by Jan L.
The storm wore on outside the prison infirmary, the wind blowing
howling, the incessant beat of rain, an occasional rumble of thunder.
fire crackled cheerfully on the stone hearth. And Archie Kennedy
through it all, while Horatio Hornblower sat, and watched, and
on his own incompetence.
How could he have been so stupid, so utterly blind? Why hadn't
that, far from getting stronger, Archie had been fading before
growing weaker day by day? Why in God's name had he ever -- ever!
thought that Hunter was looking after the younger midshipman,
Hunter made it clear that he considered Kennedy some sort of drag
to be cut loose as soon as possible?
There was no answer to any of the questions, other than gross
on Hornblower's part. He had been so delighted with his two hours
freedom each day that he had, without a second thought, abandoned
sick, tortured friend to the cold indifference of a man who wanted
dead. //If Archie lives through this, he'll likely never speak
But he'd have to, wouldn't he? At least as to a superior officer.
a bitter jest. The rank was as unreal as his authority, and he
order Archie to live, any more than he could order his men to
Hunter's hair-brained escape plan.
As if seeking its own escape from the present reality, his mind
off along that other path... the one that ran into a dead end
he traversed it. Four guards, yes -- four on duty at any one time.
they served in three-hour shifts, and there were at least three
sets of guards, during daylight hours. Twenty-four hours meant
there could be as many as eight different shifts, which meant
guards, plus the three that followed Don Alfredo de Massaredo's
step. And the fortress looked large enough to house many times
Why the Spaniards kept such a garrison in this Godforsaken bit
was anyone's guess; perhaps they feared the bay could serve as
a base for
invasion if this castle were taken by the English. Whatever their
reason, it meant that there were more Spanish soldiers than nine
Navy men could possibly overcome. Especially with one of them
Archie didn't look so bad at the moment, though. The warm light
candles put some color in his skin, masking the bloodless blue-white
evident in the courtyard's cold wet daylight.
Had Finch looked like that? Hornblower couldn't quite remember.
want to remember, if he were honest with himself. Though if there
anything he ought to remember, as a responsible officer, it was
identify the early signs of starvation-induced illness in his
nobody had known how sick Finch had been; the old sailor had always
toughness that belied his scrawny, half-starved appearance, and
Matthews had been surprised that he took sick after only a couple
months on short rations. What stuck in Hornblower's mind about
illness was the mental wandering, the confusion about where he
what was happening. Archie hadn't been like that, he had known
raining outside... "No walk for you today, Horatio."
//I'm sorry, Archie.// The remorse was almost a physical ache,
tightening his throat like a vise. Had Hunter been eating Archie's
rations, or did he just send the food back out with the wooden
spoons? It didn't really matter, but he should have known. And
not. //Won't you please wake up and talk to me?//
When he first brought Archie in here, he had begged Don Massaredo
something nourishing, and a bowl of gruel had arrived shortly
Duchess left. Perhaps he should have asked her to wait outside,
got Kennedy out of his soaked clothing and under the blankets.
had been willing to talk to her, even if all he did was recite
rambling sort of poetry. Oh, God, was he babbling like Finch had?
should have asked Her Grace to stay, Archie might have let her
But how could one ask a Duchess to play nursemaid like that, even
younger son of the nobility? And by the time Archie was decent
-- it had
taken awhile to dry his shirt by the fire, and wrestle it back
-- he was deeply asleep and could not be roused.
He had been that way for hours, now. Hornblower had trickled a
water between his lips, but very little of it had gone down. He
to wake up, and pay attention, and at least drink some more water.
was raining now, but in the past few days' heat, dehydration was
more dangerous than starvation; a man could last much longer without
than without water.
Hornblower leaned forward as Kennedy began to mutter and move
hopeful that he was near to waking. But as the minutes passed
became less likely; Archie was dreaming, now, writhing in distress.
Hornblower wasn't sure whether he should waken him. He'd seemingly
some kind of unpleasant dream earlier, for a minute or two, but
passed. Perhaps he needed the sleep more than sustenance?
But this nightmare was getting worse, and Archie suddenly sat
upright, babbling, blue eyes open but unseeing. "No-- Simpson--
Hornblower leaned forward, a hand on his arm to steady him, trying
soothe him out of the panic. Kennedy blinked, consciousness returning
his eyes, and the panic slowly drained from his body. Like a puppet
released from its strings, he sank back to the pillow.
Relieved to see him awake at last, Hornblower patted his shoulder
reassuringly. He took up the pitcher, pouring some water into
amber glass, reaching to help Kennedy raise his head. "Here,
But Archie pushed the glass aside and scooted as far away as he
the narrow bed, turning his face as though trying to pretend Hornblower
wasn't there. Turning away. Trying to die... "He wants to
Hunter's voice echoed in his mind. "It's no good thinkin'
Fear and anger battled for the upper hand, and anger won by a
"You're going to drink," Hornblower said firmly, hoping
the note of
command would somehow break through Archie's resistance. "You're
to eat, and you're going to get better. And then we're going to
What ailed the man? "Or don't you want to get back, hm?"
How could he
not want to escape? How could anyone not want that, for God's
Hornblower himself yearned for freedom so badly he woke sometimes
night straining to hear the surf beating against the shore, so
"Stand on the deck of the Indy, hear the wind in the rigging..."
"...and hear how Horatio Hornblower rescued his shipmate
Archie finished bitterly, not meeting his eyes.
After getting himself and all his men captured in the first place?
Hornblower stopped at the foot of the bed, puzzled. "It wouldn't
"It would be just like that," Archie said miserably.
His illness was making him foolish. "You'd do the same for
me if I were
in your shoes--"
"But you're not. And you never would be." One hand opened
in a gesture
of futility, then closed into a fist. "Look at me, Horatio.
even stand up straight, for God's sake! What are you planning
carry me on your back?"
"You'll get better, Archie--"
"Damn, you, Horatio, don't you understand? I am not like
anger was astonishing; Hornblower was taken completely aback.
you -- you're an Acting Lieutenant already. You've captured a
"--and been captured myself--" he interjected, but Kennedy
"--the men respect you, you can go strolling about on the
cliffs on the
strength of your word as an officer. You always know what to do.
not like that, Horatio. My damned body doesn't even work properly.
have fits, or had you forgotten?" He paused, panting, like
a hunted deer
brought to bay. "I heard Hunter. He meant me to hear him.
I didn't get you all killed during that cutting-out."
The grief of that loss was as sharp now as it had been two years
worse even than Simpson's bullet. The state Kennedy was in now
direct result of Hornblower's own negligence in not guarding against
bastard's treachery. "Archie, I am so very sorry about what
"What difference does it make?" Kennedy's voice cracked
on the last
word. "I'm not good enough, I was stupid to think I might
would've happened sooner or later, anyway." He swallowed,
Hornblower in accusation. "I was almost free, Horatio. I
anymore. Why the hell did you have to bring me here?"
It was Hornblower's turn to look away, in pain at hearing him
things. "To save you, Archie. To help you get better."
Archie closed his eyes. "I'm not going to 'get better.'"
he said flatly.
"If you had any sense you'd do what Hunter was doing--let
me go. I'm
nothing but a drag on you all. You'll be better off without me.
Everything you do works. No matter what happens, you'll be all
For some reason, he had a sudden flash of memory: The Justinian,
impossibly high above him, and a cheerful, waterlogged stranger
reassurance to the frightened new midshipman: "Jump! You'll
That was Archie's true self, not this sick, starved remnant of
friend. And he needed that friend desperately, especially now,
someone who knew him without the acting rank that he hardly deserved,
someone who wouldn't undermine him the way Hunter was doing. "Archie--I
won't survive if you don't help me. None of us will."
"You don't need me." Again, that turn of the head, shutting
him out. He
knew if Kennedy had had the strength to walk, he'd have left the
Well, he couldn't get away. He wasn't going to get away. Not even
dying. There had to be some way to get through to him.
Hornblower moved around to the side Kennedy was facing, sat on
of the bed and leaned in close so that Archie couldn't edge away.
"You're one of us. We don't leave unless you do." He
started to tap on
Archie's chest, then realized with horror that he'd assumed almost
same position Simpson had, during his damned Inquisition. He softened
his voice, pleading, his fingers plucking at the edge of Kennedy's
knotting in it. "You can't let us down."
Archie's eyes were everywhere else, his breathing harsh and shallow.
Hornblower hated to put him through this, but if the alternative
letting Archie die... better to lose the friendship than the friend.
"You must get strong," he implored, bringing the cup
up very slowly.
Archie glanced up for an instant, finally meeting his eyes, the
fearful look of a cornered animal expecting a bullet. Hornblower
the look, letting Archie see his own fear and uncertainty. Archie
down again, quickly, but he did not turn away.
"Now, drink," Hornblower ordered, holding the cup to
He drank, finally, one hand coming up to grasp at the cup, his
body overriding the strength of his will. Relief swept over Hornblower
like the rush of strong drink.
Archie took only a few sips -- he probably couldn't deal with
now -- then dropped back, a little spilled water pooling in the
"I'm sorry," Hornblower said, dabbing at the water with
the cuff of his
Kennedy smiled crookedly, then the corners of his mouth abruptly
down. He closed his eyes; a tear trickled along the side of his
into his hair. "I'm sure you will be," he whispered,
and fell asleep