Two hours later he was on his feet again. The surgeon has been as satisfyingly drunk and nasty as could have been imagined, and Horatio was fairly sure he had fleas. But it was pronounced "nae much o'a wound - naething to haul me out of a warm hoose for ". And he was also on his way with Mr. Villard to explain to Pellew how he had come to be shot by one of his own men.

Pellew was in a cold fury and Horatio, his face expressionless, flinched inwardly. "It seems to me that any officer, however deficient, could manage to stay in harbor without incident. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps there is an element of danger to being in harbor that I am unaware of."

Horatio heard Villard wailing somewhere on the deck; Mr. Bowles was making good on his threat to shred his breeches. Horatio shuddered.

Pellew drew a long breath. It had been a difficult moment for him when the word came that young Lt. Hornblower was lying dead on the deck of Voyager, and it occurred to him that some of his anger was misdirected.

"What in the world possessed you to drill him with a firearm in that time and place?" he asked in a milder tone.

"It seemed the only thing left to do with him, sir," Horatio said honestly.

"He was in the way."

"Yes, sir."

There were things to be said about the handling of one's juniors and the responsibilities of a lieutenant and the danger of giving live ammunition to an idiot child, and they were duly said. In Pellew's opinion, it was a right and proper thing for a young officer to be dressed down on a regular basis. It taught discipline, kept them alert and subdued and as a benefit, they were provided with a ready arsenal with which to flay their junior officers.

He was winding down with a fervent opinion on where Hornblower had been keeping his mind at the time of the incident when he noticed the sudden pallor that had come over Hornblower's face. "Sit down, man, before you fall."

"Thank you, sir, I am all right now. It was a moment's weakness." Hornblower drew a deep breath.

Pellew gazed at him. He wished he had Hamby back to look at the lad; Hornblower would quietly bleed to death before complaining. "Are you sure you're fit?" he said gently. "You've done a more than acceptable job with the Voyager; an excellent workmanlike job, in fact. You took quite a blow -"

It was evidence of Hornblower's agitation that he interrupted his captain. "Sir, it is little more than a powder burn. I am very well indeed."

"Be quite sure, Mr. Hornblower. There's no surgeon or surgeon's mate on either ship and I will be three days ahead of you at least."

"All I need is open sea, sir."

Pellew debated a moment. I'll do more damage to him to keeping him aboard than letting him go. He'll fret his heart sick over it, and it will look too much like a reprimand. Likely it was the strain of the day as much as the wound ; at eighteen rising nineteen a night's sleep could heal almost anything.

"Very well. You may take up your command, then, Mr. Hornblower, and I will see you at Cornwall."

"Thank you, sir." The fervency in his voice as he bowed out of the cabin made Pellew smile inside. But a little demon of unease twitched at his brain and he turned to stare at the steadily dropping barometer. Dirty weather, indeed...

Hornblower, afterward, could never remember the next two days; it was a blur of pushing the ship and crew to their limits, of late nights struggling with ballasts and trim, of the dull ache in his back. But at last the Voyager warped slowly out of the harbor, flanked by Archie's sleek fast ship like a fat-buttocked plow horse and a blooded steed.

He would remember, though, the joy. Archie was woefully lacking in the sobriety proper to a naval officer and out from under Pellew's eye behaved with scandalous liberty. Horatio was torn between outrage and laughter when he found the Falcon signalling bawdy limericks to Villard, who was solemnly transcribing them with his signal book on his knees.

"I don't understand this one, sir. " There - was- It looks like young, sir, but that can't be right - lady - from - Is it code, sir?"

"Yes, "Horatio said dryly. "Signal "Message acknowledged. Cease signal".

"They are still signalling. "Permission to come aboard.". Villard looked up timidly. "And the signal for Captain. That is right, isn't it?"

"You must know whether it is right before you tell me, Mr. Villard. "

"It is right, sir."

"Good man," Horatio said.

Matthews smiled. He had taken the lad in hand to good purpose. That would be one worry off his young Captain's shoulders.

"I shall acknowledge - and affirm."

" Make it so," Horatio said. He was suddenly deathly weary of being a mentor. I do not know why Captain Pellew did not kill us all.

He felt vaguely unwell, but that was probably seasickness creeping in. His back throbbed unmercifully, but then that was to be expected. What was annoying was that he kept bleeding through his shirt and waistcoat. Oldroyd, anxious to make amends, had managed to repair the torn shirt with sailcloth which did not look too badly as long as Horatio did not go among civilized people.

"They're hove-to, Captain, and Captain Kennedy is in the jolly boat."

Horatio grinned. "I expect he's inviting himself to dinner, Matthews."

"I expect so, sir."

"Well, thanks to you we have ample and fresh provisions for him. Let's do ourselves proud, shall we?"

* * * * *

Archie sighed, replete, and propped his feet up on the table. "I like this, Horatio."

"You have violated at least seventeen sections of Naval regulations today, Archie."

"Only seventeen?" Archie's eyes were huge blue pools of innocence.

"Archie, this is not a game."

"Horatio, that is exactly what it is. A game. We're not even in command, really - we're floating like two stray goslings to our mother ship". He smiled engagingly. "It's a bit of liberty, a bit of trying our wings, as it were. And I intend to enjoy it, even if I do sully young Villard's mind."

"That was unconscionable."

"Horatio, it was Bracegirdle who gave me the idea."

Horatio sat up. "You're raving!"

"My dear, sober Horatio, living and dying by the Navy manual. It doesn't hurt to play a little."

"Speaking of play..."

"No, thank you, " Archie said, pouring them both another glass of port - annexed from the Indy by what stratagem Horatio did not even want to think about. "No, I have learned not to play whist with a man who calculates algorithms for amusement."

Horatio smiled that rare slow smile. He loved games in which he could use his mathematical talent. What music was to others, mathematics were to him.

"Oh -Speaking of that, Archie, I have been laying out a new sail plan. You see, the principle of sailing is that the wind pushes - but it also pulls. Look here - if you increase the ratio of .."

Archie reached over and put his hand on his arm. " Horatio, if you begin to talk that bloody language of yours I shall go back to my ship and wallow in my ignorance."

"You are a barbarian, you know."

"Oh, yes," Archie said. "Have you noticed how cold it's getting? My chief, Bamber, says it smells of storm. Wouldn't that be lovely, a great bloody gale?"

Horatio had a seaman's sense of weather. He nodded. "I'd like to be on the leeward of it before it gets too bad. "

"Well, if you could get your great old cow of a ship ahead of the wind we might make it."

"You're drunk, Archie," Horatio said firmly.

"That I am not. But I am a little giddy with - oh, I don't know. I feel light, somehow, and happy. "

Horatio smiled. The wine he had taken had dulled the pain. The faint buzzing in his head was the result of that.. "That's the sea." He stood up and gazed out the spray-flecked port. "I love the sea, Archie," he said passionately.

"And I loathe it," Archie said softly.

Horatio turned around, surprised and almost hurt. "Do you, Archie?" It had never occurred to him that anyone could hate the sea. The sea was everything.

Archie smiled. "Of course not. As you said, I may be a little drunk." He changed the subject swiftly. "How's your back?."

"Sore. It is annoying to ruin every shirt I own."

"Both of them?" Archie grinned. He was intimately acquainted with Horatio's sea chest. "I'll send over a couple, Captain, in exchange for dinner every night."

"You are a pirate at heart," Horatio said fondly.

"No, never that. Goodnight, Captain Hornblower."

"Goodnight, Captain Kennedy."

But I do loathe it, Archie thought as his men sculled across to the lights of the Falcon, sitting sweetly on the waves. I hate it more than you know, my beloved friend.

Horatio woke up the next morning with a very bad head - the normal aftermath of commerce with wine. He stood up and very nearly fell. The coarse sheets of his bunk were streaked with blood and drainage. It was very hot in his cabin.

He refused breakfast. All he needed was a walk round the deck to clear his head.

"You need to eat, sir," Matthews said. "Beggin' your pardon, of course, but you're beginning to look poorly."

"Thank you , Matthews," Horatio said wryly. "Duly noted. Help me with this damned bandage, please."

Matthews frowned. He peeled off the old dressings. They smelled bad - not like gangrene, the sailor's worse nightmare, but still not like a clean-healing wound either. It had healed haphazardly, and was still leaking blood and pus through raw-looking gaps. He heard Hornblower's sharp intake of breath when he touched it. "It looks nasty, sir. Perhaps we could wash it with a bit of seawater - it'll take the swelling down. Seawater's healing, sir."

"That's a good idea," Horatio said. Seawater would be cool. His back felt like he had leaned against a hot gunbreech.

Once he had gotten his eyes focused again after the searing pain of the salt eating into the raw flesh, it seemed like it was better after all. He and Matthews were equally pleased. There, that's it; that's over now. "In fact, if there's still a fire going, I think I would like something."

"They'll get the fire going," Matthews promised.

But it was wasted effort. He could not eat. To throw Matthews off the scent, he fed his breakfast to the ship's cat, a large one-eyed Tom that had been kidnapped from another ship.

Damn it to hell, then. He sat down at the desk and worked on his meticulous ship's log. He got his charts and angle out and was frustrated when he found he had to recalculate the simplest coordinates twice and thrice. His head pounded.

"You should have eaten something, " his father 's voice said.

"I cannot," he answered aloud. "I am so sick..."

His eyes went wide with horror as he heard his own voice.

Oh, my God, I am losing my mind..

He slammed the desk closed and charged up the companionway and up onto the quarterdeck, wrenching his cocked hat down over his ears to keep it from being blown away. The wind was indeed freshening - Archie was having to shake the wind out of the Falcon's mizzen-sails to keep her behind with the Voyager. He paced restlessly. This will not do, Hornblower. Dear Christ, this deck is hot, he thought. He struggled out of his heavy peajacket, oblivious to the stares of his men, who were bundled up against the cold. He gripped the quarterdeck rail. Villard approached him to give him the results of casting of the log and Horatio fought to understand him.

But when the lookout cried, "Ship,sir - French colors!" he understood that. Whatever drove him overrode whatever was dragging him down. He grabbed his glass. She was a brigantine, almost a match for the Falcon if she were heavily armed, and she was in English water.

His crew was responding with well-trained promptness to his commands; the light guns were raised on their trunnions and the sails adjusted for best speed -which was about five knots. We could probably swim faster than that. He could hear himself giving orders coldly, calmly, and he was aware that they were the right orders, but it was as if something else had taken over. He felt disembodied.

He watched tensely as the Falcon heeled around. The sleek ship plunged after the brigantine like a hound on a fox. The brigantine realized her peril and began to run, ignoring the easy prey of the Voyager. The Falcon's guns barked in alternate rounds; Horatio saw the brig's sheets rip apart. He heard himself yelling to Archie, as if Archie could hear him, "Tack, Archie! Now! Get the royals up! Fire now, she's sloughing away, now, Archie!"

He caught himself. But the crew couldn't have heard him; they were cheering. He may be undisciplined but he can handle that ship, Horatio thought, torn between pride and jealousy. Oh how I want to be out there

The Falcon went for the brig like the tough little raptor she had been named for. She had all the advantage, and the wind was with her. The brig was in full retreat "Run her to hell, Archie, " he whispered, swaying at the rail. "Run her to hell...."

And then the darkness took him.

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