A leaf on the wind of al.., p.1
A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows, p.1Part #8.50 of Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
BY DIANA GABALDON
(in chronological order) Outlander
Dragonfly in Amber
Drums of Autumn
The Fiery Cross
A Breath of Snow and Ashes
An Echo in the Bone
The Outlandish Companion
(in chronological order) Lord John and the Hellfire Club (novella)
Lord John and the Private Matter
Lord John and the Succubus (novella)
Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade
Lord John and the Haunted Soldier (novella)
The Custom of the Army (novella)
Lord John and the Hand of Devils (collected novellas)
A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows (novella)
Plague of Zombies (novella)
The Scottish Prisoner
A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
2012 Dell eBook Edition
Copyright (c) 2010 by Diana Gabaldon
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Dell is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc., and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
This novella was originally published in Songs of Love and Death: All Original Tales of Star-Crossed Love, edited by George R. R. Martin, published by Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., in 2010.
Cover design: Marietta Anastassatos
Cover images: Shutterstock
Other Books by This Author
A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows
About the Author
One of the interesting things you can do with a 'bulge' (i.e., one of the novellas or short stories in the Outlander universe) is to follow mysteries, hints, and loose ends from the main books of the series. One such trail follows the story of Roger MacKenzie's parents.
In Outlander, we learn that Roger was orphaned during World War II, and then adopted by his great-uncle, the Reverend Reginald Wakefield, who tells his friends, Claire and Frank Randall, that Roger's mother was killed in the Blitz, and that his father was a Spitfire pilot 'shot down over the Channel.'
In Drums of Autumn, Roger tells his wife, Brianna, the moving story of his mother's death in the collapse of a Tube station during the bombing of London.
But in An Echo in the Bone, there is a poignant conversation in the moonlight between Claire and Roger, during which we encounter this little zinger:
Her hands wrapped his, small and hard and smelling of medicine.
'I don't know what happened to your father,' she said. 'But it wasn't what they told you [...]
'Of course things happen,' she said, as though able to read his thoughts. 'Accounts get garbled, too, over time and distance. Whoever told your mother might have been mistaken; she might have said something that the reverend misconstrued. All those things are possible. But during the War, I had letters from Frank--he wrote as often as he could, up until they recruited him into MI6. After that, I often wouldn't hear anything for months. But just before that, he wrote to me, and mentioned--just as casual chat, you know--that he'd run into something strange in the reports he was handling. A Spitfire had gone down, crashed--not shot down; they thought it must have been an engine failure--in Northumbria, and while it hadn't burned, for a wonder, there was no sign of the pilot. None. And he did mention the name of the pilot, because he thought Jeremiah rather an appropriately doomed sort of name.'
'Jerry,' Roger said, his lips feeling numb. 'My mother always called him Jerry.'
'Yes,' she said softly. 'And there are circles of standing stones scattered all over Northumbria.'
So what really happened to Jerry MacKenzie and his wife, Marjorie (known to her husband as Dolly)? Read on.
A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows
It was two weeks yet to Hallowe'en, but the gremlins were already at work.
Jerry MacKenzie turned Dolly II onto the runway full throttle, shoulder hunched, blood thumping, already halfway up Green leader's arse--pulled back on the stick and got a choking shudder instead of the giddy lift of takeoff. Alarmed, he eased back, but before he could try again, there was a bang that made him jerk by reflex, smacking his head against the Perspex. It hadn't been a bullet, though; the off tyre had blown, and a sickening tilt looped them off the runway, bumping and jolting into the grass.
There was a strong smell of petrol, and Jerry popped the Spitfire's hood and hopped out in panic, envisioning imminent incineration, just as the last plane of Green flight roared past him and took wing, its engine fading to a buzz within seconds.
A mechanic was pelting down from the hangar to see what the trouble was, but Jerry'd already opened Dolly's belly and the trouble was plain: the fuel line was punctured. Well, thank Christ he hadn't got into the air with it, that was one thing, but he grabbed the line to see how bad the puncture was, and it came apart in his hands and soaked his sleeve nearly to the shoulder with high-test petrol. Good job the mechanic hadn't come loping up with a lit cigarette in his mouth.
He rolled out from under the plane, sneezing, and Gregory the mechanic stepped over him.
'Not flying her today, mate,' Greg said, squatting down to look up into the engine, and shaking his head at what he saw.
'Aye, tell me something I don't know.' He held his soaked sleeve gingerly away from his body. 'How long to fix her?'
Greg shrugged, eyes squinted against the cold wind as he surveyed Dolly's guts.
'Half an hour for the tyre. You'll maybe have her back up tomorrow, if the fuel line's the only engine trouble. Anything else we should be looking at?'
'Aye, the left wing-gun trigger sticks sometimes. Gie' us a bit o' grease, maybe?'
'I'll see what the canteen's got in the way of leftover dripping. You best hit the showers, Mac. You're turning blue.'
He was shivering, right enough, the rapidly evaporating petrol wicking his body heat away like candlesmoke. Still, he lingered for a moment, watching as the mechanic poked and prodded, whistling through his teeth.
'Go on, then,' Greg said in feigned exasperation, backing out of the engine and seeing Jerry still there. 'I'll take good care of her.'
'Aye, I know. I just--aye, thanks.' Adrenaline from the aborted flight was still surging through him, thwarted reflexes making him twitch. He walked away, suppressing the urge to look back over his shoulder at his wounded plane.
Jerry came out of the pilots' WC half an hour later, eyes stinging with soap and petrol, backbone knotted. Half his mind was on Dolly, the other half with his mates. Blue and Green were up this morning, Red and Yellow resting. Green flight would be out over Flamborough Head by now, hunting.
He swallowed, still restless, dry-mouthed by proxy, and went to fetch a cup of tea from the canteen. That was a mistake; he heard the gremlins laughing as soon as he walked in and saw Sailor Malan.
Malan was Group Captain and a decent bloke overall. South African, a great tactician--and the most ferocious, most persistent air fighter Jerry'd seen yet. Rat terriers weren't in it. Which was why he felt a beetle skitter briefly d
'Lieutenant!' Malan rose from his seat, smiling. 'The very man I had in mind!'
The Devil he had, Jerry thought, arranging his face into a look of respectful expectancy. Malan couldn't have heard about Dolly's spot of bother yet, and without that, Jerry would have scrambled with A squadron on their way to hunt 109s over Flamborough Head. Malan hadn't been looking for Jerry; he just thought he'd do, for whatever job was up. And the fact that the Group Captain had called him by his rank, rather than his name, meant it probably wasn't a job anyone would volunteer for.
He didn't have time to worry about what that might be, though; Malan was introducing the other man, a tallish chap in army uniform with dark hair and a pleasant, if sharp, look about him. Eyes like a good sheepdog's, he thought, nodding in reply to Captain Randall's greeting. Kindly, maybe, but he won't miss much.
'Randall's come over from Ops at Ealing,' Sailor was saying over his shoulder. He hadn't waited for them to exchange polite chat, but was already leading them out across the tarmac, heading for the Flight Command offices. Jerry grimaced and followed, casting a longing glance downfield at Dolly, who was being towed ignominiously into the hangar. The rag doll painted on her nose was blurred, the black curls partially dissolved by weather and spilled petrol. Well, he'd touch it up later, when he'd heard the details of whatever horrible job the stranger had brought.
His gaze rested resentfully on Randall's neck, and the man turned suddenly, glancing back over his shoulder as though he'd felt the stress of Jerry's regard. Jerry felt a qualm in the pit of his stomach, as half-recognised observations--the lack of insignia on the uniform, that air of confidence peculiar to men who kept secrets--gelled with the look in the stranger's eye.
Ops at Ealing, my Aunt Fanny, he thought. He wasn't even surprised, as Sailor waved Randall through the door, to hear the Group Captain lean close and murmur in his ear, 'Careful--he's a funny bugger.'
Jerry nodded, stomach tightening. Malan didn't mean Captain Randall was either humorous or a Freemason. 'Funny bugger' in this context meant only one thing. MI6.
Captain Randall was from the secret arm of British Intelligence. He made no bones about it, once Malan had deposited them in a vacant office and left them to it.
'We're wanting a pilot--a good pilot,' he added with a faint smile, 'to fly solo reconnaissance. A new project. Very special.'
'Solo? Where?' Jerry asked warily. Spitfires normally flew in four-plane flights, or in larger configurations, all the way up to an entire squadron, sixteen planes. In formation, they could cover one another to some extent against the heavier Heinkels and Messerschmitts. But they seldom flew alone by choice.
'I'll tell you that a bit later. First--are you fit, do you think?'
Jerry reared back a bit at that, stung. What did this bloody boffin think he--Then he caught a glance at his reflection in the windowpane. Eyes red as a mad boar's, his wet hair sticking up in spikes, a fresh red bruise spreading on his forehead, and his blouson stuck to him in damp patches where he hadn't bothered to dry off before dressing.
'Extremely fit,' he snapped. 'Sir.'
Randall lifted a hand half an inch, dismissing the need for sirs.
'I meant your knee,' he said mildly.
'Oh,' Jerry said, disconcerted. 'That. Aye, it's fine.'
He'd taken two bullets through his right knee a year before, when he'd dived after a 109 and neglected to see another one that popped out of nowhere behind him and peppered his arse.
On fire, but terrified of bailing out into a sky filled with smoke, bullets, and random explosions, he'd ridden his burning plane down, both of them screaming as they fell out of the sky, Dolly I's metal skin so hot it had seared his left forearm through his jacket, his right foot squelching in the blood that filled his boot as he stamped the pedal. Made it, though, and had been on the sick-and-hurt list for two months. He still limped very noticeably, but he didn't regret his smashed patella; he'd had his second month's sick leave at home--and wee Roger had come along nine months later.
He smiled broadly at the thought of his lad, and Randall smiled back in involuntary response.
'Good,' he said. 'You're all right to fly a long mission, then?'
Jerry shrugged. 'How long can it be in a Spitfire? Unless you've thought up a way to refuel in the air.' He'd meant that as a joke, and was further disconcerted to see Randall's lips purse a little, as though thinking whether to tell him they had.
'It is a Spitfire ye mean me to fly?' he asked, suddenly uncertain. Christ, what if it was one of the experimental birds they heard about now and again? His skin prickled with a combination of fear and excitement. But Randall nodded.
'Oh, yes, certainly. Nothing else is manoeuvrable enough, and there may be a good bit of ducking and dodging. What we've done is to take a Spitfire II, remove one pair of wing guns, and refit it with a pair of cameras.'
Again, that slight pursing of lips before Randall replied.
'You might need the second pair of guns.'
'Oh. Aye. Well, then ...'
The immediate notion, as Randall explained it, was for Jerry to go to Northumberland, where he'd spend two weeks being trained in the use of the wing cameras, taking pictures of selected bits of landscape at different altitudes. And where he'd work with a support team who were meant to be trained in keeping the cameras functioning in bad weather. They'd teach him how to get the film out without ruining it, just in case he had to. After which ...
'I can't tell you yet exactly where you'll be going,' Randall said. His manner through the conversation had been intent, but friendly, joking now and then. Now all trace of joviality had vanished; he was dead serious. 'Eastern Europe is all I can say just now.'
Jerry felt his inside hollow out a little and took a deep breath to fill the empty space. He could say no. But he'd signed up to be an RAF flier, and that's what he was.
'Aye, right. Will I--maybe see my wife once, before I go, then?'
Randall's face softened a little at that, and Jerry saw the Captain's thumb touch his own gold wedding ring in reflex.
'I think that can be arranged.'
Marjorie MacKenzie--Dolly, to her husband--opened the blackout curtains. No more than an inch ... well, two inches. It wouldn't matter; the inside of the little flat was dark as the inside of a coal scuttle. London outside was equally dark; she knew the curtains were open only because she felt the cold glass of the window through the narrow crack. She leaned close, breathing on the glass, and felt the moisture of her breath condense, cool near her face. Couldn't see the mist, but felt the squeak of her fingertip on the glass as she quickly drew a small heart there, the letter J inside.
It faded at once, of course, but that didn't matter; the charm would be there when the light came in, invisible but there, standing between her husband and the sky.
When the light came, it would fall just so, across his pillow. She'd see his sleeping face in the light: the jackstraw hair, the fading bruise on his temple, the deep-set eyes, closed in innocence. He looked so young, asleep. Almost as young as he really was. Only twenty-two; too young to have such lines in his face. She touched the corner of her mouth but couldn't feel the crease the mirror showed her--her mouth was swollen, tender, and the ball of her thumb ran across her lower lip, lightly, to and fro.
What else, what else? What more could she do for him? He'd left her with something of himself. Perhaps there would be another baby--something he gave her, but something she gave him, as well. Another baby. Another child to raise alone?
'Even so,' she whispered, her mouth tightening, face raw from hours of stubbled kissing; neither of them had been able to wait for him to shave. 'Even so.'
At least he'd got to see Roger. Hold his little boy--and have said little boy sick up milk all down the back of his shirt. Jerry'd yelped in surprise, but hadn't let her take Roger back; he'd held his son and petted him unt
It was cold in the room, and she hugged herself. She was wearing nothing but Jerry's string vest--he thought she looked erotic in it, 'lewd,' he said, approving, his Highland accent making the word sound really dirty--and the thought made her smile. The thin cotton clung to her breasts, true enough, and her nipples poked out something scandalous, if only from the chill.
She wanted to go crawl in next to him, longing for his warmth, longing to keep touching him for as long as they had. He'd need to go at eight, to catch the train back; it would barely be light then. Some puritanical impulse of denial kept her hovering there, though, cold and wakeful in the dark. She felt as though if she denied herself, her desire, offered that denial as sacrifice, it would strengthen the magic, help to keep him safe and bring him back. God knew what a minister would say to that bit of superstition, and her tingling mouth twisted in self-mockery. And doubt.
Still, she sat in the dark, waiting for the cold blue light of the dawn that would take him.
Baby Roger put an end to her dithering, though; babies did. He rustled in his basket, making the little waking-up grunts that presaged an outraged roar at the discovery of a wet nappy and an empty stomach, and she hurried across the tiny room to his basket, breasts swinging heavy, already letting down her milk. She wanted to keep him from waking Jerry, but stubbed her toe on the spindly chair, and sent it over with a bang.
There was an explosion of bedclothes as Jerry sprang up with a loud 'FUCK!' that drowned her own muffled 'Damn!' and Roger topped them both with a shriek like an air-raid siren. Like clockwork, old Mrs Munns in the next flat thumped indignantly on the thin wall.
Jerry's naked shape crossed the room in a bound. He pounded furiously on the partition with his fist, making the wallboard quiver and boom like a drum. He paused, fist still raised, waiting. Roger had stopped screeching, impressed by the racket.
Dead silence from the other side of the wall, and Marjorie pressed her mouth against Roger's round little head to muffle her giggling. He smelled of baby scent and fresh pee, and she cuddled him like a large hot-water bottle, his immediate warmth and need making her notions of watching over her men in the lonely cold seem silly.
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