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A Time of War and Redemption

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Chapter One

A young man walked about the deck; he looked around, noticing all was calm. Night watch was becoming rather cold. He pulled his cloak about him and resting his arms on the side of the ship, peered into the darkness. The water was at its usual, if not a little calm. The crew and most of the officers were taking the time to rest before another day.

The young man stood where he was; there was nothing else in which to occupy his attention; the sea was slowly lulling him to sleep. At that moment a hand touched his shoulder. He jumped.

“Midshipman Groveton,” said Horatio.

“Captain Hornblower,” said Midshipman Groveton quite startled. “I did not mean to doze off…”

“At ease, man,” was the reply. “Not all of us were made for night duties.”

Horatio chuckled and joined Groveton in his staring at the sea.

“Your work today was beyond the call of duty, and I am very proud to have two such Midshipmen under my command,” said Horatio, breaking the silence.

He was referring to yesterday’s incident when a French crew boarded their ship. They had surrounded Horatio, and it was he and another Midshipman who came to his aid.

“I believe you may have saved my life,” Horatio continued, “thank you.”

“Midshipman Martin deserves the honor more than I, sir,” replied Groveton.

“Perhaps, though I know when I needed aid, you were among it, and I thank you,” said Horatio.

Horatio left as silently as he came. Midshipman Groveton could not help but feel there was something amiss in his air. Well, that was not for him to be concerned about and he did not think of it again.

 

* * *

 

After ringing the bell to let all know of the hour, he was soon joined by a familiar sight.

Arnold,” greeted Midshipman Martin.

“Roger,” returned Midshipman Groveton.

“I thought I would accompany you a bit,” said Roger.

“Indeed, it is a bit too dull here for my taste,” said Arnold.

“Too much for anyone’s taste, friend,” said Roger.

The two Midshipmen continued on their conversation.

Arnold Groveton was as English as the King. He had an English complexion, build, and the very manner of his presence was English. Though for his counterpart, Roger Martin, the same could not be said. He had the deepest black hair, two pools of black for eyes, a tan complexion and his build was a bit square. His presence, as many had said, was ‘lionish’. Roger’s grandfather was French and his mother was Spanish; the only influence in him Britain was not at war with was Russia. He did not have any sympathies for any country other than his own. The deck hand, Styles, made him a bit uncomfortable at times with his circumspect stare. It seemed that he could smell French blood.

Arnold apparently did not mind a feline-like companion; the two young men had become the best of friends.

 

* * *

 

The two midshipmen, Groveton and Martin, were below deck, readying themselves for the night. Roger was washing his face when Arnold broke the silence.

“How much longer do you think this will last?”

“What do you mean,” asked Roger.

“This whole war,” began Arnold, before suddenly stopping short.

Roger turned around, drying his face with his sleeve.

“Why do you ask?”

“I don’t know. It just seems,” Arnold sighed. “Why must we be fighting the French? Not that I have sympathy for them, I just want to know why we must be at war.”

Arnold, we are English. We serve the King in his Royal Navy; do not ask why, serve him as you pledged,” said Roger with deep sincerity.

“If that is how you see it, then that is how I will,” said Arnold.


Chapter Two

Duties the next day went without much incident, contrary to the previous day. The wind ruffled about as usual, and the sea seemed to push them along with ease. The crew was busy washing the deck and seeing to the damages from the engagement. Midshipman Martin walked the deck overseeing the men's progress.
"Very good, man," Roger told one of his men, a young fair lad with ebony hair.
"That's what you should come to expect from the English, sir," said the lad.
He was respectful but Roger could read through the lines.
"I am an Englishman, boy. Do not confuse that!"
"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."
He nodded to the lad and walked off. That would not be the first time someone doubted his loyalties, no thanks to the crewmember Styles. It was no secret to Roger that he did not particularly like him.
Roger found him tending his duties.
"Styles."
"Yes, sir?"
"You are a good man, but I hear stories about myself."
Roger sighed sharply as if his air had been cut off.
"Stories, sir?"
"Yes; ones which do not flatter me. They suggest that perhaps I am disloyal to the crown." He wasn't sure if his listener was catching on. "The author is crafty indeed. Yet when he is discovered to be a falsifier, he cannot hide."
"Right, sir."
"You are dismissed."
"Thank you, sir."
Roger did not know if Styles did not understand, or if he was merely pretending. The latter was more probable. He looked at him one last time - he was back attending his duties - and walked off.

* * *

Matthews and Styles sat together eating their dinner with a few other crewmembers, which included the young lad who Midshipman Martin had spoken to.
"Styles, it's not good to talk about an officer like that," said Matthews. "'Specially when he knows it's you!"
"You know his grandfather was a bloody frog!"
"Styles, that's enough!"
"And his mother is a Spaniard!"
"Yes, yes. And his father is an Englishman!"
"Once a frog always a frog!"
"Styles," scolded Matthews. "If you'd watch him instead of criticize him you'd see he's a good officer." Matthews sighed and shook his head. "And you John," he addressed the young lad. "You telling him what to expect from an Englishman."
"Look at him, he doesn't even talk us!"
"That's right, he talks like a bloody frog," said Styles.
"That's enough from both of you!" He looked at Styles, then down at his food. "If you knew anything that's a Russian accent."
The men sitting with them laughed; Styles scowled at them. Only Matthews could make a joke about Styles being illiterate and not worry about getting a beating, though he himself probably discovered it only by someone telling him.

* * *

The cold night air ran about the deck, dancing with the sails. The sea had gotten rougher than she had been, but the officers were gathered together in a cabin enjoying themselves. Horatio had begun making a toast.
"Yesterday was our duty to King and Country, so it should surprise none of us that we neither seek, nor ask, for any gratitude, though we receive it from each other."
"Here, here."
"And to our families, who know nothing of the troubles we face, but respect and honor us for them." He raised his glass. "To all our fine men and this ship."
All off the men affirmed and drank with him.
One officer came in late, but he went unnoticed by the others, save for his friend.
"Roger," beckoned Arnold.
Roger went to him and sat down. His friend handed him a glass of wine.
"How has your day been? I haven't seen you!"
His friend seemed refreshed and eager to see him, yet Roger felt tired. Very tired indeed. Arnold must have noticed, for his enthusiasm was reigned in and he waited for Roger to speak.
Roger swallowed his wine and spoke. "So much has happened for such an uneventful day."
"I should say," replied Arnold. "For you rose before anyone; I am sure of it!"
"Much has happened since our arrival. I feel different, I feel like you're different."
"Yes, I suppose we have changed, if that's what you mean."
"Perhaps it is for the better, if not, I don't know why."
"Was it not last night you told me we should serve without question. You aren't doubting now, are you?"
"No. And I do not mean for our country's campaign, but between us."
"Get some rest my friend, you shall feel better in the morning."
"I hope. Yet, Arnold."
"Yes?"
"Whatever happens, we will always be brothers."
"Of course!"
"You must not forget my words."
"I shall not."
Roger laughed. Not merrily, but the tired laugh of a man who has nothing else left to do.
"It is funny. How the mind forgets what the moment says is important."
Arnold just looked at Roger, not knowing how to reply; but perhaps no reply was needed.
"Till the morning." Roger took a mouth of wine, then left the room.

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