So, I was the Left Hand of God, the Holy Champion of the Faith sent by God to smite the evil beings that would control the world and enslave humanity. So what? I was still a barely-under-five-feet tall, less-than-a-hundred-pound, thirteen year old human female who was more than a little pissed that life had dealt me the cards I was holding. I was born Alexandra McKiernan, but the world now knew me as Dame Alice Spencer-Killdare, niece of Sir Eoin, the Baron of Spencer, and the heroine of Belfast now a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order. Two weeks ago I rescued my "cousin," his mother Elizabeth, and my "grandmother" from a group of said evil beings, including a rather demented Demon, a millennia-old Vampire, and a group of Werefoxes.
And I was still aching from the experience. The external bruising and scratches were gone. The stitches in my arse, back, left shoulder, right thigh, chin, and over my left eye were all out and the cuts healing so nicely I would probably not have many scars from the fight. Karl Waldensee, the monk sent from the Order (read: shadowy religious organization founded to battle the world's monsters) to watch over me had cleaned up everything in Belfast and, thanks to my foster father Eoin Spencer, I was the hero for saving them all from an IRA splinter group.
No Demons. No Vampires. No Werefoxes. The monsters are not real. The Order was kind of like Obi-Wan Kenobi. You know, "These are not the droids you are looking for." Only they did it all the time to a lot more people. Part of their job was to make sure the monsters stayed fairy tales.
In the aftermath of Belfast, I was really hating being Alice Spencer-Killdare. Of course, being Alexandra McKiernan wasn't all that easy, either. People had been trying to kill Alexandra since I was born. But I had dad and Anika (my cousin) and the rest of my family as Alexandra. Eoin and my new family had been nothing but supportive and protective, even to the point of Hestia, one of my teachers/bodyguards, giving her life. But becoming Alice did not make Alexandra's problems disappear. It merely made them harder to find me. And Belfast proved that they would find me! I guess the lifestyle that came with being Alice was a bit of a consolation, since I was now a wealthy heiress and a knight and all.
It was also how I found myself being driven through northern England on our way to southern Scotland and the Spencer estate, "for my own good." When the stitches came out, Eoin decided we were all going to his estate up north for some recuperative rest in the country. And by all I mean Eoin, William, Grandmother, Elizabeth, and me. And Eoin's security chief Ambrose Devlin and his security people, of course. William and the ladies had just been kidnapped, after all. Scotland Yard and MI5 still had a security detail on them, so they would be coming, too, though they would trail us by a few car-lengths and pretend we didn't know they knew we knew they were there. So I was sitting in the back seat of a black Land Rover, sandwiched between William and Eoin, the second in a six vehicle convoy heading to the Barony of Spencer.
Without the air conditioning, it would have been sweltering in the Rover with Eoin, William, the driver, and the two security men Ambrose assigned to our vehicle before hopping in the Rover behind us with Elizabeth and Grandmother. Summer was blazing in all her glory, pounding England with a nearly unprecedented heat wave. Much as I did not want to go on the trip, now that we were on our way, the many lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, and coastlines loomed large in my plans when we got there. I loved to swim.
In the interim, I fell asleep.
The change in engine noise woke me. I lifted my head from where it rested on Eoin's shoulder and saw that we had turned onto the estate's drive, a long tunnel of pavement enclosed by trees in their full summer foliage. The shadowed drive was cool and relaxing, easing tension I did not realize was there. The house and grounds came into view and a smile crept onto my face. I was happy to be there, I realized. For some reason, it felt more like home to me than the Chelsea townhouse back in London.
As we drove up, the front door opened and Mr. Campbell, the caretaker, stepped out with a welcoming smile. William and I hopped out and ran up to hug him. I know, a little more expressive than is thought between the British upper class and their servants but Mr. Campbell had known William since he was born and I got to know him well over the last year or so. He was more like an uncle or close friend of the family than a servant. He lived in a neat cottage on the edge of the orchard and kept up the manor when Lord Spencer was not there. That he was here to greet us meant that this little trip was less a spontaneous decision on Eoin's part than he represented when he announced we were going.
Before Mr. Campbell could usher us into the house, three car-loads of security people sprang into action even as the MI5 security team following our convoy pulled up and jumped out of their black sedans. While Ambrose's people swept the house, MI5 agents spread over the ground; Ambrose and two each of his men and MI5 agents stayed with us until the all clear was sounded over the radios. Then Mr. Campbell led us and the ladies inside to the sitting room before escorting Mistress MacGregor and the cooks to the kitchen to make a late lunch for everyone.
After a quick meal of sandwiches and fruit in cream, Eoin and Grandmother went for naps, Elizabeth decided to go visit her own manor house in the next valley, and William and I donned our swimsuits to go swimming.
On our way out of the house via the back door, Mr. Campbell warned, "Watched out for each other. There've been entirely too many drownings and near misses in this area this year."
That stopped us cold, towels around our necks, William in a black Speedo under the white t-shirt that I knew showed off his muscularly fit body to perfection and me in the most modest, metallic blue one-piece suit I could find under a lavender button down shirt and pink shorts. If I could have gotten away with Bermuda shorts and a sports bra, I would have; Grandmother and Elizabeth, however, would hear nothing of it. In fact, they despaired at the suit I chose; they considered it scandalously modest for me. Especially since I was in "such great shape!"
"What do you mean, Mr. Campbell?" I asked, a hint of my paranoia rearing its ugly, all-too-often-correct, little head and taking a wary sniff.
His craggy, gray bewhiskered face was grave, brown eyes sad. "Four kids have drowned in the Avon this year and the Irvine and Lugton have had near misses," he replied, his rough voice cracking with sorrow. "The authorities can't figure out what is different this year from other years, but the waters hereabouts seem to be trying to suck the youngsters out for a swim down into the depths. All of the bodies were found weeks later, gnawed by animals, but they were intact enough to see they drowned. So mind me and you be careful and watch out for each other."
"We will," William replied, slinging an arm over my shoulders.
Our plans were to go to the pond the orchard surrounded today and that was where we went. But William wanted to take me to the Avon during our trip. He liked to fish in the bigger part of the river near the gorge through which the Avon flowed on its way to the River, and then the Firth, of Clyde and eventually the Irish Sea. It was a ways from the estate and we would have to drive. Given everyone's heightened state of alert after Belfast, we would also have to take a couple of guards.
As we walked through the orchard, William kept stealing glances at me. I finally got creeped out enough to snap, "What!?" as I whirled on him, glaring.
He started and then grinned sheepishly. He looked like a little kid again instead of the eighteen year old, soon-to-be university student he was. "Sorry, Alice. It's just ... I seem to see and think about things strangely now. Last summer, if Mr. Campbell told us what he did, I would just think, 'How sad.' This summer, I think, 'What does Alice think?'" he admitted with a deep flush to his face, eyes down on his feet. Then his eyes came up and they were piercing in their intensity. "So, what do you think?"
I shook my head and continued on towards the pond. There was a sweet, fruity smell on the air under the trees; harvest time was not far off. I could hear the burbling stream that fed the pond not far off and the gentle hushing sound of the pond water lapping at the shore. The buzzing of insects and the occasional call of geese and frogs announced we were close before we rounded a bend in the path and pushed through the hedge guarding the pond.
The pond itself wasn't really large, but it was deep and a little on the cold side. It was big enough, with enough bugs and fish and seed grasses in and around it, to support a small flock of ducks and geese along with a few other wetland birds I couldn't name. And the frogs. Frogs could be heard in mating season all the way at the house, according to William. The birds would soon be heading south, but for now it was cool to swim with them. They never let you get too close; they just kind of cruised around you or winged away in a few quick wing beats.
.... There is more of this story ...