The sound of cannonfire echoed across the raging sea. Two ships darted back and forth as they tacked into the wind, each trying to avoid the deadly broadside blasts that would spell impending doom. One ship was smaller then the other, but more maneuverable, its Captain artfully tacking across the waves, avoiding the worst of angles.
On the decks of the two ships, men equally readied and fired cannons, hoping that their shot was the one to tell the tale and turn the battle in their favor. On the smaller ship, two officers directed the cannon fire on each side of the ship, both encouraging and lending aid where they could.
"Stiles! Ready your cannon," Acting Leftenenant Kennedy shouted into the wind. "We're coming about!"
Archie had guessed the Captain's latest ploy and was determined to have his men ready to capitalize on what looked to be a golden opportunity. He could hear his friend Lt. Horatio Hornblower on the port side of the ship, telling his men to stand ready until the next time their side of the ship was needed to fire.
The battle had taken its toll on the Indefatiguable. Quartermasts and rigging lay strewn on the deck, but the other ship was in far worse straits. Their main mast was damaged, and with one more good shot, it would come down.
"Matthews," Archie crouched down next to the cannon closest to him. "You think you can get that mast for us?"
"I1ll bloody well try, sir!" Matthews grinned at the young officer. Usually serious and withdrawn, but he also knew better. Kennedy had gone through hell. He was a good man and officer and Matthews would follow him almost as readily as he would Hornblower and Pellew.
As the Indy swung gracefully behind the larger Spanish ship, Archie laid a hand on Matthew's shoulder, and shouted orders to the other cannons on her side. "Get your shots lined up well, lads! Captain's giving us a free shot! Let's not waste it on haste!"
"Aye sir!" came several voices from along the line, some nervous, some not.
Archie had been fighting off his nerves since the battle began. He1d had a bad feeling when he got up for watch this morning, and the battle certainly didn1t help it. He glanced over at Horatio, who calmly nodded encouragement to him. Archie grinned weakly and returned the nod.
Although physically recovered fully from his ordeal in the Spanish prison, he still battled with the feelings from that time. Months of confinement and solitary existence had eaten away at him, eroding his confidence. Horatio had believed in him, brought him back from the dark pit he had sunk into. Archie owed Horatio his life, and if he lived to be 100, he would do anything to keep him from harm. He owed him.
The Indy finished it1s tack just as Archie predicted, coming broadside to her stern, slightly facing the side of the ship. A perfect shot!
"Fire!" Archie shouted. His order was echoed by the cannons as they fired down the line towards him. "Matthews, when you have your shot, only then do YOU fire."
"Aye sir." Matthews looked at the ship as they slowly came broadside to the enemy. Then the shot was there and Matthews set the cannon off.
The crew cheered as the topmast of the Spanish Galleon came apart with a giant crack, falling onto the deck below it with a satisfying crash. The battle was over, they had won! No Captain in his right mind would go further, his ship was doomed.
Pellew grinned and looked down at the smiling crew, noticing Kennedy readying the men in case the unforseen would happen.
And then it did.
In one last ditch maneuver, the Spanish Captain wheeled his boat onto a course that would ram the Indy. Pellew shouted to the steersman to wheel away from the fast approaching vessel.
"I think she means to ram and board us, Sir." Hornblower was suddenly next to the Captain, anxiety on his expressive features.
"I think you're right Mr. Hornblower." Pellew said, then shouted down to the crew. "All hands prepare to repel boarders!"
The crew scrambled to obey. Pikes were brought out from behind barrels and doors, to push men and hooks off the ship. Firearms were readied, and pistols drawn. The crew up in the rigging drew knives and prepared for the Spanish boarders, vowing not to let them overtake their ship.
Pellew cursed and readied his arms. The Spanish Captain was a fool; anyone with half a mind could see he was defeated. And to make matters worse, Pellew looked about, his men were virtually unharmed, while he could see that many of the Spanish sailors lay dead upon the deck of their ship.
The Galleon hove to and ran alongside the smaller Indy. Ropes were thrown and men swarmed from one ship to another. Rifles shots echoed and men screamed and fell. Pellew ordered all men to attack at will, and fired his pistol at an approaching soldier.
Hornblower sprang into action as a Spanish sailor took a swipe with his sword at one of the men1s unprotected back. Deflecting the cut neatly with his own sword, Hornblower turned the man to face him.
"Fancy being a proper gentleman then?" He grinned into the man's startled face.
The Spanish sailor smiled maliciously and the duel began, Horatio backing up and advancing as it wore on. The man was good!
"Horatio!" Archie cried out, throwing his pistol down, its charge spent, as he looked above his friend in horror. Part of the yardarm had been damaged and was falling! It would land on him if he didn't move! "Look out above!"
In horror Archie watched as Horatio only had time to look above him and try to dive out of the falling wood's path. He didn't make it and was was pinned to the deck, the yardarm lying across his legs.
The Spanish soldier whom Horatio had been fighting smiled and lifted his pistol from his wasteband and aimed it at the helpless man. Horatio was supprised when he spoke to him in English.
"English dog," the man rasped at him, raising the pistol and aiming at his face. "I am no 'English Gentleman', but I will kill you all the same."
Horatio's world became focused on the evil-looking barrel of the gun which was pointed right in his face. This is it, he thought. I'm going to die. He was strangely calm, as if resigned to the inevitable, but he was filled with regret. He did not WANT to die. Then a voice came from out of the blue.
"NO!" Archie saw the man raise his weapon to kill his best friend. He was close, but was he close enough to save him? Heedless of his own safety, he charged towards the man and flew at him in a tackle, just as the pistol went off.
Archie felt a flash of fire by his head and knocked the sailor to the deck, rolling until the man was underneath him. Slightly dizzy and feeling something hot and wet sliding down his neck, Archie took his dagger and stabbed the sailor in the heart, killing him instantly.
Archie grinned in satisfaction and looked up. The fighting was mainly over, but he noticed one man heading off towards the unattended cannons of the Indy. He took a bag of powder out of his waistcoat and lighted a fuse sticking out of it.
"Matthews, Stiles! He1s going for the cannon!" Archie yelled into the din. The two sailors barely heard him, but it was enough to make them look. Seeing the man, they soon had him overboard, the cannons saved. Archie made his way to them, using the rail for support.
"You alright, Sir?" Stiles asked, frowning.
"Yes, fine." Archie swayed, dizzy.
The three men nearest to him eased him to the deck, where he sat, leaning up against the cannon.
"Horatio," Archie whispered as the darkness settled upon him. "He's trappedŠ."
"Quiet now sir," Matthews soothed. "We'll get 'im out. Don't you worry none."
"FightŠ" Archie looked up.
"Fight's just about done, sir." Matthews looked at the concerned faces around him. The young Midshipman had been shot on the right side of his neck. Blood was running down it and all over his chest. "You rest up and we'll get Mr. Hornblower free."
Archie nodded and passed out.
Horatio had breathed a sigh of relief as he saw Archie take the man off of him. The shot that rang out after gave him some concern, until he heard Archie yell to Stiles. Horatio relaxed. He was pinned lying face-up on the deck, not really hurt, but trapped nonetheless. He would just have to hope he was freed before he was killed.
He was relieved when, minutes later, Captain Pellew's voice called the victory. The fight was over. Soon men were there, taking the piece of timber off of him, freeing him.
"Mr. Horblower." Captain Pellew came up to his side. "You injured?"
"No Sir." Horatio looked about. All around them men lay silent and still or groaning in pain. Mostly Spanish soldiers, thank God. "Any casualties of ours?"
"Eight dead, twelve wounded so far," Pellew sighed. "The Spanish were not so lucky, however. They lost most of their crew and officers."
"The Captain?" Horatio asked, looking about the ships. The Galleon was still anchored to the Indy by ropes.
"Alive." Pellew's voice was stone. He had no tolerance for stupidity, and that Captain's had lost him lives.
"Mr Hornblower Sir?" William called from the aft of the ship. "You'd best come over here, Sir."
Horatio looked around, suddenly a feeling of dread overcoming him. He walked swiftly over to the group of men huddled around on of the cannons. Parting for him, they let him through.
As soon as Horatio saw who was down he stopped, unable to move. It was Archie. Sucking in a deep breath, he noticed Stiles holding a cloth to Archie1s neck, the cloth covered in blood. Blood also covered Archie's white vest, turning it a lurid red.
"Archie," Horatio whispered, then strode forward an kneeled next to the stricken man. He barely heard Captain Pellew call for the ships surgeon. "Archie?"
"He passed out Sir," Stiles said, still holding the makeshift bandage to Kennedy's neck. "They made for the cannons to blow them, nobody saw but him."
"He saved the ship, he did," Oldroyd said softly.
"And me as well," Horatio whispered. Archie looked as pale and as close to death as he had in the prison. Horatio prayed for his friend to open his eyes, sure it was Archie saving him that was responsible for this wound.
"How is he, Mr Hornblower?" Pellew said from his side.
"He's lost a lot of blood." Horatio pulled the bandage off briefly, and saw the furrow the bullet made across his friend's neck. "It was just a graze, Sir. But if he's lost too much bloodŠ"
"Yes, quite." Pellew looked up at the waiting men. "Put him in his quarters. The surgeon will look for him there. Men, let's get the ship cleaned up. Put the dead on their own ships and round up all wounded."
Various "aye, Sir"'s echoed and soon the ship was busy again. Horatio and Stiles picked up Archie's limp form and carried him gently to his bunk. Archie didn't stir during the transport. Horatio pulled a chair next to his bed and sat. Waiting.
It was late that night Archie finally stirred. Horatio was asleep in the chair next to him, remembering another time he had sat vigil over his friend. This time he had more hope his friend would be well. This time Archie WANTED to live. A soft groan woke him from his slumber.
"Archie?" Horatio whispered, leaning across the space between the chair and bed.
"HmmŠ" Archie blearily opened his eyes, blinking rapidly. "Horatio?"
"Yes," Horatio grinned. "How are you feeling?"
"Tired, sore." Archie looked puzzled. "The ship.. the fightŠ"
"Everything is well. You just rest." Horatio grinned. "The Captain was down earlier. We have secured the Galleon and will be taking it back to England."
"We?" Archie frowned.
"Yes, we." Horatio leaned back in his chair, noting Archie's color returning. "Your team took the mast down, so that makes you the officer of capture. The only reason I am going is because you're injured."
"What happened?" Archie couldn't seem to remember why he had been injured. What had hit him?
"You don't remember pushing that man off of me?" Horatio was beginning to get alarmed. What was wrong with him that he wouldn't remember?
"I remember that." Archie then opened his eyes wider. "He shot me?"
"Looks like his shot grazed your neck. Another inch to the right and you would be dead now." Horatio reached out and grasped Kennedy's hand. "You saved my life, Archie."
"Someone has to keep you out of trouble." Archie gave a wan smile, the events of the fight filtering back into his mind. "Were there many casualties?"
"Not as many as there might have been," came a stern voice from the doorway.
"Captain Pellew!" Archie struggled to sit up but was restrained by Hornblower.
"Easy, Archie," Horatio whispered.
"At ease, Mr. Kennedy." Pellew walked forward. "Good to see you awake. How do you feel?"
"I'm alright Sir." Archie sat up with Hornblower's help. "Is the crew alright?"
"The crew is fine , Mr. Kennedy. Did Mr. Hornblower have a chance to explain to you your next assignment?"
"Yes Sir," Archie said briskly.
"Will you be ready for a morning departure?" Pellew looked down at his injured Acting Leftenant and gave the lad a brief smile of encouragement. Pellew heard accounts of what he had been through, and still maintained his sanity. He wnted to save this one.
"Aye, Sir. I will." Archie nodded affirmation.
"Good. Gentlemen I suggest you get some sleep before your journey. See you on deck at dawn." With that, Pellew left the two alone.
"Are you sure you're well enough to start tomorrow?" Horatio asked, concerned. Archie still looked pale.
"I'll be fine." Archie grinned. "I feel much better."
"Good," Horatio smiled. "I'll go tell the men you're well and then I suggest we follow the Captain's orders and get some sleep. Might be the last we get for awhile."
"Why is that?" Archie was puzzled. Sailing a vessel back to port when it was already this close to home should be easy.
"Because it takes twice the men to sail a Galleon as a Frigate. And I don't think the Captain is giving us more than 20 men." Horatio smothered a smile at Archie's dismay. "Get your rest, I'll see you in the morning."
Archie lay in his hammock thinking of all that he remembered. The man standing over Horatio, the flash of gunfire, and the blood runningdown his neck. He would do it again, if Horatio were in trouble. Piloting the Galleon into London harbor might just be fun at that. And having his friend alive and with him would make it even better.