How do Travel, Adventure and Good Pay sound to you? Can you handle a bow, a spear, perhaps a sword? Join a team of men and women to forever alter history--for better or worse. Come on! What's the worst that can happen? Sickness, death by misadventure, some mistake that drops you in the middle of nowhere, instant oblivion? Sure, but look on the bright side. Well... No, I can't actually describe the bright side--our project is confidential. But you do like adventure, don't you? And how's your attitude toward a bit of looting and pillaging?
Pierce lay on his side dreaming of peace, his view of the slaughter-field blocked by ranks of spearmen. He'd run the gamut of emotions today — fear, irrational calm, anger, exhilaration, apprehension, and fear again as battle waxed and waned.
Near an hour had passed since the last attack. The sun lowered, half hidden in banks of mist. A light breeze blew from the south, wafting serried clouds high overhead.
Buttermilk sky. How queer the name in this bloody place.
Better imagine those sun-glinting drifts Valkyries come to carry the slain to a Saxon Valhalla, there to feast and fight and be made whole again until Gotterdammerung. The swan-maidens would have heavy work this gore-soaked day.
In him they awaited a reluctant fighter a millennium out of time. What sense to travel so many years and miles to seek an early death? He felt a brief unreasoning anger at the man who'd brought him here.
Unreasoning... for none but Brian Pierce was ultimately to blame.
* * *
Swann's final shaft cleft a stunningly blue sky to the zenith before arcing down toward its goal ninety meters distant... only to strike in the black, contemptibly far from essential gold. Failure!
As if he needed more of it.
Family lost, profession gone — now even his hobby letting him down.
A wave of petulance hit him — disgust, anger, frustration with the entire sport of archery... And with plenty more. He longed to walk away, not even retrieving his arrows — to leave this useless, time-wasting piddle forever behind.
Trained his whole life to act the part of a man, he'd not change now — not give way because of one more paltry setback.
He unstrung his bow, resigned to playing a civil role a while longer.
* * *
In the study of a fine old home — two walls lined with books, plank floor dark and lustrous — sat a brawny strong-featured man, his dark hair streaked with gray. The Southern California sun, barely restrained by filmy curtains, beat in through tall windows as he spoke into the phone, his voice husky.
"Yes, I understand, and I hope you— No, no hard feelings. You have your— Well, thank— thank you for your— No, my discretion is— Certainly not, Colonel."
As a larger man entered, he turned to glower in disgust before returning to the phone.
"Absolutely. Under the circumstances you've pointed out— You've convinced— No— No, I simply have to give up this project. Yes— yes— Right."
He hung up, leaning back and giving a huge sigh.
"Colonel Radabaugh again, Mister Cam?"
Dimarico turned weary eyes toward the doorway.
"Who else? Hard to get a word in edgewise."
"You say you're quitting?"
"To shut him up. I'll never quit — you know that."
"He chicken out?"
"Wouldn't touch this deal with a barge pole. Concerned for his reputation if it became known he even talked to me... Yet he looked so good, Saipele — credentials and in person, too." Dimarico’s voice hardened. "But it seems there's a difference between a good man and the right man. And now... Now only one left, my friend. The least impressive of the entire bunch, with a questionable record to boot."
"Maybe not-so-good record better. He don't have to always worry about his rep — how he looks to other officers."
"I wonder..." Dimarico and the big man studied one another. "We're running so short of time I'm ready to consider anyone with fewer than three heads. And I am not going to drop it, regardless of what Radabaugh thinks he's talked me into."
"Look up the Marine?" Saipele sat before the desktop and started mousing. After several clicks, he said, "Maybe at that range today."
Dimarico looked at the clock and came to a decision, energy returning in a rush. "It's late but... let's move!"