by Sarah B.
It was with a happy but tired heart that Horatio alighted from the carriage that night, walking quietly into his father's house and being careful to shut the great side door quietly. His father always slammed it, and it had driven Horatio's late mother to distraction.
It had been a long day, but a happy one, for on that bright June day Horatio had stood with his best friend Archie Kennedy and watched him take a young lady in marriage. And not just any young lady - Trudy Whitehall, who Horatio had known since childhood and whose exhuberent iron will was such a good match to Archie's gentle nature that Horatio had spent most of the day kicking himself for not introducing them years ago. Ah, well. Water under the bridge.
Horatio walked through the quiet house, knew his father had long since gone to bed, and slowly made his way up the long stairs to his own room. Of course, the wedding celebration at Kennedy manor had been a grand affair, and of course Horatio had stayed as long as he could. He'd helped Archie get ready, steadied his friend's fraying nerves, then walked across the hall to look in on Trudy, who looked beautiful and kissed Horatio on the cheek when he mentioned that he'd never seen Archie look so happy.
"Wait until he gets back from the honeymoon," Trudy had said with a sly wink, and after a little thought Horatio decided she would probably be right.
Then there was the wedding, the reception, a hundred toasts from Horatio, Captain Pellew, and all of the friends and officers in attendance. As Horatio reached his room he smiled at how splendidly everything had gone, and especially how his friend had spent the entire time beaming like a child who has just been given everything he ever wanted, and more besides. It did Horatio's heart good to see Archie so happy, and he knew that in Trudy's care that happiness would continue for the rest of his life. The couple had been so close, and the reception so crowded, Horatio had not gotten a chance to talk to Archie half as much as he would have liked. But that was to be expected; Archie and Trudy really did have eyes only for each other, and both seemed truly happy. So, Horatio was glad.
Even if the marriage did mean that Archie would never sail on the Indefatigable again.
Horatio lit a taper from the fire burning in the fireplace and set to the lanterns in his room. Yes, it was going to be a bit lonely on the Indie with Archie gone, but Horatio had known for a while that his friend was leaving the navy once he married, so it was hardly a shock. But still - it would be hard. It would be hard to return to the Indie, knowing that Archie would never sail on her again. It would be hard to adjust to long dull watches unenlivened by his friend wandering by with a joshing word or a new joke. It would be hard to face evenings in the wardroom unaccompanied by Archie's sometimes-heated debate. And it would be difficult, when the Indie was engaged in some contest of war, to look through the smoke and confusion on the ship and know that there would be no pair of excited blue eyes to meet his in the brotherhood of battle. Perhaps that would be the most difficult test of all...
Horatio removed his jacket and tossed it onto the bed, smiling grimly as a few stray grains of wedding rice fell out of the jacket's sleeves. I don't believe it, he thought with a dull wonder as he turned away from the bed and stared at the fire. I never thought it possible, but when I go back to the Indie I shall actually be lonely.
Horatio had rarely been lonely. He remembered his father once describing him as 'a solitary boy', and it was true. Before Justininian he had had few close friends, Trudy and her brother Terry being an exception. His friendship with Archie had been slow to build, first companions in misery on the Justinian, then in confinement in Spain, where Horatio had found Archie after years of thinking him dead. Archie had been a broken man, but he had pulled out of his despair, and after he saved Horatio's life in Muzillac it was like the closing of a circle, and the opening of a new one, for Horatio had never had a best friend, and until that horrible moment on the bridge when he badly wanted to die had never known he needed one. Then Archie had pulled him across, had helped him, and Horatio had realized that he did need a friend. And he was unaccustomed to having one.
And now, he was unaccustomed to losing one.
Blast it, Hornblower, stop being so selfish, Horatio chided himself as he began to unbutton his shirt. Archie's not on the Indie, but he's happier where he is and you know it. He'll settle into his family's house, Trudy will make him happy, and you'll get on your life just as you did before. Perhaps you'll visit them when you're ashore, although it may be years from now. It won't be the same, of course - men change, just as the sea does, and surely Archie will make his share of friends ashore, just as you will make new ones on the sea. But perhaps he'll remember, of course he will. Be happy for him, and set your sails.
And Horatio was happy, for Archie. But the unfamiliar loneliness still frightened him.
It really was getting late, and Horatio finished unbuttoning his shirt and pulled the shirttails out, casting a glance at the bed as he did so. His eye fell on the open jacket, and Horatio noticed something sticking out of the inside pocket, a white envelope he knew had not been there that morning when he put the jacket on. Curious, Horatio plucked the envelope out of its hiding place and turned it over. The front was blank. Frowning, Horatio opened the envelope and found a folded piece of paper inside. He removed and opened it. It read:
God knows this day will be madness, and I doubt that we shall have time for more than ten words together. If we do get occasion to speak, I cannot in my heightened emotions trust myself not to embarrass us both, so after consulting Trudy I am putting my thoughts to paper. Forgive me for this distance, and indulge me, for this sentiment must be given or else I cannot consider myself a man fit to marry so wonderful a young lady as Trudy.
I am waxing verbose I fear, so here it is: Horatio, thank you.
But for you I would have been dead these many years. When you found me in the Spanish prison I was ready to surrender to the demons that were so eager to claim my soul, but you would have none of it. You did not know why I wanted to die, and I was not prepared then to tell you. I valued my life as nothing, and if you had not demanded that I get strong for your sake I would have gladly perished. And never known the joy that I do now.
Trudy is perfection, Horatio. She has set about healing the wounds in my soul, and but for you those wounds would have died still festering in me, their banishment unrealized. You saw something worth rescuing in me, and I hope that you know that I have never forgotten what you risked to set me free. Nor will I ever forget it. You have my word.
Thank you for having the courage to stand up to Simpson. Thank you for having the compassion to help me when I could not help myself. And most of all, thank you for being the kind of friend who encourages and inspires me, and helped me to discover the treasures of this world that otherwise would have remained buried forever.
I must close this, as Trudy has promised to slip it into your jacket and you will be here soon. Call on us when you can, as I am sure Trudy would love to see you again, and I shall always be happy to open my door to the man I have the honor of calling my friend. Your destiny is greatness, Horatio. And in our hearts, you have already achieved it.
Next to that strong signature, in lighter, more delicate script:
His wife thanks you too! - Trudy KENNEDY
Then, again in Archie's hand:
Post Script: I have taken the liberty of asking Lord Edrington to make his bed at the Whitehorse Tavern, which is close by to you. Should you need a partner for whist, he has assured me that he will be awake long past midnight, and will be in town until you set sail again. Once, long ago, he told me to look after you, and you see it is a duty I take very seriously. AK
Horatio read the letter again, blinked at it in wonder. For a long moment he did nothing. Then he carefully set the letter down and rebuttoned his shirt. It was late, but it was getting later, and if he was to make the Whitehorse Tavern in any time at all Horatio knew that he had to hurry.
But that could wait.
After redressing, Horatio picked up the letter again, and smiling to himself walked over to his desk and sat down. Yes, Edrington would understand. And he could certainly wait.
Because Horatio had a letter to write. And his own share of thanks to give.