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The Morning After

The dream was of fighting.

He'd had such dreams before, often on the night before an expected engagement, when the tension and apprehension natural to such events would be transposed into a dark confusion of enemies attacking from every side, a feverish parrying of blows from unseen weapons. Most troubling of all, to a man whose life's business was warfare, there was a feeling of fear--a feeling he had never experienced even during the most terrible battle.

Jack never spoke of these dreams; no sailor would, a superstitious dread of such portents as much a part of a seaman's life as the constant living movement of the deck beneath his feet. He'd thought once or twice of confiding in Stephen, imagining Stephen's detached and professional response that such visions were a good and normal release, which expelled the ill humors from the nervous system, and prepared one for the bloody work ahead. In fact, he'd imagined the scene so thoroughly, while pacing the quarterdeck one grey and drizzling afternoon, down to the very words that Stephen would utter, and had received such a measure of comfort from this hypothetical advice, that he'd decided to leave well enough alone and accept it as a given.

But his dream this time was different. No darkness, but a sheer dazzling sunlight all around, and an achingly blue sea and sky. The usual furious onslaught of a devilish horde, but this time no fear, nor even urgency in the battle. He saw each sword or pike thrust coming slowly, and met it surely, the strength in his sword arm a joy that pervaded his being.

The single irritation in this joyous vision was Stephen tapping at his elbow, attempting to direct his attention to what he claimed was a snipe flying overhead, in a manner that could not but be considered somewhat discourteous under the circumstances.

With a sense, unusual in a dream, that it was a reenactment, he experienced his wounds again---the pistol bullet in his shoulder, the sword thrust through the thigh. But this time there was no accompanying weakness---the pain was there, surely, a fearsome pain, but with the flow of blood down his chest and leg he felt his strength increase rather than diminish, and he leapt to his feet to continue cleaving down foes to right and left in a gory, glorious haze of exhilaration.

As Jack felt the pain in his still-healing wounds increase and drag him up into complete consciousness, the feeling of joy continued unabated. For one exquisite moment he lay unmoving, staring up at the beam above his head and softly repeating the words he had heard for the first time only yesterday, from dear Stephen of all people, by now of course committed to memory... will go aboard HMS Implacable, hoisting your flag, blue at the mizzen and take command of the blue squadron.

"Killick!" he roared happily, thinking of the loathsome brew his steward had been passing off as of late, consisting of a precious few coffee beans and the leavings of various storeroom rats, and of how well even that would go down on such a day as this.

© 2000 Lisa Kyono