Passages: Road To a Wedding
by Meanjean

Part Two

Heading into the berth, I found Reg and Horatio, heads together over Horatio's atlas, Reg occasionally making notes and both of them murmuring excitedly.

"Egads, Gentlemen, have you found a secret passage to a new world?"

Horatio looked up at me, eyes shining. "Perhaps something even better, Mr. Brandon."

Reg nodded. "We think we may know where El Muerte is."

I sat across from them. "Really? I had almost despaired of us finding her; she has not shown her face since the weather broke."

Horatio leaned back, arms folded across his chest. "No, no she hasn't, Drew. That is her history; she is nothing better than a pirate, and not a very big ship, but very skillfully sailed. She gains her advantage over her prey by pouncing during the midst of storms." He looked over at Reg. "Mr. Cousins gave me the idea, by mentioning that the ship must be hidden during the clear days."

Leaning forward, Reg showed me the page. "We both agreed it must be a neutral or unoccupied island that offers shelter, if not a landing point. And we found it...here."

I took a look. "This atlas is very old..." I murmured.

"Captain Pellew gave it to me." Horatio explained. "Interestingly, Mr. Bowles has a more current one, but this little one here was left off on the new maps."

The "island" in question was little more than a speck on the page, about four miles north-north-west of Lisbon. "It does not even have a name, Horatio; it cannot be very big."

"Of course not, and it was so unimportant that it was left off of newer atlases entirely."

I was utterly confused. "If it was so small and so unimportant, why on earth would you dock your ship there?"

Reg was patient. "He's a pirate, Drew. He lives on the stolen goods of captured and destroyed ships. He needs somewhere so small and unimportant it even escaped the map makers."

"Oh." I wondered what sort of Island it would be. "Any guess at the terrain?"

Horatio shook his head. "I can only guess, Drew. I would say, based on the other small islands in this territory I have seen, it would be rocky, with a protected cove."

"If so it will be difficult to find."

Reg nodded. "And even more difficult to sneak up on, for no doubt there are lookouts posted to warn of approaching ships."

I looked up. "We must approach under the cover of darkness, then. With no moon."

I do believe I shocked them both. "Mr. Brandon, that is very well thought out. We may just make a Lieutenant of you yet." Horatio smiled.

"To execute that we must also hope that our positioning is very exact right now; timing will be critical." Reg added

Wryly I shook my head. "Better not let Mr. Bowles even HEAR you questioning that, Reg. So, you are going to the Captain with this gentlemen?"

"Yes, I think the sooner the better; I know he would rather face her in good weather than in bad. Come, Mr. Cousins."

Startled, his mouth fell open. "Me, Sir?"

"Yes, you! You started this whole thing turning; of course you should be there when we describe to him our plan."

"We? Our? Sir...I mean, Mr. Hornblower..."

Oh, for God's sake! "Just shut up and GO already, Reg." I whispered fiercely.

Reg rose up reluctantly towards the doorway. I grinned, but I shouldn't have. Naturally I ought to have anticipated that Horatio was not done yet. "You too, Mr. Brandon. It was your idea about the attack's timing."

I followed them out, wondering exactly how the Captain would regard this sudden invasion of Lieutenants.

AS we headed towards his cabin, another thought intruded. "By the by, Mr. Hornblower, have you spoken to Kennedy today?"

"No, Mr. Brandon. Should I have?"

I shook my head. "Whether or not you should is one question. The thing is, sooner or later, you WILL!" But I declined further comment, as we were fast at Pellew's cabin.

***

One can never tell just how Pellew will react. Sometimes he does enjoy toying with us, teasing us, never in real anger, although you may be on board for six months before you understand that.

Today, however, he made no effort to hide his unabashed excitement about the extended brainwork of Horatio and Reg, aided in a very small way by my own input.

"Excellent work, all of you. Truly original thinking."

Horatio, being Horatio, immediately panicked under direct praise. "It does bear pointing out, Sir, that I do not KNOW that El Muerte is there."

The shocked look Reg gave him said volumes, as in: YOU WERE DAMNED SURE ENOUGH FIVE MINUTES AGO, HOW CAN YOU BE UNCERTAIN *NOW* WHEN WE ARE IN PELLEW'S CABIN? I do have some insight into Horatio's character that Reg does not. He is used to seeing him as the unfailing Lieutenant who always shines golden, not as the frequently insecure young officer I met while we were loading pumpkins on barges.

Pellew in fact ran right over Horatio's even small attempt at modesty. "She's there, Mr. Hornblower, I can feel it. She had to be hiding somewhere, and an uncharted Island...bless me, that it was in that old Atlas! Ha!"

Arms folded behind him, he paced by his window. "We must go alone, with the rest of the squadron staying out of eyesight.

"Perhaps they can station themselves around the island...or at least the area we believe the island is, Sir." Reg offered, suddenly not so timid.

"Another excellent idea, we shall signal the others on the morrow; no, no, I shall have their captains join me on board here tomorrow to go over the plan. When is the moon dark next, Mr. Hornblower?"

"One week exactly, Sir."

"One week. Let us pray the weather holds for us, can't have her slipping out into the fog."

He leaned forward onto the desk.

"We shall set the Indefatigable out in darkness, as close as we can without being spotted." His eyes widened. "We shall take in all sail and tow her, so there is not a bit of white to be seen. Once we ascertain that we have the Island, two boats of men will break off...and search for the cove. Board her and recover our prize."

"Shall we attempt to take control of El Muerte, Sir?" Mr. Hornblower asked.

He shook his head. "No. She carries dispatches that were intercepted from his Majesties' courier. Once you have them, our order is to burn her, or destroy her in any other way you see fit." Spinning to Horatio, he met his eye.

"Mr. Hornblower, I request that you NOT handle this mission."

We were all of us shocked. Horatio spoke first. "Sir, you know I will do as you order..."

Pellew nodded and swept on. "Yes, yes, but this was your plan, yours and Mr. Cousins, and I understand your desire to see it through. However, Mr. Bracegirdle will be leaving us as soon as we return to Gibraltar, which, if we are successful, is very soon. I would like to treat you, in this instance, as a first lieutenant, and would request that you remain on board. I want you to handle Indefatigable in this instance; the towing, the positioning; after our ships are launched, I want us ready to make sail immediately and be prepared to swoop in and assist as soon as the signal is given. Do you understand that?"

And he did; I could see his face lighten as he realized that it was time he started taking over Mr. Bracegirdle's responsibilities. "Yes, Sir. We will go over the details tomorrow, I am sure. But who will handle the landing?"

"Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Cousins." Pellew turned to Reg. "I assume you believe you are ready for this, Lieutenant Cousins?"

He did not hesitate. "Absolutely, Sir."

"Good. Have Mr. Kennedy join Lieutenant Hornblower and I for dinner this evening, we shall go over the plan in full." He remembered, suddenly, that I was there. "You have no objection to being held back on this mission, Lieutenant Brandon?" He bit back a smirk.

I was going to quip that I should endeavor to overcome my disappointment, but this wasn't one of THOSE sorts of moods. "Not at all, Sir."

"Good, good. Well, Mr. Hornblower, Mr. Cousins, I shall see you at dinner, then." We made to leave, when suddenly Pellew called me back. "A word with you, Mr. Brandon?"

Reg gave me a quick look, and then we both realized that we no longer had to have the "oh god what have I done now" fear that came with being a midshipman called into a private conference with the Captain. They were off, and I sat across from Pellew at his request.

He pulled out two letters with a familiar seal on them, and I became wary again. It was our family's seal; letters to him from my brother or my father, then. But when had they come?

Reading my mind, he laid it out on the table. "They came just before we left Gibraltar. You were stricken ill, and then with the bad weather of late I have not had time to address it with you. In truth, I have put off dealing with them..." I must have looked as bad as I felt, for the room seemed to shake even as he immediately went to reassure me. "Come, now, Drew, I told you, you will not be taken out of the service again as long as I am kicking."

I took a deep breath. "Sorry, Sir. They are from my father, are they not?"

"One is from your brother, and is of a remarkably similar nature to the one you received from him. He is most worried that your position should become known in Gibraltar. Well, I think we can assure him on THAT. Nobody knows of your role here save the men on this ship, and you have earned their loyalty. The lone exception is my friend Archibald Harvey, Captain at the dockyards. And Harvey, bless him, is as trustworthy as they make 'em. No, no, we need fear no gossip or idle chatter giving you away."

"I am relieved, Sir." I admitted.

"As you are also aware, he requests I not allow you to attend the wedding."

"Yes, Sir. And I...understand."

His eyes softened at me. "Do you? I am not sure that I would, in your place."

"Oh, don't get me wrong, Sir. I would love nothing more than to be there to see Archie and my sister marry. But I also could never cause them pain, and should my father react...well, the way he usually does when I am in his presence, it would hurt them both."

"To say nothing of hurting you." He added wryly. Then he unfolded the next letter. "This, Mr. Brandon, is where things get interesting. I DO have an idea as to how I wish to deal with this, a good thing, too, since if our upcoming mission is successful, then Mr. Kennedy and your sister shall be in a position to marry far sooner than anyone expected. You'd best read it yourself. It is from your father."

Quelling the sudden nausea I felt, I picked it up and began:

"Captain Pellew...

I have understood from my daughter Alicia that although you are agreeable to permitting Mr. Kennedy the necessary time in Gibraltar for his upcoming wedding, that you cannot spare my son Andrew for the same period. Stanton, my eldest, has assured me it would be most irregular and indeed would injure morale to permit a midshipman shore leave..."

I paused. "Bad luck on Stan that I should be promoted after such an ingenious explanation of his."

"Yes, well, perhaps that was partially behind your promotion." Pellew admitted.

"Hm, I wondered why all of a sudden my father took such an interest in my career."

I continued reading.

"...In these circumstances, I must beg of you to reconsider. How should it look should my daughter be married with her own brother but five hundred yards away yet not in attendance? Furthermore, I understand that this fellow Hornblower shall probably stand up with Mr. Kennedy. A commoner? Certainly the son of Lord Bridgeleigh cannot be so slighted, when there is a better option so readily at hand." My face burned in anger at hearing Horatio, who was all that my father was not, so slighted. "Please, Sir, I plead with you to release Andrew for one day. I can assure you, *I* shall be ensure his behavior is nothing but proper. I have not forgotten how he needs to be dealt with."

I swallowed hard, and the Captain allowed me the time he knew I needed to keep my composure. The last sentence chilled me more than I would like to admit. A flash of my last day at home...his attack...

Pellew gently laid his hand on my arm. "He will not be permitted to harm you, Drew. I give you my word on that."

Taking a deep breath, I looked at him with gratitude. "Thank you, Sir. I trust you. But...whatever are we to do?"

"I am afraid if your father has written to me, a letter to Hale and or Parker will no doubt follow. So you must attend. However, if YOU go, then so do I."

"Sir?"

"There is no way I am letting you get within fifty feet of your father without me by your side. I will talk to Mr. Kennedy about it. Mr. Cousins must retain control of the Indefatigable for the day, and you shall officially be listed as my attaché, and I shall explain to your father that I must have you by my side at all times in case I need urgent dispatches sent back to the Indefatigable, or anything else I can dream up. Between your brother and I, we will keep your father away from you."

He looked at me. "At least, that is my plan. Until we return to Gibraltar and see what exactly the wedding plans are, I cannot work this out further. But I DO have friends in Gibraltar, and you will be kept safe. That is, if you are agreeable to this plan."

"Agreeable? Sir, if I could only attend their wedding, I should want nothing more from life. I have seen Alicia suffer for so long...to see her happy...I cannot tell you what it would mean." And I realized as I looked at Captain Pellew that I can never, never repay him what he has done for me. "Thank you, Sir."

It was all I could say, but it seemed so woefully inadequate.

Clearing his throat, he pretended to be irritated. "Yes, well, enough of that, Lieutenant Brandon. Do try and actually perform some work as a physician, if you will, and stop interfering with Mr. Cousins and Mr. Hornblower. To sick berth with you, now."

"Aye, Aye, Sir." But I smiled as I said it.

He gave me one last uncertain look. "We still have much to work out." He reminded me, sounding as uncertain as Horatio had sounded earlier.

"I understand, Sir. I am in your hands. And in your debt."

And I returned to the sick berth, feeling that for once, for ONCE, my father is not in control of my destiny, and this time, everything will work out as planned.

***
October 19

The next days I saw my friends rarely. The preparation was constant; there was a flurry of visits with the captains of our other ships, and then our departure on the heading that Mr. Bowles determined would bring us to our destination. With the rare luxury of showing his sense of humor, Pellew has dubbed the suspected hiding place of El Muerte, the unnamed speck on a map, "Hades". So technically we are all going to Hell!

With our departure, Archie, Reg and Horatio are in continual conference with each other when not on duty. Reg, to my amusement, has even talked in his sleep; I must warn him that should he ever be taken prisoner he has a weakness in that direction, for I now know the plan almost as well as he does. Part of the reason that I know it, of course, is that I have been sleepless these past nights.

Sleepless with worry. I'm worried about the upcoming wedding and my encounter with my father, and, when I let myself think about it, I worry about this mission itself. The man who will soon be my brother, and the man who IS my best friend, are heading into very dangerous territory, and neither of them are as experienced as I would like in such a matter. Occasionally, a thought of one or both of them being killed flits into my mind, often just about when I am ready to drift off to sleep.

"I'm worried about you, Drew." Johnson strolled into the sick berth to relieve me, noting me half nodding off over my notes.

"I'm okay. It's just a little tense around here."

"Exciting, more than tense. All the men are anxious about seeing battle."

"I'm more worried about what happens after we see battle."

"Of course you are." He sat next to me, and set a pot of water to boil over a lantern. "I am making you some chamomile tea. You WILL drink it, and then you will return to your berth and at least humor me by pretending to sleep."

"Yes, Doctor." I smiled at him. "I've learned better than to disobey you!"

"Good man!" He looked around. "Anything unexpected happening?"

"Nothing. As you've said, the men are in high spirits, but tempered by their expectations. There have been no injuries as a result of stupidity."

We waited for the tea to be ready. "What else is bothering you? Is this about your father?"

I frowned. "Partly. Although I trust the Captain implicitly, I have wondered if he understands just what sort of a man my father can be. Archie can handle him beautifully, but then Archie will be otherwise occupied."

"Don't you worry about the Captain, Drew. He'll find a way to handle anything that comes up."

"And I've been worrying about this mission. If it fails, well, there won't be a wedding."

He didn't catch my meaning right away. "Oh, yes." He shook his head. "This is where ignorance is bliss, I guess. You have enough knowledge of naval matters to weigh the risks of battle. Me, I'm just a doctor; bring me the men when they're hurt and I'll put them together; as for the mission, I trust in our men to execute it well."

"I don't know what will happen to Alicia if Archie dies. I do not know if she can bear it." He poured my tea out. "Or if I can."

With deadly accuracy, Johnson finished my thought. "And then there is Mr. Cousins."

I sipped deeply. "Yes. This is his first mission, and it's one hell of a difficult one. Our old friend Mr. Carlysle-you remember him, he was killed in action? He asked me to keep an eye on Reg, keep him from flying off crazy-like. I can't DO that from here, and it frustrates me."

"Ah. And do you think you would be of help to him in the mission?"

"Hell no! I'd be in his way, and he'd be more worried about me that about executing the plan."

"And he seems to be considerably more prudent than the young man he was when Carlysle was worried about him."

"Yes, he's learned temperance."

"And I don't think the Captain would have put him up for this if he weren't ready."

"Of course not."

"Well, then..."

"But I won't know. I'll be here, sitting around, waiting while he and Archie row away. Waiting for hours with no clue as to whether or not he's hurt or dead or a prisoner." I finished of the tea. "I don't like that."

"And suppose, Drew, he is hurt. Suppose they bring him, or Archie, or any man back to the ship needing medical assistance, you will need to be well rested and prepared to work. Half asleep is no way to stitch a man up."

He was right, of course, and I knew it. "Well, then, I shall try following your orders, Johnson. I would not want ANY man to find me not at my best should he need me."

"Sleep, Drew. And stop worrying about the things you can't control."

***

I was briefly detained on MY mission - sleep - by Mr. Hornblower.

"Drew? Can I talk to you a moment?"

"Of course, Horatio."

We both paused just outside the door to my quarters. "What you said the other day...you asked me if Archie had spoken to me?"

"I...oh. Yes, yes I did." I looked at his worried face. "I take it that he DID speak to you?"

"Yes, he did. Probably the most open conversation about Simpson we have ever had." He shivered.

"You never spoke of it? Not even in prison?" Hell, if I had known that, I never would have suggested he and Horatio talk.

"No, no, it was always an understanding, and a place we didn't want to go."

I could have kicked myself. "I'm sorry."

"Do not apologize. It is well, Mr. Brandon. It made my skin crawl, but it is open, like a wound that needs air to heal." He shook his head. "The problem is, there is very little I could say to help him." He grimaced. "One trip to the Lamb's Inn with Hether and Cleveland four years ago do not count for much under the heading of experience, I am afraid." And he blushed, whether embarrassed or frustrated by his lack of experience I could not tell.

"Well, that is ONE more time that I can speak with him of." I pointed out. "And not complicated by the fact that it is YOUR sister being spoken of." I sighed. "I had hoped..." I let my voice trail off, not wanting to bring up that mysterious French woman I had heard rumors of, for I knew it still caused him pain, even now. "...I don't know."

"No, Drew. Not in France, although it was close." He smiled grimly. "Too close for any gentleman to admit."

"Or the Duchess. I had thought that the two of you might have..."

"Miss Cobham?" Horatio went gray, a ghastly shade of it. "Oh, lord, Drew, she is the Captain's wife! I could not have ever...ever..."

"But she wasn't during the time you were imprisoned together. And you were together for a long time. Nature might well have taken its course..."

"God, the CAPTAIN doesn't believe such a thing, does he?"

"No, no, this is only me, thinking of what might happen with a man and a woman thrown together the way the two of you were."

He calmed a bit, then blushed a deep, deep red. "God, though, I wanted to. I THOUGHT about it, more than once. If she had ever given me the slightest opening, I would have taken it, but I believe that even then her mind was on the Captain, and not on me." He looked miserable. "What sort of a man am I?"

"Pretty normal, I'd say." I soothed. "Do not be so hard on yourself, Horatio. You are not a man to TAKE ADVANTAGE of a woman." I brought him back to the point at hand. "Ultimately, I do wish there were somebody on this ship who could put Archie's mind at ease. Somebody who he trusted, and who understood his circumstances." I frowned. "I had thought of Captain Pellew."

"Oh, no, Drew. Archie would die of embarrassment. He does not have the relationship with Pellew that we do."

"I know. I know." And we looked at each other in futility.

"He needs his father." I said, gently.

"Yes, I guess he does."

And his father is back in London, and we are here, and this does none of us any good.

Anderson interrupted us. "Mr. Bracegirdle's compliments, Mr. Hornblower, and he'd like to go over some things with you."

"I shall be along presently, Mr. Anderson, thank you." He looked back at me. "Keep thinking, Drew. There must be some answer."

Well, so much for sleep! How the devil was I going to get any with THIS worry new on my head?

***

Naturally, I did sleep; out cold for a good three hours, awakening just in time to join everyone for dinner. Conversation dealt almost exclusively with the upcoming mission, which was good for Archie. He has grown very confident and sure this past year, and shows no sign of the fears and hesitancies that marked him on his first return from Muzillac. And the preparation for the raid on El Muerte has kept his mind off of his more personal problems as well.

It is Mr. Bracegirdle who worries me. Since Horatio is taking over his duties in this mission, he has had little to do, other than offer him advice and counsel. He has been also making notes and preparations for his own ship, but there will be little he can really do on that scale until Gibraltar sees us again. Meanwhile, he grows more and more concerned with his wife's welfare. I do not envy him a bit.

Well, the mission is on us soon, and before we know it we shall be Gibraltar bound, one way or another.

***

"Send for Mr. Brandon! We need him here immediately, Sir!" Mr. Holloway's voice cried out in the darkness.

We had taken El Muerte this evening; the Indefatigable had the signal and we had sailed into the cove to offer cover and make certain that there was no means of escape. But pulling up next to what was left of her, Mr. Holloway's voice pulled me off of the deck.

"Go and see, Lieutenant Brandon." Pellew called out to me.

I boarded El Muerte so quickly I was almost unaware of doing so, and I followed Holloway over bodies, bodies of men not ours, and I paid them no interest whatsoever, for Holloway needed me, for one of our own.

I found him there on the quarterdeck, what was left of him.

Reg, his arm blown clear away, bleeding profusely, and screaming in agony."

"Damn it all to HELL!" I immediately began binding the jagged tear where he had once been whole. "Reg, Reg, can you hear me?"

"Let me die, Drew. Please, let me die!

Archie's voice was over me, behind me.

"Mr. Brandon, you must let him go. You cannot save him, we have men who need your help."

"I CANNOT DO THAT!" I worked feverishly, but there was so much blood, flowing over the quarterdeck. "Reg, you have too much to live for, you must not DIE!"

Reg? Reg?

His eyes were glassy, open in a stare to the dark night above, and he was not screaming any more.

'GOD NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

"Drew? Drew!" Something shook me.

"No, no, no, not again, please not again..."

"Drew!" Another shake, and I opened my eyes.

In my berth, on Indefatigable. Reg held my shoulders, shaking me gently in my bunk. "Drew, it's alright, you're here, you're safe, your father cannot reach you now. It's just a nightmare, just a nightmare." He soothed, still grasping me gently but firmly, to keep me from thrashing about more.

My father? I blinked up at him. Of course. He would assume him to be the cause of my bad dreams. He usually was. Not this time. I gulped and forced myself to relax, and Reg gently laid me back down on the pillow, sitting on the floor beside my bed.

"That is the first nightmare you have had in months, Drew." He said softly. "It quite frightened me."

"I..." I forced myself to half sit up. "I am fine now, Reg." He was looking at me in concern, and I could not tell him that he, and not my father, was the root of my terrors this time. "Must be the preparations for the wedding." I whispered.

He hesitated. "Perhaps you should not go, Drew. Your father is very cunning. I am worried about you."

Lord bless him, he is worried about me? The worst my father could do to me is nothing comparable to what I just dreamed had been his fate. "It will be fine, Reg. The Captain will see it is." He looked unconvinced, and I forced a smile at him. "Really."

"Alright." He sat back, and I realized he intended to stay by my side until I was asleep again.

"Go back to bed, Reg. I promise, I will be fine. No more dreams."

He raised an eyebrow at me. "You say that, but what will happen is you will force yourself to stay awake so you do NOT have any more dreams. You forget, I have three younger brothers I shared a bedroom with back on the farm." He smiled briefly. "And it was my job to keep peace in the berth, so to speak."

"So I can't fool you, eh?"

"No more than they could."

I laid back down, still heavy hearted from my dream. Would Reg even be here at this time next week?

"Thank you." I said, into the darkness. "You are a good friend."

"No better a friend than you deserve. Now stop getting all sappy, and get back to sleep. There is much to be done in the next few days."

Too long to wait, yet too short a time to live. Pray God my dream is just that, and not a premonition.
***
October 20

There have been no more nightmares, thank heavens, and I have tried to put the image of Reg bleeding to death out of my mind. And as Johnson says, there is no point in worrying about the things you do not control in this life.

I was on my way to sick berth to work on the things I can control when I heard a commotion of sorts from the Midshipman's berth.

McGill snapped, "Out of my bleeding way, you lying son of a bitch."

"Ow!" Anderson cried out, as there was a clatter.

I ran forward quickly.

Anderson was sprawled out on the floor, the stool he had been sitting on beside him, and McGill, startled to see me, but a few feet away.

"What is the meaning of this?" I asked, an edge in my voice I was surprised to know I was capable of. It was a general question, but I did not take my eyes off of McGill.

"Anderson fell, Brandon. He's clumsy in addition to being a liar, it would seem."

"You will stop calling him a liar, Mr. McGill." I extended my hand to Anderson, who was red-faced and close on tears. He took it, but did not speak, and I helped him up. "And I doubt strongly that he is clumsy, either."

McGill shrugged indifferently. "He is a liar, as we all know. Or have you forgotten the jeopardy he put Mr. Cousins in, Brandon? I am surprised at you."

"Mr. Anderson has paid for his mistakes, and they are in the past, Mr. McGill." I said, firmly. "That is how it has always been on this ship. That is how Captain Pellew will have it. He has a fresh start, and his conduct has been exemplary. There are few of us who would stand up to scrutiny of our behavior at fourteen."

He looked at me with contempt. "Oh, quit it, Brandon. Stop being so high and mighty. You cannot play lord of the manor here. Just get yourself back to your sick berth and leave those of us who would sail the ship alone."

I stared at him in disbelief, and then something in me cracked. "Mr. McGill, that is Lieutenant Brandon to you. I am your superior officer, and you had better remember it."

"I beg your..."

"ENOUGH!" I snapped. "I could have you on charges for insubordination already from what you have said. And I could report you to the Captain for your behavior to Mr. Anderson." He started to speak, but I would not let him. "Oh, I know, I know, he FELL. And no doubt that is what he would say, because a fourteen year old midshipman is not going to speak out against a twenty-four year old he shares a berth with. Whatever you may think of me, and whatever you may think of my commission, I am NOT stupid."

His face was pale in anger. "You'll not be a lieutenant for long, I'll wager."

I smiled coldly at him. "Perhaps not. But I am one now. And that is all that matters. Now, get on about your duties."

We glared each other down, but if I am anything I am stubborn, and he would lose this one. He gave me a sulky, "Aye, Aye, Sir," and was off.

I exhaled, suddenly aware that I had just pulled RANK on somebody, and not quite sure what to make of that. Anderson picked up the stool and tried to suppress a sniffle.

"Are you alright, Mr. Anderson?"

"Yes, Sir." He said, glumly. "Thank you."

I looked around. He had been studying on his own; lessons had been more or less suspended until after our mission. And I realized, that with he and Holloway and McGill the only midshipmen, it would be rare that he and Holloway would have any free time together, at least until more young men were added to the crew. This was HIS free time, and he was very much alone.

"It is rather quiet in here, Mr. Anderson. Perhaps you would join me in sick berth for the afternoon? I would appreciate the company."

He looked up at me. "Really?"

"Yes, really. Come, bring your books. God knows I am near to hopeless at helping you with your problems, but at least we can frustrate over them together."
***

Once in sick berth, I noticed Anderson gingerly moving his shoulder.

"Is that where he hit you, Mr. Anderson?" I asked off-handedly.

"He didn't hit me, Sir, I..."

Sighing, I shook my head. "I know, I know, you fell." I motioned him up onto the table. "Let me take a look at it."

There was a rather nasty bruise forming right over his shoulder-blade, and I soaked some rags in cool water to apply to it. "Skin's not broken, at least," I murmured, even as he winced at my touch. "But it's going to be a nasty shade of purple by this evening. Do not sleep on it."

"No, Sir." He said, biting his lip.

I made him look at me. "Henry," I met his eye pointedly. "Just between you and I, tell me, please, what happened?"

He took a deep breath. "He really didn't hit me. He shoved me off the stool, and I landed on my shoulder."

"I see." I dipped the cloths into the cool water again, and reapplied them. "Why did he shove you?"

"I guess he wanted to pass through where I was seated, and I didn't move fast enough. He has little patience with me, Sir."

"Mmm. He's never had much patience with anyone, but this is the first time I've seen him react in such a matter."

"He's angry about you and Mr. Cousins, Sir. Thinks he should have been promoted first."

"Well, as far as I am concerned, he is probably right, but these things happen in the Navy all the time. Besides, I thought he wanted to be a Master, not a Lieutenant."

"Yes, Sir, I think he does, but he still is angry, anyway."

I was glad, suddenly, that he was not on the mission with Archie and Reg, for I did not believe he could be trusted. I tied a compress around his arm. "Well, anyway, as long as your down here, how about giving me a hand with inventory? You're handy enough about sick berth, as I remember."

He smiled timidly. "I'd be happy to help."

"Good. Let's get to work."

Two hours later we were both relaxing, my work done far faster than I had ever managed before, although not as fast as it might have been, for Anderson had a naturally curious nature and peppered me with questions about instruments and their uses, and the herbs and their effects.

"Henry, are you certain you do not wish to be a doctor yourself?" I teased.

"Oh, no, I haven't your brain, Mr. Brandon. But Mr. Cousins says one must learn as much as possible about everybody's duties, in case one has to step in."

I thought it was really quite remarkable that now Mr. Anderson followed Mr. Cousins around so closely, and quoted him nearly the way Reg used to quote Mr. Hornblower. Come to think of it, Reg pretty much still does quote Horatio like that! "You are serving with Mr. Cousins in the upcoming mission, are you not?"

"Yes, Sir!" His eyes glittered with excitement; he was too young and inexperienced to know my fear. "We're to take the ship and make off with those dispatches. We're to destroy those pirates, and then burn the ship!"

"Indeed you are!" I said, with false heartiness. "And I have no doubt you will succeed."

"Of course, Sir." He said, blinking at me. Failure had never even occurred to him. "Mr. Cousins and Mr. Kennedy have it all planned out. I only hope I can make them proud of me." He added, more humbly. "I do not really deserve this chance."

"Hey!" I grasped his good shoulder. "None of that, now! What I said earlier, that wasn't just talk for McGill. And if Reg didn't want you to serve with him in his boat, you wouldn't be there. Understood?"

He gulped and nodded. "Yes, Sir." The bell rang, and he got up with a start. "I must get ready, Sir. It is my watch in half an hour."

"Careful with that shoulder, now, Henry." I said, smiling as he departed. Then I sighed, all of my worries coming back to me. I wished I could send McGill off instead of Reg, but that is not going to happen. McGill is not good enough. So it will be Reg and Archie in harm's way, Reg and Archie who might...

Enough of this! I thought, bitterly, and wondered whom I might drag up for a few hands of whist, or anything else to keep my mind off of this pending disaster.

***
October 21

Sundown this evening. We are very still, our sails in. An eagle-eyed lookout had spotted our island very early this morning, using our new, and very strong, glass. So we have dropped anchor, just out of view (we hope) of any lookout they might have searching the seas. Our sails are in and our boats are ready. Under the cover of darkness, Indefatigable shall steel closer to the shore line, when two boats will split off, searching for a cove that might find El Muerte resting.

Horatio is tense. His job: once the signal is given from the island (in the form of a lantern indicating the ship is found) we shall lose sail with all haste, and work ourselves around. Three flashes will indicate our men have found the ship; after a five second pause, two flashes indicate the Indefatigable should proceed clockwise around the island, one will indicate counter-clockwise, and no further signal will indicate we should proceed dead ahead.

Horatio's men have all been drilled, and re-drilled. If he were not the leader he is, his forcefulness might rankle. But such is his reputation; the men believe in him, and if he asked them to swim to the island from here, they'd do it.

I did not see Archie approach, as I watched the sun sinking in the horizon. Only his voice alerted me to his presence. "A good evening, Mr. Brandon."

"Mr. Kennedy." I turned to him. He was serious, for once, not grim but steady and unflappable. "You will be away soon." I added, unnecessarily.

"Within the hour, we hope." He looked at me. "I do wish you would not worry so much. I am well prepared for this mission, as is Mr. Cousins."

I turned my head to the side. "Would you not worry about me, if our roles were reversed?" He gave me half a smile as I continued. "Your preparation has nothing to do with this. One other man's mistake, or a lucky break from our enemy, and you can be in danger."

"We are in danger every day we sail, Drew." He took a deep breath. "Glorious sunset, this! At one point in my life I did not believe I should ever see such a sight again." He put his hands behind his back and surveyed the ocean before us. "I have learned, I hope, to take things as they come, Mr. Brandon. I am living in the present. Too enjoy the moment."

"I am...glad." And I was suddenly more at ease. I still worried for Archie and Reg, and that was not going to change. But I can enjoy the moments. However many of them there are. "Good luck to you, Mr. Kennedy. Take care."

He gave me his best grin. "I will see you in the morning, Mr. Brandon. Mr. Cousins and I both. You wait and see."

"I am counting on it."

And they were off, to the boats, to our mission, and I was set to wait, for how ever long may need be.

***

After having been towed to within range of the island, I watched as Reg and Archie's boats pulled away in dead silence. I did not realize I had not been breathing until I felt Pellew's hand on my shoulder. I exhaled with a whoosh.

"Care for a game of whist, Mr. Brandon?"

"Now, Sir?"

"Yes, Now. Mr. Bracegirdle and Mr. Bowles are in my cabin awaiting us. Mr. Hornblower is awaiting that signal."

"Of course, Sir. It sounds like a good idea." Anything, god, anything to keep me from thinking.

What followed for the next several hours may have been the most ineffective game of whist I have ever played, much to the Captain's benefit. Mr. Bracegirdle's head is in Gibraltar, mine is with Reg and Archie, and Mr. Bowles has never been much of a whist player. Should we reach Gibraltar, I will not have as much money to contribute to the meal fund as everyone expects!

The thing is, I know the Captain is as worried as I am. I know that he has the welfare of the men and the success of the plan on his mind. He has amazed me once more, just when I thought I knew the man inside and out. To be able to be so cool, so detached on the outside, when inside one is beset with a thousand concerns, is perhaps his greatest skill.

Sudden footsteps thundered down to the cabin. Mr. Holloway was there. "Mr. Hornblower's compliments, Sir, and we've been signaled. We're to proceed dead ahead.

"Very good, Mr. Holloway. We shall be above decks shortly."

I made to follow everyone out, when I realized that I would probably be most needed as a doctor and not as a Lieutenant in the next hours. And therefore I had another station to take. But what to prepare?

"Going below, Mr. Brandon?" Bowles asked.

"Yes, Sir. To sick berth. I want to have supplies prepared in case I am needed."

"A good thought, Sir. We will keep you notified."

Johnson was not present; no doubt he was sleeping. The berth was quiet. What to do? I had sent word to cook for boiling water, so I might be set with clean instruments. Remembering my dream, I felt it would not be amiss to have a bundle set to go should I be called onto the island for help.

But then what?

Anderson's tale crept into my memory...that they would be setting the ship on fire. Men might be burned. Salve would be handy, more than I might normally need.

So I set to work, grinding the herbs and oils, and I set in to wait, even as I felt the ship stir beneath me. Good work, Horatio. We are moving in record time. We shall have our answers soon.

***
Two hours later I was unable to bear it; I had more salve than the entire fleet could ever need, and I ran up to the deck to check our progress.

The dark was almost total, as was the silence, and I was smart enough not to speak out loud. Working my way to the quarterdeck, I stood next to the Captain and Horatio, and peered out, trying to make out the island and the cove that I knew must be there, but was only existing in dim outlines at the moment.

There was a snap, suddenly, a flash of fire and the crack of a pistol. And within seconds El Muerte erupted into a flash of fire arms. Our men had been discovered.

"Move us in, Mr. Bowles." Horatio called out. "Provide cover for our men."

I swallowed hard and uttered a brief prayer under my breath.

There were cries and yells, some in English, some in Portuguese, none I could make out. I caught a glimmer of one of our boats, and a trunk maneuvered on to it. The trunk that we believed carried dispatches or other important documents, that we were sent to retrieve.

Reg's voice...bless him...carried out to me. "MR. KENNEDY? ELEPHANT ON BOARD."

I smiled slightly. Elephant on board...meaning they have the trunk. THAT, certainly, had to be Archie's idea...it smacked of his touch of whimsy...

BOOOOOM!

There was a flash, a concussion. I found myself on the deck, Mr. Bracegirdle toppling next to me. My ears rang. God, what...what...El Muerte...she has blown up. Flames were everywhere, and bits of splinter and God knows what else were raining down...

"Launch the boats!" Horatio screeched. "Look for survivors!" And then, with a gulp, "Mr. Bowles, we'd best move ourselves."

Just as I tried to stand, there was another explosion and more screams, knocking me back down.

The chaos was everywhere. I moved my way over to the railing, and was relieved to see at least one of our boats seemed to be unscathed, and making its way hurriedly over to us. There was too much smoke to see anything else.

I turned to see Johnson looking around for me. "Drew!" He spotted me. "I saw everything ready below." He reached me with basic supplies. "You work above decks, and then send the men to the surgery."

I nodded, to scared to speak.

He grabbed my shoulders and gave me a little shake. "It will be alright."

I took a deep breath. "Yes, it will be. We will make it so. That is our job."

And I kept repeating it to myself until I believed it.

The first boat arrived, and Archie! Archie! Got off in one piece, lord bless him. There were four moderately injured men in his boat, and they had the trunk.

I sent each man one by one down to Johnson.

"Mr. Kennedy, what the devil is happening?" I heard Pellew bellow behind me, as I scanned the smoky night for any sign of more survivors.

"They blew her, Sir. DeCarlos had her rigged. Rather than lose the ship he decided to blow her up, and some of our men with it."

Slowly I rose and turned to him. "Mr. Kennedy?" I forced myself to be calm. "What of the other boat?"

He looked at me, his face streaked with sweat and soot, his uniform stained with another man's blood. "I don't know, Drew. Last I saw of Mr. Cousins he was disembarking El Muerte."

Too close. He was too close when it blew. He was gone.

One of our boats that had gone out after the explosion came in then, with a few survivors, men I recognized from Reg's division, and I forced everything aside. These men were alive. These men needed my help.

Young Lyman was beside me. "Broken arm. Nod bad. I want to try to set it." He knew that was my code to tell Johnson not to take it off. "Head wound. Give me a hand with these bandages." He was swift, and we moved on, with the first man whisked down below. "Bad splinter in his leg. Don't touch it, it will cause more damage if done improperly. He must be sent to the surgery. He's priority." The third and last man had taken what looked to be an entire tree in his chest, and was drawing his last breath even as I got to him. "He's gone, rest his soul. Put him aside for burial."

"Mr. Brandon! Mr. Brandon!"

Anderson. That was Anderson's voice; he had been in Reg's boat; he had survived. Thank God for that, at least. I turned to his voice.

A trickle of blood ran from his head as Matthews helped him over, and then another man. Reg. Hanging limply in Styles' arms. "He's bleeding bad, Mr. Brandon. I think I stopped it, but..."

I was there in a flash. Reg had taken a splinter to his side and it had broken loose; Anderson held his hand there, clamping the bleeding. "I did it just like you showed me."

"Good man, Mr. Anderson!" I cried out. Reg's face was pale, and I saw something else; a burn, a bad burn on his left arm. Long term, that may be a bigger problem than the side wound. "You can remove your hand, now; let me see..."

He followed my command, and I looked, sudden lantern light coming from everywhere. "You stopped the worst of it, Mr. Anderson. And no major organs were damaged. You saved his life." I packed it loosely with linen and turned to the ever-present Styles. "Get him to surgery, I will be down presently."

Reg started to come to, and then screamed. The burn. Nothing worse than a burn. I ran after Styles and grabbed his good hand. "Reg, Reg, listen to me."

"Argh...it...hurts." Tears ran down his face. "Ahhhhh."

"I know...I know. But you're going to be alright. Got that? You're back on the Indy and you are going to be alright. I will see to it!" I looked up at Styles. "Tell Johnson I said to give him laudanum. A healthy dose of it."

"Aye, aye, Sir."

And suddenly the world quieted down. The fire on El Muerte was burning out; the sun was coming up, rising pale over the smoky cove. Nothing else was moving in the water. Any man not on board by now was undoubtedly lost.

I turned to Captain Pellew. "I am going below, Sir."

"Yes, Mr. Brandon. Take care of the men." His face was stony, his jaw unmoving, eyes squinted.

"Aye, Aye, Sir."

And as I bound away, I heard him call out to Archie. "Mr. Kennedy, report if you please."

***
Johnson looked up at me as I arrived. He was standing over Reg, who was now in a drug induced sleep.

"The burn is bad, Drew."

"I know."

"Everybody else is stitched up, except Taylor, bad splinter, needs surgical removal. And of course, Benton's arm. You wanted to set that."

I looked over at Reg. "You have his side wound taken care of?"

"Yes, I've already cleaned it well. I am stitching it now."

I nodded and headed over to Benton. "Lyman, give me a hand with this arm."

Reg was not the only man who needed me. I will not neglect my duties.

"Mr. Benton, look at me."

He was a young seaman, not more than twenty-five.

"Do you want to lose your arm?"

His mouth opened and shut in shock.

"I didn't think so. So I'm going to save it. I must set this break. It will hurt. I need you to be strong, and I need you not to fight me on it. Do you understand?"

"An then you won't cut me arm, Doc?"

"No, not if you do everything I tell you. Got it?"

"Yessir."

With a quick look at Lyman and at the men who had come to help hold him down, I worked swiftly. Benton screamed the ship down, but remained still as I had requested, and I splinted the offending limb tightly.

And, finally, I was able to turn around, to Reg.

Johnson sat beside him, looking helplessly at me. "He's in a lot of pain, Drew. And I've never seen a burn that bad."

Anderson, whom ought to have been sleeping, was instead by Reg's other side.

"He went back, Mr. Brandon. One of our men...Pike...was injured and left on board. He went back for him, when he saw the fire start, and the gunpowder. He tried to get back down, but his sleeve was on fire when we hit the water. Then it blew, and I just went after him, got him on top of a floating bit of plank, tried to stop his bleeding. And then they found us."

"Shhhh." I rubbed his head gently and urged him into a cot. "You saved him, Mr. Anderson. Now let's make sure you're here for him to thank when he wakes up tomorrow, eh?"

"Yes, Sir." He let me settle him into the cot, and I turned to look at Reg's arm.

A bad burn, with angry blisters from his shoulder to his fingers. On the mid-portion of his bicep the wound went even deeper, his flesh crisped in spots. Despite all I have seen this year I had to fight the urge to retch. "Ever treat a burn before, Johnson?"

"No. Seen dead men with burns like that, you know; not killed by the burns, killed in action and burned after. But never seen a living man with one."

I nodded. "I have."

He merely looked at me.

"Back home, when I used to help old Doc Stewart. Was at his surgery once, hiding from my father, as per usual. The Martin farm had burnt down, and old Farmer Martin, he was brought in screaming. He was burned worse than this...like this mid-section, over seventy percent of his body. Doc tried to treat him, but we didn't much know how. He died two horrible days later. Worst way to die, I think. Can't imagine anything more painful than what I saw that man endure."

I shook my head to rouse myself.

"Clean water, the coolest potable water we have."

And I began working my way over his damaged skin, cutting away the worst of the burned flesh, hiding my agony as Johnson held him down. Despite the laudanum, the pain worked its way through, and I watched Reg, always so strong, weep like a child even through his half-conscious stupor.

I tried to think. I know one thing for certain about the surgery, and that is cleanliness WORKS, it makes a difference, no matter what the so-called experts of medicine might say. So I thought I must keep the arm, which was one large wound, clean.

The other thing I knew is that for a minor burn, it must be kept cool, and moist. I had to figure out how to combine the two.

Once I had his arm cleaned off, I motioned to Johnson. "I need some of that linen I boiled earlier. Make certain it is dry and cool, but still clean."

Meanwhile, I took the salve, the batch I had made earlier. It was cool to the touch, soothing and thick. I knew how it worked on the blisters from over-work, or even on the redness some of the men suffered from after bad sun exposure. It ought to work. It should work. Please, let it work.

By the time Johnson had returned with the clean linen, I had coated his arm liberally with the stuff. I then draped the bandage over it loosely, to keep any dirt or debris out.

"That salve, Drew...it won't cause an infection?"

I looked up. "I don't know, of course. I think not...if I clean his arm thoroughly every four hours or so."

"God!" He looked down with sympathy. "That is going to hurt."

"Hurt like hell." I agreed. "But I am afraid to see him addicted to laudanum. We must be careful."

Johnson shivered. "He is strong, Drew. He will survive."

"I don't just want to see him survive. I want to make certain he keeps the use of that arm."

I looked down at Reg, and I smoothed the hair back off of his face. I thought about that girl back home. I leaned forward to him. "You are hurt, Reg. I know that. And I will have to hurt you more before we are done, to see you get better." His head turned fretfully on the pillow. "Think of your girl, Reg. Think of Ellie. Think of how proud she will be when you return to her a Lieutenant. Be strong, now."

His face looked a bit more peaceful, and I settled in for what I knew would be a long night. And God help anyone...even Captain Pellew...who tried to move me.

October 25th
From the POV of Lieutenant Hornblower:

Pellew is about one minor setback away from an eruption, and it won't be pretty when it does happen.

We're were still in Hades...it had seemed funny two weeks ago when Pellew had dubbed the god-forsaken rock that passed for an island after the Greek word for Hell. It is funny no longer. The Indefatigable has sustained some minor damage that needs repairing, and we are still investigating this strange formation, a series of caves and caverns that hid the stolen goods amassed by El Muerte. For the blasted trunk that Pellew opened, that was supposed to contain dispatches or some other items that were of dire concern for His Majesty, was empty. Well, not exactly empty; it contained a supply of rather, um, explicit pornography. A large supply. I was mortified, which is not to be wondered at, but when I actually saw the *Captain* blush, I knew it must be bad.

Worst, we lost six men in our attempt; five from Mr. Cousins' division, and one from Mr. Kennedy's. We took four prisoners; whom were glad to see us, as they had been little better than prisoners on El Muerte. They told us of the pirate DeCarlos, of his madness, of his believing himself to be given a divine right to abscond with whatever treasures he might find, and believed this Island to be his own province. When our men attacked, he felt compelled to blow everything up rather than letting such effrontery pass. He believed he would survive the blast, as he was immortal. We found what was left of him on the rocky cove; another false prophet fallen.

To call Pellew frustrated would be to call the sun hot. And the longer we spend with no sign of anything that could be of the remotest importance to the crown, the angrier he gets. Oh, we have obtained some fine silks, impressive silver, a marvelous collection of books that ALMOST stirred Pellew out of irritability, and an alabaster chess set, cleverly designed with pieces that interlock into the squares, perfect for play on shipboard. He put that aside, no doubt for Mr. Cousins, should he recover.

Of the men who made it back to Indefatigable, only Mr. Cousins remains stricken with his injuries. The deep splinter wound on his side is healing nicely, but due to his burn, he is near to unconscious most of the time, and the Captain has not yet been able to question him in detail.

Drew, exhausted but calling on reserves of strength I can only guess at, said that he and Johnson are keeping him on the most minimal amount of laudanum, fearing addiction. The trade-off, of course, is that he is more aware of his pain than any of us would wish. And burns are about the worst pain you can have.

Archie described the what had been a near-perfect mission until the end. They got to the Island just around midnight; Mr. Kennedy killed the lookout. Finding El Muerte in a half-hidden cove, Archie sent the signal that we should proceed dead ahead. Then they proceeded cautiously, Mr. Cousins from one side, Mr. Kennedy the other, disabling any man in their path.

They were able to reach the deck undetected, and the stealthy search of the ship began. It was Mr. Cousins who found the trunk bearing the king's coat of arms. They moved it above decks, closer to the side where Mr. Kennedy's boat was, so that was where they began to load it. At that time, they were finally spotted, and the alarm was given.

The fighting ensued, Mr. Kennedy being alerted that they had the trunk. As planned, he started to maneuver the prize away. Mr. Cousins' job was to occupy their crew, and then start a fire aboard her as distraction so he could be away with his men. After all our men were clear, the Indefatigable would blow her to bits.

Only, of course, it hadn't happened quite that way, and the man who would seem to know the most about what pieces we haven't filled in yet, is still in sick berth. And we cannot wait here much longer, searching damp caves and finding nothing resembling naval dispatches.

"Mr. Brandon is out of control, Mr. Hornblower." Startled back into the present, I looked up at him in surprise, and hoped for Drew's sake that HE would not be the straw that broke Pellew's back.

"How so, Sir?"

"He has not left Mr. Cousins' side since his injury. We do have OTHER men he must be concerned with."

I cleared my throat and decided to risk my own neck to save Drew's. "In honesty, Sir, we do NOT have other men in need of him at this moment; all the other injuries were minor and have required no further medical attention."

He shot me a withering look. "Is not Mr. Brandon himself one of our men, and does he not jeopardize his health by never sleeping but a few hours at a time?"

I could not argue with that, but the truth is, while growing up I saw my father treating burns and I know they are not pleasant. The patient is in agony. I can well imagine that Mr. Brandon was reluctant to turn the care of Mr. Cousins' over to Johnson, however skilled he may be.

"We are going to sick berth, Mr. Hornblower. Mr. Brandon will be placed under house arrest if he does not agree to a period of ten hours of rest!"

I bit my tongue. This could be bad, a disastrous fight happening. For Mr. Brandon is stubborn, and so is the Captain, and neither will give in on this. I tried furiously to think of some way of working out a livable compromise for both of them.

We had been down to see Mr. Cousins' many times in the past days, of course. Each time it was not long after Drew had just changed his bandages, and he was in a stupor. And each time Drew was tight-lipped and would only say that Mr. Cousins' was progressing about as well as he expected!

Archie saw us, and took one look at the Captains face. "Drew?" He mouthed. I nodded as I hurried behind Pellew. And Archie made a motion indicating a silent prayer for his friend's head.

***
I might, I just might, begin to believe in the power of prayer from Archie's example, because our timing in arriving at sick berth put us there while Mr. Brandon was in the middle of treating Mr. Cousins, instead of afterwards.

"What is that sound, Mr. Hornblower?" Pellew asked, just before we entered sick berth.

I was surprised myself. "Sounds like weeping, Sir."

Sure enough it was. Mr. Cousins, held down by Morris and Oldroyd, his burned arm tied down to the bed frame, was crying despite his best efforts. The bandage was off, and Pellew and I both grew pale as we beheld his arm...it looked more like raw meat than a limb, although there were signs of healing, particularly on his forearm.

I saw the cords in Mr. Cousins' neck strain; he was fighting the pain, trying not to cry out, but losing the battle, and he could not fight the tears that flowed freely down his cheek. I saw Oldroyd, who is not so very much older than Mr. Cousins, shakily mop Reg's brow.

Drew did not look up; he was focused on the injured arm itself, literally cutting away bits of flesh from the areas not yet healed. And we watched, in silence, as he did so. His work was meticulous and careful, but time consuming; it took him a large amount of time to cover a small area.

I swallowed hard, and I took a look at the Captain. His eyes were wide, and his lips trembled. "It isn't a nice thing to see, Sir." Johnson had appeared from behind us, and he whispered gently. Pellew and I backed away a few feet.

The Captain never took his eyes off of Drew and his work, even as he said, "What is he doing?"

"Every four hours he cleans off the old salve and bathes the arm in cool water, before applying more salve and re-bandaging the arm. That's not so bad. Twice a day he must do what you see here...cut away the dying skin, so the new skin can form. Just a little at a time. It's pretty ghastly."

"It...is it necessary?"

Johnson shrugged. "We know so little. But this seems to make sense; and his arm has not become infected at all. The areas not so badly burned are almost healed already; it's that section where the burn was deep that still are troublesome."

Pellew's eyes softened. "Will not Mr. Brandon let anyone else take over these tasks? This must pain him as much as Mr. Cousins!"

Johnson gave us a half-smile. "That is why he will not let any other man do this. He will not put that burden on another, especially since this is so experimental. And Mr. Cousins' trusts him; knows that Drew would not hurt him if he didn't have to. Don't underestimate the importance of that trust, Sir."

Pellew shook his head slowly, even as Drew, with a sigh, put down his tweezers. "There, Mr. Cousins. You are healing well. It won't be much longer, now."

"How much longer?" Cousins whispered, raspingly.

"A few more days, not more." Drew was gently applying fresh salve, brought over by Lyman. "Just a few more days of the surgery. Then we can let nature take its course, I think."

Oldroyd held a cup to Cousins' lips, and I made a note to praise his efforts here. I have often questioned his judgment or wisdom, but never again will I question his heart. "There, Sir, you drink up now. Doctor's orders!" He soothed.

I stood forward, Pellew following, and saw that the beverage was a mixture of willow bark. Cousins, more alert than he had been for some time, blinked up at me, his face still gray with pain. "Mr. Hornblower...Captain Pellew." He murmured.

"It is good to see you awake, Mr. Cousins." I said. Pellew nodded at Morris and Oldroyd as they left, then laid his hand on Reg's head.

"He is refusing more laudanum, Sir." Drew stood stiffly, with a little smile at his friend. "He insists he can take whatever I dish out at him, and so far he has."

Cousins looked a little shaky, but tried to return the smile in kind. "It doesn't hurt so bad." Pellew bit his lip-now THAT was a first class lie. And we all knew it.

Cousins tried to keep speaking. "I must...tell you...what happened, Sir."

Pellew quelled that instantly. "Tcha! I can wait a few more days for a report, Mr. Cousins. Fret not about that. I need you healthy, Sir!"

I leaned forward. "We have much to acquaint you with, Mr. Cousins. The sooner you are well, the sooner we will be able to do so, so I expect you to stop lolling about here within the week, understood?"

"Yes, Sir, Mr. Hornblower." He whispered, drifting off from the tea.

The Captain walked around the bed, his face all gentleness now, and put a hand on Mr. Brandon's shoulder. "I am worried about you, Mr. Brandon. I want you to rest more."

Drew opened his mouth to protest, but Pellew shook his head. "I will not order it. But please, certainly you can have Johnson handle the next change of bandage, so you might get four or five hours of sleep straight? Will you do that for me?"

Drew wavered, and I could see how really tired he was. Johnson came forward at his glance. "I will change that bandage, Drew. I've watched you do it the past days, and I won't have to work on his skin at all, because you just have. Please, do get some rest."

To my surprise and joy, he gave in. "Alright, Sir. I could use a nap."

Pellew gave him a sharp nod. "Good man, Mr. Brandon." He looked up at me. "Mr. Hornblower, we had best continue running this ship!" And he strode out in a purposeful gait, back to his own quarters no doubt.

I gave Drew's shoulder a fast squeeze before I hurried after him, thankful for good timing!

***
Once back in his Cabin, Pellew gave me a few last orders, dealing with a final exploration of the Island tomorrow. Should we not find anything, we shall then make preparations to regroup our fleet and return to Gibraltar.

He was distracted, though. His mind was still clearly in the sick berth, I could see, but I did not bring it up to him. If he wishes to talk about it, he will, of his own accord.

"That will be enough for this evening, I think, Mr. Hornblower." He stared blankly out the windows in his office.

"Aye, Aye, Sir."

At that moment Powers swept in, with tea for the Captain.

"What are you preparing for dinner this evening, Powers?"

"I had thought to ask you, Sir, how you would feel about my preparing some roast pork."

"Slaughter the last pig, eh?" He smiled. "Well, why not? And what else?"

"I have some potatoes that I can mash, Sir, and some stewed apples. And pumpkin puree."

Pellew nodded. "Prepare a healthy plate for Mr. Brandon, Powers. Make certain that he eats it, and should he need anything else, anything at all, please feel free to provide it to him. You are at his disposal for the evening, if it does not displease you."

"Of course not, Sir."

I cleared my throat, and they both looked at me. "Powers, at a suggestion, you might want to forgo the Pumpkin Puree from that plate, otherwise, I am certain he will be grateful."

The Captain gave me a knowing smile as Powers sped away. "Good point, Mr. Hornblower."

"Well, after all, Sir, if your point is for him to keep his strength up, retching at the sight of the plate will do him no good at all."

He exhaled then, a sigh that seemed to come from the depths of his soul. "I have prided myself, Mr. Hornblower, on my concern for my men. I have always dreamed of having the sort of medical situation we find ourselves with here. Not just one man, but two, skilled in healing, and neither of them drunkards."

I was curious. "We are all aware, Sir, of how important the well-being of the men is to you, Sir."

"Yes, but..." He looked at me. "I don't think I ever considered before the ship's doctor to really BE one of the men, Hornblower. He was someone who existed to serve the men, to bind their wounds, cure their ills, heal their hurts. I never thought that it would be possible for him to HAVE wounds, ills, or hurts." He shook his head. "Until this day I never realized how much being a doctor might take out of a man."

In this instance I had the advantage of the Captain, remembering that there were nights my father would come in so bone-tired and worn that he could barely hold his head out of his meal. No man who had ploughed the fields for fourteen hours could have been more exhausted. And sometimes the exhaustion was mental and emotional as well.

"It is perhaps surprising that more Doctors do not fall victim to alcohol or laudanum." I mused.

He returned rigidly to the window. "I am heartily disappointed in myself, Mr. Hornblower. I was two seconds from dressing down Mr. Brandon for the high crime of having to perform a duty so distasteful and so agonizing that it almost made me sick watching him do it."

I cannot let him do this to himself. "No, Sir. You were two seconds from dressing down Mr. Brandon out of a combination of worry for his well-being and frustration that we have lost six men in what has proven to be a fruitless expedition, and not the first one the Admiralty has sent us on, either."

His head snapped around, a spark of fire in his eyes, and I waited for him to jump on me, and was willing to accept that. I met his stare and did not flinch.

And then there was that tell-tall tug at the corners of his mouth, and I knew his crises had passed. "I do have a habit of doing that, don't I?" He sat behind the desk. "Good enough, Mr. Hornblower. Get on about your duties, this ship does not run herself."

And I fought the urge to return his near-smile in kind. "Aye, Aye, Sir."

***
I saw Archie that evening in our berth. Thought he has escaped this escapade unscathed, he is still kicking himself mightily for not finding whatever it is we had been supposed to. He looked up at me with hope, however, when I entered.

"I hear you saw Mr. Cousins awake. Will he recover fully?"

"I believe so, Archie." I sighed, and threw myself on my bunk. "Drew really is a wonder. He thought out a treatment for him that seems to be working, even if the cure is putting Mr. Cousins through hell. But his arm does not seem to be permanently damaged, although it is certainly permanently scarred."

"He was lucky. We all were, I suppose."

I looked at him seriously, but to my surprise he was not eaten up with guilt, as he had been these past few nights. "You did everything the way you were supposed to. DeCarlos was mad. His men all say so. None of us accounted for that eventuality."

"I know you are right, Horatio. I suppose what is really bothering me now is that we failed in our goal. That is, we did not find the king's dispatches."

"Or memoirs, or whatever it is that we were looking for." And I blushed, remembering what we DID find. And that, of course, turned my mind to other conversations Archie and I had with each other recently.

"Archie, about the conversation we had just before the raid...I am sorry I was not able to put your mind more at ease."

He laughed. "Are you kidding, Horatio? I am glad to know there is one area, at least, where I do not lag so very far behind you."

I grinned in return. "And given your upcoming marriage, you will be surpassing me soon enough, as well."

"You could always ask McGill to procure one of his frequent lady-friends from Gibraltar." He teased.

"Ugh! Have you seen his lady-friends, Archie?" I shivered. "I suppose, if truth be told, I am a bit envious of you." I closed my eyes. "It would be my wish to find a woman to love me the way Alicia loves you. The way Miss Cobham loves Captain Pellew. The way my mother loved my father. But I am afraid I do not have your gifts, Archie."

A pillow slammed me in the face, and I half sat up in shock.

"Oh, Horatio, you just bloody well kill me, you know? You don't think you can navigate a ship, though you can, you don't think you can lead men, though they will follow you anywhere. And now you sit here and tell me that you cannot win a woman? Idiot, what glass do you look in each morning? If you and I both were walking down the streets of Gibraltar, seven of ten women who noticed us would be watching you, not me!"

I was startled, and stood up. "That isn't true Archie! Why, I am nobody!"

He looked at me with exasperation. "Why? Because you don't have a title? I am telling you, you don't need one. People do notice you, Horatio, and women in particular. I have seen it, man."

I swallowed hard and found myself looking at my face in the glass. Could a woman find my face interesting? It had not the easy, smiling grace of my friend, but to me seemed angular and harsh. I always seem so severe, so serious. Who could prefer that to Archie's laughter, his lightness? And I looked back at him.

"Perhaps, Archie, a woman might notice me first. But you have a gift that I do not...I do not know how to converse with them. How to entertain them, how to make them laugh and smile, how to pay a compliment. I am at a loss with them." I sank back down on the bed.

And he looked at me with a strange mix of affection and exasperation. "Horatio, that is true of you with anyone, male or female. You let very few people see your vulnerable side."

I inhaled sharply. "I do not like being vulnerable, Archie."

"But we all are, sometimes, Horatio. You like to believe that your faults, your worries, your fears are unique to you, and you berate yourself for them. But we all have those same worries and fears. We live with them, and that is all."

I cleared my throat uncomfortably; perhaps the picture he painted of me was too accurate. "We've gotten pretty far off the subject, Archie."

"The subject of Mr. Cousins' recovery, or the subject of my wedding night?" He quipped. "Seriously, I am less worried every day. This may be the last battle I ever fight with Simpson, but I will win it, Horatio. I do not think Alicia would let me fail!"

I thought about all I had seen this evening. "If she's as stubborn as Drew is, I would agree with you!"

***
October 30th

We are now in our third day out of Hades, having finally re-gathered the fleet and becoming resigned to our failure in discovering any dispatches. As part of our original plan, we are to head first to Madeira and then return to Gibraltar. Depending on the weather we encounter, we expect to be back in port by the first of December.

But today marks a grander occasion, for we expect to finally hear the report of Mr. Cousins. Captain Pellew is waiting anxiously for him; Mr. Brandon has assured us he is medically fit and healing well, although the use of his arm will probably not be complete for some time. But the arduous torture Mr. Brandon had to put him through was last performed two days past and was no longer necessary, and so Mr. Cousins' strength is returning.

We could hear his footsteps approaching, and Pellew sat himself hurriedly behind his desk, and motioned for me to open the door as the young man knocked.

"Acting Lieutenant Reginald Cousins, here to report on the incidents having befallen myself and my crew on board El Muerte, Sir."

Pellew nodded, and motioned to the young man to sit down. He entered slowly but with purpose. His face was still pale, and his arm was in a lose sling, mainly to prevent him from moving it unduly. He walked gingerly, for of course that nasty side-wound had to heal as well. But all in all a remarkable recovery from the young man.

I wanted to tell him that it was good to see him up and about, but I knew the Captain would be having none of that in a formal report.

"Very well, Mr. Cousins," He looked at him sternly. "Begin. From the beginning, if you please, I would like to compare the reports on the early portion of the attack with that given me already by Lieutenant Kennedy."

"Yes, Sir. Mr. Kennedy and I departed as planned from Indefatigable just after dark. We approached the Island in good time, and I must commend the behavior of my men. They were silent and stealthy, and no alarm was given up on Hades whatsoever."

"As we neared, we realized that dead ahead of us was a cove, partially blocked from view by the actual shape of the island, similar in nature to that of a horse-shoe. The result was that the cove, by means of optical illusion, was particularly hard to spot. We landed first at an outward cropping of rock, where we surprised a lone man on watch. He was well off into his rum ration, and did not threaten violence, but was inclined to be boisterous, and Mr. Kennedy was forced to dispatch him in order to ensure our secrecy. We now had a full view of the cove ahead of us, and El Muerte where she rested. We could see little activity, save an occasional lantern here and there as men went from the ship to one of the myriad caves facing the cove.

"At this point, Mr. Anderson gave the signal that we had in fact spotted El Muerte, and that Indefatigable should come in straight forward, to block any chance of escape from the cove. Then we returned to our boats, and proceeded forward, in total silence, our boats separating so that we might board El Muerte from both sides, and increase our odds of success."

He swallowed here, and I would have liked to pour him a glass of something, but Pellew's eyes bore into him. No exam board or admiral would pause for him, and I knew the captain did not want to let him get used to such laxness.

"My men and I..." he continued, "encountered one man on board, but Seaman Pike spotted him first, and in fact saved my life, for the man had his pistol trained on me. But Pike silenced him, breaking his neck before he could either shoot or give the alarm."

"I must say, Captain, that El Muerte struck me as being shockingly unguarded, for my men did not encounter another man for the next fifteen minutes, which found us winding our way below decks and conducting a quick search. I found the chest with the King's coat of arms on it, exactly as it was described to me by you in our briefing. Two of my strongest men...Cheevers and Finn...took charge of it, and we brought it above decks, where we loaded the trunk into Mr. Kennedy's boat. At that moment we were finally spotted, and an alarm was given; I shot the pirate who did so at the same time I called out to Mr. Kennedy that we had the trunk."

"The plan, at that point, was that Mr. Kennedy and his men should immediately make a getaway with our treasure, and my men and I would hold DeCarlos' men for long enough that he would be assured of doing so. My men fought valiantly, for a good five minutes, which I felt was ample; I could see from the corner of my eye that Mr. Kennedy was pulling well away of El Muerte, and I called out to my men to make for our own boat. I was pleased to note at this time that none of my men were injured."

"That quickly changed. Both Mr. Anderson and Seaman Pike were close by my side throughout the fighting; we backed up towards our boat, and I urged Mr. Anderson over. No sooner had I done so than Pike, seeing something on the quarterdeck, rushed forward, enraged and screaming. I saw him go down from a shot, and I attempted forward to bring him back to the boat; I did not want to leave one of my men behind if I could help it."

"As I grabbed hold of Pike, I saw what had so enraged him. DeCarlos was there, laughing, on the quarterdeck, surrounded by kegs of gunpowder, and holding a full lantern." He took a deep breath. "I made to drag Pike backward, but he was shot again, and I knew it was no use. At the same second, DeCarlos lit a fuse of quick-match, and then threw the lantern at me; it shattered on a crate and my arm was covered with flame and hot candle grease." He exhaled. "I hardly knew what I was doing after that; I screamed to Anderson that he should get out of there NOW, and I threw myself over into the water, wanting desperately to put the flames out. The first explosion blew before I even hit the surface, and I felt as if something kicked me in the side, and then I was below, dizzy from the pain. I did not think at that point I would make it back, Sir."

"I see." The Captain drummed his fingers on the table before him. "Do you know how you DID make it back, Mr. Cousins?"

"Yes, Sir." He did not flinch. "Mr. Anderson, Sir. I felt him drag me above water, and then over to a barrel that had been blown over. Somehow he got me on top of it; at that point I realized I'd been wounded in the side in addition to finally having a look at my arm; my jacket and shirt sleeve had been burnt clear off. Anderson kept telling me to hold on and not to move; I got very light headed and I felt him jam his hand into my side. I managed to ask about the other men, and he said he didn't know; the boat had capsized with the first explosion, and he saw some of them trying to swim towards Indefatigable. He had come after me." Cousins met the Captain's eye meaningfully. "I cannot praise his actions, and the actions of late Seaman Pike, strongly enough."

Pellew nodded gravely. "Brave men, both of them. Particularly in Mr. Anderson's circumstance."

"Yes, Sir. In any event, that is the last I remember before feeling Mr. Brandon examine me on board Indefatigable, and realizing how much my arm hurt."

"Ah." I knew that NOW the Captain wanted to ask how his arm was doing, but the formal report must be concluded. "Tell me, Mr. Cousins, is there anything you believe you should have done differently, or could have done differently, in hindsight?"

His chin jutted out. "Yes, Sir."

Pellew's eyebrows arched slightly, and I turned to him in some surprise. "If I had the raid to organize again, I should have made a point of incapacitating or killing her Captain prior to seeking out our cargo. Or perhaps, had one division of men seeking the cargo while the other took care of her officers. We attempted, if I may, to be too cute in executing this plan. I did not take into account that we could not expect a Pirate to behave in the same manner as even a French or Spanish Captain, whom might be expected to at least have a grip on sanity."

"Indeed." Pellew leaned backwards, never taking his eyes of Mr. Cousins. "You might have lost more men in that manner."

"Perhaps. But we lost six men as it is, Sir, and it could have been far worse."

"An interesting point, Mr. Cousins. And, I might point out, that although we were unaware of the particulars you have just related to me, Mr. Kennedy and I reached much the same conclusion after interviewing our prisoners." Pellew looked more kindly on him. "I see no fault of execution in your performance, Mr. Cousins. All of us, instead, made a fault of planning. We shall be better prepared in the future."

Cousins' face relaxed. "Thank you, sir."

And just like that, the formality was gone; the Captain poured Mr. Cousins out a generous glass of cold water with lemon, which he raised shakily to his lips, the first indication I had seen that he had been at all nervous. I put my hand out to steady him, even as he drained the cup. "Thank you, Sir." He said, in relief. "I have been powerfully thirsty since my injury."

"It's the burn," I soothed. "They have a tendency to do that, for some reason."

With a slight incline of his head, the Captain asked, "How IS your arm, Mr. Cousins."

With a grimace, he replied, "I shall not win any beauty contests with it, Sir. It does not hurt as bad, except when Mr. Brandon actually changes the bandages and reapplies the salve. But compared to the earlier treatment he was forced to perform..." the three of us shivered, "...nothing so bad. It is healing well, he says, but I must gradually work up to using it again. It will be about four weeks until I am fully recovered, he believes."

"Take care you obey his instructions."

And the young man smiled. "I did not believe I had any option, Sir."

And, as the Captain and I have both been on the side of Mr. Brandon's medical care, we all of us laughed together.