We’re here, at the end of all things – and at the beginning of others (a little melodramatic yes, but that’s what living in D’s head – instead of him living in mine – does!) It’s been a joy to relive this little slice of D – and Sean and Maureen’s – history – especially since it has a great many “Easter Eggs” from Changelings: Into the Mist AND the upcoming Changelings: The Rise of Kings. I hope you have enjoyed it as well! Visit Smashwords for your FREE copy, or download the PDF here.
Continued from. . .
Despite that I was Sergeant O’Malley’s aide, I was not allowed in the radio control room while my friends flew over Nuremberg. Only those with clearance – far higher than mine – were allowed, but they could not stop me from camping outside the door and chatting up anyone who would stop.
The news was not good. The Germans had been ready for the raids. As the night wore on, and more and more planes went down, and more names I knew were whispered as missing or dead, my dread deepened.
They would make it, though – they always had before. Four tours. It was unheard of. They were blessed by the angles, as some of the other pilots said.
I kept telling myself that, but as men trickled in with tales of being lit up by the German lights, of being hounded by the Luftwaffe, my heart clenched around the knowledge that Pat and Jamie’s blessings may have run out. Neither angels, nor the gods themselves could keep them from the fate of all men, it seemed.
But I had defied fate, part of me reasoned as dawn broke. I had not allowed time to march on, nor the hand of death to take me. If I could do it, so too could they – these men who were better than me by far.
But even my blindness to reality could not change facts. The sun was nearing its apex. No one had returned in over an hour. Anyone still out there would have been out of fuel by now, and forced to land – if they could even manage it – in enemy territory.
I gritted my teeth and took myself to Vice Air-Marshal Bennet. To my surprise, his aide announced me straight away.
“I was wondering when I would see you, Corporal McAlister,” Bennet said as he waved my salute away. “Sit. I have news.”
Bennet took a deep breath and even though I wanted to protest – wanted to deny the words I could see in the other man’s eyes – I did as I was told.
“Sir, may I ask if there has been news of—”
“You know what’s happened to them already, or you wouldn’t be here.”
“I was waiting for a confirmation report, but I can say with some confidence that Sergeants O’Malley and McAndrew were shot down. They’re dead. I’m sorry, Corporal. I know O’Malley was responsible for your post here. He thought very highly of you.”
I had no words to defend myself against the sudden emptiness that opened up in my chest. My hand slid to my heart.
I had lost comrades in war. I had been forced to watch my father’s murder. I had lived through more battles than I cared to remember, but it did not make their passing any easier.
Pat’s letter to his infant daughter crinkled in my chest pocket. He hadn’t the chance to mail it and had asked me to keep it safe until he returned.
“Are you sending anything home, to their families, sir?”
“The telegrams have already been sent to Home Office. Someone will deliver the news to their wives later today.”
My face flushed and I welcomed the anger – welcomed the ability to speak without thinking.
“Sir, forgive me, but how can you just—just dismiss them like that? Telegrams? They deserved better than that.”
Bennet sighed and rested his hands on the papers that littered his desk. I had no business speaking to him like this, but I didn’t care. It was the truth. They had deserved better.
“You have to understand something, Corporal. Their wives are in Ireland – things being what they are there, Pat is already a traitor.” Bennet ground out the last few words and two bright splotches of red had appeared on his cheeks. “Us showing up and giving them honours will only make things more difficult for Kathy and Mary.”
He took a breath and flexed his hands which had turned to fists. The man was angry – furious even – but not with me.
Pat had explained – Ireland was neutral, to a point. Those who had been enlisted in the Irish Army and left to join the British in the war were now traitors. While Pat had never been a member of the Irish Army, but many would – and did – see his wartime activities as an act of treason.
“The girls were stationed with the Women’s Auxiliary back in ’40. They met here, you understand? I gave them leave so they could marry. If Kathy and Mary were smart, they would go to Cloak Tower. There at least, they’d have a place, and I know Jamie’s aunt has been asking for them. But I also know they won’t go. Ireland is their home, and the girls are stubborn – and brave. Always have been.”
He looked me straight in the eye. “Let’s not make this worse for them.”
I straightened and nodded. “No, sir. I understand.”
“I knew you would. Can I count on you, too, to continue the Sergeant’s plan to infiltrate the German line?”
“Sir?” The sound of our plans – made only the night before – on Bennet’s lips made the hairs on my neck stand on end.
“Sergeant O’Malley stopped by my office before he flew out.” He showed me a slip of paper with my name on it. It was a requisition request.
I relaxed, but only slightly. All through the night, all I could think was that I had been wrong, that there had been an informant in 8 Group, and I had lost him.
But even as that fear nipped at my heels, I knew for certain no one had exploited the secrets so rife at Castle Hill House. Not in the last month, at any rate. The informant had left before Pat brought me on.
And I would make sure the traitor was paid in kind for his treachery.
“I see, sir. In that case, yes. As soon as it can be managed.” I would honour their memory by finding out who had leaked the information about yesterday’s raid. I would honour them by helping to end this terrible war.
“Good – you leave at 0800 hours tomorrow. Captain Hardwick will make sure you’re kitted out.”
Bennet stood and I saluted him.
“Thank you, sir.”
“You’ll make them proud, Corporal. I know you will.”
* * *
“Hey, Corporal, wait.” It was Jack, the American pilot with the camera.
I turned and watched the man jog up to him with a mixture of curiosity and impatience. The car tasked with taking me to the harbour was waiting, as was the boat that would deliver me across the sea to occupied France, and from there, Germany.
“I thought you might want to have this.” Jack was faintly breathless when he reached my side, and he waved a bit of glossy paper in my face. “I took it when you boys were in the pub on Wednesday night.”
I was silent as I plucked the paper from Jack’s hand. It was a photograph. I had seen them, of course, but that did not lessen my shock at seeing my own face – or part of it – stark against the gloom of the pub. Jamie and Pat were on either side of me at a table littered with cigarette butts and pint glasses. Pat had a pen in his hand and under a protective hand was his letter to his daughter.
I slipped the picture into my pocket – next to the same letter. I bit hard on the flesh of my cheeks, but whether to stem tears or the rising tide of rage, I was no longer sure.
“Thank you, Sergeant. I appreciate it.” I saluted the American and the other man nodded smartly.
“Good luck, Corporal. Give ‘em hell.”
* * *
Faerie whispers had been chasing me for weeks, and for weeks, I continued to throw myself at the wolves of Germany. Sometimes I caught those who followed me – those who I had rallied to my side with calls for resistance and freedom – looking at me as though I was crazed, or perhaps damaged.
Maybe I was damaged, but they followed me regardless.
The traitor, the man ultimately responsible for the deaths of my friends, the man whose information had effectively ended the aerial war on Germany, had been captured.
When I saw him, I insisted I alone interrogate the prisoner. A glitter of silver haunted the man’s eyes, and he’d been filled with delusions of grandeur. Whispers of Nuada’s doing lingered on his lips and I knew the king’s dark power had turned this man’s heart.
Why? Had exile not been enough? Had the king wanted to crush my soul as well?
The traitor was mad, my men said.
I agreed, but I stayed their hands when they would dispatch him – leave him in a ditch where none would find him.
We would not become those men, I said.
The war was almost over. I could taste it in the air, feel the shuddering sigh of a world brought to the brink of destruction only to pull back.
Actions taken in these final days would stay with us.
It was March again, and still I pressed on.
I had honoured Pat and Jamie’s memory, yet those who struggled and died to bring freedom to the world of men called out to me. The beacons of their hope lit my dreams and haunted my waking hours.
I would bear witness to their fight, so we trudged on, my men and I, and we fought or liberated where we could.
And so, the whispers of Faerie followed me as I hovered at the edge of my despair. My year was up. Niamh was looking for me, begging me to return to Tír na nÓg.
That she knew of my pain I did not doubt, yet I refused to listen until my company was safe. I led them back into a liberated village on the French-German line, and gave them to the commanding officer there.
That night, I slipped into the fields and howled at the moon as I called the mists.
The world fell away and I vowed then, I would enter it no more.
* * *
I sat in the grove of my own creation and stared out at a world and a people descended of mine own. As I watched, trees gave way to stone and the Many lost their claim to the priests of the One.
Then the wheel turned. The sacred trees grew around my effigy of stone and the Many came out of hiding. I sat in my grove and watched a world outside my imagination, willing it to see.
She saw. She saw me with uncanny green eyes – the green eyes of my mother and her mother before her: witch’s eyes.
Joy rose in me. It was time – time to join the world after years of solitude, time to act after centuries of stillness.
I closed my eyes and reached across the barrier, to touch my future and my past.