Excerpt from Mermaid in a Bowl of Tears
Just a note to
all the readers- I've been pretty selective in what I'll post as
excerpts. I won't ever post anything that gives away a major
plot point, and so the chapters I have chosen are ones that
stand alone for one reason or another. This excerpt,
"Scotsman's Lament", is a chapter that I feel doesn't
give anything away, and stands on its own for a variety of
Lament' is based on a real event that took place one dark night
on a country road outside Belfast, in the winter of 1971. This
is my fictional account of that event.
The Cracked Pot
was one of the few pubs in Belfast that British soldiers felt
fairly safe drinking in, not completely safe, for no man who
wore the Queen’s uniform on Irish soil was that foolish. There
they could drink in relative peace in the overly warm,
smoke-laden fug that seemed to wrap itself around a man like a
blanket of comfort.
had been drinking there since the beginning of his tenure in
Northern Ireland. Tonight, he’d come reluctantly, dragged
along in the wake of friends. It had been a long day, though
every day in Belfast seemed like a week. It was the tension, it
spread time out like a hand pushing on a pile of sand. Just this
morning they’d had some bastard take a snipe at them from the
top of a bakery. The gunman hadn’t hit them and though
they’d returned fire, he’d disappeared into the warren of
chimney pots and slated roofs that grew in tightly packed,
mushroom-like clusters. And then there’d been the sweetly
smiling young matron pushing an oddly silent baby in a pram. He
hadn’t even wanted to look. He knew the Provos had any number
of tricks up their sleeves when it came to running weapons in
and out of the neighbourhoods.
wanted nothing more than to be home, with the cobblestones of
familiar streets beneath his feet and the lights of Inverness
glowing about him. If he were home he’d pick Fiona up around
seven, she’d tuck her arm into his and look up at him with shy
adoration shining from her eyes. She’d smell of lemon polish
and beeswax as Wednesday was her day to clean the local church.
Maybe they’d go to the pictures, maybe they’d just walk
until they were up in the hills surrounding the city and the
stars seemed so close a man would almost believe he could grab a
fistful and give them to his sweetheart. Barring these things,
Sandy just wanted a drink, something strong and quick.
The pub was
full, only a couple of tables unoccupied and the odd nod greeted
them as they sat at a table in the far back left, regulars who
were there for the drink and not concerned with the politics of
the man on the stool next to them.
Neil went up to
the bar and came back moments later with two pints of black ale
for himself and Donny, a nineteen year old redhead who looked
all of twelve and had only been in Belfast a week. For Sandy he
brought a whiskey.
something for the aches then, fast an’ to the point like ye
Neil,” Sandy said, tipping his glass towards the boy with the
thatch of blond curls, ruddy cheeks and merry blue eyes. Neil
was on his second month of duty in Belfast, and thus far his
cheery disposition seemed unimpaired by the bleakness of the
publican, gave a two finger wave from behind the bar. He was a
nice fellow, a hard-working Protestant who kept his views to
himself. Adorning the wall behind the bar was his collection of
license plates from the United States. It was Denny’s grand
ambition to have all fifty states of the union represented on
his wall. So far he had thirty-nine. Sandy, who had family in
the U.S., had managed to procure a Maine plate for Denny and had
drunk free for a week afterwards as a result.
and waved back, only to see the stout publican return the smile
and have it freeze in place just as quickly. There was a breath
of chill air behind him that told him the door to the street had
opened and closed. His spine, from training and experience, went
rigid. He turned slowly, so as not to seem obvious and glanced
at the newcomers. Three men in workclothes, lads out for a pint
after dinner, escaping the wife and kids for an hour or two. Two
on the smallish side, one with a tweed cap pulled low over his
eyes, another unbuttoning a navy pea coat, the third shaking
droplets of rain from a chestnut thatch of hair. The third was
taller and younger than the other two, good-looking in a feral
sort of way, it was likely that he’d luck with the ladies. His
sort usually did and Sandy knew it had something to do with the
aura of danger such men projected, though he’d never really
understood the appeal.
was more friendly to some and less so to others, Sandy had never
seen him be less than cordial to a customer in his pub. But the
normally cheerful publican had a stone face on him at present
and his lips were held tight against his teeth as he served the
three now lounging against the counter.
Sandy gave them
a closer look, while appearing to peer down into the amber
depths of his whiskey. They didn’t appear so different from
the regular clientele, Belfast toughs, though the youngest had
an air about him. As if feeling Sandy’s thoughts on him he
raised his head, tilting it up as a cat would to scent the air.
Even at a distance his eyes stood out against his face as though
lined in fine pen, pretty eyes, the lavender blue of
forget-me-nots. The eyes met his own without warning and Sandy
started from the impact and the embarrassment of being caught
staring. The man smiled, tipping his head in a friendly manner,
except that Sandy felt even such a simple gesture held a wealth
of unspoken threat.
He took a shaky
breath and re-applied himself to his whiskey. Christ, this city
made a man paranoid, where the simplest acknowledgement of
one’s presence caused such chilling thought. He’d once said
to another soldier- a Glaswegian on his way home after a year in
Northern Ireland- that the man must be glad to leave the place
behind. The soldier had considered him for a moment, taking in,
Sandy had suspected, his youth and inexperience.
the saying about the beauty of things bein’ in the backside
an’ not in the face, endearing more by their departure than
their arrival. Well Belfast has got both an ugly arse an’
face, an’ I’d be a fool to think I’ll not carry her with
me the rest of my days,” the Glaswegian had said and then left
Sandy to the untender mercies of youth, inexperience and a city
with too much history.
A bit of
corduroy jacket brushed past his shoulder then and he realized
to his chagrin, that the only empty spot in the pub was the
table directly behind the three of them.
ye lads,” said the young one as he passed, a flash of teeth
and eyes and rain-damp hair.
the three of them murmured politely, the mood at their table
suddenly as damp as the streets outside.
The tables were
bunched tightly, the Cracked Pot being a small establisment and
Sandy could smell the wet wool and tobacco scent of the men’s
clothes as they sat. As well as a sharp whiff of some expensive
are a quiet bunch,” Sandy heard the voice behind him say and
knew the man was referring to the three of them. A tendril of
cigarette smoke, translucent blue, curled around his neck,
making his eyes water and his throat itch. He sneezed, three
times in quick succession. Behind him he heard the rustle of
cloth as the man turned around.
fine,” Sandy said hastily, burying his face in his whiskey
glass, the fumes making his eyes water once again.
The man rose
and Sandy had to strain his neck to see his face. The Cracked
Pot had been built in the 1600’s and its ceiling was of a
height to accommodate the stature of the human species at the
time. These however were different times and the man’s thick
thatch of chestnut hair brushed the low, smoke-blackened beams
that had held the pub up for three hundred years.
The man made to
move past them, his pint in one hand, the half-smoked cigarette
in the other.
piss,” he said apologetically, flashing a mouthful of perfect,
startlingly white teeth at the three of them. The space between
tables was practically non-existent and the man seemed slightly
unsteady on his feet, odd, Sandy thought, he’d not seemed
drunk when he and his companions had entered the pub. Likely
this was not their first stop of the evening though. Therefore
it wasn’t surprising when the man slopped most of his
remaining drink on Donny’s shoulder while trying to negotiate
a couple of inches of smoke threaded space.
out of his chair with an audible curse, knocking into the man
who stumbled back slightly, knocking the drinks on the table
sturdy looking, redfaced men jumped up, obviously deep in their
cups with fists at the ready.
The man with
the forget-me-not eyes smiled with distinct pleasure, “Are yez
lookin’ for a fight boys?” he asked in an amiable tone and
then threw his empty pint glass to the floor. There wasn’t
even time to hear it smash when all hell, in the form of several
drunken Irishmen, broke loose.
Sandy only had
the impression of several things happening all at once. Fists
thunking solid against flesh, chairs being pushed back and then
used as weapons, the air ripe with the smell of wet wool,
spilled ale and smoke and filled with the triumphal roars of men
in the joyous state of a full-fledged donnybrook. A glancing
blow off the side of his head brought him stumbling to his feet.
The big man
stood dead centre of the room, eyes sparking with blue flame,
flinging men off right and left as if they were no more than
kittens. Which of course only caused more fools to charge him.
several merrily flying fists, only to feel a chair leg make firm
contact with the back of his head. The floor came up at an
astonishingly fast rate towards his face. The next thing he knew
someone had grabbed him by the shoulder and flung him towards
the wall, wedging his head between table legs and wall.
It took a few
minutes for constellations to quit wheeling in front of his
eyes, and in those few minutes Sandy decided a Scotsman’s
pride could only take so much and then it was time to weigh in
and damn the consequences. Besides, Irish or not, one man
against twenty simply wasn’t fair.
later caught in the midst of a heaving, grunting mass of wild,
mildly pissed Irishmen, he wondered if he hadn’t made a
serious error in judgement. Pinned facedown on the pub floor,
which was less than pristine, he could only sense rather than
see the flailing limbs and hear the grunts and curses of men
having a rollicking good time. He caught a flash of red hair out
of the corner of one eye and knew Donny had joined the fray. He
gave an almighty heave managing to extract himself from under
several thrashing bodies, only to catch a hob-nailed boot
directly under his chin. The constellations came whirling back
and the salted taste of blood filled his mouth.
He crawled back
to the scant protection of the wall, blinking through a haze of
man was still on his feet, apparently unfazed by the fists, feet
and furniture coming at him full bore. He was a fighter by
nature, that much was apparent. A man who’d known his size and
face would bring him trouble all his days and so had learned the
skills necessary to deal with such trouble. Barbarians, the
Irish, his captain said, didn’t understand the rules of
civility, of where and when to make a stand. The man before him
certainly fit the description, his entire being a lit fuse of
raw, radiant savagery. And yet…somehow his movements were
deliberate, instinctual, each thrust and parry of other men’s
hands, legs and bodies effortless, graceful as a dance.
he caught a bottle, still flinging off its angelic glow, and
tossed it away again. It had not been meant for him though Sandy
knew the man might have used it to his own advantage. But his
strength had not yet begun to recede and he was still in the
throttle of the beast that coursed swiftly through his blood,
he’d no need as yet for helpful implements.
Sandy found his
feet a moment later and got on top of them with only a slight
wobble. The air was now so thick with blood, sweat and liquor
that it trundled into his lungs like a creature half-asleep. He
squeezed as much of it as he could into him and then waded back
into the battle.
The fight had
become an entity unto itself with too many limbs, teeth, fists
and drink-addled brains and the blue-eyed man, still
miraculously standing, was the central nervous system of the
whole mass. When he moved they all did. When he ducked they
The whole lot
of them surged as one body toward the back end of the pub. A
narrow entrance hall fed down to a back door, passing a tiny
washroom on the way. The doorway flew open under the duress of
straining, heaving bodies, giving all and sundry a view of an
abundant bare backside liberally adorned with grey, curling
Sandy caught a
glimpse of shaking, indignant flesh before sailing onward with
He caught up
hard on the wall opposite the washroom, tossed like flotsam off
a thundering wave. Down the wall he slid, looking dizzily
upward, uncertain of where he’d ended only to see a huge white
face spinning out of the murk at him.
slammed into him with a force that rattled the teeth in his head
and Sandy thought he could hear his skull crack. At first
nothing moved and then the world spun in a dark circle, flipping
his stomach over. He could feel that his right shoulder was
jammed tight against a wall and he remembered that there was a
small alcove barely noticeable in the gloom of the narrow
hallway. He must have been thrown into it out of the main thrust
of the fight, afforded some small sanctuary from the violence
that had moved back into the main room of the pub. That didn’t
explain who’d hit him in the head with the force of a cannon
though and now, judging from the weight resting on his head, was
passed out on him.
Once big black
petals of pain stopped blossoming behind his eyes, Sandy
ventured moving his head and found, to his immense relief, that
his neck was not broken, nor was his skull mashed to a pulp. He
chanced a look sideways and found a familiar face. King Billy of
Orange, done in white marble, tipped over in the fight and saved
from smashing his lugubrious face on the floor by landing
instead on Sandy’s skull. He tried to move his right arm out
to push the statue away and met with a several hundred pounds of
marble resistance. He was, for all intents and purposes, stuck
fast and helpless. Just then he caught a glint of something
sharp from the corner of his left eye. He turned his head
slowly, having no other choice, knowing what he was likely to
front of him, not more than a few inches from his throat, was
the broken end of a bottle held firm in a dense meaty hand.
Whiskey still dripped from its squared off edges, a whiff of it
serving as smelling salts to his brain. He swallowed, feeling
the surge of blood in his neck and how close the veins and
arteries ran to the surface of the skin. He looked up the arm
and into the eyes of his attacker.
The man was
barrel-chested, a sheen of sweat gleaming on his ruddy face,
brown eyes filmed by alcohol and bloodlust. Sandy knew men could
kill with very little feeling in such a state. He also knew that
he was younger, stronger and quicker and that if he’d an inch
of room to manuever he could disarm the man swiftly, it was part
of his training and by now as ingrained as the sound of his own
name. But his elbows were pinned hard to his sides by the wall
on one side and the statue on the other. His throat bobbed
involuntarily, thick with panic. He was, he knew, about to be
gutted like a fish.
The sound of
his attacker’s wrist snapping was as sharp and hard as the
shriek that accompanied it. The man’s face turned pale green
and then he slid into a boneless faint, crumpling slowly onto
the floor. Sandy half-choked on the acid flooding his mouth, his
abrupt release surprising him.
pals,” the blue-eyed man said, tipping the statue back into
place by levering one broad shoulder under it, his words a terse
command, “an’ head out the back.” Sandy obeyed what seemed
the most sensible suggestion he’d heard all night. It was
likely the police would be here soon, and then there’d be more
explaining to do back on base than even a man of tender years
had time for. He rounded up Donny and Neil, by grabbing the arm
of one and yelling in the face of the other. They ran, each with
unique bumps and bruises, to the back entrance over the inert
forms of the first fallen, through a hedge of woolly chests, and
a veritable steaming forest of gashed, cut, contused, broken and
night was cold, their breath making long curling streams on the
way,” Sandy’s defender said, emerging from the dark to their
left and pointing to a French make that sat wedged between a
garage and another car. He paused a moment to light a cigarette,
the glowing tip throwing a red cast over his face. The effect,
Sandy thought, was particularily demonic.
your friends?” Sandy asked, noting the two other men were
nowhere to be seen.
his own car, they’ll follow where we lead.” Seeing their
hesitation he added, “I’ll drive ye back to base, ye’ll
not want to be out an’ about, those haircuts are a dead
giveaway an’ word on the street is the Republicans are lookin’
for someone to pay for Martin Diggin’s death.”
The car was
blue, the front end slightly dented, but immaculately clean and
polished. It seemed this Belfast working tough was a man who
cared about his vehicle.
Neil got in the
front, Donny sat behind him and Sandy slid in directly behind
the Irishman, who gave himself a onceover in the rearview mirror
before putting the keys in the ignition.
names boys?” their driver asked, raising one large hand to
wipe some of the steam off the windshield, while giving a quick
glance about at the soldiers that surrounded him.
Donny,” the youngest spoke first, still high on adrenaline and
eh?” The man grinned as he shifted the car into drive, “As
in ‘I’ve just come down from the Isle of Skye, I’m no’
very big an’ I’m awf’ly shy.’
The short Scot
lurched forward, face flushed as red as his hair with temper.
sit back,” Neil said, then turned his blue eyes back on the
dark-haired man who’d a tatoo of a serpent coiled round his
wrist, feeding itself its own tail. “If he’d a copper for
ev’ry time someone sung that he’d be a rich lad would our
Donny. It devils him somethin’ fierce to hear it.”
what’s yer name laddie?” The dark-haired man fixed his gaze
in the rear view mirror, meeting Sandy’s eyes directly. Sandy
had remained silent to this point, trying to assess the extent
of his injuries.
he said carefully, wary of giving out his name and yet not
knowing how to withhold it without seeming rude. Alexander
McCrorey had been raised to be polite to a fault. Afterall the
man had just saved him from a bloody end.
“Do they call
ye Sandy then?”
do,” Sandy replied in a polite tone that could not be mistaken
the man said, with another of those quick, flashing grins into
the mirror, “call me Robin, as in ‘for bonny, sweet Robin is
all my joy.’ At least,” he gave a wolfish grin, “that’s
what the lassies tell me. Now Neil if ye’d be so kind as to
reach under the seat there, there’s a bit of somethin’ to
keep the blood warm while we drive.”
with a bottle that glinted darkly in the faint glow of the
“Have a drink
then pass it along Neil, it’s guaranteed to cure all that ails
Neil took a
drink and began to cough immediately, “Holy Christ,” he
gasped, passing the bottle onto Robin, who took a long, smooth
drink without so much as blinking.
hell is that?” Neil asked, wiping his forearm across his eyes.
old Irish recipe, me mam could drink it like ‘twas honeyed
milk,” Robin said, swinging the car smoothly around and down a
dark, back lane. Behind them the lights of the other car swung
swiftly around the corner as well.
bloody diesel fuel,” Neil said as Robin passed it into the
back seat. Not wanting to appear unmanly Donny took a polite
swallow, eyes bugging out as he did so. He shoved the bottle
under Sandy’s nose and Sandy smelled an aroma that cut his
breath off at the top of his throat. Not being beyond the issues
of male pride himself though, he took a tentative sip and
thought he might lose use of his taste buds permanently. Neil
was right- it did taste like bloody diesel fuel. An uneasy
feeling uncoiled in his stomach along with the poteen which
could have had everything to do with the inedible mess rations
he’d had that evening, or nothing at all.
and a few more swallows of whiskey later and the feeling was
considerably eased. The man named Robin chatted amiably as he
drove through sleeping neighbourhoods. He seemed nice enough,
just another working-class swell from the streets of East
Belfast. His dad, he said, was a member of the local Orange
Lodge, marched in the parades and beat the drums but himself, he
didn’t go in for that sort of thing. Live and let live was his
motto he said.
boys would be interested in a party?” Robin asked, lighting a
new cigarette off the remains of the old one. “I’ve a friend
lives out Ballymena way. The place’ll be hoppin’, plenty of
girls, three to an arm if ye’ve the inclination.”
be tryin’ to tempt Sandy with girls,” Neil said, “he’s
got himself a sweetheart back home, he’s devoted is our
“Are ye then
Sandy? It’s a lucky man who finds a good woman to love him.”
Drunk as he was Sandy didn’t miss the slightly sneering
undertone in the man’s voice. He didn’t let it bother him,
man had likely had a few bad experiences with women and now
thought none were to be trusted. But he’d known Fiona all his
life and had loved her for half that and he’d trust her with
his very existence.
beginning to settle into the streets, long floating tendrils of
it, the lights coming fewer and far between as they reached the
outer perimeters of the city.
the car slightly, “Look up there will ye lads? It’s quite
the sight isn’t it?”
soldiers obligingly looked up to the left where Robin’s eyes
were trained. Sandy had seen it before, one could hardly miss
it, nor help but hear about the legends that surrounded it and
the man that lived within it. ‘Kirkpatrick’s Folly,’ lit
like a brace of candles against the dark sky on its lonely hill.
“I used to
gaze at it when I was a boy, an’ wonder what it was like to
live in such a world,” Robin said, a strange note in his
voice, an emotion closely related to unquenched yearning, but
somehow darker. He shifted the car down, reducing their speed to
a near crawl. Sandy had the odd sense of drifting, like a ship
lost at sea without anchor. As if the whole world were no more
than liquid black sky, with nothing solid to gain purchase on
beneath his feet.
“Is he as
handsome as they say?” Donny asked, neck cricked into an
unnatural position in an effort to see the house more clearly.
Robin laughed, a stream of smoke accompanying his words, “most
bloody gorgeous bastard yer likely to see in yer lifetime.”
seen him then?” Neil asked, and Sandy wondered rather fuzzily
when he’d started smoking.
seen him,” Robin said, but there was no laughter in his voice
this time. Sandy shivered at the tone, even though he was having
difficulty keeping his eyes open. He felt the car shift up to a
higher gear, was blurrily aware of their speed picking up and
the fairylights of the Kirkpatrick house melting into a
brilliant, stinging stream.
He’d one last
twinging thought, as the night swallowed the lights of the house
on the hill, that he was past the point in his consumption of
alcohol where a man was capable of making decent judgements.
Within a minute
he was fast asleep.
Inside the pub,
Denny cracked one last skull for good measure then surveyed the
wreckage in front of him. Broken glass, cracked table legs,
blood and ale mixed in gruesome pools and plenty of groaning and
moaning amidst the carnage.
said sharply to his son.
Billy looked up
from where he was neatly piling glass in a dustpan.
the three young soldiers go?”
with the punter that started this damn mess.”
father said sharply, “When?”
know,” Billy replied, “maybe twenty minutes ago, not much
his father said, bat sliding to the floor, “I should ha’
Billy cocked a
sandy eyebrow, “Known what Da’?”
thing,” he gestured helplessly at the mess that surrounded
him, “’twas done on purpose.”
Billy looked at
his father quizzically, “Don’t worry Da’ we’ll find the
bastard an’ make him pay for the damage.”
Denny shook his
head, “Send the bill to the local Sinn Fein office then, I
hear that’s where the IRA is pickin’ up their mail these
“Ye think he
was IRA?” Billy asked, the full ramifications of the situation
suddenly dawning on him.
those poor lads went with him, may God have mercy on their
Sandy woke to
the darkest night he’d ever known, bladder uncomfortably full,
mouth feeling as though it was filled with damp cotton and the
smell of cigarette smoke strong in his nostrils. It took a
moment or two to clear the fog in his head, to realize where he
was and how he’d gotten there.
Ahead of him
the tip of a cigarette glowed hot red, like a coal in a cave.
The car was going slow, the road rutted with large potholes
beneath the car’s wheels. Where the hell were they? The
thought was accompanied by a surge of nausea and he had to
swallow back a hot stream of bile that bit at the back of his
throat. Behind them the headlights of the other men had
we?” he asked, voice coming out like a frog with bronchitis.
Beside him Donny’s head lolled against the seat, his red hair
visible even in the pitch dark.
Ballymena,” their driver replied, swerving abruptly to avoid
something in the roadway. He must have the eyes of a cat on him
to see anything in this light, Sandy thought, putting a hand out
to steady himself against the swaying car.
would ye man?” Neil said from his position in the front
passenger seat, “I’ve got to piss somethin’ terrible.”
certain ye can’t wait? My friend’s place is just up head of
the lane here.” Robin asked, casting a quick smile across one
broad shoulder at the inebriated Scot directly to his left.
can’t wait,” Neil grunted slightly to emphasize his point.
then, if ye say so.” Robin stopped the car and as the engine
died, the uneasy coil slipped its knot in Sandy’s belly once
again, the night seeming terribly quiet suddenly. Still he’d a
cramp in his bladder that was only going to depart along with
the four pints he’d consumed. Donny slid across the seat and
out the door, catching his boot on the frame and lurching
forward into a ditch.
impression was that it was considerably colder outside than had
been the cramped quarters in the car’s back seat. His second
was that it was black as the devil’s thoughts out here away
from the city lights. Dark and silent. A shiver pressed itself
like a spasm of quicksilver up his spine, and spread frost-like
out along the sheathes covering his nerves. The primal brain
telling the conscious mind what it should have known all along.
That something was very, very wrong with this situation. It was
then that he saw the other two men, the two he’d thought had
given up following and gone home. The two who stood now, in the
dark, mere shadows, rifles slung taut over shoulders, leveled at
waist height, fingers blunt on the triggers.
The man named
Robin had gotten out of the car, Sandy could see the flash of
his teeth in the dark and hear Neil’s zipper grate as he
fumbled it down. Sandy could feel the taste of fear, hot and
bitter as scorched iron, flood his mouth. The three of them were
unarmed, their senses dulled by drink. He thought he might be
sick and then swallowed the nausea, he didn’t want to be found
covered in his own vomit. His parents deserved better and so did
He gave his
last thoughts to her, even as he heard the slick hiss of a
pistol emerging from cloth. He hoped she’d find a good man to
marry, someone solid in a low-risk profession, not, please God,
another soldier. Then he remembered the way the hair at the nape
of her neck was like duckdown and smelled softly of the scent
report from the pistol was muffled and Sandy felt the air beside
him crumple as Neil fell first to his knees, then face forward
into the dying heather that covered the ditch. He’d given
Fiona an armful of the summer’s first heather only last July,
how many months ago was that?
screaming now, poor kid, he was only eighteen. Just a baby, they
shouldn’t let babies into the army, they didn’t understand
the risk. Then just as suddenly Donny stopped, mid-scream, his
last word on earth ones of piteous terror. That left only
himself. He swallowed hard and straightened his back.
The barrel of
the pistol slid cold into the soft and fragile hollow where the
spine with its ropes of blood and spiralled strings of vessels
exploded into ten thousand million nerve cells. Each one of them
screaming for survival. But Alexander didn’t scream, nor beg
for mercy. There would be none to witness it, but for his own
sake he would die as a soldier, asking no quarter, knowing there
would be none granted.
He waited for
the click of the trigger, wondering if he’d hear it, or if the
bullet would do its work first. And then realized somewhere
through the terror that had jumbled his senses that the man
behind him was singing. The song came to him slowly, confused as
he was by the odd turn of events.
breeze of the bens
Is gently blowing,
The brooks in the glens
Are softly flowing;
Their darkest shades are throwing,
Birds mourn for thee
Who ne’er returnest.’
do ye not know the songs of yer homeland? Sing the chorus with
me man for sure ye know it.”
compatriots had seemingly melted back into the night, for he
knew without being able to look that they were alone and that
the cat had, for some unaccountable reason, decided to play with
the mouse. Sandy knew he was not dealing with an ordinary
madman, but one who enjoyed the kill for its own sake and not
just its political statement.
“I said sing
with me Sandy, ye know we can make this hard or we can make it
quick. It’s yer own choice, die standin’ with yer dignity
intact, or die beggin’ for mercy in a pool of yer own blood.
I’m inclined to the former as I’ve other places to be, but
if ye’d prefer it the other way I’ll spare the time.”
If Sandy had no
one to consider but himself he thought he would have taken the
second option just to inconvenience the bastard, but for the
sake of his mum and dad and Fiona he’d take the quick death.
He didn’t want them to carry the double burden of knowing his
death had been long, drawn-out and painful. And so he sang.
more, no more,
No more returning,
In peace nor in war
Is he returning;
Till dawns the great Day
Of Doom and burning,
MacCrimmon is home
No more returning.’
The sea is sighing,
The boat under sail
Unmoved is lying;
The voice of the waves
In sadness dying,
Say, thou are away
And ne’er returnest.
time Sandy for the chorus, ye’ve a decent voice for the music.
If ye’d been born on Irish soil we might have made somethin’
hard over the bile in his throat, willing it to keep working,
willing himself to keep standing. Above him the night was bitter
and black with not a star to be found. Inside his boots his feet
were aching with cold, toes already numb. It was an odd thing to
worry about he thought, cold toes, when he knew he’d be dead
see no more
Nor in peace nor in war
Is he returning;
Till dawns the great day
Of woe and burning-,’
McCrorey, a lieutenant in Her Majesty’s Royal Highland
Fusilliers, did not hear the shot, nor did he hear Robin Temple,
voice arcing sweet and aching into the night, finish the song
they had sung together.
him, for him
There’s no returning.’
toward the road the man with the forget-me-not eyes crossed
himself and walked away from the still warm bodies of the three
young Scots behind him. He did not look back.