Bill Meilen
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THE ARMORER

V.

Rail Reveille

Wake in a new world
Some place you have never seen
—Strange experience.

REVEILLE on the travelling prison camp was due at precisely zero six three zero hours by twenty-one perfectly synchronised watches. Captain Hamish Sutherland was particularly fond of watch synchronisation exercises, having done a War Office cadre course on such essential military matters at Sandringham. He had been up since the ‘gas-halt,’ watching enormous plains roll by, stunned by the immensity of the dawning sky. Now, shaved and attired in freshly starched tropical service dress, he enjoyed a glass of fresh orange juice at a white-covered table set for breakfast as the guards prepared to bring the train awake.

This was his third experience in command of a prison train loaded with enemy soldiers. More than seven captured divisions of prisoners had to be transported to various prepared camps in a fleet of prison trains that ferried a thousand at a time across the continent.

His task grew no easier, and to his chagrin it kept him away from the real fighting and the battle honors essential to his family role as the soldier son. Hamish enjoyed the cut and dash of an army officer’s life, indeed had been destined at birth to follow in the footsteps of illustrious ancestors who had borne the sword in many parts of the British Empire.

As he read again from the book before him and sipped on his orange juice, his eyes lost their soft edge. It was a book of Scots history given him by his mother upon departure from his last home leave, and it had become his constant companion. There was raw romance in its tales of clashes in hot blood and border wars and cattle theft and Land Clearances and curses and traitorous deceit as a noble nation died. It stirred his warrior blood to desire dark and vengeful action.

In his mind he was attired in kilt and clannish garments and marched in a treeless land of mountains and seabirds and lochs. He mentally felt the razor-edged dirk at his side and the great claymore upon his back—Auld Skull Biter. I seize its great elk-horn handle and heft it about my heed as Sassenachs come marching to their cleaving. Red-edged is my blade, stern my warrior countenance as I cleave redcoat ribs in a glory of invader’s blood. He kept hacking and yelling into his mind until the usurping dogs of war lay sporran-deep about him, and there were no more takers for his blades, then slid slowly up to reality once more.

Closing the book, he looked out at the sweeping sections of grain growing green and golding in the sun and imagined the mounting clouds a great reaper come to mow it all—a kilted reaper with a slicing claymore.

 

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