Word Count 880
A Thing With Feathers
Hotspur at sea
The man in red made a final remark. He drawled it down his long nose with an insolence that made Horatio's fists clench. And he swept from the room, ducking his head at the door, so that Horatio did not even have the satisfaction of watching him crack his stupid French head on the lintel. Bush followed, ducking himself, with the expertise of years at sea.
Horatio let out his pent breath, tight chested with anger. The silence throbbed around him. He would have to bring William back, of course, and soothe the insult. Any insult to the ship was a blow to William. It was true that there was a canvas curtain. And true the first lieutenants quarters were small. But they were as clean and tidy as any man could make them. William Bush was incapable of squalor, by land or sea. And even had he left his gear adrift, which he had not, there was so little gear. Alone in the world, and after so long on half-pay, Bush owned little.
So there was that to do.
And Horatio had to find out what this man Cotard really knew, what he intended. The mistrust festered in the air, dangerous as fire. It must be resolved. He could see it in the faces of the crew, in Styles and Matthews, honest faces he knew as well as his own in the glass. He could see it in the muffled misery of Orreck and Hammond. They did not know what right was yet, but they felt the wrongness anyway. Hotspur was not a happy ship.
Hammond. There was another thing. Young Hammond was struggling. With time and attention he could learn what the older men had to teach. Bush, Prowse, even Matthews could teach young Hammond his trade. The boy was bright enough, just somewhat timid. He might do well, in time. But there was so little time. Horatio knew, with an internal squirm that Sir Edward would know just how to handle a lad like Hammond. He would inspire him, bring out the best in him. He had done that for Horatio, once. But Horatio had no idea where to begin.
And he had to write to Maria. It would be churlish not to do so, after all she had done for him. He let out another sigh, looser now. So much to do. The anger had faded now, and underneath was an ocean of weariness. Just for a moment then-- he lowered his head to his desk, the wood cool and smooth beneath his cheek. God his head ached-- had been aching ever since they left the dockside. He rested so, head down behind his folded arms, soothing darkness, just for a moment.
So much to do-- so much.
The tap at the door was respectful, appropriate. Not Cotard then, at least.
The door opened and the bright light limned the shape of Styles-- backing in, holding a cloth wrapped coffee pot.
“Brought you some coffee Sir.”
“Thank you Styles.”
“Think I got the trick of it with this last pot Sir. Had Matthews taste a bit of it and he said---Oooh.”
They stopped, foolishly frozen, Styles with his wooden tray, Horatio with his cup halfway to his mouth. The sound was high and full and silvery, not loud, not pushing forward like trumpets and drums, not foolish, as fiddles for dancing. It was wordless, beyond words, above them. It seemed to Horatio like a road, unfolding before him, enticing him to see where it led. It was a lonely sound too, drawing him forward, and his eyes wanted to spill, and his throat prickled full with the imminent loss of it.
And Horatio knew nothing of music. He knew nothing of this-- this whatever it was. He did not know how it it had come. He had never heard anything like it.
“What is that?” His voice was a harsh creak over the climbing sliver of the sound. Styles blinked at him, shaken from the moment himself.
“I think it is a flute Sir. The French Major, someone said he plays the flute.” Styles spoke in a harsh whisper. He did not meet Horatio's eye. And Horatio did not seek his gaze either. It would not have been right. They each stood alone, with the sound; each immobile in the little cabin with the desk and the smell of burned coffee.
It was rising, turning, already almost ending. And the sound of it was perfect as geometry, as wind, and as light. It hurt like autumn, like the passing of the years. It ached and the ache was all he wanted.
It did end then. The silence it left was round and perfect too. And only slowly came again the sound of men's voices and the working ship.
“Meet me in the the galley when dog-watch begins. I will teach you how to make a decent cup of coffee.”
“Oh, yes. I will. Thank you Sir.”
Styles fairly scampered from the cabin. He was smiling. And Horatio smiled too, the head-ache had eased just a little. He could teach Styles to make coffee. It was a start at least.