Title: Permitted the Sky
Word Count 1085
Disclaimer None are mine
Permitted the Sky
On the fourth day, Archie had two things to worry about.
He and Hunter were locked in, Hunter in the lower bunk that had once been Archie's, and Archie in the upper. Archie spent little time there. By pressing his face against the barred window, and standing rigid on his toes, he could see the oubliette. He could not see into it of course. He could not see Horatio. And it was raining. That was good actually. Horatio would be cold, he would be miserable, but he would not suffer from thirst.
Archie spent almost the whole day watching. It hurt to watch over Horatio from such distance. It hurt to know how the thin bones of that beloved frame were shivering and pressing against the dirt and cold rock. Food came to Hunter and Archie, at midday. Archie did not see any food brought to the pit.
Faced with bread and sausages, Hunter wept.
“You have to eat, Hunter.” Archie said. “You have to get strong. When he gets out, he'll need you. He'll need both of us.”
Hunter drew a deep breath. He poked at the food, ate a few bites
“Kennedy?” he said, “I never meant him harm. I didn't want this-- this.” Hunter gestured.
“Of course you didn't. I know that.”
“Tell Hornblower.” Hunter's voice was urgent.
Archie turned to look at Hunter. “When he gets here. I'll tell him. Or you can tell him. But you must eat.”
Hunter shook his ragged head. He leaned over, and retched onto the floor.
He crossed to Hunter and pulled the blanket back. The smell of corrupted flesh was sweet and horrid. They both knew what it meant. Archie had heard of laudable pus. Doctors spoke of it. (Archie did not know how much pus was considered laudable, Horatio said his father said none was best, which seemed an extreme position.) But in any case, the red streaky area reaching for Hunter's groin could not be any good. And the wound itself was crackling and puffy. Archie swore more extensively.
He covered Hunter with the blanket again. “Don't worry.” He said.
Archie took a very deep breath. He didn't want to do this. It felt all wrong. His heart was racing, his back was prickling. He had watched men die in France and done nothing. But he had been chained to the wall then. Here, he was permitted the sky. And Hunter was – Archie supposed that Hunter was a messmate, though all he did was whine and puke.
Archie picked up his empty pewter plate. It would work well enough. He swung it against the bars of the little window.
“Hey!” he called loudly. “Hey, help. This man is ill!”
It took an hour, and three different guards, with three very incredulous frowns. It taxed Archie's patience, and his Spanish. Finally the Don himself came.
“Well, Mr. Kennedy.” he said, “You continue to be a thorn in my side I see.” Damn the man. Archie took another deep breath. He could only try to be persuasive.
“Mr Hunter is very ill. His leg is corrupted. He needs a physician..” Reach for the moon, Archie said to himself. The worst they can say is no. The worst they can do is shoot us both where we stand. But the Don laughed.
“Are you the keeper of my social calendar now, Mr Kennedy?”
“Sir?” That came hard to the mouth.
“We do indeed have a physician here at the moment. He is a cousin of my wife. I will send for him.”
Archie was left waiting. Hunter had watched the exchange with dull eyes. Archie could see the fever in him now. But a real doctor might save Hunter, and the leg too. Archie rose on his toes again, to watch over the pit.
When the doctor came, Archie was not impressed. This man was small, and slight. He was not as tall as Archie, nor as clean. He had untidy hair, limp and black. He had strange watery eyes. He looked as if a fresh breeze would take him away entirely. The man did not inspire confidence.
Archie began to explain, in patient Spanish. The doctor interrupted on the third word.
“No need, I speak English, Mr Kennedy. And I can see what is wrong here, directly. Why did you use a dirty knife, for all love?”
“No matter. The man cannot stay in this place.” The doctor gestured brusquely. “Take him to the big house.” The waiting men bore Mr Hunter away. Archie was left alone. He stood on his toes again. His legs ached. If he pressed his face against the bars just so, he could watch over Horatio.
On the eighth day the sun was hot. Hunter had not returned. Archie had heard nothing of him. He had slept, and he had watched through the bars. He had paced the hateful little room. He had been weeks in the pit. But he really had tried to escape. He was a great fearsome fellow with a history of violence. How long they would hold Horatio was unknowable.
Matthews, Styles and the others were held two cells down. There was an empty echo room between them. Archie could not talk to them, but he heard them cuffing Oldroyd. They had been mostly quiet since. They were worried about Horatio too. And worried for Hunter, Archie supposed, somewhat. He grimaced. Hunter was hard to like, but even he did not deserve to loose his leg.
Today he had heard nothing at all from their cell. They could be talking to each other, at least, he supposed. But maybe they were tired of that. Archie had nobody to talk to.
He was turning to his food, when the cheer came up. Archie rushed back to the window, pressed his face to the bars. It could only be one thing – it was. Supported between two shorter men, a very ragged, thinner than ever, bent in the middle, Horatio.
They propped him against the wall, and unlocked the cell door. They left it open. They steered Horatio inside. “Your privileges are returned to you.” One said.
“There is a bath ready in the infirmary.” The other added significantly.
“Oh dear,” said Horatio, and fell to the floor.