him, kaliedescoped inward, then back out again. Oh God, where was he? Darkness, pain, fear - where was he - not home - not England -
- oh God -
His mind raced, scampered from one detached thought to another like a mouse chased by a pack of hungry cats. No, no, it wasn't Justinian, but it was, oh God! The pain in his stomach flared again, and Archie rolled over onto his side and clutched at it, nearly crying with hysteria because he couldn't let Simpson see him in pain, couldn't let that bastard know he was hurting, God, why hadn't someone given him something for the pain? Everywhere, cold eyes and hard unfeeling hands, but no help and now he was trapped on Justinian and there was no door, no door -
- and something was very wrong -
The tonic, Archie thought hazily as nausea gripped him again - the tonic, it was supposed to help him sleep, but instead of soft darkness and welcome oblivion Archie watched in horror as his world shattered, rearranged, and came back again, over and over in a thousand terrifying scenes, joined by nothing but the paralyzing fear they held for him. Archie knew in a vague way the tonic had laudanum in it, knew he was hallucinating, but there was something else, a horrible pounding in his chest that Archie had never felt before. His heart was beating so hard it hurt, hurt terribly, and that scared Archie, but he couldn't stop it, couldn't stop it and Simpson was coming -
- oh no -
There was a huge flash of white light, a giant crack of thunder, and as Archie curled himself into a tight ball on the ticking he felt his universe shift and change, heard the hard rumble of rain and shivered as he realized he wasn't on the Justinian after all. That had been only a nightmare, he'd had so many of those here in the dark and cold of the oubliette, but this was so much worse. Much worse - Archie heard himself whimper, shut his eyes tight against the pain and cried because it had been a dream, all a dream, and he had not known it - he was still in the oubliette, Horatio had never come, Horatio was dead, they were all dead, floating in the waters around the Papillon and it was all his fault, all his fault and oh God! Why couldn't he die? Why couldn't he -
The flash and crack of thunder again, and Archie held his hands over his ears and trembled as if he would fly apart. With his last ounce of strength he scrabbled to hold onto reality, told himself even as he slipped away that it wasn't real, it wasn't real, Justinian was gone, Simpson was dead, he was free of the oubliette and Horatio was there, but oh God it was slipping it's not true none of it is true I'm back on Justinian back in the oubliette but that can't be but it is and it hurts it hurts, oh God somebody help me -
- then his last ounce of strength was gone, and Archie felt himself fall into a darkness that was bottomless and steeped with knives. And screamed.
Horatio was frantic as he almost ran to the open door and out into the rain, the doctor's bundle still in his hands.. Damn, where had Archie gone? It was black out, so black Horatio could barely even see the half-dozen feet to the nearest cottage, and his mind raced with the possibilities - he could have gone to any of the other cottages, there were at least four, or in his delirium he could have wandered off anywhere. even into the sea...
And Hepplewhite had said he was fine. Confound the man!
The rain was loud, the roar of the sea deafening, and Horatio knew that even if he yelled Archie's name it would never be heard. Deciding to search the cottages first, he hurried to the first one, shoved open the rotting door and looked inside. There was only darkness.
Suddenly someone was beside him, and with a start Horatio noticed it was Dr. Sebastian, who was holding two lit lanterns in his hands. Without waiting to explain or excuse himself, Horatio took one and thrust it into the tiny dwelling. It was empty.
"Damn!" Horatio cursed, and backed out of the blasted space to search the next cottage. He saw an uncertain light bobbing a short distance away, surmised it was the doctor and knew without a doubt that the mission was a total disaster. How in the world was he going to explain to Captain Pellew why the Valiant's doctor was out in the rain looking for one of his men who had wandered off?
Horatio shook off his despair and made his way among the ruined cottages, cursing the rain and his own bad luck. Lightning shot through the sky, followed by an enormous clap of thunder, and Horatio squinted against the sudden light, momentarily blinded. For a moment he froze, unable to move as the whiteness dazzled him.
Then he heard it.
Close by. A weak, terrified scream -
Horatio was on that sound in a second, found the nearby cottage with it door burst inward and rushed through the door, his lantern making huge swinging arcs in the cold bare room. For an instant he saw only gray randomness. Then something moved on the floor -
"Archie!" Horatio called, quickly setting the lantern and bundle down on the floor and hurrying to his friend's side. Archie was curled up into a ball, one arm wrapped around his middle and the other flung up over his face, and he was shivering violently. A fit, Horatio thought instantly, but it didn't seem like a fit, at least not yet Without thinking, Horatio put one hand on Archie's shoulder in a desperate effort to calm him down. "Archie - "
"No! " Archie cried in a hoarse, terrified voice, and shrank away from Horatio's touch as if it were burning hot. Wrapping his arm tighter around his middle Archie sobbed, "Oh God please don't - "
"Archie, it's me," Horatio said urgently, leaning closer to put a hand to his friend's forehead, "It's Horatio, you're all right - "
With manic strength Archie wrenched himself away from Horatio's grasp, rolling from the ticking and onto his back as he did so. His eyes flew open, and Horatio saw with horror that they were blue-white with unseen torments, and Archie couldn't see him at all. Not at all -
Archie shook his head violently, his blond hair flying in his face. "No - no, you're dead! Leave me alone!"
Horatio put both hands out to steady Archie's trembling. "Dead? Archie, I'm not - "
With a terrified cry Archie balled himself up again, turning his face away from Horatio and sobbing wordlessly.
Horatio was on the verge of a panic. Archie was in the grips of a nightmare, and nothing was pulling him out. A fit might be moments away, and in Archie's fever-weakened state Horatio wasn't sure a seizure wouldn't kill him. The merest touch seemed to make things worse - but he couldn't sit by and do nothing!
Suddenly another light bobbed into the room, and Horatio looked over his shoulder to see Dr. Sebastian's tall frame filling the doorway. An instant later he was hastening to kneel in front of Archie with the dry blanket in his hands, his dark eyes scanning the younger man's trembling frame.
"What happened?" He asked, quickly covering Archie with the blanket.
Horatio shook his head. "I don't know, he - he's had a fever, but the ship's surgeon bled him and said he would recover. He seemed to be getting worse, so I told him to lie down - "
Dr. Sebastian was leaning closer to Archie, and Horatio was surprised that this relative stranger looked almost as worried as he himself felt. "Did the surgeon give him anything?"
Horatio shook his head and shrugged. "I don't know."
The doctor put his right hand on Archie's shoulder and patted Archie's jacket with his left, and Horatio winced inwardly as his friend gasped and tried to pull away. Archie took another quick, gasping breath and muttered something that Horatio didn't understand, but he saw Dr. Sebastian's expression change and felt his stomach drop. It was bad enough that he himself was being undone by this cursed mission - but to have Archie's innermost tortures revealed to a stranger as well -
Surprisingly, though, whatever Archie had said Dr. Sebastian seemed to disregard, for a moment later he looked up at Horatio and said sternly, "You need to light a fire, quickly, but I need my kit first."
Galvanized by the authority in the doctor's voice - so like his own father's in tone - Horatio sprang up to do his bidding, bringing the bundle to Dr. Sebastian's side in both trembling hands. "You know what's troubling him?"
"No, but I can guess at part of it," Dr. Sebastian's tone was acid as he held up a small bottle, "He's taken some kind of tonic, who knows what was in it. He's thrown up some, but to be safe the rest needs to come up too. Now please hurry, lieutenant."
Nodding, and wondering in the back of his mind why Archie would take anything when he was so afraid of nightmares, Horatio quickly set the medical kit at Dr. Sebastian's feet, and went to light the fire.
Captain Pellew paced in his cabin, pausing every once in a while to glare at the rain that was slashing against the night-blackened windows. Every rumble of thunder made him jolt, every creak of the old ship made him stop his movement and think, they're back. They're home -
Then the silence would tell him otherwise, and he would resume pacing once more.
Over the sound of the rain Pellew heard footsteps approach, heard a knock on his door. His dark eyes darted to the sound. "Come."
The cabin door opened, and Bracegirdle appeared, his face ruddy with the chill and every inch of him, from top hat to oilcloth slicker, dripping with rain. "Sir - "
Pellew felt his impatience spring to his lips. "Well?"
Bracegirdle paused, then shook his head. "Nothing yet, sir, I'm sorry. I'm certain they're waiting for the storm to pass, Lieutenant Hornblower knows better than to attempt navigating an open sea in this kind of weather."
Pellew paused, glared out the window once again, half-hoping the bad weather knew how much he despised it. "Quite so, Mr. Bracegirdle. Let us hope Mr. Hornblower and his party were successful in their mission and are merely delayed. Keep watch if you please, and inform me the moment the weather clears and you sight them."
Bracegirdle nodded. "Aye aye, sir." He took in breath as if to say something else, and paused.
Pellew noticed this, and pounced on it. "Yes?"
"Um - " Bracegirdle reached up and rubbed his lip with a nervous expression. "On my way here I chanced upon the surgeon and he - well, he'd like a word with you, sir."
Pellew scowled. "A word? On what subject?"
Bracegirdle shrugged helplessly. "He didn't say, but he did accompany me here." His blue eyes glanced at the cabin door, almost regretfully.
Pellew took the meaning in an instant. With an exasperated sigh he said, "Oh, dammit, all right! Show him in, but I hope he's not in the mood for a long conversation."
Bracegirdle nodded with an apologetic smile. "God help him if he is." he muttered, and backed out of the room with a small salute.
Pellew paced to a spot behind his desk, put his hands behind his back and frowned, feeling the beginnings of a headache coming on. Damn this rain -
Footsteps behind him, the sound of someone clearing their throat. Already aggravated, Pellew turned around and looked into the small dull eyes of Dr. Hepplewhite. Forcing himself to be polite Pellew smiled a little and said, "Doctor, you wished to see me?"
"Yes, captain," Hepplewhite said in his usual flat unfriendly tone, "I am most concerned for the welfare of this ship, and when I am witness to any type of unprofessional behavior on the part of the men, I consider it my duty to report it no matter the hour. Begging your pardon, sir."
Pellew sighed and briefly closed his eyes. "Yes, doctor?"
"Captain Pellew," Hepplewhite continued, rolling out his words as if they were red carpets, "It is my solemn duty to report to you that I believe Acting Lieutenant Kennedy has a chronic problem with malingering."
Pellew's eyes came up sharply. "Kennedy?"
Hepplewhite nodded gravely. "He was in my sick berth this morning, complaining as he often has of a fever and an inability to sleep."
Pellew tilted his head and studied Hepplewhite sharply. "He did not have a fever?"
Hepplewhite shrugged a bit, "That is my point, sir. He had a mild fever, easily cured by bleeding, but such minor illness is common on board any ship, as are sleeping problems. Most of the men don't even bother me with such nonsense, but Mr. Kennedy sees fit to plague me with his complaints almost constantly. Quite frankly, his - fragile constitution concerns me and I thought it should be brought to your attention."
Pellew pursed his lips and focused his eyes on the desk. From Hepplewhite's tone it was obvious he was but a few syllables away from calling Archie Kennedy a coward. Kennedy, who Pellew knew had been through trials that would have broken most men, the smug Hepplewhite included. Pellew took a deep breath, and chose his words very, very carefully.
"Dr. Hepplewhite," He said slowly, "I appreciate your concern over Mr. Kennedy's well-being, and for you diligence in bringing his infirmities to my attention." He paused. "You have known Mr., Kennedy for a long time, have you not?"
"Yes, sir," Hepplewhite answered immediately, "Since his days as a midshipman aboard the Justinian."
Justinian. A name young Kennedy rarely brought up at dinnertime conversations, and never without veiled eyes and a tone laced with unpleasant memories. "Has he always been sickly?"
Hepplewhite frowned, seemed to think this over, then shrugged again in surrender. "I'm not entirely sure, but I seem to recall he was. Or he thought he was." He paused, then said, "You know, sir, he has had fits."
The way he said 'fits' reminded Pellew of the way some men said 'Frenchmen' or 'Spaniards'. Pellew considered this, then allowed a bit of a sarcastic smile to tint the edge of his lips. "And yet this malingering youth managed to survive a Spanish prison. Remarkable, eh?"
Hepplewhite hesitated, then shook his head. "Merely proof of my accusations, sir. He was seldom as ill as he said he was. But he has always been in my mind, rather...weak."
Pellew walked around his desk, his eyes never leaving Hepplewhite. "Weak, you say! Yes, so weak that not a full day after being brought back from that prison he insisted on returning to it, with the pallor of confinement still on his cheeks, to honor the word of another officer. And more weakness yet, that he committed feats of heroism at Muzillac that would cause most 'healthy' officers to tremble in their boots! If what Mr. Kennedy has is weakness, sir, then pray tell me how I can spread his affliction to some of the others on board. Then we should have no further need for war. Or surgeons."
Hepplewhite's eyes narrowed into slits, and Pellew knew he suspected the half-mocking tone in his captain's words. Suspected, but would not challenge. Pellew knew that, too.
Instead, Hepplewhite drew in a slow breath and said, "Sir, I have brought this matter before you as is dictated by the requirements of my station. Whether you choose to act on the information is up to you. I can only impart what my training and experience have shown me."
"And for the fruits of your training and your experience I thank you," Pellew said lightly, turning away to once more navigate his way around the desk and gaze out at the storm-ridden night. "Now good night."
Pellew guessed that Hepplewhite would not press the matter if dismissed, and he was right. He could see the doctor's stiff bow reflected in the rain-streaked glass, heard his 'harrumph' that passed for a parting word, and saw him turn and grump his way out of the cabin.
As soon as Hepplewhite was gone, Pellew turned around with a barely-suppressed growl. He did not know the doctor well, had tolerated him because of the need of a surgeon - any kind of surgeon - on board, but by God! To take a young man's fears and afflictions, and turn them into scars of dishonor! Especially when one has taken an oath to heal such wounds, not add to them...such behavior was beyond hypocrisy. And to have to tolerate such loathsome behavior for lack of anyone better qualified... it left a taste in Pellew's mouth as bitter as gall.
Thunder rumbled in the distance, bringing more immediate concerns to mind, and once again Pellew turned his eyes to the glistening raindrops that scattered themselves against the fragile glass, and sighed. The night seemed to bring only malfeasance and ill will, and contending with Hepplewhite had only made his mood worse. Pellew watched the restless, forbidding night that lay just outside his window, and took consolation that whatever was happening onshore, at least Hornblower was in command, and that meant that everything was in total control.
Horatio had never felt more helpless in his entire life.
He had managed to get a fire going in the little fireplace of the abandoned cottage, had notified Captain Turner of what was going on, had even procured a pot to boil water in after Dr. Sebastian had said he needed it. But as he stared at the flames and tried not to listen to Archie's groans, Horatio felt like an absolute failure. Worse, if that were possible
He glanced over his shoulder into the recesses of the gloomy little hut. Archie was still delirious, had thrown up a few more times, and was still curled over onto his side. The doctor was leaning over him, one hand on his shoulder, and it looked to Horatio like they were having some sort of conversation. At least Archie wasn't thrashing around anymore, was in fact lying quite still. Except for his cries of pain and still-violent trembling, Horatio would have been unsure his friend was still alive.
And it was all his fault! Horatio turned back to the fire to where the water was nearly boiling, and fought the urge to bury his face in his hands in frustration. He was the leader, he should have seen that Archie was too sick and made him stay on the ship. Failing that, he should have left him at the jolly boats and not aggravated his illness by allowing him to keep with the mission. And certainly - certainly! - he never should have left him alone to drink some accursed poison and wander off in the rain. Horatio had already decided that if Archie died, he would never forgive himself. Duty would not allow it.
Another groan from behind him made Horatio turn once more. Archie was lying on his back, his shirt open and one hand still clutching weakly at his middle, and the doctor was leaning close, as if listening to something he was saying. After a moment he put his left hand cautiously on Archie's stomach and pressed on it gently. Then he moved it a little, and pressed again.
Archie's sharp cry made Horatio spring up from the fire without even thinking about it, and he flushed with embarrassment when the doctor looked up at him in surprise. Before he could turn back to the fire and hide his face, however, Horatio saw the doctor motion to him, and hurried over.
"Is the water hot?" Dr. Sebastian asked, an intensity in his face that immediately reminded Horatio of his father in similar medical emergencies.
Horatio nodded. "Nearly boiling." He looked down at Archie, whose eyes were still closed in a painful slumber. His head had turned toward Horatio's voice a little, though, as if even in sleep he knew him. "What is it?"
The doctor glanced at his hand, which was still on Archie's stomach, then back to Horatio. "Please get me a clean cloth and dip in the water, then bring it here. Then I will tell you."
Horatio nodded, hearing in the doctor's voice the no-nonsense tones he remembered so well from his youth. Then he went back to the fire and pulled a clean handkerchief out of his pocket, using a nearby stick to dip it into the steaming pot of water, then back out again. Carefully, he carried the dripping cloth back to Dr. Sebastian and hoped the man knew what he was doing.
The doctor winced when he looked at the cloth. Reaching into his own pocket, he pulled out his gloves and put them on before handling the steaming-hot fabric. Then he quickly folded it into a rectangular pad and placed it on top of Archie's rain-soaked shirt, next to where his hand lay on his middle. Archie let out another low moan.
Horatio could no longer hide his impatience, or his guilt. "Dr. Sebastian - "
"It's not appendicitis," the doctor said, casting his eyes on Archie's feverish face and leaving them there as he talked, "And from what he's told me I believe he had an abdominal abcess, which needs to be drained and cleaned if he is to recover fully." He glanced behind him, then used his free hand to reach behind him, and before Horatio knew it a small knife was being pressed into his hands. "Clean that, please."
Horatio blinked, then looked at the cloth and knew what Dr. Sebastian was doing. Knew, because he had seen his father perform similar operations on milkmaids who had been kicked by cows, and blacksmiths who had been hit by horses while shoeing them. *You have to draw the poison up first*, he heard his own father say, from years ago. *Up, then out. Hot compress does the work.*
His father had done this. And now this man was doing it.
Dr. Sebastian glanced from Archie's face to Horatio's. "Lieutenant?"
Horatio shook his head, realized that he had not moved yet. Without thinking, he stammered, "Sir, you'll - you'll need more clean cloths, and - brandy. Shall I fetch them for you?"
The ghost of a smile edged onto the doctor's mouth. "You've had medical training."
Horatio shook his head. "No sir, my father is a physician. I - " Abashed, he looked at Archie's pinched face and felt the failure again.
"Ah! Then I could not ask for a better assistant," Dr. Sebastian said in a tone so pleased and admiring that Horatio looked at him in surprise. "Yes, lieutenant, after you've seen to the knife please bring me those things."
"Yes, sir," Horatio said, starting to rise.
"And when you have done that," the doctor said, his sharp eyes once again on Archie's sleeping face, "I will need you to further assist me, since I now know you will not flinch away."
Horatio knelt back down. "Sir?"
Now those eyes were on Horatio, and very serious. "This young man is suffering and very frightened. He knows your voice even in a fever, and trusts you. When the time comes for me to take care of this, I will need you to hold his hand against the pain and keep him calm so that I may hurt him as little as possible. Will you do this?"
Horatio's eyebrows went up. Dr. Hepplewhite never cared about hurting his patients. "Of course, sir."
Dr. Sebastian nodded in satisfaction. "I will also need someone to keep Mr. Kennedy's legs down, so that he does not thrash about and harm himself while I work. Can any of your men perform such a task?"
Horatio hesitated, aware of what Archie, in his fevered state, would do if he were forcibly restrained. But there was no choice. "Certainly, sir."
"Good." Dr. Sebastian muttered, turning back to put a hand on Archie's brow. "I thank you for your indulgence."
"Not at all, sir," Horatio replied, "I will do anything that will help my men."
Dr. Sebastian nodded solemnly. "You are helping me, lieutenant. That is quite enough."
This was said with such sincerity that Horatio was surprised to find that as he hurried to do the doctor's bidding, he felt immensely comforted that this man was taking charge. A few minutes ago he would have wilted in humiliation at anyone removing responsibility from him - or trying to - so determined was he that this mission succeed or fail at his hands alone.
But his hands alone could not save Archie's life, and at that moment, Horatio was eager to surrender control to any hands that could. Any hands - but these hands especially, for they belonged to a man who reminded Horatio so much of his father that he knew they could be trusted.
So as he knelt before the fire and stared into the cleansing flames, Horatio found himself relieved that at least a little of the burden had been lifted from his shoulders, and that for all of his anxiety and worry, the act of admitting that he needed help did not kill him.
Archie floated in a red-black world of darkness and pain, and tried not to let the oblivion claim him.
It was hard, very hard, not to surrender to the comforting blackness that threatened to envelop his soul. He had been so afraid of the nightmares that were swirling around him, so desperate to be released from the oubliette and Simpson's monstrous shadow, that anything seemed better. Even the blackness, despite what Archie knew lay beyond it.
And the blackness seemed so close. But Archie made a tremendous effort and kept away, because he didn't really want to die and he sensed that someone was trying to help him. He just didn't know who it was.
He was still in the oubliette, he knew that, still trapped in a stone prison of cold and hopeless nights. Except this oubliette had no real form, only an impression of tight cramped space, and phantoms drifted in and out of it to torment Archie and taunt him with visions that could never be. Simpson had already been there once, had called his name and put his hand on Archie's shoulder, had he seen Archie try to protect his sore stomach? Then Simpson was gone and Horatio's ghost had come, but it wasn't really Horatio because he was dead, oh God! He was dead... and then...
Then the Spanish doctor came.
It was odd, Archie knew there wasn't room in the oubliette for one person, let alone two, but a doctor had appeared there and they had talked, about what Archie couldn't remember. But he did remember that the doctor had been very kind, had somehow communicated that he would make sure Archie was released from his prison. Archie remembered feeling the doctor's hand on his middle, not rough and hurting like Hepplewhite's but careful and gentle, and the doctor had apologized for hurting him, but he had to find the infection -
Then a red sharpness came over Archie's memory, and he couldn't think for a while after that.
Voices had come, serious voices, but Archie could only hear snatches of words and didn't understand them. A voice like Horatio's asking "What is it?" and another voice like the kind doctor's making some hazy reply. Archie strained towards those voices, fought to make himself known because they seemed like they were too far away to notice him anymore, but it was too much of an effort and he sank back into himself, exhausted.
Now there was still the pain, still the deep ache that seemed as if it would never go away, but there was something else too, a warmth on his skin that Archie couldn't identify. He could only float with it and wait, but he had been in the oubliette forever and felt like weeping because he was so tired and if Simpson came again he had nothing left to fight with. Nothing, and the pain was so bad -
Then, suddenly, a voice, very low and gentle. "Mr. Kennedy?"
It was the Spanish doctor. Archie tried to open his eyes and failed. "Yes..." he replied, in Spanish of course. That was how they had spoken before.
A hand on his shoulder, just as gentle. "Mr. Kennedy, I would like to try to help you now. Please drink some of this brandy, it will help you sleep."
Another hand, this one on the back of his head, and Archie felt a bottle being pressed to his lips. He opened them to drink, and felt the warm rush of brandy go down his throat. Then he was eased back, and all the while thought he knew those hands, knew them - but that was impossible. Horatio was dead.
"Very good, Mr. Kennedy," The Spanish doctor said quietly as Archie felt his head being eased back, "Now relax if you please, find a place in your mind that is calm and pleasant. You will be free soon."
Free..Archie wasn't sure what that meant, but after a few minutes he could feel the liquor working, felt loose and light and detached. Someone was stroking his brow, and Archie thought of his mother, maybe it *was* his mother, and Archie found himself no longer cramped in the oubliette but curled on her lap, a small child again, the last time in his life when he had felt safe and secure and protected. He burrowed into that feeling as if it were a quilt of softest down, and in spite of his pain and confusion felt himself smiling. He was with his mother again and nothing could harm him. It was so -
Another voice crept into Archie's reverie, surprising him even though it was only a whisper. "Archie? Archie, here's my hand."
Horatio. That was Horatio's voice, from beyond the grave or across the waters. Archie felt a strong hand grip his, as if it would never let go. Frantic that this apparition would leave, he tried to open his eyes to see if he was really hallucinating. "Horatio - "
"Shh," came his friend's voice again, "Yes, I'm here and I'm not leaving you. Now when it hurts, Archie, I want you to grip my hand tight as you can, understand?"
When it hurts? Oh, the doctor...a little nervous now, Archie nodded. Or he thought he did.
The redness and the darkness had receded, replaced by the pastel tones that Archie had always associated with his mother, and being loved. Somewhere he still felt the strong hand on his, and tightened his hold on it in anticipation, because he was remembering what he and the doctor had discussed before, what would have to be done, and he knew he needed to be ready. And he was, because his mother was there and Horatio was there and it was going to be all -
Suddenly two strong hands clamped down on his legs, and Archie gasped in shock.
"No, wait!" Horatio's voice again, but Archie barely heard him over the rush of horrific images that came battering at him from all directions. No, he thought as he struggled frantically against those punishing hands, NO -
Then the hands were gone, and Horatio's voice became clearer. "Dammit! Archie? Archie, it's all right, calm down, it's all right...can you hear me?"
Oh God, his heart was hammering like a rabbit's...but the hands were gone, and Horatio was there, and his mother too, somewhere. Archie nodded woozily.
"All right...all right. Now...now I don't want you to hurt yourself while the doctor is helping you, so I've asked one of the marines to - to assist me in ensuring that you lie very still and don't move. But he won't harm you, I promise you, my sword is at his throat, and soon this will all be over and we can both go home to Indefatigable. Do you trust me?"
Trust Horatio? Was there ever a question? Archie swallowed and nodded again.
Horatio's voice, a little farther away. "Now slowly, dammit! He's out of his mind with fever - "
Then Archie felt the pressure on his legs again, gradually this time, and for a moment he panicked, the memories were so terrible. But at the same time he felt Horatio's hand in his, and heard the Spanish doctor say softly, "Very good, Mr. Kennedy, please relax. You are quite safe."
And Archie knew it was true. So he sank back into the pastel tones and dreamy gauziness of half-sleep, and listened to the heavy silence that surrounded his being. The pain was bad, and would shortly be worse, but that was all right because he was not alone, and the doctor had made a promise, Horatio had made a promise, and Archie clung to that promise because it was worth any amount of pain. Because soon, he would be free.
A half-hour later Captain Turner put out his cigar and wandered over to the door to stare out into the rain.
"By Jove, I think this storm is letting up," he commented with an approving nod. "Bloody well time."
The men by the fireplace stirred, and Turner's first lieutenant stood up from his spot on the floor. "Should I go check on Mr. Hornblower and the doctor?"
Turner shook his head and squinted at the cabin a short distance away. The windows were covered, and it looked dark. "Not yet, Brown. When it lets up enough to move we'll disturb them. That young man has enough to deal with at the moment without herding the lot of us back to safety."
Brown nodded with a slight scowl. "Wonder why the boy waited so long to tell Dr. Sebastian that one of his men was sick. He knew Luis was one of us."
Turner smiled a little. "Now, don't be too hard on the young man, Mr. Brown. I remember when I was his age, all nerve and bluster and eager to prove I could move the world. I'm sure he's regretting waiting now. I saw the look on his face when he came to tell me what the doctor was doing."
"Hm." Brown said, squinting into the rain. "So did I. Well, for his sake I hope his man pulls through."
"He has Dr. Sebastian on his side," Captain Turner replied with a slight smile, "And you know Luis. If ever a man could catch a soul halfway to Heaven..."
Brown chuckled and nodded his agreement. Then his face turned dark. "You know, Andrew, you'll have the devil's own time once we get back to England."
Turner looked down, idly kicked at the crumbling wall with one boot. "Yes, I've thought of that. The Valiant gone, and all those lives with her." His eyes darted to the men still gathered at the fire, then down at the floor again as he turned, put his back to the wall and crossed his arms with a sigh. "Well, you men all did your duty. You protected the most foolish captain on the high seas, so you needn't worry about that. I'll make sure you're all provided for."
Brown's expression was knowing. "We never doubted that, sir. But what about Luis? He can't stay here, the guerrillas will hunt him down for a traitor - "
"And in England, he'll be convicted by every pair of suspicious eyes.he meets.." Turner gazed at the fire and stroked his chin thoughtfully. "I know, the thought crossed my mind too, especially back at the convent. I confess I'm at a loss."
Brown put his hands behind his back, and glared sullenly at the rain. "Well, he's an excellent doctor. Any ship would be fortunate to have him. And your recommendation is sure to override any...prejudices."
Turner smiled ruefully. "My recommendation? Lord, Brown, if I'm only court-martialed I'll be lucky. As for peoples' prejudices..." Turner's eyes grew hard as he gazed at the flickering shadows on the debris-strewn floor. "I could only get him a ship, with no guarantee of a good crew or officers. To find a ship as worthy of its name as the Valiant...it would take a miracle."
Brown's face had been grave, but now it lit up with an almost-cheerful smile. "Well, as you've said, sir, if ever a man could accomplish a miracle, it's Dr. Sebastian. And the men of the Indefatigable seem like a decent lot..."
"Yes, they do," Turner's shoulders slumped as he turned once again toward the window, and stared defeatedly out at the rain. "But they are only here to take us home. And from what Mr. Hornblower has said, it is clear they already have a doctor. Why they would need another one, I have no earthly idea."
Horatio heard the rain letting up as well, as he sat in front of the small fire in the abandoned cottage and rubbed his hands. Heard it, and dreaded it.
He glanced up, saw that only a few feet away Dr. Sebastian was heating more water, for what Horatio didn't know. He wasn't sure he knew much of anything just then, except that he was exhausted and depressed and that this mission was the most miserable failure he'd experienced since Muzillac. Worse even, for this time he could not deny that he alone was responsible for the evening's painful events. And they had been very painful indeed...
Horatio looked over his shoulder, to where Archie was sleeping, still lying on his back with one hand lying where it had lazily wandered over the neat bandage that covered a small cut in his middle. His face was turned toward the fire, and Horatio saw only peaceful slumber on those fire-dappled features, not the fever and confusion of just a few hours before, and breathed a sigh of relief. Then felt once again the soreness in his hands, and felt his heart seize in remembrance and guilt.
He did not want to remember how tightly Archie had gripped his hand when the doctor began his work, or the tiny lines of dulled pain that had rippled over that ruddy face, because those memories haunted Horatio. If he had just ordered Archie to stay on the ship, none of this would be happening. If he had just done his duty, then one of his men would not be lying on the filthy floor of some decrepit hovel, out of his mind with fever and depending on an unfamiliar hand to see him through.
And it was Archie. Of all the men, it had to be Archie.
Horatio frowned and turned back to the fire, sneaking another look at the doctor. He seemed intent on his medical kit, but Horatio's stomach clenched in anxiety as he wondered how much of Archie's past the doctor had guessed by his actions. Of course, the doctor was very kind with Archie, and did not even seem to notice the way he had reacted when that bloody Marine had clapped his hands on Archie's legs before Horatio could even see it was happening. It would have unnerved anyone with a fever, and Horatio had already decided that if the doctor asked he would simply put that opinion forth, that Archie had cried out and struggled so violently because of the fever. But still...
Lord, how Horatio's hands hurt! Horatio winced as he massaged them, remembering how Archie had gripped both of them when it got bad, and it wasn't pleasant despite Dr. Sebastian's obvious concern and care. Horatio bit his lip; the doctor really was like his father, which was at once comforting and a bit unnerving. He had gone slowly and carefully, had explained to Horatio that Archie did indeed have an abdominal abcess, and that he had had it for some time. Some severe blow had likely torn him inside, and for years Archie had simply lived with it. But it needed to be drained, and repaired, or it would come back to torture him again. Take his hand very tightly, Dr. Sebastian had said quietly to Horatio as he took up his knife. Take it and pray that your friend is very strong.
Horatio wasn't a praying person, but that moment was not the time to discuss it. He took both of Archie's hands in his, and cast one helpless, remorseful look at his friend's face. It was a certainty; he'd never forgive himself.
Then he had nodded, and Dr. Sebastian had done his job.
It seemed so odd, that it should go so swiftly and so slow at once, but in Horatio's memory it did. Being a doctor's son, he himself could handle the surgery, but the Marine was another story. Horatio did put a verbal sword to the poor man's throat several times, but in the end the man overcame his nausea and when it was over, Horatio dismissed him with a word of thanks and a message to deliver to Captain Turner that all went well. Horatio had thought he had never seen a man look so green in his entire life.
Archie had been strong, had borne the pain like a true Englishman, and although Dr. Sebastian had praised Horatio afterwards, saying it was his constant stream of soothing chatter that had kept the young man distracted, Horatio could only hope that his babbling covered up the fear he had felt while the operation was going on. Fear that in his delirious state Archie would cry out a hated name that would have to be explained, or say something that the doctor or the Marine would overhear and gossip about later. Horatio already felt willing to hang for the wretched state his dereliction had placed Archie into; if he would have caused Archie any disgrace on top of that, he would knot the noose himself.
But thankfully Archie had not cried out, or said anything except for a few phrases that Horatio guessed were in Spanish. The Marine didn't understand them - for that matter Horatio didn't either, and if the doctor did the words were apparently innocuous, for when Horatio glanced at the doctor's face shortly after Archie's mutterings the older man's expression was unchanged.
And now Archie was sleeping, and the worst was over. At least, until they got home and Horatio had to explain this mess to Captain Pellew.
With a quiet groan, Horatio leaned forward and ran both hands through his hair, then leaned his head into them, feeling utterly defeated. He could hear the conversation now: So, Mr. Hornblower, how did the mission go? Oh, splendidly, sir, as you can see we're many hours delayed and soaked to the bone, oh and don't mind Mr. Kennedy, yes he is being brought up on a stretcher and if anyone happens to mention it he did end up going insane with a fever I knew about many hours beforehand. Oh, why is he unconscious? Well, it seems he had a severe attack after drinking some tonic and collapsing but it's all right, the Valiant's doctor stepped in and saved him, Lord knows I was pretty much useless at that point, and lucky me I have not one, but *two* captains who are now aware of it! So yes, a very successful mission, now if you'll pardon me I'm going to my quarters to hang myself...
Horatio took a deep breath of fear and frustration, and for a moment felt only the heavy burden of defeat on his shoulders, wearing him through until he felt exhausted and ancient. Then he took another breath, and noticed there was an aroma in the air, one that was very familiar to him. With a start, he raised his head and saw that Dr. Sebastian was quietly stirring the steaming pot of water, looking at it intently.
As soon as the doctor glanced up, Horatio asked, "What are you making?"
Dr. Sebastian smiled a little as he stirred. "Tea, for Mr. Kennedy if he wakes up before we go. It has something in it for his fever, and his pain."
Horatio's eyes widened. "Willow bark."
The smile grew wider. "Very good, Mr. Hornblower. You are your father's son it seems, for all that you have never had medical training."
Horatio gazed at the simmering pot, his mind awash in memories. "My father used to give it to me when I was a child, anytime I was hurt. It always made me feel better."
"And it was not simply the medicine that did that," the doctor pointed out as he stopped stirring and, wrapping his hand in a nearby rag, took the small kettle by the handle and drew it away from the fire. "A few minutes to steep, I think, then it will be ready."
Horatio nodded, amazed at the happy memories that simple aroma brought back. He watched as Dr. Sebastian leaned back and reached into his jacket, fishing for something. With another glance toward Archie Horatio said, "I must thank you, doctor, for assisting my shipmate. Without your skillful hands, he certainly would have died."
Dr. Sebastian found what he was looking for, and pulled it out of his jacket. Horatio saw that it was a small black cigar, which he lit in the fire as he said with a shake of his head, "You're entirely welcome, lieutenant, but you praise me too highly. Mr. Kennedy's ailment was not life-threatening, although his remedy for it might have been if he had not thrown most of it up before it could do its work."
Horatio frowned, remembering the dark bottle. "What was it?"
The doctor leaned back again, bringing the bottle out of his pocket and glaring at it. "From the odor, I would guess alcohol; from your friend's erratic heartbeat and vomiting, I would guess foxglove; and I would not be surprised if there were laudanum in it as well."
Horatio shook his head. "No, Mr. Kennedy does not take laudanum. It - it does not sit well with him."
Dr. Sebastian set the bottle down with a small sigh. "In his state, I doubt Mr. Kennedy was thinking of that when he drank this vile concoction. A man will gladly run into a thorn bush to escape the jaws of a tiger." He took a pull on the cigar, looked over his shoulder at where Archie was sleeping. "He is a remarkable young man, your Mr. Kennedy."
"Yes, sir," Horatio replied, although he was not sure how the doctor had gotten that impression, since Archie had been pretty much unconscious during the length of their association. Perhaps it was the way he bore up against the pain.
The doctor nodded again, and stared at the fire in silence for a few moments. Then he said, "It takes a great deal of strength, desperate strength, to live with such a wound so long and tell no one, not even the surgeon who could have helped him. To treat an abcess such as that would have saved him a great deal of pain."
Horatio thought of Hepplewhite and tried not to make a face. "Mr. Kennedy did see the surgeon, earlier today before we went on the mission. The doctor bled him for the fever, but even I did not know about his other trouble before tonight."
"*Even* you?" the doctor's eyes were damnably sharp as he looked at Horatio in revelation. "Ah yes, this is not the first sign I've been given that you and Mr. Kennedy are close. Do you know him very well?"
Horatio levered how to answer this question, fearing it might lead to further questions that Archie would rather were not answered. After a moment's hesitation he replied, "We've served several years together, and he has risked his life for mine at least once."
"Ah, but that does not answer my question," the doctor observed as he looked into the fire with a mysterious half-smile. After taking another drag on the cigar, he glanced over his shoulder once more before saying quietly, "Lieutenant, do you know why Mr. Kennedy would not tell your surgeon of his abcess, so that it may be treated properly?"
Horatio considered this, knew Hepplewhite had served on the Justinian with Archie and Simpson, remembered Hepplewhite's detached coldness and his indifference to the injuries Simpson caused. Horatio did not remember much about that black night when Simpson beat him to within an inch of his life, but he did remember the rough hands and harsh touch. He put himself in Archie's place for a moment, thought about how Hepplewhite would have reacted to a young man in pain and hurting the way Archie would have been hurting...
He barely suppressed a shudder and slowly said, "I'm not sure, sir, although you may ask Mr. Kennedy when he awakens if you're curious."
Horatio thought his answer would suffice, cowardly though it was, and was thus surprised when Dr. Sebastian's expression changed to one of sadness and he shook his head as he gazed into the flickering fire. "I do not need to ask Mr. Kennedy, lieutenant. He has already told me."
"He has?" Horatio glanced behind him at Archie's sleeping form, confused. "When?"
"When I first came upon him," the doctor answered, "and he spoke to me in Spanish, and begged me not to take him again."
Horatio went cold. Oh no, he thought in sudden fear, looking behind him as if Archie would somehow be gone, or changed. Oh, no. Horatio frantically cast about for a reply.
There was a light touch on his arm, and with a start Horatio turned to find himself gazing into the doctor's eyes as he leaned toward him. They were serious and deep as he studied Horatio for a moment, then sighed. "Your face tells me that you know of this, lieutenant."
Horatio stammered, but what could he do? He nodded, his stomach sinking.
"Not on board Indefatigable?"
"No," Horatio replied quickly, desperate to defend Captain Pellew, "No, before that, on another ship. Justinian." Horatio hesitated, but the doctor had guessed so much, he would surely find out the details eventually. There was no help for it. "There was - a man there, a midshipman named Jack Simpson. His pleasure was to bully those who could not protect themselves. To beat them and - " Horatio stopped and ducked his head. The words would not come out.
Dr. Sebastian sighed and patted Horatio's arm, then leaned back to where he had been and took another drag on the cigar. He didn't speak for what seemed to Horatio ages, and finally Horatio asked because he had to know how much of Archie's life was now open for scrutiny, "Did Mr. Kennedy say anything else?"
The doctor turned toward Horatio, his face dark and almost angry. "He thought himself trapped in an oubliette, and pleaded with me to let him go. He said he would do anything, even submit to cruelty, if only I would win his release." Dr. Sebastian took another long drag before saying quietly, "I promised him his freedom, if only he would tell me what was troubling him. That is how I found out about the abcess."
Something inside Horatio crumbled, and in mortification for Archie's sake he blurted, "Dr. Sebastian, I barely have your acquaintance, but for the good of - of morale I beg you not to disclose the cause of Mr. Kennedy's affliction. If there is any way I can ensure your silence - "
Dr. Sebastian's eyes flashed as he shot a sharp look at Horatio. "Lieutenant, I am almost insulted Would your father do such a thing?"
Horatio paused, taken aback for a moment. Why had he thought this decent man would gossip about Archie's misfortunes? His father wouldn't. But most ship's surgeons were not like his father.
Dr. Sebastian took another drag on the cigar, stared at the fire and waited a long time before he spoke. "Lieutenant, let us understand each other. I went to school in Spain, spent many long hours in the barrios and filthy seaport towns treating the injured and abused. I have taken an oath to protect those who need my skills, and the day I break that oath is the day you may slit my throat."
Horatio felt himself blushing and stammered, "Sir, forgive me, I meant no offense - "
The doctor paused, then took a deep breath and shook his head. "No, lieutenant, you were only looking out for your comrade, and I am well aware that there are many of my profession who do not take Hippocrates as seriously as I do." He turned to look at Archie with a scowl. "Including, apparently, your ship's surgeon."
Horatio felt a sudden, irrational need to defend Dr. Hepplewhite, or rather Captain Pellew whose ship he was on. "Dr. Hepplewhite is a capable surgeon."
"I'm certain he is," Dr. Sebastian's face was grave as he turned back toward the fire, "How long have you had this doctor's acquaintance?"
"Since Justinian, sir," Horatio replied, unfortunately before he thought about it, because the doctor's expression changed markedly as soon as the words were out.
"Justinian?" Dr. Sebastian asked, a mounting anger in his eyes. "The ship that Jack Simpson was on?"
Horatio swallowed his trepidation, and nodded. "He transferred along with Archie and me in the fall of '93."
"Did he know about Simpson? What kind of man he was?"
Feeling in his bones that the messenger was about to be shot, Horatio nodded again with a sigh. "He treated me once for a beating at Mr. Simpson's hands. It was no secret."
Dr. Sebastian's face clouded over with disgust and indignation, and he threw his cigar into the fire with a snap of fury. He didn't say anything, however, and Horatio debated whether to ask what he was thinking, or whether it would be just as safe to assume that there would be a fistfight between this doctor and Hepplewhite as soon as he got back to the ship. Horatio sighed; perhaps he should hang himself BEFORE reporting to Pellew...
There was no explosion of temper, however. For a few long moments Dr. Sebastian glared into the fire; then he sighed, ran his hands over his face and looked into the pot where the tea was steeping. Very quietly he said, "I believe this is ready."
Grateful for a change of subject, Horatio glanced over his shoulder and replied, "I'm afraid Mr. Kennedy is still sleeping."
"There is enough for him when he awakens," the doctor said as he lifted the pot and poured some of the tea into a nearby tin cup. Setting the pot down again, the doctor picked up the cup and handed it to Horatio. "Now, this is for you."
Horatio blinked at it in surprise. "Me, sir?"
Dr. Sebastian's smile was gentle. "Mr. Kennedy is not the only one in pain, judging from the manner in which you have been massaging your hands. I can hear the rain easing, drink this and it will strengthen you for our journey home."
Horatio wasn't quite sure what to say, but his exhausted spirit gave up pretty quickly and he accepted the cup. "Thank you, doctor."
"Not at all," Dr. Sebastian replied with a mild gleam in his eyes. "It is the least I can do for you, to repay you for your courage and skill in conducting this mission. Your captain should be proud of you, lieutenant."
Horatio opened his mouth to protest, but thought better of it. It was comforting that at least one person said he had done well, even if he was only being polite. "Thank you, sir, but I did not do it alone. Rest assured my captain will know of your efforts, and your success in treating Mr. Kennedy. Doubtless he will be very impressed."
"From what you have said about your surgeon," Dr. Sebastian replied as he prepared to pour another cup of tea and wait out the rest of the storm, "I have every confidence that it would take very little indeed."
Captain Pellew lay in the narrow bed in his cabin and stared at the ceiling. He had put out his candle two hours before, but at the distant sound of four bells on the watch came to the sad realization that sleep would not yet come.
How could it? The storm had eased, but still Mr. Hornblower was not yet returned. Pellew feared for the lads' safety, even though he knew they were probably just holed up somewhere, riding out the storm. Yes, certainly it would be prudent to wait rather than risk capsizing in the rough seas that lay between the Indefatigable and the shore. And there had been no word of hearing shots, or other disturbances that would surely arise should the rescue party be captured. So certainly, they were safe and sound.
Logic would dictate it. But still Pellew worried.
Damn this rain! Would it last all night? Pellew's mind drifted with the rhythmless patter, edged to his earlier conversation with Dr. Hepplewhite. Pellew had tried not to think of the man, knew it would only upset him and then he would never get to sleep. But he couldn't help it.
**He has always been in my mind...rather weak.** The doctor's words regarding young Kennedy galled Pellew, and he went back to chew on them again and again. The words themselves were odious enough - what man did not have weaknesses, for heaven's sake! - but it was the way the doctor had said them that made Pellew's blood rise. It was the same tone as his entire conversation, the attitude that he had information that he alone was privy to, and was sharing with Pellew as a dour-faced courtesy. He cared nothing for the cause or treatment of the affliction; only for his sovereign knowledge that it was there.
But that is the lot of ship's surgeons, Pellew's logical mind argued - it had not gone to bed either. Did you expect a prince or a lord would be tending your men? He may be smug and irritating, but at least he's sober, most of the time, and he's as good as any butcher when it comes to stitching and splicing the wounded. And if he cares nothing for the souls of these men, well, why should he? Get to sleep and let him do his damn job.
Pellew did drift off to sleep, quite without his knowledge, but soon his sleep was disturbed with strange, disjointed dreams that all involved Bracegirdle standing grim and ashen-faced at his door, and fighting his way through a confusing maze of darkness and timber to find the rescue party returned, but Hornblower lying dead or dying on the deck, and Dr. Hepplewhite was nowhere to be found. Strange, disturbing dreams heavy with fear and despair, and sometimes Hepplewhite was there, but pale and still as marble. Unmovable as stone -
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!
Pellew started awake, his breath catching in his throat as he half-jumped out of the bed, the dreams still clamoring in his mind. Struggling to find his voice, he finally said, "Yes?"
"Lieutenant Bracegirdle, sir."
Oh - Pellew quickly donned his dressing-gown and opened the door. It was Bracegirdle, not grim-faced or ashen, thank God! "Yes, Mr. Bracegirdle?"
"You wished me to inform you when Mr. Hornblower returned. He's just arrived, with the rescue party and the men of the Valiant."
"Very good, Mr. Bracegirdle," Pellew took a deep breath, and hoped the disturbing dream did not show on his face. "Any injuries?"
Bracegirdle's face clouded a bit and Pellew's stomach clenched. "Well, sir, apparently Mr. Kennedy suffered some sort of attack while onshore, but Mr. Hornblower tells me he should recover with no problems. Other than that, all hale and hearty."
"Excellent, " Pellew breathed, relaxing a little but now concerned for Kennedy's sake, "I will be up in a moment, bring the Valiant's men below and have brandy and some food set up in my dining cabin, and other provisions as needed."
"Yes, sir," Bracegirdle smiled, and turned to go.
Pellew thought of something. "Mr. Bracegirdle?"
The lieutenant stopped, turned back around. "Sir?"
"You're - quite certain Mr. Hornblower is all right?"
Bracegirdle considered this question. "He's fairly exhausted, but yes sir, he's fine. In fact, he would like to speak to you at the earliest opportunity. He's taking Mr. Kennedy to the surgery now."
"Very good," Pellew replied automatically, and as Bracegirdle left he closed the door and, shaking his head to clear of the terrible nightmare, hastened to get himself dressed.
Horatio guided his crew along the narrow corridors to the sick berth, and thought he had never been so happy to be home.
Everything had gone smoothly, once the rain had stopped. Archie was still asleep and could not walk of course, so a litter was fashioned out of some of the mens' jackets and two oar poles under Dr. Sebastian's careful instruction. When all was ready, they abandoned the fishing cottages and set out for the rainswept shore.
It was strange how that night brought back memories to Horatio - the still-violent sea, the rain, the wind, all reminded him of the night he loaded his men in a jollyboat and rowed to the rescue of a Spanish ship that had gone onto the reefs in El Ferrol. And here he was, guiding another group of rescued sailors, not to Spain but from it. Horatio shook his head at the irony, then bent himself to the task at hand.
The Valiant's men were more than willing to help, and even though Archie's litter took up a fair amount of space in the boat Horatio heard not a syllable of complaint. Archie did wake up, once, and groggily asked what was going on, but Dr. Sebastian who had never left his side murmured some reassurances to the young man, and Archie quickly fell back asleep as Horatio scanned the dark horizon and tried to get them all home.
At last the Indie's small lights were seen, and Horatio could barely contain his joy at seeing her again, whole and unharmed and waiting for them like a patient mother. The jollyboat was carefully steered alongside and the men climbed aboard, and Horatio had sent word with Bracegirdle before accompanying his wounded man to the sick berth. And still Dr. Sebastian had not left Archie's side.
Thankfully, the sick berth was still empty when they entered, and Horatio looked around for Dr. Hepplewhite as the Marines maneuvered the litter to the nearest hammock.
"He should be gotten warm and dry as soon as possible," Dr. Sebastian said to Horatio as he unbuttoned his own soaking-wet jacket. "And a fire started in the stove."
A couple of sick berth attendants appeared and began to move Archie to the hammock. So far the young man had not stirred, and Horatio didn't like the paleness of his skin or the dank, unhealthy sheen the rainwater lent to his face. It reminded him too much of the Spanish prison, and the day Archie almost died...
Almost without thinking, Horatio pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket and blotted his friend's face with it. Suddenly there was a hand on his shoulder, and Horatio turned to look into Dr. Sebastian's sympathetic eyes. With a smile the doctor said, "Rest easy, lieutenant, your officer will be just fine."
Horatio returned the smile in relief, and glanced at the entrance to the sick berth just as Dr. Sebastian was putting a hand on Archie's forehead and asking one of the attendants to fetch the surgeon. Someone was coming -
- Oh, God. It was Captain Pellew.
Horatio tried to swallow his nervousness and tugged at his dirty uniform, hoping to at least make himself presentable. Oh, God -
Pellew's hands were behind his back, his handsome face a mask of stern scrutiny as he came closer. "Mr. Hornblower."
Horatio straightened up to his proudest stance. "Sir."
Pellew stopped right in front of him, brought his chin up. "Your mission was successful?"
Horatio hesitated, knew it would be impossible to even hedge with Pellew. "I - brought the Valiant's men aboard, sir."
"So I've seen," Pellew's eyes darted to where Dr. Sebastian was seeing to Archie. "I have already spoken to Captain Turner. He thinks you are quite the hero."
Horatio looked at the floor in embarrassment. "I am no hero, sir - "
Pellew tilted his head, and his expression softened. "And how is Mr. Kennedy?"
"Better, sir," Horatio said quickly, turning to indicate Dr. Sebastian with a grateful smile. "And it is all thanks to this gentleman, without him Mr. Kennedy would certainly have been lost."
Captain Pellew looked mildly surprised as the doctor briefly left Archie's side and approached him, although Horatio couldn't decide if his surprise was due to the man's skill or his obvious Spanish descent. With a nod Pellew exclaimed, "Would he, indeed! Then you must be the Valiant's surgeon - "
"Yes, sir," Dr. Sebastian stopped in front of Pellew and made a courtly bow, "Dr. Luis Sebastian, at your service. Allow me to tell you you have a most extraordinary officer in Mr. Hornblower, captain, although I am certain I am not the first to say so."
"Well, you are the first today," Pellew said dryly, then asked, "What seems to be the acting lieutenant's complaint?"
Dr. Sebastian walked back to where Archie was sleeping in the hammock, his face slack and peaceful in healing rest. "Mr. Kennedy's fever was the result of an infection, a recurring abdominal abcess which needed to be taken care of so it would not fester again. Mr. Hornblower assisted me in this procedure."
Pellew nodded as Horatio saw him look at Archie with an almost paternal concern. "Will he recover?"
"Oh, yes, sir," was Dr. Sebastian's swift and confidant reply, "As long as he's given a day or two to rest, and kept from strenuous activity until his wound heals completely."
Pellew's expression changed from worry to a frustrated scowl. "Why the devil didn't he tell anyone about this before? If it could be treated - "
"What's going on here?"
Horatio almost jumped at the sound of Hepplewhite's indignant voice, broadcasting his displeasure at being awakened across the length of the sick berth. He was standing at the doorway leading to his sleeping-room, still clad in his nightshirt which he had hastily - and not successfully - tucked into his trousers. The attendant was right beside him, but trying his best to blend into the shadows.
"Ah, Dr. Hepplewhite," Captain Pellew said lightly, "How kind of you to join us."
Hepplewhite strode slowly into the room, a sour look on his bleary face. As he approached, he spied Archie sleeping in the hammock and his lips curled downward into a puzzled frown. "What's he doing here?"
"Recovering," Pellew replied, "Apparently he suffered an attack during the mission ashore, due to an abdominal abcess."
Hepplewhite snorted. "That's impossible! He's been cured of that for years. And I bled him for the fever just this morning."
"Nevertheless," Pellew said in a rather more strained voice, "He was taken with an infirmity, and Mr. Hornblower and this gentleman tended to him and brought him home to your gentle care."
Horatio saw Hepplewhite's eyes narrow into two tiny, suspicious slits as he glared at Dr. Sebastian. "Oh?"
For a quick moment Horatio thought of the doctor's anger at the fishing hut, and feared a brawl. But to his credit, Dr. Sebastian hid any animosity he might have felt behind a pleasant smile and a graceful bow. "Dr. Hepplewhite, it's a pleasure to meet a colleague and healer of the sick. I am Dr. Luis Sebastian - "
Hepplewhite's eyes remained slitted. "You treated this man?"
The pleasant smile remained, thank God. As Hepplewhite moved around the group to Archie's side, Dr. Sebastian replied, "Yes, sir, his condition required it. Thankfully, he requires no further care beyond bed rest and changing of his bandage as it is needed."
Hepplewhite slapped one hand on Archie's forehead, eliciting a small moan from the unconscious young man. Hepplewhite grinned in smug triumph. "He still has his fever!"
"Yes, doctor, he does, " Dr. Sebastian said smoothly, "But that will ease soon of its own accord. The poison has been driven out."
Hepplewhite looked at Archie as if he were a slab of meat, then regarded Dr. Sebastian with even less respect. "Driven out! I tell you he didn't have any 'poison' in him in the first place. What kind of a doctor are you? You aren't even English!"
Dr. Sebastian glanced at Horatio and Pellew before saying quietly, "My father was a diplomat, sir, and as English as the timbers of this mighty ship. I attended school at one of the finest academies in Spain, if you wait a moment I can retrieve my credentials from my belongings - "
Horatio glanced at Pellew, and noticed that he was watching the two mens' exchange with keen interest, and smiling a bit at Dr. Sebastian's words.
Hepplewhite, however, was not. "A school in Spain! What can they possibly teach you there? I came aboard ship directly from Surgeon's Hall!"
Captain Pellew, bless him, stepped forward and raised both hands. "Please, that's enough! I'm certain Mr. Kennedy will recover much quicker without the lot of us contaminating the air with hot moisture. Mr. Hornblower, Dr. Sebastian, thank you for your efforts, and if you wish there is brandy and cheese in my dining cabin for you before you retire for some much-needed rest."
Horatio nodded, relieved that someone had prevented that particular hurricane, and he heard Dr. Sebastian say, "Thank you, captain, that is most kind. I will be up presently."
"Very good," Pellew turned to go, stopping for a moment to look at Hepplewhite, who was still glowering at Dr. Sebastian. "Dr. Hepplewhite, you may retire also. Since all Mr. Kennedy requires is bed rest, I would say your duties for tonight are done."
To Horatio it seemed as if Hepplewhite was actually pouting. But grown men didn't do that, did they? "Aye aye, captain."
With a nod of his head, Pellew turned and left the room, and as soon as he left Horatio felt the temperature drop at least twenty degrees. Dr. Sebastian had gone back to Archie, and was unfastening his shirt look at his bandage.
In an instant Dr. Hepplewhite was hovering over him, his hands on his hips and his small eyes regarding Dr. Sebastian with almost palpable hostility.
Amazingly, however, Dr. Sebastian didn't seem to be noticing it. Instead, he gently opened Archie's shirt and said quietly, "Once I drew the fluid to the surface, I drained it off and evacuated the infected area of further contamination. The incision only required a few stitches, but - "
"Yes, yes, I see," Hepplewhite barked impatiently, "You may go to your dinner now, *doctor*, I know how to do my job."
Dr. Sebastian hesitated, then as Horatio watched he looked at Archie's bandage for a long moment, then began to close the shirt. He did this very slowly, as if he were counting the fastenings in his head. As soon as he finished he gazed at Hepplewhite steadily and said in tones that seemed to be chiseled out of stone, "Please treat Mr. Kennedy with kindness, Dr. Hepplewhite. He has been through quite an ordeal."
"Don't tell me what he's been through!" Hepplewhite snapped, "I know more about the men on this ship than you do!"
"Yes," Dr. Sebastian's eyes were diamond-hard as he spoke, "I'm certain that you do."
Horatio felt an urgent need to speak, or get out of the way. Desperately he said, "Dr. Sebastian!"
The doctor's eyes glanced away from Hepplewhite. "Yes, lieutenant?"
"Forgive me, but the hour is growing late and the captain has placed you in my care. If you have finished here I would be happy to show you to your quarters, and find you some dry clothes and something to eat."
Dr. Sebastian seemed to take the hint, much to Horatio's relief. With a genial smile he said, "Of course, lieutenant. It is rude of me to keep you from getting your rest." He put his hand on Archie's forehead one last time, looked intently into that pale, slumbering face, then seemed to be satisfied. Moving away from the cot, he joined Horatio in a walk to the door, only to stop and turn around just as they reached the threshold. Horatio turned too, to see Dr. Hepplewhite regarding Archie with an unconvinced expression on his jowly face.
Dr. Sebastian's words were quiet but commanding. "All he needs is rest, doctor. Leave him undisturbed, and I promise you a fit crewmate by week's end."
Hepplewhite scowled at him, and crossed his arms. Then he nodded and stepped away from the hammock.
As soon as they were out of earshot Dr. Sebastian said, "I can see now why Mr. Kennedy would not confide in him. I have seen dead fish with friendlier expressions."
Horatio bit his lip so he wouldn't laugh, and said, "Yet he is a capable surgeon, by all accounts. And I'm certain he appreciated your assistance."
"You're either naive or a liar, lieutenant," Dr. Sebastian observed with a touch of humor in his voice, "But for the moment I am not concerned with how your surgeon feels about me. All I desire is a good meal, a warm place to sleep, and the knowledge that your shipmate will pass through the night in peace."
"Then we share a common goal, sir." Horatio replied amiably, and together they made their way up the gangway stairs.
When Captain Pellew arrived back at his quarters, he found the men of the Valiant sitting at his dining table and being attended to by his steward and Mr. Bracegirdle. They were all tired and hungry, and after helping themselves to the bread and cheese that had been offered just about all of them toasted Pellew and then were shown to their quarters. As the candles burned down on the dining-cabin table, the golden light at last shown only on Pellew, Captain Turner, and the decanter of brandy that sat between them.
"It was the most foolish move any captain could ever have made, " Turner lamented as he stared at his glass regretfully. "A foggy day, and too damn impetuous to count the ships before I engaged."
Pellew swirled the ruby liquid in his own glass, could hear the remorseful tones in his fellow captain's voice and knew he had already court-martialed himself. "A damnable day indeed, captain."
"I tell you, I'm not looking forward to the voyage home," Turner sighed and leaned back in his chair. "Sometimes I wish there was a faster conveyance upon these waters than wooden ships."
With a shrug, Pellew set his glass down and glanced at the darkness outside the glimmering windows. "I can't imagine what one would be in such a hurry for. Or would you like to face Admiral Hood in a day instead of a month?"
Turner laughed humorlessly and shook his head. "No third option? How about 'never'?" He tilted his head and sighed. "I'm more anxious for my men, actually. They're dealing with my stupidity very well - they haven't hanged me at least! - but the sooner we get back to England the sooner they can find other assignments without this tragedy surrounding them."
Pellew's sympathies rose. "You have a fine crew, captain. They seem to bear you no blame for what happened."
"They don't have to," Turner replied with another mocking smile as he picked up his glass, "I am capable of carrying twenty mens' guilt on my shoulders, at least that's what Luis says."
Pellew frowned. "Luis?"
Turner took a quick drink and set the glass down again. "Oh - Dr. Sebastian, my surgeon. The man who treated your officer."
Pellew nodded understanding, then said, "Yes, I met him in the surgery. I owe him a great deal, if what Mr. Hornblower says is true. He seems like a very competent physician."
"He is," Turner responded as he looked at Pellew with earnest eyes, "More than competent, believe me. He took more of an interest in the welfare of the men than any ship's surgeon I've ever seen. He even took to bullying me when he saw I was worrying myself to death."
Pellew looked down at the glass in his hand, then up again. "Yet he mentioned only his father as being English..."
Turner smiled. "I was waiting for you to ask about that. His mother was Spanish, well-born from what he told me. Apparently her family didn't much like the match, and they moved to England before he was born, so by all rights he's as English as you or me." Turner paused and took another drink.
Pellew absorbed this, then asked, "Has his loyalty ever been called into question?"
"Constantly!" was Turner's answer, so forceful it was almost spat. "He came to me while we were anchored in Gibraltar some years ago, and I guess he must have had a devil of a time convincing the Port Admiral that he wasn't a spy or a saboteur. I needed a doctor, so I brought him on board, but I have to confess even I told the marines to keep an eye on him. I feel pretty embarrassed about that now."
"I take it he proved no threat?"
"Just the opposite! Most of the men were polite, some because I'd ordered them to be, but a few of them picked fights, so there was some discipline problems. But my God, Edward, if you could have seen Luis work the first time we went into action..." Turner shook his head in amazement. "I don't think Nelson's surgeon is as skilled as that man is. And I don't care *who* his parents are."
"Yes," Pellew allowed as he met Turner's eyes, "He seems to be knowledgeable enough."
Turner nodded. "But it's more than that. You know the surgeons we get, Edward, you're lucky if they can see straight when it's time to chop off some poor sailor's leg. Finding a halfway capable surgeon is like finding the Holy Grail. And even the sober ones are little more than butchers."
Pellew unwillingly thought of Hepplewhite, and nodded.
"But Dr. Sebastian," Turner shook his head morosely and took another sip of brandy. "If this were different times, Edward, he'd have the finest practice in London. It's not just his skill, it's his compassion. It's rare enough in any doctor, and damned unique in a ship's surgeon."
That was true. Pellew gazed at the decanter on the table, watching the patterns the candles made on the cut glass as he pondered this.
"And that's why I hate taking him back to England," Turner said heavily as he set the glass down with a hard *thud*. "In peace it was difficult enough, but now that we're at war with Spain Luis will be lucky if he isn't stoned in the street, never mind finding a ship to take him."
"He could stay in Gibraltar." Pellew offered.
Turner's gaze was almost angry. "You didn't see what the Spanish did to him after we were captured, Edward. First they beat him for being English, then they beat him for being Spanish. And staying holed up in Gibraltar when he knows there's work to be done would kill him. Believe me, I asked him about that myself."
Pellew considered this, then said, "As you know, captain, we already have a surgeon, but Dr. Sebastian is welcome to act as a surgeon's mate until we reach Plymouth. Once there, out of gratitude for his assistance to Mr. Kennedy, I will add my pen to your recommendation for whatever additional weight it will allow."
Captain Turner smiled. "That would be very generous of you, Captain Pellew, thank you. I would not blame you for harboring suspicions..."
Pellew shook his head and made a dismissive gesture. "A man's actions speak far more to me about his loyalties than any presupposed opinion, Captain Turner. Dr. Sebastian saved one of my men, and for that I am willing to give him any help he requires."
Turner took another drink and set the glass down with a slight smile. "I know the rest of my men will find good ships and service. If I could only have such assurances for Dr. Sebastian, I would go to my court-martial the happiest condemned man you'll ever see."
Pellew returned the smile and uncapped the decanter and, as he poured them both another drink, said quietly, "Then to your happiness once we reach Plymouth, Captain Turner. And, for your sake, to Admiral Hood being in the best mood of his entire life."
At that moment there was a soft knock at the cabin door. Pellew glanced at the door as he recapped the decanter and said, "Come."
The door opened and Horatio came in, Dr. Sebastian at his heels.
"Ah, gentlemen," Pellew said as both men sat down at the table, "Please, have some food and warmth. Doctor, I trust everything in the sick berth is satisfactory?"
"Yes, Captain Pellew, thank you," Dr. Sebastian said amiably as he reached for a knife and a piece of cheese. "It does my heart good to be on a ship again, even if she isn't the Valiant."
Captain Turner groaned. "Please, doctor, don't remind me! My heart breaks every time I think of how we lost her."
Pellew watched as Sebastian handed Horatio a piece of cheese, which the boy took with a smile of thanks, and then began to carve his own. As he carved he said, "Captain Pellew, I'm certain that my commander here has told of the circumstances of our capture."
"He mentioned thick fog and enemy ships," Pellew recounted. "But little more than that."
Sebastian smiled knowingly. "Ah, then he has not told you the entire story, how we had already sunk another ship, and was fending off two ships of the Spanish fleet so a smaller ship under our protection, called the Sparrow, could get away. And she did get away." Dr. Sebastian's eyes glittered as he looked at Turner. "The Valiant did not die a needless death, sir, nor did you kill her. She went down gloriously, as gallant a ship as ever set English sail."
Turner looked down at the table, as if unconvinced.
"But you see, gentlemen, that is my captain," Dr. Sebastian continued, in a tone that suggested to Pellew that these two men knew each other very well, "He would rather concentrate on his failures than his triumphs. And he would rather take responsibility for every action of the world, rather than allow that some things are controlled only by God."
Turner's downcast eyes told Pellew he was accepting this gentle chastisement, and he was surprised to see that Horatio was looking at the captain as well, with an expression that almost spoke of kinship. Then Pellew recalled Horatio's nature, and realized that the doctor could have been describing that young man, as well.
"That's enough, Luis," Turner said with a shamefaced smile, "I'm sure the captain and the lieutenant don't want to hear you lecturing me. Have you been to your quarters?"
"Yes, sir, they are more than adequate. Captain Pellew, I must praise Mr. Hornblower again for his talents, regarding a conversation I was having with your surgeon that needed a swift conclusion. Without going into details, I will simply say that your lieutenant has an amazing diplomatic skill."
Horatio looked very embarrassed, and stammered, "I was - thank you, doctor, but - I was merely -"
Pellew smiled. "I believe what Mr. Hornblower is attempting to say, doctor, is that he appreciates your keen observation."
As Horatio bit into his cheese to avoid further conversation, Turner picked up his glass and said, "Were you having trouble in the sick berth, Luis?"
"No, sir," Dr. Sebastian replied, and it occurred to Pellew that that probably wasn't true, "I was merely attempting to assist Dr. Hepplewhite with Mr. Kennedy's care. We were discussing treatment techniques."
"Hm," Turner said, in a tone that meant he knew the doctor was being polite.
"Dr. Sebastian," Pellew said, "Since you are on board and the journey back to England is like as not to be fraught with dangers, your captain has highly recommended you for a temporary position as surgeon's mate until we reach Plymouth. I would also be honored if you took up the post. Do you have any objection?"
"Of course not, sir," Dr. Sebastian beamed, "I look forward to seeing to my practice again, and serving His Majesty's fleet in any capacity I might be useful. If you don't mind, I would like to make my first duty checking on Mr. Kennedy again, to be certain he is resting comfortably."
"By all means," Pellew nodded, grateful for cooperation instead of argument.
"But first," Dr. Sebastian said with a sidelong look at Horatio, who was still chewing, "I think I shall try some of this cheese. It must be very good, or Mr. Hornblower would not be eating so much of it."
Toby, the fifteen-year-old sick berth attendant, finished his job of stoking the fire and slowly closed the grate on the stove. He took his time doing it, because Dr. Hepplewhite was still in the room, and the attendant did not like the doctor. And tonight he was downright scared of him.
Toby stared at the slotted grate of the stove door for a moment, knowing that when he turned around the doctor would be right where he had been since the Captain and that other doctor had left. In his mind's eye Toby could see him still leaning against the wall to his cabin, with his arms crossed and glowering straight ahead at nothing. And not moving.
He was mad about something, Toby knew that. Probably it had something to do with that other doctor showing him up. Toby risked a glance over his shoulder at where the officer lay, still asleep, and thought that the other doctor had to be better, because the officer looked a lot healthier than he had earlier that day when Hepplewhite bled him. That made Toby happy, because although he didn't know the officer very well, he had been kind and didn't yell or shove Toby about like Dr. Hepplewhite did sometimes when he was drunk. The blond-haired officer was always very nice to him, even when Toby had to do things he knew would hurt. Toby appreciated that.
But Dr. Hepplewhite didn't. He was mad at the officer for some reason, or he looked at him like he was. When there was no help for it, Toby turned back around and sure enough, Dr. Hepplewhite was still standing there glaring at the officer, the same resentment in his eyes, the same slight hunch that suggested he was going to go on a tear.
There was something different, though. Dr. Hepplewhite was holding a bottle in one hand.
Toby hesitated; he wasn't sure what to do. On the one hand, he was really tired and wanted to go to bed. But if something happened - if something really bad happened, like the officer woke up and needed help - Toby was pretty sure he would be better at handling it than the doctor. Toby was too young to resent the fact that Hepplewhite was putting this burden on his shoulders; like most young people he simply assumed it, because that was the way it had always been ever since Toby had become an attendant. He simply did some of Hepplewhite's work, and assumed it was that way on all the ships.
Dr. Hepplewhite wasn't moving, except to take swigs out of the bottle, and for a moment Toby hesitated because the doctor looked like an angry bear. Then he swallowed his fear and walked over to where Hepplewhite was brooding.
"The stove is lit, sir," He said, and wished his light voice would become deeper. "And the officer is still asleep. Is there anything else?"
Hepplewhite blinked slowly, like he was underwater, and said, "That bloody dago showed me up in front of the captain. You saw it."
Toby paused. He wasn't sure he wanted to talk about this. "I - I 'm sorry sir, I was attending to the fire."
"How dare he tell me my business!" Hepplewhite spat, and took another pull on the bottle. "As if I don't know how to handle a simple fever."
Toby glanced at the officer again, then back at Hepplewhite. "Do you need anything else, sir?"
"Abdominal abcess!" Hepplewhite sneered as he swished the liquor in the bottle around. "Yes, Kennedy probably did feed him that claptrap. He knew better than to try it with me. I was wise to that trick years ago."
Toby began to feel himself at a loss, but decided to make another go of it. "Perhaps we should check the officer's bandage? The Spanish doctor said - "
"Don't you bring that foreigner's name up to me!" Hepplewhite growled, his jowly face ruddy with anger as he took a wavering step away from the wall. "You don't take orders from him, dammit! You take orders from me!"
"Yes, sir," Toby replied as steadily as he could, trying not to look afraid although he didn't like the light in the doctor's eyes, not at all. "What are your orders, sir?"
Hepplewhite frowned, peered at the officer with loathing. "Does he still have that fever?"
Toby bit his lip. "I don't know, sir."
"Well, find out!"
The lad didn't want to move, but it was that or get slapped, he could always tell when Hepplewhite was ready to hit him. So he moved over to the officer's hammock and put a hand to his forehead. "It's still a little warm, sir."
"Ha!" Dr. Hepplewhite snorted after taking another pull off the bottle. "Just like I thought. Drawing out the poisons, what kind of dago nonsense is that? Any doctor - any good *English* doctor knows there's only one way to get rid of a fever. But he thought he could come in here and parade around like some damned peacock."
Toby knew that Dr. Hepplewhite could keep this rant going for hours, and decided it was time to interrupt. "Is it all right for me to go to bed, sir?"
"What!" Hepplewhite thundered, "Haven't you been listening, boy, haven't you heard a word I said? That man's got a fever, now what do you do?"
Toby felt his stomach go tight. "Um - "
Hepplewhite spoke louder. "What do you do?!"
"Bleed him," Toby answered obediently, "B-but that other doctor said he just needed to re- "
"God damn it, boy!" Hepplewhite threw the near-empty bottle into the corner, where it crashed into a million pieces. "Is that mongrel son of a bitch your master, or me?"
Toby stared at Hepplewhite. He really was scared of him now. "You are, sir."
"Precisely, and don't forget it. Now go get my knives."
After Horatio had tried in vain to stifle what felt like his fifteenth yawn at Captain Pellew's table, he decided that the night was over and he should go to bed. Rising from the table, he took his leave and left Captain Pellew's cabin, and soon found himself outside the glassed cabin doors, standing on the quarter-deck with the bracing wind in his face and the dark night sky above him.
Despite his fatigue, Horatio found the cool air revived him somewhat, and paused to wander over to the railing and stare out at the sea around him. The Spanish coast was behind them now, although he knew he could still see it if it were daylight. After tonight, Horatio didn't care if he never saw it again.
The entire mission had been odd, seemed off-kilter, and Horatio's logical mind was at a loss to figure it out. Archie should never have gone on that mission, yet staying might have killed him. They should have faced a small army at the convent, yet some food poisoning had reduced their enemy to a mere handful. And the rain should have made them easy targets for recapture or death, yet it became a welcome respite in which the men were rested and Archie was healed.
Horatio shook his head. By all accounts the mission could have ended in a thousand different disasters, yet here they were sailing peacefully towards Gibraltar without a care in the world. It didn't make sense. His world didn't work that way.
Horatio started a little and turned to see Dr. Sebastian casually walking toward him. With a tired smile Horatio said, "Are you going to bully me for not going straight to my quarters?"
"No, but thank you for giving me the suggestion," the doctor replied lightly as he approached, "I only wish to return your handkerchief which you left in the sick berth, and wish you a good night."
Horatio looked down in surprise at the wadded square of white in the doctor's hand. He'd forgotten he'd taken it out. "Thank you, sir," he said with a smile, and taking the handkerchief began to put it back in his pocket. As he did so, he had a nagging feeling, and knew that something was missing...
Dr. Sebastian noticed puzzled expression. "Is something wrong, lieutenant?"
"The shilling," Horatio suddenly recalled. "I had a shilling in my pocket, that Archie shot a hole through this morning. It must have fallen out in the sick berth."
"Oh. Well - "
"I'd better go get it," Horatio decided with a nod, "Archie will probably want it back, and heaven only knows what he would say if he found out Hepplewhite spent a shilling of his wages."
Dr. Sebastian caught the humor in Horatio's voice and smiled. "I will accompany you, lieutenant. If the doctor has found the shilling, I imagine you will need some help in retrieving it again."
As Horatio feared, the windows of the sick berth door were dark when he and Dr. Sebastian approached them some minutes later. When he saw this, Horatio stopped and shook his head.
"Everyone's asleep," He muttered in disappointment. "I'll have to come back in the morning."
"The stove should be lit, at least," Dr. Sebastian said lightly as he walked toward the paned glass door and looked though it. "How badly do you want the shilling?"
"Not badly enough to crawl on all fours in the dark for it," Horatio replied. He gave a small sigh and said, "But I suppose Archie will be cross if it comes up missing. I'll be right back."
Dr. Sebastian opened the sick berth door and Horatio walked through it into the near-darkness of the sick berth. He could see the stove lit at the far end, and not far from it Archie lying asleep in his hammock. There were no lanterns lit, however, and Horatio cursed his blindness as he became temporarily entangled in an empty hammock before making his way to where the shilling had likely fallen. If it fell out anywhere, it would have to be near Archie's hammock, on the side closer to the door...
Horatio walked close to Archie's side, treading lightly to be sure that he didn't wake his sleeping friend up. Thankfully, Archie was deeply asleep, or Horatio guessed he was - it was too damn dark to even see Archie as anything more than a dimly red outline. By his shallow breathing Horatio guessed his friend might be having a nightmare. Horatio hesitated, concerned, but likely it would pass, and in any case he would mention it to Dr. Sebastian and see if there was anything the man could do. But now, to that blasted shilling...
It was probably a hopeless cause, but with his usual determination Horatio dropped on all fours and began to pat his hand around the floor, hoping the shilling hadn't found its way through a crack in the timbers. Or into Hepplewhite's pocket.
Amazingly enough, not ten seconds later Horatio's hand touched something hard and round, and Horatio plucked the shilling off the floor in triumph. He felt the middle; a hole through it, just as he thought there should be. Just as he...
Horatio felt the coin again, frowned as he realized it was covered with a warm wetness. Curious, he put his hand down on the timber again, close to where the shilling had been, and felt something wet there too, not like water but thicker, more like -
Horatio almost threw himself down on the floor to look.
His eyes had adjusted to the low light now, and Horatio could clearly see a small pool of blood collecting next to a small whitewashed basin. Over the basin hung a limp arm with a deep gash cut into it. And the basin was filled to overflowing.
Horatio leapt to his feet and raced around the hammock, his heart tasting like cold metal in his mouth. Frantically he grabbed Archie's arm without even looking at it, trying to close the wound with his hands as he fought to find his voice. "Dr. Sebastian!"
Not a moment later the doctor was hurrying into the room. "What is it - merciful God!"
"I don't know what happened," Horatio stammered as Dr. Sebastian quickly came to his side and took Archie's bleeding arm, holding it high and pressing the flesh with both hands, "I came in and he was bleeding - "
"Light a lantern, quickly!" Dr. Sebastian ordered, and Horatio hastened to obey, wondering where Hepplewhite was. With trembling hands he found a lantern and taper, and taking a light from the stove lit it and hung it from the nearest hook. Then he turned around to see what else he could do, looked at Archie, and stopped.
Archie was almost completely white, far paler than he'd ever been, even in the Spanish prison. His skin was covered with a fine sheen of sweat, and his lips looked almost blue. Worse, he wore a look of pained confusion even in sleep, and was beginning to shiver beneath the coarse blanket that covered him. His bared arm was streaked with blood, deepest crimson on alabaster white, and the sudden thought that Archie might be dying made Horatio immobile with fear.
Dr. Sebastian looked up at Horatio and almost yelled, "I need clean cloths, as many as you can find."
Horatio didn't move. What the hell had happened?
Dr. Sebastian's sharp voice jarred Horatio out of his panic. With a quick blink he remembered what the doctor had said, and quickly went to the corner of the sick berth, where he knew Hepplewhite kept a store of rags and cloths. Picking out as many clean ones as he could find, he hastened back to the doctor's side.
"Thank you," Dr. Sebastian said, and immediately took one of the cloths and bound it around Archie's bleeding forearm, put another on top of it and continued holding it up and putting pressure on it. Archie's shivering was worse now, and Horatio placed a hand on his shoulder and looked at Dr. Sebastian in puzzlement and dread.
There was no comfort there, however; the doctor's expression was grim as he shook his head. "He's been bled again, and the tonic he took earlier contained foxglove, which slows clotting. He's been thrown into shock from all the blood he's lost - "
Dr. Sebastian's words were cut short as Archie began shuddering so violently that Dr. Sebastian nearly lost his grip on the boy's arm. Horatio gasped and flung his left arm across Archie's chest, hoping to at least keep him from flinging himself to the floor.
"Very good, Mr. Hornblower," Dr. Sebastian said quickly,and when Horatio glanced up at him the doctor was struggling to keep ahold of Archie's arm while he pressed a clean cloth to the still-bleeding wound. Horatio saw the other cloth fall, and it was heavy and black with blood.
Hearing a soft noise, Horatio turned back to see that Archie was tossing his head from side to side, muttering and moaning like a trapped animal. Desperately, Horatio put his other hand on Archie's brow to still the thrashing. It helped some, but Archie's eyes were still closed and he felt cold, so cold -
"What can we do?" Horatio asked, looking up at Dr. Sebastian urgently. The doctor was staring at Archie's face, both of his strong hands still clamped around the bleeding wound, his dark eyes huge and worried, and Horatio turned away from them when he realized that Dr. Sebastian was as helpless as he was. Despairing, Horatio closed his eyes in defeat. Archie was slipping away from beneath the very hands that were fighting to keep him on the earth, and there was nothing they could do, nothing -
"Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided - "
Horatio opened his eyes again, confused. It was Dr. Sebastian's voice, calm and low.
"Inspired then with confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother, to you do I come, before you I stand - "
Horatio looked up at the doctor again, saw the same concern on his swarthy face, the same anxiety in those black eyes, but he was reciting something, a prayer it sounded like, in deliberate, earnest tones, as if he was sitting in a drawing-room instead of standing in a sick berth holding the arm of someone bleeding to death. He was the picture of outer worry and inner calm, and for a moment Horatio was baffled. Archie was dying; would words change anything?
" - sinful and sorrowful, O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me, Amen."
As soon as he finished, Dr. Sebastian began the prayer again, and Horatio listened to the soothing cadence, even though he knew that it would do no good. Archie seemed to be growing colder, and as Horatio watched he opened his eyes a little, but they were blank and unseeing.
"...never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided..."
Archie's eyes opened a little wider, and Horatio leaned closer. "Archie? Archie, can you hear me?"
Another cloth fell to the floor, and quickly another took its place.
Archie winced, blinked slowly but didn't look in Horatio's direction. His lips moved, a little, but Horatio couldn't hear him saying anything.
"To you do I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful - "
Archie was still trembling, and Horatio pulled the blanket up with one hand so he was sufficiently covered and smoothed his brow with the other as he begged, "Archie, please forgive me! I was so stupid, this was all my fault, I'm so sorry! Please believe that, please hear me! God, Archie - "
"O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me. Amen. Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary - "
Still Dr. Sebastian's prayer continued, and still Horatio felt nothing from those words but the horrible folly of them, that they would be any help at all when they could not stop blood or halt death. Archie's trembling had eased a little, but not nearly enough, and he would still not look at Horatio. Horatio kept his arm across his friend's chest in case a fit should take him, and tried to think of something to say that would break through and bring Archie back. Nothing would come.
"Inspired then with confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother, to you do I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful - "
Horatio squeezed his eyes shut, knew he would be undone in a moment. Any instant now he would fly apart and say something sharp to the doctor, to tell him that Archie was beyond them and that nothing would help and there was nothing to do but mourn. He opened his mouth to say so, but choked on his tears and paused to clear his throat.
"...never...was anyone...who fled to your protection...unaided..."
Horatio's eyes flew open in surprise. That faltering voice had not been the doctor's. "Archie?"
Archie blinked a few times, still staring at the ceiling, but it seemed to Horatio that he was whispering the same prayer Dr. Sebastian was saying, or parts of it, as if it were an anchor line drawing him back. "..to you do I come...before you I...stand..."
Horatio leaned closer, staring intently into Archie's face. Behind him, the fervent prayer continued. "Archie, can you hear me? It's Horatio."
Archie blinked again, and squinted as if the room was very dark. In a very quiet voice he said, "H-Horatio?"
"Yes," Horatio couldn't help but smile; it was the first sign Archie had given that he knew him since that afternoon. "You're on the Indie, we're home."
Archie took a deep breath, or tried to, and he began to shiver again. "Everything's spinning - "
"I know," Horatio replied, encouraged that Archie was speaking coherently, "You've - well, you've lost a lot of blood, but that's fixed now, you just have to hang on and you're going to be all right."
Archie's eyebrows came together in confusion. "I was - are we still in prison?"
"No," Horatio's stomach fell. "No, Archie, we're on the Indefatigable, the prison is long past. Archie!" Horatio called in alarm, for Archie had begun to close his eyes again. "Archie, you remember we came home? You remember what came after?"
Archie's eyes came open, and he looked at Horatio petulantly. "You don't have to shout."
Horatio was still far too worried to smile at that remark. "But after the prison, Archie, you remember that, don't you? The bridge, you saved my life..."
"Of course I remember," Archie mumbled, "I'm just so deucedly light-headed..."
Horatio realized that Dr. Sebastian had stopped praying, and when he looked up he saw that the doctor was wrapping another clean cloth around the wound, which was not bleeding much anymore, and when he finished he glanced at Horatio with an exhausted smile.
"The bleeding has stopped," Dr. Sebastian said, relief obvious in his voice, "And Mr. Kennedy is still with us. That is a good sign."
Horatio smiled back, confused beyond his power to explain it but grateful nonetheless. When he turned back to Archie, however, the young man had closed his eyes.
"I can't keep him awake," Horatio lamented, removing his hand from Archie's brow.
"You don't need to," Dr. Sebastian said quietly, "He needs to sleep, to regain his strength from this - this - " His tone changed so rapidly Horatio looked up at him again, and saw that the relief on the doctor's face had been replaced with an all-consuming anger. With carefully controlled tones Dr. Sebastian said, "Mr. Hornblower, to prevent more bleeding would you kindly do me a service and keep Mr. Kennedy's arm elevated for a while longer, until I can stitch his wound closed properly?"
"Yes," Horatio said, and stood to walk around the hammock.
"Thank you," Dr. Sebastian replied as Horatio reached his side and took Archie's bandaged arm from him, "Now if you'll excuse me I must go and find that pig-headed excuse for a - "
"WHAT THE DEVIL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?!"
The words were bellowed so loudly Horatio was certain the entire sick berth vibrated. He whirled around to see Dr. Hepplewhite standing in the doorway to his sleeping-room, still dressed in his nightshirt and trousers, clutching a bottle of some kind of liquor. He looked somewhat drunk and extremely unhappy.
"Dr. Hepplewhite!" Dr. Sebastian said in low but very authoritative tones. "I desire a word with you, sir, outside if you please."
Hepplewhite stomped over to the hammock and glared at the doctor as if he hadn't said anything. "What are you doing with my patient? Get away from him at once!"
Dr. Sebastian turned his head a little toward Horatio, and said in a low voice,"Keep his arm up, lieutenant, and if it starts bleeding again come get me at once." To Hepplewhite he said, a little louder, "Doctor, this is not the place for loud noise or aggravation. Come outside, please!"
"I won't!" Hepplewhite barked, even though Dr. Sebastian had already moved away from the hammock and began walking toward the door at the far end of the sick berth. "I must stay and see to my patient, whom I see you've interfered with!"
"Yes, to save him from bleeding to death!" Dr. Sebastian seethed as he stopped at the door and rounded to face Hepplewhite. He opened the door and gestured for Hepplewhite to proceed him through it.
But Hepplewhite only walked close enough to glare into Dr. Sebastian's eyes. "I bled him for his fever!"
"You bled him for your arrogance! I told you when I brought him aboard that his fever was minor and would ease. You've bled him too much, and he's gone into shock!"
"Bled him too much!" Hepplewhite sniffed. "Blood clots long before it runs itself out, 'doctor'!"
Dr. Sebastian's glare intensified as he brought out the empty tonic bottle. "It would, except instead of healing that boy's injuries you gave him a poison that contained so much foxglove it affected his heart, stopped his blood from clotting and nearly killed him!"
"Rubbish!" Hepplewhite sputtered, "That tonic comes from one of the finest apothecaries in London! The physician that prepared it is a personal friend of mine - "
Dr. Sebastian held up the bottle so it gleamed in the low light. "Digitalis to slow the heart, laudanum to dull the senses, and alcohol to disguise the taste! Drugs to cover the wound but not heal it, and you threw it at him without even asking if he had a tolerance for it." He threw the bottle away in disgust. "In my opinion that is unconscionable."
"And why should I give a damn about your opinion?" Hepplewhite sniffed, drawing himself up. "You have no authority here, you're only a passenger!"
Horatio amazed himself by saying quietly, "Dr. Hepplewhite - "
Hepplewhite's head whipped around and he stabbed Horatio with a glare. "What?"
"Um - " The words had scampered away in his head, and it took Horatio a moment to retrieve them. "Actually, Captain Pellew appointed Dr. Sebastian as surgeon's mate."
Hepplewhite's eyes widened. "I don't believe it!"
Horatio shrugged. "And yet - and yet it is true, nonetheless."
Dr. Sebastian smiled at Horatio's mimicking of his own words, but Dr. Hepplewhite looked as if he might explode. Turning furious eyes back to Dr. Sebastian he said, "Well, I don't accept it! What evidence do I have that you know what you're doing at all?"
Horatio felt the need to speak up again. "He did help Mr. Kennedy, sir."
Hepplewhite snorted. "That boy is a hypochondriac, any so-called 'doctor' could find some ailment in him! He's been whining to me for years!"
Dr. Sebastian left the door then, to walk around Dr. Hepplewhite and stare hotly into his eyes. "I will not tolerate you referring to that young man's suffering in such a disrespectful fashion! His pain and his scars and the fluid I drained from his abcess are all very real, and I believe you know the cause of them!"
The doctor's words were so furious that Horatio saw Hepplewhite take a step backward and look at Dr. Sebastian in momentary fear. Then he recomposed himself and said, "I see he's gained your sympathies, helped along by Mr. Hornblower, no doubt! As to the cause of his complaints, how should I know what trouble that boy got into? I am not the captain, nor the master at arms!"
"No, you are the surgeon," Dr. Sebastian said archly, "Just as you were the surgeon on the Justinian, and looked the other way when men were brought to you with broken bones and bloodied faces! You set their bones and bound their gashes, how could you never wonder what brought them on?"
"It was not my responsibility to 'wonder'," Hepplewhite huffed defensively.
"It was your responsibility to look after your captain's men!" Dr. Sebastian replied hotly, with a loathing Horatio could almost feel. "You knew who was beating those men, who was hurting that boy, and you did nothing! Nothing!"
Hepplewhite's eyes became venomous slits. "I'll be damned if I stand here and listen to some half-bred Spanish whelp accuse me! Both of you, out of my sick berth before I call the master-at arms!"
As Horatio watched from Archie's side, Dr. Sebastian shook his head firmly. "I will not leave until I am certain that young man is looked after properly."
"Then I'll have you thrown out!" Hepplewhite declared, and strode toward the door.
Horatio saw Dr. Sebastian quickly put his hand on Hepplewhite's arm to stop him, just short of the door. Hepplewhite turned, his face blazing with indignant fury.
"You can remove me, sir," Dr. Sebastian seethed, "But I swear before God and the Blessed Virgin that if you drain one more drop out of that youth in my absence I will see you arrested and dragged before a court-martial for negligence and murder!"
"That's enough!" Hepplewhite bellowed, shoving Dr. Sebastian away and pointing a trembling finger in his face. "I'll not be threatened in my own sick berth by you or any other Papist charlatan. And I won't be told how to doctor my own men by a coddling nursemaid whose captain can't even keep his own ship on top of the water!"
Horatio saw Dr. Sebastian take a quick step forward, both hands curled into fists, and almost felt the battle the doctor was waging for self-control. Self-control won, but Horatio knew it was not by much.
"Go ahead and strike me!" Hepplewhite goaded, smug triumph in his small eyes. "I would expect nothing less from you beastly people! Captain Pellew may be easily led, but you can see that I am not! And I don't care what sentimental rot you connived him into believing, or what amount of plundered gold you offered him to secure you a position, I'll bleed my patients as I please and be cursed to hell before I follow the captain's idiotic example and listen to the word of a god-damned DAGO!"
Horatio went white, and stared at Hepplewhite in numb shock. Dr. Sebastian was staring at him too, but it was almost in pity rather than anger. Then Horatio saw a shadow move by the door, saw Hepplewhite turn in surprise, and drew in his breath.
It was Captain Pellew.
For an extremely long, slow, agonizing moment, nothing in the sick berth moved. Horatio realized he had been gripping Archie's arm very tightly, and eased his grip a little while he looked down at his friend's face. Mercifully, Archie was still asleep, although Horatio was unsure how anything could remain senseless through what had just occurred. His own ears were still ringing...
And Pellew! Horatio had rarely seen the captain look so stern and cold as he did at this moment. He still stood in the doorway, glaring at Dr. Hepplewhite in a way that made Horatio shiver.
Amazingly, Hepplewhite did not seem to be intimidated. He looked at the floor for a moment in embarrassment, then back at Pellew with almost a defiant air. Dr. Sebastian glanced in Horatio's direction, and Horatio could tell he was trying to see Archie's arm. He seemed to be satisfied with what he saw, and turned back to Pellew to await his word.
It was a long wait. For what seemed like an eternity Pellew looked at Hepplewhite with that steady, unnerving stare of his. Then, at last, he said with that quiet tone of iron, "Gentlemen, may I remind you this is a sick berth and not a tavern or gambling hall. Your voices would carry to the Dons themselves if we were close enough to shore."
Dr. Sebastian nodded in acceptance of the rebuke, but Horatio noticed that Hepplewhite just stared at Pellew, as if the words did not apply to him.
Pellew's eyes pierced Hepplewhite and held him while he asked, "Dr. Hepplewhite, am I to understand that you disagree with my appointing Dr. Sebastian as your surgeon's mate?"
Hepplewhite cleared his throat and glanced at Dr. Sebastian as if he were a dead barnacle. Then, lifting his chin to Pellew, he replied, "Yes, sir, I do. I am quite capable of running a sick berth with one patient in it, and I have no need for an assistant."
"What you mean is you have no need for a god-damned dago," Pellew's words had thorns in them as he calmly strolled into the sick berth and walked around both men. He came between them and stopped, looking at Dr. Sebastian evenly as he continued, "Well, neither do I, but fortunately for both of us that is not who we have. What we have is by all accounts an excellent doctor and a loyal Englishman, and even it that was not proven to me by the words of his commanding officer it would have been more than proven by his actions regarding Mr. Kennedy."
Horatio saw Dr. Sebastian smile, just a little, but behind Pellew Hepplewhite was stabbing the other doctor with a resentful glare.
"And so, Dr. Hepplewhite," Pellew said, turning around just fast enough to see the physician hastily drop the hateful expression from his face, "I am afraid that in this instance, for the good of the men, I must insist on you following my idiotic example and take this man's word for anything he says. Is that *quite* understood?"
Hepplewhite frowned. "Captain Pellew, I must protest this insult to my abilities - "
Quick as a jaguar Pellew was two inches from Hepplewhite's face, his eyes blazing and his face set in a commanding scowl. "Is that UNDERSTOOD, doctor?"
Hepplewhite flinched a little, then deflated. "Yes, sir."
"Very well," Pellew backed away, his angry gaze flicking between Hepplewhite and Sebastian. "If you have any concerns you will bring them to me, not shout in the sick berth like a lot of Liverpool fishwives. Mr. Hornblower."
Horatio started at hearing his name. "Sir?"
Pellew came closer, the anger in his face changing to concern. "How is Mr. Kennedy?"
Horatio glanced down at the bandage where there was no new blood, and then down at Archie's quiet, slumbering face. "He seems to be on the mend, sir."
Pellew nodded. "I'm glad to hear it. Now get yourself to bed, and report to me in the morning. I would like a full accounting of your mission."
Horatio heard the command in that tone, and nodded his understanding. "Yes, sir." He glanced down at Archie, however, suddenly reluctant to leave and abandon his shipmate to Hepplewhite.
Then came Pellew's voice, and when Horatio heard it he looked up to see earnest sympathy in those brown eyes. "You have your orders, Mr. Hornblower. Time to take the world off your shoulders for the night, lad."
Horatio sighed, and as Dr. Sebastian came to his side carefully laid Archie's wounded arm over his chest, and stood to go.
Pellew leaned back in satisfaction and turned to leave, his cloak making a wide circle in the small sick berth. "Good night, gentlemen." He said simply, and quietly walked back out the sick berth doors and into the night.
Dr. Sebastian leaned over Archie's hammock to peer into the youth's face and put a hand on his forehead, but no sooner had he done so when Hepplewhite came to the hammock and said, "Well, I can see whose side the captain is on! This isn't the last he'll hear of your insolence, believe me!"
"Please be quiet," Dr. Sebastian said quietly, his eyes still on Archie's face, "The captain will hear any concerns you have in the morning."
"That he will!" Hepplewhite grumped, and Horatio watched him turn around and walk heavily toward his bed chamber door, grabbing the liquor bottle on the way out. "That he will. I can promise you that!"
There was the heavy slam of the cabin door, and it was silent again.
Horatio sighed, feeling like this day had lasted for centuries. He ached in every bone in his body, but still felt compelled to linger. "How is his fever?"
"The same," Dr. Sebastian replied softly as he smoothed the hair over Archie's brow and settled his arm down across his chest. "He needs only to sleep now, and it will ease by morning."
"But if he's bled again - "
"Will you please go to bed, lieutenant!" Dr. Sebastian's tone was a mixture of annoyance and humor as he gave Horatio an exasperated look. "Mr. Kennedy will not recover more quickly if you are made ill with exhaustion, and I will look after him. Your captain is very wise. Take the world off your shoulders and rest for a while."
Horatio gave a tired smile, and shrugged. "I am accustomed to the weight, sir. It is my duty, after all."
"I will not argue with your duty," Dr. Sebastian replied as he arranged the blankets around Archie's sleeping form, "But the weight will still be there tomorrow, and in the meantime I will be more than happy to carry it for you. I have little else to do until the morning comes."