This Above All
by Kathy Kirchner
It was strange, mused Matthews as he came back on deck, the
sun beating down on his weary body. It was such a short time ago
that this deck had been teeming with fighting men, Renowns against
Spanish prisoners, the air thick with curses and shouting and the
clang of steel against steel, and the occasional gunshot, but now the
deck was eerily silent in comparison. He shook his head slightly.
He much preferred the silence, thank you. What a fierce fight it had
been. He and Lieutenant Hornblower and several other men had been
aboard the prize ships, unaware that their crewmates were fighting
desperately for their lives and their ship. They'd almost been too
late to help them. Renown had almost been lost.
But they hadn't been too late, he reminded himself. They'd
ship, the Spanish colonel was dead, the prisoners were again locked
away, and things were all under control. Of course, Captain Sawyer
was dead also, but try as he might, Matthews could find no grief in
his heart. He had served far too long under the tyranny of the mad
captain. It had been Sawyer who got them into this in the first
place. Sawyer and that incompetent First Lieutenant Buckland.
Thinking of Buckland made Matthews grin. What a sight that
been! Trussed up in his bunk like a Christmas goose, a gag across
his mouth. Oh, how the man had burned with embarrassment when
Hornblower opened the door to his cabin and saw him lying helpless in
his bed. Matthews and Styles had followed Lieutenant Hornblower
below, afraid of what they might find, but upon glimpsing the tied-up
Buckland, it had been all the two veteran sailors could do to contain
their mirth. Hornblower had released his superior officer, and
Matthews and Styles had headed off to take care of their other
duties. Matthews had gone up top to see what he could do. Now, as
he reached the deck, he caught sight of Lieutenant Kennedy sitting on
a bench on deck, and headed over toward him. If anyone would
appreciate what had happened with Buckland, it would be the light-
hearted Archie Kennedy.
Matthews' steps slowed as he approached the lieutenant. Why
Kennedy just sitting there, and not assisting with repairs? That was
completely unlike him. Still, he'd fought bravely and well, so
perhaps he was just taking a well-earned rest. Matthews would
certainly never begrudge the boy any peace he could find, however
fleeting. It was rare enough aboard any ship of war.
"Mr. Kennedy, sir," he said respectfully as he approached
lieutenant. Kennedy, golden hair gleaming in the hot sun, looked up
at him and gave him a small, tight smile.
"Everything taken care of and secured, Matthews?"
he asked, his voice
quiet and thin, with none of the usual exuberance he normally
exhibited after a battle, and Matthews felt a twinge of unease.
"Aye, sir," he answered. "But there's somethin'
you might like to
hear, sir." With that, he launched into a slightly embellished story
of the discovery of Buckland, and he was rewarded with one of
Kennedy's famous wide grins. Perhaps everything was all right after
all, and his imagination was just getting the best of him.
Finished with his tale, he rose to his feet. "I should
back to work, sir." He knuckled a small salute to Kennedy, who
nodded in return, but made no attempt to get to his own feet.
Matthews was five steps away when Kennedy's quiet voice called
The veteran sailor turned around, and felt a distinct chill
the hot sun, as if a dark cloud had suddenly covered the sun. That
lad did not look right. Matthews had served with Kennedy ever since
the lieutenant had only been a mere boy, and he knew him almost as
well as anyone could. Something was most definitely off.
Kennedy waited until Matthews was standing beside him again,
he raised his head to look at his long-time sailing companion.
"Will you promise me something, Matthews?"
"Aye, sir, if I can."
Kennedy lifted his chin, and jerked it a bit, pointing across
deck. Matthews looked over to see Lieutenant Hornblower arriving up
top and stopping to speak to Styles for a moment. Hornblower,
Kennedy's closest and dearest friend in all the world.
"Take care of him."
Puzzled, Matthews turned back to Kennedy. "Beg pardon, sir?"
"No matter what comes, promise me you'll look out for
Kennedy's voice was hard, and stronger than it had been and Matthews
nodded slowly, recognizing the determination in the lad's voice. He
knew Kennedy's stubbornness better than most. "Promise me."
"Aye, Lieutenant Kennedy, I'll promise."
Kennedy's face relaxed and his eyes closed briefly. With a
sigh, he opened them up and looked directly at Matthews, who read a
wealth of strength and will and acceptance in those blue depths, and
a strange sort of calm. Matthews, as superstitious as any sailor,
felt a wave of darkness slowly creep over him, and he was suddenly
very afraid. He just wasn't quite sure of what.
"Thank you," Kennedy said softly. "You're dismissed."
Matthews nodded and moved off, then surreptitiously watched
lieutenants as Hornblower joined Kennedy on the bench. From his
angle, he could see both of their faces as they greeted each other,
and he felt his heart lift. There was no mistaking the smile that
lit Kennedy's face as Hornblower sat down, or the look of ease and
comfort that appeared on Hornblower's. Those two were closer than
any brothers Matthews had ever known, and they were never more
complete than when they were together. As long as they were side by
side, only good things could happen now, now that they were free of
Sawyer and his ravings. For the first time in a very long time
aboard this ship, he felt hope stir his weathered heart. Smiling,
Matthews turned back to his duties.
"I said, is that your blood?"
Hornblower's words, though spoken quietly, carried clearly
deck to Matthews. Startled, he looked up at the two officers, in
time to see Hornblower open Kennedy's jacket and reveal a steadily
darkening stain on his chest. Matthews saw the look of shock on
Hornblower's face, and then his own heart stood still as he watched
Hornblower gather Kennedy into a gentle, protective embrace. No.
Dear god, Hornblower would never show such emotion, unless....No. It
couldn't be. In his shock, Matthews watched the horrible realization
dawn on Hornblower's face, and took note of the look of peace that
settled over Kennedy's own as he rested his head against his friend's
...No matter what comes, promise me you'll look out for him...
No, Matthews thought again. He knows. Dear god in heaven,
Heat pressed against the spectators in the courtroom, and Matthews
tried to draw a breath. It was so stifling in the closed room, but
it would have taken a shot from a 36 lb cannon to remove Matthews
from his seat. He had to be there to support his officers - except
for that incompetent Buckland - so he could and would endure the
heat. Today promised to be very interesting. Buckland had as much
as accused Hornblower of mutiny in front of the court, of pushing his
captain into the hold, and today Hornblower would testify in his own
behalf. It should be enlightening.
"Call the next witness."
It was the voice of his former captain, now Commodore, Sir
Pellew who was presiding over the courts-martial of the Renown
lieutenants. Matthews watched as the commodore leaned forward,
knowing that this trial had to be extremely difficult for the man.
Hornblower was his star, his protégé, and Matthews knew that Kennedy
also held a place in the man's heart. He watched as the commodore
looked idly up as the courtroom doors opened, dropped his head, and
then immediately looked up again, his weary eyes widening. If
Matthews had not been watching him so closely, he would have missed
the flow of emotions across the deeply lined face, would not have
caught the expressions that flit through the dark eyes.
Astonishment, comprehension, shock, worry, understanding, and
finally, pride. It was a range of emotions he'd never seen pass by
so quickly on one man's face, and Matthews turned around to see what
had caused such a reaction.
Pale but resolute, Lieutenant Archie Kennedy stood in the doorway,
his face beaded slightly with sweat, his uniform neat and pressed,
his hat held under his arm. Matthews took a quick breath as the
young man began a slow, torturous trip up the aisle, his steps slow,
the normally jaunty step stilled by what must be an inordinate amount
of pain. Dr. Clive hovered behind him, but Kennedy made his own way,
his eyes fixed on the face of Commodore Pellew. There were whispers
amongst the spectators, with Kennedy's name being uttered amidst
startled exclamations, but the courtroom soon stilled as all the men
present realized that the only thing holding Kennedy on his feet was
his own raw courage. An ordinary man would surely have collapsed
under the strain.
With a sudden insight he did not normally posses, Matthews
the brave young lieutenant was doing, and why he was doing it. Tears
sprang to his eyes, and he wanted to jump to his feet, to stop what
was happening, to force Kennedy back to his sickbed, but instead, he
sat, frozen and gutted, watching a man he'd come to admire and
respect slowly shuffle down the aisle to certain doom.
Feeling nearly dead inside, he watched as Kennedy passed in
him. A wave of nausea and weariness caused the lieutenant to waver
for a second. Matthews started to rise to his feet to help the young
man, but Styles' hand on his arm stopped him. Angry, Matthews turned
to his friend, but the anger evaporated when he saw the look on
Styles' face. Kennedy had to do this on his own. As soon as Kennedy
had faltered, Dr. Clive's hand had instantly been at his back, but
Kennedy soon shook him off and continued his journey, his face set
"I alone pushed Captain Sawyer into the hold."
The words were spoken with a great deal of effort, but no wavering.
Matthews looked at the young lieutenant, seeing not the pale ghost of
a man that stood there, but instead the joyous young man who had
stood high atop the yardarm of Indefatigable, his spirit and soul
unbroken and free. That man would never have done such a thing as he
was now confessing.
"Nor would the man he is now," Matthews thought to
himself, feeling a
wave of pain wash over his hot, tired body as the courtroom around
him exploded with words and shouts. Kennedy was innocent. His
confession was only to save the life of the man who meant more to him
than anyone ever had, more than his own life.
He didn't miss the expression on Pellew's face as the commodore
raised the gavel and pounded it, saying "Take this man down." The
commodore was not at all pleased with the outcome of this court-
martial, but he would accept it. Because that was what Kennedy
A weight settled over Matthews' chest as Styles nudged him
to get to
his feet. Heavily, he rose to his feet, feeling as if he carried the
entire weight of Renown on his shoulders. This wasn't right, this
wasn't the way this was supposed to end. The truth was supposed to
come out, the truth of how Sawyer had brought on his own death,
enabled by an inept first lieutenant who was far out of his league.
It wasn't supposed to end in ignominy, with a decent and honorable
and good man condemned to death for a crime he could never have
Styles' hand rested on Matthews' shoulder as the two of them
to leave the bench, but the two of them stopped at the sight
unfolding in front of them. Hornblower had finally arrived, but too
late to stop what had happened, too late to stop his best friend's
sacrifice. The look on the normally stoic face near tore Matthews'
heart from his chest, so deep was the shock and grief reflected there.
"Come on, Matty," Styles said quietly. "We'd best leave them to it."
It. Matthews' heart constricted at the word. `It' could only
Kennedy's end, and the sundering of a brotherhood and friendship, the
like of which likely had never been seen in His Majesty's Navy. And
never would again.
"God DAMN it!" Matthews swore violently.
He and Styles were out in the hot Kingston air, following their
departure from the courtroom. They'd wandered for some time, never
knowing exactly what to do or where to go, as rudderless as if they'd
been dashed upon a reef during a storm. The thought of returning to
Renown and all her memories was too much for them to handle at the
moment. Matthews, angry at events and frightened for young Kennedy,
had been ranting and roaring for a long time now. Styles,
recognizing his mate's need to release his anger, had said nothing
the whole time.
"It ain't RIGHT, Styles," Matthews said. "Ain't
right it should end
like this. They'll think `im a mutineer. Didn't know `im like we
did, didn't know that little boy so full of life, and then tossed
into hell" His voice trailed off, and he viciously kicked at a
"No, it ain't," Styles agreed quietly. "But
nothin' to be done about
it." He hesitated, then looked at his long-time friend. "And maybe
it be better this way."
"Better?!" Disbelieving, Matthews swung around to
face him. "Better
he die with no honor, wit' the whole fleet callin' `im a mutineer?
"No honor?" answered Styles, his voice low but forceful.
got more honor than the whole damn fleet combined, an' we all know
it. No, it's better `e dies this way, with Mr. `Ornblower at `is
side, than swingin' alone from the gallows. Boy was too much
alone `is whole life. Better `e die knowin' `e done something right
and good fer his friend - fer ALL of us."
That gave Matthews pause. Truer words had never been spoken.
Kennedy HAD been alone most of his life, or given attentions unwanted
and best left unspoken. But Hornblower had looked beyond the young
man who had fits and was shunned by the crew and abandoned by his
family, to find the true man that lay beneath, and the two of them
had become the fastest of friends. The fastest of friends, and the
finest of officers. They'd truly been good for each other, Matthews
thought with a pang. How is Mr. Hornblower going to do this without
"He showed who `e was today," Styles continued quietly.
one ever goin' to be able to take that away from us. Or `im." He
rested his hand gently on his friend's shoulder. "The lad was
already dead when he walked up that courtroom aisle, Matty. Only
thing that kept `im goin' was `is love fer Mr. `Ornblower. `e's the
bravest man I ever seen."
Tears sprang to Matthews' eyes, and he lowered his head. Styles
right. Kennedy's sacrifice was far beyond noble, beyond brave. It
spoke of honor and respect, and a deep and abiding love for his
friend. But that didn't change the fact that he was gone, that his
smile would no longer light the deck of Renown, or his merry laugh
echo through her hold. He'd been one of so few beacons of light on
that ship, and now that light was forever extinguished.
"It still ain't right," he said quietly, and Styles sighed beside him.
"No, it ain't," he agreed, and then stopped for a
moment as he
weighed something in his mind. Taking his time, he spoke again to
"Do you remember all them fancy things `e used to say
to us, always
quotin' that Shakespeare fella?"
Matthews allowed a small, sad smile to cross his face. "Yes,
Lord, how `e loved `is book-readin'."
"Yes," Styles agreed. "I didn't always understand
rightly what `e
were talkin' about, but I `member one thing `e said. That
Shakespeare fella wrote `This above all: to thine own self be
true.' And that's what Mr. Kennedy did today. `e couldn't let
Mr. `Ornblower `ang for somethin' he didn't do, not if it were in `is
power to stop it. There weren't no other choice fer `im. I
reckon `e never even considered one."
No, thought Matthews sadly. The boy never put himself before
else, and especially not before Mr. Hornblower. Two sides of the
same ship, those two were, so different, and yet so similar. And
always bound together by the love they shared for the sea and each
The sound of a door opening made them both look up. A scarlet-clad
marine came through the door, carrying a litter, which was held up by
another marine at the other end. On the litter lay a body, draped in
a dirty, ragged, musty old blanket. Matthews' heart contracted, and
everything went blurry. It was over, then. Any hope for a miracle
was dashed by the sight of what could only be the body of their
He felt Styles' hand on his shoulder, the warmth and strength
gentle gesture reassuring him a bit. Styles knew how much Matthews
had admired and genuinely cared for the young Kennedy. He'd watched
him grow from a scared, tormented midshipman, into the fine, strong,
brave leader of men that he'd become. There had been a bond between
the veteran sailor and the younger man, and Styles recognized the
pain that Matthews was feeling, and respected it. It was never easy
to lose a friend, and that was what Matthews honestly considered
Kennedy. It was unusual for crew and officers, but they'd been
through so much together that it was only natural that a friendship
and respect should evolve from those shared experiences.
The two of them watched in respectful silence as the marines
Kennedy's body away, but Matthews' temper soon began to rise. The
marines were being careless, allowing the body to be jostled and
bumped around as they made their way down the steps and into the
street. As they reached the final step, an unclad arm fell from
beneath the ratty blanket and hung down, bouncing gently for a few
Matthews stepped forward and stopped the two marines.
"What'er ya want?" the first one snarled at them.
"We got some
garbage to dispose of."
"You watch yer mouth," Styles snarled at them. Matthews
nothing, but gently took Kennedy's arm and replaced it on the litter,
smoothing the blanket over him. They hadn't even allowed him to be
dressed in his uniform for burial, he thought with a lump in his
throat. And now he heads for a pauper's grave, an unmarked, unknown
end for such a fine man. It just ain't right.
"Aw, leave it be," said the second marine. "He's
just to be dumped
off anyway. Oughta just burn it, like the garbage he is."
"No, he ain't," Matthews said angrily, raising his
head and fixing
the man with a fiery glare. "He's a man."
"That ain't no man," sneered the marine. "He's
a mutineer. Ain't
fit for pig food."
Styles swore and started to swing at the man, but Matthews
his arm and stopped him just in time. "Don't, Styles," he
said. "Ain't nothing we can do fer `im now. And `sides - " he
nodded at the body beneath the blanket, " - `e ain't there. `e's
already gone on to a better place." He gently put a hand on
Kennedy's shoulder, patting it a few times, not caring that the
marines were watching in horror as he touched the body of one so
reviled as a mutineer.
"Rest easy, Lieutenant Kennedy," Matthews said quietly.
never goin' to forget."
The two men stood aside as the marines hefted the litter up
down the street. It was late now, the shadows lengthening across the
dusty street, and they watched as the men made their way away from
them. They were stopped, however, by a figure coming out of the
Admiralty building, and the marines immediately came to attention.
"Pellew," said Styles softly, and Matthews nodded.
It was indeed,
the commodore, who glanced around as if to be certain no one was
watching. His gaze missed the two sailors half-hidden in shadow, and
they listened unashamedly as the commodore berated the two marines
for their careless handling of their charge.
"With respect, commodore," said one of the marines,
"it's just a
worthless mutineer. We're just off to dump his body."
"No, you are NOT," Pellew said firmly, still unaware
that that his
former seamen could hear him. "You will take him to Fairlane
Cemetery, where a proper grave awaits him. You will remain there
with the body, on guard, until I arrive."
"No arguments, marine," Pellew said angrily. "The
been made, and you will follow my orders, or I'll have you up on
charges. Am I understood?"
Recognizing that it was a rhetorical question, the two marines
said `aye, aye,' and turned toward the cemetery. Matthews and Styles
watched them go, and then turned their attention back to the
Pellew stood by the side of the building, still unaware he
watched. For just a moment, grief and pain lined his already
careworn face, showing the countenance of the man instead of the
officer, a face very few people ever saw. After a moment, he raised
his hand to his face and rubbed it, as if trying to erase the moment
of weakness he'd allowed out. Then, squaring his shoulders and
taking a deep breath, he made his way over to the infirmary where
Kennedy had died, and Hornblower still grieved.
The two men stepped back into the alley as their former captain
passed by, knowing he would not want them to have witnessed his
grief. As Pellew went inside, Styles' hand again rested on Matthews'
"'e'll be fine now," Styles said quietly. "Commodore
care of `im."
"Yes," Matthews agreed. "'e took care of Mr.
Kennedy, and now `e'll
take care of Mr. `Ornblower."
Time passed, and the shadows began to lengthen, but still Matthews
and Styles remained outside the building where Kennedy had died.
Why, they weren't exactly sure. Perhaps it was out of respect for
the deceased lieutenant, or perhaps it was out of honor for
Lieutenant Hornblower. Most likely, it was a combination of the two.
The door opened, and both sailors came to attention as the
Commodore Pellew made its way down the steps. His step slowed as he
caught sight of the two men, and a tiny, somber smile whispered
across his face and then disappeared. He didn't speak to them, but
merely gave them both a nod, acknowledging the quick salute they both
gave him, and then continued on his way. Matthews and Styles watched
him as he made his way down the street, his shoulders stooped and his
normally vigorous steps slowed, the two sailors not moving until the
commodore turned the corner and disappeared from sight.
"'e looks `bout done in," Matthews said quietly,
and Styles nodded,
agreeing with him. The commodore looked to have aged about ten years
in the short time since the court-martial had begun, and he looked
even worse for wear now that it was over.
"This has been a hard day for us all," came a quiet
voice from behind
them, and both men snapped to attention.
"Mr. `Ornblower, sir," they said in unison.
"Men," Hornblower merely said, his gaze avoiding
theirs. The three
men stood awkwardly on the steps, Styles shuffling his feet as
silence fell like a shroud over them.
Matthews cleared his throat. He knew Hornblower was a man
all feeling away and would be horrified to know that his men saw his
pain, but he felt as if he had to say something. He more than anyone
knew the bond the two lieutenants had shared. "I'm sorry, sir," he
finally said, very softly. "'e were a good man."
"Yes," Hornblower said, his throat working as he
head. "He was that. And more."
As Matthews studied his lieutenant, he was reminded of that
day on the deck of Renown, and Kennedy's words to the veteran sailor.
.....Take care of him.....
I promised you, sir, Matthews thought. And I'll keep that
promise `til I see you again.
He looked closely at Hornblower, noting how the man avoided
their eyes, no doubt because they would see reflected in those dark
pools a pain and sadness unequaled by any they'd ever witnessed.
Feeling a stab of pain himself, he lowered his eyes, and as he did,
he caught sight of a white packet clutched in Hornblower's hands.
"What have you there, sir?"
"Hmm?" Hornblower said distractedly, and Matthews
pointed to the
packet. "Oh," he said, as if it were something that had completely
escaped his mind. "It's... it's my promotion. I've been named the
commander of Retribution."
"Have you now!" said Matthews with genuine pleasure.
"Sure, and it's
well earned, sir. Congratulations." Styles echoed his words.
"Thank you," Hornblower said quietly, his voice tight
controlled, "but I fear it is unearned. There are others far more
deserving than I."
"Beggin' your pardon, sir, but I disagree. You've earned
right `n` proper. Ain't no one better."
Finally, Hornblower lifted his eyes to Matthews, and for just
instant, allowed the pain to be visible in his eyes. "But at what
price, Matthews?" he said hollowly. "At what price?"
Matthews met his gaze steadily. "The price of love, sir."
Hornblower flinched a bit at the expression of the foreign emotion,
but Matthews pressed on. "You know this is what `e wanted for you,
sir - to keep goin' on, doin' what you do best, and bein' where you
be needed the most. We'll all keep `is memory, sir, and we'll all
honor `im, in our own way. `e wouldn't want you to stop livin'
just `cause he did. That ain't who `e was."
A tiny smile brushed Hornblower's lips, and he nodded. "Aye,"
said softly. "He never had a thought for himself, did he. And
you're right, Mr. Matthews - he would not want us to mourn him
forever, but to live our lives as if he were still here, guiding us."
Matthews met Hornblower's smile with one of his own. "'e is, sir,"
he said fervently as he placed his hand on his chest. "'e's right
here." He nodded at the new Commander, then dared to gently place a
finger over Hornblower's heart. "An' `e's right there, sir."
Hornblower dipped his head abruptly, and Matthews removed his
He saw the sheen of unshed tears in the younger man's eyes, and he
wished with all his heart that the lad did not have to suffer so, but
such was the life he had chosen. War respected no friendship.
Raising his head and squaring his shoulders, Hornblower gave
and Styles a long look. "Thank you, men," he said, his voice
stronger than before. "Your dedication and honor to those who have
fallen will not be forgotten." He looked at the packet in his hands
as if seeing it for the first time, then looked back up. "Now, if
you gentlemen will excuse me, I need to find a crew for my ship." He
quirked an eyebrow at them, and then turned to go.
Matthews followed him, Styles right beside him. Yes, thought
Matthews gratefully. He'll be all right. Oh, he'll grieve for a
long time, but not so that anyone else will see. That's something
he'll carry inside for the rest of his life, but I think he'll also
carry around a bit of Mr. Kennedy, too. And that's good. That's
the way it should be.
And I'll watch over him, Mr. Kennedy, he vowed silently. Just
you asked. And he'll make you proud of him - you just watch.
<He already has> came a voice from deep inside himself.
<And so have
you. Thank you, Matthews.>
"My pleasure and honor, sir," whispered Matthews.