St.Pols near Arras France, November 7th 1920.
There was a darkness of sorts by the time the two men entered the chapel. The Brigadier looked towards the older man who closed his eyes.
The officer nodded that he understood, as the General lifted his hand from the Union flag. There was a gentle sadness in both their actions as they lowered the body into the wooden box, it could so easily have been one of them; yet neither noticed the silver chain with the blue medallion drop from the coffin. Unseen, it found its way into a crack.
They wouldn’t leave him on his own, not tonight; this poor soul had slept too long alone.
Four summers earlier that same chain and medallion clung to the neck of a boy stuffed to the brim with life. His name was Sammy Galbraith and he was living up to all of his sixteen summers.
“When I catch you and don’t think I won’t Galbraith, I will crack that stupid head of yours open, I swear to God I will”
The Reverend Winters was fifty three, apparently God’s ambassador on earth and a bit of a horseman. He took exception to his daughter’s affections being dallied with by the local boys, especially that Godless brute Sammy Galbraith.
Being on foot allowed Sammy more manoeuvrability. He managed to slip behind Old Shaker’s Rock and wait for the reverend to go riding past. A piercing sliver of sunlight found Sammy’s face; he lifted his head skywards and smiled as an eagle patrolled the warm thermals above.
By the time his pursuer realised he had lost the boy he was already riding towards what he considered the source of the problem, Sammy’s father.
Johnny Galbraith, who had only been thirty two years old when he left his legs in a field in France, had a son of sixteen whom he loved and a wife who no longer cared if he lived nor died.
Before the war Johnny had been in complete charge of Lord Inverstark’s stables, now he wasn’t even in control of his own body. He sat in a wheelchair on the porch of the tied cottage, angry at life and always looking toward the mountains that were once his to conquer.
Their island was named Annshal and it sat about a mile off the mainland of western Scotland. As the sun sank below the Annshal Mountains, the silhouette of their peaks would assume the outline of an ancient soldier at rest with his spear by his side; he was known to the locals as The Sleeping Warrior.
The reverend’s horse came to a halt in front of Johnny, just as the soldier was contemplating whether returning from France had been a good thing, or whether he should have been left there and buried along with his legs.
“Your son has been pestering my daughter once again Galbraith, I will ask you, as I have done several times before - will you not control your lad?”
“Perhaps your daughter likes to be pestered Winters have you ever considered that?”
“I realise that the war has served you with a great injustice Mister Galbraith but you should tread with the utmost care in what you say and not judge all women by the standards of your own wife. I look forward to you having a word with your son.”
Johnny reached for the pistol he kept by his chair and pointed it above the reverend’s head.
“You wouldn’t shoot a man of God? Behave yourself man.”
Johnny fired the pistol into a tree.
“You’ll regret this”. The reverend already having turned his horse was riding away. “Mark my words Mister Galbraith, you will rue the day. Rue the day.”
At the age of thirty Fiona was still pretty, and anyone with eyes could see why Lord Inverstarck found her attractive.
It had started off innocently with Fiona covering Johnny’s work while he was away at war but it soon became something more between Fiona and the Laird (as the locals would refer to them in hushed tones). To be really truthful, Fiona had attempted to make things work between her and Johnny after he came home. She knew he had been injured but he had failed in his letters to mention the missing legs. Even they were not the problem; the real concern was the darkness that now ate at Johnny’s heart. The night she’d left for good, he had threatened to kill them both. She had only walked in the door and his ever present gun was pointing straight at her.
“Why are you so angry?” She’d never dared ask him that before but with a gun pointing at her head, she didn’t feel she had that much to lose. He said nothing and put the gun back by the side of his chair. She went into the room, packed a small case and as she walked past him, he grabbed her wrist. “I love you” he said.
“I know”. He freed her and she walked out.
Fiona was exercising the horses when she felt a shadow cross her eye line. She didn’t have to look up for she knew who it would be, who it always was, her son Sammy. They no longer talked he would just sit on the hill and stare at her, something he did every day. She loved him but it had been such a long time since she had told him.
They had kept their word; he had been watched over every step of the way. The coffin had been placed in an oak casket and banded with iron and a medieval crusader’s sword.
The inscription read ‘A British Warrior who fell in the Great War 1914-1918 for King and Country’.
He would rest tonight in Victoria Station and tomorrow, the 11th of November 1920, he would travel to Westminster Abbey to lie at peace for ever.
Lord Inverstarck had expected to go directly to France. The troops had been stationary at the Somme for a very long time but there was also word that the Irish were planning an uprising and they wanted him at Dublin Castle before Easter, 1916. It was Fiona’s suggestion of a Ball in honour of his departing.
“You are the Laird and the islanders will want to have their goodbyes”.
She was right of course and he thanked God for Fiona but Inverstarck didn’t particularly care for the islanders or the island. He had been having a jolly time of it in London, living at the family apartments in Kensington, his plan had been to continue with the army for a few more years then move into banking. It had all been decided by Father while the boys were still at Harrow. Harry would take over the Lairdship of Annshal on his father’s death and Robert would remain at liberty.
No one had expected Harry to die so young.
So by default Robert was Lord Inverstarck and all that that encompassed, most of which he had no taste or time for. Hereditary was hereditary and not even God could set that apart; to make the best of a problem was Robert’s philosophy. Still, there were compensations, the estate (if you included the properties in London) was relatively well off and Fiona was proving herself to be a beautiful distraction. If they could only rid themselves of that annoying husband of hers and the troublesome brat she had given birth to, things might take a turn for the better.