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March/April, 1802.
by Rio, dancing on the sand (hotspur18)
at July 23rd, 2006 (03:17 pm)



The days merged into one, a haze of opium sleep and pain, of movement and stifling rooms, brief moments of air and light, words that swirled into drugged visibility to hang in the air, to be memorised like poetry, and one voice above others, to be hated and yet listened to, dragging him into a reality he did not want, forcing unpalatable truths upon him amidst the movement that had become his world, the passage of a ship across smooth waters and the slight counter-sway of his bed against the walls of his cabin.

He did not know what ship they were on, or how the captain had been persuaded to take a man who could so evidently and so soon become a corpse, but that had ceased to matter sometime around his fifth emergence into painful reality, as his ribs contracted in uncontrollable spasms of pain that left him coughing for air and begging for more drugs, while the man who had become as constant a presence as Death in this half-life reinforced the things that the opium so briefly and gloriously made him forget - the things he was returning to against his will.

Alive.

Disgraced.

Disowned.

Alone.

Archie was not, in his more lucid moments, dealing well with the latest twist that fate had seen fit to inflict him with. Death and disgrace, he could have and intended to have borne. Life and disgrace, however, was something he had never contemplated, nor sought, and he was finding it impossible to bear. His companion was not helping.

John Evans had gone from assuring him that he would be handed over to Guido as soon as they reached England, to developing his own plans to bring down the Admiralty, and he fully intended Archie to be a part of those plans. Archie realised that he was to be kept away from everyone, and most carefully indeed from the doubtlessly vengeful Conte, and while part of him was relieved that he would never have to deal with Guido's fury, the rest of him longed to be given the chance to explain, to be understood, to be given a second chance.

//Guido, you're probably wondering why I didn't let you kill Sawyer for me, and cursing my stupidity in not finishing the job. Oh, God, I wish I had! I wish I'd been able to confess to the truth in that courtroom, and I wish that I could tell you now that I didn't bungle something you could have done so easily.//

But the Conte, Evans had told him, was from all reports furious, bitterly regretting his gift of the seal, and forbidding Kennedy's name - or Hornblower's - to be mentioned in his presence. It was why Evans had changed his plans, why Archie had once more become a pawn to be used as those around him deemed justifiable.

//Guido, why didn't you believe in me? You said I was your friend - didn't that count for anything?//

//I wanted to explain...//

Now, it appeared that this option was not to be.

//I'm sorry, Horatio.//

Archie still believed that Guido would have helped him, had he only known the truth. Whatever Archie might have decided he wanted, the reticent Italian would have done his best to ensure that it happened. But he either did not know the truth, or did not care, or did not believe - whatever it was, he did not want any further involvement with either of the former lieutenants, alive or dead.

There was only one other person who could possibly care whether he was dead, disgraced, or alive, and that option was - not available. Archie didn't want Horatio to know that he was alive, not while the penalty for his 'confession' still loomed large on the horizon, but the thought of what his horribly honourable friend was now suffering was unbearable. The grief of loss was something they had each known might have to be dealt with one day - but /this/ loss - oh, Christ, no!

//What have I done?//

He had given up his name for Horatio without thinking of what that might cost his friend, and now he had to live with the knowledge of what he had done.

//If our positions had been reversed…//

Well, they nearly had. That was why he had walked into that godforsaken courtroom.

//Why did it have to be a choice? Why did they make it into a choice?//

It was a choice because he had made it so. Believing himself to be dying, he had thought there was nothing to lose. But living - dear God, in living he had lost /everything/. Horatio. Honour. His name, his reputation, his whole reason for being had been taken from him in the gesture he had truly believed to be his last.

//Why? Why did you save me? What the hell am I alive for?//

Suddenly, ridiculously, he would have given everything he had left to hear Pellew shouting at him for all the things he had done wrong. He tried desperately to summon up the Commodore's voice from the recesses of his mind, but only a single phrase came back to him, over and over.

"Take this man down!"

They were all lost to him. Horatio into his new position as commander and his grief, Pellew into his sense of right and honour, Guido - well, who knew where Guido was anyhow? Archie and Horatio had chosen to send him away, to cut off all contact. The Conte probably didn't even care about Kingston - his ban on mentioning them had probably stemmed from that day at Portsmouth, a mistake to be pushed into the annals of his past, another unspoken in the records of his service to the Crown.

//Rubbish, Archie. Does a man save your life at the cost of his brother's because...//

//He hardly knew who he was himself. What did he care whether the man was his brother or not?//

One phrase, though, stuck obstinately in his mind, floating across his vision in the Conte's spiky, loopless handwriting; a phrase from a letter written long ago, back when it was Guido who had believed himself to be an outcast, and Archie had provided the advice which had saved him from it.

//'Whatever you may wish for your future, it is yours, if I can provide it.'//

If Guido could be convinced to hear the truth. If Archie could stay alive long enough to get to England, and get word to the spy commander, then something might yet be salvaged...

The ship rocked. Archie dozed, lulled by drugs and the familiar motion of the waves, surrounded by the song of creaking timber, clinging to his hope like a spar amidst the seas of pain and confusion.

//If ever you have need of me, wherever you are...I will come, no matter what.//

"No matter what," Archie wheezed into the dancing air, watching the dust motes sparkle and flash as the sun reflected from the waves into his cabin. "No matter what..."

Time swirled into the sunlight, a tangible passing that came with water and some kind of broth that Evans was awkwardly trying to feed him, the abrasive feel of tin against the inside of his lips and the bone-jarring clash of a horn spoon against one of his upper teeth, reverberating through his whole body and bringing the black silence back again for a while.

Waking to the all-consuming pain in his side and back, pain that was catching his breath up and sending it creaking out of his body in attempts to regain it that sounded more like groans, or would have had he possessed enough air to make them loud enough.

Halting efforts, catching in his throat, and a voice that must have been his own, but did not sound like it, whispering nonsense and poetry

//Annihilating all that's made...//

into the greenish gloom of the evening.

*

Water and silence, the creaks of his labouring lungs and the wood surrounding him sounding as one. Archie floated on lakes of serenity, seeming to feel the texture of each wave as the ship moved through it.

//To pluck bright honour from the pale-faced moon//

he heard someone say, as the ship passed into night. Dolphins leapt, clothed in phosphorus, across the room, glimmering in blue-green light and laughing with their wide mouths as they passed through his cabin walls. Archie smiled back at them, hearing their high-pitched cries louder than Evans' lilting voice, and seeing the arched bodies move with a grace that words on a page could never achieve.

"Mr. Kennedy. Archie, can you hear me?"

//Or dive into the bottom of the deep, Where fathom-line could never touch the ground//

More water, both on his face and reflected in moonlight on the walls, a room filled with mermaid-illumination, palest silver flowing across time itself. Water in his mouth, in his eyes, drowning in moonlight and the pure clarity of cool liquid.

//And pluck up drowned honour by the locks//

Who would pluck him out now? Archie imagined hands reaching for him, down into the depths of his moon-sodden room, and finding nothing, passing through his body like vapour, grasping at a phantom and reaching up hands that streamed with iridescent liquid, phosphorous and moonlight mingled in an endless flow of saltless tears.

"I have need," he rasped painfully, each word broken by his desperate breaths, "I have need..."

And the uncertain, fumbling hands that were his only guideline to reality tipped more bitter liquid down his throat, sending him back down through a new realm of colours into the dreamless night.

*

VI

Is it worth a tear, is it worth an hour,
To think of things that are well outworn?
Of fruitless husk and fugitive flower,
The dream foregone and the deed forborne?



Late April, 1802

Guido shot up in bed, heart threatening to choke him, for what felt like the millionth time that night. It was, he reflected ruefully, probably the millionth time in the last two weeks that this had happened, regular as clockwork, inevitable as taxes, and right on cue.

Say goodnight to Hal, go to bed, fall asleep, and dream. Wake in a panic. Go back to sleep. Dream the same thing. Wake in a panic. Go back to sleep...

Guido swore. Then he extricated himself from the sweat-damp sheets, and staggered over to his prie-dieu, picking up the little rosary with sleep-numb fingers, and muttering prayers.

"Ave Maria, gratia plena, dominus tecum, benedicta tua in mulieribus..."

"Guid'?"

"Hal." Guido got to his feet, reaching for a dressing gown. "Are you -"

"I keep dreaming." Hal ran a hand over his sleep-crumpled face. "Again and again - Jesus!" He shuddered.

"So do I. And I was there."

Buckland's suicide was not what replayed in Guido's dreams, but he believed quite firmly that it was what had unsettled him to the point where he was forced to relive an event that had never happened over and over again.

"We both were," said Hal, and Guido frowned.

"Hal, what exactly are you dreaming about?"

"Toulouse. Only - you don't get there in time. You're still wounded. He dies. And I -"

"Shoot Lorenzo. You shoot him, and we -"

"Try to stop the bleeding and can't - and no-one comes. No-one else is there. And then -"

"We are left with two corpses, and still no-one comes, and it's cold, and dark...I am dying..." Guido shook his head abruptly, dislodging the spell of their words. "This is impossible. People don't share dreams."

"I told you once -"

"And I told you I don't believe it!" Guido's voice rose, sharper than he had intended, and he clamped his lips together, shivering as he drew the heavy silk dressing gown tightly around his body.

"Guido, I know you don't, but -"

"But you do, and now we are sharing dreams, and you want me to listen, and - argh. Very well."

"What happened in Russia?" asked Hal bluntly, changing the direction of his attack, and Guido blinked.

"Russia?" he repeated slowly. He raised his arms, letting the heavy sleeves fall back, displaying the small gold studs embedded in his skin, concealing the lethal little poniards. "Well, I had these -"

"Yes, yes, I know. But - something happened. You met me in France, and you were - content. At peace. Yourself again, and knowing it. I felt it, I felt something happen - Guido, shut up, I don't care if you believe it or not, just tell me yes or no if I'm right. It was in the second week of the second month, I think, and I felt you - there. In my mind. As if - as if it was like we were before, remember, when we really could know where..."

"Where the other was." Guido's voice was dreamlike, floating in the darkness of his room as though he were in a trance. "Whether there was danger, or pain, what we were thinking about..."

"What we felt about things before we said it aloud..."

"Two halves. Boulestin hated it..."

"What did you find in Russia?" Hal asked again, and his voice was softer now, the repetition like a chanted response in this rhythm of words that was arising between them.

"A monk. A mystic. He told me..."

//Your love is not yours alone to give. Remember that, before you open up your heart once more. For with that comes your last wall, and all you can grant is pain, should you not have destroyed that edifice.//

"He told me that my love - my love was not mine alone to give."

"And that helped?"

Silence. The trees had leaves on them now, brushing against Guido's always half-open window, a susurration that spoke of things just beyond their grasp in the growing pallor of dawn. Finally, Guido answered, his voice as soft and fleeting and ghostly as the touches of leaves on glass. "No. Not that. Other things."

"What was he like?"

Guido smiled, remembering Borodino, and the ornate house, the wealthy man in silks and brocades and furs, more elaborate and rich than even Hal could imagine.

"He was...a little world made cunningly," he began, using Donne's words as the two of them always had, their own private once-upon-a-time that Guido had, remembering, taught Archie on the long road to Toulouse. "Wealthy, in the way that I think Russian princes were, long ago...an eccentric. He had a room where all the flowers were white, and he kept white doves, white birches, arching up like tree-skeletons, except alive, curving across a glass roof so thickly that you couldn't really see the sky...like being buried in tree roots. Pools of water, and silver fish, swimming through lily stems, and the white of the lily flowers...I've never seen anything like it. It was peaceful, and quiet - and frightening, at first. I went to him because I was told there was a holy man who lived there...I didn't know it would be Grigor. He's - very earthbound, very fond of food, and wine, and women - his earthly pleasures. The first thing he told me was that I was confusing mysticism with asceticism. Then he offered me hashish."

"Did you take it?"

Guido nodded. "I didn't realise what he was telling me then - that he knew. I just thought - I wanted to be cured. I felt so - distanced, detached...as though I were in a boat, drifting further and further away from everything - you, our work, England...and I was desperate. Of course, I didn't connect..."

"/Hashishim/," said Hal softly, spellbound, and Guido nodded.

"They used it to go into the assassin's trance - I never did. I learnt how to without...but when it started happening without my volition, I didn't know how to break it. Grigor...taught me. Over weeks. Trances and drugs and mind control, about how to let down mental barriers and put them up, how to read past what people are saying and go deeper...I came to love that room, and the fish. Everything else became too colourful, after a while, and I needed that purity. That and the snow, and the clouds...I remembered. I remembered how I could feel your mind against mine, how it grew stronger over time, so that I could reach out and /touch/ with my own thoughts...he taught me a new way of distancing, one in which I could think, focus, come back to myself. That room became a place in my mind - purity, clarity, calm...and I could sit at a table with guests speaking three different languages that I had to follow at the same time, find that place within me, and - wham. There. Slow and perfect and no drugs, no assassin's trance of detachment - there. The first time I did it - I brushed against your mind. As if you were already there. That must have been when you felt me."

"Yes. It was - different. You're right. As though - it was a mistake, you didn't mean to, but that /peace/! Guido, I - I associated that with you, years ago, even during the cholera, but then you went to Deveraux, and after that -"

"It left me when I stopped grieving openly," Guido admitted. "You all thought it was part of the grief, but it wasn't, it was different, it was - I had lost my peace, Hal, and I was wild without it, desperate to have it back."

There were little lines around his eyes and mouth, these days, and Hal knew that the thick dark hair glinted with the odd strand of silver when the sun caught it. For Guido, time could not stand still as it would for his dead, but marched mercilessly on, adding a flicker of uncertainty here, a moment of hesitation there, and recording it all in new creases at the sides of the tired eyes, little brackets at the corners of the long, amused mouth.

"You don't blame Horatio, any more." Hal did not know where that had come from, but he said it anyway, letting the words tumble out of his mouth in tired relief.

"Did I ever?" Guido sounded surprised, and a long way away, /Russia?/ wondered Hal, and he had to blink a couple of times before focusing once more, the lines smoothing away as he brought his attention to bear upon Hal.

"I thought - he sent the note - and you -"

"I?" Guido was looking at him now with what Hal had once described as the 'insect-pinning' gaze, and he fought the urge to look away, or leave.

"That morning. You were - I heard you."

"Ah." Guido's hard eyes softened. "I blamed him for not being something that I imagine, now that I am calmer, Archie would have given a great deal to avoid him ever becoming - so that was not exactly just. I blamed him for not writing to me before, when he so obviously could. I blamed him for being human, and then I blamed myself for not being human. It was - an unpleasant time, and the only thing I can say in mitigation is that I did not know, then, the things Buckland told me."

"And that you've been avoiding telling me. I could work it out, Guido, but -"

"Please don't. If you /can/ tell my thoughts, Hal, do me the courtesy of waiting for permission. Remember what I told you? Buckland told me that aboard the ship, Archie had a chance. That he refused. He said - walking into the courtroom was what killed him."

"Then he /knew/!"

Guido nodded, bleakly. "He knew. He knew /exactly/ what he was doing. He would have known he was dying before ever he came up with the idea of taking the blame, and he used it."

Hal was silent for a long moment, and then he ran his hands over his face and still-short hair, blowing out air heavily between his fingers.

"Jesus. Jesus Christ. What the hell did he think -"

"He didn't think," Guido repeated patiently, "He knew."

"He lied because he was dying. Not the other way around. He - my God. Guido, that's - I heard what you said, that night at Buckland's, but I didn't think -" Hal gave up, shaking his head in incredulity.

"No. And if Buckland knew he was dying -"

"Then so did Horatio. Archie must not have told him what he was planning, and just -" Hal looked angry, hurt, and rather as if he were imagining the situation a little too vividly. "I'm going to resurrect the little bastard so I can kick him to death," he said pithily. "And if you ever consider imitation of his decision -"

Guido snorted. "If you've added resurrection to your skills, Hal, you should have told me before. No, we're still missing something, bits and pieces, things that no-one knew...we know now that the court-martial was fixed, that it was supposed to be Hornblower, but we need to know why - and I don't think this was just about Sawyer. So, we need to keep talking to people, we need to keep finding out opinions, we need the original damn transcripts - where the hell /are/ they, by the way? - and I -"

"You?"

Guido's mouth twisted. "I really, really need the 'Retribution' to dock," he said grimly. "The poor sod's coming back to peace - all that sacrifice laid upon his shoulders, and no career either, now."

"Mm. What are you going to tell him?"

Guido stared. "Well," he began very slowly, "I thought I'd start by telling him the truth, and see where we went from there..."

"What is the truth?"

"Asked jesting Pilate?" Guido's mouth quirked upwards. "Will you stay for an answer?"

"Will /he/?"

Guido's shoulders moved in a restless shrug. "I don't know. I hope so. I have to tell him that I'm trying."

"One thing I don't understand here, it must be said..."

"Mm?"

"Why legally. Why all this case studying, all this looking for precedents and trying to overturn the court-martial's decision?"

"Because," Guido said very slowly, "it shouldn't have /been/ a court-martial."

"Yes, you keep saying that, but what difference does it make?"

Guido sighed, and rubbed his hands over his head. "A court of inquiry is set up to investigate into events to /determine/ whether a court-martial should be held. So - ostensibly, I suppose, that was what they did. Except - look at the dates. They've built the gallows before they even start taking testimonies, it's referred to as a court-martial throughout - there's no record of what was found - /other/ than Buckland's little rant, that is...it doesn't make any legal sense."

Hal made a small sound of comprehension, and drank more coffee. "So - what about Archie's confession?"

"What do you think?"

"I think he lied through his teeth, but that's beside the point. They weren't after him, were they?"

"No." Guido looked annoyed, frowning into his cup of coffee as though it held the key to the secrets of creation. "But you know that."

"Yes, but - Guido, you're /still/ worried about Hornblower, aren't you? You think they're going to find another way of breaking him!"

Guido shook his head. "I think they're going to keep /trying/," he said very dryly. "I do not think they will succeed. But I do have to warn him - and warn him of what I am doing, as well, because should I succeed in bringing this case to a point where St. Vincent will look at it, Hornblower will have to testify."

Hal winced. "It isn't going to be good...Guido, have you ever thought...?"

"About what?"

"That what we did. What we learnt, when we were younger, and what you did in Russia...that it was really, really stupid?"

"Oh. Well, yes. But Hal - whatever it is that I have been learning to do, and that you think comes from that stupid ritual - I don't think it was because of that. I think we could have learnt to do this anyway, that you focused on making it work /because/ of that damn drinking ceremony, but that really it had nothing to do with it. I accept, though, that sometimes - yes. You are correct. I simply do not agree with your reasoning."

"And now you're going to go back to denying -"

"Well, I can't, if you think about it. I just - I didn't want -"

"Too close?"

"Much too. Didn't we - weren't there ways that we could -"

"After a while, we could, yes, but it was easy. Now - I can't tell when I need to, and then sometimes it's like being mentally deafened - all I can sense is you."

"When something is wrong?"

"Or right. And you?"

Guido shook his head. "No, it's not like you seem to feel, I can't tell where you are or what's going on...but sometimes - sometimes I know what you're thinking, or what you're doing...as though I /am/ you, for a split second, or as though you're telling me something face to face. But it's never when I try to get it, never when I need it, it's stupid times, unimportant times...actually, really annoying times."

"Hm. I felt you in Spain, but since...there was something when Buckland died, but it's all muddled otherwise. Thoughts, impressions..." Hal grimaced, and they said in unison,

"Dreams."

"Maybe we need your mystic here."

"Grigor Ivanovich? Doubt he'd come."

"You could try him?"

Guido sighed. Neither of them were getting any sleep at all, and the dreams were really, really beginning to get on his nerves.

"All right. All right, I'll write to him." He looked at the clock, and groaned. "We have two options, Trevelyan. Claim that it's morning, or try for more sleep. Which is it to be?"

"Morning," said Hal definitely, trying hard not to think about the dream, of Guido sliding across a bloodstained floor in a futile gesture of protection, of his own bullet catching Lorenzo between the eyes. "It's morning."

"Hal?"

"Si?"

"Can we - can we not talk about this again? Just until - until I can bring a case before a court? It is hard enough to think as it is, and I don't want..."

"No, I understand. All right. But Guido - after you clear Kennedy's name?"

"Mm?"

"We are going to talk. And not all the wriggling in the world will get you out of it."

Guido's answer was to make a truly horrible face. "Go away, Hal. And ask Benson to get a bath going for me, would you?" He sniffed suspiciously at himself. "I stink."

"Yes, you do," Hal agreed, and escaped before the hastily-grabbed hairbrush really did hit him in the nose.

*

"I love toast, I love toast, I love toast..." Hal sang as he waved pieces of bread vaguely and somewhat optimistically at the fire. "Oh, lovely lovely toast, come to meee..."

Guido came into the room, towelling his hair, wrapped in the fur-lined robe he had brought back from Russia and looking rather confused.

"Oh," he said. "I thought you were torturing a cat. What is that /smell/?"

"I dropped cheese in the fire."

"So you did." Guido peered at the cheese-covered coals with interest. "My goodness. Hal, the bread actually has to get /near/ the fire if you want it to toast."

"But then it falls /in/ the fire...oh, well, then I could have cheese on -"

Guido's hand came out, smelling of sandalwood, and clamped over Hal's mouth. "Do not finish that sentence, please."

"Sorry." Guido's stomach was continually unsettled these days, his sudden immersion in Naval case law proving to be a most effective appetite depressant. The mental image of coal-covered burnt cheese on singed bread was probably not what he needed this early in the morning. "Want some coffee? I'll let you do the toast," Hal added with spurious generosity, provoking a snort of amusement.

"Thank you. Who made the coffee?" Guido, unwisely, gulped at his cup before Hal could answer, and gagged slightly. "Never mind. I'll rephrase. Who the hell let you near the coffee beans this morning?"

"The Academics are coming over with the latest reports," said Hal unrepentantly, swigging out of his own cup with only a faint grimace. "I thought you could use..."

"A translator? A whip? A large dog with enormous teeth - here, toast. Eat it."

"I'm going to put /butter/ on it," said Hal in the long-suffering tones that suggested Guido had all the taste sophistication of a five-year-old. "/Then/ I'll eat it - are the Acs driving you mad, then?"

"They've drawn Addington's attention. For good reasons -" he held up the toasting fork, bread still impaled on it, to forestall Hal's inevitable groan, "- but you know the reasons will not stop him from seeing too much."

"Jesus, you have to be all protective of 'em, don't you? Anyone else would -"

"Have thrown them to the wolves of society's dictats? Not my style. Nor yours, I had thought?" Guido threw the enquiry out lightly, turning his attention back to the bread, but Hal answered the seriousness of the question, and not the tone it was asked in.

"No, nor mine. The pillory is excessive, and imprisonment worse - I agree with you. Besides, they are our one link to a world we need."

"I thought you liked them?"

"I do. I do, very much. I was - an idiot, at first. I thought..."

"Hal, my dear, it will come as a terrible blow to your ego, but you are not /universally/ irresistible."

"Well, no. Besides, they are - "

"Faithful, I think, is the word you are looking for," said Guido gently.

Hal nodded, and bit into his butter-laden toast gleefully, mumbling through crumbs -

"'Nyway. 'M all right about things now. Did I tell you about that place they took me to?"

"Do I /want/ you to?"

"Well, you've been there, too, but -" Hal snorted with laughter. "I honest-to-God thought they were women."

Guido, about to take a bite of toast, paused with his mouth open. "You -" He was lost for words. "You thought - you - they - oh good God!" He laid the toast down, laughing. "I would have paid /money/ to see your reaction, my friend!"

"They hated it." Hal was suddenly serious. "The Academics, I mean, not - I thought - I thought that was their world, but - they hated it."

"I imagine they did."

"What happened to them? Why are they here, working for you? I know it's none of my business, and I've never asked, but -"

"They were at Oxford. In order to avoid a scandal, they were merely sent down - I forget on what pretext. Conduct unbecoming, or its equivalent, I would have thought. They came to London, and took on odd jobs - translation, copying...tried to hide. They got that house, down by the river, and - well, no-one really goes there. So they were safe."

"But you went there? Or Deveraux?"

"I did. I was looking for a man - you can imagine why - and I was...it was not a good year. I had too many pieces of paper in a few months, and I had not yet met Flynn, so I was not keeping up with training. I went to an alehouse, looking for something - information, someone to bribe...and I was too tired to realise I had been marked as having money. I got hit on the head and robbed. I know, I know, the great assassin, coshed by a common thief - you can imagine what Deveraux had to say about /that/! In any case, the Academics were trawling that night - they find things down there that people want lost, and make a good profit from giving them back to their rightful owners...they found me. Didn't ask any questions, didn't - they were good to me. So I began to pay them to help me with the codes, and after a while - they were good enough that they could earn all the money they needed, just from that."

Hal nodded, looking at the bony, patrician face in the firelight, and seeing instead the almost-fragility of Guido at nineteen, too thin and rangy, not yet grown into his wide shoulders and long legs, in the days before he learnt how to shield his emotions along with his hooded eyes. It would have been a very young man, not so far from that boy, that the Academics had found as they trawled the Thames, and he felt a sudden rush of gratitude towards whatever quirk in their nature had kept them kindly enough disposed towards humankind, that they would willingly pick up the flotsam and jetsam of the sodden populace, and give it shelter.

"I suppose I owe them, then," he said, and took the last piece of toast from the fork, buttered it, and shoved it into Guido's mouth.

"Mmff!"

"Eat that, and I'll fry some bacon," Hal bargained, getting to his feet. "You need to get dressed, o sybaritic fur-clad one. You remind me of some tribe or other, what's the one? No, it's a sect, they believe in ascetic nakedness..."

"The Digambaras," said Guido, swallowing his mouthful of toast. He looked amused. "I was rather hoping to look like a Russian lord."

"Didn't know the diggy things were a Russian sect," said Hal cheerfully, and went off to raid the kitchen, leaving a considerably more settled-feeling Guido to find himself more suitable attire.

He felt a good deal less settled a few minutes later, after throwing on some clothes, when he went into Hal's study and found his poetry book open on his friend's desk. About to storm into the kitchen, ready even to brave Hal frying bacon, and demand an explanation, he took a deep breath, and looked at what Hal might have been reading.

It was not what he had been reading. It was instead a new entry, carefully copied out in Hal's clearest writing, the beautiful copperplate that they had both learnt from one of their brief tutors, before their exploits drove away yet another ill-timed attempt of Guido's father to give them a classical education. Guido knew the poem, remembered being captivated by it some years before, but had never committed it to paper - perhaps, he thought now, because it might have proved an ill omen; perhaps because there had been no cause.

Chopped about, missing segments, adverbs changed, it conveyed more of Hal's state of mind now than it did Pope's skill, and Guido read the altered lines in some amazement, not having guessed how deeply Hal's feelings ran, and knowing that this was why the book had been left for him to find, Hal using another's words to say what he could not.

"Is it, in Heav'n, a crime to love too well?
To bear too tender or too firm a heart,
To act a lover's or a Roman's part?
Is there no bright reversion in the sky
For those who greatly think, or bravely die?

What can atone (O ever-injured shade!)
Thy fate unpitied, and thy rites unpaid?
No friend's complaint, no kind domestic tear
Pleased thy pale ghost, or graced thy mournful bier.
By foreign hands thy dying eyes were closed,
By foreign hands thy decent limbs composed,
By foreign hands thy humble grave adorn'd,
By strangers honour'd, and by strangers mourn'd!
What tho' no friends in sable weeds appear,
Grieve for an hour, perhaps, then mourn a year,
And bear about the mockery of woe
To midnight dances, and the public show?

So peaceful rests, without a stone, a name,
What once had beauty, titles, wealth, and fame.
How loved, how honour'd once, avails thee not,
To whom related, or by whom begot;
A heap of dust alone remains of thee,
'Tis all thou art, and all the proud shall be!"

Without thinking, Guido picked up the pen that lay beside the new page. "I have sent to Angelo for arrangements as to a memorial," he wrote at the end of Hal's copy, abandoning the careful script of his youth for his own upright spikes of impatience. "He will at least have a stone, and the di Cesares will keep and honour his name, though his own family choose not. Strangers though we are, we can at least grant him that much dignity. Perhaps the words I have chosen will only mean something to us, but at least they will have meaning to those who were his friends, and the generations who will follow and honour his name accordingly."

"In Memoriam.

Lt. Archie Kennedy 1777 - 1802

Warrior, brother, friend.

The heavens hold firm
The walls of thy dear honour."

Guido's eyes glittered black as he laid down the pen. "I may be a stranger," he whispered, "But I mourn, and I honour. And it will be far more than a year before I cease to do either of those things."

*

Opiates were a new pain, now, when withheld, an itch on the tip of Archie's awareness that he could never quite shake. He slipped into imaginings of his own body, laid out and flayed under the knives of the surgeons, a palette of demonstration that still pulsed blood. He closed his eyes at night, and saw his lungs, labouring against the air he could never quite draw in, imagined the valves bisected, opened to the air. At times, he imagined that he could feel the gap in his ribs, that the stitches were rubbing against the sawn-off ends of bone, that if he reached his hand up, he would be able to press inwards to where Clive had sewn his lung up, and feel the silk threads beneath the cover of his skin.

Opium dreams...

He lay on a table, awake and frozen, while Evans carefully removed his skin to display the tendons in his arm to a crowd of students.

He hung from a yardarm, and the weights were on his chest, not his legs, so that the wind caught at him and pulled him from side to side, yet he felt no pressure around his neck, only the dead heaviness of the lead tied beneath his arms.

Death and dissection, just as had been promised, and all for him.

In the few moments, briefer and more fleeting these days, when he emerged from the drugged haze that was his only craving now, he realised that he was no longer on the ship, that the walls had changed and stabilised, that the sun hit each spot of peeling paper at exactly the same time each day. The ache in his chest intensified, as he wondered if he would ever see the rippling reflections of water again, or feel the gentle movement that was to him a firmer base than land.

He heard Evans moving about in other rooms, heard him talking, sometimes to other people who answered, sometimes to himself, or to Archie, who refused to respond, the only defiance left to him.

"The Admiralty has..."

"You must..."

"Name struck..."

"Chronicle...."

//No and no and no// thought Archie grimly, holding onto the dreams as being a happier alternative, preferring to watch himself laid open beneath a surgeon's knife than to endure the all-too-real pain of Evans's words. //Not for you. Not for anyone. I have given all I have, and there is no more//

When Evans forced him into wakefulness, he answered with silence or with words that meant nothing to anyone but him, a jumble of poetry and philosophy that fled across his eyesight, his own familiar scrawl mingled with the Conte's black spikes.

//I am a little world made cunningly...//

//Start with a once upon a time, says Guido in Toulouse, fighting pain as he tries to decipher codes, and by the time he has finished even Horatio is laughing.//

"Go and catch a falling star," he instructed Evans after a particularly long diatribe on how Archie isn't even interested in what is being done, and Evans withheld the opium for an agonising night of searing breaths and harsh realities of the true state of his existence.

But he greeted Evans in the morning with a smile and Marvell, and it teaches his

/saviour? captor?/

that nothing can stop the storytelling, even if the man cannot recognise it for what it is.

"Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less, Withdraws into its happiness," he informed Evans on the third day of land, and kept his word, withdrawing and retreating into the shadowy realms where no-one could follow him.

//I am a little world made cunningly...//

And entire unto itself, whether the veins be laid bare or no.

Opium dreams...

Watching his nerves laid bare from shoulder to wrist, the surgeon demonstrating how they were wired directly to his skull, his fingers moved like those of a marionette as the scalpel ran along each slender wire of pain.

Looking down to see his side gashed open, the heart inside pulsing a bloodless beat in time to the touch of metal on nerve-endings and the throbbing in his brain.

//Get with child a mandrake root...//

Day passed into night, dreams into the dark sleep of exhaustion, and the world, it seemed, swung and sung downwards on its axis into a sunless land.