Continued from. . .
I 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?”
“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. . .