Saturday, November 10, 2012
THE QUEEN'S OWN By Morag McKendrick Pippin Copyright 2002 All rights reserved Thomas regained consciousness blinking sluggishly. His nose hovered scant inches above the rocky earth and an experimental tug confirmed the barbed wire held his kilt fast. He still hung upside down amidst the combating German and British forces. Through the drifting wisps of smoke he surveyed the carpet of carnage surrounding him. Poppies once grew here. Now several fires burned on the battlefield, and bodies.....more bodies than he could count lay at odd angles and so very still. A shower of stinging rock spattered him as a shell exploded only yards distant. He barely flinched. Fear had abandoned him a lifetime ago. It left in its stead only searing shards of pain pulsating from the German bullet lodged in his thigh. He called out, his voice raspy and weak, but no one answered. Was there no one left, then, of the gallant Queen's Own Camerons? Whipped into a Gaelic bloodlust, these Ladies From Hell had heroically charged over the walls of the trenches. Most with naught but a dirk, and accompanied only by the piper's echoing strains of 'Valiant Laddy'. Aye, the brave lads had run headlong into the butchery, kilts swaying and screaming, "Sons of the hounds come here and get flesh!'" And now the hounds had their flesh. The broken remnants of the courageous Queen's Own lay scattered, bloody, and dying on a war scarred foreign field, far from the heather filled glens of their home. Home. Elizabeth. A tear rolled down Thomas' cheek and the scorched earth and bursting bombs receded. His beautiful wife filled his vision, skipping into their sitting room, her gold curls bouncing and brilliant blue eyes sparkling. "Tommy mo cridh, I'm with child! We're to have our verra own bairn!" He'd thrown His Majesty's official letter on the table and swung her in his arms in joy. Now the pleasure faded abruptly and he squeezed his eyes shut against the tears. Would he ever see her again? What would become of his wee unborn bairn? Thomas opened his eyes again, listless. Until he caught sight of Iain. The dusty breeze fluttered Iain's long hair about his ashen face, parting now and then over dull, sightless brown eyes. Had it been only the night before Iain had squatted beside a grudging fire in his tattered kilt, those brown eyes glittering as he held aloft a skinny rat and proclaimed, "Look here, Tommy, lad! We'll eat like bloomin' lords tonight, we will!" Ach, and he'd made a target of himself, looming tall in the barren landscape attempting to unhook Thomas' tartan from the barbed trap. "We'll have you out in a trice Tommy, old man!" he'd declared briskly before his legs were shot from beneath him. Now his blood too, soaked the greedy earth. And just there lay poor wee Charlie, a hollowed out chest his undoing. Thomas stared, oblivious to the rivulets of sweat joining the tears streaming down his face. Charlie was naught but a wee boy –– fourteen at most. So anxious to send the villainous Hun crawling back to the old mad Kaiser, he'd lied claiming he was 17. The army, desperate and dwindling rapidly from disease and German shot, had asked no questions. At last the cannon fire and shelling ceased and Thomas allowed his fog of misery to thin, even as the tortured cries of the fallen rushed to fill the void. Optimism yet blossomed, sending hope tingling down his spine. Which side claimed victory? It didn't matter –– he lived and rescue was imminent. He lived and he was married to the bonniest lass in Glasgow Town! Aye, and a man lay mutilated and dead in an attempt to save him. He must name the bairn Iain, for he knew in his heart the babe a boy. Boots crunched loudly in the lose scree. They were behind him now, and nimble fingers freed his captured tartan. Voices mumbled in irritation, and the sound sent adrenalin soaring in Thomas' veins and blood buzzing hotly in his ears. Rough hands pulled him out of the wire and about face. He clamped his eyes shut, numb with disbelief, and he felt himself falling. Two soldiers yanked him upright. "ACHTUNG!"