Knight-Errant by Dizzy Dolphin
Lee Crane, Captain of the Seaview,
let out a contented sigh as he walked along the corridor. It always felt good to be back aboard Seaview after a refit.
Not that the boat had required much in the way of work, this was more of
a ‘spruce up’ with a tweak here and there.
She was always kept ‘ship-shape and
Normally Lee spent the time during a refit working in his office at the NIMR, where there was always an unending stream of paperwork pertaining to Seaview and the running of the institute. Admiral Nelson had come to rely on Lee for more and more of the everyday paper pushing and consults on upcoming cruises or projects.
However this time Lee had taken some of the refit time as personal leave, much to the surprise of the Admiral and Lee’s XO Chip Morton, and to the complete and utter astonishment of the CMO, Dr. Jamieson, aka Jamie.
Lee was a workaholic and Chip usually had to figuratively and sometimes literally drag Lee’s six away from the boat or the institute in order to get him to take some relaxation time. It wasn’t unusual for the Admiral to make it an order and threaten to have security placed on alert should Lee try to come back to the office or board Seaview. Jamie often weighed in with medical reasons for Lee to take time off. These four had unique and enviable working and personal relationships with each other. It gave them great strength as a command team and on more than one occasion had saved both boat and crew from circumstances that normally would have resulted in total disaster.
“Well,” Lee had thought, “I certainly got the jump on them all this time. I’ve managed to get away without telling them where I’m going or what I’m going to be doing.” Oh they’d asked and Chip had really worked hard on getting it out of him, but he had just smiled and waved goodbye.
He and Chip had been best friends for many years, gone through the Naval Academy together, went their separate ways in the Navy but kept in touch until Chip and eventually Lee both ended up on Seaview. They were as close as brothers, closer even than many actual siblings, and that lead to some interesting kibitzing on board and off. It could also result in heated words when Chip took exception to something that Lee was involved in, usually an Office of Naval Intelligence assignment. That was the only assurance Lee had given his friends, that his time-off did not involve ONI, or anything likely to land him in trouble, or so he had thought at the time.
It was not one of the better landings Lee had experienced. Bump, bump, thump, slough to the left, lurch and stop. Well at least he was in Scotland, that was the important part he guessed. Next time he’d try to avoid hitching a ride on a Navy Cargo plane. Trouble was that his gear was rather unusual for commercial flights, he would have had to do a lot of explaining to flight security.
Normally he was off charting seafloors or counting seals when tournament time came around but once in awhile he was able to make it. Neither Chip nor the Admiral knew about his involvement with the Society for Creative Anachronism** (SCA), and he was fine keeping it that way. Like any young boy stories about knights and castles had been a favourite of his and when an ONI friend mentioned that he belonged to a local SCA and that it was possible to actually live out the fantasy’s of boyhood, Lee had been intrigued, then hooked. He kept his involvement ‘undercover’ as he knew it would cause him all sorts of grief from Chip, who managed to come up with quite enough to harass Lee about all on his own.
Lee’d been to Scotland before, once with Seaview, looking for the Loch Ness Monster when an assignment they had been given went wrong. They’d found a monster all right, both organic and non. Someday he must suggest to Nelson that they return and have a really good look throughout the Loch, you never could tell.
As he deboarded and collected his gear he spotted his ONI pals, Gerry and Mike with a big Hummer and big grins to match. Agents spent a lot of their time role playing so this could, in some respects, be viewed as a training exercise if they had to rationalize it to themselves, but they knew it was mostly just plain fun to do and informative.
“Hey Sir Lee, glad to see you made it,” greeted Gerry. Mike laughed, he knew what was coming, Lee had taken a lot of mocking about “surly”, he’d eventually had enough and started using his middle name. Lee fake frowned at Gerry, “I thought we had settled the ‘Sir Lee’ bit, it’s Sir Alexander or Sir Alex to my friends,” the three chuckled and exchanged back thumps all around.
They loaded ‘Sir Alex’s’ gear into the Hummer beside their stuff and headed for the gate. “How was the flight” inquired Mike, “the landing looked special.”
“Not sure what that was about but the flight itself was uneventful, didn’t even get asked about what I had in my bag.”
“They wouldn’t ask, to used to ferrying us ONI types around, they know better than to ask questions we aren’t going to answer, but it might have been fun explaining what you had and why,” commented Gerry. “Speaking of explaining, how did you cover your absence from NIMR? I thought Admiral Nelson kept a pretty close eye on you, you know, just in case the Big Bad ONI tried to abscond with you again.” Gerry had met Admiral Nelson awhile back when the Admiral had been in Washington, he didn’t seem a bad sort but Gerry knew the Admiral took exception to Lee’s involvement with ONI.
“Seaview is in for a refit for 2 months so I was on desk duty,” Gerry and Mike groaned, “painful Lee, just painful.”
Lee grimaced, “Ya not my favourite type of duty either, but I caught up the important stuff and then put in for 2 weeks personal leave, got a lot of leave piled up and everyone is always trying to get me to take time off. The timing was perfect so I’m Sir Alex for the next week. Then I figured I’d bum around Scotland’s pubs with you guys for a week.”
“The Admiral and your XO didn’t want to know where you’d be and what you’d be doing?” asked Mike.
“Oh they wanted to know, including Jamie, our CMO. I just told them that security had my contact number in case of an emergency but since ‘certain people’ were always trying to get me to take a complete break from work I wasn’t going to tell them anything about it,” snickered Lee.
“Ah the old Crane payback gambit,” joked Gerry, “works every time I bet.”
“To a certain point, I’ll have to come up with a good cover story by the time I get back otherwise I’ll have no peace from Chip.”
“Ah yes the joys of brothers, real or of the heart types,” commented Mike.
“Wouldn’t have it any other way, besides the Admiral counts on Chip keeping him informed on my activities, on or off boat.”
“If they ever figure this out, we really want to be there to see it,” Gerry told Lee, Mike agreed wholeheartedly.
“What about you guys, I heard that there was a real dust-up on the last mission you were on. Could have told the Powers that Be that sending you two off together was not the brightest move.”
“Hey, we got in and got out, more or less according to plan,” Mike replied. “We’re just not sure whose plan,” said Gerry, “we both added a few bruises and contusions to our ever expanding med files, but all in all it worked out.”
Lee smiled, well aware of how one often ended up in less than pristine shape on ONI missions. “Well I don’t want to add any injuries to my med file from this tournament, be hard trying to explain them to Jamie.”
“You know you’re going to get some, I’m taking you down in the lists this time,” Mike threatened. “You and what army?” Lee smarted back.
The drive deep into the Highlands of Scotland was breathtaking and the friends continued their good natured ‘threats’ as they drove along.
Lee knew the odds of acquiring a few bruises were pretty good. He’d be competing in armoured combat, the Quintain*** and contact jousting. There is where some amazing bruises could be acquired. His natural athleticism came in very handy as did his Navy and ONI training, but he still had some spectacular ‘crashes’ from time to time. He wouldn’t be mounted on his usual steed, supplied by a friend who was also a member. That added to the bruise risk as he wasn’t sure how much practise time he’d have to get to know his mount and that was very important. A horse that was skittish or pulled to the side could really foul you up. The horse had to trust that you knew what you were doing, and that trust took time to build.
“Lee gave you no idea what he was going to be doing for the next 2 weeks?” the Admiral asked Chip.
“Not a clue Sir, just kept grinning at me.”
“I haven’t asked security for Lee’s contact number, that might give us a hint but it seems like prying. If he wanted us to know he would have told us. He is entitled to personal time without giving us all the details.” Chip wasn’t sure which one of them Nelson was trying to convince.
“Yes Sir, but it does seem strange, usually he tells one of us what he’s going to be doing. I’ve been trying to think of how I might have ticked him off.”
“I know you wouldn’t ask me Chip but as far as I know I haven’t done anything lately. As I said he’s entitled to his privacy so unless there is an emergency we’ll just have to wait it out.”
“Aye Sir,” but Chip was thinking, “there’s privacy and then there’s privacy, big brother’s ought to know what little brother’s are doing, especially accident prone, trouble attracting little bros.” Chip was only a year older, but he liked to remind Lee that he was ‘older and therefore wiser’, Lee usually told him where he could put that. Of course when on duty everything was quite proper between XO and Captain, unless they figured no one was looking.
While the scenery was beautiful a lot of miles and time were passing, and the further they went north the more isolated Lee felt. Those little hairs on the back of his neck that often warned him that something wasn’t quite right were beginning to prickle.
“Have either of you ever been here before?” Lee asked his companions.
“We’ve both been in Scotland of course, but never this far north, at least I haven’t, what about you Gerry?”
“Nope, if it wasn’t for the map I’d say we were well and truly lost. Does it strike either of you as odd that it’s so remote? Usually onlookers are encouraged and it’s at a location that’s fairly easy to get to, this is a bit of an effort.”
“That’s what I was thinking,” replied Lee, “something just isn’t sitting right, never really thought about it when I glanced at the map. Now that we are here and seeing the area, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. We haven’t seen another vehicle since we took that last turnoff.”
Having relied on their instincts to keep them alive on countless missions they weren’t about to ignore them now.
Gerry pulled off to the side and stopped the vehicle. “OK conference time. We’re all feeling a little uncomfortable about this right now. We certainly seem to be off the beaten track, but maybe they do things differently in Scotland and prefer not to have the public around. We can continue on and have a look at the setup then decide if we’re staying, or we can turn around now.” The last said with a question implied at the end.
The three sat quietly for a few minutes deep in thought. Lee broke the silence first, “approach it like a mission, scout the area then decide.”
“I’ll agree to that,” Mike said, “let’s see what the setup is and go from there,” Gerry nodded, started the engine and pulled back onto the road. A few miles further on he turned onto a small gravel road that lead up and into dense trees. They didn’t see the vehicle that pulled out of concealment and blocked the entry to the road. The firearms in the vehicle had nothing to do with creative anachronism.
Nelson fiddled with his pencil, then he shuffled the papers on his desk, tried to read them again, but his mind kept wandering to Lee. He believed what he’d said to Chip, Lee was certainly entitled to his privacy, wasn’t he? Yes he had strong fatherly feelings towards Lee and he knew Lee returned the strength of those feelings as a son would. Still, he reasoned, that didn’t mean he was owed a constant accounting of everything Lee did. Had Lee been feeling ‘smothered’ by Nelson’s fatherly attention? Was this some sort of ‘statement’ from Lee that he needed some space? Pencil fiddle, paper shuffle, try to read the words.
Hells bells, he would at least contact ONI just to be sure it wasn’t their doing that Lee left without telling anyone where or why. Lee had failed to tell him about being on an ONI assignment before, ONI assignments were often ‘need to know’ and ONI frequently told Lee that Nelson didn’t. At least not until they needed the Admiral and his resources to rescue Lee because ONI couldn’t seem to keep track of him or give him correct intel half the time.
“Angie, get me Jones at ONI on the line please.”
Angie, Nelson’s executive assistant loved her job and greatly respected her boss, Admiral Nelson. She understood his frequent frustrations with his Captain and that ONI was often involved in them. Sometimes she wished she had taken Psych 101 or equivalent, it was a source of considerable amusement that while everyone knew about the father/son feelings between Nelson and Crane, the parties involved tap danced around it constantly. Made everyone dizzy sometimes.
“I have Admiral Jones on the line Sir”
“Thank you Angie put him through. “Jones, Nelson, what are you up to with my Captain?” growled Nelson, “I want a straight answer, none of that ‘need to know’ crap!” He’d long since learned that the best way to break through the walls was to infer that he knew more than he did.
“Harriman, always almost nice to hear from you and what in tarnation are you talking about? Crane isn’t on our radar right now.”
“Don’t give me that Frank, he left here and wouldn’t say where he was going or what he was doing, that stinks of ONI,” Nelson retorted.
“Be that as it may, and by the way we don’t ‘stink’, Crane is not on assignment with us. As a matter of fact it’s quiet right now and a number of our agents are on leave. I thought I’d heard that Crane had taken some personal leave as well.”
“Oh and how would you know whether MY Captain was taking leave or not?”
“We always keep an eye on Crane, Harriman, need to know where he is in case a need arises, which is something you apparently don’t seem to be able to do right now with Crane.”
Nelson let that jibe slide, he could have pointed out that ONI frequently lost track of Lee when he was on assignment, “So you’re telling me that you know where he is but he’s not on an assignment?”
“Well to be truthful, not exactly,” mumbled Jones, “seems we’ve lost track of him as well, we think he’s with two or more of our agents that are on leave but they seem to be missing too, or at least not where they are supposed to be.”
“And ONI isn’t a tad concerned about missing some agents?”
“We’re looking Harriman, the contact info they left turned out to be bogus, the phone number was recently disconnected and the address in Scotland was an abandoned building. Their cell phones are being blocked, we don’t know how or who. It looks like a trap was set, could be Crane is snared in it as well. Seems Crane and the other agents that are missing are all connected to an old case.”
“And you didn’t think to contact me to warn me that someone could be hunting him?” Nelson asked quietly. It was never a good sign when he got quiet.
“Like I said, we’re looking into it, if we’d found Crane was caught up in whatever it is, we probably would have contacted you.”
“You probably would have contacted me, why how nice of you, and when I find Lee and get him out of whatever mess you’ve landed him in, I’ll probably bring your boys along too.” with that Nelson slammed down the phone.
When the gravel road topped the hill they came to what appeared to be the parking area for the tournament. There were a few other vehicles, Gerry pulled in and parked. Off in the distance they could seen pavilions and banners and the ruins of an old castle that appeared to be undergoing restoration. Lee could smell the tang of salt air, the castle being on a bluff overlooking the North Sea.
A number of ‘squires’ approached them and as was customary advised that they would take the ‘Sirs’ equipment to the quarters assigned to them. If Gerald, Lee, and Michael would be so good as to follow Malcolm he would take them on a short orientation tour and then to their quarters so they could change before being presented at court. The squire looked at each of them as he named them.
“Seems a bit remote here for the tournament,” Lee commented to Malcolm.
“I suppose it might appear that way, but it is a most excellent site and we anticipate a most....entertaining tourney.”
There was something in the way Malcolm hesitated in the last part of his answer that bothered Lee.
“Has this site been used before?” queried Mike.
“Not to my knowledge, but I am new here, likely others will be better able to answer your question.” Then speaking to all of them, “As you can see there is a broad expanse of flat grassland here about the castle. To your right you can see the Lists have been set up, both Jousting and the Quintain will take place there. On the middle ground, armoured combat, your quarters are within the castle walls. I’ll take you there now, your gear should have been brought up and placed in your rooms by this time. You will have approximately 2 hours to change and orient yourselves to the grounds. You will then have your official presentation to the court as visiting competitors.”
“Thank you Malcolm,” answered Lee for the group.
They were each shown to a room and advised not to stray into the areas of the castle that were marked off-limits, as those areas were still unsafe. Lee’s room and he figured the others also, was typical castle type, small, stone walled and stone floored, fur carpets covered the floor. The bed was narrow, had a mattress and adequate blankets, apparently homespun with furs on top. Lee’s gear was there. He quickly changed, pulling on an off-white linen shirt over which he wore a soft brown leather tunic, then he pulled on snug boot cut black pants, he refused to wear breeches, and toped it off with a waist length black cloak and tall black leather boots. He met Mike and Gerry in the corridor as the exited their rooms, similarly attired. They each raised an eyebrow and nodded their heads towards the end of the corridor and the exit to the grounds.
“You noticed?” asked Mike
Lee replied, “Malcolm knew our names without asking. Even if we were the only Americans coming, how would he know which of us was which, but he did.”
“Did you recognize anyone we’ve passed?” asked Gerry
“Not a soul,” confirmed both Lee and Mike.
“Not that there are many people here, these events usually draw quite a crowd. I would have thought we’d see some familiar faces,” Lee commented.
The three stood in silent contemplation.
“Hey, over there by the Lists, isn’t that Stephen and Daniel?” Mike asked.
Lee and Gerry looked over just as the two men Mike had pointed towards looked their way. Arms went up, hands waved. They all did a quick jog toward each other.
“Long time no see, thought you two were still ‘out and about’,” greeted Lee.
“We finished up and were hanging around Italy for a bit. Looks like we got the same invite you did, had our stuff shipped over and arrived here last night,” Stephen told them. Greetings exchanged the five stood quietly. Daniel looked at Steven, who nodded, “Steven and I aren’t so sure about this place, something feels off. Any of you notice anything?”
“We were discussing it before we saw you.” said Lee, “To far away, too few people, and they knew who we were without an introduction. Have you had your presentation at court yet? I really want to get a look at who’s running this.”
“Nope, they told us the intros wouldn’t be until the last knights arrived,” Daniel said.
“Well I don’t see many knights around, gonna be a short presentation,” Stephen opined.
Chip had been talking to Angie while Nelson was on the phone with ONI. It was impossible not to overhear most of the Nelson side of the conversation given the decibel level. What he heard made Chip uneasy. ONI, Lee, agents were missing, someone hunting Lee, none of this was good.
Nelson’s voice came over the intercom, he really didn’t have to use it they could hear him just fine through the door, “Angie get Chip here now, and I want the contact info on Lee from security.”
“Right away Sir.”
“How do you do that?” Angie asked Chip, he always seemed to be there when either Lee or the Admiral wanted him. “It’s a gift,” Chip grinned at her, “or maybe a curse.”
Chip knocked and knowing the mood on the other side didn’t wait for an answer but stepped in pretty much at attention.
In an echo of Angie, he heard Nelson mutter, “wish I knew how he did that.”
“Well Chip, it seems our Captain may have managed to once again get himself into a tight spot,” Nelson began.
“I wanted to know for sure that ONI hadn’t gotten their hooks into Lee for another assignment so I called Admiral Jones. Seems they are missing some agents and there could be a tie-in to Lee.”
Just then Angie brought in the contact information that Lee had left with security. The Admiral looked at the phone number, if memory served it was a Scotland number, that didn’t bode well. He told Chip to take a seat and asked Angie to get Jones again. Chip had already chivvied Lee’s contact number out of security but hadn’t called it yet, he saw no good reason to inform the Admiral of this.
“Jones, Nelson. I have the number Lee left for us to contact him, it’s 011 44 131 1234567. Ring a bell on your end?” Nelson winced at the unintentional pun.
“Same number we have for our missing agents, it’s no help. I do have a bit more information though,” Jones volunteered.
“Well spit it out man, time probably matters!” an exasperated Nelson responded.
“Keep your stars on Harriman. Seems our missing ONI agents have something in common besides the old ONI case. They all belong to a local Society for Creative Anachronism group.”
“Well as far as I know Lee doesn’t,” Nelson said.
“Harriman let me clarify, when I said ‘our’ missing ONI agents I was including Crane.”
Silence from Nelson for a heartbeat, Chip looked on as the colour began to rise up the Admiral’s neck and into his face. “Oh boy,” Chip thought “whatever you’ve done Lee it’s a beaut.”
“How the hell could Lee be involved with that and keep it secret, it’s not like someone clanking around in armour wouldn’t get noticed, and stop calling him ‘your’ ONI agent,” Nelson roared.
“Clanking around in armour, Lee, what were those two talking about,” went through Chip’s bewildered head, the war around Lee, between the Admiral and ONI he was well familiar with.
“Crane certainly wouldn’t be wearing the stuff on your boat and I doubt he’d be broadcasting his involvement, I know our other agents certainly weren’t,” lord help him he loved jerking Harriman’s chain, he got his own jerked often enough by the man. “They get to have a life outside of ONI, sort of. We did know about it and encouraged it quietly, good practise for an agent really.”
“Can I take it that you’re investigating that end of things?” asked Nelson, choosing to ignore Frank’s attempt to needle him further.
“Yes, so far they are clean and I expect will remain so. The only other interesting bit is that apparently the missing agents received invites to some sort of tournament, the society here didn’t know anything about it but confirmed that events do take place. One of the agents here happened to see an invite that had been left out, sort of sloppy of the invited agent, it was postmarked Scotland. Don’t suppose you’d know if Crane received one?” Jones asked Nelson.
“Not that I’m aware of but it would explain a couple of things. It sounds like Scotland is where we need to be looking. A trap set up to look like a Creative Anachronism event. I can hardly wait to hear Lee’s explanation, then I’m gonna keelhaul him.”
“Hope you get the chance Harriman, we’ll be looking too and keep you in the loop. I’ll email over pictures of our missing agents,” Jones hung up.
Nelson fixed Chip with one of his icy blue glares, “Chip, is there by any chance, something you might like to share with me about Lee’s off boat activities?”
“Ummm not about armour and Creative Anachronism Sir, I’m at a loss as to what most of that conversation was about,” Chip was hoping for some clarification.
Nelson obliged, “It would appear that ONI missions, aliens, deep sea monsters, and such are insufficient to keep our Captain entertained, he belongs to a Creative Anachronism group. I don’t imagine he just sits around and watches. I don’t know much about it but I do believe it can get fairly physical. It would explain some of the odd bruises and strains he sometimes shows up with at the end of a weekend when he’s ‘been busy’. Knowing Lee as we do, I’m sure that whatever activity is most likely to lead to ‘fold, spindle or mutilate’**** he’s in the middle of it”. Chip could only nod his head in agreement.
Lee and his companions wandered the grounds, while the event areas were of prime interest they also wanted to know just how the castle was situated in relation to the bluff and outlying forested area. Standing atop the bluff looking out over the ocean they couldn’t see any other land masses. It was a shear drop down to a rocky bottom and crashing waves, not a climb any of them would want to make, not that there would be anywhere to go once you got to the bottom, but still, know all your options. The forest was clearly marked as out of bounds and as they approached a couple of squires appeared.
“Good day, as you can see this area is marked off, wouldn’t want anyone getting lost in there as there are wolves and wild boar that could pose a danger,” warned one of them.
Gerry nodded to them and they moved off. “Do you believe what he said or do they just want to keep us closed in?” Stephen asked as they pretended to re-examine the List area.
“I have heard that wolves and boar were reintroduced to Scotland, not sure exactly where. This place is remote enough that they could be around here,” Lee offered. “Did you guys bring any weapons other than the standard knight gear?”
His friends nodded in the negative. “Didn’t even think about it, stupid given our usual lifestyle,” said Daniel, “Just on vacation like a ‘regular’ guy”.
“I’m not so sure most people would consider flying off to Scotland to try and pound each other into the ground a ‘regular guy’ type vacation,” chuckled Mike.
“Ya but it’s a lot of fun,” Gerry quipped.
“More and more I’m not liking this place, I vote we grab our stuff, get out of here and spend our time exploring Highland pubs,” grinned Stephen.
They stood quietly for a few minutes, eyes roving about, looking for something, they weren’t quite sure what. Perhaps for familiar faces or an indication that more people were arriving, but all they saw were the few ‘peasants’ that had been there when they arrived, a handful of other knights that apparently weren’t interested in meeting them and squires wandering back and forth. Lee noted that there were always at least two squires in their vicinity, keeping them under watch it seemed.
Mike suggested an experiment, “Let’s wander back toward the parking area and see how far we get. If we get all the way then I vote we get our gear and take Stephen’s suggestion.”
They were about ¾ of the way there when several squires approached them, “Sirs, we have to ask you to please return to the castle, it’s time for you to prepare for your introduction at court.”
“Don’t worry” said Daniel, “we’ll just be a minute, want to have a look at one of the tires on my car, I think it may be losing air.”
“I’m afraid we must insist you come now,” the burliest of the squires said, “time is short and I’m sure you don’t wish to offend by causing a delay to the festivities.” The other squires had closed ranks in front of them, if they wanted through then they’d have to ‘make a hole’ for themselves.
Quick glances between them and they silently agreed that now was not the time to push things, they had the answer to their question.
They returned to the castle and their rooms, Lee was thinking that they probably all wanted to get a look at their host anyway and it shouldn’t be too hard to get past the squires later, after all they were ONI agents with many years experience and training, when they wanted out, they’d get out.
Sounded good in theory.
A quick change of clothes and once again they met in the corridor, turned out that Stephen and Daniel’s rooms were close by. “You check your gear?” Daniel asked.
“Ya, seems my keys have disappeared,” Gerry noted.
“Same here, Stephen and I came up together, I left the keys in my room, but they are gone now,” said Daniel.
“Well gentlemen, seems our presence is most definitely desired, might as well go see who is going to all this trouble on our behalf,” Mike stated.
Just then a squire appeared and instructed that they were to follow him. They looked quite the impressive group, Lee always turned heads in or out of uniform but his cream shirt, with full sleeves, deep blue sleeveless doublet, black pants and thigh high boots really did things for him. The silver ceremonial sword in brocaded scabbard slung to his left hip didn’t hurt appearances either. He’d recently let his hair get a bit longer than customary and it was at the point where it wanted to start curling. Chip had commented on it before he left but Lee’d just shrugged and said he do something about it when he got back. To finish ‘the look’ he wore a black floor length billowing cape with silver trim. His friends were dressed similarly with doublets in their chosen color. Dark green for Gerald, Mike’s a light blue, orange for Stephen and red for Daniel.
So, appropriately attired they followed their guide, not quite sure what to expect.
They went down a decaying hallway and approached ancient, metal banded wooden double doors, beyond which they assumed was the audience chamber. The squire knocked three times on one of the massive doors and they slowly swung open, hinges groaning.
The squire stood aside, obviously the knights were meant to enter on their own. “OK,” thought Lee, “let the show begin.”
They stepped through the doorway and fanning out started forward in unison, shoulder to shoulder, they heard the resounding thump of the doors closing behind them. The hairs on the back of Lee’s neck were prickling big time. He saw that while there were people there, it was a very small number.
Directly in front of Lee and his friends was a line of 5 men standing in front of a purple curtain, each of the men was wearing a purple doublet with a dragon’s claw stitched in gold on the left side. Lee and his friends came to a stop, toe to toe with them, after a moment the ‘purple knights’ stepped to the side and the curtain fell.
“Bloody hell,” murmured Mike to Lee’s immediate left, Lee could hear the others take a quick breath in response to what they now saw.
Lee’s mind raced back several years to an ONI mission, exploding ordinance, pounding rain reducing visibility to nil, searing pain from a bullet in his gut. They had all been there, assigned as a unit to extract a defecting scientist and his young son from a compound deep in enemy territory. As with many ONI missions their intel had been incomplete and they’d found a very well guarded and booby trapped compound. Lee and Mike had carefully manoeuvred past the land mines and trip wires, gotten into the compound, taken the guards out, found the scientist and his son and were on the way out when all hell broke loose.
Seems the boy didn’t want to leave, thought his father a traitor, although only 12 the boy had a gun and knew how to use it. Lee never suspected a thing until he felt the bullet rip into his abdomen as he led the way to the door. He had just turned toward Mike who was in the rear when the boy fired, then had turned towards his father screaming ‘traitor’. Mike reacted quickly and kicked out at the gun so that it discharged into the ceiling. He then stuck the boy knocking him unconscious. The father totally lost it and started yelling that Lee and Mike were animals. Mike bent over Lee to assess the wound, blood covered Lee’s front, “looks bad my friend.” “I’m finem” Lee countered, “let’s get out of here.” Mike did what he could with some torn strips from the shirts of the unconscious enemy guards, making a pad and securing it in place over Lee’s wound. He looked over at the father and told him to pick up his son and follow, he levered Lee up and supporting him headed out the door.
Mike wasn’t at all sure the father would follow but he did. They made it outside, he instructed the father to stay carefully behind him and step where he did as there were traps all around. They got about half way when the boy woke up and struggled out of his father’s arms. Yelling obscenities that no one that age should know the boy sprinted back towards the compound, not many steps away he triggered a mine and bits of him rained down. Mike was hit in the leg by shrapnel, the father caught a piece in the shoulder, both went down, Lee along with Mike. Stephen, Daniel and Gerry had managed to get to them and each supporting one of the wounded made their way out and to the rendezvous. They didn’t see the scientist again after they got to the pickup boat, he hadn’t spoken at all on the agonizing trip out.
They all had nightmares for a long time about that mission, Lee and Mike especially. If the intel had been better, if they’d thought to search the boy, if Mike had left Lee and taken the father and boy out first, if if if...
Now, there in front of them, on a gold draped throne sat the scientist, the father, of the blown to bits boy.
“Well well well, look what we have here, the ONI knights, rescuers of the helpless... murderers of children”, came from the man on the throne, the words were filled with black hatred.
The five stood straight and silent, they knew there was no point in stating the obvious, they’d wait, they knew that as often as not silence would lead to an adversary providing more information that he was intending to give.
“What, nothing to say for yourselves? No questions, protests, claims of innocence?,” he rose from the throne as he spoke.
“I’m sure you are aware of that famous quote, “Revenge is a dish best served cold”*****. Did you really think that there would be no consequences to your murder, that I would ‘forgive and forget’ as your superiors obviously do? NO NO NO gentlemen, it may have been a long time in coming but vengence has come, and you will pay.” Dr. Hendel had moved down from the throne and now stood directly in front of Lee, cold, venomous eyes to Lee’s now dark hazel ones.
Those that knew Lee well could read a myriad of information from his eyes, they varied in their colour and intensity according to his emotions. Flecked sparkling green and gold when feeling mischievous or dark and muddy when worried or in pain. Some swore they could see lightning flashing in them if he was angry enough.
“Why the hell do they always end up in front of me?” Lee couldn’t help but wonder. Hendel stood there not speaking, his eyes boring into Lee’s. There was nothing for it, Lee was going to have to say something, an explanation of their actions would be useless so he spoke the simple truth, “To a man, Dr. Hendel, we deeply regret your son’s death and not one of us has forgotten it or ever will.” Pain and sorrow flashed through Lee’s eyes, he doubted that Hendel would notice, but he did see, for just a second, a slight softening in his eyes, but then it was gone and they were once again cold, hard, cruel, eyes looking at him.
“I’m so touched. Well then that makes everything all right doesn’t it,” Hendel spat, he stepped slightly away from Lee and then backhanded him across the face. It wasn’t a powerful blow compared to ones Lee had experienced over the years but it did open the right corner of his lower lip which dripped blood down his chin. His companions didn’t move a muscle, they knew that breaking rank and showing any concern would only feed the violence. Lee remained in place, standing straight, silent, no emotion showing other than the deeping darkness of his eyes. He ignored the blood, made no attempt to wipe it away.
Hendel surveyed them all for a moment then went back to his throne. He turned, facing them.
“Very well, knights you consider yourselves, let us see then how well you can play your part. You will compete in the events you’ve seen prepared, your opponents will be the five you see here to my right. Should more than one of you still be alive at the end, then you will battle each other, to the death. As you can see I’m being very merciful, there is an opportunity for one of you to survive.”
“Ya” thought Stephen, “a veritable philanthropist”. Although neither he nor his companions had been looking around, well unless you want to count when Lee got his head rotated for him, he knew that his buddies were aware, just as he was, that up in the gallery that circled the chamber some very not authentic types were now clearly visible. At a guess he’d say a dozen or so with nice shiny M249 machine guns, good weapon actually, providing the firepower of an automatic machine gun with the accuracy and light weight portability of a rifle. As if reading his mind Hendel began speaking again.
“As you may have noticed we’ve been joined by slightly more modern ‘knights’. Wouldn’t want you attempting any foolish escapes. I would greatly prefer to watch you die slowly but be assured, if you attempt to escape they will cut you down. Should you be planning to try and slip into the forest, you might be interested to know that it’s full of land mines, just like the one....my boy was killed by. Should one of you survive, that is the way you’ll be permitted to leave, on foot, through the forest.”
“Figured there’d be a catch to that somewhere along the way,” Gerry thought.
“This audience is over, the perimeter of the castle grounds are guarded, you may move about within the area as you wish. Tomorrow the tournament will commence, one hour after sunrise,” with that announcement Hendel strode from the chamber and exited through a door at the back, his ‘knights’ followed him out.
Lee and his friends were left standing there as the remaining people also left.
“That was fun,” said Daniel, “where do you suppose an insane scientist gets the resources to set something like this up?”
“Oh, probably from someone who really wants us to have a good time,” Gerry replied while looking at Lee’s lip.
“Stop fussing,” Lee told him.
“Ya ya ya I know, you’re fine.”
Stephen looked around, “Nobody seems to be watching us, place has emptied out, even the machine gun types are gone.”
“Likely on perimeter duty, they must figure we’re pretty well contained here in the middle of nowhere,” said Daniel.
“More like the end of nowhere,” commented Lee. “Now seem like as good a time as any to you guys to try and come up with some sort of a plan?”
“Funny you should say that, I was just thinking that I wished we had one. I checked my room out pretty thoroughly earlier. One door, no window, walls rough stone, same re the floor under the scattered fur mats. Since our rooms are all along the same corridor I’m guessing same set up?” Daniel asked.
The others all nodded their heads in the affirmative.
“OK, we need to take a good look at just how tightly we’re buttoned up in here for the night. I’d just as soon be gone by morning,” declared Lee.
Falling easily into ONI mode they exited the hall and immediately set off in different directions. Lee wanted to get a look around from as high up as he could get so took the first set of stone stairs he came to, figuring from what he’d observed from the outside that they lead up to one of the towers. He expected to see guards lurking about but he neither met nor detected anyone else as he climbed the stairs. He passed a landing with a door to the side that probably would have been a guard room ‘in the day’. No one there now, if fact it didn’t look like it had been opened in years, still covered in dust and webs. There was a silver tabby sitting by the door, he gave the cat a scratch behind the ears and moved on. As he climbed the walls soon became rounded and close, obviously in the tower proper now, it was growing colder as well. Finally reaching the top he was rewarded with the view he had been hoping for...
It had been about an hour since they split up to reconnoitre the place and they now gathered in Mike’s room for the debrief. After a thorough going over of the room they were comfortable that there were no ‘bugs’, other than the organic kind you’d expect.
They had found that the castle itself was basically deserted with the exception of themselves. Gerry had located a section that was guarded and looked to be in better shape than the rest of the castle, likely this was where Hendel and his goons were camped out. While the area they’d been escorted through to the meeting gave the impression that the castle was being restored, the fact of the matter was that it was all recent cosmetic work, the castle was a crumbling ruin. If they’d had any thoughts that workmen or tourists might show up that just wasn’t going to happen.
Stephen and Mike, had done a pass around the grounds and found that while they could freely range in the area marked out for the tournament, the armed guards were well placed to prevent them moving into the forest or back towards where they hoped their vehicles still were.
One of three things had to be true about the forest, 1) it was mined, 2) inhabited by wolves and wild boar, or 3) neither of the first two and it was a safe passage. Given that they hadn’t heard any mines go off, and surely the wolves or boar would have tripped at least some of them by now, that left options 1 and 3. They settled on option 1 as the most likely, it would appeal to Hendel. The cliff was its own guardian, it would be suicide to attempt a descent and no point in doing so, only rocks and surf below.
Lee gave his report to the group, “I got a good overall view from the top of the tower. I spotted several of the guards, not only is smoking bad for their health but lighting up and puffing gives their position away quite nicely. Counting the ones I could locate and factoring in spacing, I’d say that there is a guard about every 18 feet. I couldn’t see any lights that would indicate a city or even a village near here. The forest appears quite thick with no obvious signs of trails. I did spot a corral with horses.”
“I was wondering about that, figured they had to be here somewhere. There were horse trailers in the parking area,” commented Mike.
“Not sure how useful they might be though, if the forest really is mined then we can’t ride through it and trying to gallop out the other way past the guards isn’t likely to be overly successful despite what the movies show,” stated Gerry.
“ONI 101, never discount an option until you’ve tried it, at least once,” smiled Stephen.
“I think once is about all the attempts you’d get trying that one here,” said Lee. “We need a distraction to pull the guards away from the vehicles. We should be able to hotwire one and peel out of here in short order. It’s dark out now, but I think we can assume that at least some of the guards are equipped with night vision goggles.”
“Sounds like you’ve got something in mind Lee,” Daniel guessed.
Lee outlined his plan for them. “The horses, not riding them out, but if we could stampede them hopefully the guards would be sufficiently distracted avoiding getting trampled and rounding them up that we’d have a chance. We need to head them toward the guards closest to the parking area to draw them out of position, the horses movements should mask ours enough to slip by.”
“You know they are going to be expecting us to try something tonight,” Daniel said.
“Then we really wouldn’t want to disappoint them, would we,” answered Lee with a grin.
It was agreed that even if they weren’t successful it would give them an idea of how the guards reacted and maybe point out a weakness or two that could be exploited later. Lee, Stephen, Gerry and Daniel headed for their own rooms to catch some sleep before putting the plan in motion.
Three hours later Lee and the others were crouched low beside the corral, he’d been uneasy ever since they’d discovered that there were no guards inside other than in the one area, getting out of the castle was just far too easy, it was like they were being invited to ‘come out and play’.
The Admiral and Chip had arrived in Scotland, flying the FS1. They had been given a possible contact who resided in Glasgow, Alastair, if a tournament was taking place in Scotland, this person would know about it. They were in for disappointment. Alastair told them that it was possible that one of the barony’s had planned something local, but no, he hadn’t heard anything. He invited them to stay for a bit and enjoy a ‘wee dram’ of whisky while he made some inquires.
“Well gentlemen I canna tell you of any tournaments, but according to a good friend of mine up north, there has been some unusual goings on up that way. Now I’m not saying that it is or it isn’t anything to do with what you’re looking for but he tells me that the old bluff road northeast of John O’Groats has been seeing some travel. There’s an old castle up on the bluff, crumbling back into history, no reason for anyone to be there. Scots people generally mind their own business but he had occasion to drive past the turnoff a couple of times and he swears it’s blocked off and that he saw armed men, thought it could be some secret training for the forces. Although a mighty peculiar place to be doing it.” Alastair sat back after pouring himself a ‘wee dram’.
The Admiral and Chip finished their drinks, thanked Alastair for his help and hospitality and took their leave after giving Alastair the contact info for NIMR should he hear anything more.
“I take it we are heading north Admiral,” Chip inquired.
“It’s the only lead we have Chip, and it’s not a very encouraging one.” The Admiral looked worried, a look Chip knew he also wore. An old abandoned castle on a bluff, far to the north, road blocked and armed men apparently keeping it that way. Didn’t sound like any sort of medieval tournament he’d imagined.
“Lee how the hell do you manage to get into these things,” Chip muttered under his breath, but apparently not as quietly as he’d thought.
“That is a question I’d also dearly love the answer to Mr. Morton. If there were any way to do it I’d have Lee assigned permanent round the clock keepers,” stated Nelson.
“Probably wouldn’t help Sir, even contained on Seaview with 125 men trying to keep him safe he still manages to find trouble. It’s like he has some sort of secret mark on him, ‘adventure wanted, pick me, no danger to extreme’,” Chip grumbled, then realized who he was talking to so familiarly, and about whom. He cast a quick look over Nelson’s way to see if he’d overstepped the line too badly but Nelson just nodded grimly.
The Admiral was thinking back to something that had happened at a benefit gala he attended a number of months ago. There had been quite a mix of people there including some who had at one time or another been contacted by ‘agencies’ for their talents in the ‘other world’, as it was referred to. He had been standing quietly apart when an elegantly dressed woman approached him, he nodded a greeting and she laid her hand on his arm and looked into his eyes. The Admiral noticed that her eyes reminded him of Lee’s, a similar unusual mix of colours. He had been brooding a bit over Lee and trying to figure out what it was about him that seemed to attract the strange and unusual. The woman spoke quietly to him, “Do not worry so Admiral, there is nothing you can do. The one you care for so deeply is a most rare and unusual man. Spirits are drawn to him, although there are those that seek to harm him, there are also those that protect him. He lives outside of himself, caring for others more than for himself. It is good that he has you and others to care for him, he will not/cannot do it himself and he deserves the very best of care. He is a Champion, and there are few like him in the world. I will tell you this, watch for when a feline joins him, it will be a sign of a great test coming. He will need you to be there for him.” She moved away and the Admiral did not see her again.
As the Admiral got in the car that he and Chip had been loaned from the base at Faslane he thought about the woman’s words again, “she called him a Champion, weren’t the knights also called champions, is that what attracted Lee to join, on a subconscious level was he acknowledging his place in the world.” Nelson didn’t know, didn’t care, he just wanted Lee back where he belonged, at his side and in one piece.
Chip wondered at the contemplative expression that had appeared on Nelson’s face, “You seem deep in thought Sir.”
“Just wondering about something someone said once upon a time Chip. We’ll pick up Jamie at the airport, head get back to Faslane and take FS1 up north. If there is anything going on at that old castle we should be able to spot it in a flyover. It’s all we have at this point, let’s just hope it’s enough.”
As Lee returned to consciousness he found he had the headache from hell. He could feel roughness beneath his face, but wasn’t about to try and open his eyes and find out just what it was. It didn’t feel that hard so if he had to guess he’d say he was on one of the fur carpets, probably on a bed since it did feel somewhat soft underneath his body. Okay, things he could do without opening his eyes or moving his head....what’s the last thing he remembered? He was crouched by the corral, along with the others. They were going to overpower the two sentries and stampede the horses out and across the compound toward the guards on the south side, where the parking area was. Theory being that in the confusion they could slip past the guards and get the hell out of here. So what happened? They got the guards taken care of easily enough, maybe to easily, 20/20 hindsight was a marvellous thing. Stephen opened the corral gate and they got in with the horses, he had noticed something a bit odd in the way the horses were moving but there was no time to investigate, had to get them running. They’d started smacking the horses on their rumps and waving their arms.......nothing much happened. Yes the horses moved out the gate, sort of hopping, definitely no stampeding taking place. Lee recalled why, he’d heard Gerry say, “Oh s--t, they’re hobbled.” Lee sotto voiced back, “who in their right mind hobbles horses in a corral?” Of course the answer came to them instantly, “someone who doesn’t want them used as a diversion.” S--t indeed, deep double horse hockey pucks! Oh yes, they had been just brilliant, fell right into it as evidenced by the high powered lights that suddenly illuminated the corral, horses on the outside, the five of them nicely lit up on the inside, five figures stepped forward with five rifles, five soft phttts and five tranq darts found their targets. Lee remembered looking down at his thigh and thinking that the thing was big enough to put out an elephant, or one very stupid ONI agent.
Well that explained the headache and why he was probably back in his room. “Guess I’d better open my eyes and find out if it’s worse than I already think it is.” On the up side, opening his eyes didn’t make his headache that much worse, the down side was that it was due to the fact that it was pitch black, he blinked just to be sure he had, in fact, opened his eyes, still pitch black. A frisson of fear ran down his spine, “good lord, did the drug cause blindness...ok get a grip Crane, if you’re in your room it would be like this, there’s no window, solid stone walls, no way light would get in unless someone lit a lamp or something. The door.....wouldn’t there be light from around the door, it didn’t fit so closely that light wouldn’t be visible around it, and the hallway had torches.” He couldn’t see any indication of the door, “ok, so I could be facing the wall,” Lee lifted and turned his head, which near took the top of his skull off from the jackhammer pain, he put his head down with closed eyes, his stomach was churning from the pain. He used breathing exercises to get control over the worst of the pain and nausea and slowly cracked open his eyes. He was rewarded with razor sharp pain shooting through his eyeballs but it was worth it, there was the outline of the door, he wasn’t blind. Willpower and breathing will only get you just so far and he gratefully slid back into blissful unconsciousness.
His next sensation was one of a bucket of cold water being dumped over his head. The shock brought him sitting up in a flash, accompanied by the throbbing of this head, but nowhere near the intensity of before. He hadn’t completely oriented himself when he felt hands hauling him to his feet by his biceps and pushing him none to gently towards the earlier blessed door. He stumbled into the corridor to see his friends being hauled out of their rooms in similar dishevel and from the looks of them enjoying the same headache. The bucket of water had added one more torment to Lee’s growing list, and undoubtedly the others, he was thirsty. They’d had nothing to drink or eat since arriving, not that he would trust anything provided by their host, Lee didn’t care about the food but lack of water could be a problem.
They were shoved unceremoniously down the hallway and out the gate into the grounds. Where yesterday there had been an attempt at making things look like a tournament now there were no wandering people in period dress. The event areas were ringed by the M249 armed guards. Over by each of them was a raised viewing platform, the only one currently occupied was by the Quintain, and there residing upon it was Hendel and his knights. Lee and the others were herded in front of the platform.
“I’d wish you a good morning but I sincerely doubt you’ll find it to be so. I’m told you had a bit of an adventure last night, I do hope that the effects of the tranqs have had a chance to wear off. I believe they tend to result in quite a headache,” smirked Hendel.
The ONI agents elected to say nothing in return.
Hendel continued, “You will each be taken to a tent, inside you will find food and water as well as the equipment you brought with you. Someone will be there to lend any assistance you may require in getting ready, and to keep an eye on things to make sure you don’t ‘get lost’. The first event will be the Quintain, as it’s knight against apparatus there will be no need for my knights to exert themselves. You will find that our Quintain is a bit different from what you are used to, observe.”
Hendel pointed over to the canvas covered apparatus. Two of his knights had gone over to it while he had been talking, they now pulled the canvas off. The Quintain was normal in that it consisted of a shield, arms and dummy which was suspended from a swinging pole so the whole apparatus would rotate. The task was to charge the Quintain on your horse, strike the shield with your lance and avoid having the rotating arms knock you from the saddle. The arms often had a heavy sandbag attached to them. In this case the sandbags had been augmented with several 6 inch razor sharp spikes, and Lee was willing to bet there was something harder than sand in the bags, anchoring the spikes.
As they surveyed the Quintain five horses were led up, undoubtedly from the corral of their earlier misadventure. Lee hadn’t really got a good look at them before, and what he saw now did not inspire confidence. The horses were already covered by a caparison so it wasn’t possible to tell what tack was underneath but from the rise in front and back it appeared to be a standard jousting saddle with high pommel and cantel.
They were large horses, probably 16 hands or better, looked to have some Friesian or something similar in their breeding, certainly the black did. Rather than standing quietly they were snorting and prancing. The odds of avoiding the ‘sandbags’ on a horse you’d never ridden before were not good.
“You have one hour, I suggest you make ready,” with that Hendel moved off the platform and towards a royal purple pavilion.
As they started towards their tent area they quickly shared a few words. “I don’t think I’d trust the food or water,” said Stephen.
“Who knows what could be in the stuff, I’m more worried about dehydration than being hungry,” Daniel added.
Lee voiced his thought, “I noticed buckets of water for the horses, maybe not the most hygienic to drink but I’d sooner share a drink with the horses than drink what Hendel supplies for us. Let’s see if we can get away with doing that, the food I’m leaving alone.”
Inside his tent Lee found pretty much what Hendel had promised, food in the form of dried meat of unknown origin, bread and an apple, plus a couple of bottles of water. He ignored it all. In the middle of the tent was the gear he’d brought with him. While some liked full plate armour Lee always favoured the lighter chain mail in the form of a hauberk, with a spaulder on his right shoulder, he found that being of slim build his best tactic was to be too quick and agile for his opponent to keep up. A fully armour plated knight tired quickly. Lee also preferred the Norman Helmet which offered a conical top and a nasal bar, a piece of metal extending down from the front of the helmet to protect the wearer's nose. It allowed for lots of visibility and again was not too heavy. He used only front greaves for his legs, and leather gauntlets. His shield was leather covered wood, sturdy but lightweight.
His ‘helper’ approached to assist him but he waved him away, he knew how to gear up and wouldn’t trust the guy anyway. Lee made quick work of it and then reached for his sword.
The helper shook his head, “no, the sword stays here, you won’t need it for the first event.” When Lee looked like he was about to protest the man quietly took out a Glock 17 from where it had been concealed in his clothes.
Lee got the message.
He was the first to exit his tent and stood waiting for the others. He looked over at the horses, they had settled down for the most part but the big black still foamed and snorted. “Heaven help whoever ends up on him,” thought Lee.
The others came out one by one, similarly attired as Lee, none of them comfortable in full armour, and as a group they were guided back to the Quintain.
As they waited for Hendel to make his appearance Daniel started towards the horses, no one seemed to be inclined to stop him so he continued. He examined the water buckets then cupped his hands and filled them with water from one and started drinking. Lee and the others joined him. No reaction other than a couple of laughs from the guards. When done they were gestured back into line, Hendel was approaching. He climbed up to the platform and took his seat.
“The order in which you will go will be randomly selected, inside the helmet my knight is holding are 5 papers, one name on each.” Hendel then began to take out the papers one at a time, “the first to go will be Gerald, second Michael, the third Stephen, the fourth Lee, the last, Daniel. Take note... if you fail to strike the Quintain, your life is forfeit. Let the event commence.”
Lee almost expected a trumpet fanfare, he hadn’t been at all surprised by the little ‘extra’ that Haldane had announced. A guard approached Gerry, “this way, your horse has been chosen for you.” “Another random draw?” Gerry asked. The guard didn’t answer, just smiled.
As Gerry approached, a big chestnut was brought toward him, Gerry checked the stirrup length and talked quietly to his horse. He then took a look at the bridle but when he went to lift the caparison to check the saddle he was stopped. He looked briefly over at the others and shrugged.
Foot to stirrup he mounted and walked his horse in a circle, the chestnut began to prance a bit but seemed willing to carry Gerry and more or less do what was asked.
Gerry was brought a lance, he took hold of it and noted that it was not tipped with a coronal to help prevent shattering. He frowned as he hefted it, something wasn’t quite right. Again he looked over to the others and mouthed something but he was instructed to take his place at the charge line.
Lee murmured, “did he say ‘hollow’?” “That was my take on it,” said Daniel. While a jousting lance these days was often made of soft wood or hollowed so it would break before piercing armour, the one for use with a Quintain needed to be strong to withstand the impact with the shield.
They didn’t have time for more discussion. Gerry had started his charge.
Reins in the left hand and lance in the right he charged for the Quintain. At just the right moment he angled his lance down to hit the shield dead centre...........the lance shattered on impact, Gerry appeared to have expected this and dropped the remaining piece and threw himself to the right, down along the side of his horses neck so that when the first spiked arm swung around it missed his back but did graze his upper left arm. He was out of range when the second arm passed by. Straightening in the saddle he brought his mount to a stop.
Haldane did not looked pleased, Lee’s guess, Haldane expected the shattered lance to throw Gerry off balance causing him to reign in his horse and lean back, right into the spiked arm as it came around. “One for our side,” Lee chalked up.
Gerry dismounted and leaned into his horse for a minute, giving him a pat and a thank you. The others noticed that he was favouring his left arm.
As Mike passed Gerry on the way to his horse Gerry whispered, “watch out for the lance, mine has tampered with.” Mike nodded to let Gerry know he’d heard him. Gerry was taken to stand slightly to the left of the others. Lee raised an eyebrow in inquiry. “Just bruised, didn’t get through the chainmail,” Gerry reassured.
Mike’s horse was a dark Bay, Mike did the same checks as Gerry and as with his friend was not allowed to check the saddle itself. He mounted, took the offered lance and hefted it, the weight seemed right but something was off.
He rode his circle, as satisfied as it was possible to be with his horse’s responses, he lined up and began his charge, as he hit the shield his lance snapped off close to the vamplate. The natural reaction again would be to lean back to compensate but Mike knew what was coming up behind him so he tried Gerry’s move and bent low to the right and along his horse’s neck. He was more successful, and was not grazed as the spiked bag swung by.
“Copy cat,” Lee heard Gerry mutter.
Steve was next, another big Chestnut was brought forward, unlike the other two this one did not like having a rider and Steve was having a hard time keeping control of him. To gallop the horse straight and hit the Quintain would be next to impossible.
Once set at the charge, however, the Chestnut stayed true to the line, albeit totally out of Steve’s control and going at a full gallop but at least going straight. That is what saved Steve, his lance hit the target and slid off without breaking, Steve efforts were concentrated on staying mounted and with so with no slowing of his horse’s headlong gallop he was clear of the arms when they swung round. He dropped the lance and managed to slow and finally stop the horse. It was more luck than skill that had saved his hide, had he missed the shield he’d no doubt he’d have a bullet in his head shortly. He gave his horse a pat and told him what a good boy he was, after all it was the horse that went straight enough for the hit, Steve had just been along for the ride.
Lee’s turn. There were two horses left, the big prancy black and a large relatively quiet grey. “Don’t know why I’m wondering about it, it’s going to be the black, but sure would be nice to be wrong.”
Of course he wasn’t wrong, it was the black that they brought forward to him. He checked the stirrups, then the bridle and took a minute to look deep into the black’s eyes, gently stroking the horse’s left cheek. Dark liquid eyes gazed back at him, honest eyes, not mean ones, Lee decided the horse was just spirited, not a ‘bad’ horse. They’d get along just fine, with a final pat and a whisper into an ear, Lee prepared to mount. He noticed that on the other side the stirrup was being held, that hadn’t happened with the others. Warning bells went off, the girth, there was going to be a problem with the girth.
Lee did a circle and then another trying to feel how well the girth was cinched. There were a lot of ways to sabotage a girth. It seemed he was going to find out what had been done the hard way. Up came his lance, felt good, not hollow or off balance. Blackjack (Lee had named him) had settled down and didn’t fuss when Lee moved the lance back and forth over his head as Lee did a couple of standard exercises, still feeling for a fault with the girth.
“Odd they didn’t let any of us do more than a couple of circles, sort of like they want Lee moving around more,” noted Mike, “now’s probably not the time to ask but any of you know what on earth Lee whispers in his horses ear? I’ve noticed he always does that when he rides.”
“Not a clue, I asked him once, he said he was just saying hello. Seems Lee’s trying to check something but I’m not sure what,” Stephen tried to catch Lee’s eye.
“I didn’t see any of you get any help when you mounted,” stated Daniel, “I noticed that when Lee mounted someone was on the other side holding the stirrup.”
“His girth, if they’ve cut it or something....” worried Mike. Just then one of the guards told them to keep quiet.
Lee lined up for this charge, he’d just have to deal with whatever happened as it happened.
Lee held the reins gently but firmly in his left hand, positioned the lance with his right. He sighted down the line, repeating to himself, “always look where you want your horse to go, impulsion, lots of impulsion.” With that Lee signalled Blackjack with his legs to begin the charge and Blackjack willingly responded and surged forward. Halfway to the target Lee felt something give under him, Blackjack hesitated half a stride but Lee urged him on. He could feel the instability of his seat, when his lance hit the target there would be no support from the saddle at all, most likely it would slip backwards with the impact, sending Lee into the spikes. Missing the shield wasn’t an option.
Lee’s friends could tell something had happened, they glanced up at Hendel and saw the satisfied expression on his face, Hendel figured he had this one in the bag for sure.
Gleefully Hendel anticipated what was going to happen, “No way Crane could avoid death, if he choose to miss the target then it was a bullet to the head, if he hit the target the saddle would slide back and take Crane into the spikes, with any luck he would slide right off the horse’s back and the spikes would catch him in midair. O delightful, simply delightful.” He practically capered.
Time seemed to slow for Lee, Blackjack galloped in slow motion, Lee’s body moving with the rhythm. He leaned forward as he approached the shield, the lance struck solidly. Lee felt himself moving backwards as the saddle slid, he released the lance and it fell away, but then Blackjack did something unexpected. He turned himself slightly to the right and high bucked into an almost vertical line, sliding Lee and saddle forward, at the same time the spiked bag flew under Blackjack’s raised hind quarters, barely missing his belly. Unfortunately, the Quantain had two arms. As Blackjack came back down he was turned mostly back the way they had come, Lee’s position was such that the second spiked arm ran across his ribs on his right side. It had enough force that some of the chainmail was torn apart and Lee’s side gashed. It could, however, have been much worse, a hit to the abdomen would have gutted him.
Pain flared red hot and intense, Lee felt his blood flowing from the gaping wound. Blackjack had moved away from the swinging arms and now stood still as Lee folded forward, wrapping his left arm across his stomach and over his right holding it against his side. Lee curled the fingers of his right hand into Blackjack’s mane and gently nudged him with his heels. Thus, his rider doubled over and bleeding, Blackjack walked carefully back the way they had come.
Lee’s companions could only watch in horror as the events unfolded. They could tell when the girth gave way and didn’t expect that Lee would survive the results. Not a one of them could believe their eyes when Lee’s horse seemed to consciously attempt to save Lee’s life. Or did he? Maybe the buck was just a reaction to the broken girth and slipping saddle. None of them noticed the silver tabby cat watching attentively from under the platform.
Hendel had jumped about shouting “NO NO NO,” as Lee miraculously avoided death. He’d been so sure that there was no way Crane could survive, either the faulty saddle would cause him to miss the shield or he’d be ripped to shreds by the razor sharp spikes. He watched as Crane attempted to dismount after the slow walk back. His guards had prevented the others from going to Crane to help him down.
As Lee dismounted, sliding down a trail of his own blood, Hendel tried to look at the bright side. Lots of blood, Crane did get caught by the second spiked bag, perhaps a slow, painful, bleed-out death would be better. One thing was for sure, Crane would never survive the next event.
Lee made it about two steps away from Blackjack before he collapsed to his knees. The jarring sent fresh spikes of pain through his body and more blood flowed out over his arm. Stephen, Gerry and Mike pushed past the guards and kneeled beside Lee. The eased him down on the ground and pushed up the torn chainmail.
“OK Lee, good news is only one spike made it through, bad news is it opened you up about 6 inches on an angle and likely scored your ribs. Lots of blood,” Mike informed Lee.
“Love your bedside manner Mike,” gasped Lee.
“Need a medkit over here,” yelled Stephen, hell it was worth a try he thought. To his surprise one was thrown his way. Between the three of them they got Lee bandaged up as best they could, at least the wound was now taped closed and covered with a pressure dressing. Basic field first aid being drilled into all ONI agents, for good reason. They wanted to carry Lee but he insisted on getting up and walking, so with Gerry on one side and Mike on the other they managed to get him over to the side and settled, leaning against a post.
Daniel had been forced to stay where he was and could only worry and watch. Lee gave him a thumbs up as Gerry and Mike seated themselves on the ground one on each side, mostly to keep him from toppling over. Stephen kept the med kit and stood slightly behind Lee. Lee started to say something, “I’m ...”, “You say ‘fine’ and I’ll belt you,” growled Gerry. Lee decided not to finish his sentence.
“Wonder what the odds are that we all live through this one” mused Daniel, “guess I’m about to find out”.
He went through the drill, stirrups, bridle, mount, circle, lance, take the line. Everything felt good, the big grey was well behaved, leapt nicely forward to the charge, things felt good, coming down the line nice and straight, angle lance over a bit more.........suddenly several shots were fired and his grey reared then swerved right, he was going to miss! Daniel dropped his reins from his left hand and grabbed the lance in front of the vamplate, he leaned well out and pushed the lance with both hands towards the shield. In connected by the barest of hits, he dropped the lance and made a grab for the pommel catching it on the side, he tried to heave himself up but it just wasn’t going to happen. As he fell he tried to kick his left foot loose from the stirrup but it twisted and held him while he ‘trolled for stones’ before the stirrup finally gave way.
He picked himself up, collected his horse, which had stopped just a few feet away, and started back to his friends.
One of the guards came over to where the others were, “up on your feet” he ordered. Gerry and Mike once again took hold of Lee and eased him up, they and Stephen followed the guard.
They met up with Daniel in front of the viewing platform.
Haldane did not look happy. “I’m not sure that the last charge should be called a strike,” said Haldane.
“It was a damn fine strike,” snarled Lee, “he didn’t hit the ground until after the lance hit the shield.”
Haldane looked down at them, “I had thought that at least 2 of you would be dead by now, although it would appear that Crane is headed that way.”
“I’m fine,” Lee snapped.
“So glad to hear it.” Haldane responded, “Two hours and the single armed combat will take place.” With that Haldane turned and once again left for his purple pavilion.
“You ok Daniel?” Lee wanted to know.
“Ask me again in 2 ½ hours. I think I may have pulled a muscle, otherwise just bruised and battered,” he replied.
They all went into Lee’s tent. The guards had initially looked like they weren’t going to allow it but backed down when the five glared daggers at them. Mike had grabbed a water bucket along the way.
They got Lee down and pulled up his chainmail. Mike looked things over, “Seems like the bleeding has stopped, I’m not going to take the bandaging off in case that starts it again. Stephen hand me what’s left of the medkit. Anyone got any injuries that we can do something about?”
“Only bumps, bruises and pulled something or others for the rest of us,” answered Daniel.
“Lee, as usual you win in the injury department, do you always have to be such an overachiever?” kidded Mike. He took another pressure dressing from the kit, placed it on top of the one already over the wound and wrapped it in place, pulling the chainmail back down when he was done. Daniel came over with some water and gave it to Lee, the others helped themselves from the bucket.
Stephen, Mike and Gerry were talking quietly in a corner, Daniel was sitting beside Lee.
“I’d like to tie his right arm over the area for support and protection but that’s his fighting arm,” said Stephen.
“Definitely would have been better if it was his left side, but either way I don’t see Lee lasting long in combat ,” worried Mike.
“We need to cover him somehow,” said Gerry, “he’s fast, if he can keep out of reach of his opponent until one of us can finish off ours and step in....”
“He’s fast when his side isn’t split open and he’s down a couple of pints or more of blood, and you’re assuming we’ll all fight at the same time,” Mike pointed out.
“Care to speak up or move your sixes over here so Daniel and I can be in on whatever you’re planning.”
Lee started to try and sit up but Daniel pressed him down, “rest while you can Lee, you’ll need all the strength you can muster soon enough.”
For once Lee didn’t argue, he knew the odds of him surviving much longer were pretty slim.
After the two hours the guards came for them. They had each gone to their tents to retrieve their swords and shields and then back to Lee’s tent. Lee was up and his friends had padded him under his chainmail as best they could.
This time they were taken to the middle field, again lined up in front of a viewing platform. Hendel made his entrance. As expected Hendel announced that it would be a fight to the death, but their luck held in two ways, they would fight at the same time, and, glory-be, their opponents were wearing full-plate armour. This provided a lot of protection but they would be slower, have reduced visibility and tire a lot quicker. Full-plate was impressive, but there were ways to get a killing strike. Thrusts into the un-plated areas, armpits, slits in the helm, the groin, through the top behind the clavicle, and through the bottom of the cuirass, would all get the job done.
Hendel’s knights saluted him and moved out into the field, Lee and his friends saluted each other and in a moment of sheer insanity, simultaneously gave Hendel the one-digit salute. The look on his face was worth it.
As they went to their respective opponents, Mike looked over at Lee, “stay out of his strike range pal, that’s all you need to do,” Lee nodded back.
Lee’s was the largest of the opposing knights. One good hit with that two-handed cross hilt Claymore and it would be all over. Lee’s sword, while lighter in weight was also double-edged, with the standard crossguard, hilt, and pommel. He had chosen the sword for its perfect balance of power and agility, it moved effortlessly from ward to attack, and back again. It was capable of piercing armour but Lee didn’t currently have the strength to make that sort of strike. Didn’t matter, all he had to do was keep clear, of course if an opening appeared, or he tired his opponent out sufficiently. Lee hated to take a life, but if there was no other option available, he’d do what needed to be done. He didn’t want one of the other’s to take on added risk if he could do it himself.
Lee’s opponent started towards him, “Guess somebody said ready, set, go,” thought Lee, although he hadn’t heard anything. “Better start focusing better than that.”
Lee watched ‘Tincan’, as he’d nicknamed the guy, approach, he was analysing Tincan’s movements, how comfortable was he moving in the armour, did he angle his head to indicate a blind spot in the visor. While still well out of reach Lee took a couple of steps back and circled to his right. Tincan easily followed the movement. A quick glance around confirmed to Lee that his buddies were also moving around so that their opponent’s had to track them, and hopefully reveal any issues with the armour.
“Hey, Tincan, getting hot in there?” Lee taunted.
“Just my luck, not only do I get the one that’s already half dead, he’s got a mouth on him as well. Stand still and I promise to make it quick boy,” he answered back.
“Half dead is better than all dead, which is what you’re going to be,” as he spoke Lee feinted left and was unpleasantly surprised by how fast Tincan reacted, stepping forward quickly into Lee’s line of travel and swinging the large sword in an arc toward Lee. Lee hadn’t quite stayed outside the strike zone, he took the blow on his shield and it almost brought him to his knees. Pain spiked up his arm into his shoulder, not to mention the flare of agony from his wounded right side. Luckily the strike had also flung him back away from his opponent. Tincan continued to pivot to keep Lee in view as Lee, fighting past the pain, once again began circling.
Lee could hear the clash of swords elsewhere so knew things had started in earnest around him. His injured side and left arm were throbbing and sweat was pouring off of him as he kept moving round and round. Then Tincan obviously bored and deciding that enough was enough, rushed Lee.
If you can’t stay outside your opponents reach then the next safest place is well inside it, to make it difficult for him to bring his sword to bear. Rather than try to scramble out of Tincan’s way Lee moved forward as if to accept the challenge, then as Tincan swept his sword down, Lee dodged left avoiding the blow and passing close to Tincan’s right side. Tincan couldn’t get his sword back into play but he did score a solid hit to Lee’s right side with his elbow. The elbow was bent so the plates at the joint were separated and the blow dug the armour edges into Lee’s injured side.
Lee went down, the pain was blinding, searing, curling him into a tight ball of agony, he wrapped both arms around himself trying to control his shudders, his sword laying loose beside him. He vaguely heard someone yell his name. Tincan had turned and was leaning casually on his sword looking down at him, “Well you didn’t get far did you hotshot.” He swung out an armoured foot to give Lee a kick. It hurt like hell but Lee grabbed the foot, twisted it up and pushed with everything he had left. The resulting crash would have been more satisfying if Lee’s vision hadn’t been swimming with dark blobs floating around in front of him.
Lee staggered up, regained his sword and this time he was the one looking down, “the bigger they are the harder they fall”, he wheezed out. Tincan was getting back up and Lee backed off, he couldn’t see well enough and didn’t have the strength to attack while Tincan was down.
He heard someone yell, “Lee, what part of ‘stay away from him’ didn’t you understand?”
“You know Lee, I was willing to make this quick but now you’ve p-d me off, so it’s going to be long and slow and very very painful.”
Lee had no idea how his friends were fairing, all his concentration was taken up just staying on his feet and out of Tincan’s reach. True to his word Tincan was taking his time, going to Lee’s left, then his right or straight in so Lee had to turn and twist and move as quickly as he could to avoid the sword coming at him in cutting or slashing strokes. Breathing was agony, moving was agony, bloody hell everything was. He managed to stay just out of reach but every movement tore at his side and sent shivers of pain up and down his body, his right side was soaked in blood, the rest of him in sweat. He’d tossed off his helmet, even that small weight being too much to bear if he didn’t have to.
Lee continued to study Tincan’s movements as best he could, looking for a weakness in his enemy’s attack pattern that might allow him a strike. “Who are you kidding Crane,” he thought to himself, “you couldn’t cut butter right now.” So round and round, back and forth they went accompanied by the ‘music’ of the battles being waged around them.
Lee’s mind was starting to wander, “Didn’t this guy ever get tired?” Lee was bone weary, his limbs felt like lead, he was yawning frequently, sure sign that he was becoming oxygen deprived, just plain didn’t have enough blood still inside him to efficiently circulate the needed O2 around. “Jamie’s going to have a fit, sure hope I’m there to see it.”
The good Dr Jamieson was already none too happy. He’d been on leave like the rest of Seaview’s crew, and visiting his sister and her family in Germany. That’s where he was when he received Nelson’s brief message, “Lee missing, heading for Scotland with Chip on FS1. Open ticket to Scotland waiting for you at Frankfurt airport.” Clearing customs in Glasgow he saw Nelson and Chip waiting for him.
“What’s he done to himself this time?”
“We don’t know that he’s injured, but............”, Nelson filled Jamie in on missing agents, blocked communications, the meeting with Alastair and Lee’s involvement with the Society for Creative Anachronism, the little he knew. He would be learning a lot more when he brought his errant Captain to heel, for all of the 30 seconds that usually lasted.
“Oh wonderful, you mean someone is letting Lee run around with sharp, pointy things”, Jamie tried to ease the tension that Nelson and Chip were displaying. They all knew there wasn’t a more capable man on the planet but he always seemed to be throwing himself in the line of fire, he’d protect anyone and everything but himself.
So it was that the three of them found themselves airborne in FS1 approaching the northern most point in Scotland.
Hendel watched the proceedings ravenously, hungry for the blood of the ONI agents. There was blood, but not enough. One of them had a cut to his thigh, another to his arm, two seemed unscathed for the moment, and then there was Crane. Already seriously injured Hendel had thought he would be ‘easy meat’, but the man kept matching his knight’s moves and keeping out of reach, except for that one time, Hendel thought he had his first one then, but damn if Crane hadn’t managed to topple his opponent and regain his feet. Soon though, soon, Crane was slowing and stumbling. Why didn’t his knight move in for the kill?
“Haven’t heard any smart-ass comments out of you lately Lee,” goaded Tincan.
“Pearls before swine and all that,” hissed Lee as he stumbled yet again and pain lanced through his abused body, his vision mostly shades of grey.
“Ya well this isn’t much fun for me anymore, think I’ll finish it up and go help my friends make mincemeat out of yours.” Tincan stopped circling and came straight in, at least that’s what Lee thought, the bigger grey blob seemed to be moving towards him.
Lee stood waiting, no energy left to move back or dodge sideways. As Tincan swung his sword up Lee tried the inside move he’d made before, disasterously. It didn’t work any better this time, Lee moved forward to pass close to Tincan’s left side this time and while he again avoided the sword stroke Tincan swung his shield back and struck Lee solidly across his back, sending him sprawling to the ground.
“Slow learner aren’t you,” laughed the knight.
Just then a strange whine overhead was heard.
“There,” pointed Chip, “that looks like the old castle Alastair told us about.”
“Hmmmmm, could be and there does seem to be something going on down there, I’m going to make a pass a bit lower, see if we can get a better look. I suppose that if he’s down there it would be too much to hope for that he’d be in the middle of the field waving.”
“I believe it would be Sir,” Chip and Jamie said in unison.
Lee recognized the sound instantly, his ‘baby’ the FS1 was up there, which could only mean that the Admiral and very likely Chip were too. “I’m sorry Admiral, Chip” Lee whispered, “but I don’t think the cavalry is going to get here in time.” For some odd reason part of a T.S. Elliot poem ran through Lee’s head:
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
FS1 came into sight, the guards melted into the forest fringe to keep out of sight. Hendel stood up screaming at his knights to finish the agents off NOW.
“Happy to oblige,” muttered Tincan. Lee had rolled onto his back, Tincan now stood straddling Lee’s thighs, he reached up and shoved his helmet off, “want to get a good look when I pin you to the ground.” Tincan raised his sword up vertically with both hands, point down, the grip and pommel above his head. “Right through your gut, should take awhile before you die.”
“Admiral, over there, looks like the guy in the metal suit is about to skewer someone,” shouted Chip, “I don’t know who it is but odds are...” Nelson levered the laser sighting mount down, not much time to aim so he simply strafed it through the field.
Several things happened at once, Tincan looked up momentarily, Lee saw a possible strike point, the cuirass had lifted when Tincan had raised his sword, maybe enough to run his sword in and Tincan was looking away, it would be a long shot at best. Even as the thought went through Lee’s mind Tincan was lowering his head, at the same moment a silver ball of fur landed front and centre on Tincan’s face, claws digging deep into his scalp. The sword fell from his hands and he leaned back grabbing for whatever was on his face. Lee had rolled sideways, the sword impaled the ground but not him. With the strength borne from an adrenaline surge Lee came up on his knees and drove his sword vertically up into the now wider breech in the cuirass, he didn’t stop until the hilt rested against Tincan’s belly. It travelled straight to the heart. And just like that it was over. Tincan’s hands dropped, he fell to his knees, then all the way to the ground in a death shudder.
Lee collapsed as well, the adrenaline gone along with the strength it had lent him. The ‘silver ball’ had resolved itself into a rather attractive silver tabby, which walked sedately over to the fallen Lee and reached out a sheathed paw, gently tapping Lee on the cheek. Getting no response it curled up beside Lee to wait.
Chaos reigned on the field, the other knights had also paused, confused by the sudden exploding line ripping through the field. Machine gun fire could now be heard as well and it didn’t appear to be coming from their side, they started to run. ONI agents being rather better trained for this sort of occurrence followed that training and became better friends with the planet, they dropped and hugged the earth until the barrage stopped. The last thing you wanted to be in the middle of an open field with bullets flying, was upright and running, which the knights quickly learned.
From the south came a line of well armed, uniformed men. Some of the guards surrendered, some made a run for it but there was really nowhere for them to go but the mined forest. Mike and the others rose to their knees in the universal gesture of surrender, hands behind their heads. This would keep them relatively safe until introductions could be made.
FS1 had made one of her infrequent ground landings. Three very anxious men exited and looked worriedly around. Gerry recognized the Admiral and called over to him, “Lee’s hurt bad, he’s over there,” and jerked his head in Lee’s direction. As the Admiral, Chip and Jamie started at a run in the direction indicated Nelson bellowed over to one of the military officers, “those four are with us.” The officer nodded that he understood and Gerry, Stephen, Daniel and Mike also started for Lee. Stephen giving Daniel a hand as his thigh wound slowed him. Mike detoured briefly to the officer and warned him that the forest might be mined and to keep his men from following any of the fleeing guards in, as if to emphasize this an explosion from the forest echoed over the field.
Chip reached Lee first, and dropped to his knees beside him, as he took in the sight of his friend’s bloody and battered body his stomach clenched. Nelson and Jamie arrived a heartbeat later, Nelson’s face paled at the sight of Lee, Jamie went straight to work. “He’s breathing, lost a lot of blood from the looks of things. What the hell is he wearing, I can’t get it off?”
“Hold on, let us deal with it,” Gerry advised as he and the others arrived. Stephen and Mike gently unbuckled the shoulder armour and lifted it away, then moved Lee’s arms straight above his head, took hold of the chainmail at the lower edge and peeled it off. The bandaging done earlier was a sodden mass of bright red, with more seeping out around it.
Jamie muttered a few words that neither the Admiral nor Chip would have thought Jamie knew, much less used.
“Can anyone tell me what’s under this mess?”
Stephen took a deep breath, “For starters, about a 6 inch angled laceration, we think at least two ribs were scraped. It bleed heavily, the best we could do was apply several strips of med tape to close it, over that a pressure dressing and wrapping. Prior to coming out onto the field we applied a second pressure dressing over top and more wrapping.”
Jamie nodded, given the circumstances that was pretty good field medicine. “How’d he get it?”
“Don’t suppose you’d know what a Quintain is?” at the negative shake Mike continued, “to keep it short and sweet, imagine a really heavy bag with 6 inch spikes sticking out being swung with force across your side.”
“%$^_(&%^_” was Jamie’s reply.
Gerry added some intel, “During the combat Lee apparently misunderstood our instructions to ‘stay away’ from his opponent, he tried a close pass but got caught in the injured side with the guys armoured elbow.”
“To be fair Gerry, Lee didn’t really have much of a choice if he wanted to avoid the sword,” Mike defended Lee.
Chip couldn’t believe these guys were calmly discussing Lee’s fighting strategies while Lee laid there, possibly dying.
During this short discourse Jamie had merely been observing the seeping blood and at this point Nelson cut in. “Gentlemen now is not the time to discuss the finer points of Lee’s moves, Jamie what needs to be done?”
“Right now Admiral I’m inclined to leave the dressings on and apply a larger one on top. The bleeding is slowing and I don’t want to risk disturbing any clotting that has occurred until we have him in a medical facility. I’ll start an IV to help fluid volume then we can wrap him and get him out of here.”
Medics had arrived and had the supplies Jamie required, they also started to tend to the wounds of the others.
Lee was starting to come around as Jamie was finishing applying his own dressing and wrap. He could hear voices, and felt someone putting something around him, there seemed to be something over his face, funny, he was pretty sure he didn’t still have his helmet on, and anyway, it didn’t cover his mouth. Eyes still closed he reached a hand up towards his face. “Stop that,” said a very familiar voice, and a hand gently took his and put it back at his side. “I’ve got you on oxygen Captain, leave the mask alone. Can you open your eyes for me?”
Nelson and Chip who had remained kneeling by Lee’s head so as not to be in Jamie’s way while he bandaged Lee, now moved down to be in Lee’s line of sight.
“Rather leave them shut, you probably plan to shine a light in them......head already hurts,” they heard mumbled through the mask.
Lee felt a hand on his shoulder and a firm but gentle squeeze, then it moved to ruffle through his hair and brush it gently from his forehead. A different hand took his in it.
As the first hand settled again on his shoulder a voice commanded, “open your eyes for the Doctor, Lee.” As Lee knew it would be, it was Nelson’s voice, so the hand holding his would be Chip’s. Very few people had his trust to the extent that he allowed them inside his personal space, much less touching him with the familiarity granted these men.
Things were a little blurry at first, not helped by the correctly anticipated light being shone in his eyes. “Don’t have a concussion Jamie, didn’t get hit on the head.”
“Not yet that is,” stated Chip, “just wait until you’ve recovered a bit and we ‘discuss’ this.”
“Hi Chip. What... are you doing..... in Scotland?” Lee got out, accompanied by his best ‘innocence personified’ look. Well as innocent looking as he could get swathed in bloody bandages, flat on his back in a field of carnage.
Chip and the Admiral were about to say a few choice words to Lee when Jamie interrupted. “I’m sure we’d all like to comment on and hear his explanations regarding his current state but it’s going to have to wait. He needs to stay as calm and quiet as possible.”
Lee wasn’t really paying attention, his mind was starting to focus on other matters. He removed the mask and started to try and get up, “Where’s Hendel, did anyone see what happened to him?” Six very loud voices commanded “Down,” and three pairs of hands restrained him.
“I think he went into the forest Lee, I caught a brief glimpse of him headed that way,” Daniel told him. As Lee looked like he was about to try again to get up the hands still resting on him applied further pressure.
“Not in a million years buddy,” from Chip. “As you were, Captain,” from Nelson. “I have a hypo with your name permanently engraved on it,” from Jamie.
The four ONI agents shared a smile and Mike acted as spokesman, “And if they can’t keep you down, we will.”
“I’m fi......” started Lee, but it faded away as he observed the many faces looking down at him with raised eyebrows. “Well I suppose this once, someone else could go looking for the bad guy.”
“That’s a good Captain,” joked Jamie, as he pushed the contents of the hypo into the IV line.
“Hey,” Lee protested, “I’m being good.”
“Yes, and you’re going to stay that way. Trust me, you don’t want to be awake for the trip,” soothed Jamie.
Lee had closed his eyes, he felt Nelson massaging his shoulders and neck, “relax son, we’ll take care of things from here,” Nelson told him, gratefully watching the rise and fall of Lee’s chest. Lee felt himself slipping under the effects of the hypo and Nelson’s touch. He forced his eyes open and looked up at Chip and Nelson, who had moved to be where Lee could see him, his left hand still resting on Lee’s shoulder, both men’s eyes locked on Lee’s, full of concern and brotherly/fatherly love for him. “Didn’t know....wasn’t supposed to be like this......” he whispered. “We know Lee, we’ll talk about it later,” reassured Chip.
Lee’s eyes drifted closed. “He’s under, finally. Never known anyone that can buck sedation the way he can,” an exasperated Jamie proclaimed.
The troops were mopping up and would be there for some time to come, there was still the thorny issue of what to do about the men that had entered the forest to get away. Occasionally there was still the boom of a mine going off. Admiral Nelson had informed the military of the unusual activity Alastair’s friend had mentioned, Admiral Jones had been in contact and the decision had been made to check it out, in force. It was pure good luck, that they arrived at almost the same time as FS1, like the good luck of Blackjack bucking when he did.....
Nelson had his own problems to worry about. Lee needed to be in a hospital asap, Jamie decided that Raigmore in Inverness would be best. FS1 could certainly get there but it wouldn’t be possible to land at the hospital. They could put down in Moray Firth but then they’d have to transfer Lee from FS1 to an ambulance for the ride to the hospital. Jamie wanted as little travelling as possible. The best choice seemed to be for Jamie and Lee to be loaded into one of the choppers that had arrived, it could go directly to the hospital. The downside was that neither Nelson nor Chip would be able to go with Lee, room was at a premium as the 4 ONI agents were being taken to the hospital too. FS1 really couldn’t be left where it was anyway. There wasn’t any other choice but to send Jamie and Lee off and get to the hospital as fast as they could.
Chip was sure that a lot of people in Scotland were wondering what on earth the yellow blur was that passed over them, the Admiral really had the ‘pedal to the metal’. Not that Chip was complaining, he’d be doing the same thing himself if he was in the pilot seat. They were so focused on getting to where they wanted to be that they failed to notice their passenger, curled in one of the corners of the bunk.
Raigmore staff were ready and waiting when the chopper touched down, triage was quickly done and Lee was already being prepped for surgery. His friends were sorted into treatment rooms and being examined and stitched as required. While Jamie didn’t have privileges at the hospital he did have a good friend there and was allowed in the operating room as an observer. He knew the Admiral and Chip would have liked to have had a word with Lee, or at least seen him before surgery but there was no time to wait, although Lee had been lucid on the field he had lost way to much blood and was in deep shock. Adrenalin and sheer cussedness had kept him going, but he was crashing now.
So it was that when the Admiral and Chip arrived Lee was already ‘under the knife’ and for all the speed of FS1, all they could do now was wait.
The first hour went by fairly uneventfully, they both paced a little, sat a little, had some coffee, paced some more.
They heard footsteps approaching and looked up hopefully, but it was three of the four ONI agents joining them. “They won’t let Daniel out of bed yet, want him to stay off his leg,” Gerry informed the Admiral, “the rest of us are just a little banged up.” Bit of an understatement thought Chip, he could see bandaging under clothes and Gerry’s arm was in a sling. They sat along the opposite wall from Chip and Nelson, and everyone waited. No one seemed inclined to talk. After about half an hour there was a commotion in the hall, Daniel was zooming towards them in a wheelchair, one leg up. A nurse was hurrying behind him, “you’re not to be out of bed,” she scolded. Daniel answered back, “wrong, I’m not supposed to be on my leg, I am not on my leg, and I’m staying right here with these men until our friend is out of surgery.”
Chip looked over at the Admiral, “all this time I thought it was a ‘Lee’ thing, looks like they are all anti-hospital.” Nelson snorted and spoke to the nurse, “We’ll keep an eye on him, I suspect you’d no sooner get him back in his room then he’d be out again. I’ve, ah, had some experience with this behaviour pattern.”
“Highly unorthodox but I’m willing to go along with it, as long as he stays off his leg, I’ll have someone check every so often to make sure everything is ok.” Daniel blew her a kiss as she left and wheeled himself over to the ONI side of the room.
Chip looked at the agents, they looked at him, Nelson seemed to be lost in thought and unaware of the added tension in the room. Chip did not like ONI or things associated with ONI, hence he did not like the four men across from him. Rather than just sit here and brood though, he thought he’d try and find some things out.
“You guys known Lee long?” he asked.
“Long enough,” replied one of them.
“I suppose you’ve been on missions together?”
“What happened at the castle, what was it all about?”
“This and that.”
“Not much in the oral communications department are you?” snapped Chip.
“Anyone ever tell you that you ask to many questions?” retorted the agent.
Chip rose out of his seat and took a step toward the agent, his movements mirrored by the agent.
“Gentlemen that is quite enough, STAND DOWN”, commanded the Admiral, both Chip and the agent took their seats, when the Admiral gave a command with that degree of authority, you didn’t think about it, you did it.
“Our nerves are all a little raw here. Chip I’m sure Lee wouldn’t appreciate you starting a brawl with these men while he’s in surgery.”
“No Sir, likely not.”
“Let’s all cut each other a little slack here, we have common ground in Lee Crane, we are all concerned about him. I’m sure you gentlemen can understand our wanting to know just how you fit into his life and how he ended up so grievously injured when he was supposed to be on leave enjoying some R&R,” Nelson’s voice was rough with concern for Lee.
“Yes Sir, we do understand, we just can’t talk about it right now, not until we report in and are debriefed. It’s a high level security matter, Sir.” replied Mike.
Chip got up again, “Security!!!!! Admiral Nelson has more security clearance than the four of you put together!”
“Chip, I said ‘stand down’. These men have protocols they have to follow. The story can wait until Lee is out of surgery and on the mend.”
“Aye Sir,” Chip sat back down, grinding his teeth and glaring across the room.
Nelson looked at his watch, over 2 ½ hours since they’d arrived, and Lee’s surgery had started before they got there. “Would have liked to have had a word with the lad,” thought Nelson, “let him know I was here.”
They waited in silence. A nurse came by to check on them but she didn’t have any news about Lee, other than that he was still in the operating room.
Finally, the next set of steps brought Jamie. He looked exhausted and collapsed into the remaining unoccupied chair. “He’s out of surgery, it went well, all things considered. It would have been nice to have stabilized him a bit more before having to go in and clean things up.”
“So he’s going to be alright?” Nelson wanted the bottom line.
Jamie didn’t answer right away.
“Jamie, you said it went well...”
Jamie looked at Nelson, “A lot of time was spent cleaning the wound, there was gross contamination. There’s a high risk of infection, they are pumping antibiotics into his IV. It’s a large, gaping soft tissue wound so it can’t be closed yet. It’s going to require irrigation and aseptic care over the next 3-7 days. Closing a wound after several days is a more complex procedure. Two ribs were scraped pretty badly, there’s concern that they could become infected. He’s already very weak from blood loss and exhaustion, he doesn’t have a lot of resources left to fight an infection.”
The room was quiet for a couple of minutes while the men there absorbed the news. Then Nelson asked, as Jamie knew he would, “Can I see him?”
“Me too Jamie, even if it’s only for a moment,” Chip requested.
The other men started to speak as well but Jamie brought up his hand. “I’m afraid none of you can see him right now, he’s still in recovery and after that he’ll be in ICU. Admiral, Chip, this isn’t like back home, we’re visitor’s here and the hospital is very strict. I was fortunate in being allowed to observe. I can tell you that Lee had excellent surgeons and the staff here are taking every possible care of him. Beyond that we have to wait.”
Jamie looked at the ONI agents, “Shouldn’t at least two of you be in your own hospital rooms?”
“So they tell us,” Daniel looked over at Gerry with a thoughtful expression. “I guess, seeing that we can’t see Lee, we should go back to our rooms Gerry. I think we’re here for at least a couple of days.”
“Ummmm ya, suppose we should, no need to worry the nurses any longer than necessary.” Stephen and Mike exchanges glances, excellent, they had men ‘inside’, they’d find a way to get to Lee and report back.
While the Admiral had been speaking with Jamie, Chip had not missed the byplay between the other men.
The Admiral walked over to Chip, “Jamie is going to talk to the Administration and Doctors here and see if he can get us in to see Lee but it won’t be until at least tomorrow.”
Chip had been watching Daniel wheel back to his room accompanied by Gerry.
“They are up to something Admiral, they suddenly turned into model patients.”
“I dare say they are Chip. Two highly trained ONI agents admitted to the same hospital as their wounded comrade. Security won’t stand a chance.”
“Unless they happen to get tipped off,” thought Chip, “no way they get to see Lee before we do.”
Turned out Jamie was way ahead of the game, he’d already ‘suggested’ to the doctors that any ONI operatives being kept overnight would greatly benefit from a good stiff sedative.
Mike and Stephen said perfunctory goodbyes to the Admiral and Chip, they had contacted a ‘friend’ in Inverness and would report in from there, as well as stay as long as they liked. Officially they were still on leave.
Jamie’s friend at the hospital had offered to put him up, the Admiral and Chip had decided they’d spend the night right where they were, until they were informed that while they might get away with that where they came from, it was not going to happen here. They knew the base at Faslane would provide them quarters but that was more than a 3 hour drive away, no way were they going to be that distant from where Lee was. There was always FS1, although one of them would have to sleep in one of the seats, Chip knew who that would be. They needn’t have worried about it, a very pretty nurse approached them, she was going off duty and had heard from one of the doctors that the two visitors might require a bit of looking after. Nelson and Chip had the good grace to blush a bit, and started to say they were just fine but she just continued, “Me mom has lots of room since me brothers went off to university in Edinburgh, we’d both love a wee bit of company and it’s close to the hospital, I’ll bring ye back with me tomorrow. Though I greatly doubt ye’ll be allowed in to see your friend yet.”
Chip and the Admiral accepted the invitation with thanks, they asked if they could have a moment to talk once more with Jamie, whom they saw was again out in the corridor standing beside his friend who was talking to the duty nurse.
“Of course, I’ll meet ye at the entrance.”
Jamie introduced Nelson and Chip to Dr. Mackenzie. They were assured that Lee was resting comfortably, aided by painkillers and sedatives, had round the clock nurses and would likely not be ok’d for visitors for a couple of days. Dr. Jamieson would be consulting on the case and had just been granted hospital privileges. Jamie gave Nelson and Chip a wink, which Nelson took to mean that Jamie would be discussing possible exceptions to the ‘no visitors’ rule.
With that they headed to the entrance and were taken ‘home’.
It was a lovely house, their hostess quite as charming as her daughter. They enjoyed a late dinner of Chicken Bonnie Prince Charlie, in which the Drambuie had been generously applied, Clapshot, which turned out to be boiled potato and turnips beaten together with butter and chives and for the sweet, Jam Roly Poly with hot custard. The night ended with a fine old Scotch.
They had been given a choice of sharing a room or each having their own. As neither one of them wanted to be alone they elected to share, of course neither of them would admit the reason so assured each other that it was to lessen the work for their hostess.
Thinking it likely they’d be spending at least one night at the hospital they’d grabbed their kits when they left FS1, so had the necessities for overnight. Spare clothes and other items were always stowed in FS1 for emergencies.
Chip looked over at the Admiral, he looked drawn, pale and exhausted, the adrenaline that had been keeping him going was long gone. Now, with just Chip there Nelson finally gave in to the stress. His eyes filled with unshed tears, “I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this Chip, finding him ripped apart, teetering on death’s doorstep, over and over again. How many times can this happen before he steps over that doorstep, so far over we can’t bring him back.”
Chip found he couldn’t respond for a moment, his throat had constricted and he was having his own issues with excess eye moisture. Chip knew that the relationship between the Admiral and Lee had long ago moved from mentor and friend to father and son, and he felt very honoured that Nelson felt he could be this candid with him. He cleared his throat, Nelson’s back was to him he seemed to be wiping at something on his face.
When Chip spoke his voice was gravelly, “Admiral I wish I could say that it would never happen again, but we know Lee to well. He will risk himself no matter the cost if he believes he can make a difference. He will protect those he loves with his life, hell sometimes it seems he’ll protect anything, do anything, with no regard whatsoever for the consequences to himself. In many ways he is a knight upon the field of honour, Seaview his silver charger, you his liege lord and me his squire, the crew the people he’s pledged to protect, along with the entire planet it seems.”
Nelson turned towards Chip, his eyes were red and swollen but tears no longer ran down his face. “Earlier today I was thinking much along those lines. That in many ways Lee does indeed fit the description of a knight, a Champion. I just wish there were a few less broken bones and a lot less spilled blood involved.”
“You, me and the entire crew, Sir,” was Chips heartfelt reply.
They finished getting ready for bed and said their goodnights and heartfelt prayers that Lee would have a peaceful night and be on the mend, neither thought they’d get much sleep but the emotional exhaustion and stress soon took them under.
At the hospital things were not the wished for ‘peaceful’. Lee had begun to run a post-op fever, not an unusual event in and of itself but this one was rather high, and climbing, more indicative of a growing infection. This is what the doctor’s had hoped to avoid by the lengthy cleaning and flushing of the wound as well as the ‘high-test’ antibiotics that Lee was being given. Measures were taken to control the fever’s rise but the wound site was swollen, hot and discoloured. At approximate 0300 Dr. Mackenzie was called back to the hospital, Jamie right by his side. The two doctors agreed that the wound needed to be treated again so back into the OR Lee went.
After a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and eggs, which neither the Admiral nor Chip really wanted but had to eat anyway, they headed to the hospital. When they arrived, Nancy, for that was their rescuing nurse’s name, looked puzzled when she saw Dr. Mackenzie at the nurse’s station. Nelson caught the look, “What is it Nancy?” “I’m sure it’s nothing but I didn’t think Dr. Mackenzie was due back for another couple of hours,” she answered.
Nelson and Chip were immediately concerned, for one thing where was Jamie, if Dr. Mackenzie was here Jamie would be. At that moment he came out of one of the doors down the hall and approached the station, but on catching site of the Admiral and Chip he continued past.
As both the Admiral and Chip started to speak Jamie held up his hand, “I know what you want to know, you don’t need to ask. There’s good news and there’s not so good news.” Again the other two men tried to speak only to be cut off by Jamie, “Good news is he’s out of OR and recovery and in ICU.”
Nelson finally managed to get a question in, “Jamie that was last night, what about now?”
“I was coming to that, and it wasn’t last night, I’m speaking about his second trip to the OR around 0330 this morning. Lee began running a high fever and we needed to go back in and flush the wound again. He’s still running a high fever, we’re hopeful that with the second flushing and increasing the antibiotics that we can get things under control.”
“We want to see him Jamie, we don’t care what the rules are! He needs us in there with him, you know he does better if the Admiral is there,” Chip pleaded.
“Yes, I know that both you and the Admiral make a marked difference in how he responds to treatment and in the speed of his recovery. I’ve talked at length with Dr. Mackenzie and the administration, assured them that you both know how to behave yourselves in an ICU room and will NOT get in the way of the staff, agreed?”
Two heads nodded in affirmation, and so Jamie led them to Lee’s room.
Lee had looked better, he was flushed, his eyes were closed but he was moving his head back and forth obviously restless and uncomfortable. Numerous wires ran from an ECG monitor to pads attached to his exposed chest, an IV line in his right hand was feeding him fluids and medication. A nurse was just finishing checking Lee’s vital signs. She hesitated when she saw that Dr. Jamieson had two visitors with him.
It’s alright nurse, these men will be staying with our patient for awhile, how are the vital signs?
“Still running a fever, 104. Breathing is rapid and shallow, pulse weak and rapid, blood pressure is dropping. I was about to page Dr. Mackenzie.”
Jamie had been frowning through her report and softly swore at the end, “Yes, get Dr. Mackenzie here stat.”
Nelson and Chip had moved to Lee’s side, the Admiral slipped his hand onto Lee’s shoulder, Chip had placed his hand on Lee’s leg, just above the knee. Both hoping to let Lee know they were there. They could feel the heat emanating from Lee’s body, not a good sign at all.
“I’m sorry Admiral, Chip but I’m going to have to ask you both to leave.”
“What’s happening Doc? I don’t know much about it but that report didn’t sound good,” worried Nelson.
“I’m afraid Lee may be developing STSS, streptococcal toxic shock. Most often STSS appears after streptococcus bacteria have invaded areas of injured skin, such as cuts and scrapes, or surgical wounds. I’m hoping that we started treatment in time but Dr. Mackenzie and I need to re-examine him. I’ll let you know how things stand as soon as I can.”
Nelson gave Lee’s shoulder a gentle squeeze and he bent down, “I’m here son, I know you can lick this,” his throat tightened as emotion overwhelmed him. Chip have Lee’s leg a pat, “You’re a fighter Lee, get this beat soon, we need you back.” For a moment Lee stilled and opened his fever bright eyes, normally cool green and gold flecked they now appeared molten and vivid as if the colours had melted together, they couldn’t tell if he recognized them. The Admiral gave Lee’s shoulder a final squeeze and slid his hand down Lee’s arm then away. Chip rubbed Lee’s leg and with that the two of them left the room.
As they went back to the waiting area they met the ONI agents coming down the hall. Daniel was on crutches now and in regular clothes, Gerry still sporting a sling and also in street clothes.
They stopped for a moment, “don’t suppose either of you would know anything about the Doctor’s here deciding to sedate us last night?” Gerry looked at Chip as he asked his question.
“Not a thing. Get a good night’s rest?” Chip smirked back.
“No, ONI agents don’t need to sleep, it was very inconvenient,” retorted Daniel, “we had ‘plans’.”
Chip was about to tell them where they could stick their plans when Nelson intervened, “I’m sure you did gentlemen, our CMO is quite familiar with ONI agent sleep patterns or lack thereof, perhaps he shared his experiences with your attending physicians. He would want you to get the rest you need to heal.”
They didn’t bother pursuing the topic, “We’ve heard that Lee isn’t doing so well, they won’t let us in to see him and Admiral Jones has ordered us back home. We don’t like leaving one of ours behind, especially one we, ummm, care about quite a lot. He’s a good agent, a good man and a good friend.” Gerry had locked eyes with the Admiral as he spoke and he was now handing the Admiral a folded piece of paper, “on here are my and Mike’s private cell numbers, if you can’t reach one of us you should be able to get the other, if not you can leave a message. We’d appreciate it if you’d keep us informed of how Lee is doing, we’ll let the others know. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that the numbers are given only to a rare few and are to be kept confidential.”
The Admiral took the paper and put it in his inside jacket pocket, eyes still locked with Gerry, “and if Lee is on an ONI mission and I want to know how he’s doing or where he is?”
“We’ll tell you what we can Admiral but we won’t break confidentiality. Unless we’re working as a unit we don’t usually know what anyone else is doing on an assignment or necessarily if someone is even out on an assignment.”
“Fair enough”, Nelson reached out and picked up a hospital note pad and wrote a number on it, “this is my private number, if there’s ever something you think I should know about Lee...”, Nelson didn’t need to finish the sentence, Daniel and Gerry understood, if Lee needed help and ONI wasn’t providing it, this man and all his resources would.
Chip had stood off to the side while the discussion took place, he recognized the importance of what had just happened, even if he wasn’t a part of it. An understanding now existed between these men, whatever information could be shared to keep Lee safe would be. Although he hadn’t been actively included in the discussion he noted that the agents had stayed within his earshot, implying that he was a part of the ‘understanding’. He wondered briefly what Lee would think if he knew that there was a ‘protect Lee Crane’ alliance. “Probably have a fit,” he thought, “well no reason Lee should ever know about it.”
The agents shook hands with the Admiral and turned toward Chip, who found he no longer felt quite as antagonistic towards them as he had. Daniel was grinning and put out his hand to shake Chip’s, “Hey Morton, don’t worry, you don’t have to like us or anything, we figure if Lee puts up with you we can make an effort, as painful as it may be.” “Don’t go exerting yourselves on my account, I can live without it,” but Chip was smiling as he shook their hands.
Time seemed to drag on forever but it was only an hour after the ONI agents had departed that Jamie once more came to talk to the Admiral and Chip.
“The wound isn’t looking any worse than when we cleaned it the second time, we think the infection is slowly responding to the antibiotic therapy. Lee is continuing to run a fever but it isn’t rising beyond 104, that’s still higher than we’d like and we’re watching him very closely. His blood pressure has stabilized. For now we are taking ‘comfort’ measures and letting his body and the meds do their work.”
“So you’re saying that he’s going to be all right?” asked Chip.
“I guess you’d say Dr. Mackenzie and I are cautiously optimistic at this point.”
“Can we see him, stay with him awhile?” it was almost a plea from the Admiral.
“Yes, you can, as a matter of fact you and Chip are going to be part of the ‘comfort’ measures. The psyche plays a huge role in sickness. If a person feels comfort and touch as often as possible, they will feel loved and secure. This creates a restfulness that the body needs to help fight infection more quickly. As we all know, Lee responds quite dramatically to the presence of each of you. Let’s get you in there, but I want you taking breaks, I don’t need either of you collapsing from exhaustion, that won’t help anyone.”
For the next several hours the Admiral and Chip took turns talking to Lee, sponging his face, neck, and shoulders with cool water. The Admiral frequently ran his hand over Lee’s head, ruffling his hair then straightening it out again. They told Lee how much he was missed and how vital he was both in their lives, to Seaview and NIMR. Chip suspected that when he was out of the room on a break, that the Admiral’s comments to Lee were considerably more personal, he knew his were when Nelson was out.
With the combination of the antibiotics and the comfort therapy Lee started to improve. When his fever broke Chip and the Admiral were shooed from the room while the nurses removed the ECG monitor, gave Lee a quick sponge bath, a change of hospital garb, changed the bedding and the doctor’s examined Lee.
Jamie and Dr. Mackenzie were still in the room when Chip and the Admiral were allowed back in. Lee was looking better, no longer restless or flushed, he was pale and quiet, at least the two men hoped that was better.
Dr. Mackenzie gave them a friendly smile, “I’m pleased to say that Commander Crane appears to have passed through the crisis point. I’m told by my staff that when the two of you participated in his care he calmed down significantly and seemed to start fighting the infection more vigorously. I must admit I was a little sceptical when Will, Dr. Jamieson, explained the unusual bond that seems to exist between the three of you but it’s hard to argue with results.”
“It’s not just the three of us Dr. Mackenzie, Lee also does much better when Dr. Jamieson is in the picture, despite all Lee’s protests and attempts to get out of Sick Bay whenever he’s in there,” said Nelson.
Jamie looked extremely pleased by the comment, he often had to fight hard and sometimes underhandedly with the Captain over his medical needs but he knew that underneath it there was respect, friendship and trust, things Lee gave sparingly.
“Ya ya, I love you all, don’t suppose you could pipe down so I could get some sleep.”
Four heads turned to look at the bed, Lee smiled at the group and tried to shift a bit, which caused a groan as his side protested. Four pairs of arms reached out to help him.
Dr. Mackenzie chuckled, “I think Commander Crane has all the helping hands he needs right now, I believe I’ll go check on my other patients,” he gave Will a wink and a clap on the back as he turned to go.
True to form Lee’s first comment was followed by a couple of questions, “How are the others? Is everyone all right?”
Will gave him a rundown, Gerry and Daniel’s injuries being the worst of the group and relatively minor compared to Lee. The Admiral told him that they had been recalled by Admiral Jones but were being kept updated on his condition. Chip noted that Nelson did not mention the exchange of phone numbers. He would be willing to bet that Lee’s ONI buddies wouldn’t be mentioning it to him either.
Lee looked over at Chip and received the tried and true infamous XO glare.
“Hi Chip”, Lee tried his innocent as a newborn babe act.
“Hi Chip, that’s all you have to say for yourself?” XO glare still firmly in place.
“Nice to see you,” Lee gave Chip one of his ‘bashful’ smiles.
Chip couldn’t hold the act any longer, he leaned over from Lee’s left side and threw right his arm around Lee’s neck pulling him close, “Damn it Lee, you’ve got to stop getting yourself into these things.”
The Admiral and Jamie grinned at the show of brotherly angst and affection.
Chip’s arm still around his neck, his head resting against Chip’s neck Lee looked over at the Admiral. He saw the signs of worry and exhaustion on Nelson’s face and felt guilty that he’d once again put them there. He also saw what constantly amazed him, the love of a father for his son, and the relief that the son would recover.
Lee cleared his throat, and tried to stifle a yawn, “I suppose you’d like an explanation, Sir”.
“Explanations will have to wait Captain,” Jamie had caught the slight flinch when Chip had pulled Lee towards him, and the yawn Lee had tried to hide. “What you need now is sleep and lots of it.”
“Will’s right Lee, and so are you. I, we, all would dearly love to hear your explanation of this one but you’re only just beginning to recover and you need to rest.” Nelson had closed the gap between them while speaking and now stood at Lee’s right side. Chip had finally released his grip on Lee and Lee’s head was once again resting on the pillow. Nelson reached his left hand out and as he’d done so many times the last few hours, gently stroked it through Lee’s hair a couple of times, eventually letting it slid down Lee’s neck to come to rest on his shoulder where he gently massaged. Lee’s eyes had drifted shut, taking comfort in the presence of his friends, in the Admirals touch. Lee’s breathing shifted to the deep regular rhythm of sleep. The Admiral stilled his hand but left it resting on Lee’s shoulder, he stood looking down at Lee as he slept, the man that meant so much to him in so many ways.
Neither Jamie nor Chip spoke, they didn’t want to interrupt what was obviously a heartfelt moment for the Admiral as emotions passed freely across his face and his eyes again filled with tears, but this time of relief. Jamie and Chip found their own weren’t all that dry either.
Finally the Admiral gave himself a little shake and stepped back from the bed.
“He’ll sleep now for several hours Admiral, you and Chip should go get a decent meal and some sleep yourselves. Actually we all should, I’ll come with you, the staff will contact me if there’s any change or if he wakes up.” Will held up a hospital issued pager.
Over the next three days Lee continued to improve and it was decided that since Jamie would be with him there was no reason why Lee couldn’t return to Santa Barbara aboard the FS1 and continue his recovery in the NIMR medical unit. Of course Lee couldn’t see any reason why he couldn’t just go home. Technically he was still on vacation.
Lee heard a loud voice out in the hospital hallway, “Can you believe the unmitigated gall of the man. Lee isn’t even out of the hospital and he’s trying to get his claws in him.” Only one voice that could be, and only one person he’d be referring to in that way. Obviously Admiral Nelson and Admiral Jones had had words recently. Probably there had been quite a few words exchanged when he went missing. Neither Nelson nor Chip had pressed Lee yet for the story, Lee knew he’d have to be debriefed by ONI first and then he’d have to explain what he could to his friends. Until he was debriefed he wouldn’t know how much he was allowed to reveal.
The door to his room burst open and the Admiral stalked through. He saw Lee sitting on the edge of his bed and he tried to get himself under control. His voice still a little gruff, “you all ready to go Lee.” Lee didn’t want to open the ONI can of worms so he merely nodded yes and scooted off the bed.
Jamie was finishing his discharge papers at the desk, Chip was waiting in the hallway.
The obligatory wheelchair was waiting for him, the Admiral helped him into it, Lee wasn’t about to protest the assist, given the Admiral’s current mood. He thanked Dr. Mackenzie and the hospital staff. Even in the short time he’d been there he’d become a bit of a favourite with the nurses of that station, and they were there to bid him farewell and a speedy recovery.
The Admiral got in the back of the car with Lee, Chip was driving and Jamie was up front with him. It wasn’t a long drive to where FS1 was and Lee was glad to see the Admiral begin to relax, usually quite proper when others were around Nelson put his arm around Lee’s shoulders and gave him a hug.
“Glad to be headed home son?”
“Yes Sir, very glad.”
They managed to get Lee aboard FS1 without mishap and settled into the bunk. Lee wondered a bit about the silver tabby that had followed them through the hatch, looked an awful lot like the one he’d seen around the castle, not to mention glued to Tincan’s face. Since no one mentioned the cat he decided not to either. The tabby in question simply curled up in the far corner of the bunk, a cat that does not wish to be noticed won’t be, especially this particular cat.
Jamie fussed a bit with Lee on the way back, Lee insisted, “I’m fine.” To which the other men just snorted.
An easy flight and landing followed by a quick transfer to the NIMR medical unit and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Lee, while not quite back where everyone wanted him, was none the less back. He wouldn’t admit it but he was feeling the wound and very tired even though he had slept for a lot of the trip, likely courtesy of something Jamie slipped into his IV at the hospital before it was removed. He wondered where the tabby had gotten to, didn’t want the poor thing going hungry. No one seemed to know what he was talking about so he didn’t push it. Maybe he just thought there was a cat on FS1 with him, who knows what the meds might do. He once saw a 6 foot Santa made of chocolate walking down the medical unit corridor when he was on Demerol.
He quickly fell asleep, once settled in his bed and Jamie finally stopped poking him.
When he awoke it was dark, the room was lit only by the usual orange night light. As his eyes adjusted he noticed that there was someone in the chair beside his bed, the Admiral? No, the outline didn’t quite match.
“About time you woke up Crane.” Ah, an Admiral yes, just not his Admiral.
“Yes Sir, Admiral Jones. To what do I owe the honor?” Lee asked, it was very unusual for Admiral Jones to pay an agent a personal visit, let alone be at the bedside.
“Happened to be in the neighbourhood, nurse said you’d be awake soon so thought I’d get the debrief over with,” rumbled Jones.
Lee thought it all very unlikely. Santa Barbara wasn’t in the ‘neighbourhood’ of Washington D.C. no matter how you held the map. Something else was going on, Admiral Jones didn’t debrief agents, he had underlings for that task.
Lee’s misgivings must have shown in his face, “All right, not exactly in the neighbourhood, figured anyone I sent to do the debrief would be eaten alive by Nelson and I want your report asap. Nice bit of luck that we can do this in the middle of the night without Nelson around.”
Nelson stepped into Lee’s room, “You think so do you Jones? How dare you come onto NIMR grounds without notifying me. Not to mention planting yourself in Lee’s room. Did you really think that you’d get away with flashing your stars and no one would alert me?” The Admiral was furious and not his usual pressed self, Lee suspected that he had been close by in one of the courtesy sleeping rooms.
“This is none of your business Harriman, Crane needs to be debriefed and I need to hear it, personally.”
“I don’t care what you need Jones, Lee needs to rest and I won’t have him interrogated in the middle of the night.”
Jamie strode in, “and I, Admirals, don’t care what either of you want, you will not conduct a bellowing match in the Medical Unit at this hour or any other for that matter. No one, least of all Lee, needs that. Out, now, both of you!”
“You let your doctor talk to you that way Nelson?”
“Dr. Jamieson’s word is law in here Jones, I suggest you follow his orders, he will have no compunction about having security escort you out,” Nelson informed him.
As if on cue, two burly security guards appeared in the doorway, “Are you in need of assistance Dr. Jamieson?” one of them asked.
Jamie raised his eyebrows towards the Admirals, Admiral Nelson motioned for Admiral Jones to precede him through the door and followed him out.
Jamie came over to Lee, “I’m ordering you a pain pill and a sedative,” when Lee started to object Jamie held up his hand in his usual hushing gesture, “I don’t want to hear it, you will take them, understand?”
Lee nodded. “That’s better, I’m also leaving one of the security guards outside your door, Admirals or not, they aren’t coming back in until I say so.”
“The visit wasn’t my idea Jamie. Surprised the heck out of me finding Admiral Jones sitting here.” This Jamie well believed, he was sure Admiral Jones was the last person Lee would have expected to pay him a bedside visit.
“You feel up to doing the debrief tomorrow, I can forbid it if you’d rather wait?” Jamie offered.
“I’d like get it over with, won’t take long anyway, I’m sure the others have already told him everything, and it’s really a pretty short story anyway.” Lee yawned, he still tired easily. The nurse had arrived with the medication so under Jamie’s watchful eye he was a good Captain and downed the pills.
Jamie smiled, “Good night Lee, try not to wake up to soon.”
“Night Jamie, I’ll try not to.” Lee grinned and relaxed, he was asleep before Jamie finished closing the door.
When Jamie turned to go down the corridor to his office he wasn’t the least bit surprised to find Admiral Nelson lurking a couple of doors down.
“He ok Jamie?”
“Yes Admiral, no damage done. I did have another round of pain meds and a sedative brought in, which he took, both a little stronger than I’ve been giving him. He’ll likely sleep for several hours, so neither you nor Admiral Jones have any reason to be here until at least noon. Before you ask, I asked Lee about the debrief, he wants to do it and I don’t see any medical reason why he can’t.”
“OK Jamie, the quicker it’s over the sooner Lee can put it behind him. You, ummm, seem to have left a security guard behind.”
“Like I said Admiral, he’s is going to sleep, undisturbed by anyone, for several hours.”
Chip arrived at Med Bay bright and early and came to a sudden halt when he saw the guard outside Lee’s door. Instantly concerned about what could have happened that would require a guard being placed on Lee he approached the room.
“I’m sorry Mr. Morton, no one is allowed in Captain Crane’s room,” the guard informed him.
“On whose orders and why?” questioned Chip in his best XO voice.
“Doctor’s orders Sir, only know I’m not to allow anyone in other than hospital staff.”
Really worried now, Chip wondered if Lee had developed another infection, or did something else go wrong, had they moved him to soon?
One of the nurse’s noticed him standing in front of the guard, “Oh, Mr. Morton, sorry, I didn’t see you arrive, Dr. Jamieson said you might show up and wonder what was going on.”
“He got that right, can you tell me anything?”
“Captain Crane is fine, I wasn’t on duty at the time but I gather there was some sort of commotion in his room early this morning between two Admirals. Dr. Jamieson gave the Captain a sedative and didn’t want him disturbed for several hours.”
“Must have been quite the event if Dr. Jamieson put a guard on the door.”
“Yes, well Admirals can be a little tricky to handle,” the nurse replied.
“Indeed we can be.”
Having worked for a long time at Medical Unit the nurse was not flustered by Admiral Nelson’s comment from behind her and gave him a smile.
“Come along Chip, we’ll have breakfast and I’ll fill you in on the ‘event’ as you called it. Dr. Jamieson isn’t going to let us in for awhile yet,” with that the Admiral clapped Chip on the back and the two of them headed for the cafeteria.
“Lee must have practically had a coronary finding Admiral Jones at his bedside,” Chip winced for his friend’s earlier predicament.
“I don’t think he saw it coming, that’s for sure. I didn’t help matters any I suppose, but the nerve of the man, waltzing in here like he owned the place,” grumbled Nelson.
Chip was pretty sure that what the Admiral really meant was ‘waltzing in like he owned Lee’.
“So Lee is doing the debrief today Sir?”
“Jamie said there was no medical reason for Lee not to and Lee wants to get it over with. Maybe then we can get a few answers.”
“Unless Admiral Jones slaps a gag order on Lee.”
“There is that possibility,” the Admiral admitted.
As it turned out they needn’t have worried. The debrief went quickly and no gag order was issued. Admiral Jones departed as soon as it was over. Lee was glad to see him go, but now the more difficult part, explaining to his friends.
Jamie had come in when Lee began to recount the events to the Admiral and Chip and then started to leave, thinking it might be classified but both the Admiral and Lee indicated that he could stay if he wanted to, so he settled in. Lee filled them in on the original mission and what he’d learned from Admiral Jones about what had happened afterwards. Dr. Hendel had worked for awhile with other scientists on projects but then became mentally unstable. He was treated in a psychiatric hospital and released. ONI tracked him for awhile but he went overseas and they lost contact. There was never any evidence that he rejoined the other side and as he didn’t present a security danger they stopped looking. ONI’s best guess was that someone saw him as an opportunity to go after ONI agents so provided him with the ways and means. If he could take out 5 top agents, so much the better, if not there would be nothing to tie him to his backers. As things stood now, no one was sure if Hendel had died in the mined forest or not, no conclusive evidence had been found.
“That explains why he was after the five of you and how he was able to orchestrate his attack, but I believe Chip is waiting for your explanation about being a..... knight,” the Admiral wasn’t totally successful in keeping the smirk off his face.
Of course Lee knew the Admiral was just as curious, maybe even more so. He wasn’t about to let the Admiral know that Admiral Jones had mentioned something about a possible future assignment that would require those very skills. Admiral Jones hadn’t elaborated, just that it would be something ‘local’, in the USA, but undercover. Jones wanted Lee and the others to continue their involvement with the SCA, and practice.
“Waiting Lee,” Chip’s voice brought Lee’s attention back to the matter at hand.
“Started when I was a kid, you know, stories about King Arthur, Ivanhoe etc.,” ventured Lee.
“I believe I can speak for Chip and Jamie when I say that we are familiar with the tales,” the Admiral wasn’t going to let him off the hook.
Lee knew that his friends had met and talked with the ONI agents, obviously they hadn’t covered how they all became involved with the SCA, leaving that bit for Lee to work his way around.
“After a mission debrief Mike and I were sitting around having a couple of beers. He’s a bit of a history buff and is especially fascinated by Medieval times. He’d heard about the SCA and looked into it, he really liked what he saw and decided to join. He offered to take me as his guest. To make a long story short, I got hooked on it, we discovered that Gerry, Daniel and Stephen were also interested so we brought them along with us a couple of times and they joined as well. It’s really good practice for an ONI agent, role playing and developing and honing skill sets. There’s lots to learn about how people lived back then too.”
“Uh huh,” Chip said sceptically, “how long have you been involved in it?”
Lee had been afraid he was going to be asked that. “ummmm around 2 years.”
The Admiral and Jamie sat back, this was going to be interesting.
Chip paced back and forth in front of Lee’s bed, “2 years, you’ve kept this from me for 2 years, your best friend, your ‘older brother’, your XO. You didn’t think maybe I’d like to be part of it with you, that maybe as your XO I should know about something that could leave you injured and hamper you ability to perform your duties.”
That last part hit one of Lee’s buttons, “It has never interfered with my ability to perform my duties. I would never let that happen. I always gave myself recovery time.”
“Ooops probably should have left that last part out,” thought Lee a second too late.
“Gave yourself recovery time, so you have been injured playing knight-errant,” exploded Chip, “I suppose you saw a doctor.”
“I was fine,” Lee defended.
“Lee I’ve seen you with bullets in you and bleeding a river claiming you were ‘fine’, you have no concept of .....”
At this point the Admiral and Jamie decided they’d better step in, Lee was trying to get up to face off with Chip toe to toe and that did not bode well for the fine stitch work that was now holding his side together. They were, unfortunately, a little slow off the mark. Lee managed to lurch up off the bed, tried to get his balance by grabbing the rolling table, which did just that. He would have gone sprawling onto the floor but Chip lunged forward and caught him under his arms, being careful to avoid his injured side. The Admiral and Jamie helped Chip get Lee back into bed.
“Shit Lee, what did you think you were doing?” an exasperated Chip sighed.
Jamie didn’t give Lee time to answer, he pulled up the hospital shirt and began to examine Lee’s side, Lee started to tell him he was just fine but thought better of it seeing the stormy look that crossed both Chip and the Admiral’s faces.
“Doesn’t appear to be any damage done,” was Jamie’s verdict, “but I don’t recommend you try that again Skipper.”
The Admiral and Jamie stepped back once more, but not quite as far back, this was something Chip and Lee had to work out between them. The Admiral would have his talk with Lee later, and in private.
Chip perched on the side of Lee’s bed, Lee carefully examined the hem on the sheet. He spoke first, “I would never endanger Seaview or her crew.”
“I know that buddy, the problem is you don’t seem to know your limits, and you do have limits, you’re only human. I really need to know for myself and for my duties, what shape you’re in and why.” Lee could hear the deep concern and caring in Chip’s voice, that was something he couldn’t argue with, something he valued. He knew if the positions were reversed he’d be saying the same thing to Chip or the Admiral for that matter.
“I understand your concern Chip, and I appreciate it, on all its levels.”
Chip flushed at Lee’s acknowledgement of their many layered relationship.
Lee continued, “I know how you feel about my taking ONI assignments and since I was doing this with ONI agents I didn’t think you’d want any part of it.”
“Can’t argue with you about the ONI part, although they didn’t seem to be too bad, for agent types. I’m thinking there’s probably another reason besides that,” Chip waited for Lee to respond.
“Well......I did figure I’d probably be hearing a whole lot of ‘knight complex’ comments,” Lee confirmed Chip’s suspicion.
“O absolutely Sir Galahad, or I guess it would be Sir Lee....” Chip hesitated only a heartbeat, “hmmm Sir Lee, sounds a lot like ......”
“Mr. Morton”, Lee tried his CO voice.
“Nah uh Lee, we’re not onboard Seaview and we’re both on leave, sort of. Can’t pull rank Sir Lancelot.”
Lee had a feeling he was going to find out how many knight’s names Chip knew.
The Admiral moved forward, “OK gentlemen I think the air is sufficiently cleared for now, and Lee could definitely use some more sleep, right Dr. Jamieson?”
Lee was still looking pale and tired.
“Yes he certainly could, not to mention a meal or two.” Jamie was also glad the two had worked through most of their issues over this event. There would undoubtedly be more discussion between them, but the worst was over.
When Lee woke up he found a pewter knight on his table, apparently Chip had checked in on him. He closed his eyes and moaned to himself, “great, apparently I’m about to acquire a knight collection.”
And so it was that after 3 more days and 3 more knights, Lee was finally released. The Admiral, who found he always worried less and rested better when Lee was under lock and key, insisted that Lee stay with him for a least the first couple of days, “just to be sure you can handle yourself Lad.” This came as no surprise to Lee so he didn’t fight it, it had become almost standard procedure now. If he had spent time in the Medical Unit there was always a couple of days that needed to be spent under the Admiral’s personal supervision. Mostly Lee didn’t mind, the Admiral was also a workaholic and it enforced a break from the office for him too. They spent the time talking cars, going over sailboat designs as they were planning on building one together, and just generally shooting the breeze. Jamie and Chip could be counted on to drop by with beer and steaks for a BBQ. Jamie would work in a ‘poke and prod’ just to be sure all was well.
Two days turned into 4 before the Admiral finally had to admit that Lee was well able to look after himself, at least to the extent he usually did. Things returned to normal, while they all would have liked to see Lee take another week off work there was really no medical reason why he couldn’t be on light office duty. Lee knew that a lot of paperwork would have stacked up while they’d been away, and while it wasn’t his favourite activity it was a necessary one. Hopefully he’d be able to give the Admiral a hand with some of his as well.
The remaining time before Seaview’s refit was finished passed quickly. Another checkup with Jamie and he was declared fit for sub duty, although it would be awhile yet before he was cleared for the more strenuous activity of diving.
So it was that today found Lee once more striding down the corridor of his beloved Seaview, headed to his cabin. After stowing his gear, he’d do a walk through just to be sure things were as they should be.
He stepped into his cabin and hit the lights, not unexpectedly he spotted a pewter knight on his desk with a ‘Welcome Back Skipper’ note from Chip next to it. Lee wondered just how long Chip was planning to keep this up and how many pewter knights Chip had brought on board with him. There had to be a limit on the number of designs, so far each one had been different. At least they weren’t arriving daily anymore, just to mark special events, his return to Seaview and the one that he’d found on his NIMR desk his first day back.
The entire crew wasn’t due onboard until tomorrow so the boat was fairly quiet as Lee checked her out. The last of the stores were being lowered through the cargo hatch as he passed through that area. COB Sharkey greeted his Captain profusely, of course he knew that something had gone on and that his Skipper had been injured, “Good to see you back, heard you spent some time in the Medical Unit, feeling better Sir?”
“Yes Chief, feeling fine, thank you. Everything in good order here?”
“Aye Skipper, this is the last of it. Everything will be stored and ready for our departure in lots of time.”
“Excellent, carry on Chief.”
“Aye aye Skipper,” Sharkey looked a little disappointed, Lee knew the Chief liked to know everything that went on, especially with the officers, but as far as he was concerned the Chief knew as much as he needed to about this particular adventure.
Neither of them noticed the ‘extra’ cargo that arrived with the last load and had silently slipped down the corridor.
Lee’s last stop was the control room, as expected Chip was at the chart table, only a couple of crew were present, checking panels. Rather than coming down the forward companionway Lee had entered through the aft hatch, Chip would have instantly recognized his particular cadence on the ladder.
“Report Mr. Morton,” barked Lee from right behind Chip. Chip jerked upright, obviously taken totally by surprise. It wasn’t often he managed to catch Chip like this and he couldn’t keep the grin off his face. Chip automatically responded, “All systems green, Sir”, then lowered his voice so only Lee would catch what he said, “your grey charger is all set to go Sir Gawain.”
Lee replied in a similarly lowered voice, “you know Squire Morton, my shoes could use a good polish, we may not have any stables to clean but I’m sure the bilges qualify. I don’t believe I’ve seen you sleeping on the floor by my bed lately, I might want a glass of water or something in the middle of the night.”
Chip snorted, “your shoes look just fine, bilges were cleaned during the refit, and do you really want me in your cabin while you’re sleeping.......”
Given the sparkle in Chip’s eyes Lee decided that he most definitely did not.
“Carry on Mr. Morton, I’ll be in my cabin if you need me.”
“Aye aye Sir” came the reply. Lee caught the mouthed “Percival”. Lee wondered how Chip felt about washing dishes or peeling potatoes, he was pretty sure that squire’s did KP, it could be arranged.
The rest of the day was spent completing the paperwork required when they were preparing to leave port. Lee greeted the Admiral when he came on board and they went over the plans for the shakedown cruise.
The Admiral, Lee and Chip had dinner together in the wardroom, Jamie hadn’t boarded yet. Chip asked Cookie if he knew any Medieval type dishes, Lee gave Chip a dirty look, then during the meal Lee casually asked Cookie if he needed any extra help during the cruise, say with dishes, peeling spuds or generally cleaning up. Chip choked on his coffee, not missing Lee’s subtext. Cookie looked a little confused by it all, “Well extra hands are always appreciated Skipper”.
“I’ll keep that in mind Cookie,” Lee responded, looking pointedly over at Chip.
Nelson smiled into his coffee mug, seems his ‘boys’ were having at it, should be an interesting cruise.
Lee did another walkabout, then headed for his cabin. He reviewed and signed off reports that had arrived on his desk, completed his nightly routine and crawled into his bunk. He was about to turn off the light when he felt something land near his feet. Instantly alert he sat up, not sure what he was expecting to find. There, sitting sedately was the silver tabby.
It wasn’t the first time a cat had found its way aboard but Lee was sure this was the same cat he’d been seeing on and off from the castle.
“Well you’ve travelled a long way,” Lee said to the cat.
“You’ve no idea,” thought the tabby, to himself for the moment.
Lee didn’t much feel like getting up, he couldn’t see any harm in letting the cat stay for the night so he settled back down, laying on his back with his right arm up, bent at the elbow with his hand under his head.
The tabby got up and walked to Lee’s left side then moved up to sprawl across Lee’s stomach, taking care to avoid Lee’s right side.
“Thoughtful little thing aren’t you,” Lee commented to the cat.
The cat began to purr, Lee’s left hand moved to caress the soft, warm body. It felt good, the rumbling purr increased, he could feel the vibration, it all served to relax him, soon he drifted off to sleep.
The cat gently moved out from under his hand and over to the bulkhead at Lee’s head, he reached a paw up and slapped the light switch. That taken care of he moved back to sprawl across Lee again, Lee’s hand unconsciously moved to rest on the cat’s body. The bond now firmly in place the cat also slept.
*The phrase has been around for about 200 years and means 'in good working shape' and relates to Bristol as one of the key shipping ports in the 1800s.
**An organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe. Members, dressed in clothing of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, attend events which feature tournaments, royal courts, feasts, dancing, various classes & workshops, and more.
***The Quintain is a rotating target that helps the equestrian practice hitting a solid target with a lance. The more forceful the strike, the more rotations the Quintain makes, but beware, it has counterweighted arms that will come around and strike you if you are not quick enough!
****Early computers used ‘punch cards’ for data input. If you folded or creased the card it would jam the computer. Spindling is an old filing system; a clerk would have a spindle, an upright spike, on his or her desk, and would impale each piece of paper on it as he or she finished with it. Not a good idea to put extra holes in a punch card. Mutilate is self explanatory, people taking out their frustrations on the computer card.
*****Dorothy Parker is credited with the English wording "Revenge is a dish best served cold", but roughly the same proverb or saying can be found in a number of languages, so the ultimate origin is unknown. The oldest version of this proverb in a printed source is "La vengeance est un plat qui se mange froid" from the 1782 french book Les Liaisons Dangereuses.