The Keeper felt a touch of melancholy as he gazed at the orb with its tiny sun and solitary moon. Despite the passage of thirty thousand years the memory of his brother’s death remained fresh.
There was a certain irony to the impending annihilation of humanity no doubt lost on the citizens of earth. The Keeper had been born here. He held fond memories of the planet’s expansive oceans and temperate climate, at least in comparison to the horrid winds of Proxima. But sentimentality was for heretics. A quick death was too good for them. He would make it slow.
He drew back a sleeve and traced the scar running the length of his forearm. A permanent reminder of false Gods. He replaced the sleeve and repeated the sacred oath of the Stormwald before rising to return to the temple. The pathetic screams of the damned were a welcome distraction.
Guardian Elamesh of the Ulani, the protectors of life, could feel the twisted manifestations of the Everworld stirring on his world. The feeling of dread rose in his throat and he touched his necklace in memory of the fallen. The Guardians were too few to resist the Everworld and the dark tentacles of the Stormwald, its demonic gateway. They had barely survived the last encounter. He gritted his teeth and felt for the reassuring coldness of his sword. It was time to summon the council.
Patrick's bones felt cold but his heart thundered. The cries of the klaxon tore apart the morning stillness and his tired body reacted, sprinting to the flight line. The engine roared as he taxied along the tarmac before turning into the wind. The voice of the tower crackled in his ears. They had a vector to intercept the first wave.
He pushed the throttle forward and his Spitfire sprang to life. The aerodrome flashed by as he pointed the nose towards the sky. "Good hunting Squadron Leader," the tower said in farewell as Patrick turned his fighter to the East and raced towards the sea.
London was burning, the once proud Capital now a wasteland of rubble and despair. Smoke lingered on the horizon from yesterday's raid. He looked away. The smoke only made him think of Sarah.
RAF fighter command buzzed in his headset. "Ten miles and closing. Coastal watch counts 120 bombers and 40 escorts."
That was a smaller first wave than usual. The Germans must be up to something.
"Bastards," he muttered as he tapped his headset.
"Time to shred some Nazi metal boys. We have the fighters, the boys from Biggin Hill will go after the Bombers."
The acknowledgements came back fast, "Copy flight leader."
“I want to see German parachutes before breakfast, most kills gets my bottle of whisky.”
That got an enthusiastic response. It was a 1912 bottle.
They appeared like angry fireflies in the corner of his cockpit. "Bandits 2 o'clock high, break right."
Patrick pushed the throttle to maximum and his faithful merlin engine roared. “Time to dance,” he mouthed.
He rolled then banked steeply, thumbing his trigger as a German fighter tried in vain to shake him. Tracers from his eight guns reached angrily for the Messerschmitt. The line of hot slugs struck the fighter's wing tearing metal to shreds. His victim flipped and disintegrated.
“Shit!” A line of tracers streamed past his nose. He clenched his abdomen to withstand the G-Forces as he executed a hairpin turn then rolled again and fired. "England sends its regards," he spat as the tail section of a Messerschmitt evaporated in a cloud of debris. Gravity took over as the laws of aerodynamics judged the crippled fighter unworthy of flight.
"Jerries inbound," Patrick's wingman Tom warned with as much concern as a coal miner who'd noticed a trace of dust on his shoe.
"Form up flight," Patrick said automatically and the six Spitfires formed a tight V formation. He touched the silver pendant pinned to his flight suit. It was a gift from Sarah. It had kept him safe so far. "Stay tight boys."
Patrick held off from firing until the cockpit of the lead fighter completely filled his vision. His finger flexed on the trigger. There was a flash of white smoke but he couldn't be sure of hitting anything. Glancing over his shoulder he saw the enemy aircraft in a steep dive. Clouds of acrid smoke belched angrily from its engine cowling.
The two formations peeled away. “I’m hit,” Flight Lieutenant Percy said as calmly as if he’d dropped his handkerchief. Patrick grinned, Percy was a hard bastard. “Bloody Fritz took my stabiliser.”
“Can you make it back to base Percy?”
“I think so, oil pressure is holding for now but I doubt my crate is repairable. Time to get in close.”
Patrick knew what Percy was thinking. The kid was reckless but hell you didn't join the RAF to knit socks. “Don’t make me order you back to base Percy.”
“I’ll still ram a German fighter anyway boss.”
Patrick believed him. Percy hated the Germans as much as he did and if there was a chance to kill Luftwaffe pilots Percy would take it.
“Where’s Fitzgerald?” Patrick asked noticing the gap where a Spitfire should have been. “We lost him in the cloudbank,” Tom answered. Patrick tried hailing Fitzgerald on the backup frequency. No answer.
Patrick saw the German fighters re-forming. He pushed his nose down to pick up speed but the Germans turned away. They must be too low on fuel to re-engage.
The black line on Patrick’s own fuel gauge was edging towards red. Better to rearm and refuel than bother with a pointless pursuit. He ordered the squadron back to base.
As he turned and levelled off a Messerschmitt appeared directly above He jinxed reflexively as tracers reached angrily for him. “Damn it!”
He felt a shudder and his Spitfire yawed to the right. “Half you rudder is blown to shit Pat,” Tom radioed. “How about smoke?” Patrick asked.
“No, your hydraulic lines are still intact.”
Good, he was still air worthy. Grinning he pushed the stick forward and dived in pursuit of the bandit. He wasn't going to get away that easily.
"Tom stay with me," ordered Patrick.
"Roger," Tom acknowledged.
Patrick and Tom broke through the clouds at 8000 feet. They spotted the lone Messerschmitt levelling out two thousand feet below.
"Jerry thinks he lost us," Tom radioed to Patrick.
Patrick was seconds from thumbing the trigger when the German did the unthinkable and flipped his aircraft, executing a turn so tight Patrick would not have believed possible. As impressed as he was with the German’s airmanship Patrick recognised the deadly intent of the manoeuvre. “Tom break hard left!”
Tom reacted instantly, slamming the stick hard left and pounding the rudder pedal to escape the deflection shot he knew was coming. It was too late. Patrick watched in horror as Tom's engine burst into flames. The German fighter tore past, a set of three blood red diamonds visible on its sinister nose. The blood drained from Patrick's hands. “You Bastard,” he yelled and pushed the stick down violently in pursuit.
Tom’s fighter was now a blazing streak in the sky. “Bail out Tom, bail out!” Another few seconds and Tom would be too low to deploy his parachute. “Canopy’s jammed old boy,” Tom said quietly over the radio. “We’ve had a good run Pat, look after Evie for me.”
“Tom!” Patrick screamed as his stricken wingman slammed into the ground at 300 knots. A giant ball of flame incinerated his wingman.
Patrick let the rage consume him. It would not be enough to kill the German responsible for the death of his best friend. He needed to kill every German pilot in the sky.
The German fighter executed a turn every dog fighting text book said not to do. Patrick didn’t take the bait. This German was good but Patrick was going to kill him no matter what.
Patrick jinxed and banked steeply. His lack of a full sized rudder aided him by allowing tighter turns, despite the greater exertion required on the controls. Patrick didn’t even notice he was sweating from pulling so many Gs. All he could think of was smiling, laughing Tom.
He forced the air from his lungs and squinted. Train slow and fight fast. Let the adrenalin do its job. React first, think second. At 300 miles per hour too much thinking got you killed.
Breathe, stick down, left rudder, lead the target. Short bursts - watch your oil pressure.
Boom! the sound of metal detaching from the airframe broke through the insulation of his headphones. Even the sound of a rivet coming loose at these speeds was as loud as a canon. The stick still felt crisp and airspeed was climbing. Ignore it. Breathe!
Damn, his manifold pressure was rising way too fast. The Merlin couldn't keep it up. Roll, pull up, dive, roll again. Shit!
The engine redlined and cut out - silence. Without the reassuring whine of the turbine Patrick felt like he was choking. Every second without power made him an easy target. The Merlin craved oxygen and he knew how to give it to her. He dived.
Wolfgang backed off, the Britain was crazy. Patrick didn't care. Crazy was good. Crazy meant alive.
Tick, tick, boom! High velocity air saturated the cowling breathing life into the V12. "Climb baby climb."
The German was canny, he liked to use his flaps to perform high G turns to get inside Patrick's arc. But Patrick was equally calculating and he was angry. His best friend was dead, roasted alive. Now!
Patrick deployed his landing gear to build drag and push his nose down hard. Just enough to give him a half second window. To a fighter pilot half a second was a lifetime. Enough time to spray a burst of lead at the German's rudder. "Eat Shit Jerry."
Boom, another rivet pulled free. The ailerons felt lazy. "God damn," - tight turns were the key to every dog fight. Time to play dead, a flat spin should do the trick.
The German took the bait. A flat spin meant a dead stick, ruling out a surprise attack from the Britain. Except if you were Patrick whose mastery of the unexpected knew no bounds.
Flaps at full, nose to the sky. A kill for the taking, a crippled stork for the German falcon. Closer, closer - "Come on in Nazi."
Throttle at maximum. The stork became the eagle. Patrick's variable pitch propeller thrashed like an angry bear pulling itself towards the heavens as it fought against the shackles of gravity. The supercharger was earning it's pay today as the speedometer edged past 330 miles per hour. The German was stunned. He banked left instead of right, rolled and realised he was done.
That was all Patrick needed, an opening. Two seconds of glory as his crosshairs locked onto the floundering grey silhouette of the Messerschmitt. The vibration of his guns was euphoric. Crunch! - the wrong sound. Firing pins striking air not brass. His magazines were empty. "Shit," - he had the bastard lined up.
He imagined the German laughing at him. "I'll ram you instead!" But the German broke off to conserve fuel for the return to France. Ditching in the frigid waters of the English Channel was the nightmare of pilots on both sides.
"You still die you bastard, if not today, tomorrow. I will hunt you down!
He slammed his Spitfire down hard on the tarmac. He was furious. He ordered his crew chief to get his bird refuelled and back in the air immediately. Crew Chief Hendley knew about Tom so responded with crisp “Yes Sir.” He doubted Patrick would get the Spitfire back in the air with 40 holes in the airframe and half a rudder but the boy wanted to kill Germans and Hendley respected the young pilot’s guts.
Patrick stood puffing a cigarette while yelling at his ground crew to move faster. They were the best crew in the squadron and knew their jobs so let their boss’ vent without protest. They knew he was in shock from Tom’s death.
Hendley jogged across to Patrick. “The starboard hydraulics are shot to hell and a 20mm shell split the casing to the landing gear. You won’t be able to retract the wheels even if you get her in the air."
"God dammit," Patrick screamed. Hendley could see the anger burning in the young pilot’s bloodshot eyes. “Give us a few hours to make repairs Sir.”
“Wolfgang will be back in France by then, get me Greenway’s aircraft.”
Hendley hesitated. The Group Captain was away in London for briefings. Taking the Commander of the Wing’s personal aircraft was a bad idea.
“Sir, I don’t think that would be wise.”
Patrick looked at his crew chief. “Do it Owen. Don’t make me ask you again.”
Owen had been Patrick’s crew chief since he’d arrived as a rookie 3 years ago. As the father of 4 adult daughters, he considered Patrick the closest thing he had to a son. “Listen boy, if you take Greenway’s crate, the Germans will be the least of your problems.”
Patrick smiled at his loyal crew chief. “They can court martial me if they want but I need to do this Owen.”
Owen nodded. He knew how close Tom and Patrick had been. Patrick had been engaged to Tom’s sister Sarah before the poor lass was killed in an air raid. Now Tom too.
Patrick didn’t bother with clearance from the tower. He levelled off at 3000 feet and ignored the protests of the engine as he held the throttle at maximum. The white cliffs of Dover appeared in no time and the diligent coastal watch hailed him. He didn’t appear on their flight logs and was way off course from his designated sector. Patrick ignored them too.
The turbid waters of the channel streaked past and a pair of Navy destroyers on U Boat patrol flashed recognition signals. He flashed the codes of the day back. No point getting shot at by his own Navy.
He knew exactly where Wolfgang’s base was in Normandy. He also knew the position of the AA batteries to the East and North of the base. Rather than fly around he flew straight over the top of them at 100 feet. The gunners were used to British bombers at 15,000 feet not suicidal fighter pilots inches above the tree tops. Their shells didn’t even come close.
The black spots on the horizon grew until the pointed shapes of a squadron of German fighters on final approach materialised. They scattered as a Spitfire appeared at tree top level guns blazing. The British were known to be reckless fliers but this pilot was a maniac. He made no effort to avoid the AA guns around the aerodrome and seemed obsessed with their flight leader Major Schmidt.
Patrick narrowly missed the German's tail and blasted a German fighter trying to get behind him. “Get out of my way.”
Red Diamonds raced back towards the sea trying to gain altitude. He’d recovered quickly from the shock of the Spitfire’s appearance. Patrick knew he must be flying on vapours, he almost had him.
Three German fighters shot past his nose and tried to pressure him to make a defensive turn. That wasn’t happening. Nothing was taking him away from Tom's murderer.
A German came in close with his nose cannon spewing deadly 20mm shells. Expecting the Spitfire to evade he overshot when Patrick ignored him. The price of his miscalculation was a wing full of tracers from Patrick’s guns. Patrick gave the pilot’s wingman the same treatment, the two stricken craft plunging into the sea almost simultaneously.
A heavily accented voice buzzed in his headset. The Germans had found his frequency. “I see you have acquired a new aircraft,” an aristocratic voice said in English. “Who do I have the pleasure of flying against today?”
“McLaren, His Majesty sends his condolences for your impending death.”
The German laughed. “I do so much love the British spirit.“
Patrick tried a deflection shot which struck the German's starboard aileron. The aristocratic voice returned. “I’m afraid I do not have the fuel to give this dance the attention it deserves. I do hope you will forgive me for handing you over to one of my dance partners.”
His temples throbbed and he felt itchy. He needed to kill - to avenge Tom, to avenge Sarah.
He was so consumed with bracketing the German he didn’t see the four fighters swoop from above. His left wing splintered under a hail of lead before the centreline fuel tank caught fire. Patrick didn’t care, he kept the German in his sights and squeezed off the last of his ammunition. The German's tail shuddered and began trailing wafts of white smoke.
Patrick felt the control surfaces slacken before his flight stick went limp and his hydraulics failed. His oil pressure was falling fast and the fire had spread to his other wing. The smoke in the cockpit grew so thick he could no longer see the murderer. He’d definitely hit him with his last burst. He hoped he'd bleed out slowly.
Throwing the canopy back Patrick bailed out of his stricken aircraft. As he cleared the smoke and his chute deployed he saw the turbid black waters of the channel below. “Shit.”
“You look like drowned rat Sir,” the midshipmen said as he helped remove Patrick’s soaking flight boots. The Navy corvette had been following up a U-boat sighting and saw Patrick’s flaming aircraft to the North.
The Corvette’s communications officer poked his head into the cabin. “I radioed your base to tell them we picked you up. We got this in reply. Is it some kind of joke you flyers have going?” the confused officer asked.
Patrick glanced at the message pad. The message was short. You’ll wish you drowned - Greenway.
“Who's Greenway?” the officer asked.
“My arsehole of a commander” Patrick replied.
“Why would he say that to you? We saw you shoot down three German fighters before you got hit.”
“That was his aircraft. I might have borrowed it without asking.”
The two sailors exchanged grins.
Elamesh looked at the empty stone benches. Less than half the Clan Chiefs remained. Ahmed spoke first. "I don’t see what other choice we have?"
Elamesh agreed with his friend, as much as it pained him to do so. He was not the only chieftain conflicted by the use of a weapon which demanded such an enormous sacrifice. "I agree with Ahmed.” His voice carried weight. Despite being the youngest member of the council his tribe had the highest number of kills and Elamesh's ferocity as a warrior was highly respected. He knew his support for Ahmed would sway some of the lesser Chiefs.
Ahmed nodded in thanks and selected a star map on the holo-viewer. The planets of system Beta 572 appeared, centred on a tiny blue planet close to a category four star. A set of red triangles next to a tiny planet at the edge of the system caught everyone's attention. "The humans call it Pluto," Ahmed stated. "The Stormwald just cleared its outer moon and will reach Earth in less than a year."
Elamesh spoke in support of his friend. "If we use the weapons now there is a chance we can delay the Stormwald until we can bring the array online."
Clan Chief Gabriel injected. "We don't know if the array will work after the damage it sustained last time."
"I am assured it will work as normal," Elamesh lied.
"Even if it does," said Gabriel "there is no guarantee we will destroy the entire hive. Our warriors are too few to fight more than a regiment of Demons."
"We are not even sure if the Citadel of the Titans remains intact," clan Chief Odin remarked.
Elamesh nodded, none of the clans had heard from the Titans for millennia. Once he would have been concerned but he no longer cared.
"We will face the darkness without our Lords, we have done it before and we will do it again," Elamesh said firmly.
"I do not doubt your courage Elamesh, but our warriors are few and fatigued from constant battles on the outer rim. The Home Worlds cannot spare any more resources to support us," Gabriel said softly.
"We must ensure the protection of the larger worlds," Ahmed said matter a fact.
"What makes this world so special?" Odin asked. “We all know you were born there Elamesh.”
Elamesh ignored the jibe.
"They are as we once were," said Ahmed loudly for all to hear. "Fragile, primitive and ignorant of the darkness. We must save them. It is our duty to protect the weak."
They all knew their duty. It was sacred. But the last time they combined forces to protect this world they had almost been wiped out.
Michael, the oldest of the Clan Chief's spoke. He was the only member of the Council to witness the first appearance of the Stormwald. "It is our duty to atone for the sins of our ancestors. We passed the secrets of the Arcanum Genetica to the humans allowing the Keeper to obtain them. Our deaths are a small price to pay for the suffering we brought to these worlds."
The murmurs around the circle ceased as the Chiefs bowed their heads in memory of the sins of Solomon. Once heralded as the greatest and wisest ruler of the Ulani, the long dead Solomon foolishly granted knowledge of resurrection to primitive humans. He had meant it as a kindness after the accidental death of the son of his human ally and close friend, Ramses II.
The knowledge soon became widely known within the religious sects of the Pharaoh's empire. Before long the Keeper and his demons obtained the secret allowing the Keeper to open a hole in the fabric of interdimensional space and unleash the horrors of the Stormwald on the living.
Elamesh traced one of many demon scars on his forearm. How many beasts had he dispatched to the fires of the damned? Did it even make a difference? Perhaps they were fighting a losing battle against the forces of darkness. Had the all-powerful Titans concluded it was hopeless and abandoned their citadel for the safety of their time portal?
Ahmed raised his hands. “I vote for the deployment of the Dragon's tears, who will support me?”
Elamesh stood. The other chieftains slowly rose until only Odin and Gabriel remained seated. Odin looked at Elamesh then stood. "I am old and tired but let none say Odin chief of the Spectrals walked away from a fight."
Gabriel stood. "I believe we should wait to hear from the Titans but my Lancers will not shy away from a fight either."
"It is settled then," said Ahmed.
He turned to his adjutant. "Instruct General Tycho to initiate the Dragon's tears."
"At once your highness," the officer replied.
Patrick struggled to keep his mouth shut as Greenway pranced about theatrically. His Commander was famous for throwing tantrums. What an arsehole.
The entire Wing stood at attention on the parade ground for Patrick's public dressing down. Patrick noticed a few winks when Greenway wasn't looking. They hated Greenway as much as he did.
Greenway was a typical armchair pilot, big on talk and slow on action. The Commander had 14 kills to his name, and was not a bad flyer in Patrick's opinion but he was also a pompous git who lacked any form of aggression or tactical awareness. He was probably jealous of Patrick's kills being more than triple his own.
Greenway was carrying on about the destruction of his beloved Spitfire. He seemed more upset about the loss of his aircraft than about Patrick disobeying orders. When Greenway finally ran out of insults Patrick stepped forward. "I would do it all again,” he said unhelpfully.
Greenway's face reddened until his eyes looked like they were going to explode from his skull.
Patrick was thrown unceremoniously into the stockade. It wasn't so bad. It was not a real military prison just a converted barracks to house the regular drunkards who got on the turps on weekends. The inmates cheered as he was escorted to his cell.
Greenway visited Patrick a few hours later. He was still red in the face and bellowed he would end Patrick's flying career if it was the last thing he ever did. Patrick ignored him which only made Greenway angrier. “You insubordinate shit,” he screamed on the way out.
Patrick spent the rest of the day playing cards with the other inmates until Wing Commander Beatty arrived smiling. "Pat you really know how to stick it to the boss. Did you have to rub it in his face like that?"
"He deserved it," Patrick said to his friend and mentor.
"If your father wasn't the Minister for war production you'd be stuck in here for a long time.”
Patrick hated people mentioning his father. The two hadn't spoken since he’d enlisted in the RAF. The Minister was an old navy man from the first war and didn’t see the point of fancy flying machines.
"By the way Marshall Taylor wants to give you a medal. Greenway is furious. He wants you demoted and grounded."
"Taylor wants to give me a medal?" Taylor had achieved ace status in both wars and was a living legend to every RAF pilot.
"He's here with his entourage to present it to you now. I've come to fetch you. He wasn't happy you were in the brig, he ripped Greenway a new one."
Patrick grinned and slapped Beatty on the back. “Lead the way Ted.”
Patrick stood in front of the Wing for the second time that day. "It gives me great pleasure to award this medal to Squadron Leader McLaren," Air Vice Marshall Taylor said happily.
Patrick stepped forward and Taylor pinned the cross to his chest. "It is not every day I meet a pilot with two Distinguished Flying Crosses," Taylor said grinning at Patrick.
"Thank you Sir, I am deeply honoured."
Taylor stepped back and addressed the crowd of airmen. "Young McLaren here is just the kind of crazy the RAF needs. Some of our more conservative minded officers might not agree but shooting down German fighters on their own turf is how we will win this damn war." Taylor gave Greenway a pointed stare. Greenway looked like he wanted to cry.
Taylor's deputy, Commodore Fernwood grasped Patrick on the arm. "Bloody good show boy, chasing those bastards back home and blasting them out of the sky in front of their mother's is just the kind of flying we need."
This was high praise indeed. Fernwood was the RAF's highest scoring, and living, fighter ace.
Fernwood stepped in close and whispered to Patrick. "You keep this up and Marshall Taylor and I will be able to replace that blabbering fool Greenway, and you can have command of the wing. If Greenway's mother wasn't married to the deputy Prime Minister we'd have done it already dammit."
"Yes Sir," Patrick said with a grin.
"Good lad," Fernwood said patting him on the shoulder. "Now where's the mess around here. Time for a drink."
It was after midnight when Patrick stumbled back to his bunk, his uniform in a most tardy state for an Officer. He'd been toasted so many times he couldn't remember where he'd left his boots.
Owens helped carry him through the door to the Officer's quarters. "I'm sorry about Tom."
"Me too," was all Patrick could manage.
"Get some rest Sir, it all starts again tomorrow."
Patrick fell asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow. He dreamed of Tom, red haired smiling Tom.
Patrick nursed his glass of water while squinting to block the light of the projector. Squadron Leader Holt, the Wing's intelligence officer smiled at the crowd of bleary eyed pilots.
"I see we all had a bit too much last night. I'll keep it short then."
Holt flashed some statistics on the screen. They were pretty depressing. Despite being partly hungover Patrick still knew how serious the situation was. The RAF was on the brink of collapse. Pilots died before new ones could be trained. The army was no help. It was a shell of its former self after Dunkirk. It was obvious from Holt's slides the RAF was the only thing holding back the invasion everyone knew Hitler had planned.
After the morning briefing Patrick visited Flight Lieutenant Percy in the infirmary. He'd made it back to base despite ramming a German fighter and losing half his right wing. His legs were covered in bandages from burns but he was in high spirits. "I'll be back on the flight line in no time Sir."
Patrick had a quiet chat with Doctor Nelson on the way out. “Poor kid, he won’t walk again let alone fly,” Nelson said sadly.
Squadron leader Barrington was sitting in a wheelchair smoking on the porch of the infirmary. "Good show the other day Pat and well done on the medal. The boys in the wing are proud of you."
"Thanks Jack," Patrick replied. "How's the leg?"
"Oh, just a small fracture, nothing serious. Should be back in the air in a fortnight."
"I saw your crate on approach, you did well to get her back."
"She's a tough old bird. Takes more than a few German shells to keep her down."
That was an understatement. Barrington's Spitfire belly landed with 70 jagged holes, one only an inch from Barrington's head. It was on its way to the scrapyard while a replacement was delivered for the veteran pilot. "One more belly landing to add to the total," Patrick said with a grin.
Barrington laughed. He had the record for the most crash landings but was also the Wing’s leading ace."
"I hear you got three of the bastards for the trouble," Patrick said.
"Yeah, put down two bombers and a fighter before I got bounced. A bastard with red diamonds got me."
"Don't worry I got him for you," Patrick said.
"Good show, he was a fine pilot."
"How's the rest of the Squadron?"
Barrington fell silent and Patrick noticed the heavy bags under his eyes. "I lost half of my boys Pat. Even poor Yates got it."
Patrick looked at the ground. Yates was the most popular pilot in the Wing. If Yates had not become a pilot he'd have been a professional comedian. He kept morale up with his constant skits and practical jokes.
"I'm sorry to hear that Jack," Patrick said softly.
Barrington looked at the horizon and threw his cigarette stub on the ground. "You make sure you leave some Jerries for me for when I get airborne again."
"Will do Jack."
Patrick returned to the map room for the afternoon's briefing. There was no klaxon today which was curious. What were the German's up to?
Squadron Leader Holt knew. The Germans had targeted the dockyards at Hull to the North. The klaxon sounded just before sunset and Patrick led a half flight in pursuit of squadron of Heinkell bombers who decided to give London a good night kiss. Patrick caught the tail end of the squadron just before dark and promptly dispatched one of their number into the sea.
The landing lights of the aerodrome flashed by and Patrick taxied into the hardened shelter. He carried the whisky bottle from his locker to his bed and fell asleep still sitting. Usually he dreamed of Sarah but tonight he dreamed of Tom. He could see Tom, still puffing away at a cigarette as he swung his driver on the golf range near RAF base Hornchurch.
Patrick woke while the moon was still low. He sat with the whisky trying to find the words for the letter he knew he had to write for Tom's parents. He glanced at the photograph of Sarah at the top of his desk. Tom would look after her for him.
"Shit," it shouldn't be so hard to write a letter to the family of a dead airman. He'd done it before dozens of times. No, he would visit Tom's parents in person, he owed them that. They would receive their official letter by the end of the week, the RAF was efficient with its death letters.
What would Tom's twin sister Evie do? She'd already lost her younger sister to the Germans. Patrick knew the old Colonel would take it hard too. Tom's father had seen his share of death in the trenches of France but now two of his three children had paid the price for German aggression.
Patrick thought about his own parents. What if he had been killed. Patrick could imagine his father, Lord McLaren, barely batting an eyelid. "All must do their duty," his father would say. His father only ever cared about his older brother Stanley, the heir. When Stanley was killed by a sniper's bullet in Belgium Patrick and his younger brother Willie ceased to exist.
As the sun rose the klaxon sounded.
Patrick took another swig of whisky and raced to his aircraft. Owens already had the prop spinning up for him.
Wing Commander Beatty watched from the tower as Patrick raced to his Spitfire. He scanned the morning Coast Watch report while he downed his coffee. It was a big wave today, well over two hundred bombers and half that many fighter escorts. "Poor kid," Beatty muttered.
"Get your filthy arse out of my house, I'll spill your guts you little bastard!"
Cedrick tripped on a bucket as he struggled to pull up his breeches. He gave the pretty maid a kiss then threw himself out the window into a cart of onions.
The girl's father tried to follow but was far too large to fit through the window. He threw the axe at Cedrick's head anyway, narrowly missing decapitating the young Knight.
Cedrick blew a kiss to the buxom lass which served only to further infuriate her father. "I'll have your head Cedrick Hawkwood!"
Percival looked down from his horse at his friend lying in a cart of onions. "Taking your vow of chastity seriously Cedrick?" he asked with a smile.
The girl's irate father saw Percival and calmed down immediately. "My Lord, I demand justice."
"What is the crime?" Percival asked, trying to keep his voice serious.
The man frowned as he tried to think of the words without admitting to the entire street his daughter was not the vestigial virgin he so proudly boasted in the tavern. "My daughter has been wronged by this vulgar criminal."
"Be careful how you address Sir Hawkwood," Percival warned. "I will not have members of the nobility libelled in the streets."
"Sorry my Lord, my temper got away from me."
"What do you have to say for yourself Sir Cedrick Hawkwood?" Percival asked his best friend.
"I did not take anything that was not there to give," Cedrick answered.
The father’s rage returned. He drew his dagger and prepared to throw it at Cedrick.
"Hold!" Percival yelled at the man. "Lower that dagger or I will skewer you myself."