Fortitude by Lorraine Jean
It was a small, somber group that repaired to the Topgallant the next day to convey the body of Archie Kennedy, Lieutenant, late of H.M.S. Indefatigable and H.M.S. Fortitude, to its final resting place. Two men of Kennedy's detail and two of Hornblower's had been selected to carry the coffin down from the bedchamber to a horse-drawn cart that awaited it on the street, commanded by First Lieutenant Bracegirdle. From there it would proceed to the dock, where a shoreboat would conduct it up the coast to the cave.
Under the watchful eyes of Captain Sir Edward Pellew and Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower, the men were assembled in Kennedy's chamber nailing the coffin shut when a man unknown to any of them burst through the door.
“What is the meaning of this!” he roared, commanding everyone's attention. Though unimpressive in height and girth, both his bearing and his naval uniform denoted rank. That, combined with his florid complexion and pompous attitude, suggested to Pellew that this must be the captain of the Fortitude.
“Captain Wright, I presume?”
“Damn right, I am. I'm looking for that no-good acting leftenant you fobbed off on me, Captain Pellew.”
“You have found him, Sir. We are burying Lieutenant Kennedy today.”
“So my intelligence tells me. Don't think to pull the wool over my eyes, Pellew. The pup complained to you that I had barked at him and so you've connived among yourselves to get him back. Well, I won't have it! I intend to view the body to make sure it's Kennedy you're putting into the ground and not some pauper you've procured off the street in his place. Where is he?”
“He is here, Captain Wright. In the coffin.”
“Which you have conveniently nailed shut. Open it.”
They were a study in arrested action. Kennedy's men - seamen Nevins and Proud - looked from Wright to the coffin in shock. Able seamen Styles and Matthews, each with a hammer in hand, looked at each other and waited. Hornblower, grown red in the face and so agitated he might burst a blood vessel if not allowed to speak, stared at Pellew with pleading eyes, while Pellew glared coldly back at Wright.
“I said open it! By all that's holy, if you do not open it this instant I shall go to the Admiralty and, though it take me a week to penetrate the bureaucracy, I shall obtain an order to exhume the body. So take your pick, gentlemen. Let me see him now or I shall damn well dig him up and see him later. Be sure the Admiralty will know who stood in my way and why.”
Pellew turned to Styles and Matthews and said quietly, “Open the coffin, please.”
Their expressions grim, with many an unspoken word exchanged between them, the two seamen removed the nails with exaggerated care. When the last nail had been extracted and laid aside for re-use, Nevins and Proud lifted the cover and moved it aside. Wright, nearly bursting his seams with self-congratulation, elbowed his way to the coffin and looked inside. Pellew stepped unobtrusively beside him, close enough to intervene should Wright offer some indignity to the body. At the same time Hornblower turned away, his lean frame shaking with fury.
Wright sneered. “A pretty corpse, indeed. All right, Pellew. I'll grant you he looks dead enough. Is he cold?” His eyes throwing an insolent challenge in Pellew's direction, Wright laid a hand on Kennedy's cheek. “Yes. Quite cold. Killed himself, I suppose? One meeting with Captain Wright proved to be too much for the spineless bastard.” He emitted a bark of laughter.
“Mr. Kennedy was taken ill,” Pellew said, his anger rigidly controlled. “He is one of the last people whose courage I would fault. He has been through too much in his short life to give in with so little provocation.”
“Convenient,” said Wright, either missing the insult or else ignoring it deliberately. Perhaps, having made his point, he was beginning to taste the tension in the air and to question the wisdom of starting something he could not finish with honor. Pellew hoped so.
Wright said, “I will leave you to it, then. I won't trouble myself to attend the service. Mr. Kennedy was nothing to me. He wouldn't have lasted a week on my ship. He's well out of it, I say.” He turned on his heel and marched to the door, head held high, shoulders back, as full of his own importance as when he entered.
Only when the captain was safely away did Hornblower speak. “I could strangle him with my bare hands,” he said through clenched teeth. He was still trembling with suppressed rage.
The seamen muttered agreement.
Including the men with a sweep of his eyes, Pellew said to him, “Let us conduct ourselves in a manner befitting the solemnity of the occasion. I would not wish to dishonor Mr. Kennedy's memory by letting Captain Wright's visit - distract us.” As for what might take place afterwards, if anything, he would trust Hornblower's reason to triumph over the heat of his present emotion. “As soon as you have the lid in place, gentlemen, we will proceed.”
His study of the charts had determined that the burial place was both difficult to reach (well nigh inaccessible, in his opinion) and too small to hold everyone who might wish to attend. Captain Pellew therefore had informed the crew that they would have a shipboard service in Kennedy's memory later that day to compensate. Thus it was that a single shoreboat carried the burial party up the coast. The only member of the party not from the Indefatigable was the doctor, Alcide Dufaux. Pellew took the opportunity of the brief water passage to speak with the Frenchman, who fixed his gaze on the coffin and looked decidedly uncomfortable.
“You are an uneasy sailor, Sir,” Pellew said to him to break the ice.
“Ah, Captain Pellew, you have no idea how uneasy,” the man laughed ruefully. “The shoreline, it goes up and it goes down. I cannot look at it. If this cave to which we journey were any farther away, I fear I should become quite seasick.”
Hornblower, sitting across from Dufaux in the prow of the small boat, looked as if he wholeheartedly concurred with this statement.
“Take heart, Mr. Dufaux,” said Pellew, “we are nearly there.”
“The young lieutenant who died - you were fond of him, Captain?”
“Very fond, yes. Not as brilliant as some, certainly more able than many, and possessed of a very likable personality. I am sorry to lose him.”
“You damn him with faint praise, Captain.”
“Do I? I confess I never knew Mr. Kennedy as well as some of my other officers. He was a study in contrasts, rambunctious as a yearling colt one minute, pensive and withdrawn the next. And yet he acquitted himself well in battle, displaying heroism in spite of his fears. He was loyal to a fault.”
“And still you recommended him for transfer.”
“For his own good, yes. Mr. Kennedy needed a chance to try his wings, Mr. Dufaux. He was ready to fly but reluctant to do so. I merely gave him a small push.”
“And so, to continue your analogy, the little bird left the nest and plummeted to the ground.”
Pellew stiffened his spine and sniffed. “Yes, well, sometimes the best-laid plans are doomed to failure.” An unwanted memory of Quiberon Bay arose, not that that expedition could ever have been described as well laid. “It is just possible,” he added thoughtfully, “that Mr. Kennedy was not best suited to a life at sea, given his essentially sensitive nature. Being a third son he would never have inherited, but he might have made a better clergyman or schoolmaster than a sailor.”
“A gentleman's son?”
“A lord's son.”
“It is a fine distinction, is it not? Let me see, a lord is a gentleman, but not every gentleman is a lord?”
“Something like that. I imagine it is not so different in France.”
“My dear Captain Pellew, in France the aristocracy are all but exterminated, thanks to Madame la Guillotine. But tell me, Captain. Why are none of Mr. Kennedy's noble relations here for his burial?”
“That is my fault, I fear. I only just wrote to tell them he was dying. By the time they get my second message he will be already in the ground.”
“Will they not be angry? Will they not want him disinterred and moved to a private burial place, perhaps on their estate?”
“That I cannot say, Mr. Dufaux. I have the impression that Mr. Kennedy and his family were not close. It may be that they will be content to leave him where he is, as they would have had he died at sea.”
“Ah,” Dufaux said. “That is very sad, to die so young and so unloved.”
Hornblower's countenance spoke of vehement disagreement, but he only shook his head and looked miserably out to sea. Lieutenant Bracegirdle, the only other officer in attendance, threw an understanding glance his way and likewise held his tongue.
No more was said until the landing place came into view and all hands made to bring the boat and its sad cargo ashore.
“Cor, what a bloody depressing place this is,” Styles said as the four seamen dug in the spot pointed out to them. “Whatever possessed Mr. Kennedy, asking to be buried here?”
The burial site lay at the back of the cavern, beyond a curve in the passageway, where it was possible to hear but not see the sea. Without a brace of lanterns to light their way they would have had to dig in the dark. The men worked alone, the officers and the French doctor having elected to wait at the mouth of the cave with the coffin until the hole was ready.
“I dunno how he even knew this place existed.” Matthews shook his head.
Proud, who was the youngest of the four and not generally known for being talkative, asked with a worried frown, “Is it far enough, d'you think, so's the water won't come in and drown him?”
“Ain't no telling,” said Styles. “At least it's sand and not rock. Makes easy work.”
They shoveled in silence for a few minutes, then Matthews stopped to wipe his brow. “It's right damp, is what it is. Not a good place at all. I feel bad, leaving him here. Mr. Kennedy, he come from a good family. He should've gone home to them.”
“Won't nobody ever visit him here,” added Nevins. “It's like he picked it on purpose, so's everybody'd leave him alone.”
“You could be right, lad,” Matthews agreed.
“You know what else don't sit right?” said Styles. “That froggy doctor. Cor, he give me the jeebies, he do.”
“I thought he were the undertaker,” Proud said sheepishly. “All in black and all.”
“Looks right through a man, too,” Styles went on. “Like he can read what you're thinking before you even finish thinking it.”
“Must've scared poor Mr. Kennedy half to death,” Nevins said. “Wouldn't surprise me if that's what killed him.”
“Now, lads, let's not get carried away,” Matthews admonished them. “I'm sure Mr. Doo-foe took as good care of Mr. Kennedy as could be. Our own Dr. Hepplewhite probably wouldn't have done any better.”
“Our good Dr. Hepplewhite couldn't do any better if he tried,” Styles grinned. “Chopping off limbs what's been torn off by cannon shot, that's all Dr. Hepplewhite is good for. He never done Mr. Kennedy any good for - what ailed him.”
“You mean his fits? Or what Simpson done to him?”
“That's enough, Nevins,” Matthews said firmly. “We don't talk about that.”
“Everybody knows it.”
“All the same,” Styles seconded Matthews in a voice that brooked no argument. “We don't talk about it.”
“I'm not saying it were right or nothing. I'm just saying it were no secret what Simpson did. You just had to look at Kennedy to know. His eyes'd be all red from crying and he couldn't look nobody in the face. Then he'd get the shakes. Simpson were a right hard bastard.”
Proud, who had not been on Justinian with the others but had heard the stories whispered around the mess said, “He cared about us, did Mr. Kennedy. Treated us with respect. No matter what anyone did or didn't do to him.”
“Amen to that, son,” said Matthews.
“How's that hole coming, men?” Hornblower's voice preceded him down the passage. “We haven't got all day.”
“Just about done, Sir,” said Matthews, saluting as his lieutenant came into view.
Hornblower stopped on the edge and looked down. “Is it deep enough, do you think? It looks no more than three feet to me. Dig down another foot and then we'll call it done.”
“Aye aye, Sir.”
The burial service was brief, yet in that short time Alcide Dufaux had the opportunity to study each of the men in attendance. Captain Sir Edward Pellew read the words in a voice that faltered only once, when his eyes, suspiciously moist, misread the text before him. Lieutenant Hornblower was not so lucky. His eyes filled at the moment the coffin was lowered into the hole and overflowed fairly steadily from then on. The pudgy Lieutenant Bracegirdle, beside him, put a hand on Hornblower's back, either to comfort or to support him, and tightened his lips against whatever threatened to escape them. The four seamen stood by respectfully, seemingly with real sorrow. It spoke well for the lad they were leaving behind, that those men who had served under him regarded him with such depth of feeling. The oldest among them, Matthews, looked as if he had lost a son, while the youngest, the grossly misnamed Proud, appeared to have lost an adored older brother. It was so touching Dufaux almost manufactured a tear himself.
When it was over, Bracegirdle led Hornblower away. Pellew stayed only long enough to ensure that the seamen took sufficient care in filling in the hole. Dufaux followed him out, only slightly puzzled by seaman Styles's final comment, “Poor Mr. Kennedy, you never had a chance.”
The return journey passed in silence. Alcide Dufaux put ashore alone and watched from the docks as the shoreboat returned the others to their ship. He arrived back at the Topgallant in time to intercept Archie Kennedy's sea chest, which had just been put on a coach bound for London, destined for delivery to Kennedy's family at their town house there. It was no difficult matter to take charge of it - he simply posed as a family retainer and demanded that it be unloaded - and it was. He hired a man to carry it to his lodgings in another part of town.
That night he returned alone to the cave. Unhampered this time by the need to maintain appearances, he moved silently through the night on the wings of the wind until the smuggler's cave came into view. Though he did not expect to find any of the Indefatigables there, he approached it with caution nonetheless. There was always a chance, a minuscule chance, that one of them might revisit the grave. If any did, it would be Hornblower. His attachment to Kennedy was strong. Dufaux wondered if he would prove troublesome. If such were the case, he would not hesitate to do what was needed to safeguard his protégé. No light issued from the depths of the cave. It was safe to enter.
Kennedy would be waking soon. It was imperative that Dufaux free him from the coffin before Kennedy realized where he was and began to panic. He reached the burial place and soon had the sand cleared away using his powerful hands to scoop and dig. He tore the lid from the coffin to find Kennedy's blue eyes wide open and staring, an incipient scream on his lips. Dufaux helped him out of the coffin. Kennedy scrambled back, away from him, fresh terror on his face. Dufaux waited until Kennedy's eyes adjusted to the darkness and his look of panic abated somewhat before approaching him again.
“I - I remember you,” Kennedy said, his voice husky from disuse.
“Yes, you do.” Dufaux made his voice as natural, as unthreatening as possible. This would take time, but they had all the time in the world, now.
“The tavern - both of them. French. Du - du - Something.”
“Dufaux. Alcide Dufaux.”
“You pretended to be a doctor.” Kennedy's tone held no accusation. He was merely stating a fact. Remembering aloud.
“Not exactly. People around me assumed me to be a doctor. I merely cooperated with their expectations.”
Kennedy fell silent. Dufaux waited him out, knowing that the revelations, when they came, would be unwelcome if Kennedy were not ready to hear them. At last Kennedy spoke.
“I have been ill.”
“You have indeed.”
“I - I still don't feel right.”
“How do you feel, Mr. Kennedy? Can you describe it for me?”
“I - This is not possible. I am not breathing. My heart does not beat.” His gaze wandered to the hole from which he had emerged and saw the wooden box within it. “Am I -? Am I -? Oh, dear God - I think I must be dead. What is this place, Mr. Dufaux? Who are you?”
Dufaux took a step forward. When his protégé did not withdraw he took another, then another, until he stood directly in front of the young man.
“Do not fear me, Lieutenant Kennedy, for I am now your lifeline. I mean that quite literally. You must take sustenance before we continue, and the manner of the taking as well as the sustenance itself may be distasteful to you at first. Watch carefully what I do, because you must learn to do likewise. It will be crucial to your existence.”
He reached into his coat pocket and withdrew the golden fingertip. “See this. I have one for you, also. I will give it to you later. It goes on whichever finger feels most comfortable. I prefer to use my thumb. Be careful of the tip, Mr. Kennedy, for it is razor sharp. Use it like so.” Dufaux made a quick incision in his own wrist. The blood came quickly to the surface. “Put your lips there. Yes, I know the idea disgusts you but do not think about it. Do as I say. Now.”
As he knew it would, the blood revived Kennedy and the young man ingested it without further prompting. When Dufaux felt he had had enough, he removed his wrist.
“Are you feeling better, Mr. Kennedy?”
“Yes.” Kennedy wiped his mouth with one hand, repeatedly, as if he feared exhibiting telltale signs of the depravity to which he had sunk.
“You look better. It will not be necessary for you to feed every day. We will have time to work on your technique before you feel the need to refresh yourself again. You feed from me now as a child takes nourishment from its mother's breast, because my blood is the best thing for you at this stage of your development and because it strengthens the bond between us. In a short while I will teach you to find your prey on the city streets and in the countryside. Now, have you further questions?”
“The same ones, I think, for you have not answered them.”
“Ah, très bien. The mental acuity, it comes back, yes? That is a good sign. Very well. Your questions, in the order asked. First of all - yes, Mr. Kennedy, you are dead. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say you are undead. Second - this place is a smuggler's cave on the coast just a few miles west of Portsmouth. You have not traveled far. Third - I am, as I told you, Alcide Dufaux. Your teacher, your father, your master. It is I who have created you; it is to me you must defer. I will teach you what you need to know to survive. You will obey me because - it pains me to say this to such a sensitive soul - I control you. If you do not believe me, you have only to try to defy me. Until you have sufficient experience in this life to stand on your own, you are mine. Do you understand what I am saying?”
“I think so.”
“Mr. Dufaux. May I ask? What are you? What am I? Dead, but not dead. This - this creature I have become, does it have a name?”
“Ah, Mr. Kennedy. As your favorite playwright put it, `What's in a name?' The first of my kind was an outcast, flung down from the very gates of Paradise for the sin of pride. We are the fallen angels, Mr. Kennedy, the angels of the night, denied for all eternity the Light which is the Godhead. Men in their ignorance call us vampires.”
“But why me? Why have you condemned me to this existence? What have I done to merit eternal damnation?”
Dufaux looked into his protégé's uncomprehending blue eyes and smiled. “It is so simple, Mr. Kennedy, I am surprised it does not jump up and grab you by the throat.” He illustrated his point by doing just that, lifting the startled young man clear off his feet before setting him down and releasing him. “You see? You did not resist me. Such innocence! You never sensed the danger. You sat in the tavern with the gates of Hell yawning before you and did nothing at all. So you see, Mr. Kennedy, all I had to do was take you. I would have thought that after Jack Simpson you would never have let yourself be compromised again. Perhaps it was the pain of the tooth extraction that distracted you; the fact remains, you let down your guard.
“You will be pleased to note, however, that your new state confers a singular benefit. You are no longer physically capable of blushing. You have only to master your expression and no one will know when you are feeling thoroughly ashamed of yourself. As now, to judge from your countenance.” Dufaux chuckled, “My poor boy, you have such a long way to go. Such a long, long way -”
Kennedy appeared completely crestfallen. He looked down at the floor of the cavern, then up again, toward the relative brightness that indicated the passageway to the beach. “How long must we stay in this place?” he asked.
“We may leave whenever you wish. I have lodgings in Portsmouth. You will be quite comfortable there. There is just one thing we must do before we go.” From his pocket Dufaux withdrew a small cloth bag. He pointed to the grave and said, “Scoop out a handful of earth, Mr. Kennedy, and place it in this bag.” He waited while Kennedy obeyed. “Now draw the string tight and place the bag in your coat pocket. Keep this with you at all times. It is your connection to the place of your rebirth. No matter where you may wander in centuries to come, the place of your beginning will remain with you and give you strength. Guard it diligently and it will take care of you.”
They walked down the passageway and came onto the beach in the glorious brightness of a full moon. Kennedy's face as he gazed upon the silvered sea grew wistful, but if he felt the sea's siren pull upon him he hoarded the feeling to himself. He looked up and down the beach and said, “There is no boat. How will we leave this place?”
Dufaux put a steadying hand on his arm and locked eyes with his. “Put yourself completely in my power, Mr. Kennedy. Do not look away. Now, believe in the unbelievable -”
Believe in what? No, no this was not possible. He had the strangest sensation, as if he were flying above the rocks on the beachhead, flying above the trees, flying above fields and above silver ribbons of water, flying above the rooftops. It felt supremely liberating, and yet - he began to feel the weight of their combined bodies as if both of them would plummet to the ground in the next instant.
“Look at me, Mr. Kennedy. Think of nothing. Let yourself go.”
The words were not spoken aloud, yet they echoed in his mind in Dufaux's accent and intonation. Perhaps he had spoken. Archie could not be certain. He tried to obey, but a strong fear overrode Dufaux's instructions and he looked beneath him.
They were on the ground. Standing, thank goodness, and neither of them hurt. Dufaux stared at him with something halfway between fury and disappointment on his face. Archie felt the need to apologize.
“I - I'm sorry, Mr. Dufaux. It's just that - I've never done this before. It doesn't seem possible. Man was not meant to take to the skies like a bird.”
Dufaux rapidly recovered his equanimity. “Do you remember what I told you, Mr. Kennedy, when you asked me what we are?”
“Vampires, I believe you said.”
“Before that, Mr. Kennedy. Immediately before that.”
“You said something about angels,” Archie remembered.
“Yes. Angels. Does that not suggest to you the possibility of flight?”
Archie made a face. “Yes, I suppose it does.”
“You must learn to trust me, Mr. Kennedy. When I give you instructions, you must follow them to the letter. They are given for a reason, as you can see.”
“Aye aye, Sir,” Archie said and saluted without thinking.
“That will do, Lieutenant. As luck would have it, we are nearly there. We may as well walk the rest of the way.”
They were in a part of Portsmouth that Archie had never seen before, a better part of town than the area surrounding the docks, with buildings that stood proudly for all that they were less grand than the Admiralty's headquarters. He had no idea what time it was. The full moon made everything seem bright as day, yet there were no people about. Only a rare window showed light behind its curtains and even then it was not as if someone were wakeful, but as though the household had gone to bed and left a candle burning as a safeguard against the bogeys of the night. They walked side-by-side along the street, their passage notable for the complete absence of sound, as if their boots never touched the cobbles. Archie marveled briefly, then accepted this as another manifestation of his altered state and walked on.
He followed as Dufaux turned a corner into a street where the moon's imperfect reach over the housetops left broad areas of dense shadow below. It made him uneasy until he realized that, being already dead, he probably had nothing to fear from lurking thieves.
Dufaux turned again, this time into an alley between buildings. A shortcut to another street? No, for there was a door in the side of the building on the right, which Dufaux opened seemingly without benefit of a key. A long, straight stairway, and then they walked down a narrow hall at the end of which stood another door. Dufaux opened it.
“Here we are,” Dufaux announced with a flourish. “Home at last. Or I should say home for the time being. One thing you will find as we go on, Mr. Kennedy, is that it is wise to keep on the move, never to become complacent and think that we are invulnerable just because the neighbors seem to take no notice of our comings and goings.”
Archie paused on the threshold. “Are we in danger from the neighbors?”
Dufaux shrugged in typically Gallic fashion. “It pays to be vigilant. In general, ordinary mortals exhibit the most unreasoning fears when they come up against something they do not understand. You have only to consider the many purges and persecutions of various classes of people down through the ages to see what ignorance, panic and mob rule can do. This group cannot abide that group, the French Republicans cannot abide the aristocracy, the Spanish Church cannot abide heretics, ignorant folk all over Europe cannot abide witches or gypsies or Jews. How do you think our neighbors would welcome us if they knew we come from the grave, drink blood, fly over rooftops, and so on and so on?”
Archie was curious to know what might be included in that and so on and so on but dared not ask. Doubtless other aspects of his new condition would be revealed day-by-day. He entered the room and closed the door behind him.
The lodging, he saw as Dufaux showed him around, consisted of a sitting room and two bedchambers. It was modestly furnished, as Archie supposed it must be if Dufaux were in the habit of changing rooms frequently. Or perhaps Dufaux spent little time within and so did not care how it looked. It was almost as drab and understated as he was.
Archie brightened as they entered the smaller of the two chambers. Compared to his closet-sized quarters on board ship its dimensions seemed palatial. And there, at the foot of the bed, was something he recognized.
“My sea chest! I'll be able to change my clothes.”
Behind him Dufaux snorted.
Archie's eyebrows rose. “What do you mean by that?”
“Only that one of the first things we must do is pay a visit to a competent tailor. You cannot go through eternity wearing naval uniform when you are no longer a member of His Majesty's Navy. You must dress fashionably enough to pass easily in society but not so grandly that you draw unwanted attention.”
“The tailor,” Archie whispered, his elation unhappily cut short. “I didn't pick up my new uniforms.”
“On the contrary, Mr. Kennedy. You are wearing one of them.”
“Am I?” Archie studied himself with interest. “So I am. You wouldn't happen to have a full-length mirror, would you, Mr. Dufaux?” he asked, grateful for Dufaux's earlier statement to the effect that he was no longer capable of blushing.
He was not sure what to make of Dufaux's expression. Whatever it was, the mood must have passed quickly because Dufaux said, “In the sitting room, Mr. Kennedy. I am surprised you did not notice it as we came through.”
The sitting room seemed a strange place for a mirror that he would want when dressing, but politeness kept Archie from saying so. He went out of the bedchamber in search of it. Dufaux seemed unaccountably reluctant to follow but that was fine with Archie. He had waited a long time to wear a lieutenant's uniform; damned if he would put off seeing how he looked in it for one moment longer.
Well, that was odd. He had found the mirror and was turning this way and that, trying to get a clear view of himself. The glass, it seemed, had a mind of its own and was obscuring his image with a powerful glare. Archie turned around, looking for the source of the blinding light, but saw none. Dufaux had not lighted any candles, while heavy drapes drawn across the room's two windows kept even the full moon at bay.
“Mr. Dufaux,” he called. “What is the matter with this mirror?”
That individual appeared so silently at his elbow that Archie jumped. Why was it that he did not see Dufaux's reflection beside his own? The Frenchman made a sucking noise through his teeth, then muttered, apparently to himself, “Sweet perdition, but I shall pay dearly for this.”
The Frenchman looked at Archie in the mirror, then looked at Archie in the flesh. He seemed unsure of himself for the first time since Archie had made his acquaintance.
“What is it, Mr. Dufaux?” he said softly.
“It is nothing to worry about, Mr. Kennedy. Our kind do not cast a reflection in the same way a mortal body does. It is one way to identify a member of our race. Which is why I keep the mirror in the sitting room trained upon the door.”
“I see. Well, actually, I don't see. You obviously cast no reflection or I would see it, but I do. There's a strange brightness in the middle of it, but I can see myself around the edges. What causes that, do you think?”
“It is - age, Mr. Kennedy,” Dufaux rallied. “I have been undead for three centuries. My soul is no longer visible to the untrained eye. You have been undead for less than a day. Your soul is still bright as a new penny. It will fade in time. I would not worry about it, if I were you.”
Something in the Frenchman's eyes told Archie that Dufaux would worry about it even if he did not.
Charlie would be late getting home; there was no getting around it. The last coach had come and gone, its passengers disembarked and their baggage unloaded, when a gent and his lady had drawn up in their fine carriage. By the time Charlie got their horses stabled, rubbed down, fed and bedded down for the night, and Mr. Watney the innkeeper said he could go home, darkness had fallen. The streets nearest the inn were all right. They were well lit and bustled with people `til late nearly every night of the week. It was the streets closer to home where the lights didn't reach and the people didn't come that could pose a problem. Charlie was not afraid of the dark, and generally he was not afraid of people; still, it never hurt to exercise a bit of caution.
He was not far from home when it happened, on a dark stretch near the night-silent warehouses. He didn't see the man come out of the shadows until it was too late to get out of his way. It was possible that the man would pass him by but a knot in his gut told Charlie that wasn't likely to happen. Hands grabbed him as soon as the man was behind him, one over his mouth to muffle his shout, the other clamped around his upper arm. Despite his struggles, Charlie felt himself being pulled deeper into the shadows, into an alley that was black as pitch. But the man had only two hands, hadn't he? Sooner or later he would have to let go of Charlie's mouth in order to pull a knife or other weapon and then Charlie would scream to make all Portsmouth come running. And Charlie still had an arm free, which he used to beat and claw frantically at that hand. His ragged fingernails, that his mother always complained were a bloody disgrace, now came in handy. If nothing else, he would leave a trail of bloody scratches that would tell the law exactly who it was who attacked him.
When his moment came Charlie was almost too surprised to scream. The man let go of his mouth, all right, but he never pulled a weapon. Instead he slammed Charlie against the wall of the building, over and over until Charlie thought his head would burst open like a ripe gourd. Charlie started to babble, “I got no money, mister. Leave me alone. I ain't got nothing you want to steal.” But the man wasn't after money or anything else that he could carry away from the encounter. Because the next thing Charlie knew, the man's free hand was tugging at his britches and going where no man's hand had any business to go.
Charlie screamed then. Loud and long and incoherently, because words didn't matter as much as being heard did. And someone did hear. By the saint's bones, somebody came into that alley and yanked the man right off him. There were two of them, so far as Charlie could make out. He couldn't see them well in the dark but one of them, he could tell, had golden hair. He was the one that bent down to speak to Charlie, with a firm but gentle hand on his shoulder, when Charlie finally stopped screaming.
“Go home now. Don't worry, we will take care of this vermin. Run, boy.”
The speaker had a soft, earnest voice and the bluest eyes Charlie had ever seen. He trusted him implicitly.
“Who are you?” he asked, though he suspected his rescuer would not tell him.
“Our names do not matter. Go. Get yourself safely home.”
“I won't forget your kindness, Sir.”
“Yes. You will.”
The manner in which the golden one spoke those words penetrated Charlie's mind. He ran. By the time he reached his front door all he could remember of the event was that he had been accosted, had broken free and outrun his attacker.
Archie watched the youngster dart away, grateful that the attacker had got no farther for it was all too plain to him what the man had planned to do. He had been down that road himself with far less favorable consequences. The sight of that man with his hand in the boy's breeches, the boy screaming in terror, had torn something in Archie asunder. A rage so powerful it had frightened him had possessed him utterly, leaving him almost no room for rational thought or considered action. If not for Dufaux by his side he might have gone berserk.
“Come here, lad.”
It took a few seconds before Archie recognized the voice and realized it was addressing him. He turned back to where Dufaux had the boy's attacker by the throat, hard up against the very wall where the man had held the boy. Saving the lad had come naturally compared to what Dufaux expected him to do next. He understood the necessity. Dufaux had made it crystal clear. If Archie did not learn to hunt he would end his existence in the most hideously painful way. That thought had actually cheered him slightly; it helped to know there was a way out if this life in death became unbearable. Knowing that he could choose his victims from among those who truly deserved to meet a horrible end also helped. Dufaux, Archie suspected, would not have scrupled to take the boy had they happened upon the lad alone. Archie knew himself incapable of doing such a thing.
He fitted the golden fingertip on his right thumb in imitation of Dufaux and clasped the attacker's wrist. The man was darker complexioned than either Archie or Dufaux and Archie fumbled to find the vein, but finally he made his slash and bent his lips to the russet fountain that sprang forth. There was no struggle. Dufaux had taken care of that by holding the man for him, both physically and mentally. It occurred to Archie to wonder how he would manage all this when it came time for him to hunt alone. Then the rhythm of the victim's furiously pumping heart took over his brain and he surrendered to the compelling instinct for his own survival.
“Do not drain him.” Dufaux's advice finally penetrated the blood fog that all but swamped Archie's senses. Reluctantly he withdrew.
Dufaux continued, as he and Archie released the man and they turned their steps toward their lodging, “It is dangerous to leave a trail of corpses behind. Leave him enough blood to get himself home to lick his wounds and consider the error of his ways.” Some dozen paces later he added, “I find that those who are up to no good at the time I intervene are the ones that routinely fail to report the assault to the local constabulary. Remember that, Mr. Kennedy; it will stand you in good stead. Above all, never alert the authorities to your doings - it could be your undoing.”
Archie had no trouble agreeing with these sentiments. He would take a grim sort of satisfaction in paying back those who preyed upon the weak and unsuspecting, as well as those who took advantage of another's misfortune to victimize him further, the way Jack Simpson and a certain French commandant had done. Although Jack himself might be beyond retribution for his misdeeds, there were legions of other predators cut from similar cloth who operated under the assumption that no one would dare stand up to them. Well, they were wrong. They hadn't yet met Archie Kennedy. But they would. He wanted them to know why they were suffering, to survive in the knowledge that their wrongdoing had brought them to their current sorry state. Killing them would not be part of the equation, for then they would not suffer nearly enough. Provided he did not lose his head as he had almost done tonight.
They left the warehouse district behind and entered the open area by the docks. Archie slowed his steps to look out into the harbor where the Indefatigable rocked gently at anchor. He wondered who had the watch, and whether a telescope trained on shore would identify a man standing here. The smell of the sea intoxicated him. He yearned with a longing beyond description to stand on the Indy's deck, to feel the night breeze, like a woman's touch, caress his face and ruffle his hair.
At the opposite end of the harbor the Fortitude also rode the lapping waves. Archie's feelings towards her were quite different. Did Captain Wright sleep comfortably knowing he had contributed to Archie's death? Perhaps he did not know. The captain struck Archie as someone who would not care even if he were made aware of the role he had played. Archie's scowl deepened. Had the captain regaled his officers with his account of their meeting in his cabin? Was Archie Kennedy even now the laughing stock of H.M.S. Fortitude?
Beside him, Dufaux asked innocently, “Did you know that the captain of the Fortitude visited your sickroom?”
“No,” Archie said, startled. “No, I did not.”
“He came too late. You had already died.”
“What was his reaction?”
“I am afraid the captain was most insulting. Your Captain Pellew and Lieutenant Hornblower had all they could do to keep from murdering him on the spot. Nor would I give much for his chances were he to encounter any of your crew in some back alley in the dead of night.”
“Were you there, Mr. Dufaux?”
“In a manner of speaking. I heard them through the wall.”
“So, Wright has no respect for the dead, either,” Archie mused. An idea began to take form in his mind to pay the Fortitude a visit. “Not tonight,” he whispered. “I want to think about this more carefully.”
“A good idea, Mr. Kennedy,” said Dufaux as if he had read Archie's mind. “A capital idea.”
They took their repose in the heat of midday. Dufaux preferred the comfort of the bed in his chamber, no matter how warm and stuffy the upstairs room occasionally became. Kennedy, on the other hand, had taken a liking to the smuggler's cave, where the sound and the smell of the surf lulled him to sleep even if it meant he had to take his rest in the hard wooden coffin. As Dufaux had explained to the young man, their bodies did not, strictly speaking, require sleep. On the other hand the sun did not treat them kindly, especially the bright overhead sun of midday. The heat - even the relatively weak heat of the English summer - had a way of sapping their strength, while prolonged exposure to the sun's direct rays could cause mummification. He had had to explain to Kennedy what a mummy was - the lad's education seemed to have left holes large enough to sail a frigate through. Kennedy had looked suitably appalled at the image thus conjured, even going so far as to spend longer hours than necessary in the damp, cool confines of the cavern.
Thus it came about that Dufaux was alone in their lodging when the visitor arrived. He did not hear him come in. When Dufaux entered the somnambulant state he was dead to the world, much as an ordinary mortal when he ceases to be. So it was with chagrin that he opened his eyes around four in the afternoon to see a stranger sitting at the foot of his bed. Cautiously he extended mental feelers until he detected an intelligence even more ancient than his own.
“Good-day, Dufaux,” his visitor said.
The eyes that locked with his across the bed were blue, almost like Kennedy's, the hair a lighter shade of burnished gold. The visitor wore a tan coat, bottle green waistcoat and white knee breeches, serviceable but not in the current fashion. No one could accuse him of being a dandy, nor, given the quality of the material, would one dismiss him out of hand. Dufaux did not need a mirror test to know what sort of creature he was entertaining.
“You have the advantage of me, monsieur,” Dufaux said, rising with exaggerated care lest his visitor act to counter his movements. “I do not know your name.”
“You may call me Mykel,” the visitor said.
“To what do I owe the pleasure of this unexpected visit, Monsieur Mykel?”
“I will cut to the chase, Dufaux. It has come to my Master's attention that you have been poaching.”
To pretend ignorance was probably a waste of effort. No doubt Mykel could read him despite the defenses he had hastily erected. If nothing else, Mykel would detect the defenses and know that Dufaux had something to hide. He stalled for time regardless.
“You have made a disciple. His aura is very strong. The odd thing about it, Dufaux, is that it is the wrong sort of aura. I think you know what I mean.”
“Indeed. I do not. Pray be so good as to elucidate.”
“Do not play the fool, Dufaux. The young man's aura is blinding. It is white, unlike yours, which as we both know is black as the foul heart of hell.”
“White, you say? How very interesting.”
“The flash was so brilliant it could be read by our kind for hundreds of miles.”
Now that was a pity. Dufaux had rather hoped to keep the lad to himself. How many of his kind had seen it, he wondered? Mykel might be only the first of many visitors. They would have to move - and soon. And - this might prove even more problematic - he would have to keep Kennedy from checking his appearance in the mirror. Not an easy task with one so young and so newly made.
“I see you have no answer for me,” Mykel said. “I don't suppose the young man is presently at home.”
“You may see for yourself that he is not,” Dufaux snapped, abandoning all pretense. “As I am sure you did before you invited yourself to wait in my bedchamber.”
“Yes. I saw his sea chest in the other room. A.K. in solid brass lettering on the lid. You may count yourself lucky that you did not claim to have acquired the chest independently of its owner. Where is he, Dufaux?”
“Resting. Out of harm's way.”
“Keep him that way. Out of harm's way. For if anything should happen to him, my Master would be most unhappy.”
“I have no intention that anything should happen to him. He has a bright future ahead of him.”
“Yes. Brighter than anything you have planned for him, I dare say.” Mykel rose from the bed. He seemed to unfold forever, until he was so tall his head scraped the ceiling. It was a nice trick; Dufaux would have to try it himself sometime. “Beware, Dufaux. You have no right to him. He was intended for my Master. He still is. If you value your worthless hide, you will ensure that Mr. Kennedy does not make a kill. Understood?”
“How could I not?”
“You will hear from me again. In the meantime, do not do anything stupid.”
And with that Mykel left him. He did not bother to observe formalities but simply dissipated like so many dust motes into the air.
Dufaux went into the sitting room. He began to pace. He had no doubt that Mykel and his kind would be watching him now. He must change lodgings immediately. How could he possibly do so without attracting attention? For that matter, how could he get Kennedy back inside without one of them seeing him? Kennedy was still clumsy at flight, preferring human modes of transportation to anything that might stretch or test his newly developed abilities. Perhaps Dufaux should just fly to him and whisk him off to a new place. He could worry about their belongings later. Did he even have time to reach Kennedy before the young one started back to him? He would hate to miss him on the way.
Archie woke to a familiar scent. He extended sleepy senses. All around him, the air tasted like rain. He emerged onto the beach, looked out to sea, saw the short, choppy waves and dark scudding clouds, and sighed. When the first drops fell he tried to catch them on his tongue; the feeling was not the same as it had been before he became undead. Determined that he would not let that hinder his enjoyment, he started to walk back to Portsmouth along the beach.
Not long after he began walking, the beach ran out and he encountered his first rocks. He clambered over them, finding the going no easier than it had been when he was alive. Especially now that he and they were wet, the contact points slippery. Archie wondered idly if vampires were able to swim. Dufaux seemed to avoid water, but that might have been his own particular aversion and nothing to do with their physical state. It was something to ask him later. For the time being, the going was rough and growing rougher. Should he take to the sky, or was he too wet and heavy now to fly? He really should try to fly on his own. As Dufaux was fond of telling him, one day they would find themselves taking separate paths and Archie would have to do all these things for himself. There was so much to learn. It was much like being a baby again.
Damn these rocks! What a bloody nuisance they were. Archie focused on a spot beyond them and thought: There. I want to be over there.
He was not expecting anything to come of it, but suddenly there he was, standing exactly where he had envisioned himself. Was that all there was to it? Intrigued, he focused on another spot, farther away this time. The promontory at the end of the next stretch of beach. Take me there.
And there he was again, standing on the very rock his unusually acute vision had selected. Archie couldn't help himself. He began to laugh. The sound surprised him; it had been so long since he had found anything remotely enjoyable enough to merit laughter. Now here he stood, in the rain, soaked through - not to mention dead in the bargain - and he couldn't stop laughing. I'm free, he thought. I can go where I want, when I want, without depending on Dufaux to take me there. I could be on the Indy right now -
“I could be on the bloody Indy -”
That thought suddenly terrified him with tantalizing possibility. What if he were to reappear among his shipmates? How would they greet him? Would they be glad to see him? Or struck mute with the horror of facing a specter? Sailors as a rule were a superstitious lot; they would view his appearance as an evil omen. They would probably heave him overboard before he ever got a chance to talk to Horatio.
“Horatio,” he whispered. And surrendered to sadness as abruptly as he had embraced elation. Horatio would not welcome him either. How could he? Archie was dead. Why would Horatio want to converse with a corpse?
Archie started down off the rocks. Was there no end to his misery? He was dead, he was damned, and there was not a blessed thing he could do about it.
He pictured the docks, almost without conscious thought, and found himself there. This could prove troublesome. Archie had always been a daydreamer. Who knew where he would end up if he were not careful? Were he not so unhappy it would be almost comical.
For a time he wandered about the harbor, gathering impressions from the bustling activity that went on regardless of the inclement weather, but forcing himself to think of nothing. No one seemed to take any notice of him. His new, civilian clothing was still on order - another instance of a tailor holding his life hostage - and he was wearing mismatched pieces of his midshipman's uniform. He and Dufaux had spent one morning painstakingly removing all naval insignia and trim from his middy's coats. Dufaux had wanted to do the same with his lieutenant's uniforms but there Archie drew the line. They were new, they were beautiful, they represented aspiration and attainment, and he could not bear to destroy them, for all that his promotion had destroyed him. Let Dufaux deride his sentimentality; on this point Archie determined to stand firm. No matter that his midshipman's uniforms were threadbare in spots, the scruffier he looked the less attention he'd draw. So long as he encountered no press gangs.
Archie did not realize how aimlessly he had walked until he found himself on the dock facing H.M.S. Fortitude. Had Captain Wright acquired a new lieutenant to replace him or was the wait what kept her in port? For that matter, the Indy was probably still in port for the same reason. And here Archie stood, a commissioned lieutenant, of no use to anyone. If only he were invisible, he could go aboard and look around the ship that was to have been his new home. If only -
Mistrusting the evidence before his startled eyes, Archie shook himself. No. The vision was still there. He was inside a ship, and it definitely was not the Indy. But could anyone see him? The answer to that question came moments later when a midshipman brushed by him, almost stepping on his toes, but never gave him a glance. Taking heart, Archie followed the corridor in which he had materialized. He thought he recognized it from his earlier visit. If he were not mistaken, Captain Wright's cabin lay just ahead, on the left. Yes, there it was. Made bold by his success, he passed right through the walls, ignoring the door altogether. To his disappointment, Wright was absent. Archie familiarized himself with the cabin anyway, in case he should have the opportunity to return later. He read through Wright's official correspondence, discovered that Fortitude was due to sail in less than a week's time, bound for the Mediterranean. So, if he were going to exact his pound of flesh from Captain Wright, he would have to do it before then.
But first he would leave the captain something to think about. He went through the dispatches again until he found the one that named him, Archie Kennedy, as Fortitude's new lieutenant. He set it in the center of the desk, weighted at one end with an inkwell and at the other with a heavy silver paperknife. For a moment he considered signing his name across the bottom with a flourish, but Wright had never seen his signature. He might think it a prank by one of his own men, never suspecting the truth. A waste of Archie's effort, in other words. On second thought, there was another way.
Archie extended his senses until he detected Wright's presence on the quarterdeck. He transported himself there, remaining out of sight, and whispered in the captain's mind, “Go to your cabin. Immediately. Something there urgently requires your attention.”
Wright looked around for the source of the command, but Archie's invisibility held and Wright looked right through him. He turned on his heel and went down the companionway stairs without a word to anyone, Archie right behind him.
In the doorway to his cabin Wright stopped, glaring at the floor beside the desk. Archie had to suppress a giggle as he followed the direction of Wright's angry stare, for there, where Archie had stood reading, spread a puddle of water.
“Marine!” Wright bellowed.
Hurried footsteps sounded behind him, then a hapless marine appeared at his elbow.
“Sir!” The man saluted.
“What is the meaning of this? Who has been in my cabin?”
“Sir, no one has been here.”
“How do you know, man? You were not at your post. I'll have you at the gratings for this. Grant, isn't it?”
“Aye, Sir. Sir, I was close by, I would have heard if anyone came down the passage.”
“Do you think so? Look at the water on the floor, Grant, then tell me again that no one has entered my cabin in your absence.”
“Sir, perhaps there is a leak?”
“A leak, you say? A leak that goes around the desk and clear across the floor? Why, man, you're standing in water even as we speak.”
“Sir, I can't explain it. Shall I get someone to mop it up?”
“Yes, damn you. And don't think I've given up on having you flogged. I'll see you get forty lashes for this.”
Oh-oh, thought Archie as the poor marine went off in search of a mop. This was his fault. No man should be flogged for it. He would have to do something to redeem Grant in the captain's eyes. If that were possible, given the captain's capriciousness.
At last Wright, who up until now seemed to have taken root on the spot, entered the cabin and approached the desk. As Archie had hoped, the dispatch caught his eye immediately. Before the captain could reach for it, Archie took up the pen, dipped it into the inkwell, and was signing his name on the foolscap even as Wright's hand hovered above it.
Wright's hand did no more than hover, as his eyes followed the moving pen and the letters appearing beneath it, and not the inhuman agent of its movement.
“Archie Kennedy,” Wright read the scrawl aloud, his voice evincing none of the bluster of just minutes ago. “Archie Kennedy? That puling, bedraggled pup that I saw dead in his coffin a week past? How is this possible?”
Archie let himself materialize on the other side of the desk. Wright caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and let out a yelp.
“By all the devils in Satan's power! You cannot be!”
“I am,” Archie replied softly.
“What -? What do you want?”
“Why, Captain Wright? What do you think I want?”
“If it's my death you've come for, I'm warning you. I had nothing to do with your death. I admit I was not sorry to see you go, but I did not strike you down.”
“Not physically, perhaps.” Archie saw the captain's hand inching toward the paperknife at the edge of the dispatch and willed it away from him. It flew across the room, where it hit the wall and clattered to the floor. The captain was no more surprised than Archie.
“Not in any way,” Wright squeaked.
“Come, now, Captain. You threatened to have me flogged. Why should I believe you would have stopped there? You hated me on sight. Sooner or later you would have found a way for me to have a fatal accident.”
“I didn't have to, did I?” The captain seemed to rally somewhat.
Archie focused his eyes upon the man as if he would see into Wright's very soul. Assuming he had one. Wright began to squirm.
“All right, all right! Tell me what you want, Kennedy. Anything at all, just take it and leave me alone.”
What brought that on? Archie continue to stare at the captain. Wright whimpered.
“Please, Mr. Kennedy. I'll do whatever you tell me. Only stop torturing me.”
Now Archie was really puzzled. He would have to remember to ask Dufaux about it later. Meanwhile, he had better take what advantage he could of the situation.
“For starters, Captain, you will not have Mr. Grant flogged.”
“Yes, yes. Granted. No flogging for Mr. Grant.”
“For that matter, there will be no floggings of any kind aboard this ship. My word on it, Captain, I shall return - tomorrow, a week from now, or later - and if I find that even one man has tasted the lash at your urging, I swear to you, I will kill you.”
“All right. I promise. No - no floggings.”
“From this day forward.”
“From this day forward,” Wright echoed.
Archie still doubted the man's sincerity. Wright needed perhaps one last demonstration of Archie's ability to carry out his promise. He visualized the paperknife in his hand. In the same instant that object flew across the room to nestle in the palm of his hand, its point toward Wright's heart. Archie clasped it by the hilt and thought himself ashore.
“Damn it, Archibald! Where have you been?”
Dufaux had to restrain himself, lest he strike out at the young man. He well knew where Kennedy had been. He had sensed him on board Fortitude, had marveled at Kennedy's ability to operate comfortably on the water at the same time that he, Dufaux, had to cool his heels ashore, all too conscious of his own inability to follow.
“Archibald?” Kennedy repeated, looking at him in disbelief. Dufaux read his thought: No one calls me Archibald.
But Dufaux would not call him Archie or Kennedy, not in public where they might be overheard.
“You did not kill him, did you?” Dufaux demanded. He would have to ignore Kennedy's question for the time being.
“No. I did not. I wanted to. I might yet.”
“Take my word for it, he is not worth it.”
“How would you know?” Kennedy whispered, taut with anger.
“Remember what I said about leaving a trail. We need to move on.” Dufaux clasped Kennedy's upper arm to emphasize his point and drew back at once in shock. “What is that in your hand?”
“This? It's Captain Wright's paperknife. I carried it away so he wouldn't try to stab me with it.”
“It is silver.”
“Yes, it would appear to be so. Solid silver.” He hefted it in his hand. “Good quality, from its weight.”
“And it does not discomfort you to handle it?”
“No. Why should it?”
Dufaux debated with himself. Should he tell the lad or not? Perhaps a cautious rendering of the truth. “Ordinarily, our kind find contact with silver - painful. It is well you took it from him. If he were to stab you with it, he could do significant damage. Shall you keep it as a souvenir or let the sea have it?”
“I am not finished with Wright yet. I think I shall keep it.”
“Just be careful with it. Come. We need to be away from here. In fact, we need to find new lodgings.”
Dufaux turned on him. “You have attracted attention, that's why. They will be watching our rooms. You cannot go back there.”
“What did I do? Dufaux? Who are they?”
“They are beings like ourselves. Do not look so shocked, Archibald. Did you think we were the only ones? We are not. There are others. And they would like to have you for themselves.”
Kennedy seemed incapable of speech for some seconds. He stood staring at Dufaux, his mouth agape, his blue eyes wide with amazement. So open and trusting, it almost pained Dufaux to look at him. How could such innocence persist in the face of all Kennedy had been through? Like a child he seemed to have an innate inability to see anything but good in people.
“What did I do?” Kennedy repeated, more as if he were asking himself. The question released a torrent of others that gave Dufaux a pretty good idea how the young man had spent his afternoon. “Could they sense when I flew here from the beach? Or when I made myself invisible and passed through walls? Or was it when I made the paperknife fly across the room? Or when I stared at Captain Wright? He asked me to stop torturing him - all I did was look at him. It seemed to make him unaccountably uneasy.”
“You have been a busy bee,” Dufaux said in admiration, for in truth he was proud of Kennedy for discovering these powers on his own. “Unfortunately, it was something you did earlier. In short, Archibald, it happened when you looked in the mirror.”
“Will you stop calling me that? And what do you mean, when I looked in the mirror?”
Dufaux spoke directly to Kennedy's mind. “They may be watching us. Listening. I am using a name less familiar to them, so as not to draw their notice.” The look in Kennedy's eyes, though perturbed, told him he understood that much. Dufaux continued, loud enough for only Kennedy to hear, “If you recall, I keep the mirror trained on the door to tell me if a visitor is one of us. When you - admired yourself - you beamed your image outward. At least one of them has seen it. I know not if there are others. If so, they have not made contact. He has. We are in danger. Now do you comprehend?”
If Kennedy's eyes grew any larger they would overwhelm the rest of his face. Even so, he still had questions. “Yes, but - what do they want from me?”
“Few of our sort - reproduce - if I may use that word, and I use it loosely. It is a significant responsibility that requires a considerable investment of time and care. Most are too lazy to make the effort and so they simply steal someone else's offspring. That is as close as I can come to an explanation under these rather pressing circumstances. Will that satisfy you for now?”
“Yes, thank you. I am sorry to be a bother.”
“Go back to the cave now and wait for me there. Do not let yourself be distracted by sights along the way, but go there directly. As soon as I have secured a new place I will come for you. Do not show yourself to anyone, do you understand me?”
Kennedy nodded. “I do.”
“Very well. Walk away from me now. Wait until you are away from prying eyes before you disappear. When you reach the cave, lie low and do not advertise your presence by using your powers. Wait for me to come to you.”
Kennedy started walking in the direction of the beach. He did not look back. In no time he was swallowed up by the crowd. Satisfied, Dufaux turned in the opposite direction and headed for a part of town where he had found lodging in the past.
He was in luck. The landlady of the house where he presented himself had a pair of rooms available. They were an additional flight up from the street, as well as smaller and meaner in furnishings than the rooms he was leaving, and they cost an exorbitant sum considering the neighborhood was not one of the best. Telling himself they would be temporary, Dufaux took them anyway. He paid the landlady the week's rent she demanded to hold them for him, and went out.
After some deliberation he had decided to fetch their personal belongings from the other lodging before summoning Kennedy, mindful of the possible danger should he find Mykel lying in wait for him there. If he were forced to fight, he would rather not be distracted by the need to protect one who did not know how to protect himself. Nor did he want to expose Kennedy to the threat of discovery should he inadvertently lead the enemy to his new lair. Not knowing when and where Mykel planned to strike, it was hard to know how to act for the best. The only thing he felt fairly certain of was that Mykel or his henchmen would be watching his former lodging, and so he made his approach by a circuitous route and then waited and watched for a long time before he entered.
He made himself invisible before going through the door from the street. This ploy would not fool someone like Mykel, who might be lurking nearby within his own cloak of invisibility, but it should deter or at least delay any of his human agents. He re-formed briefly outside the door to his rooms and listened. Nothing. He was sure of it. In spite of his certitude, he made himself invisible again and passed, not through the door into the sitting room, but farther down the hall at a point that would conduct him directly into his bedchamber.
Here again he sensed nothing overtly wrong, merely different. A quick scan of the room, senses extended, detected a recent presence not his own. Was it an echo of Mykel's earlier visit, or of a later reconnaissance in Dufaux's absence? Whichever it was, nothing in the room seemed to have been disarranged. Dufaux paused at his door and extended his senses into the sitting room beyond. There was a stronger after-image here, again some hours old. Cautiously he opened the door. He did not immediately see the change in the room. It was only when he entered and looked to his left that he marked the empty place where his cheval mirror had stood. All his vampire senses prickled. Though he had not yet checked Kennedy's room, he knew instinctively what he would find. At a touch of his hand the door swung open on silent hinges. Yes. They had been here as well. As in his own chamber, nothing in the room stood in disarray. But as in the sitting room, something was missing. Kennedy's sea chest was gone.
Damn! How was he going to explain this to Kennedy? The young man would hardly take comfort in the thought that even as they spoke a Portsmouth tailor was fashioning new clothes to take the place of his uniforms. He would be distraught at the loss of the other things - his small, worthless yet irreplaceable treasures, such as a boy hoards to keep adulthood at bay. The rest were remainders of his life in the Navy - his sword and pistols, the coveted lieutenant's uniform (oh, how he would bemoan the loss of that!), his books on seamanship and his well-thumbed and annotated volume of Shakespeare. Did Mykel think to lure Kennedy with these things? Damn his hide, but he might just possibly succeed.
Without further ado Dufaux packed his own possessions into a cloth satchel and, clutching it to his chest, dematerialized. This time he saw no reason to take to the streets, but sped incorporeal to his new lodging. Here, caution once again took over. He regained human form in an alley across the street, from which he could watch the entrance to the rooming house. All seemed in order. No one approached the house; no one came out. After a while Dufaux tired of waiting. He crossed the street and went in.
Having glimpsed his landlady at her window, and realizing that she was the sort of woman who would watch with interest the comings and goings of her lodgers and their visitors, he stopped to ask if anyone had called in his absence. Assured that she had seen no one, he went upstairs. He paused outside his door. There was no one in the room; he was as sure of that as he had been of the other lodging. But someone or something had been there. Was it the landlady? Or had an unseen visitor penetrated his lair in his absence? He would not find out by standing outside in a state of growing agitation. He passed through the wall and stopped just inside.
No. It could not be. But it was. His cheval mirror faced the door in exactly the position he would have situated it himself. Setting his bag on a chair he hurried into the connecting bedchamber. There sat Kennedy's sea chest. An alien aura surrounded it. Dufaux had no doubt that whoever had placed it there would know the moment someone opened it. And whoever opened it would be indelibly marked.
What was he to do? They could not possibly stay here now. No one would agree to let a room this late in the evening. They would be forced to take rooms at an inn. Dufaux felt more vulnerable than he had felt at any previous time in his long existence, barring the time when, in his brash and ignorant infancy, he had inadvertently angered an elder by making a series of messy kills in the elder's territory. The aftermath had been unpleasant as only a struggle for supremacy between immortals can be. He had escaped retribution by the skin of his teeth, much chastened, indeed humiliated. Dufaux's memories of that time, suppressed for centuries, came rushing forth in a wash of blood-red rage that threatened to displace his usual dispassionate calm. It would not do to lose his head now, with so much at stake. He deftly mastered his emotion and prepared to counter Mykel's salvo.
Other than the years he had spent in El Ferrol, Archie could not recall a time when he had been so bored. Here he was, confined as surely as he had been in his prison cell, surrounded by stone walls that were as clammy and cold as El Ferrol's in the Spanish winter. Unlike that time, however, Archie felt physically strong; in fact, for the first time in his life he felt invulnerable. Where once he would have curled up on his cot and felt sorry for himself, now he paced the floor, wracking his brain to come up with an acceptable outlet for his pent-up energy. With Dufaux's warning not to advertise his presence still echoing in his mind, he dared not pursue his tempting new skills. This only served to make him itch to practice moving objects without touching them, disappearing and reappearing, and staring people out of countenance. What other skills would emerge at his bidding? Better not think about it, because the way his day had been going, all he had to do was think a thing and it was done. And that would send a message to whomever was watching that there was a source of power here that must be investigated, which was just what Dufaux had told him to avoid. So how was he to spend his time while he waited?
There was always the cavern itself. Most of the time Archie spent here was in sleep. He had never really taken the time to explore it fully. Smugglers had used it, he had been told, which suggested that it must have additional rooms for storage and perhaps even passages leading inland and opening on the other side. Though Dufaux might fret if he arrived and found Archie gone, he would find him. He always did.
Archie walked the inside perimeter of the cave, studying the walls for unseen openings or suspicious cracks and indentations that might indicate a hidden door. Nothing much presented itself either to his enhanced vision or to his probing fingertips. To his disappointment, the cave appeared to consist of only the one room where his coffin lay. Obviously no huge smuggling operation had ever taken place here. There would not have been room to store large amounts of goods. Likewise he found no egress other than the principle passage from the beach. Archie walked down to the entrance and stood there, arms crossed, looking out to sea. Instantly he was filled with longing to be aboard the Indy, to feel the swell of the sea as she plowed the waves. He tried to damp his feelings, afraid that he would find himself magically transported to her decks. In his present frame of mind it was all but impossible to do.
By the time night fell, Archie was nearly paralyzed with worry. They should have removed to their new lodging hours ago. Now the stars were prominent, the moon was bright in the sky, and Dufaux was very, very late.
“Where have you been?” Archie cried when Dufaux's touch roused him from an unexpected sleep. He sprang up, mortified to have been caught napping and wondering who else might have gotten past him while he was thus unaware. Dufaux was carrying a cloth satchel, as if he were going on a journey.
“We have a problem,” Dufaux announced without preamble. “Both of our lodgings have been compromised.” He held up a hand to stem Archie's questions. “While I was hiring new rooms the enemy penetrated our former lodging. Then while I vacated the old rooms, someone entered the new rooms in my absence. We cannot return to either place. I fear pursuit, Archie. We must part company. I will try to draw them away from you. By the time they realize they have been tricked, you will be beyond their reach.”
Dufaux had never called him Archie before. This must be serious indeed. “Where do you want me to go?” he said.
“Where they cannot follow. I want you to rejoin your ship.”
“The Indefatigable? Or the Fortitude?” Archie did not even try to keep the amazement out of his voice. “Why should they not follow me there?”
“I do not understand it myself, Archie. I made you. As a vampire you should be growing in the skills that I have instilled in you, passed on through my blood. Instead I find that you have additional powers that do not come from me. Vampires cannot handle silver, Archie. It burns them. Yet you have been carrying Captain Wright's paperknife since this afternoon with no ill effects. Vampires also avoid water. Most will not cross an open body of water, much less venture onto a sailing ship. Those who do, cower in the deepest hold until the ship comes into port. They do not exercise their powers on board because their powers are dissipated by the lack of earth beneath their feet.”
Archie shrugged, unimpressed. “I was a sailor before you made me a vampire. I imagine that makes all the difference.”
“Perhaps. The fact remains, your pursuers will not follow you aboard a ship. Go home to the Indefatigable. You will be safe there.”
“Where will you go?”
“I will go overland. North, I think, for it is the direction your ship is least likely to sail.”
“But why should they follow you if it is me they want?”
“I will lead them a false trail. There is just one thing, Archie.” Dufaux hesitated. Out of deference for Archie's feelings? Or because he was about to say something Archie would not want to hear? Archie waited for Dufaux to resume. “I have taken the liberty of crating your sea chest and having it delivered to the Indefatigable. They will not immediately realize what they have, for it has gone aboard with a load of supplies, addressed to Mr. Hornblower. The problem is that the enemy has marked it and I do not know how to undo the spell. It will lead the enemy directly to you.”
“You said they would not board the ship,” Archie reminded him, his doubts ringing in his ears like a ship's warning bell.
“I believe they will not. But I cannot promise.”
“Then why -?”
“Because I know that you value the chest's contents. If I thought you did not, I would take it out into an open field and set it afire. But that is not my decision to make. If you, after you have been at sea for a few days, feel that it makes you and your shipmates vulnerable, then you must decide for yourself whether to keep it or consign it to the deep.”
Archie greeted this in silence. He would not wish to expose the Indy's crew to danger, no matter how much he treasured his few baubles. On the other hand, he appreciated Dufaux's consideration in leaving the ultimate decision to him. Before he could say so, Dufaux spoke again.
“I have in this satchel your lieutenant's uniform. I knew you would not want to appear on the deck of your ship wearing the ragtag garments you have worn all over Portsmouth. Before you take it,” he held it out of Archie's reach, “be aware that it, like all the contents of your sea chest, has been tainted and will act as a beacon for our enemy. If you prefer, I can carry it north with me as a decoy.”
“If, as you say, my chest will lead them to me, then the uniform can make no difference. I will wear it.”
Dufaux sighed and handed over the parcel. “I knew you would say that.” As Archie hurriedly changed into the uniform, Dufaux added, “You will be wondering how you are to survive on board ship when it comes to feeding -”
Archie stopped halfway into his clean shirt. “I had not thought about it -”
“I know. That is why I bring it up. You can survive on rats, although you may find them unpalatable. Knowing your scruples, I would not expect you to feed on your shipmates, but I understand that Captain Pellew frequently captures enemy ships. This should provide you with a supply of prisoners to feed from. Just remember my advice and do not drain any one of them to the point of death, because nothing will panic a boatload of men like the thought that there is unexplained death on board.”
Had the subject not been so dire, Archie might have grinned. “How do you know so much about it, if you have never been aboard ship?”
“I know human nature, Archie. And a ship is surely no different in that regard than any other confined space from which men cannot escape.”
Amen to that, thought Archie. And then, because he could not help himself, he thought about the Indy and smiled.
I'm going home.
Fortitude by Lorraine Jean