science fiction and fantasy writer

Vandiemensland

Let a Man’s heart be what it will when he comes here, his Man’s heart is taken away from him, and he is given the heart of a Beast.

 

attributed to Robert Douglas, convict, 1834

 

Brennan lay in the puddle of his own urine. Lying on his back hurt, but the cold piss soothed his lacerated skin. His eyes were open but it made no difference in the Hole. His mind drifted, imagining shapes and glimmers of light were there were none. Pain and wet and the stink of piss reminded him that he was still in the world.

The hatch above him opened. Brennan flinched away from the light, curling up on his side. The rope ladder was thrown down. The bottom rung whacked painfully into his ear.

Eventually, the redcoats sent McGuinness down to fetch him up.

Brennan teetered, eyes watering, at the top. The breeze made him shiver. A soldier upended a bucket of cold water over his head. Brennan put out his tongue to catch what ran down his face.

“Get the little bugger dressed,” the Englishman said.

Brennan watched as the redcoats walked away, their shadows flowing over the stubbled grass. Neither he nor McGuinness cast any shade beneath them. Nor did any of the other convicts shuffling about, tending vegetables, digging graves, breaking and carting rocks, all in ill-fitted brown-and-yellow motley. Scraps of men, Brennan thought.

“Here.” McGuinness handed him a pair of worn pants. Brennan bent painfully to pull them on, McGuinness holding him up by one arm.

“We’re getting out of here, Jem,” McGuinness said, stooping close to Brennan’s ear when he’d straightened. “You, me, O’Driscoll and Keneally.”

“Keneally?”

McGuinness nodded. “He cleans the Magister’s rooms. He can get us into the shadow vault.”

Brennan waved away the proffered jacket. The fresh air on his back felt good. “Man’s Dubliner scum. Can’t trust him as far as spit.”

“He’ll do,” McGuinness insisted. “Because we’ll take him with us.”

Brennan looked up at him, trying to recall what McGuinness had looked like when his skin wasn’t grey and pulled so tight over the bones of his skull, when his eyes hadn’t sunk so far back in his head. Port Arthur had bowed McGuinness’s back, like a stalk of wheat when its head got too heavy to hold up.

“So, are you in, Jemmy?”

Brennan didn’t like the sound of this plan at all. He didn’t trust Keneally. And O’Driscoll scared him, for all that the man was a Patriot, a Man of 1848, and had fought at Ballingarry to boot.

“Jem?”

But what was the alternative? Another flogging, sooner or later, because sooner or later some redcoated bastard would take it into his head to dish one out and Jemmy Brennan would find himself standing in the wrong place at the wrong moment.

He nodded. “Alright then. Once my back’s healed enough, we’ll go.”

#

He uncorked the shadow jar and stooped to touch its mouth to his foot. The night breeze raised gooseflesh on his bare buttocks. His convict uniform lay in a sodden brown-and-yellow bundle on the sand nearby.

Darkness trickled from the jar and flowed over Brennan’s toes. The darkness resolved itself into his shadow. Grinning like a fool, he waved his hand. His shadow waved back. Around him, the others whooped and flung their emptied jars into the sea. Brennan hesitated, rubbing his thumb over the runes of binding etched into his jar’s surface, loath to throw away something of value, no matter how detested. He hooked his jar’s rope back over his head.

“Where’s McGuinness?” said O’Driscoll, suddenly.

The five men on the beach paused and looked around, then across the bay toward the scrub-covered Neck that connected Port Arthur’s peninsula to the mainland. The black waters lapping at the sand told them nothing.

Brennan felt a chill that had nothing to do with cold night air. He tried to find some scrap of feeling, inside him, for the death of a man he’d counted a friend. There was nothing.

“Bunyip got him,” said Keneally.

“Idiot,” Brennan snapped. “Bunyips is freshwater.”

Keneally bristled. “You a blackfella now, Jemmy Brennan? You know so much.”

“If there ever was any bunyips in the sea, Eamon Keneally,” Brennan said, “the feckin sharks ate them years ago.”

Sanderson and Crowe chuckled. O’Driscoll’s forehead wrinkled. The big man’s face was in shadow beneath his jutting brow. “Just sank, most like,” he said. “And half our salt pork with him. Where’s the rest?”

Keneally flinched. “At the bottom of the bay, damn you. I’d have drowned too, if I hadn’t dropped it.”

“We’ve still got the bread and spuds,” Brennan said. He had no sympathy for Keneally, but they’d not get far squabbling amongst themselves.

O’Driscoll unfurled the oilskin on the sand. Their attempts at waterproofing had only been partially successful.

“We can hunt,” said Sanderson, doubtfully.

“Maybe we should just give it up now,” Keneally said.

Brennan said, “If they catch us, we’ll hang.”

“Hanging’s better than being taken by a Dreaming,” Keneally retorted.

Brennan met the Dubliner’s stare. Keneally’s face was sunken in around the bones. His whole body was, the spirit shrivelled inside. Port Arthur had hollowed him out, as it had done to all of them.

Brennan held only the slimmest hope that they could run the gauntlet of predatory spirits that haunted this land, but he was damned if he’d pass between Port Arthur’s black gates again.

I’ll be gettin’ back to Ireland,” O’Driscoll said.  “We’ll eat the bread tonight.”

Sanderson and Crowe wanted to make a fire, Sanderson having kept the tinderbox drier than the food.

“They’ll see the light from the guard towers on the Neck,” Brennan said.

Sanderson and Crowe leaned over him. “Who made you boss, little man?” said Crowe.

O’Driscoll muttered around a mouthful of salt-damp bread. “Give over, you two. Jem’s right.”

Brennan thought for a moment that they might provoke a fight, both of them with knives in their belts, against just O’Driscoll with his axe and Brennan unarmed and undersized, with Keneally being too unreliable to count. It was Keneally’s loose tongue that had saddled them with the two Englishmen in the first place.

Sanderson threw up his hands. “Then we go over the back of the dune.”

“Wouldn’t go off the beach in the dark, if I was you,” Brennan said. “Those runes under your shoes won’t save you if you step on a willywilly.”

“Thought you knew runeworking, Jemmy,” said Keneally.

Brennan silently cursed the man as Sanderson and Crowe scowled at him again. “The marks I put on your shoes are the same as the redcoats wear on theirs,” he said. “But they don’t have the same power. If I were a bloody magister, I wouldn’t be shivering on this feckin beach with you lot, would I?” He looked around. No-one challenged him. “You step on a rock that’s got some Christ-cursed Dreaming sleeping under it, it’ll suck the shadow and soul right out of you.”

They were silent for a while, then Sanderson muttered, “Green and bloody Christ.”

Brennan snatched up a piece of bread and his clothes and went down to the water’s edge. He chewed a mouthful of salty crust, then held the rest in his teeth while he wrung the worst of the water from his pants. Shivering, he pulled the clammy fabric over his legs.

He hoped McGuinness had just drowned, or even been eaten by a shark.

#

They spent the night shivering and sleepless on the damp sand, then, in the first brightening before dawn, crept off the beach. They stopped once the scrub was all around them. The others all looked at Brennan.

He sighed. “Come on then.”

He led off, his companions plainly trusting his self-taught runework better when they could tread in his footsteps. Brennan tried not to let his trepidation show, not knowing what might lurk beneath the dirt that was subtler than a willywilly but as dangerous.

There were mundane threats to consider, too, that their shadows wouldn’t warn them about – blackfellas, marsupial wolves and Harris’s Devils. It seemed a paltry blessing that the cool season meant they’d be unlikely to turn up any snakes.

Overhead, pale branches twisted in angry gnarls. The leaves that fringed them were more grey than green. Things cried out in the treetops: shrieks and wood-saw growls and madman’s laughter. At ground level, the forest was deathly quiet. The ground underfoot was granite and clay, with nothing deserving the name ‘soil’ to cover it.

They had debated what direction to go before the escape. Straight north was what they’d decided, to reach the French colony that clung to the island’s north coast. Easy going, O’Driscoll was certain, once they reached the inland plateau.

#

They encountered no threats of any kind that first day and stopped at sunset by a trickle of a creek too small, Brennan guessed, to harbour a bunyip. They lit a fire and cooked half of the potatoes, one per man and an extra that O’Driscoll had and dared anyone to dispute him. Brennan lay awake listening to the Devils snuffling about and belching at each other in the dark.

The next day, they had to detour around two Dreaming grounds. The first was a willywilly, clearly marked by flay-barked eucalypts with their trunks all twisted up like wrung cloths. Their shadows remained undisturbed. Leaf litter half-covered the whorled patterns in the dirt between the trees. Brennan suspected they could’ve walked straight through the middle of the ground, that the Dreaming that made it had since sunk down into the deep stone to sleep. He wasn’t inclined to test his theory.

The second ground was less obvious. They only knew a Dreaming was there because their shadows tucked up close beneath their boots, heedless of where the sun told them to lie. What manner of thing lurked beneath that patch of unmarked dirt, Brennan had no idea. He clutched at the shadow jar inside his shirt, tempted to take it out, but certain that the others would take a dim view of him using their shadows to gauge the safety of the path. He was mighty glad when his shadow finally unfurled itself again beside him.

They used the pail on its rope – which Sanderson carried – to draw water from a large creek, watching closely for any stirring of the surface that might mean they’d roused the bunyip. Then they followed the watercourse uphill until it grew narrow enough to jump across.

#

The shepherd’s hut was abandoned and empty, a hard disappointment when Brennan couldn’t remember if it was four days or five since they finished the potatoes. Their attempts since to bring down birds from the treetops, or catch the ground-dwelling beasts that came out at night had been dismal failures. They’d wasted half a day at a wombat hole, hacking futilely at the brick-hard earth to try and dig the thing out, had given up when they realised the beast had more than one door to its burrow and was probably already long gone.

At least the hut meant shelter and the security of etched stones underneath them while they slept. The flagstones were cut with Latin signs, rather than runes. A Frenchman’s home, once. O’Driscoll was elated, taking it as affirmation of their plan.

“Can’t be far, now, lads,” he said.

Brennan grunted. He thought they were still a long way south.

Keneally was imprudent enough to speak the same thought aloud. “Further left to go than we’ve come already, I think.”

O’Driscoll snarled.

Running his fingers over the engravings in the floor, Brennan had a vivid recollection, sudden enough to make his gasp, of his grandfather’s rough fingers clasped around his child’s hands, showing him how to use the hammer and chisel. The redcoats had hung the old man for a rebel. Brennan had never properly learned to work with Catholic signs, but the little his grandfather had passed down had been enough for him to figure, crudely, how to manipulate the protective runes the English used. 

Homesickness welled up inside. His stomach was so empty it cramped. The new-grown skin on his back itched and throbbed.

Brennan shoved his self-pity aside. Going home, he told himself. Going to be a whole man again.

He stirred the others to check the soles of their boots, to see if the marks he’d scratched there were still clear. O’Driscoll told him to use Crowe’s knife to retrace the runes, regardless. Sanderson complained of blistered feet, though he was the best shod of any of them.

When they lay down to sleep, Brennan’s inferior size put him furthest from the hearth. He sat with his back to the wall, in the draft from the door, and tucked his knees up to his chest.

He thought about McGuinness fetching him up from the Hole, and found that he could no longer remember his face.

Scraps of men, he thought.

#

He started awake to find it was dawn, with Crowe stepping over him to go outside. Brennan rubbed his eyes and tried to ignore the gnawing hollow in his middle.

Crowe gave a low cry.

Redcoats! Brennan thought, tumbling outside with the rest. The Englishman pointed. At the bottom of the sloping meadow was a mob of kangaroos, ears flicking in response to his shout.

“We’ll never catch them,” said Keneally.

“Don’t have to be faster than a roo to catch it,” said O’Driscoll. He stooped to pick up a fist-sized rock.

“We’re upwind of them,” Brennan said, which was as much as he knew about hunting anything.

Most of the roos had gone back to grazing. “Walk slow,” said O’Driscoll. “Go like we’re aiming past them.”

The others followed him, casting about among the bone-yellow tussock grass for suitable rocks to throw. Brennan found his mouth watering as they approached. His heart sped up erratically, unable to beat both fast and steady in his weakened state.

Every so often, one of the roos would stand up and give the men a look. Brennan held his breath whenever one of them did.

“The big fella, towards the left,” O’Driscoll said. Brennan thought he knew which animal O’Driscoll meant. His fingers sweated around his rock.

They got tantalisingly close before the animals finally broke for the trees. With a collective yell, the men flung their rocks. Two hit the big roo, staggering it. They charged. The roo regained its balance and bounded after the rest of the mob.

“After it!” O’Driscoll bellowed, waving his axe.

Crowe proved the fleetest. Brennan, with his shorter legs, quickly began to lag. He battled weak limbs and bursting lungs to keep up. Thudding along, it took him a moment to register when the roos suddenly went from bounding in straight lines, to zigzagging with great lateral leaps.

“Stop!” he hollered.

His companions, intent on the chase, didn’t respond until Brennan cried again.

“Willywilly,” he gasped, when they stopped and turned.

O’Driscoll, Sanderson and Keneally retreated to where Brennan leaned, head spinning, with hands on knees. Their shadows writhed and stretched beneath their boots. Brennan half expected the shadows to bolt, but the attachment to their feet was stronger in the daylight.

Crowe, further ahead, stared in horror at the twisted trunks all around him. His shadow reached towards his companions, legs attenuating as it bunched up away from his feet. He tried to take a step, and found that he couldn’t.

The dirt around him began to stir. His face contorted in the beginnings of a cry. Brennan wanted to look away, but found himself transfixed.

The whirling litter rose off the ground. Crowe was twisted around to face away from his companions. His feet stayed pointed towards them. Crowe twisted again, and they could see that he was screaming, but the willywilly was sucking up the sound. The whirlwind rose higher, plaiting his legs like rope as it spun him around and around. His shadow was yanked into the vortex. Crowe screamed till his face turned purple. The twisting reached his chest and his screams ended with a spurt of blood.

His body stretched as the willywilly wrung it tighter. The fabric of his uniform shredded, strips of it spinning in the whirlwind. His boots came abruptly to pieces as well. His hair exploded off his scalp and torso like the bursting of a dandelion puff.

Keneally heaved.

“Fleece me,” Brennan murmured.

The willywilly began to subside. Crowe’s carcass unravelled as it was released. It flopped into a shattered heap on the patterned dirt.

His companions were silent except for unsteady breaths and Keneally’s spitting. The agitation of their shadows slowly stilled. Brennan’s whole body shook.

Then O’Driscoll said, “Be a shame to waste all that meat.”

They stared at him.

He showed them an ugly twist of a grin. “Willywilly’s drank his shadow and soul. Just meat that’s left.”

“It’s not right, Niall,” said Brennan.

The big man scowled. “The struggle hasn’t stopped without us there, Jem. If I have to eat a feckin Englishman to get back home, then I’ll bloody do it.”

“Who’s going to get the body?” said Sanderson.

“You and Jemmy, since you asked,” said O’Driscoll, hefting the axe. “Willywilly never feeds twice in one day, ain’t that right, Jem?”

“It’s what the bloody redcoats tell us,” Brennan said.

“Still a long walk to Brunyville,” said O’Driscoll. “I mean to get there.”

Keneally was shaking his head in dumb disbelief. A string of yellow bile hung from his chin.

Sanderson muttered a curse and marched into the willywilly ground. Brennan fingered his shadow jar through the fabric of his shirt.

“And you,” said O’Driscoll, prodding him with the axe handle.

“Lamb’s blood,” Brennan exclaimed, and hurried after Sanderson. His skin crawled as he stepped over whorls of dirt and forest litter.

He had enough presence of mind to pick up the dead man’s knife and stick it in his belt. He tried not to look directly at the body as they lifted it by ankles and wrists. There was no avoiding the feel of the body, though, of pulped muscle and bone shattered into shards, and the unnatural slickness of the skin with all the hairs plucked out of it. The body slumped between them, ungainly as a bag of wet sand. It cast no shadow beneath it.

Keneally retreated inside the shepherd’s hut while the butchering was done. Brennan could barely watch. Sanderson was made of sterner stuff, for all that Crowe had been his mate. He dumped the entrails and other inedibles a distance down the slope. The Devils would ensure there was nothing left by the following dawn.

Brennan hesitated when O’Driscoll offered him a strip of blackened meat.

“Taste’s like pork, Jem.” O’Driscoll grinned, already chewing.

All the Christs forgive me, Brennan thought, but I want to bloody live. He tried not to picture Crowe’s face as he ate. It wasn’t hard – it, too, was quickly fading from his memory.

The meat tasted better than any mutton, fowl or fish he’d ever had. And forgive me for that, too, he thought, as he cut himself another steak.

#

Keneally refused to eat the meat, even the following night, after his companions were visibly strengthened and he had struggled to keep up during the day. O’Driscoll herded the wretch along whenever he fell behind.

“Leave him, Niall,” Brennan said.

“I’ll be getting home, Jem,” was all the big man replied.

Brennan’s gaze fell to the axe in O’Driscoll’s hand. Lamb’s blood, he thought, but I want to get home whole.

Sanderson’s expression caught his eye. The Englishman looked as sickened as Brennan felt.

That night, as he lay down on the hard ground beside their fire, he found Keneally staring at him. The Dubliner said nothing, didn’t blink, his expression as empty as that of a man dead in his sleep.

He knows, Brennan thought. All the Christs have mercy, he knows.

#

The next day dawned misty. Keneally was gone.

O’Driscoll crashed about the campsite, bellowing in rage and slashing at the scrub with his axe. Sanderson searched too, but there was little feeling behind his curses.

Keneally was nowhere to be found.

Brennan sat silently while they hunted. With Keneally gone, he was the weakest of them. He wondered if he should make a break, too. Fear paralysed him. Could he outrun O’Driscoll? What would Sanderson do if he bolted?

He clasped his hands around his shins and waited for them to give up.

#

“Can’t be far now, eh?” Sanderson said, again.

Brennan wished he’d stop. The Englishman had grown increasingly nervous over the past few days, flinching whenever O’Driscoll came close to him. Brennan made himself silent and small, not meeting O’Driscoll’s eye whenever the big man turned to check that he was still with them.

When they stopped at sunset to light a fire, they found that Sanderson had left the tinderbox and flints behind at their previous campsite.

“You feckin idiot!” O’Driscoll snarled.

He aimed a kick at the Englishman. Brennan scuttled clear. Had Sanderson done the same that might’ve been the end of it. Instead he rose, knife in hand, and charged. Caught off-guard, O’Driscoll managed to block the blade with his forearm. With a cry of pain, he swung the axe. Sanderson ducked, but the big man reversed the direction of his arm with surprising speed. Sanderson sprang up again in time to catch the axe squarely across his forehead. He yelled but didn’t fall, and stabbed O’Driscoll in the chest. The big man grunted and sat down hard on the dirt.

The axe handle waved about as Sanderson swivelled his head to try and see it properly. Pawing and finding a grip at last, he wrenched it free. Only then, staring at it, did he seem to realise he was dead. The axe fell from his fingers. Sanderson collapsed.

O’Driscoll was struggling back to his feet. Sanderson’s knife still jutted from beneath his collar bone. Brennan stared at the bloody axe on the ground between them. He dashed in and grabbed it. With a snarl, O’Driscoll pulled out the knife.

They stared at each other.

“I’ll be getting back to Ireland too, Niall,” Brennan said.

The big man stared at him a moment longer, then lowered himself to one knee beside Sanderson and began to unbutton the corpse’s clothes. They’d have to eat the Englishman raw, Brennan realised, with no way to light a fire. His stomach rebelled, but only a little.

O’Driscoll left Brennan to do the butchering while he cut up the dead man’s shirt and bandaged his wounds, then Brennan watched while the big man tossed aside his own battered footwear and wriggled his toes into Sanderson’s newer pair. He had surprisingly dainty feet for a man of his stature. O’Driscoll grinned with childish pleasure.

Christ the Lamb, have mercy on me, Brennan thought, and brought down the axe.

#

O’Driscoll watched, his back against a tree trunk, while Brennan re-cut the runes scored into the soles of his boots. His eyes glittered in the failing light.

Brennan had hoped the big man’s injury would slow him down enough to leave him behind. O’Driscoll’s face had a yellow cast, and he took no notice of the flies that buzzed around him. His roughly bound left arm and that side of his shirt were stained darker brown with blood.

But after three sleepless days and nights, neither of them daring to let down their guard, the big man hadn’t yet begun to flag. Brennan feared his own strength was failing faster. He didn’t think he’d outlast O’Driscoll and–even with the axe, and injured as the big man was–Brennan wasn’t confident enough to attack him. He had to bring the contest to a head another way.

“You want me to do yours, Niall?” Brennan asked, as casually as he could.

For a moment, he thought the big man would agree, then O’Driscoll smirked. “Reckon they’ll be right as they are, Jem.”

#

The ground seemed to shift beneath his feet as he stumbled to a halt. Brennan stuck the axe handle into the dirt to steady himself while his head spun. He had almost walked too far.

It was near noon, but his shadow stretched far down the hill. Ahead, twisted tree trunks climbed the slope. The whorled dirt started only yards from his toes.

He looked back to where O’Driscoll toiled up the incline.

That his gambit the evening before had failed didn’t alter Brennan’s plan. His heart thudded as he felt for the hard lump of the shadow jar. “Going home, Jem,” he whispered to himself.

He let go of the axe and allowed himself to fall.

Lying on his side, he wondered if he might have left it too late, if he wouldn’t be able to move and O’Driscoll would murder him after all. He heard the big man’s shuffling steps and laboured breath, hurrying closer.

Fumbling, Brennan dragged his shadow jar out of his shirt and pulled the cork. He touched the rim to the shadow of his hand on the ground. His shadow thrashed as it was sucked unwillingly inside. Hurriedly, Brennan stoppered the jar.

Move, you feckin useless bastard,” he snarled at himself. With a groan, he rolled over and began to crawl.

He got his feet under him an instant before O’Driscoll’s triumphant shout. The big man held up the axe. Brennan lurched into a shambling run. O’Driscoll thudded after.

Brennan reached the edge of the willywilly ground. With a defiant cry, he forced his unwilling legs to lengthen stride. O’Driscoll yelled in response. Brennan began leaping from side to side as he ran. O’Driscoll gave another shout, this time of horror. Too late, he’d realised where Brennan had led him.

Lungs bursting, legs burning, Brennan bounded across the willywilly ground. He could see the far side. With every step, he expected his foot to stick. He risked a glance back. O’Driscoll was only a handful of yards behind, mimicking Brennan’s kangaroo leaps. A rictus stretched the big man’s cheeks, his shadow flailed hysterically beneath him.

A step later, Brennan smacked headlong into a tree. He tottered away, vision flashing purple, almost falling. O’Driscoll was on top of him. Brennan lurched aside to avoid a wild swing of the axe.

O’Driscoll didn’t pause, intent on reaching the far side. Kangaroo, Brennan thought woozily, and jumped – clumsy, almost tripping – and again.

And then he realized he was out. He staggered a dozen steps more and caught himself. O’Driscoll was a few yards away, leaning on the axe, a long string of bile descending from his lip. He looked up.

Brennan started to run again. His legs felt like they had no bones in them. He heard O’Driscoll yell, a cracked, breathless sound, and responded with a yelping cry of his own.

He crested the hill and pounded down the other side, lacking the strength to control his speed. His shadow jar bounced up from his chest, threatening to collect him in the face.

He tried to grab it and tripped as he did so. He windmilled his arms, trying to regain his balance. Then, unexpectedly, he burst out onto open ground.

Sheep grazed across a hillside meadow. Brennan was so surprised that his feet went straight out from under him. He slithered a short way down a slope of loose dirt and tussock grass. He heard O’Driscoll skid to a halt behind him and looked up to see an expression of dumb amazement on the big man’s face.

A dog barked. Brennan turned back. Three men rose from their seats in the pale grass. A sheepdog bounded a little way towards the two Irishmen then stopped, growling. For a moment, Brennan couldn’t understand why the shepherds’ words made no sense to him. Then he realised their exclamations were in French.

Beyond them, the valley opened out between the shoulders of forested hills. Brennan could see the glitter of the sea.

O’Driscoll laughed, a harsh gasp of sound. He took two big paces down the slope to Brennan and swung the axe down to stick in the dirt, then lowered himself slowly to sit.

Brennan stared at him. “So that’s it?”

The big man nodded, chuckling. “Aye, Jem, that’s it.”

They watched the Frenchmen scramble up the hill towards them.

Brennan felt like he should be crying, but his eyes were dry. “Are we,” his throat was almost too thick to get the words out, “are we men, anymore?” Or just the scraps that are left?

“Men? Aye, we are,” said O’Driscoll, with a fierceness that made Brennan flinch. O’Driscoll reached out and caught a fistful of Brennan’s sleeve. “We’re Men of 1848, Jem. Young Irish. Patriots. We done what was needful. We survived.”

Brennan’s stomach heaved. Had it had any food in it, he would have puked all over himself. He shook off O’Driscoll’s hand.

“We’re going home, Jem,” O’Driscoll said. “The struggle’s still waiting for us.”

The struggle? The shepherds were up to them now, babbling over the top of each other in French so rapid Brennan couldn’t catch more than one word in four.

Men of 1848. Patriots. Survivors. Scraps.

He closed his eyes.

~END~

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