Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

My biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin in three parts is complete, but the saga continues. Follow me to Cyprus, where Lusignans and Ibelins struggle to put down a rebellion and establish a durable state. Watch for excerpts and updates here.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Where Eagles Never Flew: Excerpt 1

Dear Followers,

To whet your appetite for Where Eagles Never Flew I will be posting here excerpts from "Eagles" for the next several weeks.

Priestman unhooked his oxygen mask and shoved the hood back before he landed, gulping in the fresh air. When he set down on three points, he thought he had never in his life been so glad to have ground under him.  He was aware of a pulsing headache and his eyes felt swollen in their sockets. He taxied absently to the side of the field, too tired to notice if someone was signalling him someplace else. He cut the engine, pulled off his helmet, and ran his hand through his hair -- it was wet and sticky.

He heard someone pant up beside him. "Robin?"

He glanced over; it was Roger Ibbotsholm.

"Aye, aye." Robin was having trouble unclipping his straps for some reason.  Roger was on the wing and bent over to help him.

"Are we glad to see you! We thought you'd bought it!"

"They did rather catch us out -- again. Is everyone else back?"

"The CO's gone for six. Flamed out and went straight in from 10,000. Guy had to hit the silk over Seclin.  Driver swears he saw a parachute land just beside the field so he's almost certainly a POW. Shakespeare says Spotty didn't make it either -- crate flamed before he could get out."

O'Brian and Sellers reached Priestman. They too were panting, having run over from the far side of the field. "Are you all right, sir?"

"I've got a terrible headache, actually," Robin admitted, rubbing his frehead.

"There's a ruddy big hole in the back of your seat, sir!"

"Oh, that. Yes. Good thing about the armor plating."

"You can say that again, sir! Look!"

A crowd was gathering. This Hurricane didn't look nearly as tattered as his old one, but the one neat puncture it did have indicated a cannon shell had lodged deep in the armour plating behind his seat.  The others scrambled up the off wing and peered into his Hurricane. There were a lot of admiring whistles and excited comments. Priestman left the others to it and slid to the ground, leaning back against the trailing edge of the wing.

Only once before had he been so conscious of divine protection -- after capsizing a small boat in a Force Five gale in the Solent. Then he had been a foolish 15-year-old boy who over-estimated his abilities, and for whom a benign deity had no doubt felt pity. Today, with so many others dead, it was hard to understand why he should have been one of the lucky ones.

An airman appeared around the tail and offered him a cup of cocoa. It was almost cold, but Priestman sipped it graefully.

Priestman noticed Yardly approaching but didn't think anything of it -- until the Flight Lieutenant opened his mouth and said: "I'm acting CO now, if you're wondering." Robin hadn't gotten that far, actually, but he didn't like the sound of this. Priestman had never really warmed to Sharp, but he was a first-rate pilot and a conscientious commmander. Priestman had trusted him. Yardly was something else agian. From the day he joined the squadron, Yardly had seemed to resent him. In short, this was not a good development.

Yardly, meanwhile, was remarking, "I see you were lucky a second time, Priestman."

"Yes, sir." It obviously did not occur to the senior officer that maybe this pilot was particularly skilled or a talented dog-fighter.

"And the Blenheims got slaughtered again." The Flight Lieutenant made it sound as if it was Priestman's fault alone. Priestman kept his mouth shut. He might do stupid things when he got backed into a bad enough corner, but he wasn't inherently insubordinate or stupid.

Yaredly was compelled to continue his lecture without new fuel. "Our job is to protect our bombers, not go rushing off on our own. Don't forget it! I'm not going to put up with your nonsense the way Sharp did."

What nonsense? Priestman asked himself. He'd been behaving himself like a damned goody-two-shoes since he'd joined the Squadron!

(This excerpt is from Chapter 1 of Chasing the Wind, soon to be released in Kindle format under the new title Where Eagles Never Flew.)

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