Exaggeration and Blank Verse
The Undiscovered Shore
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There is no such thing as a good death.

I believe this now, though I did not when I was young. Then, I would have given the title of "a good death" to one met in battle, in service of country and king. Now, though, I have begun to wonder- what would we say of those deaths, if we lived in that ideal world without war?

My younger self would die of horror to hear it, but it is true: I no longer think it right to long for war. Yes, young men may find their true selves in the crucible of battle, but many more must die to feed the fire. And yes, glory and honor may be brought to England's name, but should we not love her the same if she were softer, and smaller, and clad in gray robes of commerce instead of the bloody armor with which she holds her empire in check?

I ramble. An old man's vice. And I am old, now, in mind and body. I feel twice as old in my spirit; it aged in grief long ago.

I have seen too much of war to call it glory, and I have seen too much of powerful men to believe in the Admiralty, or Parliament, or even the King himself, though I would breathe no word of that outside of my mind. I still love England, though it is a weary love now, as most things have grown weary with the passage of the years. I care for little, treasure even less. A handful of memories, hoarded close as jewels, are infinitely more precious to me than the entire contents of this suite of rooms, so generously provided and furnished by the Admiralty. I have not owned a home of my own since my wife died, some fifteen years past. I see no reason to. I desire nothing but those few memories, and they live well within my mind, and require no sustenance.

What of duty, one might ask, what of honor? The pillars of my younger days, the staunch precepts at the heart of my career, my rhetoric, my life. I fancy now, in my age, that even England must be satisfied that I have done my duty. I have nothing left to give her; she has taken it all; and I do not begrudge her, truly. I was young and a fool when I pledged myself, but it was with my heart, and once given that can never be reclaimed.

And as for honor...well, that was forsworn in shameful silence, long ago. Another man gifted me with his own, and it is that borrowed honor that I have wrapped around my heart for these many years. The great career, the hero of the history books- all built on honor not my own. In truth, all the accolades belong to a dead man. A man who died before my eyes, and whose corpse was shamed while I stood witness, and whose name was stricken from the books of the Navy. A man who was my friend.

I have not spoken nor written his name for forty years. I dared not; were I to mention it, all those in hearing would denounce him, the confessed mutineer and traitor, the blackguard, the snake who cheated justice by dying of his wounds. And I would have to join them in their slander, true though it is in the world's eyes, or risk suspicion falling upon me once again. Bad enough he had been my friend in life. In death I must distance myself by miles, or else squander his gift.

And yet I knew that I could not speak those cruel words, those lies dressed up as truth and love of country, not without choking on my own heart. So I spoke of him not at all. Time passed, and the world forgot him; one by one, those who knew him died. Except for me. I live, and I remember. And yet, though surely it would now be safe to speak of him- there are none but a handful of dusty historians who remember Kingston, or Sawyer's end, or four lieutenants brought to trial for mutiny- I have not. Perhaps it has been too difficult to break a learned caution. Perhaps I have grown too fond of his memory being mine alone. I am a selfish man, in the depths of my soul.

Oh, for God's sake, Horatio, I can hear him say. Stop that.

I've spoken to him nearly every day, for all of these years, through all of my lonely commands, in my heart and mind. Each decision was checked against his compassion, each conversation against his wit. His shade has not aged nor faded, not a bit. Still he glows, strong and impassioned and vital. Still he balances my soul's cold earth with his fire.

My alotted span of years grows short, I think. They used to say I had the devil's own luck, and I suppose they spoke true. But I have not come through forty years in His Majesty's service entirely unscathed. The wounds ache now, in the mornings; the ghosts of old pains visit my bedside. The wounds in my heart outpace them all.

I believe I know how it will be, when I cross over. There will be the sea, of course; a great and gentle sea, stretching out to the horizon. I will stand on a beach, watching the sun and wind dance on that water, and a calm will come over me.

A ship will appear, a small and good-natured construct that can race before a good breeze but stand fast through the fiercest storm. An old friend long lost, the truest friend I have ever known, will stand at the tiller. He will smile, and what I thought was a bright day will prove to have been clouded, for this is the sun. He will call out to me in greeting, and step from the ship to the beach, and I shall say his name at last, the name that has hovered unspoken on my lips for so painfully long.

"Archie," I will say, and salute him. "Mr. Kennedy, my compliments to you." Perhaps he will laugh at that- yes, as I know Archie, he will laugh.

I will bow my head to him, perhaps even take to my knees, and humbly beg his forgiveness for forswearing him all those years, for allowing his name to be forgotten, still blackened while I paraded his honor as my own. He will pull me to my feet (it is an old man's privilege, to make such elaborate fancies), and tell me there is nothing to forgive. Archie had the greatest heart I've known, the most infinite capacity for absorbing the sins of others and repaying them with love.

I will look at him, the sun bright on his hair, his smile without a trace of fear or regret or pain, and my heart will be healed at last. There will be peace, and a forty-year ache will vanish as if it never was. I confess that I long for that moment.

Together we shall leave this mortal shore, and seek out the farthest horizon.

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