Hunted, Part 4 (We're Almost There!)

Continued from. . . 

Hunted EbookI tried to hide my trembling legs by leaning up against the wood and canvas hide of the Mosquito which had been my chariot for the last hour.

Jamie wasn’t fooled.

“Aye, it has that effect. Did you know the first time I went up, I was green the entire time? Tossed my lunch, I did.”

I grinned at the young pilot. “Well, it’s a good think I missed lunch today, then.”

Jamie clapped me on the shoulder “Is that so? We’ll have to remedy that. To the pub, aye?”

* * *

I stared at the high-walled nooks filled with laughing men, and at the smoke-darkened beams that spanned the width of the low-ceilinged room. It was deceptively large, this cosy pub.

Cosy – and definitely more to my style. The draught may have changed some, and the method of delivery, but a fire flickered merrily along one wall and men still gathered over drink to tell tales. Here I could feel at home.

Here I could, most likely, fulfil Pat’s command that I unearth the double-agent who plagued 8 Group.

Pat ordered our supper and lagers with a shake of his head after I stared helplessly when asked what I’d like. Until Pat had wrangled my release, I’d been prisoner to the victuals deemed healthy by the good matron of Queen Mary’s Hospital.

As we ate, Jamie attempted to play spymaster himself. He peppered me with questions about the man I was supposed to be, despite Pat’s rolling eyes, and I deflected by asking him about his family – about both their families.

“Well, the girls share a cottage just outside Carrickahowley – easier with the two babes. Jamie’s aunt has been after them to come back to Scotland, of course, but Kathy’s mam is ailing. She’s not going to last the summer, and she wants to be on hand.”

I nodded – the names meant nothing to me but Pat’s eyes were shining bright in the pub’s muted glow.

“Maureen’s a bit of a terror – running already when she should just barely be crawling, her mother says.”

“She devils my boy something terrible,” Jamie added with a shake of his head at his friend. “But Sean’s devoted to her – or so Mary says.”

I grinned and let their chatter wash over me. The big offensive at the end of the month was their last for this tour, and every ounce of me wanted to find that mole and let them go home – these men who still had a home to go to.

“Speaking of Aunt Margaret – Corporal, do you know Edward McAlister of Dunn Ussie? I went to primary school with his son, Colin back in Dingwall – are they relations to you?”

I choked on the hunk of bread and cheese I’d stuffed in my mouth. They still called the keep Dunn Ussie? After all this time? And if Jamie had gone to school with a child of that clan, could he be—?

Pat clapped me on the back and I took a steadying breath.

“Distantly, sir – I believe? The names certainly feel familiar.”

Jamie laughed. “See Pat – told you I could surprise him. You’re a good one, Corporal. Welcome to the team.”

* * *

“You’re telling me the Germans just let them go?” Pat sounded like he didn’t believe a word Jamie was saying.

Jamie shrugged. “That’s the news coming over the wire.”

“Something doesn’t feel right.”

Dubh looked between the two men, hunkered over their lagers. Thick smoke filtered the pub’s already weak light, and cast shadows over everyone. One of the newly-arrived American pilots was complaining bitterly about it as he waved a bulky contraption he called a camera.

“What do you think, Doyle?”

“Pardon?”

“About the trade – have you no been listening, man? What is it – is Delia over there giving you the eye again?” Jamie asked with a wink.

I snorted. If Delia was giving anyone the eye, it was Jamie – not that the pilot would notice. He’d shown off the pictures of his lovely wife and son so many times they’d been worn thin with wear. It didn’t stop some of the younger Women’s Auxiliary cadets, or nurses, from swooning over his rakish smile.

Pat rolled his eyes. “He’s been listening, Jamie – he listens to everything. Did you know, according to our good Corporal McAlister, Johnny Hardwick snitches five paperclips a week from the supply office. And while that may seem sinister, it seems he’s building a replica of London Bridge.”

“Is that so?”

“Indeed,” I snorted. “And as you can see, Hardwick’s paperclip ode to British engineering has no bearing on your mole. You need someone in Germany, not Castle Hill House.”

“Are you volunteering?”

I hesitated, but only for a second. “Yes.”

There was nowhere else for me to go – the lands of Faerie were closed. I had tried to call the mists, to access the places where the veil between worlds was thin, to no avail.

The world was at war, and if going to Germany would help, then so be it.

Pat stared at me.

“Have you any German, then?”

“Mein Deutsch ist sehr gut. Außerdem bin ich begabt, wie Sie gesagt haben, mich gut einzumischen.”

Jamie burst out laughing and I gave him a droll stare.

“I know it is not that simple.” I kept my voice low but emotion crept into it anyway. “Yet, if by donning the armour of the enemy I help keep more of our boys safe to come home to wives and sweethearts such as Mary, I am more than willing to do it.”

Pat put a hand on my shoulder. I had only spent a month with these men, yet through their stories of home – of their infant children, their wives and boyhood exploits – I had come to love them as much as I had loved any brother-in-arms before. They were ten years my junior, but in every way they were my superior. They had lives for which to fight – and I would do what I could to ensure they could go back to those lives.

“We’ll talk about it after the run tomorrow night.”

“Then again, the war might be over after our run tomorrow night.”

Pat shook his head. “As much as I wish it so.”

His voice trailed off and he slipped a bit of paper from his pocket. It was a letter to his daughter. He wrote a new one every week.

He stared at the words scribbled on the page end then back at me. “You’re certain?”

“What is the point of a man with no memory hiding away, safe in the country while everyone else runs pell-mell into the enemy? I’ve told you – beyond your everyday rivalries and daydreamers hoping for home, there is nothing amiss here. My gut tells me my place is there.”

“And is your gut often wrong?” Jamie asked around a mouthful of lager.

I grinned. “In recent memory, I cannot say – yet I feel it has rarely failed me.”

“Then tell us, oh great magician who can see into men’s hearts, what is our fate on the morrow?”

I stared into the dark blue eyes before me. Patrick made noises for Jamie to leave off but I wasn’t listening to either of them.

Static filled my ears and tiny flashes like miniscule bursts of lightening etched jagged lines before my eyes.

“Dubh – Dubh!”

I shook my head, but it would not clear. The noise of the pub had ceased. Jamie and Pat, their hands wrapped around their pints, were still.

“Dubh Súile mac Alasdair!”

“Niamh Golden Hair.”

I spoke her name out loud without fear. The magic of Tír na nÓg had stopped time.

“Thank the gods we have found you – what possessed you?”

“Possessed me? Dear lady, I feared perhaps it was your magic that had done this to me – in retribution for my failure to harken to your cause.”

“You are a fool, Dubh Súile, if that is what you think.”

“I have been called worse by you, my lady.”

“Do not bandy words with me, Druid. You were exiled, as well you know, and not by me. I have found a way to bring you back.”

I tried to keep the incredulity out of my voice and failed. “Bring me back? For a price, I’ll wager?”

“Do you still hold onto your foolish notion that Nuada’s ways are just? That he has not changed and sullied the magic, which was his duty to protect?” Her disgust with her king and father, Nuada Silver Arm, was almost palpable. “He sent you there to die.”

“And I shall make the best use of the time I have here. These men need me more than you do, Niamh.”

“Those men’s lives will be nothing if Tír na nÓg falls to him.”

“You speak of things you do not know. They know nothing of you or your kin – their lives have meaning all their own.”

I thought I heard her snort, and I couldn’t keep the grin off my face. I had missed our banter.

“So you will not return?”

“Not until I have ensured their safety.”

“I cannot keep they gateway open forever, Dubh Súile.”

“Certainly, a day will not matter to you, Niamh Golden Hair.”

She laughed outright at that. “A year then, for you? I will see what I can do. If he suspects anything, I will have to close it, and you will be trapped there.”

“Perhaps that is as it should be – perhaps I should grow old and die, as is the fate of all mortal men.”

Niamh paused for a moment; when she spoke again, her voice was barely a whisper.

“Not your fate, Master Druid – not yet. We have need of you.”

The murmur of premonition crawled along my skin, and I shuddered.

“Good day to you, Master Druid. Should you have need of me, summon the mists. I will be watching.”

The noise of the pub came rushing back, drowning my senses in a heady wave of clanking glasses and the scrape of wood on wood. I gritted his teeth. Jamie and Patrick were looking at me, expectant smiles on their faces.

“Well, what is it man? What is our fate?”

“Ah, I do not deal in men’s fate – yet for you I see a great legacy. Your children will grow to do good things in your name.”

“Well, that’s all a man can ask for, I suppose.” Pat grinned and went back to his letter while Jamie sauntered up to the bar to order another round.

I watched the two men and wondered why my own words sat heavy in my heart.

To be continued. . . 

Hunted, Part 3 – And Some News

Hunted Ebook.pngSo… how are you liking “Hunted” so far? As with all things, I decided midway that, given how some don’t like serialized reading, I will be making “Hunted” available as a free downloadable ebook in a variety of formats! Stay tuned!

Continued from Hunted, Part 2…

“So, what do you think of her, Corporal?”

“She’s beautiful, sir.”

“You’re a funny sort, McAlister – you talk like you’ve never even seen a plane before.”

And so I hadn’t, but I wasn’t about to tell that to Sergeant Patrick O’Malley.

The twentieth century was rife with oddities, but aeroplanes were the most fantastic contraptions I had yet seen. Growing up, the Christian monks had claimed that their god ruled the heavens, but now it seemed man had invaded even that domain.

I had always been a warrior, a worshiper of the land, and student of the unseen things between worlds. Never had I dreamed to exist so high, with only the clouds and birds for company.

I tore my eyes from the twin-engine beauty called a de Havilland Mosquito to look at the young man who was now my commanding officer.

Pat’s red hair was bright in the spring sun and freckles stood out boldly on his pale skin. He was twenty-four – a good ten years younger than me, had I cared to count the number of mortal years to take their toll on my body.

“Keen for a bit of flying, Corporal?”

Jamie – Sergeant James McAndrew – nudged me in the ribs and gave me a rakish grin. He was always teasing someone, but his best friend, Sergeant Patrick O’Malley, was his favourite target. Considering they had been friends since their days at boarding school, and co-pilots for six years, he had every right.

Both men could have become officers – had they taken the offered break between their tours of duty and attended officer training. They were natural leaders and had the respect of any crew that worked with them.

Instead, they had gotten married and spent a brief leave in Scotland, at Jamie’s family home. Being reassigned to the Path Finder Force of 8 Group, under Air Vice-Marshall Bennett had been their reward. Together, the men had survived four tours of duty – two of them with 8 Group.

“You can’t take him up, Jamie,” Pat said now. “It’s against regulations.”

“Ever since they graced you with an aide, you’ve been all over these ruddy regulations.” There was laughter in Jamie’s voice and a merry twinkle in his blue eyes to take the sting from his words.

“Ah sure, and didn’t they offer you the same thing? You’ve more need of an aide than I do – your desk is a disaster.”

“Don’t tell me he has you filing papers while he’s dazzling the lasses doing loop-de-loops in the sky.”

“If anyone would know about that, sir . . .” I graced the black-haired Scot with a wry grin and Jamie barked a surprised laugh.

“The tongue on you – Pat did well to bring you on,” he said as he clapped me on the back. “Not that anyone will tell you anything, but I’m sure you have ways around that.”

“Enough, Jamie,” Pat warned. “You’re not supposed to know about that, either.”

No one was supposed to know I had been brought on to provide cover for the reconnaissance flights into Germany. There was some talk that 8 Group had a mole, and it was my job to find him – or her – and plug the leak before a big offensive set to take place later in the month.

On the train from London, Pat had explained the Intelligence Services had tapped him for work in 8 Group headquarters. He was not keen on the new role. He was still a pilot at heart, which was why he had enlisted me as his aide, and had “Corporal McAlister” transferred to the Administrative and Special Duties Branch. This way, Pat could take to the skies while I watched and listened on the ground.

Jamie nodded at his friend, but wasn’t done trying to get me in the sky. “Come on, Pat. The laddie here has been through hell.”

Pat looked between us and a small smile started at the corner of his mouth. “Ah, you’re worse than my nannie, God rest her.”

“Och aye, I’ve one of those myself.” Jamie grinned. He had won. “Just don’t tell Aunt Margaret I said so – she’d have my head for talking about her like that!”

* * *

I had no idea what it took to prepare oneself to fly, and was forced to stand by, helpless as a babe, while Jamie helped me pull up the jumpsuit, and strap on the helmet and parachute.

“Just in case,” he said with a wink and a mock-annoyed click of his tongue.

Seated in the plane, my palms began to sweat.

I had fought naked in hand-to-hand combat. I had crossed the sea between Scotland and Ireland in a tiny boat of leather hides. I had faced the boiling masses of a Fae army, which could not die, but when the ground fell away, all was noise and rattling sensation that gnawed at my bones.

The sky bent around us in stunning shades of blue as the plane soared.

My heart eased from my throat and my hands relaxed of their own accord. My soul filled with something resembling peace – fleeting and precious.

For the first time in a thousand years, I knew I could close my eyes and allow the gifts of the Goddess – gifts I had honed for years in the Druid grove and had forgotten at Nuada’s command – to flood my heart and make me whole.

I kept my eyes open.

There was too much to see.

To be continued. . . 

Hunted – A Changelings Short, Part 2

Continued from Hunted – A Changelings Short. 

“What do you remember?”

Dubh Súile mac Alasdair lifted his eyes to the red-haired man standing over him. He looked smart in his pilot’s uniform. He was young, yet his green eyes spoke of many battles.

Every day it was the same question.

Every day he said the same thing.

“Nothing.”

It was a lie.

Each of the 1200 years I had lived among man and Fae spread out before me – loves and lives lost taunted me whenever I closed my eyes.

Each moment of the war which had torn me from the world of men screamed at me in dreams, and the memory of magic, which had once been my reward, still lingered on my skin.

But that was not what the young man meant.

A broadsheet included with this day’s breakfast declared it was 1 March 1944. The narrow bed in which I lay belonged to the Queen Mary Convalescent Auxiliary Hospital just outside London, England.

I had not been in London for nearly 400 years. Metal-clad machines prowled the streets, their growl replacing the clatter of horses’ hooves on the cobbles.

It had been one of these—these things, which looked more like the monsters reserved for the unknown realms at the map’s edge than something man should ride within, that had put me at the mercy of the white-capped ladies of Queen Mary’s in the first place.

The only thing that remained the same was the endless war – only this time it wasn’t with the French.

“Nothing at all?” Pale eyebrows arched to etch lines of disbelief in the sergeant’s face.

“I remember nearly cracking your skull, even as I cracked my own.”

Not my finest moment, but Nuada Silver Arm had not meant it to be. In fact, I was fairly certain the king meant it to be my last moment.

“You and the cab came out of nowhere – if you hadn’t rolled me out of the way, I might have been hit by the bloody thing myself. Your reflexes are sound, at least.”

“Physically, perhaps,” I admitted. “My memory before that black cab is a little dim, however.”

“And yet, the doctors tell me the memory loss is a protective mechanism – depending on what it’s protecting, I would say that reflex is also very good, soldier.”

My left eyebrow raised of its own accord and the sergeant finally cracked a smile.

The sergeant’s smile turned into mock surprise. “What’s this, no retort? No denial? I call you ‘soldier’ and you simply accept it?”

I answered his smile with a wry twist of my lips. It was about time. At turns solicitous and stern, the sergeant had been trying for two days to uncover my identity.

“I have been a warrior – among many things – all my days. I could no more deny it than willingly stop breathing. And yet, I do not know for whom I fight.”

“For Queen and Country, that’s who,” the sergeant snapped. “I had a thought you were from one of the Highland regiments. A lad from the Black Watch had gone missing on his way back from the front. Deserter, they thought.”

Deserter.

The word slithered through the air, now sharp and sour. The sergeant’s eyes had turned to flint as he waited for me to twitch, blubber, or show any other sign that my memory loss – amnesia the doctors called it – was a ruse.

I stared placidly at him, and waited for him to continue. My mortal record – all my mortal records – had been lost to time for centuries, but creating an identity from whole-cloth was foolhardy at best. No longer did man rely on a messenger who might take days, if not weeks, to reach his destination. In 1944, a command from a faceless man half a world away could move – or halt – an entire army.

“A Corporal Doyle McAlister, late of Dingwall? I sent up your photo. Captain there says it was blurred – don’t know how that bloody happened – but it’s close enough.”

Breathing was suddenly difficult. My family name – and the name of my home – had changed only slightly. Was this more of Nuada’s machinations, or some other agent of fate?

I took care with my words. “The names feel familiar, sir, but I can’t say for certain that I am your man.”

“That will do enough for me.”

It was my turn to smile. “Why in such a hurry to tag a name to me, sir?”

“Because amnesia or not, you’re a canny one, Corporal. You watch, you wait and you keep your own counsel. I have need of a man with your skills.”

“And?”

If I was being tested, the matching grin on Sergeant O’Malley’s face said I’d passed.

“And I was only granted two day’s extra leave. I’m due back at 8 Group tomorrow. So, unless you would prefer to return to the front with your regiment…?”

O’Malley left the question hanging, but I didn’t leave it there for long. I’d seen the mechanical monstrosities man had made – and I had no desire to experience them any closer than I already had.

“You’ve cleared this with McAlister’s commanding officer, Sergeant O’Malley?”

“Indeed, Corporal McAlister, I have. How do you feel about aeroplanes?”

To be continued. . .