Monday, January 14, 2008



Shot singed the air past Flavius MacDuff's ear before he even heard the staccato popping of the English guns. It struck somewhere behind him, cutting short the cry of a charging highlander. On Flavius ran over the boggy ground, screaming, tears streaming down his face. Stinging, icy rain sliced through the choking, acrid clouds of smoke rolling over him. It was as if the very bowels of Hell had opened, the gagging smoke so thick he could scarcely see the Macintosh and MacGillivray lads around him, much less Tommy Lobster. He'd lost his nephew almost as soon as the charge began.

"Now you stick yerself close to me, William. Yer mother made me swear I'd nae let nothing happen to ya," Flavius'd said gravely to the callow youth.

William nodded sharply, struggling to keep his teeth from chattering. Rain straggled down his hair into his face as he tried to use his undersized shield as protection from the weather as well as the shot raining down on them as the two sides exchanged cannonades.

Flavius' expression softened, then he winked conspiratorially. "But that's nae something to worry about. Yer descended of Bellona's bridgroom, after all, the great Thane of Fife who slaughtered the Norse and Cawdor, and toppled the tyrant MacBeth! Damned if Tommy Lobster wouldnae turn tail and run--every one of 'em--if they knew what blood coursed through our veins!"

"It's Bellona's bridegrooms we are then, today?" William said, eyes alight.

"Aye, lad. That we are."

A minute later, the charge was ordered and William vanished amidst the surge.

Flavius tripped over a body, barely regaining his footing to avoid stabbing a comrade with his sword. Another barrage erupted from the English cannon, sounding like thunder in his ears. Around him more highlanders dropped as grapeshot ripped through their ranks, some screaming, some silent. Flavius leapt as two fell before him.

Too crowded! Too crowded! The stumbling crush of bodies made it damn near impossible to stay upright, much less swing a sword.

"Hold ranks! Hold ranks ya damned Farquarharson bawbags!" Flavius shouted, shoving the men back with his shield arm. "How's a man to gut some English if we keep tripping over ya lot?"

Through the smoke he caught glimpses of the red-coated English now, close. Very close. Already were highlanders amongst them, disrupting the firing line. Out of the cloud loomed Colonel McGillivray in his blood-stained kilt and blue jacket, his long yellow hair slinging rainwater this way and that.

"Flavius! English guns behind that south wall--our right flank's exposed!" McGillivray shouted. "Rally what men ya can and break that English line now, or we'll nae make it out of this bog alive. Go man, go!"

"How'm I to rally the men when we nae even fought the bastards yet?" Flavius barked after him, but McGillivray was already off. He took a deep breath then bellowed, "For Charlie! For Charlie! The crown for Bonnie Prince Charlie!"

Flavius charged forward, through the smoke and rain, over the scattered corpses into the lines of Tommy Lobster. He blocked a bayonet with his shield, smashing Tommy in the face with the basket of his hilt. He spun and parried a musket, the gun going off inches from his face.

The flash and smoke blinded him. Flavius staggered back, slashing wildly. His sword stuck something, drawing a scream.

"That'll lean ya." He swung his sword fiercely in wide, defensive arcs, blinking as his vision cleared.

He found himself alone amongst the English.

"Well, this is as fine a bag o' shite as ever I've seen." Whatever highlanders had reached the English lines lay bleeding upon the wet earth, now. This wasn't at all like Falkirk. Flavius couldn't even hear the erratic fire of Prince Charlie's cannon anymore--just the clockwork thunder from the English artillery.

A blow hammered his shield. Flavius staggered, throwing up his sword in time to parry a second attack. The attacker's white wig caught Flavius' eye, and at the back of his mind he recognized the man as an officer. A colonel, at that.

"Jacobite filth," the colonel muttered, lunging with his sword. "This will be over quickly."

"That's nae what yer mum said last night." Flavius ducked back to dodge the strike, blocking another footman's bayonet with his shield. With the colonel fully extended, Flavius swung his sword down, severing the sword and hand at the wrist.

The colonel screamed. Blood spurted from the stump. Flavius swung for his head. The colonel threw up his opposite arm to ward off the blow. The blade gouged through the red coat, deep into the forearm and clipping the colonel's brow. The colonel dropped to the ground.

"Apologies, Dobber," Flavius said, lifting his sword. "It were over with quick--aah!"

The bayonet caught Flavius in the side, slicing up and out to open his belly to the world.


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