Fortitude by Lorraine Jean
“Sir? Sir! Wake up, Sir!”
Horatio felt a tug on his nightshirt, realized that the voice he heard was not part of his dream and opened bleary eyes. He felt as if he had been asleep for less than an hour. Why were they waking him now?
“What is it, Matthews?”
The seaman tugged his forelock respectfully, then moved slightly so that Horatio could see Styles just over his shoulder, where he stood behind him.
“Sir, you've got to come. There's - there's something on the quarterdeck.”
“Who is the officer of the watch, Matthews? Surely this is his responsibility.” Why were they bothering him with something up on deck in the middle of the night?
“It's Mr. Cullen, Sir. He - he never knew Mr. Kennedy.”
Now they were getting somewhere. Maybe. “What does Mr. Kennedy have to do with it?”
“Oh, Sir! It's Mr. Kennedy up on the quarterdeck. His very like. Just as he looked in his coffin, only, well, his eyes is open and he looks - how shall I say, it, Sir? He looks -”
“He looks happy, is what,” Styles finished for him.
“Sir, I'm afraid he looks very much alive.” Matthews, evidently having been designated the spokesman, seemed determined to have the last word.
“Kennedy,” Horatio repeated, his pulse quickening. “You are certain sure it is Mr. Kennedy.” Lord, what could possibly give them the impression that they were seeing Archie? A trick of the moon on a pile of sail or on a twist of rigging, perhaps, or - Or what?
“Sir, come see for yourself. Please.”
Horatio sighed. “All right, Matthews.” Relief broke over both seamen's faces, instantly transforming them. Horatio realized how frightened they must have been. “I must get dressed, first. Has anyone notified Captain Pellew?”
“We thought it best not to, just yet,” said Styles. “Not until you've seen Mr. Kennedy yourself. On account of you and him being friends. You'd know him better than anyone else, even the captain. Sir,” he added, an afterthought as usual.
“Yes. Very well, then. Wait for me outside.”
Horatio dressed in a hurry. It couldn't be Archie. Archie was dead, and corpses did not walk ships' quarterdecks. If this proved to be a practical joke - No. As a joke it was in such poor taste that only a reprobate like Jack Simpson could have schemed it. Luckily for all concerned, Jack had ceased his miserable existence long ago. His men, hardened cases while under Jack's command, had since discovered that the self-respect born of honest work and loyalty was worth more than any feelings of one-upmanship gained from taunting others, such as Jack had encouraged. This was the sort of joke Jack would have played on him when he was a green midshipman. It was not a joke to play on a seasoned lieutenant. Matthews and Styles knew that, or by God he would know why not.
They were standing quietly by when he opened his cabin door. No smiles, no shifty glances. They seemed aware of the seriousness of the situation. Horatio led the way up through the decks and out the companionway hatch. From here he could see the quarterdeck, but not in its entirety. He did not see anything amiss. His men stayed on the main deck while Horatio climbed the final stair and stopped on the landing.
There was indeed a figure on the far side of the quarterdeck, standing at the rail with his back to Horatio. He wore a lieutenant's uniform without the hat, and in the moonlight Horatio could see clearly the soft gold curls of the man's queue. Very like Archie's hair, to be sure. The stance was also very like Archie's, from the set of the shoulders, to the hands clasped in the small of the back, to the trim lower legs encased in white hose. Horatio took two steps forward.
“Hello, Horatio,” said the apparition in a voice very like Archie's. He did not turn around.
Horatio took another two steps forward and stopped. This was close enough, until he knew exactly with whom or what he was dealing.
“Do you not know me?” Very, very like Archie's voice.
“I am afraid,” Horatio said, “that you must turn and show me your face.”
The apparition turned.
“Yes, Horatio.” The apparition smiled. Most assuredly Archie's smile. A boyish smile that harkened back to carefree days.
“How is this possible? You are dead. I saw you myself. In your coffin. I dressed you in that very uniform. For mercy's sake, Archie!”
“You dressed me? Oh, dear.”
“I was happy to do it for my best friend.”
“I am sorry to have caused you pain, Horatio. It was not my intention.”
“What was your intention, Archie? What is your intention now?”
“I've come home. I thought you would be glad to see me.”
“I am - glad - to see you. Archie - Please come down to my cabin. We can talk there.”
Archie laughed. “Away from the quarterdeck, you mean. Where I won't frighten the crew.”
Horatio looked around him, noticing for the first time since he came up from belowdecks how the duty crew stood idly by, staring. Indeed, the apparition had attracted everyone's attention, and not for the good if one could judge by their expressions.
“Please, Archie. They are frightened. In their experience, the dead do not walk except to foretell dire events. Please come.”
“Very well, Horatio.”
As Archie drew near, Horatio put a tentative hand on his shoulder, fearful it would pass through air. But Archie's shoulder was solid and Horatio's hand stayed there in a brief greeting. Archie turned to him.
“I am not a ghost, Horatio.”
Evidently not. But what was he? The moonlight cast a strange glow on his skin, a glow that stayed with him even as they descended the companionway stairs. As soon as they were out of sight of the men on the deck, Horatio stopped him.
“Archie, perhaps we should go to the captain's cabin. He will want to know that you have returned.”
“Are you afraid to be alone with me? I will not harm you, Horatio; you have my word on it. I will do no harm to any man on this ship.”
“I believe you. But Captain Pellew deserves to know what is going on, does he not? And this will save you the necessity of explaining everything twice.” Horatio hoped he sounded reasonable and that Archie did not notice how his knees trembled.
A little of the happiness went out of Archie's eyes then, as if he knew that Horatio did not trust him, that he wanted a witness to their conversation, that things were not and would never again be as they had been before Archie died.
“As you wish, Horatio.” His voice soft and sad, Archie hung back and let Horatio lead the way to Pellew's cabin.
Through long habit, Sir Edward awakened fully on hearing the tap on his door. He sat upright and said, “Come.”
Marine Sergeant Lloyd, the sentry on duty, announced hesitantly that Pellew had visitors. Lieutenant Hornblower and another man.
“Hornblower, at this hour? Good God, what is the man thinking? What visitor? Oh, never mind, Sergeant, I'll be right with them.” He rose and put on his dressing gown and slippers. “Show them in.”
Hornblower entered, dressed but looking somewhat tousled from sleep. The other man held back, affording Pellew a glimpse of a lieutenant's uniform but not his face.
“Sir.” Lieutenant Hornblower snapped to attention. The man behind him did not move.
“At ease. What seems to be the problem, Mr. Hornblower? I take it there is a problem, or you would not interrupt my sleep in so abrupt a fashion.”
“Sir, my apologies. I assure you, I would not have troubled you except -”
“Yes, yes, Mr. Hornblower. Who is that behind you? Show yourself, Sir, that I may know to whom I speak.”
The man stepped smartly to one side and gave him a proper salute.
“My God! Kennedy!”
The young man stood at attention, eyes straight ahead, much as Mr. Kennedy would have stood. But it could not possibly be Kennedy. It could not possibly be -
“That seems to be everyone's reaction,” Hornblower said with a rueful expression.
“May I stand at ease, Sir?” Kennedy inquired.
The Archie Kennedy he remembered would not have asked but would have stood uncomfortably at attention until his interrogator condescended to release him. It sounded like Kennedy's voice, cultured and soft-spoken. And those were unmistakably Kennedy's bright blue eyes, if looking a little less startled than usual. Calm. That was the difference. The man looked perfectly calm. That did not seem like Kennedy at all. Pellew shook himself out of the stunned silence into which he had fallen.
“Yes, of course. Is it Mr. Kennedy?”
“Yes, Sir,” the young man replied.
“How is this possible? Were we all mistaken, Sir, when we took you for dead and laid you in the grave? And if so, how did you survive long enough to be - shall we say, resurrected?”
“There was no mistake, Captain. I did die. And I was, as you say, resurrected. I am afraid that I am not alive in the usual sense.”
Pellew looked to Hornblower for confirmation, but the lieutenant only shrugged. Pellew turned his attention back to Kennedy. “In the usual sense? What other sense is there?”
Kennedy answered, “Sir, I believe the term is undead.”
“Undead? What does that mean?” Pellew stood next to Kennedy and tried to stare him down. The old Kennedy would have melted into confusion; this one met his stare with one of his own. It gave Sir Edward the most discomfiting feeling.
“I am not sure I can explain it to your satisfaction, Captain. My spirit still inhabits this body, but my body no longer - conforms to expectations. I do not breathe, my heart does not beat, I do not eat and I do not need sleep. I seem to have acquired certain - abilities - that I did not possess in life. I would demonstrate but I do not want to frighten you.”
“A pretty speech, Mr. Kennedy. For you do frighten me, Sir. You frighten me exceedingly. I would very much like to see for myself these abilities you speak of - before you practice them upon my unsuspecting men.”
“If you are sure - ” Ah, there was a hint of the old Kennedy. He sounded just the least bit diffident.
“Very sure, Mr. Kennedy. And pray, do not subject us to mere - parlor tricks.”
At that, Kennedy vanished before their very eyes. Pellew looked to Hornblower, whose brown eyes were as round as saucers and whose jaw had dropped nearly to his collar. Come to think of it, Pellew probably looked much the same. He turned in a full circle, seeking out the darkest corners of the room, to see where the lieutenant was hiding. He was nowhere in sight.
“Where is he, Mr. Hornblower?”
“Sir, I - I have no idea. I - I hope, Sir, you don't think I had anything to do with this. I merely brought him here with me so he would not frighten the men. He was on the quarterdeck and none of them would go on with their work while he stood there.”
“I suppose I must ask you this. Mr. Hornblower, do you believe that this - this apparition, if you will - is our own Mr. Kennedy? Because if you do not -”
“Sir, I believe it is Mr. Kennedy. I do not understand what he has become, but - What else could it be?”
“A fiend, perhaps?” He was cut off in mid-thought by a knock at the door. “Come!”
The door opened - and Kennedy entered, grinning.
“Sorry for the interruption, gentlemen. I was afraid you would leave me out there for the rest of the night.”
They greeted him with absolute silence. Pellew would have given a bottle of his best brandy to know what Hornblower was thinking. As for himself, he was not a staunch church-going man, but just then he had an almost overwhelming desire to fall down on his knees and pray. Perhaps he should send ashore first thing in the morning for a clergyman - one who might be willing to purge the ship of any evil -
Kennedy looked hurt, as if he could read Pellew's thoughts. “I am sorry, Captain. Deep down, I suppose I knew you would not understand.”
“How can I, Mr. Kennedy? How can you ask me to? What you have just demonstrated is uncanny. It is unthinkable. It is -”
“Not humanly possible. I know. Do you think this is any easier for me? I remember what I was, Captain Pellew. I know I am different now. As unacceptable dead as I was alive, if for different reasons.”
Pellew caught his breath at the depth of bitterness exposed. How many people had dismissed this lad in life for what they perceived as his weaknesses? God forgive him, Pellew himself had probably been one of them.
“What do you want of me, Mr. Kennedy?” Pellew said gently.
A flash of fire shot from those piercing blue eyes. “Not pity, certainly.”
“Mr. Kennedy -”
“No. Let me finish. I had hoped to be of use to you. I can watch all night without tiring, and I can still fight. I can be an asset in battle. I have other useful abilities, if you will only let me employ them. But if all you've ever seen - all you continue to see - is poor little Archie Kennedy, who cannot be trusted on a simple cutting out because he has fits and cannot be put in charge of other men because he loses his head at the first sound of enemy fire - then perhaps I cannot help you at all.”
“I have a full complement of lieutenants aboard ship as it is. Your replacement - Lieutenant Cullen - came aboard this week and has the watch even as we speak.”
“All right.” Kennedy looked as if he had just made a decision that allowed no turning back. A decision that gave him no pleasure. “If you will not let me help you, then will you please help me?”
“If it is in my power, Mr. Kennedy, rest assured I will.”
“I need a place to hide from an enemy that means to destroy me.” Ignoring Pellew's and Hornblower's sharply indrawn breaths, Kennedy went on before either of them could speak. “I am assured they cannot reach me on water. To be perfectly frank, I have no idea who they are but I suspect that they are - creatures - like myself, only lacking the ability to function at sea. If you will not have me aboard I will try to understand. Maybe I can persuade Captain Wright to accept me.”
“Captain Wright!” Hornblower erupted. “The man did not want you when you were alive!” He obviously feared he had spoken out of turn, for he pressed his lips together tightly as if to prevent a further outburst.
“Mr. Hornblower is quite correct. Captain Wright was perhaps not elated at the news of your passing, but he was far from sorry. You would not have a comfortable sailing.”
“On the contrary. It is Captain Wright who would find the sailing uncomfortable.”
Pellew did not like to think what the lad meant by that. Nor did he like the look that suddenly distorted Kennedy's handsome face.
“Don't, Archie,” Hornblower said in gentle warning. “Wright is beneath your notice.”
“I agree. You will remain with us, Mr. Kennedy.” Good Lord, what was he saying? Would he repent of it as soon as the sun rose? “I will not give you any official duties, however, for I think it best if you sail with us as a passenger. I don't suppose you have anything to wear other than your uniform?”
“Regrettably, Sir, there was not time to induce my tailor to make haste.”
“Ah, well. We will make the best of it. I would ask one thing of you.”
“Anything in my power, Sir.” He did not look as if he were consciously throwing Pellew's words back at him. And yet, Pellew could not be sure.
“Please do not do anything to upset the crew. They are good men, but superstitious. If I thought I could fool them I would pass you off as your own twin brother. But in that uniform, I doubt they would accept it. Just try to stay out of their way as much as possible. Can you do that, Mr. Kennedy?”
“Yes, Sir. It is the least I can do. And thank you, Captain. You have my undying gratitude.” The awkward choice of words seemed to strike him as forcefully as it did the others and he had the grace to look abashed.
“We sail on the morrow, Mr. Kennedy. If you have not made preparations for a sea voyage, I suggest you do so in the hours that remain. Is there anything further that you require tonight?”
“No, Sir. Thank you, Sir.”
“Mr. Hornblower, see to Mr. Kennedy's accommodation.”
“Aye aye, Sir.”
Kennedy and Hornblower saluted and left. Pellew returned to bed, though he doubted he would get any sleep for what remained of the night.
“I am afraid I cannot offer you your old cabin,” Horatio said, not meeting his friend's eyes. “Edgar - Lieutenant Cullen - has moved into it.”
“It's all right, Horatio. I did not expect to find it vacant.”
“I am not quite sure where to put you. What sort of accommodation do you need in your present circumstances?”
“Horatio, if it would make all concerned feel better, you could put me in the brig. I have no real needs.”
“The brig? Truly?” This might indeed make the ordinary seamen feel more secure. No matter that no room aboard ship could contain a being who melted through walls - the crew would not know this. “It sounds a capital solution. I regret that we sent your possessions to your family in London. Have you any other dunnage to bring aboard?”
“My things did not reach London. Dufaux has sent my dunnage aboard, crated and addressed to you.”
“Dufaux? The doctor? You have seen him since your -?” He could not bring himself to say death. Archie would know what he meant.
“Dufaux is no doctor. He made me what you see before you.”
“Then he is -” Again Horatio found himself unable to finish his thought. Several words swirled about his aching head - fiend, creature, vampire, undead - all of them unacceptable.
“Precisely,” Archie said as if he had spoken. The clipped precision of his speech, the look of reproach in his eyes, betrayed his bitterness.
“Archie,” he said in exasperation, “I do not know how to talk to you any more. No matter what I say or how I say it, I seem to hurt or anger you. I confess I am grown afraid of you.”
“I will not harm you,” Archie sighed. “How many times must I say it before you believe me?”
“I would be more inclined to believe you, Archie, if you did not look at me like that.”
But Archie did not look away. “We are wasting time arguing. If we sail tomorrow then I must get ready. When you find my dunnage you may deliver it to the brig. I must go ashore.”
“Is that wise? You said you had enemies seeking you. Ashore, will they not find you?”
“I must take that chance, Horatio. I have unfinished business there.”
“If you mean Captain Wright - please, Archie. He is not worth the powder.”
“Don't worry, Horatio. I will not kill him.”
Maybe not, thought Horatio, but given that look in Archie's eyes, he would not be in Captain Wright's shoes tonight for any amount of Spanish gold.
If Horatio only knew, Archie had not been thinking particularly of Captain Wright when he announced his intention to go ashore. It had occurred to him, instead, that faced with an imminent voyage he had best feed once more, before finding himself aboard ship with nothing but rats for sustenance. Now that his friend had planted the seed in his mind, Archie thought how very appropriate it would be to take his nourishment from the one that most deserved to feel the terror of the experience. He did not bother to go ashore in human form, but simply pictured in his mind Captain Wright's cabin aboard the Fortitude and instantly found himself there.
“Why is this fellow never in his cabin when I want him?” Archie addressed the empty room. “And in the middle of the night, too.”
He re-materialized on the quarterdeck. No sign of the captain here, either. Making himself invisible he joined the officer of the watch and whispered into the man's ear, “Where is the captain?”
Jolted out of a daydream, the lieutenant looked around wildly. Archie plucked the answer from his mind. The captain was spending the night ashore. With a woman.
Interesting. Unfortunately, further probing revealed that the lieutenant did not know their whereabouts, whether the captain had taken a room in an inn or whether the woman in question had rooms of her own. There was probably not enough time to track him down before daybreak. Dufaux would know how to pinpoint his exact location, but Archie's education had been interrupted before it had progressed that far. Time was pressing, and Archie needed to feed. He considered taking from the officer of the watch. Had it been the man who received him on his first visit, he would have, but he did not know this man and had no quarrel with him. He might as well go ashore.
Only when he found himself standing in the middle of a nearly vacant street did Archie register the lateness of the hour. With Dufaux at his side he had felt invulnerable no matter what the hour; now he felt less sure of himself. The quiet seemed almost too deep, too uniform to be natural. He sensed absolutely nothing around him, as if he had dropped onto an empty stage in an empty theater. He hovered in a state of near invisibility while he pondered his next move.
He sensed the other just moments before he struck. Startled, Archie could not dematerialize but only jump aside in the hope that his attacker would count on his standing still. He did not immediately know if he was dealing with a man or a creature like himself, only that his own reflexes had never seemed so sluggish.
The blow, when it came, reverberated like a crack of thunder, setting his ears ringing. Archie held his head and doubled over in pain. Not a human opponent, then. Archie tried to think what to do to counter it before the next blow came. He tried to vanish but could not concentrate with the thunder rebounding in his head. What good was the ability to disappear if the first salvo from a more powerful enemy paralyzed him? He had not known he could feel such pain. Had not Dufaux promised him an end to suffering? Would all of the vampire's promises prove as insubstantial as mist?
Another crash of thunder assaulted his ears, its report like continuous rounds from a gundeck full of twenty-four pounders. It was accompanied by white light so blinding that Archie did not know where to look. Even with his eyes closed he could still see it. His opponent had not shown himself and already Archie was vanquished. All his senses were under attack, he had no armor to protect himself and no means to fight back. He curled himself into as tight a ball as he could manage, his arms around his head, and waited for the blast that would end it all.
It did not come. Cautiously, his ears still ringing, Archie lowered his arms and risked a look about him. He was no longer in the middle of the street but on the floor of what looked to be a huge, empty warehouse. He had no recollection of being transported here. Was it a trick played upon his vision? Or had the street been the phantom setting? He was surrounded by white light still, but it no longer blinded him. As his eyes continued to adjust, he perceived a figure standing a few feet away.
“You make an unimpressive demon, Archie Kennedy,” a jovial baritone told him.
Archie rose from his undignified crouch, his eyes never leaving the speaker. “I am not a demon,” he said.
“A demon made you. He intended you to be a creature in his own image. That appears to have been an error of judgment on his part.”
The speaker was a tall man, golden-haired and fair to look upon. His blue eyes regarded Archie with continued amusement.
“That does not surprise me. I seem to be a failure at everything I do.”
This time the speaker laughed outright. “That is not altogether true, Archie. You earned that lieutenant's uniform on your own merits, no one else's. And although occasionally tempted to envy Hornblower's good fortune, you have been the most loyal friend he or anyone could wish for. I could cite you more examples, but distilled to its essence my point is this: Through all the trials you have endured in your short life, you have always remained pure of heart and essentially good in nature. I would not call any of these things failure.”
Archie took a step forward, drawn in spite of himself. “Who and what are you, Sir, if I may be permitted to know?”
“My name is Mykel. I have been watching out for you.”
“Are you the one Dufaux said was coming to destroy me?”
Mykel laughed again. “Pardon me, lad. I do not laugh at you but at that fool, Dufaux. He saw an opportunity to grab something he was not entitled to have, then when he was made aware that his ownership would be challenged, he fled, leaving the contested property behind. He would not stay and fight because he knew he could not win. Instead he preferred eternal darkness to the humility of surrendering to the light. That's humility as in the act of humbling oneself, Archie, not humility as in being humiliated. Although Dufaux probably saw it as the latter, there is a subtle difference. Personally, I am thankful that he is such a fool; that way his slipshod indoctrination was guaranteed to fail. ”
Archie thought he followed the explanation, although he bridled at being thought of as anyone's property. It made him feel like a disputed piece of land between two ancient estates, warred over by generations of two noble families. And if he did not rightly belong to Dufaux, then whose property was he?
“You belong to us, Archie,” Mykel answered, as if Archie had spoken. “You belong to the Light. But before you can come home to us, I must reverse the changes Dufaux has wrought in you.”
“Must I die again?”
“Eventually, at the end of your intended lifespan.”
Archie felt a glimmer of hope. He dared not allow himself to give it full rein in case it were snatched away again, but it lay there nonetheless, warm and comforting against his heart. It was so warm, he could almost feel that organ begin to beat again. “Do I understand you correctly, Mykel? Are you proposing - are you able - to give me back my life?”
“Exactly so, Archie. You were never meant to lose it in that way.”
“What must I do?”
“Ah, that is where the challenge lies.”
“Anything.” Archie felt tears at the back of his throat. His voice wavered. “I don't care how hard it is, I will do it.”
“You must believe in yourself, Archie Kennedy.”
“That is all. I know you, Archie. I have followed your life with interest from the beginning. And I know that believing in yourself is the hardest thing you have ever had or will ever have to do. I also know that you can do it, so you can rest assured that this is not an insurmountable task I have set you. What do you say, Archie?”
“Who are you, Mykel?”
“I am your guardian. You have never been alone, Archie. You never will be. I am there. I may not be able to keep bad things from happening, because I am not allowed to interfere, but you may always call on me for comfort. I hear you, and I understand.”
“When Jack Simpson molested me -”
“I heard your tears. You were not alone. Even when you thought you were.”
“When the French commandant took me -”
“I wish I had known you were beside me. It would have made it easier.”
“You almost did not need me. You have a wonderful resiliency, Archie. To endure so much, and then to soldier on, not knowing if you would ever see brighter days. That takes real fortitude. There was a time when I feared your courage had failed you. In El Ferrol. You seemed bent on self-destruction. At first, I think, it was a purely selfish action. And then your shipmates joined you and I saw that you were trying to speed the day when they could escape. That, too, took courage.”
The tears were rolling freely down Archie's cheeks now. He was hardly aware of them. He said, “How soon -? When will I be human again?”
“You cannot tell? You are human now.”
“Just like that?”
Mykel's voice echoed as if from the end of a long corridor. “Just like that.”
He was gone. With him had gone the light. Archie stood alone in the warehouse, shivering in the absence of Mykel's warmth. He stumbled toward the door.
Outside, daylight met his eyes. He stood still for a moment while he took his bearings. He recognized this square; it was near the harbor. He took one last look at the warehouse, then turned his steps toward the docks.
He turned at the sound of his name and saw Horatio running toward him. He waited until Horatio stopped and caught his breath before answering him.
“I was just on my way back to the Indy.”
“In that case you'd better hurry. Captain Pellew is threatening to sail without you.”
Archie said quietly, “I think perhaps he should.”
“What? What about last night? The enemy who cannot strike you at sea, only on land. Are you saying none of that was true?”
“It was true enough last night, Horatio. Inasmuch as it was ever true.”
“I do not understand you, Archie. What are you saying?”
“Look at me, Horatio. What do you see?”
His friend staked him to a long, penetrating stare. During the course of it his expression changed from one of annoyance to one of wonder.
“You look different. More alive. I don't understand, Archie. Why are you smiling?”
“Alive, Horatio. I'm alive!” He clasped Horatio's shoulders and all but spun him around. “Last night I was dead. This morning I am alive.”
“How could this be?”
“The enemy Dufaux warned me against was no enemy. I should never have feared him. Instead I should have run to him and embraced him the moment I knew he was looking for me. He gave me back my life, Horatio.” Archie took a deep breath, filled his lungs with sea air, and turned his face up to the sun. “I can breathe again. My heart beats again. I haven't eaten since forever and I am absolutely famished!”
“You will forgive me if I do not join you in wild abandon, Archie, but this is somewhat difficult to take in. Are you saying that the effects of the - for want of a better term - vampirism - have been reversed?”
“Totally. I am restored, Horatio. And I am glad for it, even if you are not.”
“I am glad, Archie. I am ecstatic -”
“If that is ecstasy, may I never see you when you are truly unhappy. I am sure I could not survive under that woefully baleful glare.”
“Archie, I have never seen you so giddy. Be that as it may, it behooves me to tell you that the Indefatigable is ready to sail, whether or not you are.”
Archie managed to damp his enthusiasm. “I want to sail with you, Horatio. I do. But not as a passenger. I have no place on the Indy now. My replacement has taken up his duties. Officially I should be on the Fortitude, but even she will have replaced me.”
“I have heard that she sails tomorrow, so you must be right.”
“Besides,” Archie continued as if Horatio had not spoken, “the Admiralty thinks me dead. I have no place on any British ship until I straighten out that mess. And you know how long things take to work their way through the Admiralty. I could be stranded here for months.”
“What will you do?”
“I will do what it takes to resume my naval career. If they propose to make me dance attendance for any length of time, I shall wait upon their decision from my father's house. I have not been home for a long time -”
“Archie, Captain Pellew wrote to your family that you were dead.”
“All the more reason to let them know the truth.” Archie sighed. “I am sorry, Horatio.”
“For what reason?”
“For putting everyone through this ordeal. You, Captain Pellew, the men of the Indefatigable, my family -”
“It is over, now, Archie. That is what matters. Will you be safe from Mr. Dufaux?”
Archie's breath caught. “I had not given him a thought until now. I pray so. Yes, I think I can withstand any further interference from that quarter.”
“You think? Archie, you must be certain sure you can withstand him. If he should try to repossess you -”
“I am stronger than you think, Horatio.”
“Yes,” his friend answered, looking at him fondly. “I believe you are.”
“Had you not better make haste? You would not want the Indy to sail without you.”
“What about your dunnage? It will be too late to put it ashore.”
“Keep it for me, Horatio. When next you make port in England, send it on to my family in London. I will make sure they know how to reach me.”
Horatio nodded. “I must go.”
They embraced quickly. Horatio took off at a run toward a waiting shoreboat. Archie watched until he was out of sight, then took stock of his situation. It was true, what he had told Horatio. He was absolutely famished. His first stop would have to be an establishment where he could get a decent breakfast. He turned out his pockets to see what coin he had on hand. An odd assortment of objects came to light: a small cloth sack, a silver paperknife, and a sharp, conical object that appeared to be made of gold. The cloth sack did not jingle when he shook it, thus dashing his hopes of finding any coin there. On the other hand it might contain paper currency. He opened it, only to find in it a fistful of damp sand. Disappointed, he shook it out. The sack itself, now that he examined it, was hardly fine enough to be employed as a purse. He should have known it would contain nothing of value.
Where had it come from? He had no recollection of it. How had it found its way into his pocket? As a joke, perhaps? So that he would think he had money when in actuality he had none? Had he carried a real purse, and had a thief, upon picking his pocket, skillfully substituted this in its stead? Whatever the reason, it was of no use to him now.
What to do? He had to eat, and soon, for he was becoming light-headed. He had no recollection of, nor use for, the other two objects either but, being of precious metals, they might fetch a good price from a pawnshop.
The owner of the nearest such shop examined both items carefully. “This paperknife is first-rate,” said he. “Very fine indeed. Well crafted of solid silver, with quality workmanship in the tooling. Are you certain you want to part with it?”
“Unfortunately, I must.”
The shopkeeper looked at him as if to ask why a young man in the uniform of an officer in His Majesty's Navy would seek to rid himself of such valuables. What could Archie say that would not cause the man to think him either an imbecile or a dangerous madman? Sir, I have been dead for the past week or so. During that time I seem to have acquired some objects which I now wish to dispose of. I cannot return them to their rightful owners because I have no memory of who those rightful owners might be. And besides, I need the money.
Instead he shrugged. “An officer's pay does not go far enough to cover all his expenses.” There, that was general enough to serve. Let the man believe that Archie had accumulated gambling debts or was keeping a woman. He nevertheless felt a blush rise to his cheeks with the lie.
Both the lie and the blush appeared to satisfy the shopkeeper, who said, “I cannot give you its full worth, of course, but I can match what you might get by selling it on the street. I think you will not be disappointed.” He named a sum that did not disappoint Archie at all. “As for the other item, it is most curious. I have never seen its like. It would appear to fit over the fingertip - see, it has a false nail. Unfortunately, this has been honed to such a point that it would be dangerous to wear as an adornment. Perhaps -” the man suddenly brightened, “yes, perhaps it is a tailor's device! For ripping out seams, you see?”
“What tailor could afford to have such a device fashioned out of gold?”
“Ah, young Sir, you have not had much truck with Portsmouth tailors or you would not speak in such a manner. I know of several whose prices could well afford them the means to have such a bauble crafted for them. How would a young gentleman like yourself have come by it, I wonder?”
For the life of him Archie could not remember. He only knew that he had turned out his pockets and there it was. Most curious. But, because the shopkeeper was waiting, he trotted out the reason he expected the man would find most agreeable.
“It came to me at cards, in lieu of coin. I could hardly say no. The man owed me. I did not ask where or how he obtained it.”
In the end the shopkeeper gave him an excellent price for it, both for its value as a curiosity and because he had determined that it was solid gold and not merely gilded. Archie left him, as well pleased with the transaction as he suspected the shopkeeper to be. The sum of money that had changed hands would take care of his immediate needs until he either straightened out his situation with the Admiralty or made his way home to his family. It would even enable him to redeem his new garments from a certain tailor's.
He made his way to a public house that advertised meals and ordered breakfast. While he waited for his food, Archie requested a sheet of writing paper and pen and ink from the serving maid and dashed off a quick note to his father, telling Lord Shelburne that he was alive and well and coming home. He said no more than that for in truth, the events of the past week were beginning to blur, as if someone were smoothing over his memories to make them more palatable to recall. When he left the establishment some time later, he remembered only that he had been very ill, and that the Indy had been forced to sail without him.
The tall, golden-haired man who watched him whispered, even though Archie could not hear him, “Go now, and heal. The time for memories will come later, when you can bear them. Go in peace, Archie Kennedy.”
Fortitude by Lorraine Jean