Mike is on leave, visiting someone he can sort-of relax around. For shadow mage with crazy Familiar levels of relax.
Once they left town, Allister said, “Right. Da’s former SAS, so don’t worry about slipping, or if a memory bothers you. He’s been there. Mum’s a farm lady, weak herb-worker, grew up here, and handles the butchering and sausage making, so she’s hard to shock. My at-home sister’s visiting friends in Dundee and hiking up north this week.”
In other words, a nightmare or an accidental slip wouldn’t send them running into the sea. “Got it. What chores do I need to do?”
“Keep your Familiar out of the hen run. That should take up most of your time.” Allister signaled and turned onto a dirt road. The sound of the engine, and of the road, drowned out further talk. That was fine. Mike glanced in the back. Rich had made himself comfortable on some tool bags and other assorted stuff.
Twenty or so minutes later, the Rover pulled into a farmyard. The white-painted wooden gate stood open. A small tractor chugged in ahead of them. The tractor pulled a dark green, home-made trailer with wooden sides and mismatched wheels. I see where the jokes about Scots thrift come from. The box had been made from scrap lumber and bits of this and that. Allister parked beside a small, tidy hatchback, in the shadow of a long, low barn or super shed.
“Right. Welcome to Black Knowe Farm,” Allister said, once he’d killed the ignition and the tractor puttered to a quiet stop. “We’ve some sheep, wheat, chickens, and a little canola this year. Rich, do not bother the chickens or my mother will turn you into a fur collar. Understand?”
“Aaaawwwwwww, I understand.” With that Rich swarmed down from the luggage and down to the ground. He zoomed back and forth, sniffing mightily and digging a little here and there as his mage collected bags and carrier, then followed Allister to the house. Rich caught up with them, galloping in his weasely way.
“Mum, we’re home,” Allister called, scraping his feet on the mud mat. Mike copied him, and cleaned Rich’s feet once he’d set down everything. “Boots there, please, if you go mud-tramping.” Allister pointed to the tidy row.
“Come in,” a warm voice called. Mike followed his friend into the stone and wood house, and met a heavyset women in cotton slacks, a faded cotton blouse, and colorful floral apron. She wiped her hands on a tea towel and smiled up at the men. “You must be Michael. I’m Agnes, Allister’s Mum.” She extended a warm, plump hand and they shook. She wore her grey-touched strawberry blonde hair pulled back in a bun. “Allister said that you have a Familiar?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Rich called. “I’m Rich.”
She startled. “My goodness.” She blinked, then recovered. “You won’t need as much room as I thought.” She crouched and shook hands/paws with Rich, then stood again. “I was expecting a sheep dog or police dog.”
“We come in all shapes and sizes, mostly.” He giggled. Allister leaned away and made a warding off gesture at him. “What?”
The Scottish sorcerer shook his finger at him. “When you giggle, trouble’s about to land.” Allister straightened up. “We got dinner at the Thistle, so I’ll just show Mike and Rich their room, if you don’t need anything?”
“No, shoo. Tea’s at half past, since your father’s done early.” She smiled, plump cheeks dimpling. Mike caught a glimpse of a large kitchen with appliances right out of a TV history program about the 1950s, and a wood or coal stove from the 1850s. The well-worn vinyl floor seemed Rich resistant, perhaps.
Later that evening, after “a small supper” of mutton chops, green salad, mashed potatoes, and mushy peas, Mike wandered out onto the little back patio, as he’d call it. It served as the warm-weather outdoor work area, and as a place to do messy chores, like beating rugs. Thank you for vacuum cleaners, Lord, and for central heat. Radiators and Rich didn’t always get along. Rich sniffed around, did his thing, and acted as if he had no interest at all in the black and white chickens clucking and scratching in the garden behind the house. Mike leaned on the sun-warmed wood of the gateway and let his eyes rest.
Black Knowe Farm nestled in a little dip in a long hill. The house and yard faced north Mike leaned against the post and stared at the blue hills – actually mountains – to the north. Darker blue ridges rose at their feet, while blue, grey, and white covered the evening sky. Fields of dark green wheat, paler pasture, and gilt-fringed barley covered the closer hills and valley. Small copses of trees dotted here and there. Rich climbed up onto the drystone wall—carefully—and stretched out on the warm rocks. A wind from the sea murmured past, cool and soft. Birds twittered to themselves in the long twilight.
Allister joined him and lit his pipe. After several minutes of silence, Mike said, “Beautiful country.”
“Aye. She’s what kept me goin’ over there. This is what we’re fightin’ for, as much as for King and Country.” The Scottish sorcerer folded his arms. “Storm off the sea, or Arctic easterly, and it’s pure misery. Soil’s heavy as lead. Sheep get foot rot when you turn your back, an’ cows aren’t much better. But it’s worth the fight, every inch of it.” A thoughtful pause, “Till th’ damn tractor breaks again.”
Mike snorted, still watching the wind ruffle the grain and ripple the clouds. “So, Lucas makes tractors?”
An answering snort. “And APCs.” He came closer and rested a hand on Mike’s shoulder. “We heard rumors. That bad?”
“Yeah. Bad as Burnt Rock Hill.” Mike slid his sleeve up a little.
“Shit.” The blunt word and friendly hand helped. Allister didn’t need to say more.
A firm clout on the shoulder followed. Allister reached over and scratched Rich’s back. The mongoose sprawled flatter and sighed with content. Fast, off-rhythm steps approached, and Mike made room for Ian Douglas, Allister’s father. The lean, fair-haired man reminded Mike a little of Master Sergeant Priesterson, without the shadows that seemed to weigh his mentor. Ian’s eyes never stopped moving, always watching the sky and the ground. He’d served in several “interesting” places, some of which overlapped with his son’s service. Ian too lit a pipe. He’d earned the limp “in Asia. The hot, sticky bit. Don’t recommend it,” he’d said during tea.
The three men stood in friendly silence, watching the feathers and fibers of cloud stretch over the sky. “Weather comin’ in tomorrow. Warmer,” Ian said.
“Our warmer, not Yank warmer,” Allister said, straight faced.
Mike snorted. “You use Celsius just to make it sound better. My scale’s more honest.” He got a mildly rude gesture in Arabic in return.
“Boy, yer Mum doesn’t appreciate that,” came a warning.
“Yes, Da.” Allister scratched Rich a little more.
Ian studied Mike and Rich. “Allister says you had a bit of a bother, month back or so?” He tipped his head toward the east.
Mike weighed his words, then nodded. “Yes, Mr. Douglas. I got a little singed. Someone thought they could bargain with a devil. It didn’t go well.”
The former commando nodded. “Nivver does, lad.” After a thoughtful silence, he nodded again. “Nivver does. Don’t have to have magic to make hell on earth.”
Ian reached up and thumped Mike a gentle clout to the bicep. “Neighbor to the north’s Royal Marine, south’s Argyle and Sutherland.” He made a tsking sound. “Allister just had to be the wild one.”
A faint halo glimmered over Allister’s head, drawing snorts from the others. “Aw, Da, at least I didn’t go Household Cavalry.” Mike rolled his eyes as Rich snickered.
“Because I taught you better, boy,” Ian growled.
Some things will never change until the Second Coming and the end of all wars. Cavalry, artillery, infantry, at least they all agreed to beat up the fly-boys.
(C) 2023 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved
My first car was an MG. I still have strong feelings about Lucas over a quarter century later.
I recall the short in the tail light wiring in my MGB. The headlight switch failed to protect the fuse.
I never did figure out what failed to burn all the insulation off a wire in my TR3A–it still worked until I could replace the wire. (Yes, there are words for people who’ve owned more than one old British sports car. One or two of them might be printable. 🙂 )
Lucas delenda est!
Why am I thinking that “interesting” things will happen on Mike’s leave? 😉
Because it’s Mike. And Rich. Oops.
I like the scene of those who have been on the pointy end trying to relax and support each other in responding to the effects of tgeir service.
John in Indy
Great description of the farm. Since I have been there and seen many similar farms I get the feeling you saw something very similar in your travels.
I did. While I was visiting St. Andrews, I went to a country restaurant well away from the city (two years of graduations held in two days. No room at any cafe/pub/fish take away in town.) We took the scenic routes to and from. Also visited a country house garden and chatted with one of the locals about soil, farms, and so on.
Yep. Saw a few places like that in the west. We were off the tourist tracks, talked with people in the same way. Delightful times.
A nice scene of relaxation and commiseration between the interesting bits.
I don’t know about that. I have a hard time coming up with anything more horrifying than “mushy peas”.
Have to admit I have never eaten mushy peas. Agree they do not sound appetizing.
Mushy Peas! Staple of my childhood fish-n-chip Friday night suppers. Properly done, they cut the greasiness of the deep fried fish and chips perfectly.
Mushy peas made from marrow fat peas are not bad. Mushy peas made from green peas . . . No thank you.
Down time is precious, wherever one finds it…
We always prepared Mushy Peas by soaking dried marrowfat peas in a light sweet brine overnight, then they were drained, rinsed in cold water, the skins (If any) rubbed off and removed, and the pea meat cooked in the normal way, in boiling water with a little salt. When cooked, the peas are drained again, gently mashed and a knob of butter stirred in. Traditionally, this was a way of preparing peas (or beans – you can use the same method for dried beans too) that had been dried and stored for the winter, when fresh foods were not available.
We don’t have marrowfat peas in the US by that name, unless you order them. We have dried green garden peas, and lots of beans. Cooking peas and beans has so many regional variations that I hesitate to say “All beans are cooked this way” for fear of an inbox overflowing with protests that I’m doing it wrong! 🙂