“Strike, Saber One Zero Five. Seven zero miles northeast with four, released from BARCAP, state seven point zero.”
“Saber One Zero Five, roger.” The strike controller then cleared Alex’s formation of F-18s inbound to his ship and directed him to switch to marshal frequency. He switched, checked in, and the voice of the ship’s controller came over his radio.
“Saber One Zero Five, marshal. You’re cleared to marshal on the two seven zero radial, angels fifteen,” there was a slight pause, then, “expected approach time four five, altimeter is three one point zero two.”
Alex led his formation in compliance with the directions, then the controller said, “No excitement this trip?”
Alex snorted into his face mask, a harsh sound of mild disgust he’d picked up in Scotland, then keyed his mike. “The bad guys are fully cowed today.” That day’s barrier combat air patrol along the Iraq/Iran border had been uneventful, and that was lucky for Alex. After two years on the ground, in a place and time where the fastest transportation on the planet was a galloping horse, the supersonic speed of the F-18 had taken getting used to again. Not the least like riding a bicycle. The plane Lt. MacNeil flew was the Navy’s top-of-the-line speeder, and acting fast was the only way to keep it from smacking into things. He’d been rustier than all hell on his return from the past, and it had taken him a while to feel truly comfortable again with a stick in his hand.
His preoccupation with Lindsay didn’t help matters. There had been a time when he’d taken his reflexes for granted, but no more. Coming up to speed without letting the Navy know he’d gone two years without a hop had been a tense, dangerous thing, but he’d pulled it off. His trap scores weren’t up to his previous standard, but at least he was still flying. Not dead yet.
The controller then said, “We’ll see you on deck. Got some news that might perk up your day.”
Alex frowned, wondering what news. Then it hit him, and a charge surged through him. “What news?” He knew what it had to be. It was time.
“Belay that, Lieutenant.” The other voice was a lieutenant commander also working in marshal control. A guy named Bannister. “Make your trap and never mind.”
“What? Is Lindsay all right? The cat’s out of the bag. It’s Lindsay, am I correct?”
“Your wife is fine. They’re both fine,” said Bannister.
“Both…” A wide smile pressed against Alex’s mask, and a loud laugh burst from him. “What is it?” When there was no reply, he added, “Seyeth ye freeleh; I moot ken.” He bit his lip for having lapsed into Middle English again, and though nobody laughed on the frequency he figured they were all sniggering behind their mikes now. The guys thought it was British slang he’d picked up from Lindsay, but the truth was sometimes he used archaic vocabulary without realizing it.
He pressed the controller again for news, and translated his lapse. “I wish to know now, sir.”
“A boy. She had a boy, MacNeil. He’s healthy, she’s healthy, so don’t worry about them; get yourself onto the ship in one piece.”
Danu had been right. She’d told him months ago it would be a boy. A son. He was the father of a baby boy. He let out a whoop, and a long, hearty laugh that contained not a little relief. A son. Now he couldn’t wait to get back to the ship.
Contrary to the fears of the controllers, Alex’s recovery was perfect. Screwing up and killing himself now was just not thinkable. Once on deck, he climbed from his cockpit and took his helmet off to tuck it under his elbow. Some pilots on their way to the catapults stopped to applaud and clap him on the back. The guys from his patrol, and his own Guy In Back, joined them. Their voices all were loud with good cheer, but their eyes betrayed their real thoughts and Alex couldn’t stand to see them. The congratulations rang false-were false-for none of them believed Alex was the father of Lindsay’s baby. And there was nothing to be done about that. As far as they knew, he’d only met his wife three months ago. There was no way he could tell them about the two years he’d spent with her, a year of it married and a year of it as knights fighting for Scottish independence under Robert the Bruce.
He could try to explain it, he supposed, but how nuts would that sound? To be sitting around a table in the wardroom, telling his buddies he’d once been whacked on the back of the neck by the flat of a broadsword blade, and by that action had become a member of medieval Scottish nobility. Later on, he’d been made knight banneret in the midst of the most famous battle in Scottish history, and after that battle had been handed over an entire island in the Inner Hebrides. At the very least it would sound like bragging, but more likely the Navy would take a dim view and send him to a shrink if he uttered such a story. That would certainly be it for his career.
No, better they should think he was a cuckold than a nutcase. Instead of protesting, he pretended he couldn’t hear the hint of scorn or pity in their voices. He knew he must be the baby’s father, and that was enough for him. Lindsay had been his wife longer than he’d known some of these pilots, and had proven herself to him more times and more fully than any of them had. So he thanked them all, ignored the odd looks, and walked away to the ship’s island and the escalators to the wardroom.
Behind him he heard one of them say in an exaggerated accent that may or may not have meant to mimic Alex’s own slightly Southern accent, “That there boy is off to get hisself some phone.”
Alex grinned. That much was true. As soon as he was debriefed from the patrol, Alex headed straight for a pay phone in the wardroom and called London. The hospital where Lindsay had planned to have the baby. It seemed to take forever for the call to go through, but Alex was patient, for he knew what it was like to not have a phone at all. Had the baby been born while he had been deployed by King Robert, more than likely he wouldn’t have known it until the boy was several months old. He could wait a minute or so to hear Lindsay’s voice through a wire.
The patched-through call was not a good connection, and an annoying delay caused them to interrupt each other with false starts, but Lindsay’s gentle voice was a balm on Alex’s soul. Still wearing his zoombag and sidearm, looking like a well-used rag and feeling the motion of the ride from which he’d just returned, he leaned his forehead against the bulkhead and pressed himself to the phone as if he could hug his wife through it. He wished he were in London.
Alex tried again, and this time was able to get out an entire sentence. “Is he healthy?”
There was a pause, and he let it ride for the delay to pass. Then came, with a slight echo that emphasized the distance between them, “He’s perfect.” Even with the crappy connection Alex could hear the joy in her voice. “I didn’t get a very good look at him, and was fairly drugged up at the time, but he’s absolutely beautiful.” She still sounded a little drugged up, speaking slowly, almost haltingly. But her joy made him grin wider.
His heart swelled, and he glanced around to see if anyone in the wardroom could tell his throat was closing up. He tried to stifle the smile stuck to his face, but it was impossible. A table of lieutenants across the room were snickering into their coffee. Jake, Alex’s Naval Flight Officer, was there with them. None of them had kids of their own; they were clueless.
Lately Jake had become distant, though they’d been good friends before Alex’s two-year hiatus in the past. Gave him weird looks just short of the hairy eyeball whenever he lapsed into Middle English. Alex had tried to pass off his misspeaking as humor, but Jake never seemed to buy that. Jake was one of those guys who took most things literally, and Alex could see he wasn’t fooling his Guy In Back.
Alex turned back to the wall and murmured, “I can’t wait to see him.”
“Where are-” She went silent again, having been interrupted, and he waited. Then she repeated, “Where are you?”
“You know I can’t tell you that. But I’m going to take some leave. I’m coming to see you and the baby.”
There was a sigh that sounded like relief. Lindsay had never been one to cling to him, or anyone, but the final months of her pregnancy had been tense. He had a sense she resented the way he’d been able to regain his old life, where she hadn’t. She’d had to take maternity leave from her job as a reporter for the London Times, and wasn’t sure she’d be able to go back to it later on. Travel would be difficult with the baby, not to mention her marriage to an American naval officer would not be in her favor. Alex knew she feared her career was over. Or at least it would be stunted. Even so, all she said now was, “It will be good to see you.”
And then she said something that was swallowed up with static, but he guessed she said, “It’s terribly hairy.”
“What’s hairy? He’s got hair? He’s not bald, then?”
There was a silence, then, “What was that?”
“What did you say?”
The silence fell again, then she said, more clearly, “Yes, he’s got hair. It’s dark, like mine.”
Alex nodded though she couldn’t see him. “Good. I like that. What color are his eyes?” He hoped for green, for that was the color of his own eyes.
“Blue.” There was a tinge of disappointment, but then Lindsay added, “All babies have blue eyes. We can’t know what color they will be for a while yet.”
The static returned, and worsened so that Alex knew they were about to be cut off. “Listen, hon, I’m going to lose you. Give him a kiss for me, and I’ll see you both in a couple of days.”
“Right. Love you.”
“Love you back.” He slipped the receiver from his ear to the phone hook and stood motionless against the wall, thinking about the enormity of what had just happened. In the twenty-first century he routinely flew thousands of feet above the earth, at speeds faster than sound. During the fourteenth century he’d been in battle, wielding at various times both sword and missile. He’d been knighted by Robert the Bruce, for a year had been laird of an entire island off the coast of Scotland, and had once enjoyed the prospect of eventual elevation to the Scottish peerage. But today his world had been rocked by a child.
Alex pulled himself together and turned around, threw a grin at the cluster of fellow officers, then hurried away to request his leave.
Like everything else in the military, Alex’s trip to London was a hurry-up-and-wait. It was two days later that he arrived at Lindsay’s flat which had become his also when they’d married again three months ago. A plain place and there was no lift, but the building at least was clean. Far more expensive than Alex thought reasonable, but it seemed everything in London cost more than it should. The landings on the stairwell were papered in green plaid that made him goggle, the halls being so narrow and the walls so close. Tacky, he thought, but once he was inside the flat he wouldn’t have to look at it.
He climbed the three flights to their floor, shifted his bag to his left hand and turned the doorknob, but the door was locked.
Huh. Lindsay should be home by now. Perhaps she was out. Groceries, or something. Dang, he wanted to see the baby right away. With a sigh, he reached into his jeans pocket for his keys.
The door to the next flat opened, and its tenant emerged. James, Alex remembered from his last time here. Forty-ish, he wore a slightly rumpled black trench coat and collarless white shirt that gave him a Eurotrashy sort of look. He held a cigarette between two fingers, that he put in his mouth to lock his door, then dragged on it. He turned and noticed Alex, and said, “Hello, MacNeil.”
Alex knew him to be an utterly pleasant fellow, contrary to appearance. But today there was an odd note in his voice that caught Alex’s attention, and instead of going on his way, James stepped toward him. Alex’s hand paused before his key reached the door. “Hi.”
“I’m terribly sorry for your loss.”
All Alex had in response to that was a blank look. He had to swallow a “Huh?”
Thundering terror nearly knocked Alex sideways. Struggling to not show it, but knowing he must appear stricken, he gripped his keychain hard so the keys bit his palm. “Excuse me?” Irrationally, anger rose that lately he seemed to be the last to know anything.
Now it was James’ turn to look stricken. “Oh, I’m deeply sorry. I thought you knew.”
“Knew what? What happened?” And how did James know and himself not, was the other thing Alex wished to learn.
James was turning red and looking around as if he wished he could run away down the stairs, but he faced up to his responsibility for what he’d said, and replied. “Your wife spoke to me as she was leaving.”
“Yes. She told me the baby has been abducted. I’m terribly sorry.”
Somehow that was a relief, and Alex let out in a sigh the air he’d been holding in. Not dead. The baby could still be alive and well, and so was Lindsay.
But then the words sank in, and he realized the child was missing. And so was Lindsay. “Where did she go? Did she say when she’d be back?” Soon, he hoped. Then they could figure out what to do.
James’ discomfort seemed to grow. Now he sidled toward the stairs as if readying to dash down them. “She didn’t say. She had a bag with her.” He blinked as if just remembering something, then reached into a pocket. He fished around and came up with a single key. “She asked me to hold the key to your flat.”
Now nothing made sense. Bag? Key? Where on God’s earth could she have gone? Alex blinked at James, at a loss for what to say.
“Here.” James held out the key. Alex took it and stared at it stupidly.
“Why? What’s going on?”
James pressed his lips together and for a moment looked as if he were going to clam up. But instead he said, “I don’t know what this means. You understand she was quite upset at the time. But she blurted something about ears. And she said she was going to get someone. It was almost as if she knew where the baby had been taken, and was going there to retrieve him. Don’t know how, but she seemed determined.”
Alex knew Lindsay was always very determined. If she knew where her child had been taken, it was a lead-pipe cinch she would go there and get him. That gave Alex hope. He said, “Ears?”
James drew on his cigarette and shrugged, struggling now to regain his well-cultivated insouciant air. “I’ve no idea what it means.”
“What, exactly, did she say?”
“I don’t remember. Not exactly. As I said, she was quite upset and, well, babbling. Crying. It appeared she’d been crying for hours. In pretty bad shape, I’m afraid.”
Lindsay crying. That didn’t happen often.
Alex wished for more information, but James seemed tapped out. He stared at the key in his hand. “Thanks. Have the police been notified?”
“I don’t know. I’ve told you everything she said. She blew out of here awfully fast.”
Alex nodded. “All right. Thank you.”
James headed for the stairs, then paused and said, “I hope you find your son.”
“Wait!” James waited. “Did she say anything about a name? We haven’t named him yet.”
“I’m sorry. I couldn’t say. There wasn’t much coherent in what she told me.”
“I see. Well, thanks.”
James nodded and hurried away down the stairs, leaving Alex breathless. It was with fumbling fingers he slipped the key on his chain into the door lock and turned it. He entered the flat, let his bag slip to the floor, and looked around.
The place was a wreck. It wasn’t large to begin with, and the furniture crowded it a bit, but there were also clothes scattered about and old dishes on the dinette table that gave the place the close, dank smell of a dumpster. This was very much not like Lindsay.
In the bedroom he found the bed rumpled and the closet spilling over with clothes torn from hangers and dropped to the floor. A new, white, spindled crib stood against the wall by the window. It was covered with dust. Not dust settled over time, but a thick coat of it splattered all over as if a vacuum cleaner bag had exploded. Alex felt it, and it was gritty like fine sand. His heart lurched and his stomach turned. This was too weird, in a way that gave him the sort of creeps he hadn’t experienced since…well, since the fourteenth century.
In search of answers-or even a clue-he picked up the phone and called Lindsay’s mother. But on hearing the old lady’s cheerful voice full of congratulations, he knew she hadn’t been told. He wasn’t about to say anything, not with the paltry information he had, and so he let her go on in a chirpy, excited voice and plummy syllables until he could get her off the phone.
When he hung up, he stood in the living room, alone and struggling to know what to do. Or even how to feel. Lindsay hadn’t told James where she was going. Hadn’t told her mother anything at all. Hadn’t even waited until he would be off the ship and on the ground before tearing off to God-knew-where in search of the baby, and that astonished him more than anything. Why would she do that? He looked around the room, wishing something informative would leap out at him, but it didn’t. Desperate for something constructive to do, he went to the table and cleared the dishes to the kitchen. They went into the sink with some hot water and soap, and he went to the window to crack it open and perhaps have some fresh air in the flat. It was a relative thing, but the noise and fumes from the street below were an improvement over food gone bad.
There was a photo on the kitchen counter, one of those routinely taken of newborns. Alex snatched it up and held it to the light from the window for a good look. His son. It had to be. It was a pink-faced baby with a fuzz of dark hair, eyes squinted closed and tiny fist closed near one ear.
The ear was pointed at the top.
Alex stared at it. Pointed. He blinked, then held the photo closer to the light, but the ear still curved forward at the top and came to a distinct point. Like Mr. Spock. Like….
Cold sweat broke out, and an unwanted image came to his mind. Nemed. That damned elf. Alex’s chest tightened, and he backed against the counter. The world twisted into shapes he’d never known it could. It had been Nemed, the elfin king, who had taken himself and Lindsay to the fourteenth century. Nemed and Lindsay: he’d dreamed it once-a nightmare-but hadn’t imagined it could have been true. Obviously he’d been both right and wrong. Nemed and Lindsay. It sickened him. His throat began to close, and breathing was an effort. Nemed and Lindsay. Now he knew where she’d gone, and why she hadn’t so much as left a note.
He tossed the photo onto the counter and headed for the bedroom. A wooden crate sat at the bottom of the closet, and he tossed aside the clothing and shoes on top of it to haul it from there. The clothes stored inside, the hauberk, sark, trews, and tunic he’d been wearing on his return from the past, were missing. He knew where Lindsay had gone, and why.
“Oh, man.” She really had gone to him. Alex sagged where he knelt. “Oh, Lindsay.” Despair closed his throat and it was hard to breathe. He didn’t want to believe it was true. His mind struggled for an explanation for this, but every avenue of thought led him back to the same conclusion: that Lindsay and Nemed were lovers, and they’d both taken the baby back to historical Scotland.
As the truth hardened in him, the heat of anger kindled and his skin began to flame with rage. There was no way he would let this just happen. He couldn’t let that bastard do this to him. Nor Lindsay. She was his wife, and he’d trusted her. They would both answer for this, but first he had to find them.
His medieval clothing was gone, so he rose to look through his civilian clothing for something approximating what he would need. A pair of brown sweat pants and a long-tailed linen shirt looked good. Then a leather belt, with an oversized buckle that was nevertheless too small to be fashionable where he was headed, would have to do. She’d taken his gauntlets as well, and he cursed. He liked the spiked knuckles on those gloves. He’d have to find a new pair once he got there. His green plaid was still lying on the sofa, where it had functioned as a throw during the short time he’d had with Lindsay here. He dumped the change of clothing he’d brought with him from the ship to stuff the plaid and the quasi-medieval items into it.
Hungry and tired as he was after his flight in from the Persian Gulf, he couldn’t think of stopping to eat or sleep. He took his bag, locked up the apartment, and headed for Heathrow to catch the first available flight to northern Scotland. Eilean Aonarach, the island he’d once ruled as laird. Danu was there. The faerie was immortal; she would surely be there still. She would know how to find Nemed. And therefore also Lindsay, and probably his son.
His wife’s baby, in any case.
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