FREEDOM'S SWORD
 
A short story by Susan J. Boulton
There are a number of thoughts that lie behind this small work of fiction.
Firstly near where I live are the remains of a World War II RAF bomber station, the eastern end of its runway less than a mile away from a ruined Castle. From the air the sight of this Castle must have been very welcome to the crews as they returned from their missions.
Secondly I again came across references to “The Bowman” by Arthur Machen. This short story written in 1914 had such a profound affect that many thought it was true. That the ghosts of the archers of Agincourt lead by St George had come to the aid of modern warriors.
It is true the past does affect us even if we try to deny it; perhaps the ghosts of warriors do reach out and touch those that take up arms in a just cause.
Susan J. Boulton



T
he west battlement had withstood the storm of war and siege and weathered the unrelenting attentions of time, but the bomb had been too much. The massive stone emplacement shuddered, heaving up in a haze of powdered stone, toppling then to earth, chasing down the grass-lined sides of the ditch.
Six hundred feet above the crumbling castle a single word echoed down the length of a battered silver cigar. “Shit!”
It wasn’t the bomber’s fault or her crew’s; they had struggled back across the North Sea in the failing light of a winter’s day, with 500 pounds of high explosive stuck in the bomb bay.
This raid had been a typical one for the flying fortress with the innocuous name of “Freedom’s Sword”. In the three raids the craft had participated in this was the first one in which they had actually reached the target. The failure of two engines soon after take off had put paid to the first attack and a bout of food poisoning the second.
But even reaching the target and delivering most of their payload had left them with a very large black problem wedged in the bomb bay. The device had creaked, groaning its readiness to expand, as the crew had tried to free it during their flight back.
The thought of having to land the aircraft with a live explosive device wedged on the bomb rack, half way out of the plane, had sapped the remaining strength of the pilot. 
At twenty-two years of age, Lieutenant Roger Mason was responsible for all aboard “Freedom’s Sword”. In the dark time just before dawn the weight of this responsibility crept onto his chest like the old hag of legend, crushing the life out of him. Roger was afraid the fear that threatened to swamp him when the fortress’s wheels left the ground, would get the men killed.
‘The green light is on.’ The voice of Roger’s co-pilot tumbled out. ‘The landing gear’s freed itself…’ As the bomb had detonated it had had seemed to Mason that a large hand had thrown them forward towards the fast approaching airfield, the aircraft then had shook herself, steadying her flight. The tone of the struggling engines had sweetened and all the instruments seemed to be working behind their broken glass.
Mason had been very grateful for the fact that the spray of bullets had not hit any of the ship’s crew, though he truly believed “Freedom’s Sword” would soon become the latest tally mark on the fighter’s fuselage, the damage done was just too much.
‘Landing gear is down.’ Mason hissed, as he lined the fortress up, skimming down over the trees. ‘Hold tight this is going to be bumpy….’ But it was not; it was as smooth as a bolt of silk.
Freedom’s Sword” turned neatly into her place, the ground crew scurrying round her like ants as the weary crew dropped to the cold asphalt. Mason drew in a breath of winter-tainted air, and turned to the chief mechanic. But he never got to speak, the squat form of his senior officer stood bristling at the end of the dispersal pad. Mason winced and nodded to the mechanic instead trundling off, the words of his ball gunner echoing in his ears.
Don’t know what he has to moan about, that place was a ruin anyway.’
‘Course it was you fool.’ The co-pilot replied as he took a friendly swipe at the ball gunner’s head. ‘It was a bloody Castle, the British take pride in them places.’
‘Well they should bloody well look after them.’
Mason sighed and clambered into the truck to be driven down to debriefing.
The next day his chief mechanic accosted Mason as he left the mess. ‘Sir… you must have been pretty low when that bomb went off.’
Mason frowned. ‘Five, maybe six hundred feet, why?’
‘Well seems bits of that Castle hitched a ride, found them wedged in the fuselage near the tail.’ The Chief grinned and unwrapped the cloth from the bundle he was holding. There lay a shattered lump of stone, a gargoyle’s half face leering up and a shaft of rusted metal. Mason shook his head in wonderment and reached out for the strange passengers.
‘Quite an expression he has got,’ the chief laughed, as Mason turned the half gargoyle in his hand. ‘Good souvenir eh?’
‘Yes…’ Mason replied as he handed the stone back taking the pitted metal. The steel was some twenty inches long with a cross piece attached some eight inches from the corroded circle on it’s end, the rest of the bar looking as if it has been snapped off.
As his fingers closed on the bar Mason felt a wind whip through his soul, bringing with it the shouts and cries of ancient battle, the shadow of a fluttering banner shading his face from a sun that hung bright in the warm air. The bar had turned into a bright blade, and a gauntleted hand weighed on his shoulder, as a voice softly spoke. ‘We stand in this breach together brother, even if we fall the enemy shall not have victory.’
‘What did you say sir?’
‘I….’ Mason shook himself as the heavy dull English winter day closed in around him again. ‘It’s a sword…I think...?’
‘Don’t look like anything Errol Flynn would use.’ The mechanic quipped, as he took the time worn steel from Mason’s stack grip.
‘No… Chief… Is possible for you to fix this close to my seat… As a sort of good luck charm, I mean …’ Mason’s voice fumbled, the mechanic gave a gentle smile and nodded. 
The next mission Mason again felt the fear begin to gorge on his innards as the rubber tyres kissed the runway as they took their departure. His hand shifted for a second touching the old rusted metal welded close. The cries and the clash of steel again sounded, but so did the voice, comforting warming, giving him strength to face what had to be faced over the Ruhr and return.


A NOTE ON THE AUTHORESS 
Susan J. Boulton
has for more than a year ago given me the privilege to share some of her writings with me. Now, faced with my invitation, Sue has written a brilliant story, a piece of fiction that, like all that is not real, is based on memories revisited.
What is striking in this brilliant narrative is the fact that in such a short story Susan was able to blend her own memories with those of the castle pictured on top, as well as bring forward the topic of swords. Her choice of words is very rich, yet they may look casual. Indeed what is writing other then the difficult art of making important narratives sound beautifully simple?
António Conceição Júnior
BLADESIGN

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