The Fiction of Philip Kaveny
It was an hour before sunrise on the eve of the second battle Culloden June 22nd in the year of our lord 2045. The fog hung densely, nearly frozen, over the heather as the campfires burned down to glowing embers. No morning birds sang because their foresight bade they go elsewhere yet the trees were heavy with ravens and crows (the Celtic Gods of war, whose same foresight told them that to come early for a great feast after the battle that day, before the vultures came from as far as the Caucuses. Besides, they preferred their meat aged, since it would be a time before the dead were buried.
Field Army Commander Captain Tommy Burns shared something with the birds of war for he knew that if Scotland was to live free forever he would not live out the day. So he called his 1st lieutenant and second in command Fenwick McLeod a man who he loved like a son or younger brother and said as he shoved the barrel of his Brown Bess musket under Fenwick’s chin. Fenwick my boy,
“I know you were shagging my wife Marjorie for the month when I was off fighting the rebel Clan’s in the highlands, and I know that she is carrying your child not mine, which is the reason that you don’t have a musket ball through the top of your head. So instead of killing you I am going to make you make me a promise on all that you hold sacred
Then Tommy Burns said,
Fenwick my boy,
Then Fenwick heard Tommy pull the musket hammer back, a second click, to full cock, followed by the sound of the hammer squishing harmlessly against Tommy’s thumb.
Tommy did not even acknowledge the pain of his smashed thumb as he said.
“That’s the reason that you don’t have a musket ball through the top of your head. So instead of killing you, I am going to make you promise me something on all you hold sacred, if I die in battle today you will do this thing. “
Then Tommy smiled because he knew that for the rest of Fenwick’s natural life, he would have to live up to his promise. Tommy was now ready to die for the centuries old cry of a free Scotland, he did so by drawing the heads of a score of English pikes to his heart putting himself at the apex of a deadly Japanese fan so that Robert could lead his men through the breach in the line that became a raging torrent. That same torrent of Scots washed away the entire front of the English line to make the battle a bloody standstill. The English dream of a United Kingdom died at the second battle of Culloden.
“I know you were shagging my wife Marjorie for the month when I was off fighting the rebel Clan’s in the highlands, and I know that she is carrying your child not mine, which is the reason that you don’t have a musket ball through the top of your head. So instead of killing you I am going to make you make me a promise on all that you hold scared..
Then Tommy smiled because he knew that for the rest of his natural life as long as it might be Fenwick McLeod would envy him. Tommy was now ready to die for centuries old cry of a free Scotland, and he so by drawing the heads of a score of English pikes to his heart to put himself at the apex of a deadly fan so that Fenwick could lead the men through the breach that became a raging torrent that washed away the front line to make the battle a bloody standstill.
The next decade was not kind to Fenwick McLeod, his father disinherited him, and the professions at the University of Edinburgh expelled him, even medicine, by the middle of the 21st had reverted to a kind of butchery in which suffering was viewed as humanity’s penance for eating the bitter fruit of good and evil, and some said that Fenwick McLeod, had taken a hand in the resurrection trade of cadaver snatching, after he was given Edinburgh Medical school gave him his walking papers. Now Fenwick McLeod had enough of this world as he stood on the brink at the end of his rope, yet there was a horror and beauty in the death that awaited him, as the events of the second battle Culloden was alms of oblivion, in what Fenwick was sure were the last instances of his wretched life.
The moonbeams raced then slashed stretching like silver greyhounds across the sparkling shimmering surface of the river Ness. It was half past midnight in the city of Inverness Scotland. It was still as Christmas Eve in the year of our Lord 2056, even though it was the 22nd of June. The neon clock faces on the Guinness Beer billboard that overlooked the city, showed it was half past midnight only a couple of hours from sunrise on the morning of the summer solstice. Incidentally the Guinness billboard was one of the few electric things that still worked in Scotland since her bloody devolution from the United Kingdom eleven years before in 2045. That bloody devolution was just part of the wave of death, pestilence, war and chaos which swept across the planet Earth in the first half of the 21st Century, leaving the planet’s population to stabilize at pre-1800 levels, and making nearly all sources of petro-chemical energy useless.
“But the sun will not rise this morning for me”
Fenwick McLeod, softy and drunkenly slurred to himself. Robert was 26 and half years old and a full six foot four and a half inches tall. His long auburn hair and spread unbraided across the middle of the back of his lace shirt, and his steel blue gray eyes seemed to burn like they had smoldering charcoal embers behind them. Encased and protected, as they were, by high, almost Slavic, cheekbones and heavy brows which stood in mark contrast to his small nose and fine fair skin, and small but powerful artistic hands.
Fenwick was not planning to see another sunrise because he was about jump into the river Ness with a two stones weight of rocks sewed into the overly large pockets of his sail cloth jeans. That was to make certain that if the fifty foot dive didn’t break his , the weight of the rocks would make certain he didn’t come up for air even if he lost his nerve and wanted to.
In the morning, Fenwick McLeod would be just one more really, and I mean really, dead drunk that they fished out of the river Ness, just as they had so many times before. Fenwick would be just another guy that died when he didn’t have to, for reasons that nobody understood. Fenwick was to just another selfish bastard for mothers, and fathers, sisters, brothers, and lovers to mourn, till time and eternity wore the ageless Caledonian mountains away as they tortured themselves about how they failed him.
Fenwick McLeod lisped out loud but to himself.
“Some of those old toothless fucks will say how could that handsome young fancy boy just piss his life away, but what do they know about my hurt? They forgot what pain feels like, because, they never have been to war because they were my age last century, when they world ran the old way. Those old bastards have been as good as dead for years.
Fenwick McLeod was roaring drunk and about three sheets, to the wind. A weaker less agile man would not have had to jump. He would have fallen off the railing into the river Ness on his own by now and died of a broken neck on water as hard as concrete after his fifty foot fall.
But Fenwick McLeod stood on the narrow railing of the bridge balancing on the balls of his feet he weighed just short 16 stones, but he moved like he had a bit of the grey wolf in him, which incidentally, was re-introduced itself to all the British Islands, without the help of any early 21st century “tree huggers, by simply by jail breaking from the United Kingdom’s zoos along with a number of other rather interesting exotic animals who were doing just fine, thank you, in the warmer post global warming climate, particularly some of the larger predators, who seemed to prefer chubby British Lairds as their prey, rather than boney grizzly Scots, with very little meat on them.
But even Fenwick’s animal grace bought him little credit from his mates. They only chided him because the maids loved the way he could glide with them across the dance floor so their feet barley touched it. Aye, and his mates, good naturedly faulted him for his milky white skin which they said was as smooth and whiskerless as a baby’s bum. Fenwick McLeod had not a scar on his face, or his body. And not even a tooth missing. All his mates agreed. T’was a strange way for a man who had been through a horrible war to look. Especially when so many were missing so many parts of themselves, because battlefield medical technology had devolved several hundred years backward so that amputation was the only treatment for even the most minor wounds to the extremities. Some of his mates had lost so much that they were deemed unrecognizable to the ones who claimed to love them. In a strange and cruel way, the gift of Fenwick’s wholeness and fairness, carried with it the weight of a double edged curse of hate and envy, by those who deemed themselves not so fortunate, and which the evil old often wish onto the young even if they might be innocent as a spring day.
Fenwick McLeod took one last look at the water which, just at that nanosecond, changed from deep blue to blue black as the clouds raced across the silver face of the moon which loomed, harvest like, in a large a quarter of the sky. In the next nanosecond surface of the river came alive with a million little silver shivers.
Robert waited for his life to pass before him in the instant before he jumped in that moment unto itself which annuls all time past present and future, but he was denied even that consolation, because, instead of jumping just at that same instant Fenwick McLeod decided to have a few words with God.
This was indeed was odd, very odd indeed. Fenwick had stopped believing in God long before he gave up on the Easter Bunny laying chocolate Easter eggs when he was six years old. Fenwick was usually a professed and articulate atheist, though he kept it to himself because it was not a good thing to be in reformed Scotland. Tonight, he let it all out, as he became a really loud mouthed and drunken atheist. Fenwick shook his fist at the moon and brayed, like a hoarse jackass, at the top of his lungs.
“God, you really piss me off, I mean you really, really forking piss me off, but thank God, I won’t be seeing much of your where I am going, even if as they say you sent your son down there once for three days to redeem us all. If you were so forking great why didn’t you go down there yourself? No, you sent him down there just like the old toothless bastards in parliament sent us to war.
He went on heavily tripping over his tongue.
“I never wanted to be the hero of New Battle of Culloden. I never asked for anything but the thousand pound bonus they gave me for joining the militia”
“All I wanted to do was get drunk for two clear fortnights’ nights and March in the forking parade. I didn’t want to kill those poor English lads
, and good Christ they didn’t want to kill us. We should have had a football game, not a war to decide the future of the bloody United Kingdom, of bloody, England, Ulster, Scotland, and Wales.”
Fenwick bobbed and weaved like a shadow boxer going the final round with his demons on a six inch railing with a fifty foot drop into a river he continued.
“Why couldn’t those English buggers just let us go? Why couldn’t they forget that hammer of Scotland crap that the Member of Parliament from Carlisle had to bring up.”
He puked a fifty foot stream all the way into the river and continued.
“Why did we have to bring up that William Wallace scat? I mean it was a movie by a bloody Aussie, it wasn’t history”
The dry heaves hit Fenwick and wretched hollowly nearly doubled over and then he came back to his feet and continued.
“God damm you Captain Tommy Burns for dying in my arms, and God Dam you for letting me live and all my mates die, so Scotland could live bloody, forking Scotland could live forever.”
Just then, a woman’s voice cut through the night as quickly as shit through a goose. The voice was clear and crisp, and all of its force was directed at Fenwick It was a woman’s voice which resonated like the song of a siren or the wail of the Banshees, and yet had the hollowness of sigh of a guardian angel who escorts her lost souls to the gates of hell only part to company with them for eternity.
Her voice seemed to stop the clouds, and freeze wind as the river became deadly still, as even the moon stopped climbing
“Fenwick McLeod Jr. you worthless self pitying piece of setter squat don’t you dare jump of that bridge.”
Fenwick thought to himself,
“Now she is going to tell me how much I have to live for. How great it is to be tall and young and strong. How bright my future is even if it looks so dark now, and that there are other fish in the Ocean.”
But that’s not what Marjorie Burns cried out to Fenwick. He had her figured so wrong.
“Fenwick McLeod, you owe me money you bastard son of a laird. I just mortgaged the stead and bet all I had on you to win the “Highland Games Bare Knuckle Boxing matches tomorrow. If you kill yourself I lose everything”
The widow Burns was still young and hauntingly beautiful. It was almost as if her face was stolen from the late seventeenth century section of the National Gallery in Edinburgh. That was the time when just a touch of baroque beauty forced its way into the solemn portraiture of the Scottish reformation, even though it claimed it would have nothing of Roman Catholic idolatry. She was the Widow of Captain Tommy Burns who fell at The Battle of Culloden II eleven years before, and died in Robert’s arms. Culloden II was where England and Scotland fought again, to a bloody and terrible standstill and then went their separate ways.
To some who barely knew Marjorie Burns, she was nearly as saint-like her name sake, Saint Margaret, but to those really knew her, as Fenwick knew her she was something different. As he looked back at her she seemed larger than she was, though a foot shorter than Fenwick she seemed to look him straight in the eye. Marjorie Burns was thirty-seven years and widowed since she was twenty six. As Fenwick looked at her his eyes focused and he seemed to sober up a bit, perhaps the puking had cleared his brain.
She seemed to be all frames within frames. The cape framed her obsidian hair and her short hair framed her dark brown eyes. In the moonlight her face and fine features seemed as pale as the moon. Marjorie Burns’ hood was fastened by a silver chain that pulled her grey woolen cape, showing only a bit of its red velvet lining, tight against her shoulders.
She just stood and waited for Fenwick’s next move. Marjorie’s Grim yet beautiful visage stopped Fenwick in his tracks, and he lightly jumped down from the four foot rail. Fenwick looked back at her face. If he came closer her face would have touched well below his breast, but Fenwick was not to touch anybody tonight.
Fenwick silently cursed the late Captain Burns under his breath. Captain Burns the martyr who all Scotland called their savior. Why did it have to be his wife that Fenwick shagged for a week two months before the battle? Captain Burns died in his arms reminding him what he had made him promise something on the eve of the battle, with all his heart, on the Easter Bunny, since Fenwick claimed to be an atheist. Tommy Burns told Fenwick McLeod he knew about his affair with his wife Marjorie, and to earn his forgiveness he must promise to be there for her if she ever came to him again.
Now eleven years later. This was the first time that Fenwick McLeod seen Marjorie Burns alone since her husband died in his arms at The Battle of Culloden II eleven years before. Tommy Burns had cursed Fenwick to live, at least for this night, as a price for his forgiveness.
There would always be about a seven hour gap in Fenwick’s life from the time he came down from the bridge until he found himself in the ring with for the semi- final Bare Knuckle Boxing Match with his former medical school classmate Ian Banks. But Fenwick did have images and memories jumbled in his mind. There were sounds of a carriage being called on the bridge, a heaving carriage ride, a woman breathing next to him naked in bed, and no sex, then bed with an empty space next to him. The clearest thing he remembered was a coachman as grim as death, the same one who had hosed the filth of him last night, roughly rousting him in the morning, and taking him to the gaming grounds, in the now empty cab from last night, and then driving into the background saying cheerfully saying
“See you after the games, if you live.”
The next day Fenwick McLeod won the Bare Knuckle Semifinal Championship Boxing against Ian Banks. Banks had a head made of granite, a gut like a wooden wash board, and a punch like a mule kick. He won it in a way that nobody in Scotland dreamed of. It was all so strange for a man who few hours before was in the process of taking his own life and ending it, and now he was fighting for it.
At first Fenwick got nowhere with Banks as they grappled in the circle of dirt they called a ring the center of a ring of bleacher seats filled with thousand souls. It seemed Ian Banks almost liked getting smacked in the face, almost as if he found it relaxing. Fenwick punched till his arms were heavy as lead and his knuckles ached and bled. But for every punch Fenwick threw Banks returned one just as hard. Then Fenwick did something that had never done before in the history the highland games bare Knuckle matches. Fenwick McLeod dropped his arms and smiled sweetly at Ian Banks, and then lightly kissed him on his cheek. Banks followed with one, two, and then three hammers like punches. Fenwick spit and heaved, but then stood held his ground, two more hammer like blows, and still McKiernan held his hands to his side. He did not return a single punch; he seemed like a man who wanted to die in the ring, but perhaps he was not.
Fenwick won by taking five, air hammer like smacks, in a row in the face, his face was a bloody mess. As Fenwick watched as his adversary Banks collapsed in exhaustion at his feet gasping for air like a fish drowning in air, with his face in a shallow pool of spit and puke and blood. They pulled banks to his feet so he would not drown in his own effluent, and held Fenwick McLeod’s broken knuckles to the noon day sun, indicating there would be no more challenges, to a champion who cared not whether he lived or died. No one would risk facing a man like that in the ring, not even big James Kaveny the heavy weight bare knuckled champion of the reformed world would face a man who care not, for anything, because, a man who cared not feared not and became the most deadly opponent of all. Then quite strangely Fenwick McLeod cared and understood he was doomed to live. Not in a foolish and immortal sense, but doomed to live on and face what he ran from. Then the crowd not knowing what else to do fell silent with a rush and went away, leaving the boxers to figure out what happened.
James Edwardson, a friend to both Banks and McLeod handed Fenwick a flask of cheap Scotch whiskey, which tasted like sweat and stale cigarettes mixed with goat piss to wash the blood out of his mouths.
Fenwick, gentleman to the last gestured for banks to drink first from the flask. As Banks stopped gasping and wrenching he took the flask and made a very lame joke before he took a long draft.
“So yeah think it is poisoned, do yeah.”
Both men laughed in pain because each had nearly cracked the others ribs.
“The champ here takes a punch in the mouth pretty well for the son of laird”
Fenwick swallowed the whiskey and spit the blood on to the sand.
As Banks continued
“Indeed he does, they say he had the hardest head in Edinburgh University. That was before they threw him out of medical school’, for working with the resurrections.”
“It’s not like we didn’t do so some good when they had to go back to learning medicine the old way, when all the equipment stopped working, and those medical schools boys did need their cadavers, and they were willing to pay for it. Besides that we never, never, never, took one that wasn’t dead on its own. We weren’t like that crew from Glasgow that they caught that was taking them live, and bringing them in dead when they needed them. “
Banks sighed, and then smiled said.
“Lucky for you it was, and lucky you could prove that we brought them ones that were already, otherwise they would have hanged you and used us as cadavers.”
“Aye that would have been getting back into medical school the hard way.”
The conversation might have gone on a lot longer as but Fenwick became deathly silent realizing that had he jumped and succeed last night he, or at least his mortal remains would have ended up on a dissecting table. Fenwick was not sure exactly what brought him to the bridge railing last night, but he was going to have to put that thought on hold because there was other business to attend to, and it was coming around the corner at that instant.
For the rest of his life Fenwick McLeod would be wondering why he did not jump into river the night before, but for today he would not have much time to wonder about anything, because the tempo of his life was on the move, the beat had picked everything was changing and he was marching to a different drummer, perhaps one not of his own choosing
Three men approached him, a priest, the vice president of the Highland Bank of Scotland, and last night’s coachman, who ordered McLeod and Banks around the corner and handed them and hose spurting ice cold water.
“Make yourselves presentable lads and be quick about it you have a big day ahead of you.”
Fenwick simply said.
“Take me to Marjorie Burns immediately”
Ian Banks looked at Fenwick quizzically, but said nothing though everyone seemed to shiver at once though it was a hot summer day and they had fought in a blistering noonday sun.
Clyde The coachman said,
“All in good time my lad, but you have business first with the clergy and Highland bank, and then we can all go for a little ride.”
The coachman was just a little taller than Fenwick, but much thicker without being the least bit fleshy. Clyde had a very persuasive way about him. Especially, as he fingered a black powder 50 caliber black powder Derringer not so hidden persuader in his pocket. So the priest, the banker, Fenwick McLeod, and Ian as a witness sat down to a small table and did some business, while Clyde the coachman kept his eye on everything, and discouraged any interlopers with a glance as grim as death. It was all quite simple. Fenwick was given his winner’s check for one hundred thousand pounds. He signed it and gave it back to the banker, who then handed him back one hundred pounds in gold and the mortgage to the Burn’s homestead, which Banks burned up with the evil smelling cigar he had just lit.
Fenwick McLeod put the small purse in his pocket seemingly uninterested in the proceedings. Then he became very interested, in the only thing he seemed to care for as he cried.
“Now that the mortgage is paid off take me to Marjorie Burns”
“Get into the Coach.”
The priest and Ian came along in the coach. The bankers business was done now that the mortgage was satisfied.
Of course since devolution the country roads and just about everything else in Scotland so had gone to hell so what would have been a fifteen minute drive in an automobile was now a three hour axle breaking, gut wrenching ride in a leaf sprung horse drawn carriage but then they arrived at the Burns homestead. Fenwick McLeod jumped out of the carriage and raced to the larger oaken door, pounding on it heavily as he shouted in a voice more desperate than abusive:
“Goddamm you, Marjorie Burns come to a door you bitch who put me through all this. Come to the forking door before I beat it down.”
Then the door swung open and Fenwick McLeod found himself looking into the eyes of a young woman only a few inches shorter than him. She was able to almost stare in his eyes as she said with a very icy and composed voice, seemingly unaffected by his battered appearance.
“I am Marjorie Burns”
Fenwick McLeod hesitated for an instant and then got trying to soften his voice.
“Oh she is your mother, and then please take me to her”.
“My mother is in the garden” Replied the girl
“Please take me to her” said Robert.
The young woman softy took Fenwick McLeod by the hand and led him around the fortified house and led him to the garden to a fresh grave.
Marjorie Burns: April 23rd 2019 -May 25th2057 Sainted Mother to all New Scotland and widow to Captain Tommy Burns.
Fenwick read the inscription again out loud and said softy.
“She is dead. Who did I meet on the bridge last night?”
Just then priest, Ian, and Clyde came around the corner. The priest was carrying a large portfolio which contained two heavy sealed envelopes which he handed to Fenwick.
“Walk off to the back of the garden and sit down and read these to yourself, and the rest of us will go back into the house.”
Robert read the first letter that Tommy Burn’s had dictated that night twelve years before the battle it was all signed sealed and notarized and legally binding. He could almost hear Tommy’s Voice as he read it softy
“In the event of mine and my wife’s death I designate Fenwick McLeod to be the guardian and have fully power of attorney in all affairs for my child my wife is now carrying”
The second letter had been written much more recently not long before Marjorie died in a riding accident and it had a different tone about it.
“Fenwick McLeod if you are reading this then I am dead and you have read Tommy’s instructions which you will follow when I tell you the next thing which is my daughter is your daughter also. Tommy knew before the battle, but she can’t inherit if they find out she is not his daughter. She’s our, daughter, yours and mine, and you have to do your job like Tommy said and keep this all quiet. And now that you know she is our own you won’t be trying to shag she like you did me.”
Now Fenwick McLeod’s life did pass before him and whatever had been before would never be the same. But who did he see last night on the bridge, who and what stopped him from jumping. Whatever happened next he would need was a lot of very strong black coffee, without any whiskey in it. Since his new job was to raise a teenage girl, manage the Burns estate, and hide from her the fact that she was his daughter
To Be continued