This week RJ Scott is in the spotlight with the wonderful The Soldier's Tale, published on 11 June 2011.
Corporal Daniel Francis has returned to his childhood home in England to heal; the only one of his unit that survived a roadside bomb. His reasons for skipping medication are based on a stubborn refusal to become an addict, and he is overwhelmed with survivor's guilt.
Doctor Sean Lester has joined his father's surgery and when he is held at knife point by a patient high on drugs it is Daniel that leaps to his rescue-much to his horror.
When Sean nearly runs Daniel down in the dark he finds a man who needs help, and resolves to be the person to show Daniel that it is possible to live through guilt and find happiness.
Set against the backdrop of the Fitzwarren family curse, The Soldiers Tale is a story of one man's fight to find his place in a new world outside of the Army.
From a book written in 1899:
--The History of Steeple Westford by the Rev. Horace Simpkins--
So in the autumn of the year 1644, Jonathan Curtess cursed Belvedere Fitzwarren, saying, "I curse you and your children's children, that you shall all live out your allotted years, and that those years shall be filled with grief and loss and betrayal, even as you have betrayed and bereaved me."
Much has been written of the actions undertaken in the name of punishment. It is not the place or situation of this book to provide conjecture at any great length on the situations regarding the curse other than the facts to hand. Artefacts recovered under the patronage of Her Majesty Victoriana Regina remained with the estate of Belvedere Fitzwarren.
Oscar Curtess, lately of Steeple Aston, had in his possession several items procured from the estate sale of the descendants of the Fitzwarren family. Amongst them a dagger that has the distinction of being attached to the rumour that it is the very knife that saved Jonathan Curtess from a slow death in fire.
The remains of Jonathan Curtess, the second of the most unfortunate to die at the stones, were interred by his remaining family, but there is little knowledge of location.
"Uhnnnn, damn it, sod it, bloody hell--ghuuu." Daniel Francis couldn't keep the grunts of pain and expletives from spilling out of his mouth. Letting loose the torrent of noise was the only thing that grounded him. He had only meant to rest for a few minutes, but, God, how much worse could this pain get? He was trapped now, sitting in the dark, surrounded by the scent of pine toilet cleaner, like some kind of bloody cripple. Scared. Stupid. A waste of space.
What had happened to the man he'd once been? Why the hell was he stuck in the men's toilet at his local surgery, literally scared to death to walk out into the waiting room? He had been doing so well today pushing the pain away. He had taken the pain meds like he was supposed to. They took the edge off the throbbing long enough to fake how well he was doing, and he had yet again survived his monthly visit to see a doctor. In this case, it was the second time since coming home that he had seen Lester, Sr. The doctor had been his usual efficient self, dismissing Daniel with a cursory glance at his records on the screen in front of him.
"Here are the scripts for your pain meds and muscle relaxants. I've lowered the level of Sertraline although I'm not comfortable with your request to do so. Keep to the prescription, use the ice packs. Come back and see me in three weeks so we can re-evaluate, and I can re-issue your medication."
The doctor had continued with the usual inane questions that experts always threw at him, and Daniel made a show of listening while he focused in on grey hair, bushy eyebrows, and pale grey eyes. He was half listening, already deciding he'd had enough of the blurred edge to his world on these damn tablets. He would fill the prescription, but that didn't mean he had to take the capsules. The doctor certainly didn't need to know. Daniel was his own man, and he could make his own decisions. He wasn't a kid who had to do what he was told all the bloody time. Hell, he'd had enough of that in the Army.
As a non-commissioned officer in the Royal Engineers, Corporal Daniel Francis was an explosive ordinance disposal expert--part of a small unit of highly-trained specialists. Men and women who provided munitions neutralization and disposal for both military operations and training exercises around the world, he was trained, experienced, good at his job.
Daniel missed his friends and his fellow soldiers, and he felt the familiar twinge of loneliness that always came with the memories of the soldiers he had commanded. They had been a tight team of six men and one woman, their work enabling the Army to handle battlefield conditions with fewer distractions. They were experts in their field, providing mine clearances and defusing roadside bombs in war zones, and they had been employed in post-conflict situations as well. Daniel's expertise, and that of his team, provided the skills needed to sweep fields and roads and to clear homes and other buildings in towns, making what remained of any civilian population safe.
Corporal Francis had become the go-to man, the person the recruits turned to when they were unsure, the one whom the rest of the unit relied on as a sounding board as they puzzled out difficult situations. He was capable of focusing completely on the mine or bomb or incendiary in front of him, using his skills as the key to surviving a disarmament. He kept the balance between absolute certainty in both his skills and those of his unit and knowing precisely when the time had come to pull back and relieve the horrendous pressure on his men. Daniel had been able to call on his ability to sink into utter stillness at any given time.
Corporal Francis was decorated with awards and citations, resulting from situations that he and his team had survived. Others who praised and paid and wrote articles in newspapers back home called it incredible bravery. He and his team, however, simply called it a job.
That was then, but he had to live in the now.
Daniel Francis, invalided from service, no longer a corporal by name or possessing the ability to be a corporal by physical action, sat cowering in a sodding bathroom unable to even attempt a short walk home. He was damaged goods. Twisted and scarred and unable to even bloody breathe properly at this moment.
"How are you feeling today?" the doctor had asked with a raised eyebrow. Daniel had hesitated before answering. Post traumatic stress disorder was probably not something Dr Lester had much experience in, and the questions he asked were from some kind of script clearly approved by some specialist somewhere.
And Christ, that had been a leading question. The headache that had been nagging at Daniel all day went full blown and intense as he'd tried to formulate a suitable answer.
"I'm good," he'd finally said, as firmly as he could. There was no way he was giving the doc any openings for further questions.
"Is fine. Improving every day."
He'd lied. He'd said those five words as convincingly as a pro. Which he was. Daniel had managed to convince the much savvier medics at the Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital in Birmingham. The medics and shrinks there had been more difficult to convince: they were far too familiar with PTSD, not to mention severe injuries. However, Daniel had stuck to his claims, and though still reluctant, both his body and brain docs had discharged him back to his family home in Wiltshire to "heal."
The goddamned fucking lies were acid inside him. He had seen friends crippled or ripped from him by fire and metal, faces gone or reflecting the terror that had occurred with their deaths. His head was as screwed as it could be and still leave a chance for him to pass as something like normal.
As for his knee? What if he told the doc the truth? That oftentimes the pain was so personal, so intense, that he couldn't breathe or stop the tears from scorching his skin as they marked runnels of disappointment down his face. What if he had to admit his failure to deal with physical discomfort when Tommy Llewellyn had lost both legs? What the hell good would that do? He was alive, alive when so many of his unit had not survived, alive enough to walk and to feel the pain when they could no longer do either. He'd be goddamned if he was going to travel the rest of his days on earth in a drugged up anti-pain stupor.
Daniel could have become addicted to the Sertraline and pain pills, unable to go an hour without them, much less a day. He didn't need the softened edges that made his memories blur. He demanded for himself the ice-cold, cut-glass edges of memory. He wanted to remember. For the Ones under his command who never made it home.
He forced himself to walk naturally from the doc's office, refusing to show that his knee was close to giving out, the metal pins holding the bones together as rough as barbed wire grating under his skin.
"Three weeks," the doc had reminded him as he left, and he had managed to respond to the affirmative even as he realised he needed to sit before his knee gave way. He judged the distance to the door in the convoluted nest of corridors and cubicles that constituted the surgery. The toilet was nearer. In any event, Daniel wasn't ready to face the receptionist with her beady eyes and her concern over how he was feeling.
He locked the door behind him, shoved the toilet lid down and slumped until he sat on it. A small part of his mind registered the fact that he'd sat. He pressed blindly with both thumbs into the knot of incredible pain in his knee joint. The blast that had ripped through his team had inflicted contusion, blunt force trauma, burns, and penetrating wounds on those who had survived.
Daniel had been fortunate: many of his injuries had been superficial, except those to his face and knee. Triage had sent him behind the lines to a field hospital, where he'd been threatened with an amputation above the knee. Infection had hit the bone. Even if they were able to cure the infection, there was no guarantee that the knee would be anything close to normal, but it didn't matter. What the surgeon said didn't matter a damn. Nothing would have made Daniel sign that form. He might die? Then he'd die. But he'd do it with two legs. Thank fuck he'd been lucky enough to prove the doctors wrong.
Daniel's face healed. He'd been given as much plastic surgery as was possible, but some scars remained, curling and twisting under his hairline and down his neck. He was a disgusting thing to look out now, damaged, past his sell-by date.
Next week: The Lord's Tale.