The following is a novelization of the lead-up to a recent clash in my Very British Civil War universe as part of the Sceptered Isle international wargame campaign. It contains a few naughty words and political views written in context. If this offends the reader's sensibilities, stop reading now.
* * * *
King's Messenger William Tuck-Poynter OBE huddled in the rear cockpit of the biplane and shivered. He wished he were anywhere else but flying over the moonlit Suffolk countryside in the bitter early hours of a Sunday morning. Cold air stung the exposed part of his face between flying helmet, goggles and scarf. His arse stung from an onset of hemorrhoids that had chosen to begin hours earlier as he waited for the flight out of London. To cap it all, he had little idea who would meet him at Sandringham and relieve him of the terrible burden contained in the briefcase clamped between his legs. For the umpteenth time he thought longingly of the warm bed in his Knightsbridge flat and the comforting arms of his French mistress, Juliette.
He could see the helmeted head of the RAF pilot in the forward cockpit moving as the man searched for landmarks in the landscape below. He hoped the fellow knew what he was doing. They'd met scant minutes from takeoff, exchanging a brief handshake before climbing into the Avro 621 Tutor 'loaned' from an RAF Flying School. Is he reliable? Does he know what we're about? Tuck-Poynter fretted and dozed intermittently as the minutes ticked by.
A jet of flame lit the bright yellow wings and fuselage, waking him in an instant. The engine rattled and gave a nasty-sounding cough. Tuck-Poynter fumbled with the mike for the pilot-trainee intercom. "What the blazes was that?" He had to shout into the mike to be heard above the blattering roar of the engine. The pilot craned his head to look back. Tuck-Poynter heard his drawling reply in the helmet earpieces. "We're having a spot of trouble with the old coffee grinder. Hang on... Honington aerodrome's nearby. I think they finished the runway. We'll have to land there."
"Oh Hell! Do we have to?"
He sensed the pilot's glare even through the man's goggles. "It's that or fall out of the fucking sky, old son! Now, hold on!"
The biplane began a troubled descent, the engine sounding like a concrete mixer full of gravel. Tuck-Poynter hunched deeper into the cockpit and prayed like he'd seldom prayed since leaving prep school many years before. He risked a glimpse outside. Treetops rose to meet him and he shut his eyes.
"What the hell was that?"
"We're taking ground fire! The natives are hostile - " A stream of red tracers shot past the right wing then slammed into the biplane. BangBangBangBangBang! "Ugh!"
The Tutor swayed and dipped then executed a violent lurch to the left. Tuck-Poynter's stomach rose and he tasted bile in his mouth. "What's wrong?"
Pain filled the pilot's voice. "I'm hit. Damn good shooting by whoever that was. The A134's over that way. I'll... try... to set... her down."
The biplane lurched and staggered across the sky. Tuck-Poynter's prayers grew more vehement by the second. With a final twist that brought his dinner into his mouth the airplane made a hard bank to the right then slammed to earth. Things crunched, shook and shattered. Moonlight filled the cockpit as the upper wing sheared off, dragged away by the tall hedges either side of the road. Metal shrieked and sparks flew. Tuck-Poynter screamed in fear. Then something slammed into his head and he blacked out...
* * * *Police Sergeant Daniel Hayes stood in the doorway to the hut, peacefully smoking his pipe and looking out at the night. A short distance away Constable Travers strolled back and forth in front of the barrier set across the old Roman road, rifle slung on his shoulder, the crunch of his boots a regular and familiar sound. Since the local civil war had begun to heat up he and his men had manned the checkpoint on the A134 where it crossed the Suffolk/Norfolk border. A recent clash between the Anglican League from Thetford and the BUF from Bury St. Edmunds meant a redrawing of the battle lines and civilians to be protected from the mayhem. Hayes detested the BUF and didn't have much time for the Holy Rollers of the League, but at least the latter didn't shoot a chap if he disagreed with them. The Chief Constable had announced the police had to be seen as neutral in the whole sorry business, something Hayes agreed with fervently.
A distant buzzing sound impinged on his hearing. Hayes' early career in the RAF out in Egypt told him an airplane flew somewhere to the east. The sound was unusual enough in daytime, what with the fuel shortage and everything. To hear an airplane at night was unprecedented. He scratched his cheek thoughtfully with the stem of his pipe. There's something wrong with the engine...
The distant crack of rifle fire drew his attention. A stream of red tracers rose like fairy lights into the sky somewhere in the vicinity of the half-built aerodrome at Honington. "Sarge?" Travers pointed into the sky. "The League's shooting at something!"
"I see it, lad." Seconds later Hayes' sharp eyes picked out the shape of a biplane, flying above treetop height. It bore the yellow livery of the RAF training schools and looked in deep trouble. He turned his head to bellow at the watch sleeping in the hut. "Stand to!"
Constables tumbled out of bunks and groped for boots, belts and bundooks. Hayes ran out into the road, searching the sky for the biplane. It suddenly appeared, almost overhead, and dipped toward the road. It landed hard. Hayes winced as the undercarriage collapsed. The wings tore free as the aircraft hurtled along the road in the direction of Bury St. Edmunds, shedding sparks like a grindstone. It stayed in the cut of the road for a good many yards before coming to rest, cocked up on the western bank, engine thrust into the hedge. The cessation of sound made his ears ring
His men emerged from the hut. Hayes directed his voice to the Constable on sentry duty. "Travers? You're the most awake. Get on the blower to HQ, tell 'em there's a plane down. The rest of you, come with me..."
* * * *
Lieutenant Oliver Southgate stood by the hangar, rubbing sleep from his eyes and watching as the strange aircraft staggered off toward the highway. A thin trail of smoke streamed from its engine, shining pale in the moonlight. From the sound of it, the thing was not going to stay airborne for long.
His platoon formed up on the hard stand in front of the hanger doors, their voices rising in excited chatter. The men who'd fired at the biplane when it came near fingered rifle and Lewis gun, their eyes bright with blood-lust and achievement. "Quiet!" Southgate's voice, long accustomed to the environs of the schoolroom, cut through the chatter. The men stilled instantly, memories of childhood and the deadly aim the average schoolmaster possessed with chalk and blackboard eraser etched deep into their minds. "That's better. Everyone here? Good. Sentries, stand your ground." A distant but loud crash announced the demise of the airplane. Southgate nodded. "Beardsley, go phone HQ, tell them what happened and ask for reinforcements. The rest of you, come with me."
He led them at a jog-trot down the lane toward the metaled surface of the A134. A Norfolk Constabulary checkpoint stood there, established soon after his recent victory over the Fascists of the BUF. Southgate felt a warm glow of pride in that memory. The hunger for more glory burned in his soul like the religious fervor that had brought him into the ranks of the Anglican League. He'd spoken with the copper in charge, a solid-looking Sergeant named Hayes, and found him agreeable if a little offish. Hopefully there won't be any bother over this airplane. I wonder whose it is?
* * * *
William Tuck-Poynter came-to an indeterminate time later. Warm, wet fluid dribbled down his face and into his eyes, stinging them. He pulled off the heavy gauntlets given him by the ground crew before take off and wiped the stuff away, feeling the stickiness of blood on his fingers. Groggily, the words of his old governess came back to him, echoing across the years, spoken after a daring boyhood scrape had tapped his claret. 'Scalp wounds always bleed copiously. I'll patch it up, it'll soon be all right.'
He grunted and half-climbed, half-rolled out of the shattered cockpit. The briefcase trailed from his wrist, shackled there by a metal cuff, dragging like a sheet-anchor on a boat. The wretched cuff and chain had been a thorough pain in the backside to get under the stiff leather gauntlet. Aggregate met his boots; the fuselage sat on the road surface, canted at an angle with the engine thrust into the roadside hedge. The pilot slumped forward in his harness. As Tuck-Poynter shook the man's shoulder the pilot emitted a soft groan. Tuck-Poynter glanced around, saw a distant hut farther up the road. A checkpoint? Activity boiled around it. He lowered his voice. "Where are we?" The pilot groaned again and Tuck-Poynter shook him harder, heedless of any harm he might inflict on the pilot's existing injuries. "Where the blazes are we?"
"The A134." The pilot's left hand came up and he waved in a southerly direction. "Bury St Edmunds that way. BUF. They... take care... of..." The pilot's voice slurred and stopped as he passed out.
Tuck-Poynter glanced around again desperately. To the north he saw the distinctive shape of police caps up the road near the checkpoint. "Hell's bells!" A couple of hundred yards away to the south he could see rooftops poking up above the hedgerows. Tucking the briefcase under his arm like a rugby ball he sprinted southward, aches, pains and a thundering headache beginning to make themselves felt. With luck and a following wind I'll make it to safety. His instructions burned in his mind. 'The Jewels must not fall into any other hands but the King's and those duly appointed by him!' The Court Chamberlain's eyes had burned with urgency. 'Fail at your peril, Mr. Tuck-Poynter!'
He gritted his teeth and ran, like the college prop-forward he'd once been. "Don't worry. A Tuck-Poynter has never let the side down yet!"