Sometimes life throws a rock in your path, sometimes a boulder...
"Stinkin' American pig!"
"You don't smell so good yourself, kiddo."
"Doan call me kiddo, you cock-sucking son of a camel's ass."
"Whoa! That's some potty mouth for a five-year-old child."
"I'm not a child."
"Yeah? Can you spell brat?"
"Go fuck a goat."
"Take me back to my grandfather, and I'll tell 'im not to chop off yer head.
Jist put a bullet through yer eyes. It won't hurt much...I doan think."
U.S. Navy SEAL Lt. (jg) Zachary Frank Floyd stood, walked around the small
fire, and loomed over the dirty urchin who didn't have the sense to flinch, not
even when another round of munitions exploded off in the distance. They
were hiding in a former Taliban cave in the mountains of Tora Bora.
What does it say about the kid's life, that he's so inured to the sounds of
battle? At his age, I was playing with Legos. "That'll be
The boy practically growled, baring his teeth...teeth which were stark white
against his dark skin, even under the grime. Zach had been forced to
restrain the boy's wrists and ankles with plastic cuffs for fear he would run
away. Just call me Marquis de Floyd. A wool blanket was
wrapped around him like a shroud. Although it wasn't as cold inside the
cave as it was outside, it was cold enough. The kid had been shivering
moments ago. "Doan call me that name. I'm not yer son."
I wish! Zach shrugged, and plopped back down on the other side
of the small cave, the anger seeping out of him. Hell, he had no more
desire to be a father to this gremlin-from-Tango-hell than the kid wanted him
for a father. Tango was a SEAL word for terrorist. "That's not what
your birth certificate says. Your mother named you Samir Abdul Hassim
Floyd. Doesn't matter that your grandfather dropped the Floyd and added
Arsallah. Either way, that's too much of a handle for any man, let alone
a little boy. So, Sammy it is, unless you can give me a better
nickname." Like Samir the Snot.
"My mother is dead." For the first time since the boy had been handed
to him yesterday by an Afghan friendly, resulting in Zach being separated from
his SEAL squad, he heard a quiver in the boy's voice. "I been livin' with
my grandfather fer a long time."
Zach supposed that six months was a long time for a child.
"Grandfather came for me when my mother died, praise Allah!" The
implication was, Where were you, Daddy Dearest?
"That's only because I didn't know about you sooner. Your grandfather
is a butcher, and his hidey-hole is no place for a boy." Mullah Ahmed
Arsallah put on a religious face in public, all pious and phoney baloney, but
everyone knew he was behind some of the worst Taliban attacks in history.
It was one of his very camps that SEAL Team Thirteen, along with some Army
Rangers and Air Force hot shot pilots, had just shot to smithereens as part of
Operation Maggot. Thank God, the kid had been taken out beforehand.
Unfortunately the grandfather had escaped and no doubt set up camp somewhere
else. These Al-Quaida tangos were like roaches. You killed them in
one spot, and they showed up somewhere else, in greater numbers.
Sammy let loose with another volley in what Zach presumed was either Pashto
or Dari, the primary languages of Afghanistan. He would have to get help from
one of his fellow SEALs back at Coronado, Ensign Omar Jones, product of a Muslim
father and American mother, who had been a linguist and former college
professor. Sammy had no doubt learned the expletives from Ahmed's band of
terrorists or the English-speaking mercenaries who worked with the rebels.
In the meantime, the kid's English was pretty good, due to his mother's
teaching. Esilah had been a student at UCLA, but her pre-med studies had
been interrupted when she'd returned to Afghanistan to fight against the hated
Taliban, including her father who disowned her. He'd met her in
Afghanistan, and, yeah, they'd had adrenaline sex in the middle of a bloody fire
The kid--who had Esilah's black hair and his blue eyes--was still ranting on
in a mixture of Arab and English, but Zach just panned the brat's tirade out and
checked his watch again. His buddies should be here soon to rescue him, or
at least try. Their motto was and always would be, "No man left behind."
The wire bud, which had remained in his ear non-stop since yesterday,
remained silent, as expected, after the initial message he'd sent pinpointing
his hiding spot. It was best not to talk any more than necessary on an
open line to avoid the enemy tracking his position.
"Why do they call you Pretty Boy?" the kid asked out of the blue.
"Who told you that?"
Zach shrugged. "Because I'm pretty?" Although he couldn't look
too good now with his grimy desert BDU's and face cammied up.
"I think you're ugly."
I don't look that bad.
"I have to piss," Sammy said.
Isn't that just swell? Zach narrowed his eyes at the kid.
He'd tried every trick in the book so far to get away, and Zach wasn't in the
mood for more of his shenanigans.
"I mean it."
Muttering with disgust, he walked over and picked up the kid with both hands
on his waist. He was skinny and weighed no more than a pillow, which made
Zach feel kinda queasy, for some reason. Walking to the back of the cave,
he stood him on his feet and proceeded to tug his pants down. He wasn't
wearing any underwear. That, too, made his stomach roil.
"Hey, untie me. I can't piss like this."
"You'll piss like that or piss your pants. Your call."
The kid made that growling sound again. "Doan you know nothin'. A
man's gotta hold his cock when he pisses."
Aren't kids supposed to say tinkle or wee-wee? He turned his
back on the scamp. Mom would have killed me or Danny if we'd ever said
piss in front of her. And cock...man oh man, we would have been tasting
Irish Spring for a month if we ever used that word.
He turned around to see the kid glance up over his bony shoulder, an evil
glint in his blue eyes, which fortunately or unfortunately mirrored his own.
"What do you think of it?"
Holy shit! Zach yanked the kid's pants back up, then returned
him to the blanket.
"Is it big enough?"
Oh, boy! "For what?"
God must be punishing me for something. Maybe it was the time I...
"Are you kidding? That little worm? You've got a few more years to
worry about that."
"How big is yours?"
I do not frickin' believe this. "Big enough."
"Well, Zemar says his is as big as a bull's, but he's seven, and he lies
sometimes. Is yours as big as a bull's?"
"It's not good manners to ask someone that." Pretty Boy Floyd giving
etiquette lessons? Hope the sky doesn't fall down.
"Uncle Masoud slapped my face when I asked him."
Zach went stone still at that news. Was that bruise on the kid's chin
caused by a clip, too? And why was the kid so damn skinny? "I'll
answer any questions you have about anything...but not now."
Thankfully, Zach's earpiece staticced before the kid had a chance to argue
with the delay.
"Raven to Eagle. Do ya read me, Eagle?" It was his good friend,
Justin "Cage" LeBlanc on the other end. Military men always used code
names when on a live op, over communication lines which could be intercepted.
In this case, with Operation Maggot, it seemed apt that they take on names of
the worm's natural enemy...the worm being Al-Quaida, of course.
"Helo on its way. Oh-nine-hundred. Are ya ready to boogie?"
Zach set the timer on his watch for fifteen minutes. "Roger."
"There are tangos all over the place. Be careful."
"Gotcha." Zach was already standing and preparing his gear, including
the collapsible stock on his M4 carbine which he slung over his shoulder.
It had an M203 grenade launcher underneath, which he hoped he wouldn't need.
He checked to see that he had two magazines left which would give him more than
fifty rounds of ammunition. He would leave his backpack behind so that he
could carry the kid, but he took out a couple extra grenades and his Ka-Bar
knife. The next inhabitant of this Better Homes & Caves dwelling could
have the MREs.
"Pigeon, Tweety and me will be on the ground, covering your six. Y'all
have to rappel up. Quick, quick."
"Uh, problem here. Passenger. Need harness."
"Whaaat? A prisoner?"
"Not exactly. A little boy."
Sammy made a snorting sound, still trying to be the little man.
"No way! Ya caint take any unauthorized person outta the country,
cher." Cage slipped into his Southern Cajun dialect when he was
nervous, as he had every right to be now.
Cage sighed. "Who is it?"
Zach hesitated, but then said, "My son."
There was silence in the line after that. Zach didn't know if they'd
been cut off, or Cage and the guys were stunned speechless. Probably a bit
of both. Master Chief Sylvester "Sly" Simms was no doubt on the Motorola
in the helo right now, relaying all this info to CentCom. He would bet his
Budweiser, the Navy SEAL trident pin, that there would be a band of MPs awaiting
him when they landed at Kabul. On the other hand, Sly was a good man...a
friend. Maybe, he would let Zach do his own communicating on this issue.
"I have to put a gag in your mouth, Sammy. No,
don't give me any more lip. I can't take the chance that you'll shout or
give my location away. I'll remove it as soon as we're on the copter."
"Copter? We're goin' on a helicopter?" The kid's eyes went wide
with wonder, then immediately reverted to their usual surly cast. "I ain't
"Wanna bet?" Zach gagged Sammy with a handkerchief and lifted him over
the shoulder of his non-shooting arm, though he could actually shoot just as
well from either hand. The kid squirmed and grunted stuff under his gag,
but Zach had a firm hold. He waited at the entrance of the cave, his heart
pumping so loud it felt as if it might lunge out of his chest. But then,
he heard the thwap, thwap, thwap of the Blackhawk's propellers, followed by
Cage's cue, three short bird calls. "We've only got two minutes to get out
of here and in the copter, kid. So work with me, huh?"
With those words, he dashed for the hanging rope and harness about thirty
feet away. Out of his side vision, he saw Cage and Luke "Slick" Avenil off
on either side of him and Sly in a crouch, rifle raised near the rappeling rope,
ducking and firing at the tangos coming in on all three sides. He and
these three guys had suffered through Class 500 of BUD/S training together seven
years ago; a SEAL might change teams or squads as ordered, but he always
identified with his class number. The members were bonded for life.
The terrorists, still a considerable distance away, were firing at the copter
and the other guys, not him, because presumably they saw that he was carrying
the boy and had orders not to aim for him for fear of collateral
damage...collateral in this case meaning Arsallah's grandkid. At one
point, a bullet zinged a rock near Slick's foot. With a curse, Zach did a
Ninja style roll, landing on his feet, being careful not to crush the kid.
Cage was crab running toward the helo, urging him to hurry, "Go, go, go!"
Zach strapped a terrified Sammy into the harness and wrapped himself around
him on the rope which was already being raised up to the copter.
Meanwhile, Cage, Sly and Slick were shooting off rapid rounds. Just before
they started rappeling up the rope, each of them lobbed a grenade in three
different directions. The copter took off by the time the explosions hit.
Sly had a thigh wound that would need care as soon as they landed, and Cage's
palms looked raw from rappeling down and up the rope. He must have
forgotten his gloves, or else the action had worn through the Kevlar.
Other than that, they were in good shape.
They all sat on bench seats, breathing heavily, adrenaline almost popping out
of their pores. Sammy sat on his lap, too stunned to protest...yet.
Finally, when their heart rates were down to about a hundred beats a minute,
each looked at the other, grinned, then said as one, "Hoo-yah!"
Zach took off Sammy's gag, but not his hand and wrist restraints.
Immediately, the brat launched into a tirade that involved fuck, shit, ass,
snot, piss, bastard, hell, damn, cock, prick, and dick in a dozen combinations,
both in English and his native tongue.
The guys continued to grin.
"Are you going to introduce us?" Sly asked with mock politeness.
"This is Samir Abdul Hassim Floyd. My son." Zach exhaled on a
loud whoosh. "You can call him Sammy. Or The Snot."
"You sure 'bout that, cher? I mean, that he's yer son?"
Cage was only looking out for his best interests, but Sammy didn't see it that
way and let loose with another volley of expletives.
Ignoring him, Zach said, "Pretty sure."
"I already wired ahead to a nurse I know.
She'll do DNA tests for you right away so at least you'll have that defense."
Slick knew more ways to avoid the law than a corporate lawyer.
"You do realize you're in trouble from so many angles you're gonna look like
a target riddled with bullet holes by the time they're done with you."
This was Sly's astute opinion.
He nodded again. "For the past two years, I've
been miserable, mooning over Britta," he told them. Britta was the one
woman who hadn't succumbed to his charms...and, yeah, he had plenty...and in the
dead of the night, she was the one he fantasized about. "But, man, I sure wish I
was back there with her right now."
Cage laughed. "Nah! You'd just be tradin' one misery fer
"I suppose so." Zach sighed and glanced down
at his personal, present-day misery.
His misery stuck his tongue out at him.
Just call me Xena, Warrior Nun...
Britta Asadottir, far-famed Norse warrior wench, was a novice in St. Anne's
Abbey...a Saxon nunnery, for the love of Thor! And she blamed the world's
biggest fornicator, Zack-hairy the Pretty Boy.
Not that she had ever fornicated with the lout, or wanted to, but the man had
ruined her life. If she ever got her hands on him, she would throttle him
Britta had met Zack-hairy at The Sanctuary, a women's refuge in the
Norselands, more than two winters past. He and his comrades had been there
only a few sennights, helping to rid the country of the villain Steinolf, and
bequiling the gunnas off every woman that crossed their paths. The whole
time, the godly handsome man had pursued Britta relentlessly, trying to lure her
into his bed furs. Which was strange in itself because she was not known
as Britta the Big for naught. As tall and well-muscled as many men, she
tended to intimidate males who were e'er sensitive about being the stronger sex.
Not the rogue with the snake-slick tongue, however.
But then, Zack-hairy, his comrades-in-arms, and The Sanctuary's mistress,
Hilda Berdottir, had disappeared one day. Poof! Everyone
surmised that the group had been caught in the middle of an avalanche which
swept their bodies all the way to the fjord and then to the North Sea. A
sad ending, to be sure.
The oddest thing, though, was that once the lout had gone, she'd developed
the most intense yearning for him and the mating. Thank the gods, she had not
been so inclined when he had been here. Otherwise, she would have been
rutting with him like a boar in heat. The scoundrel must have put a spell
on her because no longer had she been satisfied with serving as chief guard and
archer for The Sanctuary. Now that the danger of Steinolf was gone and now
that the lout had ignited these irksome fires in her loins, she had fooled
herself into believing she could live safely outside the bounds of the fortress,
perchance even find a man to douse those woman-fires.
A big mistake!
Her father and brothers had found her.
Her younger sister, Bergliot, on the verge of a promising marriage to one of
the nobles on Britain's influential Witan, and her father, Jarl Eyvind
Tunnisson, were shamed to have such an abnormal, mannish woman as Britta in
their family. In addition, 'twas suspected that Britta, in the heat of
battle, had once put her spear into the heart of a Saxon hirdsman who happened
to be cousin to King Aethelred. But most of all her father wanted her back
under his sadistic control again. And so she took refuge here with the
good nuns at St. Anne's Abbey.
The only way Britta could leave the abbey grounds was to return to her
father's estates in the Norselands, or in a funeral procession. Or she
could remain as a novice nun for a lifetime of utter boredom.
Problems with her father were not new. He and her three brothers slaked
their lust on anything wearing a gunna, regardless of age or beauty, regardless
of consent. As a result, there were dozens of Tunnisson bastards hither
and yon, from the Norselands to Britain to Iceland and beyond. It had been
a huge embarrassment for her mother, a highborn lady, afore her death ten years
ago, when, after numerous still births, her sister Bergliot had been born.
But now, Britta and Bergliot were the last of Eyvind's unmarried, legitimate
Her father regarded women as chattel, good only for bedsport and the coin
brought by prospective husbands. He had been enraged at Britta's refusal
to wed the various men he'd brought to her. Bergliot must be more
cooperative; she did not appear distraught over her father's choice, even though
Lord Egbert was thrice her age of sixteen winters.
Her brothers had the same attitude toward women, and worse. They were
demented and cruel and had been from an early age. When she was eight,
Trond had skinned her favorite kitten, whilst still alive. When she was
twelve, Erlend had held her down with a knive to her inner thigh forcing her to
spread and show his filthy friends her nether parts. She had a scar there
still where the knife had drawn blood. But it had been Halvdan's attempt
to mount her himself which caused Britta to go to their ancient castellan and
beg for instruction in the warrior arts.
The final indignity had come when her father gave consent to a Danish Jarl
for rape as an incentive to force her to bend to their will, a rape which she
managed to evade. Her jaw still ached on occasion, an eternal reminder of
his rage that time...a fist to the chin that had knocked her senseless and no
doubt jarred her jaw bone out of place. It had been then that she had
known she had to leave, her fighting skills not nearly enough to fight them all.
"What is amiss now, Lady Britta?" Mother Edwina, the abbess, asked
with a long sigh.
Britta--who disdained the title to which she was entitled--glanced up from
where she'd been kneeling for more than an hour on the stone floor of the
"Father Caedmon likes to give me penance, as much as he likes hearing my
confessions." She rolled her eyes for emphasis.
"Child, your attempts at humor do not amuse me."
The nun was no older than Britta at twenty and seven years, but she carried a
world-weary, stern demeanor under the strain of her position. She motioned
for Britta to join her in sitting on one of the hard wood pews.
"'Tis not my fault that the priest gets pleasure out of hearing me create
sexual experiences to confess to him."
"Create?" Mother Edwina arched an eyebrow.
"Didst think I really know how to ride a man like a horse? Or get
pleasure from a fat candle? Or jiggle my breasts apurpose to entice the
tinker...yea, the one with rumbling bowels? Or sleep naked in the hay loft
so the straw would rub my private places?"
With each of Britta's fantasies, the good nun's jaw dropped lower and lower.
Finally, she said, "Britta!" The chastisement was belied by a grin tugging
at Mother Edwina's lips. "St. Bridget's Bones! Why would you confess
lewd acts you have not committed?"
"Because Father Caedmon likes me to. And not just me. Ask any of
the novices. We have made a game of who can dream up the most outlandish
examples of bedsport. Whew! Sister Ignatia wins hands down on that
score. Who knew that turkey feathers--"
"Britta! That will be enough."
Not nearly enough. "Really, Mother Edwina, think how boring my
confessions would be otherwise. I am a trained warrior. 'Tis what I
do best. But there is naught to defend here at the abbey, other than a
wayward bull or angry bees. Truly, my confessions would go thus:
Bless me, father, for I yawned during compline. Bless me, father, for I
cursed when the chapel bell rang for the tenth time during the night.
Bless me, father, for I want to nigh scream if I hear another Kyrie or Sanctus.
Bless me, father, for laughing at Sister Benedictus when she broke wind hitting
the high note of `Gloria.' Bless me, father, for I would rather lop off an
enemy's head than pray for him. Bless me, father, for wishing my father
and my brothrs to the fires of Nifhelm. Bless me, father, for drinking too much
of Sister Margaret's mead."
The only income source the abbey had was the sale of Margaret's mead in the
trading stalls of Jorvik. And good mead, it was, too, the secret
ingredients passed on by the same Northumbrian family who sent a daughter named
Margaret to be a nun each generation from ten decades past.
"You must learn to accept your lot in life
"Because it is the way of the Lord."
"And who is to say that the Lord prefers I be a nun than a warrior?
Remember Joan of Arc."
Mother Edwina made that tsk-ing sound she usually employed when Britta had
asked an unanswerable question.
"I grow weary of the tedium," she complained.
"How can you bear the quiet and the same routine every day, month after month,
year after year?"
"Inner peace is its own reward."
Britta, feeling anything but peaceful, grabbed at her own hair with
frustration, then pressed her lips together, pondering. "Methinks there
may be another way."
"I will no doubt regret asking, but what other way?"
Britta looped an arm over the Mother Superior's shoulder and confided,
"Returning to my father's rat's nest of a keep is out of the question. The
only way I can leave this nunnery is if I am dead. Or if my father thinks
I am dead."
"Yea. I will do naught to jeopardize the nunnery. But I must
needs come up with a fake death that will convince my father that I am truly
"And that fake death would be?"
"It must be a death where there would be no body as evidence."
"Like a fire or a drowning?" Mother Edwina's face brightened with
"Yea, but I am not about to risk either of those. How about if I have
suddenly gone barmy?"
Mother Edwina muttered something about her already being barmy.
"For the next few sennights I could do some demented things so that word will
begin to spread of my mind's demise. Then when I jump off a cliff...you
know, the cliff on the way to Jorvik, everyone will say I committed suicide in
the midst of one of my fits."
Mother Edwina's jaw gaped with astonishment. "You would truly die if
you jumped off that cliff. There is naught but sharp rocks and deep waters
"I would not really jump. I would just
pretend. I would leave a suicide letter behind. And I would leave
pieces of my ripped clothing on the rocks, with a bit of blood doused here and
then. Oh, do not look askance at me. 'Twould be chicken blood."
"May the saints preserve us!" Mother Edwina made the sign of the cross
over her chest. "Where would you go?"
"That is the best part. I will hide in Sister Margaret's mead wagon
next time she goes to the market stalls in Jorvik. From there I will
arrange passage to Iceland and from there go to that new land called Greenland.
Or else I could go to the Rus lands and become one of the Varangian Guard."
Mother Superior nodded, reluctantly. "I suppose it could work."
For the next few sennights, Britta did indeed convince more than a few nuns,
a lusty priest and several passing travelers that she had gone barmy from her
confinement in a nunnery. Spouting a gibberish sort of language which she
made up. Pulling at her hair. Dancing with Sister Serena's
broom. Bursting out in ribald song in the midst of mass. Even
walking naked in the moonlight.
So, when the day came for her "demise," her sanity was indeed in question.
The only problem was, she needed some fortification as she and Sister Margaret
wended their way slowly toward Jorvik. And what better fortification than
By the time Britta stood at the edge of the cliff,
she and Sister Margaret were both a bit drukkinn. As a result, she
nigh killed herself climbing down the steep incline to place the bloody scraps
of fabric. Instead of helping her or urging caution, Sister Margaret sat
in the grass singing a song about farm maids and randy soldiers.
"Well, that should do it," she called back to Sister Margaret. "We can
be off now."
"Are you sure?"
Britta jumped, not realizing that Sister Margaret had come up behind her.
Sister Margaret screamed as Britta teetered on the edge, attempting to get her
balance. But her efforts were all in vein, for a high wind came up, she
slipped and fell head over tail, finally managing to snag the branch of a bush
sticking out of the cliff side. Her hands were bleeding, as were various
other parts of her scratched body, but she was alive, thank the gods. At
least, she was no longer under the influence of mead, the fall having shocked
the fumes from her brain.
"Have a caution," Sister Margaret yelled, peering carefully over the lip of
the cliff. "Are you all right?"
Odin's Breath! Is she blind as well as drukkin? "Nay, I am not
"Should I pray?"
Oh, that will help! "Can you pray and throw me a rope at the same
"Yea, I can." Sister Margaret disappeared, then soon returned with a
coil of thick rope, then disappeared again.
Britta looked upward carefully but could see nothing. Presumably,
Sister Margaret was tying the rope to a rock or a tree.
"Catch," the good nun said then, tossing out the heavy coil of rope.
Unfortunately, the coil of rope did not immediately uncoil. As a result,
it knocked Britta in the head, tearing her loose from her hold on the branch.
"Yiiiiiiikes!" She went careening downward once again.
Britta screamed her outrage, to her father, her sister, and to the pretty
soldier who'd caused the chain of events which led to this final catastrophe.
For some reason, though, she blamed the soldier most of all. Unfair?
Possibly. But who could care about fairness now? If the lout had not
laid a burden on her heart, and loins, she would still be at The Sanctuary, safe
"'Tis all your fault, you loathsommmmmmmmme..."
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