Authors: RJ Scott
Table of Contents
The Soldier's Tale
Part Two of
The Fitzwarren Inheritance
A Trilogy from a Trio
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Cover Artist: Reese Dante
Editor: Devin Govaere
The Soldier’s Tale © 2011 RJ Scott
ISBN # 9781920484712
This book uses UK English. Thank you.
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For my family
And always for my dad
For Chris Quinton and Sue Brown
Quite frankly, we English girls rock…
The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:
: Audi AG
Audi TT Roadster
: Volkswagen Group
: Bentley Motors Limited
: Browning International, SA
: University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
: Apple, Inc.
: Tata Motors
: Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Limited
Salisbury District Hospital
: Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust
The Corps of Royal Engineers
: a division of the British Armed Forces
From a book written in 1899:
—The History of Steeple Westford by the Rev. Horace Simpkins—
So in the autumn of the year 1644, Jonathan Curtess cursed Belvedere Fitzwarren, saying, "I curse you and your children's children, that you shall all live out your allotted years, and that those years shall be filled with grief and loss and betrayal, even as you have betrayed and bereaved me."
Much has been written of the actions undertaken in the name of punishment. It is not the place or situation of this book to provide conjecture at any great length on the situations regarding the curse other than the facts to hand. Artefacts recovered under the patronage of Her Majesty Victoriana Regina remained with the estate of Belvedere Fitzwarren.
Oscar Curtess, lately of Steeple Aston, had in his possession several items procured from the estate sale of the descendants of the Fitzwarren family. Amongst them a dagger that has the distinction of being attached to the rumour that it is the very knife that saved Jonathan Curtess from a slow death in fire.
The remains of Jonathan Curtess, the second of the most unfortunate to die at the stones, were interred by his remaining family, but there is little knowledge of location.
"Uhnnnn, damn it, sod it, bloody hell—ghuuu." Daniel Francis couldn't keep the grunts of pain and expletives from spilling out of his mouth. Letting loose the torrent of noise was the only thing that grounded him. He had only meant to rest for a few minutes, but, God, how much worse could this pain get? He was trapped now, sitting in the dark, surrounded by the scent of pine toilet cleaner, like some kind of bloody cripple. Scared. Stupid. A waste of space.
What had happened to the man he'd once been? Why the hell was he stuck in the men's toilet at his local surgery, literally scared to death to walk out into the waiting room? He had been doing so well today pushing the pain away. He had taken the pain meds like he was supposed to. They took the edge off the throbbing long enough to fake how well he was doing, and he had yet again survived his monthly visit to see a doctor. In this case, it was the second time since coming home that he had seen Lester, Sr. The doctor had been his usual efficient self, dismissing Daniel with a cursory glance at his records on the screen in front of him.
"Here are the scripts for your pain meds and muscle relaxants. I've lowered the level of Sertraline although I'm not comfortable with your request to do so. Keep to the prescription, use the ice packs. Come back and see me in three weeks so we can re-evaluate, and I can re-issue your medication."
The doctor had continued with the usual inane questions that experts always threw at him, and Daniel made a show of listening while he focused in on grey hair, bushy eyebrows, and pale grey eyes. He was half listening, already deciding he'd had enough of the blurred edge to his world on these damn tablets. He would fill the prescription, but that didn't mean he had to take the capsules. The doctor certainly didn't need to know. Daniel was his own man, and he could make his own decisions. He wasn't a kid who had to do what he was told all the bloody time. Hell, he'd had enough of that in the Army.
As a non-commissioned officer in the Royal Engineers, Corporal Daniel Francis was an explosive ordinance disposal expert—part of a small unit of highly-trained specialists. Men and women who provided munitions neutralization and disposal for both military operations and training exercises around the world, he was trained, experienced, good at his job.
Daniel missed his friends and his fellow soldiers, and he felt the familiar twinge of loneliness that always came with the memories of the soldiers he had commanded. They had been a tight team of six men and one woman, their work enabling the Army to handle battlefield conditions with fewer distractions. They were experts in their field, providing mine clearances and defusing roadside bombs in war zones, and they had been employed in post-conflict situations as well. Daniel's expertise, and that of his team, provided the skills needed to sweep fields and roads and to clear homes and other buildings in towns, making what remained of any civilian population safe.
had become the go-to man, the person the recruits turned to when they were unsure, the one whom the rest of the unit relied on as a sounding board as they puzzled out difficult situations. He was capable of focusing completely on the mine or bomb or incendiary in front of him, using his skills as the key to surviving a disarmament. He kept the balance between absolute certainty in both his skills and those of his unit and knowing precisely when the time had come to pull back and relieve the horrendous pressure on his men. Daniel had been able to call on his ability to sink into utter stillness at any given time.
was decorated with awards and citations, resulting from situations that he and his team had survived. Others who praised and paid and wrote articles in newspapers back home called it incredible bravery. He and his team, however, simply called it a job.
That was then, but he had to live in the now.
, invalided from service, no longer a corporal by name or possessing the ability to be a corporal by physical action, sat cowering in a sodding bathroom unable to even attempt a short walk home. He was damaged goods. Twisted and scarred and unable to even bloody breathe properly at this moment.
"How are you feeling today?" the doctor had asked with a raised eyebrow. Daniel had hesitated before answering. Post traumatic stress disorder was probably not something Dr Lester had much experience in, and the questions he asked were from some kind of script clearly approved by some specialist somewhere.
And Christ, that had been a leading question. The headache that had been nagging at Daniel all day went full blown and intense as he'd tried to formulate a suitable answer.
"I'm good," he'd finally said, as firmly as he could. There was no way he was giving the doc any openings for further questions.
"Is fine. Improving every day."
He'd lied. He'd said those five words as convincingly as a pro. Which he was. Daniel had managed to convince the much savvier medics at the Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital in Birmingham. The medics and shrinks there had been more difficult to convince: they were far too familiar with PTSD, not to mention severe injuries. However, Daniel had stuck to his claims, and though still reluctant, both his body and brain docs had discharged him back to his family home in Wiltshire to "heal."
The goddamned fucking lies were acid inside him. He had seen friends crippled or ripped from him by fire and metal, faces gone or reflecting the terror that had occurred with their deaths. His head was as screwed as it could be and still leave a chance for him to pass as something like normal.
As for his knee? What if he told the doc the truth? That oftentimes the pain was so personal, so intense, that he couldn't breathe or stop the tears from scorching his skin as they marked runnels of disappointment down his face. What if he had to admit his failure to deal with physical discomfort when Tommy Llewellyn had lost both legs? What the hell good would that do? He was alive, alive when so many of his unit had not survived, alive enough to walk and to feel the pain when they could no longer do either. He'd be goddamned if he was going to travel the rest of his days on earth in a drugged up anti-pain stupor.
Daniel could have become addicted to the Sertraline and pain pills, unable to go an hour without them, much less a day. He didn't need the softened edges that made his memories blur. He demanded for himself the ice-cold, cut-glass edges of memory. He wanted to remember. For the Ones under his command who never made it home.
He forced himself to walk naturally from the doc's office, refusing to show that his knee was close to giving out, the metal pins holding the bones together as rough as barbed wire grating under his skin.
"Three weeks," the doc had reminded him as he left, and he had managed to respond to the affirmative even as he realised he needed to sit before his knee gave way. He judged the distance to the door in the convoluted nest of corridors and cubicles that constituted the surgery. The toilet was nearer. In any event, Daniel wasn't ready to face the receptionist with her beady eyes and her concern over how he was feeling.
He locked the door behind him, shoved the toilet lid down and slumped until he sat on it. A small part of his mind registered the fact that he'd sat. He pressed blindly with both thumbs into the knot of incredible pain in his knee joint. The blast that had ripped through his team had inflicted contusion, blunt force trauma, burns, and penetrating wounds on those who had survived.
Daniel had been fortunate: many of his injuries had been superficial, except those to his face and knee. Triage had sent him behind the lines to a field hospital, where he'd been threatened with an amputation above the knee. Infection had hit the bone. Even if they were able to cure the infection, there was no guarantee that the knee would be anything close to normal, but it didn't matter. What the surgeon said didn't matter a damn. Nothing would have made Daniel sign that form. He might die? Then he'd die. But he'd do it with two legs. Thank fuck he'd been lucky enough to prove the doctors wrong.
Daniel's face healed. He'd been given as much plastic surgery as was possible, but some scars remained, curling and twisting under his hairline and down his neck. He was a disgusting thing to look out now, damaged, past his sell-by date.
Feeling bloody sorry for himself, his throat thickening with emotion and unshed tears, he bowed his head and pressed more deeply into the skin over twisted muscles and tendons. His pain decreased, but Daniel couldn't tell if the spasm had eased or if he had caused enough damage that his system had released endorphins
Silently he sat. Breathing deeply. Visualising his breathing. In, out, in, out. The rhythm became steadier than the knotting around his knee, and he realized dimly that he was trying to formulate an excuse for sitting in the bathroom for so long. God knows how long he'd sat here, sweat sliding down his face and his stomach churning.
He checked his watch—ten minutes to seven. The surgery was past closed for the evening.
Shit. He was stuck in the bloody bathroom, unable to fucking leave even if he could. Locked in. Hope remained that someone's appointment had run late, that there would be a staff member who could let him out, even though Dr Lester had probably departed for the day. Daniel moved with the caution of the very frail, testing each change in position, measuring his own ability to deal with the stiffness and the pain. Then, gathering every ounce of his remaining energy, Daniel pulled himself to his feet. His fingers clasped the help bar so hard he thought it had given way, and he tottered, light-headed and soaking wet with sweat. Abruptly, the air shifted, and the sweat began to cool, and he shivered. A little twinge in his wrecked knee warned him. Breathe, in and out, the rhythm stronger than the pain.
He had never dreamed that he would need the alterations to bathrooms for disabled users, but he thanked God for them every time he got stuck. The lock twisted under his clammy, sweat slick palm, and he cursed as the metal slipped. Wiping his hand on his thick wool sweater, he managed at least to turn the lock on the second try. He sagged against the door jamb, the little he had done leaving him breathless.
Only evening light illuminated the corridor, and using the wall both as a support and a guideline to exit, Daniel stretched and pulled on the twisted muscle until it finally completely relaxed. By the time he'd hobbled to the door to the reception area, he was able to allow the knee to take weight. Experience had taught him he needed to stop for a few minutes and allow the knee more time to relax, for the muscle to forget about continuing to spasm. Quietly, he waited, staring at his faint reflection in the glass partition to the darkened area beyond.
His hair was no longer military-short, but long and untidy and, Jesus, verging on wild. It curled unhindered to his collar, the longer hair covering more of his scar. Daniel wasn't totally ashamed of his disfigurement, but he didn't want to set out to scare grannies and children.
Six months, that was all. Six months and the man he'd been had found himself replaced with this lesser being. Thinner, muscles tired, exhausted, his skin pale, his stature bent. Fuck. He'd signed up knowing he could die for his country, but he'd never signed up to become a pathetic burden on the same country that had relied on him.
Wait. He tilted his head. Someone was talking in the darkened area, but he couldn't make out who. The corridor where he stood was darkening by the minute. His eyes were tired. There were two raised voices, but not the receptionist, not a woman's tones. Cautiously he moved towards the door, pressing his ear against the cool wood, instinct bringing him to a stop. His military training kicked in, and he automatically assessed the situation before he jumped in. The second voice sounded erratic and edgy, a curse surrounding each word though the tones were slurred.
"…sort this… I can phone the pharmacy… I'm your doctor so I can prescribe you…"
"…just the fucking pad…prescriptions is currency… thass'all I bloody need…"
The first man? He said he was a doctor? Didn't sound gruff enough to be the older Doctor Lester. Maybe it was the younger, the son, new to the surgery. Daniel had seen him from a distance. Tall, blond, unattainable and aloof, and a bit on the slim side to count as an asset. The second man, the threat. The environment. Closed area, only two doors in, one of which he was leaning against. There was more talking, raised voices. Was the second guy armed? Adrenaline rushed his system.
He crouched lower. Changing the expectation was the name of the game. Anyone who attacked the situation would be expected at shoulder level, not in a crouch. His knee protested, but as he had done on the battle field, it was easy to push pain away as the impetus for action coiled in his spine.
There was a lull in the talking, and he strained to hear. He heard other noises, like a chair being dragged across the floor, and then, suddenly, hoarse shouting. The soldier in him came to the fore, and coiled energy underlay his motions.
He assessed the situation in the half second required to shove open the door. A man in a suit, a white shirt, his hands raised, placating. The victim. Another, a smaller figure, hooded, his back to Daniel. He caught the glimpse of a knife, wicked, sharp and silver, glinting in the streetlight illumination from outside. The man in the suit startled as he spotted Daniel. Daniel knew he had seconds as the hooded figure turned on his heel, all the while waving the knife. Daniel sidestepped the blade, feinting left and bringing his arm up to block the return sweep, ducking and using his foot to catch the guy at the back of his leading knee, the most vulnerable point Daniel could use to overbalance the intruder. In between one breath and another, he twisted the guy onto his front, dropped his weaker knee against the other man's lower back, and yanked back the intruder's hood. Long, dark hair slipped free, and he clutched it tight.
"Drop the knife," he snarled, smashing the guy's face into the carpeted floor, pushing it harder when the hand holding the knife refused to let go. The intruder tried to struggle and twist, but it was a pathetic attempt, nothing that worried Daniel. Easily dominating the moment, he moved his hard body and made the person under him whimper in distress.