Thanks again for the emails. Fully appreciated! I'm sorry this chapter is short, but expect the final chapters to be posted soon! Any mistakes here are mine, and I apologize in advance for them. -Kam
Charlotte was much smaller than they expected. It appeared to be a quaint township, its houses pristine white despite the dirt stirred into the air by the hot breeze. The trees were fewer, but thick. The women walked casually, not with the intense purpose that so colored the erratic port they had left. Their clothes were as clean as the houses, which looked dreadfully out of place. The men wore suits, or nice shirts and slacks. And the black natives around town were decently presented, complete with neckerchiefs. Archie was pleased to see such illustrious behavior, and more than a little disconcerted by it. Horatio was ill at ease. And Lindiwe was hard to read. His shirt was filthy, as was theirs, and Archie noted with wry amusement that the natives of the land were a bit squeamish around him. That probably had to do as much with his bearing as anything, for while these properly dressed natives held themselves in a slump, revealing their status; Lindiwe, clothed in torn, filthy, hand me down rags, held himself like a commissioner, or a king. He looked at everyone directly and did not back down. Even the Englishmen, with their noses in the air, found his attitude most unsuitable. They hurried each other along the streets.
Horatio stopped. He inhaled deeply, enjoying the rich communal and floral scents around him. "Smell that, Lindiwe? That is civilization."
Lindiwe was wincing. "It smells like English soap," he said in disgust, "and the village hurts my eyes."
Horatio admitted that the white buildings did perhaps shine too brightly in the sun. But he never before realized that the scent of flowers could smell soapy. Lindiwe was right. "What do you know of English soap?" He realized the statement, to an Englishman, would sound offensive, but to a native, not quite so.
"We do practice cleanliness, Umholi," Lindiwe teased, "only we do not desire to smell like something that has dropped from the heavens. You can not trust things that drop from the heavens."
"And why is that?" Archie asked.
"Because, things that fall from the sky are either dead, or an ill omen. The skies are for the sacred. To fall from them is to fall from grace. Why should I want to smell like something that has fallen from grace?" His no-nonsense, lyrical voice carried to three men who were propped against a wall. They eyed the new arrivals with mild curiosity.
"I see." Horatio was trying to decide which building might house the governing body of the settlement, seeing as how they had ended up in the middle of town. He chose a large building with ostentatious columns. "Here, I think this is where we want to go." He stared with Archie at his heels, then noticed Lindiwe was not following. He smiled slightly. "Are you coming?" He was surprised to find that, deep in his heart, he wanted his new friend to say yes.
But Lindiwe shook his head sadly. "This is where I must leave you. You have no need of me in that great house. I have another great house to find."
Horatio expected this answer. That was why it pained him so to see the hurt expression on Archie's face.
Archie stood still for a moment, blinking. His face worked through various expressions before settling on sadness. "Of course you must. But by God, Lindiwe, I will miss you. This happens too sudden." He pulled the man to him in a tight hug.
Lindiwe was surprised. Horatio could see it, the man was facing him. His arms slowly wrapped around Archie as if uncertain what to do. After a moment he relaxed, and his eyes closed.
Archie pulled away, and held Lindiwe by the arms. "You be careful," he said, "and for God's sake stay on your guard. I've no plans for another rescue mission." He grinned sorrowfully.
"I hope you find your ship," Lindiwe responded, gripping Archie's arms in kind. He leaned in. "Look after your friend, as he does you. He has the mark of a leader, but you are the root to his tree. Do not allow him to topple, keep him firm to the ground, as all good friends do." And he smiled a huge grin they had never before seen, one that split his face in two. His eyes twinkled, and he walked to Horatio with a hand extended. He took Horatio's in his right, and placed the left on top, capturing both the hand and Horatio's full attention.
"You serve well," he said. "I know you do not believe this. There is greatness before you, but you must not forget to listen to your friend here." And again, he leaned in. "Do not penalize his heart. You will have as much need of it as he will have need of your strength. Together, you are whole." He smiled and backed away.
Horatio was taken aback by Lindiwe's words. He swallowed and regained his composure. "Where will you go?"
Lindiwe tilted his head slightly in thought. "I have my ideas. I have heard that the King Senzengakona of the Zulu refuses to claim one of his own children, thereby declining him a right to the Zulu throne. Already word travels of this child."
"And does this child have a name?"
Lindiwe laughed deeply. "It is Shaka. Fitting for a bastard whelp the color of night."
Horatio smiled, then jumped. "Wait! Speaking of names, what does 'Umholi' actually mean?"
Lindiwe took a few steps toward them, but not enough to meet halfway. "It is a leader. I told you, you are destined for great things. I can see it in your eyes." He pointed to his own with two fingers, as he did when they first spoke. "You have power there," he said deeply, then instructed, "You use it well." Lindiwe straightened and turned, waiting for Archie to speak, knowing he would ask, but knowing it would not matter to him.
"And my name?" he asked softly, almost obediently.
Lindiwe softly crossed the distance between them. "My friend," he said gently, "you have the face that no one can lie to. You have the eyes of a dreamer. You enjoy stories and tales in your homeland?"
Archie smiled. "Very much. There is a writer, an artist of the written word, that you would appreciate. His name is William Shakespeare. I wish you could. . .waitwaitwait. . ." Archie suddenly dipped his bundle to the ground and unwrapped it, pulling out a battered book. He looked at it for a moment, then carefully handed to his friend, taking Lindiwe's hand and folding it around the leather binding.
Lindiwe opened the book. He frowned at the writing, then looked up and shook his head apologetically. "I can not read this. But use it to remember me by, since we share a soul." The book was passed back as he pulled Archie to him, much as Archie had done moments earlier. "Farewell, my friend. Indaba, the storyteller," Lindiwe said into his ear.
"Fare well, Lindiwe." Archie sniffed, and forcing a smile.
Lindiwe pulled back. "Do not be sad. I will leave you with a thought. There is a saying among my people, 'ÚutÇtrÇ ñue wotrÇa ýeðuðu ðo'. 'You change your steps according to the change in the rhythm of the drum'. Go where the wind will take you, my friend, and stand tall." He grinned, and turned.
"Thank you," Archie called to his retreating back, then frowned. "Tell us one more thing! What does 'Lindiwe' mean?"
Lindiwe faced them one last time, and he laughed aloud. "'He who waits!'" he responded cheerfully, arms spread wide, and Archie laughed with him. They heard his laughter stream behind him as he passed through the people, and vanished.
Archie's eyes followed his friend's retreat. "Maybe not Moses," he said quietly, "more like King Arthur. I would expect this Shaka to wield a mighty sword, and for all we know, Lindiwe is the Merlin that gives it to him."
Horatio smiled at his friend. "You really believe this prophecy, then?"
Archie shrugged. "Why not? Stranger things have happened, that much we have seen."
Horatio stood at Archie's shoulder. He felt an enormous warmth, as if he's just been given a great gift. And that gift was new appreciation of his dearest friend. "Come, Archie," he said, "the Ministry awaits."
"And the Clementine, hopefully," Archie said, and then sighed blissfully, "and the Indie!"
Horatio grinned hugely and fisted Archie on the back of his arm as he headed towards the large building. He had gone only a few steps when he noticed that Archie wasn't beside him. Even before he turned he heard his name. "Horatio . . ."
Horatio stopped. Archie's jovial expression had suddenly fallen into one of anxiety. "Yes?"
"What are we doing?"
"I'd of thought that obvious. We're going in for news about what happened at the port, why it was attacked. . ."
"We know why it was attacked, and we know who did it! Now do you really want to go in there are offer yourself as an accomplice?"
"Archie, we had nothing to do with. . ."
"We were sent in to destroy an African village. We were there with explosives, for Christ's sake! Surely you do not think that will go unnoticed?"
Horatio shook his head. "Archie, no one here knows what was in those saddlebags."
"Someone does. They were found, Horatio, after we lost each other. I saw the horses back with the owner, and the bags were missing. Someone has them."
Horatio frowned and took a step closer to Archie. "Why didn't you say something before?"
Archie rolled his eyes and gestured helplessly. "When? We instantly took off from the port to come here and rendevous with the Clementine. There was no time to go looking for something that is probably well hidden by now, not to mention it would point fingers to our guilt." His shoulders slumped as Horatio sighed and looked away. "Horatio, I'm sorry. I didn't think. Honestly, I thought it lost to us, and thought the quicker we were away, the better for us. I didn't realize those bag were so important."
"They're not, Archie." Horatio faced his friend in a conciliatory manner. "There's nothing to be done about it anyway, put it out of your mind." He stuck his hands in his pockets and stared at the ground for several seconds, then winced at the bright building. "You suppose the Clementine is still in harbor?"
"I've no idea. But I doubt they would go out of their way to make their presence known. What's the name she travels under now?"
"I suppose we could go in and ask if the Bastian has made berth."
"Or we could just go and see for ourselves." Horatio yanked his hands from his pockets and flung them in a show of anger. "Damn it all, what was the man thinking? I mean if he did do this, how are we to know if it was truly under orders? He could be on his own agenda as he claims, or he could be acting for someone else. He could have had a set of orders that he elaborated on, or he could have had a secret set that he kept well hidden from us. So do we go to the harbor, or there?" he jabbed a finger at the stoic building. "I don't know, Archie! This whole thing has become such a mess, I don't know what to do anymore." His arms fell limp at his sides.
Archie winced in sympathy. He licked his lips and looked at the building before them, then to the faint strip of sea beyond. "You change your step according to the change in the rhythm of the drum," he said softly, and turned back. "Whatever you decide, Horatio, I'll go with you."
It was a simple statement, yet it covered everything Horatio needed to hear, every doubt he'd held in his mind since the whole adventure began. His friend's blue eyes held every inch of sincerity possible. And while one burden lifted, he felt another descend.
"Archie," he said firmly, "whatever I choose, I'll see you clear of this. Do you understand? You were opposed from the beginning . . ."
"Horatio . . ."
"And I'll not see you punished for simply obeying my orders. If anyone is in the wrong here, it is I."
"If anyone is in the wrong," Archie said hotly, "it is the good Captain Rapier! He gave you little choice in the matter! Were you to disobey direct orders from your Captain? I was ready to, and in retrospect maybe that was a good decision, maybe not. But I showed signs of insubordination." He straightened. "Now, which one of us is in the right, then? Hm? Which of us should walk free? I swear to you, Horatio Hornblower, if you take that course, if you do this on your own, you will be alone. I'll not help you destroy yourself."
"Well, that's a change!" Horatio responded heatedly. "When we first started this it seemed you hadn't a care!" People were hesitating as they walked passed, and Horatio realized they had been arguing in the middle of the square. He took Archie's arm and led him to shade. Archie gently jerked back once he was shielded by the leafy green, and regarded his friend closely. Horatio cast his eyes about, not meeting Archie's until he was drawn to the gaze. There was the intensity he knew so well. The utter devotion. The tenacity. And suddenly, an impish gleam as his face relaxed and he chuckled. Horatio was confused. "What? What is it?"
"You. You look so serious." Archie stuck his tongue in his cheek to pin back the laughter, but it came out anyway, and he looked down to cover it. When he looked back up, the tension was gone.
Horatio relaxed as well. "Damn you. You have a way of making light of anything." He sighed, a grin still on his face, and looked past the building to the shore. "I suppose the best thing to do, at this stage, will be to see this through. There may yet be a surprise waiting for us at the end of it all."
"Oh, Horatio, not another one." Archie groaned playfully as Horatio pulled him towards the bay.