Word Count 1106
Disclaimer Not mine
Lies, Mistakes, and Paper
Horatio's body was warm and limp with the tatters of sleep. Archie could smell the brandy on his lips, it flowered into the room as Horatio breathed. His bare belly felt like silk against Archie's side, and his legs were pleasantly abrasive. The chill little room was not appealing, but Archie's bladder was very sure. Archie extricated himself with a sigh of real regret.
Left alone, Horatio gave a dramatic wuffle, and settled into a face up starfish position. Done with the pot, Archie hunted down his shirt and trousers. It took some time. The trousers were crumpled beside the hearth, and his shirt was cowering under the bed. He shrugged into them, but he stopped short of tucking the shirt in. Horatio might want him out of it again sometime soon after all. Hope, Archie felt, was a virtue.
But Horatio seemed content to savor the last of his sleep. His eyes were closed. The deep fringes of eyelashes rested on his cheeks. They reminded Archie of anemones, so beautiful. His to love. But if he stared too long, Horatio would wake. Better find something else to do.
The ink and quill were still on the little table. There was plenty of paper. More, certainly in the tidy stack, than Archie had seen since leaving home. Costly paper too, white and clean There was a little knife there, to trim the nib; a sweet little folding knife with a mother-of-pearl handle. These must belong to the Don himself. They were indoor things, they did not speak of death. They were delicate and fine, they had no reek of the shit and the earth where the Don had cast him.
The completed letter to Pellew sat, ready to go out. That was the easy one. He would be made glad, and the formal language that Archie had used would not delay his understanding or mute his joy.
The next letter would not be as easy. Archie sat down at the table, and drew the paper near. 'Dear Mother,' he began. And after a moment, he added 'And Father.'
Horatio had felt Archie leave the bed, but he was too drowsy to speak. He was witnessing another one of Archie's inexplicable gifts. Archie had brains, beauty, and courage. These were enough to drive Horatio to occasional envy. But Archie could also knock back spirits in amounts that most men would find absolutely poisonous. Drunk, Archie was just a little more stubborn than usual. And more bellicose. His sweetness and beauty were more apparent then too. He was just more, more somehow. He said lovely things, that he would have blushed to voice sober. That was all fine. But in the morning, while his luckless companions, (Horatio, in this instance,) were clutching their eye-balls with misery and regret, Archie rose up bouncing.
This morning, Horatio had a throbbing pain between his eyes, which seemed to be sending shards of lightning down his nose, with each beat of his heart. His mouth tasted like the dry loam where cats go to dig. The clock spoke. Seven dings. Ouch. But no need to get up yet. That was something. He watched Archie through his eyelashes, and the bed felt big and cool and very flat. Horatio dozed.
He was drifting in senseless thoughts, when a knock came at the door. He saw Archie's head come up, and his mouth draw into a grim line. Archie, was not yet healthy enough for surprises. The door opened, and Archie stood. Framed in the door, back-lit by the hall window, Horatio could see the Duchess of Warfdale. She was wearing her usual light wide frock, decorated with some sort of small unrealistic flowers. She looked small, and out of place, and very clean. She was carrying her usual flat bottomed basket. As he was himself, completely nude, Horatio could not rise to his feet, like a decent man. He could only feign sleep. He let his head roll toward Archie, as if by accident. But the look on Archie's face arrested all further thought. Archie was drawn up, his body tight as Horatio had ever seen it. He was staring at the Duchess in drop mouthed astonishment. A sly sideways glance revealed the same look on her face. It was a look of mingled fear and recognition. Neither of them looked at all happy.
“I—here.” She blurted. She set the basket down in the doorway, and she fled. Archie stood, frozen behind the table, with the chair backed up to his knees. Horatio could hear the sound of her shoes clattering away down the stairs.
There was no point in faking sleep now. Archie always knew anyway. Horatio sat up.
“Do you know the Duchess of Warfdale?”
Archie came and sat on the end of the bed. He sat on Horatio's feet, but the warm and kindly weight was welcome. Archie was recovering his composure, but he looked grim.
“Yes, Horatio, I do know the Duchess of Warfdale. I also know that woman.”
“W-what?” Horatio had a sudden sink in his middle, as if he were being pushed off a cliff.
Watching his face intently, Archie seemed to know. He reached out and took gentle hold of Horatio's ankle.
“Let me explain.” Archie said.
The explanation was brief, and to Horatio, brutal. Archie did not know about the dispatches.
“Are you absolutely sure?” Horatio asked stupidly. He had given the dispatches to...Oh God.
“My word on it, Horatio,” Archie said “She's an actress.”
Horatio was dressing at great speed.
“I have to go Archie. I have to speak to her...Oh God.”
“Do you want me to come with you?”
Horatio was sore tempted. But no. He shook his head. “I wish you could. I would feel better with you by my side. I always do, Archie. But I had better do this alone. I need to....right this.”
Archie nodded. He was rummaging through the basket now. “ She brought us a book. Oh a book, Horatio.”
He was holding it to his nose, and he was weeping. He was weeping in the old Archie way, no tears. Through everything, Horatio had only seen tears in Archie's eyes once. That had been the horrible night that he had found Archie emaciated, in fever, and thought him dying. Surely this was a sign of health.
Archie opened the book. “There is a note here. Oh. Horatio, if you want to catch her you had better hurry. She is leaving today for Oporto.”