Part 2 of "The Halloween Event."
THE STORY SO FAR
On 30 October 2017, shortly before midnight, the entire island of Britain is mysteriously transported 951 years into the past, a phenomenon known as "The Halloween Event" .
Ray Obaje, a passenger on the Liverpool-Dublin ferry, narrowly escapes with his life when the ferry is overrun by rampaging Gaelic Vikings. After washing up on the shore of Ireland, he begins to see visions of future events, and feels a connection to all-powerful otherworldly entities. Ray takes on a new identity as the “Blue Man,” a forest-dwelling soothsayer.
Meanwhile, the British Army prepares to repel the imminent invasion of Duke William of Normandy. A group of military defectors led by the enigmatic German known only as V.M. travels in secret to Normandy and offers William the use of a nuclear warhead. The British expect a quick victory against a primitive medieval army – instead most of their military capability is annihilated in atomic fire at the Second Battle of Hastings. William then conquers England and Wales; the ensuing war leaves the country in ruins.
After the Normans kill his parents, Gordy Stout, a linguistics student and avid backpacker, uses his unique set of skills to survive this strange post-apocalyptic England. In York, he meets an American nicknamed Freefall who convinces him to travel north to Scotland, which has managed to hold out against William.
It is then revealed that medieval Britain has appeared back in 2017. Harold Godwinson, King of England, holds a press conference with the American Vice President introducing himself to the modern world.
Ray Obaje snapped awake to frigid water swirling around his ankles and a film of blood obscuring his vision. He tried to get up but he was strapped to a chair. The water was rising swiftly. It cascaded past his hips and up and over his testicles. He gasped at the chill, wiping the blood from his eyes. He was on a jet plane. Half of one, anyway – a few rows ahead, the cabin was open to the air, torn cleanly in half.
He fumbled with the buckle of his seatbelt as the water rushed over his chest. That’s strange, he thought through his panic. I’m fat … and white. And so he was – the hairy, plump Caucasian hands frantically pulling at the straps were not his own.
The seatbelt clicked open just as the water enveloped Ray’s head completely. The water was inky dark, and within it a new vision formed. It was of Maureen, the woman Ray loved. She was naked in a stable, her face awash with tears and pressed down into the hay. A thin, blond-bearded man was raping her.
Ray recoiled, screaming, and his mouth filled with dark water. The rapist fixed his eyes upon him, and suddenly Ray could see into his mind. The King on the Mountain, he was thinking, over and over. The King on the Mountain, the King on the Mountain, the King on the Mountain –
Ray felt bile rising in the back of his throat and pitched forward, retching. He threw his hands out to brace himself, and they landed on soft green moss. His hands were black again and he was in a forest. The birds were singing, but it was not quite dawn. The vision had passed.
Eochaid, the Irishman who had dragged Ray from the sea, was sitting nearby, poking at the embers of their campfire with a stick. “What did you see, Blue Man?” he asked in Gaelic.
“Don’t call me that,” Ray said.
It was 24 April 1067, nearly seven months since the Halloween Event.
That night, in Buckingham Palace, William the Conqueror was taking refreshment with his half-brother Bishop Odo of Bayeux when the Red Phone rang.
“Guards, leave us,” the King said, and the two knights minding the door bowed and departed.
William considered the Red Phone for a moment, letting it ring with his hand hovering over the receiver.
“Is it him?” Odo asked.
William nodded, then picked up the phone. Odo watched his brother. The King listened stone-faced for a long while, then said, “I understand,” in Latin and hung up.
William said nothing, and Odo did not break the silence – he knew his brother well enough not to interrupt his thoughts.
“He’s going away for a while,” William finally said.
“Going where? For how long?”
“He did not say.”
“I don’t trust him,” Odo said, polishing off his glass of scotch.
“He gave us a kingdom, brother,” William said.
“To what end? Have you never questioned it?”
The King’s eyes were daggers. “Do you take me for a complete fool?”
Odo’s gaze fell to the floor. “No, sire.”
“I owe V.M. a debt,” William said, “and one day he will come to collect it. It is as certain as the return of the Christ.”
“I agree. But what does he want?”
“Power. What else?”
Odo shook his head. “He had power already. It is something else, something … spiritual. He knows something we don’t. Perhaps if we had him followed –”
“No!” William cried, and Odo was shocked to see his cheeks go ashen white. He had never seen such a terrified look on his brother’s face before, not in all their years together, and it intrigued him immediately. William reached out and clasped Odo’s hands in his. “Swear to me, brother,” the King said, “as you love me, and as you are my blood and as I am your liege – do not pry into the affairs of this man.”
“I swear to you,” Bishop Odo lied.
Gordy Stout and Freefall the American hitchhiked on wagon beds up the length of the A1 northbound. Gasoline was quickly becoming a thing of the past, and Gordy hadn’t seen a working car in two months. There were plenty of totaled ones, though – the motorway was choked with them. More than once, Gordy and Freefall had to push the wrecks off the road so their wagon could pass.
Outside Darlington, they caught a ride with a man driving a proper carriage. His name was Mike McTierney and before the Conquest he owned the northeast’s premier horse drawn carriage company. “Weddings, funerals, any occasion, really,” Mike explained, punching the wrinkles out of his top hat with a white-gloved fist. He was dressed to the nines but looked like he hadn’t bathed in a month, and liquor hung on his breath. “Going to the Wall, you two?”
“Yes,” Gordy said, surprised. “What gave us away?”
“You’re modern, and you’re walking north. Where else would you be going?” McTierney clambered onto the perch of his carriage. “Hop in. Introduce yourself to the others.”
Gordy and Freefall exchanged a look. The others?
Freefall opened the carriage door. Three people stared out at them – two skinny middle-aged women huddled beneath a blanket, and a pimpled adolescent boy wearing a black cloak fringed with fur.
“What’s up, y’all?” Freefall said as they climbed into their seats. “I’m Freefall. This is Godkiller.” McTierney whipped the horses and the carriage jerked into movement.
“You’re American,” one of the women said. “Don’t see many Americans these days. Sarah Kopp.” She extended her open hand – Freefall opted instead for a fist-bump. Shaking hands was dangerous now that hygiene was rare, and toilet paper was a positive luxury.
“And what’s your name, pretty lady?” Freefall asked the other woman, who was glaring at him like he had nine heads.
“Marge, my sister,” Sarah said. “She doesn’t talk much.”
“That’s okay,” Freefall said. “Nice to meet you, Marge.”
“’Godkiller?’ ‘Freefall?’ Are those your real names?” chimed the pimpled boy.
Gordy hated him immediately. “They’re our trail names,” he said.
The boy scoffed. “Trail names?”
“We’re hikers,” Freefall said. “At least, we used to be. On the trail, taking a nickname is traditional.”
The boy pondered that. “I should like a trail name. You may call me Lord Snow.”
Gordy looked him over, and realized that his outfit bore a conscious resemblance to the costume of the Game of Thrones character Jon Snow. “You don’t choose your own trail name. It’s given to you.”
“His name is Kevin,” Sarah said.
“Not anymore it’s not,” Kevin said.
“Do you think this is a game, Kevin?” Gordy was suddenly furious. “This isn’t a fucking TV show. You’re not going to the Wall to fuck a dragon lady. You’re going there to die, most like.”
“Whoa there, buddy,” Freefall said, not unkindly, and put his hand on Gordy’s knee. “Simmer down. Lord Snow’s on our side. Right?”
Kevin looked like he was about to draw his sword. “That remains to be seen.”
Sarah sighed. “Now, now, children,” she said, “play nicely, or it’ll be a bloody long ride.”
“You were wonderful, your majesty,” Vice President Mike Pence told King Harold Godwinson as they walked with their entourages from the podium and into Westminster Abbey. His translator, Professor Jackson Crawford of the University of Colorado, Boulder, relayed Pence’s words to the King in Old English. Pence turned to wave at the cameras one last time before the doors of the Abbey shut behind them.
“When will I meet your King?” Harold asked. “It is customary in my country that two new allies should meet face to face, and exchange the kiss of peace.”
Pence chuckled. “That’ll be the day. Professor Crawford, I don’t suppose there’s an Old English equivalent for ‘President,’ is there?”
“Not really, sir, no,” Crawford said.
“Never mind. ‘King’ it is then. Tell Harold that he will meet the King of America in good time. Tell him that our fidelity is assured, and that the United Kingdom and the United States have always been the firmest of friends.”
“England.” Crawford corrected him. “The concept of the United Kingdom doesn’t exist yet, sir.”
“No, not yet,” Pence said.
Harold listened intently to Crawford’s translation and said, “Let it be so. Lord Michael, you mentioned a proposition that would be beneficial to both our kingdoms.”
“I did, your majesty,” Pence said. “We find ourselves in truly extraordinary times. 10/30 was terrifying, inexplicable … tragic for millions. It’s turned our world upside down, frankly. I can’t imagine what it must be like for you and your people. But we can turn a negative into a positive. There are men in my country – leaders in business, science, and entertainment – who would pay a great deal of money for access to this island. As facilitator, you of course would receive an appropriate portion of the proceeds.”
Professor Crawford hesitated.
“Is there a problem?” Pence asked sweetly.
“No, Mr. Vice President,” he said.
“Good. Tell him.”
“Say on,” Harold said when Crawford had finished translating. “I would hear more of this.”
“My associates can tell you everything you need to know,” Pence said, beckoning two of his men forward. A gray-haired man in glasses bowed to the King and smiled. “Your majesty, this is Bob Iger. Bob is the CEO of the Walt Disney Company. And this is … sorry, what was your name again?”
“Dr. Gunter Vonmurdahl,” said the second man. He was a slight, handsome German who appeared to be in his mid-forties. “At your service.”
The ravens of the Tower of London were squawking outside as Odo of Bayeux slipped a gold piece into the goaler’s hand. “Thank you, m’lord,” the wretch said, and unlocked the cell door.
The cell was dusty and dim, and it took a while for Odo’s eyes to adjust to the gloom. He heard chains rattling in the corner, then a posh female voice. “Who is that?”
“Odo d’Bayeux, my lady. Le frère d’roi,” he said. His English was coming along well, though it was still hampered by his heavy Norman accent.
“Have you come to kill me?” the voice said.
“No. Not yet,” Odo said. “I am come to ask … some things. Questions.” Odo could see the prisoner now. She was an older woman, beautiful once perhaps, but imprisonment had aged her fast. Her hair was shock-white and hung in knots around her shoulders, and her eyes were sunken like the eyes of a corpse. She looked like a leper, or a mad old beggar. How far she has fallen, Odo marveled to himself. To think she was once a leader of her people.
“I cannot help you,” the Prime Minister said.
“Do you know l’homme that trick you?” Odo asked, and then corrected himself. “Not trick. How you say in English?”
“Betrayed,” she said.
“Oui. He who betrayed you.”
“If I did, he would be the one rotting in a cell, and you and your brother would be dead on a beach.” She rose and shuffled to the cell’s tiny barred window overlooking Tower Green. “William built that, you know.” She pointed to the White Tower. “Or he would have built it. I’ve tried wrapping my mind around the paradox of it all, but can’t seem to manage it.”
Odo was not in the mood for such wistful talk. “His name is V.M. The man who betrayed. I found this … peu tapisserie within his chambers.” He produced a photograph from within his robes and handed it to the PM. “Tell me … what is. I see V.M. is there, but … who are the other?”
She squinted at it. It was hard to see without her glasses, but she could tell it was a black and white image of a group of well-groomed men. “Could you point out this V.M.?”
Odo did so.
“He must be long in the tooth.” When she saw Odo’s befuddled look, she added, “Is he an old man? This picture looks very old.”
Odo was even more confused. “It is as he is,” he said, pointing to V.M.’s grinning face. He looked the same age in the photo as he did in life: mid-forties and graying slightly around the temples.
The PM gave the photograph a closer look; then she gasped, startling him. “What is that on their armbands?”
“It is a sigil.” To Odo it looked like a fretted cross.
“Draw it,” she said.
Odo picked up a small, sharp rock from the cell floor and inscribed the symbol onto the wall.
“That’s not possible,” the PM said. “That is the mark of our worst enemies. Are you quite sure that this V.M. isn’t an extremely old man?”
Odo nodded. He was getting frightened now. He remembered the night they had met V.M. and his conspirators in Normandy. Are you the devil? William had asked, and oh, how V.M. had laughed and laughed and laughed.
The PM turned the photograph over in her hand. “Can you read that writing on the back, just there? What does it say?”
They were the Saracen numerals that the Nouvelle Anglais used. Odo was passingly familiar with them. “One … nine … three … eight,” he read.
“Good Lord,” the PM said. “1938. My dear Odo, this photograph is eighty years old.”
Hadrian’s Wall hardly deserved a capital “W.”
In contrast to the Trumpian proportions of Gordy’s imagination, the rebuilt Wall at its junction with the A1 northbound was decidedly squat, and not much more impressive than what it must have been like during its Roman heyday. It stood a little over twenty feet high, and was clearly constructed with whatever the Scots could find – bricks, boulders, and re-appropriated sections of old buildings, with barbed wire lined just below the crenels.
A pestering northern rain was falling as the carriage made its approach to the gate, made of two great sheet metal doors on hulking hinges. It looked like something out of Mad Max.
“Who goes there?” a Scottish voice called from the battlements.
“We’re modern,” Gordy heard McTierney shout, “and friendly!”
“What night is QI on?” the Scotsman asked.
A pause. “Open the gate!” The order echoed and the doors creaked open. McTierney urged the horses on. Gordy leaned out of the carriage window. He spotted murder holes directly above them as they passed under the gatehouse. At least there’s that, he thought.
“What do you think they got in there? King Kong?” Freefall said. He smiled at everyone and received only blank stares. “C’mon, y’all. Don’t tell me nobody’s seen Jurassic Park.”
“We’re fucked,” Kevin said.
Gordy could agree with him on that. “William’s going to punch right through this Wall like a hot rock through tissue paper.”
“Better than nothing,” Sarah said. “I’m just glad it’s here at all.”
“Amen, sister. So it’s not what we thought. Life is full of unpredictability,” Freefall said.
The carriage was slowing. Kevin pushed open the door and hopped out.
“See,” Freefall said, “who could have predicted that Lord Snow would jump out of a moving vehicle just now? That’s chaos theory.”
“Please mate, give it a rest, will you?” Gordy said. He grabbed his pack and followed Kevin out into the rain. North of the Wall, the Scots had set up a village of tents. Their horses took shelter in a single shoddily built stable, and the only vehicles Gordy could see were two old army lorries parked lopsided in the mud.
They were approached by a group of men and women that could only generously be called soldiers. Most of them were Gordy’s age or younger. They wore black fatigues with patches of the cross of St. Andrew sewn to their shoulders and were lightly armored with football and rugby pads. Most carried swords, but a few were armed with clubs and cricket bats. One unfortunate lad was leaning against a homemade spear that was just a long dowel with a screwdriver gaffer-taped to the end.
“Who is Lord Commander here?” Kevin asked.
“That’d be me.” A tall, portly Scot in his late-thirties, the only soldier carrying a gun, stepped forward. “Major Knox. New recruits, are you?”
“Aye,” Kevin said. “We’ve come to take the black.”
Gordy’s face fell into his palm. Freefall leaned over. “Take the what now?”
“It’s a Game of Thrones thing,” Gordy said.
A chuckle spread amongst the Scottish soldiers. “I’m not sure I get the joke,” said Major Knox, who couldn’t tell a Lannister from a lemon cake. “Have you come to fight or not?”
“We have, major,” Gordy said.
“Good. We need everyone we can get,” Knox said.
Over the following days, they were lightly trained and debriefed. Scottish intelligence indicated that William planned to attack the Wall at the A1 – it was the quickest route north – but just in case, the Scots were reinforcing the M6 junction just east of Carlisle as well.
They were given uniforms and fighting kit, including wound dressings and gas masks, and offered superior weapons. Gordy picked out a very fine gladius that the quartermaster said had come from an upscale souvenir shop on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.
Freefall covered his uniform with little trinkets he had collected in his travels. His pièce de la resistance was a patch of Captain America’s shield he scrounged from a comic book store in Durham, which he sewed proudly over his heart. Sarah and Marge Kopp enthusiastically took to their training, and Marge was not half bad with a longbow. Even Kevin took his responsibilities seriously, and Gordy rarely heard him winge or complain.
By night, they shared sleeping space (and a loo) with twenty other recruits, and come daybreak were jolted awake by reveille for drill. Drill, chow, drill, chow, sleep – rinse and repeat. Gordy never dreamed he would become a soldier, but didn’t find the life too disagreeable. It was simple and direct. It reminded him of the trail.
A fortnight after their arrival, they were officially inducted into the Scottish Army, which involved swearing an oath to protect the Republic of Scotland unto death.
Gordy made this oath against his better judgment. The political situation in Scotland was precarious. After the Second Battle of Hastings, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP had quickly swept in to restore order – and, some would say, aggrandize herself. Parliament voted her emergency powers, and she gave defiant speeches about fighting to the last. She was like a cross between Winston Churchill and Joan of Arc. People began calling her “Lady Nicola” as a joke, but the name caught on, and behind closed doors her most fervent supporters started to call her Queen.
None of this seemed to bother Freefall. “Better the devil you know,” he told Gordy over chow one night.
More recruits from the south arrived every day, and with them came dire news: William’s armies were gathering near London, and the Conqueror was hell-bent on invading Scotland.
“Forty thousand is what they’re saying now,” Sarah said. She and Gordy were on night sentry duty. It was mid-May 1067, and they had been at Hadrian’s Wall for nearly a month.
“They exaggerate the number, I expect,” Gordy said, but he knew that an army a quarter of that size would be more than enough to storm the Wall. Including the newest arrivals, the Scottish garrison was four hundred strong at most.
A few minutes into their watch they ran out of things to say, and stood in silence for a while looking out over the dark, damp countryside.
“You know, Gordy,” Sarah said in a wavering voice, “I can barely remember what my kids look like.”
Gordy looked at her. She was crying. “I didn’t know you had kids,” he said.
She nodded and reached for him. Profound grief welled up inside him, quick as a flash flood. He realized he needed to be held, needed it more than food or water or rest.
They clutched each other and held the embrace for what felt like hours.
The cottage was old, abandoned, and out of the way, far from any of the main trails through the Great Wood. When they first threw open the entry flap, a family of mice had scurried over their feet. Ray could only imagine what Maureen would have made of it. She’s a wee bit of a fixer-upper.
“You want to live here?” Eochaid asked, incredulous. “It’s the middle of fucking nowhere.”
“That’s the point,” Ray said, scratching at his scars.
It was beyond question that he was meant to dwell here. Ray’s life had operated on dream logic ever since he came to Ireland, and the coincidences and omens were too many to be ignored. How had he learned Gaelic so quickly? He was rubbish at languages in school. Why had it been friendly Eochaid to find him? Friendly, lonely, superstitious Eochaid, who thought nothing of following a disfigured Blue Man on a spiritual quest?
His dreams and visions, while never quite lucid, were starting to coalesce into some semblance of sense. He knew he had come to this cottage to die, for instance. The details were unclear – Ray saw twisting smoke, a flashing blade, and bizarrely, trace images of scenes from the Star Wars movies – but he knew they meant death.
The only thing that still truly puzzled him was that horrific recurring nightmare of the fat man struggling to escape the sinking plane. Sometimes he saw Maureen in the dream; sometimes he saw a flat plateau of a mountain shrouded in mist, and sometimes he was chased by a terrifying monster with the head of a moose, the wings of a bat, the torso of a man and the legs of an eagle.
The morning after their first night at the cottage, Ray shook Eochaid awake. “It’s time to go,” he said.
“Praise be to God,” Eochaid said. “You’ve come to your senses, then? Where shall we go?”
“Not we. You. Your quest is accomplished.”
The look of dejection on the Irishman’s face broke Ray’s heart. “How can that be?”
“If you stay here, you will die,” Ray said.
“Then I’ll die. I have no one but you, Blue Man.”
“You will go to Dublin. You will tell the people my story. I have foreseen it.”
His protests continued all morning, but in the end Eochaid had no choice but to leave. It was his destiny, after all.
The Blue Man watched the last friend he would ever have disappear into the forest, and when he was alone, he rummaged around in his ragged jacket pocket for Ray Obaje’s last earthly possession. His phone, wallet, smokes, and keys were long gone, but this one trinket had survived both the frigid sea and a seven-month trek across half the wilderness of Ireland. He would have presented it to Maureen Regan during a late-night stroll over the Ha’penny Bridge during their Dublin holiday, but now Maureen was enslaved or worse, and Ray was finally dead.
The Blue Man crushed the ring with a rock and buried the pieces under a fir tree in the deepest heart of the Great Wood.
That night, the nightmare returned.
He saw the mountain. Hundreds of olive-skinned men, slaves perhaps, were passing stones in a line up a precarious slope. A fat white woman wearing red horn-rimmed glasses was striking them with a whip and urging them on.
Above the treeline, more slaves were stacking the stones, constructing what looked like a mighty castle. The view was incredible – the Blue Man could see for hundreds of miles around, a vast green wilderness of rolling hills and sparkling lakes.
A high roar echoed across the bald mountaintop, and the Blue Man’s heart began to pound. The clouds parted and He came forth, His wings kicking up gusts like a landing helicopter, His huge talons clutching the rock as He lighted to the earth.
The slaves dropped what they were doing and prostrated themselves, chanting in perfect modern English: “Hail Pamola, the King on the Mountain. May his enemies cower before Him! May their walls crumble! May their wives submit to shame! Hail Pamola, the Living God, Pharaoh of the World!”
Preparations for the Scottish campaign were complete. A host of Normans, English turncoats, and mercenaries from the Continent were assembled at Hampstead Heath, just north of London – five thousand cavalry, thirteen thousand infantry, eight hundred archers, and two hundred siege enginers.
The night before the army was to march north, Odo of Bayeux visited his personal chapel at St. James’s Palace to pray for victory. He did not notice the dark figure sitting in the pews until it was too late.
A bang, a flash, and Odo felt pain like he had never known flare up in his gut. A red rose of blood blossomed on his tunic, and he crumpled to his knees in front of the altar.
V.M. emerged from the shadows. “Forgive me, Bishop Odo. I was aiming for your heart.”
“Who are you?” Odo demanded, wincing. It hurt to speak.
“You know who I am,” V.M. said.
“What do you want?” His voice reverberated against the chapel walls.
V.M. sighed. “It’s so conceited, don’t you think? Explaining one’s plans to a dying man. I would just as soon save my breath.”
“For a man like you?” Odo was wheezing. “It must be a clever plan.”
“How flattering,” V.M. said.
“The Prime Minister told me you were something called a Not-See, long ago,” Odo said.
V.M. laughed. “I was a devoted National Socialist, yes. Those were the best years of my life … and the worst. Such potential, wasted by cowardice and stupidity.”
“And immortality? How did you manage it?”
“That would be telling,” V.M. said. “I should thank you, Bishop Odo. You and your brother have played your part well.”
Odo’s heartbeat was slowing, and he fought to stay conscious. “William will have you pulled apart by horses.”
V.M. knelt beside him. “William will not avenge you. He and all your people are mine.”
“God shall judge you then,” Odo said. His vision was clouding, wobbling, fading fast. “For I go to meet the Father.”
“I have traveled from one end of this reality to the other,” V.M. said, smiling, “and I have never seen your God. Death is simply … the end.”
Despair gripped Odo. He lost his balance and fell to his back.
The last things he heard were V.M.’s footsteps – the last thing he saw was a widening pool of his own blood upon the chapel floor.
The bulk of King William’s army took the A1 northbound and reached Hadrian’s Wall at 17:04 on 8 June 1067. They remained in place for two days to assemble four great siege towers and give their slower-moving troops time to catch up.
Lady Nicola had arrived from Edinburgh earlier in the week at the head of an army of two thousand Highlanders. They made a brave showing with their kilts, war paint, and homemade armor, but even with reinforcements the Scots were outnumbered three to one.
Early on the morning of 10 June, the Normans broke camp and advanced in formation. Scottish trumpets sounded, and Gordy and Kevin joined the youngest and most able-bodied soldiers on the battlements. Gordy wished Freefall were there with him, but the American was assigned to a company in reserve, and orders were orders.
The Normans halted in the grass about a hundred meters from the Wall, just out of range of the Scottish archers. The infantry parted and a single rider trotted ahead into the no-man’s land. He wore a Kevlar vest embroidered with the three lions of England, a shimmering steel plate gorget, and the smuggest smile Gordy had ever seen.
“Soldiers of Scotland,” he called in English. “You have done nothing that cannot be forgiven! King William is just and fair. He will allow you to return unmolested to your homes on one condition. Bring us Sturgeon! It is she the Normans want. Deliver us the Lady Nicola, surrender the Wall, and you may leave here in peace.”
A cheer broke out among the soldiers to Gordy’s left, and for a moment he thought they were accepting the offer – then he spotted Lady Nicola among them. He had never seen such a petite mouse of a woman look so menacing. Her head was shaved to stubble and she was clad in gleaming white armor with spikes protruding from the breastplate. Her standard bearer hoisted the flag of St. Andrew, and it unfurled proudly in the northern breeze.
“Alba! Alba! Alba!” the men were shouting, banging their swords upon their shields.
“Nigel, is that you?” Lady Nicola called back.
Gordy squinted. The horseman was carrying a banner depicting a purple lion’s head on a white field, the new party logo of UKIP.
“That’s bloody Nigel Farage,” Kevin said. “Twat!”
Lady Nicola spat. “Ironic, isn’t it, Nigel? A year after Brexit and you’re here, kissing European arse!” A hearty Scottish jeer went up at this remark.
“You’ve always been an excellent talker, Nikki,” Farage said, his voice quivering with anger. “Let’s see how well you fight.” He wheeled his horse away and galloped back to the Norman lines.
“Get ready, lads,” Major Knox said from behind them. “When they hit, they’re going to hit hard.”
Norman skirmishers ran forward, spread out in loose formation, carrying huge shields almost as big as doors. Gordy put on his helmet.
“Archers!” Knox called, and the Scottish bowmen pushed past the infantry to get into position by the crenels.
“Nock … draw … loose!”
A volley sprung from their bows, pin-cushioning the skirmishers’ shields but doing little real damage. Orders for a second volley echoed across the battlements.
“Nock … draw …”
The skirmishers stopped, and two men popped out from behind each shield – men with assault rifles and grenade launchers.
The summer air burst with the crackle of gunfire. Gordy fell flat, just as bullets whipped the parapet above him. To his right, several archers were riddled with lead, their arms flailing grotesquely as they fell.
An explosion to the left shook his bones and suddenly, smoke was everywhere and Gordy could no longer breathe. He tore his helmet off.
Another explosion, a wretched metallic crash, and then there was silence as the dust settled.
Gordy dared to look. A whole section of the Wall by the gate had been nearly blown away, reduced to a heap of twisted metal by grenades. A battle cry spread through the Norman army, and their cavalry thundered forward.
Knox ran down to ground level, taking the steps two by two. “Plug the breach! Now!”
A Scotsman clambered into one of the old army lorries and fired the ignition. He changed gears, hit the accelerator, and the front wheels spun uselessly – stuck in the mud.
“Get that fucking lorry up!” Knox yelled. The Norman cavalry, cantering now, was nearly upon them. A few of the horses caught arrows and went down, but the knights were not stopping.
A group of Highlanders rushed in to push the lorry free. The driver floored it and the wheels flung mud back at them, soaking their kilts. “Big push,” one of them said, “In three … two …”
The Normans were so close Gordy could make out the engravings on the pommels of their swords.
“One!” With a great heave the lorry sprang forward and hurtled toward the breach. The Normans got there first, but only just – the lorry hit the first knight head-on and his horse’s head pancaked against the grill, leaving a meaty streak of blood. The Normans further back turned their horses at the last moment, but the first four ranks of the charge were caught under the wheels and ground into paste. The impact sent the driver flying through the windshield, which shattered on his head – he thudded against the bonnet and landed, twitching, onto a fresh pile of dead horses and men. A dismounted Norman came over to him and hacked his chest open with an axe.
Scottish arrows chased away the rest of the cavalry, but then horns were blowing and the Norman siege towers rumbled toward the Wall.
“Are they out of ammo?” Kevin asked Gordy. The Scots’ own supply of firearms and ammunition was pitifully small, and the gunners were waiting in reserve, to be committed only in the end game.
“I don’t know,” Gordy said. He couldn’t keep his hands from shaking.
The siege towers were made of wood, and reinforced with multicolored sheets of metal that Gordy reckoned were torn off of old cars. The Normans were pushing two of the towers toward either side of the gate – the other two were headed for sections of Wall farther out, on the Scots’ lightly defended flanks.
The archers nocked their arrows, and a score of men went down the line handing out Molotov cocktails and BIC lighters. “Remember lads,” Knox said, “those towers reach the Wall, we all die. Bring them down!”
The archers loosed a high volley, arcing over the towers and thwacking into the Normans that pushed them.
Knox watched the towers carefully, and when the timing was right, he said, “Light your Molotovs!”
Kevin’s rag went up with a whoosh, but when Gordy flicked the wheel of his BIC, it only spat up some sparks.
“Let me,” Kevin said, lighting it for him.
A fireball erupted just feet away from them and the blast bowled Gordy over and singed his fatigues. Someone had dropped their Molotov, and now the three men to his right were writhing in flames.
“Get them off the Wall!” Knox said. Gordy and a few others pushed the burning men off the balustrade and into the mud twenty feet below. It was a hard landing, but Freefall and some soldiers of the reserve were close at hand with fire extinguishers.
“How you doing, kid?” Freefall asked when the fires were finally out.
“Been better,” Gordy said.
“Quiet in the ranks!” Knox said. “Prepare to throw!”
The siege towers were about twenty meters from the Wall when the first Molotov flew. It fell pitifully short, exploding on the pavement of the A1 not far from the gate.
“Not yet!” Knox shouted, but even as he spoke three more were in the air. “Wait for the order, you cunts!”
The archers loosed another volley as the towers creaked ever closer. Gordy could see the vanguard clearly – they were heavy infantry, well armored with nasal helms, mail, and Kevlar. A Norman soldier stole a glance up at them before ducking back behind his kite shield. He showed no sign of fear.
“Now!” Knox said at last, and hundreds of Molotovs sailed over the Wall. They hovered in the air for a moment, or so it seemed to Gordy, flickering like oversized fireflies; then they descended and crashed home.
Fire engulfed the siege towers and the soldiers behind them in an enormous billowing wave, bathing the Wall in heat and light. First came cheers – “Alba! Alba!” – then came screams, high pitched and desperate, and the sickly sweet smell of cooked meat. One Norman ran from his siege tower, clawing at his burning head, and the skin of his face came off in his hands. His wails of agony were mercifully cut short by an arrow shearing his throat.
“Look out!” a Scottish voice called, and a flaming siege tower burst through the smoke directly ahead of Gordy and Kevin.
“Fuck!” Gordy pulled his helmet back on, drew his gladius and looped his shield onto his forearm.
“Listen,” Kevin said. “I know I can be a knob sometimes.”
Gordy almost laughed. “You’re all right, Kevin.”
“You’re with me on this one?” Kevin asked. His eyes were wet and pleading.
“Yeah,” Gordy said. “I’m with you.”
The tower kissed the Wall, and moments later its ramp dropped open, falling with a deafening thud over the crenels.
The enemy came at a run. Gordy lashed out with his sword at the first ankle he could reach – the blade cut deep, the Norman collapsed, and a Scot with a hatchet finished the job.
Gordy raised his shield and someone hit it, hard. The blow sent the wood slamming painfully into his wrist. Another heavy blow, and splinters flew – the shield was cracking.
“Don’t just stand there, Godkiller! Malky the bass!” Major Knox ran forward, screaming, and stabbed a Norman deep up the groin, spilling his intestines onto the ramp.
Gordy peeked over his shield to see a big Norman rearing back, his spear aimed at Gordy’s head. Gordy instinctively stepped to the side just as the spear thrust forward. The force of the lunge tripped the Norman up, and he careened off the ramp and onto the battlements, landing on his hands and knees.
Gordy kicked off the big Norman’s helmet and brought his sword down as hard as he could onto the back of the man’s neck. It went halfway through before catching on his spine. The body shook, spasmed, then went limp. Gordy had never killed anyone before. First came horror, then, terrifyingly, the raw thrill of power, coursing through his blood like adrenaline.
A torrent of Normans from the tower jumped from the ramp all at once, knocking the Scots back to the balustrade. Kevin was hacking wildly with his sword and shrieking. Someone hit Gordy’s helmet and he staggered back, ears ringing. A helmetless Norman had gotten the best of Kevin and was bashing him with his shield, so Gordy stabbed him in the side of the face with a quick, nasty thrust that severed his jaw completely.
Blood squirted into the slit of Gordy’s helmet, stinging his eyes. He fought blindly until the press of battle closed around him. Before long he could neither raise his shield nor swing his sword, so he stood there, jostling and helpless, listening to himself hyperventilate and waiting for the relief of death.
Then, miraculously, the compression eased and he had room to move again. The Scots were cheering. He pulled off his helmet and wiped the blood and sweat from his eyes.
The Normans were retreating.
Gordy looked down. Kevin was lying on his back atop a mess of corpses. His dead hands were clutching the spear that had impaled him, and dark arterial blood was oozing from his wide-open mouth.
The Scots around Gordy were all strangers. Major Knox was nowhere to be seen. A Highlander sat nearby with his sword across his lap, panting and staring at nothing. A Scotsman in black fatigues caught Gordy’s gaze. “Victory, eh?” he said, then leaned over the crenels and vomited.
The cheers faded and Gordy heard a new noise coming on the wind, a sound he hadn’t heard since the Halloween Event: rap music. Others were hearing it too. They gathered at the crenels to stare into the smoke that still hung thickly over the Wall.
Now Gordy could hear distant French chanting, and he remembered with a horrible sinking feeling just how many Normans there were left to kill.
“Blatte, blatte, blatte, blatte …”
“The fuck they on about?” the vomiting man asked.
“Blatte means cockroach,” Gordy said.
An engine revved somewhere in the smoke. The rap music was getting louder now, and accompanied by the rhythmic tapping of a caterpillar track.
“Clear the gate!” someone shouted, too late.
A brown World War II-era light tank sped into view, blasting music from speakers fixed to the turret. Two battering rams were welded to the front, extended out like the antennae of a cockroach. It barreled into the gate, smashing it off its hinges effortlessly. The doors fell, crushing the Scots that were unfortunate enough to be standing nearby.
Every unwounded soldier raced toward the new breach, and Gordy was swept up in the swell of rushing Scots. The blatte reversed and a horde of charging Norman infantry appeared, howling, behind it.
A hand grasped Gordy’s shield arm. He whirled around.
“You’re alive,” Freefall said. “Thank Christ. Lord Snow?”
Gordy shook his head. “Sarah? Marge? Your lot?”
“I don’t know. Everybody got mixed up.”
Lady Nicola rode past them on horseback. “Shield wall! Form up, form up! Gunners to the battlements!”
“It’s come down to it, then,” Gordy said.
Norman swords slammed into Scottish shields. The gunners ran up to the crenels, armed with bolt-action rifles and low-caliber pistols. They picked their targets carefully and made every bullet count. “Murder holes!” Lady Nicola shouted, and hot oil poured onto the heads of the Normans beneath the gatehouse. Every Scottish soldier was committed now, and that meant victory or death.
Gordy and Freefall found places in the shield wall a few ranks from the back. The carnage was terrific – the front lines of both armies were chewing each other up at an astounding rate. It would not be long before Gordy and Freefall found themselves in the meat grinder.
Gunshots reverberated from behind the Scottish tents, and above them a few of the gunners snapped back in a mist of blood. The fighting at the gate slowed, and there was an inexplicable moment of quiet, like the rare silence that will sometimes overcome a crowded pub.
“Oh shite.” Lady Nicola was whispering, but Gordy could hear her perfectly. “They’ve got behind us.”
Gunfire erupted again, and a dozen modern troopers in blue camouflage and Black Ops gear leapt from behind the tents, shooting indiscriminately.
The Scots in the back ranks of the shield wall turned around only to be met by a hail of M16 fire. A bullet ricocheted off Gordy’s sword, and a second later another took his right index finger clean off. He grabbed his right hand with his left and yelped in pain, blood pumping over his fist.
A spray of bullets hit Freefall in the legs and torso; he grunted and dropped to the mud. Gordy jumped on top of him.
Lady Nicola drew a Glock pistol and emptied the clip into the troopers, killing three of them. Her horse reared up, whinnying madly. “Masks!” she shouted at the Scots. “Get your masks on!”
“Did she say masks?” Freefall asked.
Gordy nodded, pulling his gas mask out of his pack. Plenty of the Scots were doing likewise, though most were too busy with the advancing Norman infantry, which had pushed past the gatehouse and was gaining ground.
“Where’s yours?” Gordy asked, rummaging through Freefall's pack.
“Damn. It was there this morning,” Freefall said with a sad smile.
“Take mine,” Gordy said, and moved to strap it on him.
“Don’t be an asshole,” Freefall said. “Put it on.”
A pair of Scottish soldiers in PH helmets and respirators pulled the canvas cargo cover off of the one intact army lorry. Underneath was a gigantic, rusted metal cistern. They pulled a lever and clouds of yellow-green gas spurted out across the battlefield.
The troopers pulled Lady Nicola from her horse as she was reloading her Glock. A score of Highlanders swarmed in to save her and were gunned down one by one. “My lady!” someone cried.
“Don’t worry, lads,” Lady Nicola said as they dragged her away. Reaching into the sleeve of her hauberk, she produced a cylindrical detonator topped by a red button. “Oi, pricks,” she said to the troopers. “Better kneel down … cause you’re about to suck my cock.” She screwed her eyes shut and depressed the button with her thumb.
The explosion incinerated the troopers and arced fire high into the air, giving the yellow gas a ghostly backlight.
The gas had already reached the meat grinder – Norman and Scot alike were doubling over and wheezing – and it soon grew so thick that Gordy could barely see Freefall, let alone the chaos around them. It felt like they were the only two people left on planet Earth. Freefall coughed wetly, and kept coughing. Blood and spittle trickled into his beard. Gordy cradled his head and wept into the gas mask.
The coughing fit subsided, and Freefall’s breathing slowed to nearly nothing. Then his eyes opened wide, and his face twisted into a visage of absolute horror.
“He’s on Katahdin, Gordy,” he whispered, and died.
Detachment No. 4 of 702 Naval Air Squadron, formerly of Her Majesty’s Coastguard, confirmed a reported sighting of a curious seafaring vessel in the Firth of Clyde late in the morning of 17 June 1067 and officially notified the regional Maritime Agency office in Glasgow at 12:35 that afternoon.
Most of the Glasgow City Police had been conscripted into military service after Hadrian’s Wall, but the acting chief superintendent, Lieutenant David Bateman, gathered as many officers as he could find and marched in force to Glasgow Harbor.
The vessel came within sight at 13:51. She was seventy meters long, had three tall masts and sported enormous stitched sails. Her metallic hull was dotted by small windows and bore a strange legend that the police soon realized was upside down: BRITISH AIRWAYS.
The ship dropped anchor and the crew lowered a single huge woman into a canoe moored on the starboard side. She was elephantine, three hundred pounds at least, and wore red lipstick, a red dress, and red horn-rimmed glasses. When she had paddled over, the officers lifted her out of the canoe and up onto the dock. “Geez,” she said, breathing hard. “I got to hit the gym!”
Lieutenant Bateman gaped at her, then at her mode of transportation. “Where did you come from … in that?”
“From America,” she said. “Obvi. My name’s Colleen Grabowski, and that’s British Airways Flight 4521. We left Heathrow for JFK on Halloween last year. Got to New York, and let me tell you, that landing was rough.”
“Incredible,” Bateman said. “Welcome back. Let’s get you and your friends something to eat.”
“Bad idea,” Grabowski said, shaking her head. “My friends can’t leave the ship. Bad immune systems. You know Indians.”
Bateman was flabbergasted. “Can’t say that I do.”
“Hey, after lunch, I’m gonna need to see the Queen,” Grabowski said.
“The Queen? She’s been dead for months.”
She frowned. “Oh, that’s terrible. I am just so sorry for your loss. I’m gonna need to see the new Queen, then. Or King. Is it a King or a Queen now?”
“A King,” Bateman said, “but he’s dead too.”
“What a mess! It’s lucky for you that I’m here. I brought you guys a message. It’s from God.”
“From God?” Bateman was skeptical. “Father, Son, Holy Ghost, all that?”
The red woman laughed. “Not your God, silly. The God. The King on the Mountain.”
The story concludes in "Invalid Item" .