by Sarah B.
Morning came, and with it Kingston. The lookout was the first to see it, just after the sun rose; a shimmering sliver of land dancing on the edge of the horizon, foretelling freedom or doom for the souls of the Renown.
By the time Horatio was awake and dressed, the word had passed quickly among every man aboard; he was barely out of his door when he came upon Matthews, and read the sober expression on the older man's face.
"How close are we?" He asked quietly; there was no need for any other words than those.
"With this wind, and a calm sea, we'll be ashore by midmorning, sir," was Matthews' reply.
Horatio ducked his head down so Matthews could not read his face; he did not know what to feel. Relief, guilt, worry - all these emotions crowded within him and clamored for dominance, but none of them won out and as a result he felt nothing except extremely ill.
But there were others besides himself to be concerned about. "The captain's been informed?"
"Aye,sir; no orders yet, but to keep 'er steady."
"Any word from the sick berth?"
Matthews' eyes told Horatio he knew exactly what those words meant. He shook his head. "Nothing but that the doctor's been informed, sir. 'e's readyin' the men for transport now."
Horatio nodded, relieved that there were no deaths to report. "I should report to the captain. Thank you, Matthews."
Matthews' smile was spare, but visible to Horatio; thank Heavens there was one constant in a world where everything else was crashing about his ears. "Aye aye, sir. Steady as she goes."
And Horatio continued on his way.
Bush knew something was different the moment he opened his eyes.
For the past two days the sick berth had been a somnolent resting place of disease and injury; not much moved unless it had to. This morning, however, Bush was aware of a contagious energy that was running through the room like a wildfire; Dr. Clive was moving briskly through the berth, barking orders to the loblolly boys who were scattering around him like nervous chicks; and he saw that some of the less-wounded men were dressing, as if preparing themselves for presentation. Everywhere there was a crackle of anticipation.
We're making port, Bush thought. We're in Kingston.
He turned his head and looked at Kennedy. The young man was facing him, drawing even but shallow breaths. Bush breathed a sigh of relief that Kennedy had not died in the night, and seeing a little color to his pale skin at least held out some hope that he would not die soon. *Unless we all die together* Bush thought involuntarily; but he pushed that unwelcome intrusion to the back of his mind, and tried to ignore it.
The dawn had broken. Time to look about. With a fair amount of straining Bush was able to hoist himself into a somewhat sitting position; he ran a hand through his hair and knew he had to look completely wretched.
Beside him Kennedy stirred, and opened his eyes a little. As if sensing the commotion he whispered, "What's happening?"
"I believe we're making port," Bush replied, trying to smooth his hair down. "How are you feeling, Mr. Kennedy?"
Kennedy paused as if pondering this, then turned his head slightly and murmured, "I do believe, Mr. Bush, that I have been shot. But it has not o'ercrowed my spirit yet."
"Good," Bush muttered, looking at Kennedy closely, "What about the physical part?"
Kennedy pursed his lips as he considered this; then he said, "If I think about it very hard, and concentrate as if I am balancing a pin on the edge of a razor, I believe that I can draw a breath without wishing that I was dead."
Bush gave Kennedy a smile of encouragement. "Well, it's a start."
Kennedy accepted this, and squinted in another direction. "Any word on Mr. Wellard?"
Bush looked in that direction; the only thing he could see was the top of Wellard's head, and it was not moving. Feeling a pang of dread, Bush very slowly pushed himself out of his hammock and winced as he came to a standing position.
But to his surprise, it was not as bad as it had been the day before; perhaps he was getting better. Tugging his britches up around his waist, Bush made his cautious way across the sick berth to where Wellard lay; a quick glance at Clive and the loblolly boys told him they would not interfere. They were all very busy elsewhere.
As Bush drew closer to Wellard's hammock, he was very happy to see that the boy was still breathing, and awake. His dark eyes did not hold the desperate tinge they had the night before; still they looked far from rested.
Wellard turned his head a little as Bush approached, and he nodded a little. "Morning, sir."
Dread. That was what was in Wellard's eyes, dread and a drowsy fear. "Good morning, Mr. Wellard. I think we will be docking soon."
"Aye, sir," Wellard whispered, and even though his eyes were frightened his expression seemed unnaturally calm. "I awoke earlier, heard them talking. We should make ourselves ready, sir."
Bush nodded, not liking how pale Wellard looked, or the way his eyes were at odds with the rest of him. "What do you need, Mr. Wellard?"
Wellard glanced down at his hands, which were lying above his bloodstained bandage; Bush saw that they were trembling. When their eyes met again Wellard gave a small, helpless smile and said, "What I need cannot be given, sir. Therefore I can only ask that I be assisted in making myself presentable to my captain."
Bush stared at those shaking hands, and felt a pang of sympathy; but above them was a ghost-white face set in the sternest lines, the child struggling for the strength of a man in a circumstance that was undoing men three times his age. Bush marveled at it.
When he did not speak, Wellard met his eyes again and asked, "What of Mr. Kennedy?"
Bush found his voice. "He is well, Mr. Wellard."
"And Mr. Hornblower?"
Bush faltered a little; but certainly if anyone could look after themselves, it was that remarkable young man. "He is doing all our jobs, I'm certain. But I have heard nothing ill of him since the Renown was retaken."
The dark brown eyes struggled to focus. "And yourself, sir?"
Bush paused, and considered this question. He ached in every bone in his body; there was a fire in his chest that would be weeks in putting out; and he was exhausted enough to sleep for a hundred years.
But he could not reveal that to stalwart soul struggling before him; and he could not display any weakness to these men who needed him to be strong. Soon he, Hornblower, Kennedy and Wellard would be sailing into a lake of fire with no opposite shore; and he was the senior officer. He would have to be the cloudy pillar that guided them home.
"My men are about me," Bush replied, smiling for all of their sakes, "I am content, Mr. Wellard. Now let us make you presentable for your captain."
Horatio dreaded reporting to Captain Buckland. He resented every step he took toward the doors to the captain's cabin, did not know how he was going to face this man who was once one of them, but now seemed almost frantic to set himself apart. He had to be obedient, had to be respectful and compliant because it was his only defense now; to be otherwise would incur more wrath from Buckland's jealous heart, not against him but against the others, against Bush and Wellard. Already it was bad, and it could become worse. Much worse.
Because once they reached Kingston, it would be Buckland's testimony that would be taken first.
Horatio came topside and walked across the quarterdeck toward the hastily mended doors of the captain's cabin. The men were all very busy preparing the Renown for her approach and docking; glancing about quickly, Horatio spied Matthews and Styles overseeing some deck work forward. His eyes met with Styles', and they exchanged curt nods; the grim anger on the seaman's face spoke volumes. Whatever Matthews had told him about what was going on, he was very angry. Horatio tried to warn him with a glance, and moved on.
Hobbs was on deck as well, working with his gun crew to try and repair one of the carriages that had been damaged in the takeover attempt. It did not look like it was going well; the gunner had his jacket off already, and his face was shiny with exertion. As Horatio hurried by, he glanced at the scene and took note of what he saw.
Then, five paces later stopped, turned around, and looked again. Hobbs' face was badly bruised.
Horatio paused, not wanting to embarrass the man by staring, and waited until Hobbs turned around again to take another look. Yes, no mistaking it; three dark and reddened bruises on both sides of his face. And Horatio knew what had caused them.
Hobbs' gaze flicked to Horatio once, very quickly, then he went back to the gun, barking out orders to the ratings trying to fit the gun on its repaired carriage. Leave it alone, Horatio told himself, he doesn't want to talk about it and you have an appointment with the captain.
But Horatio couldn't leave it alone. He walked back, treading more softly this time. "Mr. Hobbs?"
Hobbs didn't look up, concentrated on the rope he was coiling in his hands. "Aye, sir?"
"What happened to your face?"
Hobbs shrugged, but did not meet Horatio's eyes. "Minor disagreement below decks last evening, sir."
"You mean there was a fight," Horatio replied, a little tartly but to have such disorder now, when they all must be on their best behavior..."Did you report it to the captain?"
Hobbs did look at him then, quickly, and Horatio was astounded at how bad the bruises looked up close. But the eyes held nothing in them, there was the same shuttered-up glare that Horatio had always seen. Then Hobbs looked away and muttered, "Captain's got enough on his mind, sir. And I can take care of myself."
The words were surly, almost growled. For an instant Horatio felt a rush of indignation, and almost said something; then he noticed that the ratings who were dealing with the cannon were giving each other knowing looks. And one of them had a nasty scratch under his left eye.
Horatio stepped backwards and thought for a moment. Then he took a deep breath and said, in a voice loud enough to be heard by all nearby, "In a matter of hours we will be docking in Kingston. I will not mention this to Captain Buckland, but I will remind you that we will all be held under the deepest scrutiny from the moment this ship touches the pier. Any reckless action taken by any man will be seen as a stain on the memory of Captain Sawyer and I will not tolerate it, for any of our sakes. Is that understood, Mr. Hobbs?"
Hobbs stood up a little straighter, and reluctantly raised his eyes to meet Horatio's. "Aye aye, sir."
Horatio tried to hold that gaze, thought for a moment he could find something in that bitter countenance that he could understand and reach, the way he had finally reached Hunter. Something he could save...
But no. Hobbs looked away, his eyes going once more to the rope, and he muttered, "Will that be all, sir?"
Horatio almost sighed; a failure then, like the seaman Bunting who he had tried to reach and failed, so long ago. "No, Mr. Hobbs, that will do. Carry on."
Hobbs nodded, and Horatio walked away. But he did not walk towards the captain's cabin; he made some pretext of looking in Matthews' direction, and noticed that both he and Styles were eying him keenly. Horatio headed there instead, and as soon as he was close enough rubbed his chin to hide his words and asked, "What happened, Matthews?"
"Thought you should know, sir," Matthews replied softly, gazing out at the sea as he did so, "The men are mighty riled up. Frightened they are sir, and it's all me and Styles can do to keep order below decks."
"'e started it." Styles muttered darkly, glaring at Hobbs.
"Very helpful, Styles," Horatio admonished, then turned his eyes to Matthews again. "Is it the inquiry?"
Matthews nodded, "And other things. I 'eard the lads talkin', sir, and I wouldn't give a tuppence for Mr. Hobbs once we hit port. 'im and Randall were a holy terror, and there's more'n a few want to return the favor. If you take my meaning, sir."
"I do," Horatio admitted, glancing at Hobbs with a reluctant sigh. "All right, Matthews, thank you for telling me. Do what you can to keep the men apart, and tell me if there's any altercations before this business is finished. I shall deal with it then."
"Sir!" Styles protested, "Don't be stickin' yer neck out fer the likes o' him. 'e's fixin' to stab us all right in the back - "
"Yes, I know of Mr. Hobbs' disposition, Styles," Horatio retorted hotly, "I have been made aware of it, more than once. But he is a member of this crew and entitled to the same protection as any man here."
Styles' eyes were sharp with rage. "You mean the same protection I got, sir?"
Matthews' warning was a sharp hiss; Horatio felt his own gorge rise when he remembered the beating Styles had received at Randall's hands, and his own inability to get justice from the mad Captain Sawyer. Styles had an excellent point, but Horatio knew he could not let that comment pass.
"Watch your tongue, Styles," he said in a commanding tone, "And mind who you're speaking to. Mr. Buckland was every bit as outraged at your treatment as I was. I cannot mend your bruises or right the wrongs of the past, but I will *not* turn them into the wrongs of the present, do you understand? I will clap you in irons before I let vengeance be an excuse for anything."
Styles hesitated, then ducked his head; Horatio regretted using that tone on the man, who had climbed a long way and carried the injustice of what had happened to him with a bitterness Horatio could only guess at. But the words needed to be said.
"Please listen to me, both of you," Horatio continued, in a softer tone, "When this ship reaches port, we will all be on trial for our lives. Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Bush, Mr. Wellard - they are depending on us to see them through this storm, and they in turn will see us safely through also. But we go together, you and I as well as Mr. Hobbs and the lowliest powder monkey on the ship. We must all look out for each other, or we will all be very surely lost. Now do I have your word that you will maintain order until this thing is through?"
"Aye, sir," Matthews said immediately, his eyes full of understanding.
Horatio's gaze shifted. "Styles?"
Styles was looking away, toward the shimmering sliver of Jamaica on the horizon; when he brought his eyes to Horatio, there was a fierce struggle there.
Horatio shook his head. "I'm not asking you to like it, Styles. But you must obey me."
Styles sighed, and nodded. "Aye aye, sir."
"My word, sir."
Horatio looked into Styles' eyes, saw there the respect and trust he sorely needed to see. And it was enough, coming from the man who had once been Jack Simpson's toady; it was more than enough. He gave both men a slight smile.
"Carry on then, and keep a sharp lookout. I must go and report to the captain."
There were other eyes that morning, keeping a sharp lookout. In the highest tower of the Admiralty building in Kingston, Pellew stood with a telescope watching a tiny speck of ship still far away, and trying to quell the feeling of dread that was knotting in his stomach. He was not succeeding.
The Admiralty building was old, and not getting any younger. The paint was faded and peeling, and many of the walls showed alarming signs of decay, at least in the squat, stuccoed tower that Pellew found himself pacing in. The only good thing about the place was that it afforded an excellent view of the sea, high above the palm trees and lesser buildings that impeded a man's view down below. Yes, one could see everything up here...
...including a ship approaching whose officers might just as well set up black sails.
Pellew brought the telescope to his eye again, and studied the Renown through the glass. As he did so, he heard heavy footsteps coming up the rickety wooden stairs and prayed to God it wasn't Hammond.
It wasn't. As Pellew watched Collins' ruddy face appeared out of the stairwell, and his pale eyes looked concerned. "You spied her, Commodore?"
"Yes," Pellew replied, and peered through the glass again.
"How does she look?"
Pellew tried with all his might to find out, but the ship was still so far away... "Her masts seem to be intact. Her hull doe not look damaged. Beyond that..." Pellew slowly lowered the telescope and shook his head in regret. "I can not yet say."
"Well, at least the Dons didn't sink her," Collins said hopefully as he moved to stand beside Pellew. He squinted his pale blue eyes to the horizon. "Although the officers might end up wishing they had."
"None of that," Pellew said, a little more testily than he intended to, but it had been exactly what he had been thinking. "We must remember that this is an inquiry, nothing more. To presume guilt before all the facts are known would be the grossest form of injustice."
"Tell that to Captain Hammond," Collins muttered, keeping his eyes to the sea, "He had them convicted of mutiny before he was finished reading the dispatch, and dissuading him from that notion would be harder than bringing Sawyer back from the dead. This will not be an easy one, Commodore."
"If I'd wanted an easy life, captain, I would have taken up with wealthy widows," Pellew replied tartly, and snapped the telescope closed, his clear brown eyes still trained on the tiny, faraway ship. "I suppose Hammond already knows about the arrival of the Renown."
"Of course. He's gathering up the marines as we speak."
Pellew's gaze came sharply around. "These men have not been arrested yet, damn it."
Collins' answer was a small shrug. "Hammond would say it is to keep the peace. There are officers in Kingston who remember Sawyer and are loyal to him; I imagine they will be less than kind to the Renowns if some discipline is not enforced."
Pellew hesitated, then nodded slightly and looked at the telescope in his hands. "Yes, I suppose..." He looked up again, at the small white speck that looked so tiny and helpless on the vast and unsympathetic sea.
Collins followed his gaze and shook his head. "A pity the captain of the Renown was not some drunken, incompetent bully who everyone would have been glad to be rid of. Instead we have not only a mutiny against a captain, but against the grand reputation of England herself. How can we excuse one without irreperably soiling the other?"
Pellew stared at the shifting seas for a moment, not moving. Then he turned to Collins and said quietly, "We will not excuse, captain. We will determine, and if necessary we will punish."
"Even if it means hanging your Leftenant Hornblower?"
Pellew stood still for a moment, the only movement being the rapid churning of emotions in his great, dark eyes. He cleared his throat and whispered, "Let us pray God it does not come to that."
And he left the tower to prepare for the arrival of the Renown.
Horatio swallowed hard as he knocked on the battered doors of the captain's cabin. He was thinking of Styles, of Bush and Archie lying beyond his reach and it was all Buckland's doing; but it would not help anything for the acting captain to see what he was feeling in his heart...
A calm and cheerful voice within said, "Come."
Horatio obeyed, letting the officious mask fall over his features as he opened the door and stepped inside. Buckland was sitting at the table, eating a lavish breakfast. He did not look at all concerned, about Kingston or the men or anything else. "Ah, Lieutenant Hornblower. Good morning."
"Good morning, sir. I've ordered the men to make ready, we'll be docking before noon in Kingston."
"Yes, so I hear," Buckland replied, almost conversationally as he stabbed a piece of fruit with a gleaming fork. "Would you care for some breakfast, Mr. Hornblower?"
Horatio kept the mask steady. "Thank you sir, but I have duties to attend to. I will be sustained until we are in port."
"Very well," Buckland nodded, and took a sip of - was that wine? Horatio could not be certain, but could not think of what else it could be. Buckland set the glass down, then pressed his hands together and looked at Horatio very keenly.
Horatio felt the weight of this stare acutely, and was trying to think of a way to comment on it without seeming insubordinate. Finally he said, "Sir, if there is nothing else - "
Buckland blinked, as if coming back from a daydream, and rapidly shook his head, "My apologies, Mr. Hornblower, I was merely thinking - you know, I value your service to me."
Horatio swallowed hard, and replied the only way he could. "Thank you, sir."
Buckland stood and began to pace. "I fear I may have been - harsh - at first, the burden of command and we were in the very jaws of danger, you understand. If my command has seemed...erratic to you, I do hope I have your forgiveness."
Horatio was trying to keep his eyes trained forward, but without looking at Buckland's face it was impossible to tell what his intention was. The words were cajoling, wheedling, but they were also guarded. Careful, Horatio thought. "You did what you thought was best, sir."
"Oh - yes," Buckland said with a slight chuckle, "But I suppose all captains go through a transition, especially those who had it thrust upon them as I did. But you *do* understand - I have always acted for the good of the ship?"
He is looking for reassurance, Horatio thought. My words which he will then use in his favor at the inquiry. Suddenly, Horatio thought of his old ship Indefatigable, of Captain Pellew and his ringing words about honor and duty, the notion that they came above all else.
Buckland was not Pellew. He was a weak and indecisive man, full of deceit and jealousy. He had never acted for the good of the ship, only for the good of his commission and himself - but Horatio knew he could not say that. Buckland's jealousy had nearly gotten him and Archie and Bush killed, and it was hurting them all even now; once they made shore Buckland could accuse them all, and it would look damnable to be on the wrong side of two captains. Horatio sighed inwardly, missing Pellew's decency, and knew he could not give Buckland the words he wanted to hear; so he hesitated, and did not reply.
Buckland marked Horatio's manner and said quickly, "I know what you're probably thinking. The same thing we have all been, but I promise you I will not breathe a word that would incriminate any of us. All they'll ask about is how the captain came to fall, and that was an accident. Who was there, and how they came to be there...that need never be known."
Horatio did look at Buckland then, in a mild shock. "We are bound by our honor to be truthful, sir."
Buckland's eyes widened. "Do you mean that if they ask you, you will tell them about our - our meeting in the hold?"
Horatio didn't waver. "I will not guide the noose to my neck, sir. But I am an officer in His Majesty's navy, and if they ask me I will tell the truth. I cannot wear this uniform otherwise."
Buckland turned pale. He straightened up, his lips hardening into tight lines. "I am proud of my uniform as well, but I am not so eager to trade it for a shroud! You must understand, Mr. Hornblower, it's all of our necks on the block for what happened to the captain. A word against any of us is as good as a death sentence."
"I will speak no word against you," Horatio stated plainly, "But we all knew the risk we were taking, sir. Our lives for the good of the ship. It is a bargain - "
It's not a bargain to me, Buckland's expression screamed, but he did not say it. Instead he turned his back on Horatio and paced again, around the table, his shoulders rigid with indignation. As soon as the table was between them Buckland turned towards Horatio and opened his mouth -
- but was interrupted by another knock at the door. Horatio had just enough time to see that hateful fire in Buckland's eyes before the man blinked, obviously struggling to hide it. Blinking again, Buckland said in a strangled voice, "Who is it?"
"Dr. Clive, sir."
Buckland's expression softened, and he began to pace again. He glanced at Horatio once, quickly, and said, "Come in, doctor."
The door opened, and Clive came in. His eyes met Horatio's, but there was no reassurance there and very little warmth; just hard practicality. Without smiling he entered the cabin and said, "The injured have been made ready for transport, sir; with your permission I should like to get tackles rigged to take the most seriously wounded off the ship."
Buckland's expression was guarded as he asked, "How are the men doing, Dr. Clive?"
Clive took a deep breath and shifted his eyes as he answered. "One death in the night, but otherwise they seem to be holding their own."
One death - oh God - despite Matthews' reassurance a painful wave of panic went through Horatio, and he fought to keep still.
Buckland, of course, did not need to be so careful. "One death? Whose?"
An eternity passed while Clive paused. Then he said, "Griffins, sir, one of the powder monkeys. Fever."
There was a note of contempt in Clive's voice, Horatio noticed as his mind swam back from the panic. Not contempt for Griffins, but for Buckland. They all knew why he had asked who died. And now that he knew...
There was the quickest flicker of disappointment in Buckland's face. A beat of hummingbird's wing and it was gone. But Horatio saw it, and in his heart damned the man.
Buckland did not know this, of course. Clearing his throat he asked, "And how are my officers doing?"
"They are doing as well as can be expected," Clive said flatly, and Horatio took that to mean: they are not doing well at all, since I have not been allowed to treat them.
If the tone of his voice was at all disrespectful - and Horatio thought it was - Buckland did not seem to notice. He nodded a little and said, "Good."
Horatio felt a flash of anger course through him, and before he could stop himself asked, "Sir?"
Buckland's expression blanked for a moment, as if he had been caught unawares. Then he took a deep breath and said, "I take one death out of the many that could have been as a good omen, Mr. Hornblower. I advise you do the same."
He is playing the game, Horatio thought. "Aye, sir."
Buckland abruptly turned toward the cabin windows. "With this breeze we will make Kingston sooner than noon, I expect. Once there we must keep all of our wits about us, and then we will come through all right." He turned back, and Horatio saw a terrible determination in those round and frightened eyes, a determination to triumph alone or take all down with him in defeat. "I expect we will all do our duty, gentlemen."
"Of course, sir," Clive said drily, and turned on his heel to go. Horatio turned to go as well.
Horatio stopped, and turned back. "Sir?"
Buckland's eyebrows were raised, his expression strangely reminiscent of a schoolmaster making certain his words were minded. "I want us to understand each other. If the entire truth is known, none of us will benefit from it. The truth will hang Mr. Kennedy, and Mr. Bush. And us. You understand that?"
The mask came on again. Horatio remembered that Buckland was disappointed that Archie and Bush did not die. "I understand, sir."
"Then you know what your duty is. To protect your captain, and your shipmates. Just as you've always said."
Damn him, Horatio thought. "Aye, sir."
Buckland nodded in satisfaction, and sat back down to his breakfast. "You're dismissed. Send me word when we dock in Kingston."
He reached for the wine glass, and with a heart at once consumed with worry and anger and desperate with homesickness for another time and place, Horatio left.
The morning sun had not yet passed to noon when Commodore Sir Edward Pellew stood on the grand dock at Kingston and watched the Renown come home.
He should not have been there, he supposed. It was not the responsibility of a commodore to stand in the hot sun and wait for a ship to dock; that was a job for one of his junior officers, or even a clerk. No, a commodore sat in the relative cool of his shuttered office, sipping wine or dozing, and when a ship docked he was told of it, handed papers and reports, and then - finally - he would turn his mind to the work at hand.
But Pellew could not wait. And after all, the mystery of the Renown had spread throughout the island, and there was a small crowd of locals and curious officers milling about the place; so Pellew did not look so out of place. He only hoped, as he stood in the meager shade of a ridiculous-looking palm tree, that no one noticed the concern in his eyes as he watched the small dot on the azure horizon grow bigger, and bigger still. His concern would have been questioned; and there was no way he could hide it now.
As the Renown drew closer, Pellew lifted his spyglass to check her markings, her hull and sheets. The sails looked intact, and although it seemed there was some repair to her sides Pellew did not see any major battle damage. He breathed his first sigh of relief; whatever her trials, the Renown was not mortally injured. And, better still, in her wake were three small Spanish ships. Pellew felt a measure of relief; prize ships might offset some of the bad feelings, at any rate.
The ships drew closer still, and gradually the Renown heaved her way to the dock. Pellew scanned the decks, looking for the familiar faces he knew he should be seeing. The Renown set sail from Portsmouth with four lieutenants aboard her; with the frenetic work of docking at hand, he should be able to see at least one -
There! Pellew did not need to use his glass to recognize the tall, dark-haired figure moving with determined self-assurance along the crowded deck. Hornblower, thank God all right and apparently utilizing his customary authority. Pellew worked to hide a smile of pride as he watched his former protégé direct the men, watching and giving orders and doing what Pellew knew he loved, and was born to do: lead.
And that other fellow there, who Hornblower had just turned to and saluted, that had to be Buckland. Pellew tried to get a good look at him, noticed that the man looked ill-at-ease despite his position and his height - he was taller even than Hornblower. As Pellew watched, Buckland turned toward the shore and began looking for something in the crowd. His eyes fell on Pellew, and he immediately stiffened as if the commodore's presence shocked him. Well - Pellew thought, perhaps it did, but it bothered Pellew to see the man so undone about it. Pellew's heart sank; if what was unnerving Buckland was guilt, the end of the week would see every officer on the Renown hanged.
After the swiftest moment, however, Buckland pulled himself together and turned away, hurrying off the deck. Pellew sighed - he supposed Buckland was going to get his report, and would be seeking him out as soon as the plank was lowered - and recommenced scanning the Renown's decks, looking for the other two lieutenants. With all the bustle that was occuring they were certainly on deck somewhere...
"Good morning, Commodore," came a sharply burred voice behind him, and Pellew turned to see Hammond walking slowly in the shade toward him. "I see you've decided to take the morning air."
"I am eager to see what work lies before us," Pellew replied, turning his eyes once again to the ship, "As I think we should all be, given the gravity of the situation."
"Very true," Hammond snapped genially, coming to stand at Pellew's side. "It is indeed a dark day when a man such as Sawyer comes home in this fashion. I do wonder if his injuries will leave him fit to be questioned."
"Undoubtably we will know that very soon," Pellew muttered, the uneasy feeling in his stomach growing. He could still see Hornblower moving about the deck, and fought his impatience that the young man was not on the dock, right in front of him, so he could ask what he needed to ask and be done with it. Pellew had to know the worst, had to know what happened so he could deal with it, but beyond that he had to know that Hornblower had made it through all right, and if that was favoritism then so bloody be it. Blast it, what was the delay?
And where was Mr. Kennedy?
"Well, she looks fit enough," Hammond said lazily, squinting at the Renown as the shadows shifted over his face, "Under any captain but Sawyer I'm certain she ran rather than engaged the enemy."
"Or she engaged the enemy successfully," Pellew rejoined acidly, "Did you not see the three prize vessels she brought with her?"
"Hm? Oh," Hammond craned his neck to see, and gave each ship a dismissive glance. "Well, they're small, but I suppose they're something, at least. But we mustn't let those shiny baubles distract us from the task at hand."
Pellew sighed, and hoped Hammond heard it. He was tired of the man already. "No. Of course not."
By now Buckland had disembarked the Renown and was walking toward Pellew, a sheaf of papers in his hand. As the man came closer, Pellew noticed that he looked very nervous, in fact was almost white with trepidation. He almost felt sorry for him.
Buckland stopped in front of Pellew and saluted. "Acting Captain Buckland reporting, sir. I am presenting you my papers."
Pellew returned the salute, and accepted the papers from Buckland's hands. "The condition of your ship, if you please, Mr. Buckland."
"We are sound, sir," Buckland replied, his eyes flicking from Pellew to Hammond and back again, "And I must say, I am eager to detail our journey to the inquiry board as soon as it convenes."
"How is Sawyer?" Hammond barked.
Buckland's eyes jumped a little. Then he took a deep breath and said, "Sir, it is my sad duty to report to you that Captain Sawyer is dead."
Pellew's eyes snapped up, and he was certain they betrayed his shock. "From his injuries?"
"Er - no," Buckland hedged, "We completed our mission in Samana Bay and took some prisoners who attempted to overtake the ship and..." he paused, and moved his neck stiffly, as if his collar bothered him. "It's in the report, sir. I'm afraid I find it rather difficult to talk about."
"I've no doubt," Hammond said tartly.
Pellew did his best to ignore Hammond's attempts to terrorize Buckland, and opening the papers he held said, "During the inquiry you and your officers will be confined to the Admiralty grounds, you may walk about at your leisure but please do not leave the outside walls. I will review your reports and logs and we will conduct the questioning as soon as possible. Is that understood?"
Buckland nodded. "Yes, sir."
Out of the corner of his eye, Pellew could see Hornblower walking along the dock, coming to stand alongside a shorter man in a very bad gray powdered wig. They were conferring, and the man handed Hornblower a few small books; then Hornblower left the man's side and began to walk towards Pellew. Even at that distance, Pellew could see the fatigue in the young man's face.
"Now then," Pellew said, hoping to mask his concern with the business at hand, "We have men here to assist you in the disembarking of your prisoners and of course any wounded men who need medical attention ashore."
"Thank you, commodore," Buckland answered softly, "We will need that I fear, we have several men who were badly wounded during the Spaniards' attack."
As Buckland spoke, Hornblower drew closer, walking slowly. Pellew looked into his eyes, and saw what was in them.
"Wounded, you say?" Hammond was saying.
"Yes, the Spaniards were most - cunning - they nearly killed three of my officers."
Hornblower stopped a short distance behind Buckland, and looked at Pellew steadily with an expression at once completely exhausted, far too young, and irredeemably ancient.
"One of my midshipmen, Wellard; the second lieutenant..."
"And Kennedy," Pellew said softly, never taking his eyes from Hornblower.
"Er - yes," Buckland admitted, glancing at Pellew curiously, then turned around and saw Hornblower. After a beat he turned back around and said, "Now if you'll excuse me I should see to the welfare of my men. I am at your disposal, gentlemen."
He saluted again, a little more relaxed than before, and turned away from Pellew and Hammond, walking brusquely past Hornblower on his way back to the ship. Hornblower didn't move, simply stood there for a long moment looking at Pellew with a mixture of sadness and resignation on his face.
Pellew knew he could show no partiality; Hammond would jump on it, twist it until it was tight around Hornblower's neck. And until he read the reports he had no notion of what really happened on board the Renown, and why she would limp into port with her captain dead and three of her officers close to death...
...but still, Pellew could not abandon Hornblower to the despair that was written on his face. It reminded Pellew of the hopelessness of Muzillac, the horror of being caught up in a tragedy not of one's own making. He had to say something...
Hornblower took a step forward, and with his eyes straight ahead saluted and said, "Commodore Pellew, sir, the ship's doctor asked me to give you this. It's a requisition list along with a list of the wounded and dead from the ship."
"Thank you," Pellew replied softly, hoping to God that Hammond would hold his tongue. Oh, Hammond be damned. "It's good to see you safe, Mr. Hornblower."
Hornblower swallowed, but his eyes did not waver. "Thank you, sir."
That should have been the end of it; but as Hornblower turned away Pellew said in low tones, "I wish the same for all the Renowns. You will give them that assurance?"
Hornblower started a little, drew back and looked at Pellew with widened eyes. "Aye, sir," was all he said, however, and then he turned and was gone.
"A fiesty young pup, that one," Hammond said as both men watched Hornblower disappear in the milling crowd on his way back to Renown, "And one to watch out for, if I remember correctly."
"It is our charge to watch out for all the men in His Majesty's navy," Pellew answered, looking down at the possibly damning evidence in his hands, "And condemn no one without just cause."
"Then let justice be served," Hammond said a bit sourly, and pulling out a handkerchief mopped his brow and turning walked back toward the coolness of the officers' quarters.
Pellew stood there a few moments longer, watching as Hornblower made his way back up the long gangplank onto the ship. A ship that Pellew now knew carried not only the dead body of a legendary captain, but also the wounded body of Hornblower's closest friend and the wounded souls of countless men who had suffered a nightmare that was only now seeing the daylight.
"Let justice be served," Pellew muttered to himself, feeling the awful weight of the book in his hands and shivering with cold even in the tropical heat. "Amen."
End of Part Two