Well, that went by fast. I knew it was getting close, but it was still a bit of a shock when Facebook reminded me yesterday that a full year had passed since I released the first book – the 20-year project – of the Changelings saga. It also marked the nine months since I’ve blogged with any regularity. Now, while I can’t say the latter will change to any great degree, I can honor the former with, drum roll please–
D: You mean this drum roll?
A (Ridiculously cheesy grin): Glad you could make it to the party, D.
D: It’s not a party without me – as well you know.
A (Cheesy grin at odds with eye-rolling): Of course. Will you do the honors?
D: Of telling everyone that the glorious tale of my life and loves – oh wait, you haven’t gotten to that one yet–
D: Right, anyway – that the almost-glorious tale, Changelings: Into the Mist – and A’s attempt to escape from me by writing an Irish spy thriller, Three Ghosts – are FREE starting today. Wait – did I just say free?!
A: Yes, D – it’s a promotion. It ends Sunday the 15th.
D: Well, that’s okay, I suppose.
A: You never took gold for your songs.
D: But I did get a good cup of mead or ale out of the deal.
A: I have wine. I’m good.
D: Fair enough – now, what’s the surprise?
A: Nope – story first. Because not only are we celebrating Changelings‘ birthday with a sale, we have a brand-new side story – staring you.
D: Oh. This one. You’ve saved it.
A: I have, and I thought, with Veterans/Remembrance day just past, it was appropriate. Enjoy.
“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.
It was a lie.
Each of the 1200 years he’d lived among man and Fae spread out before him – loves and lives lost taunted him whenever he closed his eyes. Time etched fondness in the lined faces of his teachers in the Druid grove – and in the tonsured heads of the monks who took their place three centuries later. Each moment of the war that had torn him from the world of man screamed at him in dreams and the memory of magic, which had once been his reward, still lingered on his skin.
But that was not what the young man meant.
A broadsheet included with this day’s breakfast declared it 1 March 1944. The narrow bed in which he lay was courtesy the Queen Mary Convalescent Auxiliary Hospital just outside London, England.
He had not been in London for nearly 400 years. Metal-clad machines that growled in the street had replaced the placid clatter of the horses’ hooves on the cobbles. It had been one of these – these things which looked more like monsters reserved for the unmapped territories at the world’s edge than something man should ride within – that had put him at the mercy of the white-capped ladies of Queen Mary’s.
In fact, the only thing that remained the same in old London-town was the threat of ongoing 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.” Dubh snorted and shook his head. It had not been his finest moment, but Nuada Silver Arm had not meant it to be, either. In fact, he was certain the king of the Fae had intended it to be Dubh’s 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,” Dubh 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.”
Dubh raised his own eyebrow and the sergeant finally cracked a smile.
It was about time. At turns solicitous and stern, the sergeant had been trying for two days to uncover Dubh’s identity, and yet it seemed to Dubh that the young man’s official suspicion was at odds with a more affable curiosity.
Even so, Dubh hesitated to reveal anything. His mortal record was lost to time, certainly, but creating an identity from whole cloth was dangerous. 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.
The sergeant sat on the edge of Dubh’s bed, and the hairs along his neck rose as he moved his legs. Typically, his visitor came later in the day, when Dubh was allowed the novelty of rolling around in the wheeled chair. Even then, the sergeant never stopped long, and he never sat.
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 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 to pounce on any twitch or other sign that Dubh’s memory loss – amnesia the doctors called it – was a ruse.
Dubh blinked once, then twice, and waited for the sergeant to continue.
“A Corporal Doyle McAlister, late of Strathpeffer? 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. Dubh’s family name – and the name of their home – had changed only slightly. Was this more of Nuada’s machinations, or some other agent of fate?
He took care with his next 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 Dubh’s 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.”
Dubh arched an eyebrow.
“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…?”
Dubh didn’t let the question hang in the air too long. He had seen the mechanical monstrosities that man had made – and he had no desire to witness them any closer than he 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. . .
D: And the surprise?
D: There’s supposed to be a surprise. You promised – and it’s not allowed to be the “To Be Continued,” either.
A: Oh. Well, in that case, come back tomorrow.
D: If you were really a great and powerful–
A: Come back tomorrow, D – I promise, there’s more.
D: She said it here, folks – and unreliable though she may be, I know firsthand that there is much more to this tale already written. So, head over to Amazon and pick up the first installment in the Changelings series – or a quick spy thriller – and escape into our memories for a spell, for FREE!