Title: One Last Goodbye
Author's Note: I wrote this in less that half an hour, one of those things you need to get down before it leaves you. The poem quoted is probably familiar to a lot of you. I obviously did not write it, merely quote it as my favourite poem. It was enclosed in an envelope left for his parents by Steven Cummins a soldier killed in Northern Ireland, to be opened in the event of his death. He was thought to have written it but then claims were made that it was he prayer of Navaho Indian priests and nineteenth century magazines, but in the end its origins remain a mystery. I am not claiming Archie wrote this. I am taking it that he read it in such a magazine. I am claiming that it would have appealed to him. If anyone knows anymore about this poem I would be grateful for the information.
Disclaimer: The poem, as I have already established belongs to A.N. Onymous. Hornblower belongs to CS Forester, Archie belongs to him as well, and possibly A and E. But I'll gladly take him off their hands.
2nd Note: Thanks to Fi, my beta.
The courtroom was alive with noise as he entered. Hurried footsteps, shouted orders, and the sharp, short bang of a gavel that echoed around the room.
He had done it then. His friend, standing amidst the disapproving glares and shocked looks of his shipmates had confessed that he alone had pushed their captain into the hold of the ship. He had, in doing so, confessed to a charge of mutiny and submitted his young neck to the noose.
Now he stood, crystal blue eyes glistening with pain. Pain, and something else, a hint of pride, perhaps. Justifiable pride, as he saved his best friend, and allowed him to continue his promising naval career. But there was something else there too. Sadness, sadness and fear. Not because his fate had just been sealed, he had known that days ago on board the Renown, but fear for his friend, fear for Horatio Hornblower.
Hornblower looked hurriedly around the room, his eyes drawn to those which they sought. The blue eyes of his friend. The gaze was held steady, unbroken amidst the chaos, a silent communion of thoughts that no one save them would ever understand.
'Why?' the brown eyes asked silently, unblinking, demanding an answer.
'Don't. Please, don't be angry,' the blue eyes appealed sadly, 'It is for the best.'
Hornblower would never agree to that, although he could read the thought in the eyes of his friend. He knew also his friend was dying, he tried to block that thought from his mind. A life without Archie at his side seemed too terrible to contemplate. He watched, unable to intervene, unable to move as Archie was led from the courtroom. Led towards the death that awaited him. Be it from the gaping wound in his chest, or the hangman's noose.
Their final meeting was filled with sorrow. Sorrow felt keenly by both yet expressed by aloud by neither. The final words were formal, unfeeling and belied by what they saw in each others eyes.
'I am honoured to have served with you.''Archie, you were a friend like no other I have had. I shall miss you.'
'And I, to have known you.'
'Goodbye Horatio and thank you. For though you dismiss it you have saved my life a thousand times over.'
Then he was gone. The blue eyes were open, but unseeing. Changed forever, for they would never again widen in Archie's look of startled surprise, never crinkle with laughter at Horatio's expense. Never look, reassuringly, calmly, kindly, across a room or a deck. Never again would they remind Hornblower that he was not alone, because now, he truly was.
Eventually, he got up to leave; to face the world and the truth. The truth that Archie Kennedy was dead. An envelope caught his eye, a familiar scrawl made yet more illiterate through spasms of pain. He reached for it, seizing a last connection to his friend.
A verse was written carefully, a last final effort to reassure a friend left behind.
Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
Horatio almost smiled at this, though there could be no hidden meaning. He almost smiled again at his friend's optimism in the face of adversity, when a day later a small, unmarked coffin was hastily lowered into an unmarked grave in Kingston, Jamaica.
Horatio cried that day, silent tears, the first he had shed since the death of Mariette, but it seemed that a familiar voice whispered softly from afar, 'Do not weep, I am not there, I do not sleep,' and although Horatio had never believed in an afterlife, never believed the words of the poem, he took comfort in the fact that his friend quite definitely had.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
A storm blew around Kingston that night. It seemed that the heavens wanted retribution for the innocent man that had died. The men of the Renown, those from Hornblower's and Kennedy's divisions who had been transferred to the Retribution, certainly did.
'T'weren't right,' Matthew's proclaimed, 'the lad were only doin' 'is duty. There weren't no way a gentle lad like 'im'd push Sawyer.'
'No, any fool'd see that. And if Hobbs'd spoken up, Mr Kennedy'd still 'ave been 'ere,' Styles agreed.
'Aye!' chorused the men, muttering beneath their breath about Hobbs and his treacherous ways.
Horatio listened from a distance without a word; the poem Archie had left him gave him little peace. It seemed that even on this new ship he couldn't escape the presence of Archie Kennedy, nor he was forced to admit, did he want to.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awake in the morning's hush
I am the sweet uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;I am not there. I did not die.
Horatio prepared to board the Retribution the day she set sail for England. Filling the ship with supplies had been difficult, as the Renown had taken precedence over Hornblower's small vessel. As he boarded the ship, he noted Mr Bush awaiting his arrival.
'Well Mr Bush?' he asked the First Officer.
Bush paused for a moment, then answered.
'Welcome to…purgatory, sir,' his voice was wry and he looked almost mystified by his own choice of words.
Hornblower nearly reprimanded him there and then. The man had no right to imitate Archie in that way, then he realised Bush could not have possibly known. Archie probably hadn't even remembered the exchange, and Hornblower had certainly never mentioned the first thing Archie Kennedy had said to him all those years ago, aboard the Justinian. Yet, even to a rational man, even to Hornblower, this chance comment seemed like too much of a coincidence.
He nodded distantly to Bush, and wandered over to the side to stare out over Kingston. A cool breeze drifted over the sea, and the waves glinted like diamonds. It seemed Archie was right, there was no point in standing sobbing at his graveside, for even if his body dwelt there, the essence that made him who he was did not. And as he pondered this, for a moment, when the song of the birds around the harbour sounded startling like Archie's laughter, for that instant, Horatio Hornblower believed.